Words by Beth Ann Orton, Pics by Beth Ann Orton and Brenna Wrye-Simpson
It’s good to have an adventure in your back pocket. I’m always planning something curious; daydreams are good for a busy mind. Thankfully, I have friends with similar intent. When my buddy Brenna asked me to join her on a last minute, weekend gravel ride to the coast and back, the answer was yes.
The last ride Brenna and I set out on together involved multiple dead ends, trespassing, confusion about logging road easements, a shortage of rice crispy treats, and a swiftly consumed marionberry pie. The ride prior to that ended with a broken seat clamp, a dearth of coffee, and tennis shoes tied to Bruno’s saddle. You know, for walking.
Brenna set the routes through Oregon’s coast range: Forest Grove to Cape Lookout State Park via the Trask River Road, and home the next day along the infamous Nestucca River Road. These roads aren’t unknown to Portlanders with an itch for gravel riding, and the Trask River route is well depicted on Oregon Bike Packing’s website.
Brenna and I are both chief time wasters, so we had a slow roll from Forest Grove at noon on Sunday and covered the nearly 60 miles of gravel to the Pelican Brew pub in Tillamook just in time to catch a couple pints and dinner, before riding the last few chilly, tipsy, and dark miles to camping at Cape Lookout State Park. The Trask River route took us from Forest Grove up an inappropriately steep gravel road to the Barney reservoir. This required some cursing, but the views were worth it. From the reservoir on, the ride was buttery, rolling, gravel along the Trask River with a few ripping descents mixed in. Descending on a 50 lb. cross bike rigged for camping is like driving a boat: Turning requires a little planning, but it’s almost impossible to tip over at speed. I think. Luckily I never found the tipping point!
I had a mind to take a fishing rod on this trip, but once my Kona Jake the Snake was loaded with one night’s camping haul, I decided it wouldn’t fit. It was good to leave the rod at home: Water levels were low in both rivers and I wouldn’t have had much luck searching for steelhead in warm water, or any time for it. Our day was plenty full of long miles, loose corners, and a wicked sunset on our roll into Tillamook.
I highly recommend Pelican Brewing for dinner if this is your route. Their elk burgers are on point and their 5% brews are a cyclist’s dream. I still managed to feel relatively knackered by the end of the day, possibly owing to the previous six hours of riding.
We stayed the night in a hiker-biker camp at Cape Lookout State Park: Just us, the sound of the ocean, and a pack of rambunctious raccoons. I never heard the coons on account of my eye mask, earplugs, hat, hood, sleeping bag, bivy, and a strong dose of exhaustion. Brenna, on the other hand, dealt with the raccoons all night. The good news is they didn’t find our coffee, and so we enjoyed two strong cups of Stumptown Monday morning before dogging it home in a persistent eastern head wind. If you’re from the Pacific Northwest, you know west winds are prevailing and east winds are uncommon, but Brenna and I are lucky, and we spent all day pondering the unfavorable timing of September Chinook winds. While these may not have been actual Chinook winds, given true Chinooks blow during winter months, they at least gave us something to yell at.
The road home took us north to highway 101 via a longish, but beautiful climb up and over Cape Lookout itself, then west to Nestucca River road from the “town” of Beaver. Nestucca River is a mostly paved, subtle beauty of a road, skirting the river in it’s near entirety and traveling quietly through large maples and alders before climbing and descending into the town of Carleton Oregon. After nearly eight hours of riding, we’d really hoped for the bakery to be open in Carleton, but everything was closed in this tiny town on Monday, and our bakery dreams went unrealized. Instead, we feasted on Thai food from the only food cart in Carleton, where the owner told us “Your bodies look nice, not like women’s bodies have to be”. Compliment? We think so. We had a laugh, and then drank two giant Thai iced teas, which, if perchance you were wondering, are not good mid-ride snacks.
The last 25 miles of road were along route 43 to Hillsboro, dotted by heartburn, and an emergency stop for cold, brightly colored water, because I hit the wall at roughly mile eighty. We rolled into the Hillsboro max station just at dusk, hung our bikes on the train, and took the easy way home. If you’re a glutton for punishment, you could ride the last miles back to Portland, but why? The good roads are all behind you, and so is the Thai food.
I certainly recommend this route to all who wonder about it. I’m so glad Brenna had a mind to catch the last days of summer on this ride. We opted for carbon and aluminum frame Kona cyclocross bikes with tubeless 36 and 40 mm Clement X’PLOR MSO tubeless tires mounted on Stan’s No Tubes rims. Brenna road cantilever brakes and I opted for disc brakes, but both were totally fine. While the Trask River road is appropriate for mountain bikes, you really want a lighter steed for the way home on Nestucca, which is mostly paved. Cyclocross bikes were perfect. Useful, but non-essential gear included a power brick for recharging fancy devices, a Steripen water purifier, and bourbon. We ran dry from three bottles each by the time we reached Tillamook, and would have been mighty thirsty on a hotter day. Some sort of small bicycle computer with mapping capability is helpful: We used Edge 500 and 520’s and had zero problems. You could certainly do this with just a map and eyes, too, but who wants to do that!