Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Bikepacking The Rogue Zone

Despite growing up in Oregon, my consistent range there never really spread much into the southwest corner of the state.  Which is somewhat inexplicable, since it's an amazing part of the country, much less the state, with a dramatic coastline, great rivers, good mountains, the state's only national park, and zillions of miles of great riding on roads and trails.  So when we got an invitation to join our old friends Matt and Leigh on a Rogue river trip, we jumped on it.

Well, sort of jumped on it.  In about the year Nineteen Hundred and Ninety One I did paddle the Rogue, but my recollections of it were not that great, for some reason:  almost no rapids, short for a multi-day trip, and jet boats are allowed to travel upstream.  So over the last 20 years that Ashley and I have been together we've done lots of rivers, and even though she at times has said "I wanna go do the Rogue!" I've not been too enthusiastic about it, especially now that we live 12 hours away vs the 4 hours from Portland that I had when I first did it.  But the opportunity to do a trip with Leigh and Matt was a great one, and when Ashley said "let's combine it with a bike tour!" I was in, and hoping that my feeble memory of a mediocre river was wrong. 

As everyone knows, the word of the summer in the west was "Fires."  It seemed like all of California was on fire, BC was up in flames, Utah had its share, and also SW Oregon.  When I called a bike shop near Medford to get some ideas for potential riding routes they pointed out that they hadn't seen any of the hills around their place for over a month, and a quick check of indicated that Ashland was buried in the Red Zone.  But closer to the coast it seemed to be a little better due to coastal breezes or somesuch, and we finally decided that if we were going to be at the Rogue anyway we might has well explore the riding through the Siskiyou mountains that the Rogue cuts through.  So we decided to drive right to the river put in, leave our car there, do a nice 5 day loop back to the car, then jump off our bikes and into our boats for the 4 day river trip. 

This was a great plan, because being a multi-sport enthusiast I have a dumb habit of being on my way to a river and saying "this would be great riding!" and when I'm riding near a river I say "Wow, I really want to paddle that!" and this was going to satisfy both those urges! 
Looking downstream from the put in....from the bridge we were crossing on our bikes. 
As we started our climb out of the Rogue valley, we got a look from on high at the infamous Rainie Falls, which looms two miles down from the put in:
Which we knew we'd be facing in a few days, but for now all we had to do was ride on beautiful one-lane paved and gravel roads where we'd see at most a couple of cars per hour.
Being from Utah we reveled in the greenery, but were also happy when we found a roadside hike up to a peak that would give us a bird's eye view of the Siskiyous
And a lot of gnarly clear cuts
apparently we were not the first - nor the most exciting - summitteers of the little peak
The peak was named Mt Bolivar, named by a guy way back in the day who apparently was a big fan of Simon Bolivar of South American independence fame; what better way to memorialize a Venezuelan general than to name a little butte in SW Oregon for him?  

We utilized the famous bikepack-hike anti-theft technique of chammy-side out:
It worked!  no one stole our bikes.  
Our general route was to go from the Rogue put in up and over the mountains to the coast at Coos Bay, then down the coast, back through the mountains to the Rogue near the takeout, and then back through the mountains on the shuttle road to the put in.  From the drier, oak-ier inland side we soon transitioned over to the rainforest, where they grow them trees big:

And there are nice waterfalls:
and more sublime riding

The signs were aged well:
But we deciphered "Oregon Coast" and the arrow so we shrugged and followed those through the maze of forest roads.  

and we were happy to discover that we were on an actual bike route
Only in bicycle-mad Oregon?  
As we came out of the mountains we were rolling through flat farmlands, which is good/bad; great riding, but as day-ends loom and you're still far from a town there aren't many camping opportunities.  So we rolled up to a nice farmhouse, knocked on the door, and nice-guy Bill let us set up camp in his yard:

Bill came out later and had a beer with us, and we learned that his great grandparents came over on the wagon trail from Medford in 1873, a year after the trail had been put in, and his grandparents built the home based on plans they had bought from Sears Roebuck (the house was almost an exact replica of the house of a neighbor of ours in rural west Portland back in the day).  So Bill was most definitely a "local", and told us how he had flipped pancakes at the nearby grange hall when Cycle Oregon came through a coupla years prior, and he also mentioned that they hadn't gotten any rain   -on the Oregon Coast, one of the rainiest places ever - since mid May!  Tough on ranching.  

