The Pacific Coast Highway and north central Oregon

For about a week I planned a ride up to Oregon and Washington. My original plan was to ride straight up Highway 5 from San Francisco to Portland, then up to the Olympic Peninsula in northwest Washington. The day before I left for the ride, I changed my plans. Two hours after I left home, I changed plans again. I ended up riding the Pacific Coast Highway starting just north of San Francisco and continuing along the Oregon coast until I crossed the Columbia River north of Astoria, Oregon. I then turned east along the Columbia River before heading south past Mount Hood and the lava fields of Mckenzie Pass in central Oregon.

Notes from the ride:
- If riding solo, you can change your plans any time.
- Oregon cagers drive me nuts
- When you least expect it, you’ll be surprised to find something awesome.
- You are going to forget something and feel like a moron
- I can still rack up the miles if I want.

Day 1 – San Francisco Peninsula to Gold Beach, Oregon

I left my home on the San Francisco Peninsula at about 8 am on Thursday morning. There was early morning commute traffic going through San Francisco, so it took a while to get across the Golden Gate. When I crossed the Golden Gate I stopped to look back at the city. Because of forest fires burning near San Jose and in the San Joaquin Valley, there was smoke all over San Francisco Bay. Visibility was bad. As I looked out across the Bay, I started to change my plans.

As I continued north on HWY 101 and got closer to Santa Rosa, the temperature started to rise. It wasn’t even 10am and it was already getting hot. I wanted to avoid the heat I knew I would encounter on HWY 101 between Santa Rosa and Leggett , so when I reached Santa Rosa, I decided to turn west and follow the Pacific Coast Highway.

From Santa Rosa, I took highways 12 and 116 to Jenner, where I got on HWY 1 north. From Jenner, the roads were mostly clear, with some traffic. The sky was clear with no smoke or fog, and the air was cool. At some points along the coast, it got a little cold, but nothing to bad.

Highway 116 between Sebastopol and Jenner

Pacific Coast north of Jenner

I stopped for gas in Fort Bragg before continuing north. North of Fort Bragg, HWY 1 turns inland. The road from the coast to the town of Leggett on HWY 101 is one of my favorite roads, and I was not disappointed as I raced through the coastal mountains. As I got closer to Leggett, the temperature went up significantly. I stopped in Leggett to remove the liner from my jacket and found that I had left the liner at home – no wonder I got a little cold along the coast – no liner. All I could think was, “Frank, you moron! How could you forget to bring the liner to your jacket?”

As I continued north on HWY 101, it was hot and I was glad I had taken HWY 1 along the coast. Near Fortuna to temperature dropped as I approached the coast again. Further north, it was cold and windy as I passed through Crescent City.

Paul Bunyan and the his Blue Ox on Highway 101 somewhere north of Crescent City

At about 7 pm, I rode it to Gold Beach across the border in Oregon. I had been riding for almost 11 hours and never stopped for lunch. I’d only had a few snacks to eat when I had stopped for gas or to taken a photo, so I was hungry. After getting a hotel room, I went to a local market and picked up a beer and some chips for a snack in my room before going to dinner. Dinner was a nice pasta and chicken dinner with a glass of Pinot Noir.

Miles ridden day 1 - 480

Day 2 – Gold Beach Oregon to Gresham, Oregon

I had the free continental breakfast at the motel on Friday morning before continuing north on 101. Leaving Gold Beach, the highway continues to follow the coastline. Spectacular scenery and twisties is the only way I can describe the ride. At times the highway is close to the beach and other times the highway runs several hundred feet up the side of a steep cliff with the Pacific Ocean below.

Met this guy on Hwy 101 somewhere north of Gold Beach, OR

There were quite a few bridges to cross on the road north. I have to give high praise to the bridge engineers for the beautiful bridge designs and how good the bridges look against the Oregon landscape.

These are some of the many bridges I crossed on Highway 101 as I rode up the Oregon coast.

On the way north, on the central Oregon coast, highway 101 also passes through Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. I saw quite a few ATV on the Dunes, looked like a lot of fun.

I also passed by some spectacular lighthouses overlooking the Pacific Coast and beautiful beaches nearly empty of people.

There were a lot of nice places to stop and enjoy the scenery.

The ride up the coast was not completely perfect. There was some traffic to deal with and the speed limit drops to 25 in the many towns that HWY 101 passes through. HWY 101 is just 2 lanes in most locations along the Oregon coast, but every once in a while there is a passing lane with a sign that says ‘Slower Traffic Keep Right’. My experience with the passing lane was that half the drivers ahead of me pulled to the right and the other half of the drivers did not. Then everyone continued at the same speed and no one was able to pass – very frustrating. At one of these passing lanes, I was weaving in and out of the cars trying to get to the front of the pack. As I was passing a pickup truck on the right, the drive decided he was “Slower Traffic” and all of a sudden he decided to move into the right lane. Well, the pickup truck missed hitting me by less than a foot as I zipped pass on the right. I could have reached out and touched the front fender, but instead I was leaning the bike to the right to avoid hitting the front bumper. Scared the crap out of me and I tried to be more careful for the rest of the trip.

