Coasting Along the Pacific: One Attorney Treks 826 Miles on a Bicycle
by Nora Kelly
I had bicycled the Oregon Coast 18 years before. One of the things I realized on this 2011 trek was that I had aged over that 18 years. I remembered the hill climbing, but it seemed that this time there were more hills and they somehow had become steeper and longer. My earlier journey had been endless fun. This time, it was a lot of work.
But it was worth it. The Oregon Coast is gorgeous. It’s a wild coast with rocks and cliffs and crashing waves and evergreen trees running all the way down to the water.
Surprisingly, even though it is a coast, there is little “coasting” along on a bicycle—the coastline of Oregon and California is actually quite hilly, and many of the hills are very steep. Often we climbed more than 800 feet in a day, and on one day we climbed close to 2,000 feet.
Because we were cycling in September (which is the recommended time to cycle the Oregon and Pacific Coast, to avoid the summer tourist traffic), we were traveling from north to south, because the prevailing winds blow from the northwest. We didn’t always have a tailwind, though, and on some days it seemed as though it was headwinds all the way—chilly and ferocious headwinds.
We were doing what is called “loaded touring.” No, that does not mean that we took slugs of whisky before we climbed on our bicycles each morning. It means we carried everything with us on our bikes, including a tent, sleeping bags, cook pots, and stoves. Oregon and California have “hiker-biker” sites at their coastal campgrounds, which are set aside as a kind of group campsite for bicyclists and hikers. There’s no requirement of an advance reservation for a space, and the campsites are first come, first served. The Oregon hiker-biker campsites are the best: spacious, neat, and tidy, with hot showers at some campsites. In California, some of the sites seemed to be more of an afterthought, but for the most part they also had hot showers, which after a long day of cycling in cool weather, is a real treat.
We rode approximately 50 miles each day on our trip. The Oregon leg is 414.5 miles, from Astoria on the northernmost part of the coast to Crescent City, the last Oregon town we went through before entering California. Then it is 412 miles down the Pacific Coast to San Francisco.
Things went smoothly until we reached Brookings, the last town before the push into California. I developed tendonitis in my Achilles tendon after a long hill climb and could barely pedal as we pulled into Brookings. I conferred with my comrades, and we decided a layover day was in order so that I could rest my tendon and see if I could continue the trip. I was crushed—I didn’t want to give up after completing only the first half of the trip!
We checked into a motel, and I spent the next day with an icepack wrapped around my Achilles tendon and dutifully resting. I lowered the seat on my bike so it wouldn’t be such a stretch on my Achilles to reach the pedal, and I removed the toe holster so I could freely move my foot around on the pedal and hopefully find comfort there. I also took Ibuprofen—a lot of Ibuprofen. I was determined to go on.
The next day, we set out for California. I held my breath. There was some pain, but each day it lessened and, hallelujah, I was able to keep pedaling the next 412 miles to San Francisco!
It was really worth it—the Pacific Coast was just as spectacular as Oregon’s. And, because we were heading south, it was warmer. The hills we climbed seemed funkier in California—some extremely steep and sweeping and swerving through the countryside. We would bomb down to the bottom of a long steep hill only to have it turn sharply and immediately begin climbing steeply and endlessly. My friends and I had to walk our bikes a couple of times during the trip in California, because the hills were too steep to climb on a bike.
One of the treats for us was pedaling through redwood forests in California. Towering all around us were enormous trees that are centuries old. The trees were so big and tall that they blocked much of the sun, and we had to put on extra layers of clothing before pedaling through a stretch of them.
On the last night of our 19-day trip, we spent the night at a campground called Samuel Taylor State Park. The next morning we set out for San Francisco. The route was as hilly as usual, and after a lot of climbs and descents, we finally came to Sausalito. From there, we could see the gleaming city of San Francisco across the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge that would take us on the final leg of our journey. We were lucky—it was an unusually clear and sunny day. We rode our final leg slowly over the bridge, knowing that we had earned the right to feel a little bit triumphant for having completed the trip. D
Nora Kelly is an employment law attorney in Denver who specializes in representing public employees.