But the following morning in the Coquille Valley did have a bit of fog and dew:

In addition to allowing the ability to meet nice folks along the way, bike touring provides the opportunity to actually stop at the little historical info turnouts you always blow past in your car:
And in Oregon - with no salt on its roads and thus no rust - you get to see some funky old cars:
a sick Fastback

I thought it was interesting that their little local paper was called "The World"
The broader view, from the Oregon Coast

And of course, late summer in the Northwest means....many things, but importantly, it's blackberry season!
roadside power food

Soon enough we popped out in Coos Bay, which I'd never been to but have long known about it as the original hometown of Steve Prefontaine, whom I wrote about a coupla years ago in a post, so we had to swing by the town's mural memorial and geek out for a moment:
Coos Bay was our northernmost point, and we needed to go south along the coast.  Doing a bit of research we found a good alternative to the busy coast highway called the "Seven Devils" route.  According to what we read, it was infamous among coastal bike tourers for its difficulty, so we prepared ourselves for some good grinding.  However, according to what I could find on various map stuff it only encompassed 1500 feet of climbing over theoretically 7 climbs and 11 miles?  I figured that must be wrong and we'd be on something more exciting; there were even helmet cam videos of people "doing the Seven Devils!"  
there she goes!  
But after doing some roly-poly climbs  -some on gravel - and finding ourselves at the highway 101 Ash rode up to me and said "did we miss it?"  1500 feet of vert over 5-7 climbs is indeed not too much, though it is almost car-free and has a nice secluded beach to visit

The Seven Devils road ends in the nice little coast town of Bandon, where we were able to fill ourselves with fresh seafood and local beer before launching south on the main highway.  
shot as I was precariously going no-hands while trying to not veer into traffic. 
The Coastal Route is a bit of a classic bike tour, but we agreed that it's a good representation of why more people don't bike tour; it's more efficient to get places on bigger roads, and many cyclists see bike touring as means to get places efficiently, which puts them on too-busy roads, where people in cars see them and think "wow, that's shitty and dangerous riding", when the reality is that it's usually not far to this kind of riding:
and in Oregon you get actual Bike Routes!
On the coast highway we did get a chance to see some roadside cranberry harvesting:
Not many places in the US grow cranberries; interesting that they grow in bogs. 
Soon enough we were spinning up the Elk River, which I was embarrassed to have never heard of despite it looking like a great 20 mile section of whitewater (with a lot of rain) and eventually we climbed out of the Elk drainage up and over the mountains to drop down into the Rogue again:
We had about a 14 mile descent to the river on a chilly morning
And we saw our first evidence of the well-advertised fires:
Queue Deep Purple guitar riff....
But it wasn't bad, and we were relieved that our last segment back up and over to the car was indeed open after having been closed for weeks due to a fire.  

it started with a 17 mile climb, with fires looming in the distance:

and then we got into the meat of it:
still off in the distance

hard to believe these oversized hot tubs provide any reasonable amount of water for a forest fire? 

They spray fire retardant on the trees next to the road to protect the road, but it looked like the retardant was pretty much napalm itself since it had already killed the vegetation.  
And we had a wicked fun 20 mile (??!!?) descent through the recent burn back down to the river
And about 10 minutes after we got to our car a bunch of trucks with kayaks on them rolled up and there was our river crew, and we were poised for the second phase of our bike/paddle adventure!  (in the next post). 

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