I followed HWY 101 up to Astoria and crossed the Columbia River. I then turned east on highways 401 and 4 headed towards Longview. Highways 401 and 4 were both fantastic roads, clear of traffic. It was a great ride after the light traffic on 101. Highway 4 in southwest Washington

I finally got into Gresham, OR, east of Portland at about 8:30. Had a beer, some chips then went out for a chicken dinner.

Miles ridden day 2 - 420

Day 3 – Gresham, OR to Belmont, CA

I got up about 7am and had the free continental breakfast before taking a short ride east along the Columbia River to Multnomah Falls.

Multnomah Falls.

After checking out the falls I went back to the hotel and checked out. From Gresham, I took Hwy 26 to Mt. Hood and took the short drive up to Timberline Lodge.

Mount Hood from the road up to Timberline Lodge

Mount Hood from Hwy 26 on the road south

From Mount Hood I headed south on Hwy 26, then on to Hwy 97. Hwy 97 is mostly flat, dry scrub land and very uninteresting unless you pay some close attention. Every once in a while you’ll cross a short bridge maybe only 50 feet across. The bridge crosses what looks like a big crack in the earth. On closer inspection, these big cracks are really canyons carved by streams running at the bottom. These canyons are about 300 feet deep and have nearly vertical walls. Quite a surprise and worth stopping to take a look.

Deep canyons on Hwy 97 north of Redmond, OR.

I didn’t want to ride through Bend, OR. Every time I have been through Bend, the traffic was bad and it was hot. Plus the road south out of Bend in rather uninteresting. So to avoid Bend, I turned west from Redmond on Hwy 126 towards the town of Sisters. In Sisters, it was crowded with cars, RV’s, motorcycles and people. Must have been some kind of fair going on. Leaving Sisters my choice of roads was either Hwy 20 or 242. Everyone seemed to be going on Hwy 20, so I took 242. Hwy 242 had a sign that said scenic route and a warning that vehicles over 35 feet in length were prohibited. That sounded good to me. After a while of riding on Hwy 242, I started to notice lava fields through the trees to my right. These lava fields went on for miles. The road had no shoulder, so when I pulled over to take a picture, I tried to put my bike on the side stand but could because the dirt on the shoulder was like dust and the side stand just sank into the ground. So I continued on looking for a good place to take some pics. As I came around one corner, the road turned and went right through the lava field I had been pass. It was awesome. I was not expecting this at all. What a great accidental find.

The lava fields at McKenzie Pass on Hwy 242

After crossing McKenzie pass and the lava fields, I continued on 242 to Hwy 126 and then on to Eugene and finally to Hwy 5 south.

Highway 242 west of McKenzie Pass

From Eugene I started south on Hwy 5. I stopped for an early dinner in Cottage Grove and got a really crappy steak dinner at a place that looked pretty good. (I should have gone to McDonalds, the food would have been better.) From Cottage Grove, I continued south to Ashland. Hwy 5 from Cottage Grove to Ashland was a great ride. On that Saturday night, there was almost no traffic on the highway. The sun was just starting to set in the west with low mountains on each side of the highway, and forests, farms, and ranches between the highway and the low mountains.

When I got into Ashland it was about 8 at night. When I stopped to get gas, I had to decide should I could get a motel room or just ride home. If I got a motel room, I’d leave Ashland about 8 in the morning and go south on Hwy 5, down the central valley during the hottest part of the day, There would be lots of trucks and cars on Hwy 5, I would also get stuck in afternoon traffic between Sacramento and San Francisco and traffic in the Bay Area. If I was lucky, I get home about 4:30pm. If I left Ashland at 8:30 at night, there’d be no traffic, few cars and trucks on Hwy 5, no hot weather, and I’d get home about 2:30 in the morning. Plus, I kind'a like riding at night. I decided to ride the rest of the way home and left Ashland at 8:30pm.

As I left Ashland, it was quite dark and there was little traffic on the highway. Just south of Ashland, Highway 5 starts to wind through the mountains. Well, as I am riding through the mountains, I was thinking to myself, "My lights are really dim tonight. I hope the alternator on my bike is not going out." It was dark and I was out in the middle of nowhere. There was very little traffic and I didn't want to get stuck on the side of the highway late at night. So after a while of riding with my dim headlights, I thought, "Maybe I should turn off my auxillary light to save electrical power until I get to the next town and can check the alternator." So I reached down to turn off my auxillary light only to find the light was already turned off. No wonder the lights were dim, the auxillary light was turned off!! I turned my auxillary light on and now my lights made the highway look nice and bright. I felt like an idiot. But I could see much better with the auxillary light turned on.

In Vacaville at about 1 in the morning.

After I left Vacaville, between Sacramento and San Francisco, it got really cold and windy. I sure wish I had the liner to my jacket that I had left at home. So I stopped in the parking lot at Jack in the Box in Cordelia and put on some extra clothes to try to keep warm on the remainder of the ride home.

At 1 or 2 in the morning, you have to whole highway to yourself, it's a rather pleasant time to ride if you have to go through a congested area like the San Francisco Bay Area.

And I got home at 2:30 in the morning, just like I thought I would.

Miles ridden day 3 - 810