#2 The Oregon Coast: Hwy 101 (January 2013)

Driving to the Sea
It was another ‘inauspicious’ departure for the SW in our truck and camper: in October we left our apartment at 3:00 pm; this January turning the key on the door slipped to 3:30. We are slowly learning that independent of our resolve, it takes about 24 hours from the time we retrieve our camper from storage until we hit the road, even if in disarray. Next time we’ll shorten the departure day ‘to do’ list by shoehorning the bikes into the backseat of the truck a few days earlier which will give ample time to also stuff a portion of our 30 lbs of favorite grains around them.

Our 1st night on the road was in a state campground in the snow-dusted Coast Range.
We graciously yield to each of our late departures by stopping by sundown. Of course, only driving 50 miles or so seems incredibly silly but there is no need to punish ourselves. And leaving in a hurry means we need time to reclaim our camper bed from the piles of belongings heaved onto it, it being the biggest flat space in the rig. However late, it’s still better to get underway rather than postpone our getaway until the next day.

Unfortunately neither our departure time nor the weather forecast met our expectations. Single-digit temperatures at Yellowstone National Park, our first planned destination, were too harsh for carefree snow play for novice snow campers. But there was a bright spot: a 5-day forecast showing nothing but cloudless skies on the Oregon coast. Our itinerary changed in a flash at the sight of all those yellow sun icons on weather.com. The rare string of gorgeous though cool days on the coast, which is noted for being damp and gray, was too good to pass up.

Not going to Yellowstone was a good call because the weather there went from bad to worse but we felt like suckers when we arrived at the coast and were greeted with near-freezing temperatures under iconic heavy gray skies and drizzle that ebbed and flowed between mist and rain. “Ugh! We’ve been snookered. It wasn’t supposed to be like this!” were among our stream of laments. It was a classic day at the Oregon coast, something we had no need for on our first visit in 12 years.

Like the native Oregonians we are, we carefully tracked each brief thinning in the clouds that might signal clearing, each shift towards mist that might portent a dry spell. And of course, each improvement was only a tease. Rechecking the forecast that had been adamantly fixed on unobstructed sun icons for days revealed that the cheery forecast was now doing the “mañana” thing.

Instead of carving out new memory slots in our brains by letting our capable barefeet romp in the sand under sunny winter skies, we retrieved memories about prior experiences on the Oregon coast under similarly heavy overcasts. There were Bill’s numerous childhood outings to the north coast and mine to the central coast with a childhood friend’s family. Decades later there were the quick afternoon jaunts from Portland with our dog to let her dig in the sand and be teased by the gulls. And it was on the Oregon coast where we launched ourselves as cyclotourists, making our debut on a 4 night trip from Astoria after each running our assigned 3 legs in the Hood-to-Coast Relay. It would be the first of 4 cyclotours along the Oregon Coast, interspersed with 2 from San Francisco to LA or into Mexico.

Cranky from feeling bamboozled by the forecast, we vowed revenge: we’d make tracks to California where the sun could be trusted to show-up. But we realized that we weren’t so annoyed that we were willing to trade the peace and tranquility of overnighting at the beachside State Parks for noisy RV parks flanking the I-5 freeway. It was slow going on Hwy 101 in a truck and camper with all the windy, hilly roads occasionally in poor condition. On Tuesday after our late departure on Sunday Bill commented “It will take a long time to get to Texas at 35 mph.”

P90X Beach Scramble
Coming off of a month of daily P90X living room workouts for about the 5th time, it suddenly dawned on us that we could deviate from the fixed routines. The first dry morning at the beach we headed out to the sand in temperatures in the high 30’s with humidity still above 90% to do an impromptu workout still bundled up in our layers of street clothes and wearing plastic clogs. No exercise bands, no mats, and no audio or video prompt, we’d cobble it together ourselves.

The props for our ‘scramble’ of exercises from the basic set of 8 workouts in the DVD series were nitrile garden gloves to protect our hands from the wet, cold sand and Bill’s foam pad wrist props wrapped in a plastic bags to favor his aching thumb joints. The details beyond those would be figured out on the fly.

We warmed up by scrambling up and down the large basalt stones stabilizing the wall between the road and the beach. From there we spent the next 50 minutes on the wet sand in our Croc clogs taking turns calling out a P90X exercise and a duration. The nitrile gloves were great for doing moves from a push-up position and we managed to enjoy the new challenge of old exercises in the sand with the expansive beach ‘gym’. The pile of clothes we shed as we warmed rapidly grew higher and higher which at the end, made a great object to jump over as one of our exercises.

" P90X Scramble" on the beach.
Day 1 of our new “P90X Beach Scramble” was defined by the cold, gray, windless conditions and the handy assortment of riprap rocks that could be used for weights. Day 2 was a new beach with new opportunities. The glorious cloudless overnight sky had plunged the temperatures below freezing and the wet sand and puddles on the walk to the beach from the campground were frozen. A layer of frost coated the sand on the low dunes, something neither of us had seen before on the Oregon coast. There were no big stones to aid us but on this day we had driftwood logs to play with.

When we arrived at the beach, the rising sun behind us put a cheery rosy pink on the clouds over the sea, color that held when the clouds reflected onto the lagging skim of water left by the retreating waves. Next the distant breaking waves picked up the pink glow and then we noticed the tips of the dune grasses behind us began blazing as the sunlight hit them. In our living room we do the workouts staring at our little TV screen; here we quickly learned the importance of rotating while moving so as to take in all the enchanting, changing views. Dawn is becoming my favorite time of day when the weather is good because I love watching the subtle color shifts in the grasses and trees and on distant hills in many different regions.

We were in deep shade until the sun was well over the low dunes behind us making a snappy pace all the more compelling that morning. We used the few nearby pieces of driftwood as points to walk to during various P90X traveling moves like “Groucho walk,” “military march,” ‘traveling lunges,” and “tires.” The logs also provided objects to jump over and lean on for a couple of standing yoga poses and a spinal twist.

Bill doing "traveling lunges" on the frosty beach.
On Day 2 we also became a little bolder by partnering in moves in which we normally used a wall or piece of furniture for stability. A deep, rocking lunge is a significant balance challenge for us so we always do it near a table or wall. But on the beach we succeeded in supporting each other without tumbling by pressing our front bent knee against the other person's knee and lightly placing our hands on each others shoulders which gave the tough move an added dimension. More challenging was doing wall squats without a wall and instead pressing our backs to each other and slowly sinking down into the shape of a chair.

“P90X Beach Scramble” was an instant hit and something we expected to repeat as we moved south along the Pacific Ocean. Not following the fixed routines allowed us to get going in the morning without fussing with equipment or needing just the right place to workout. It added a playfulness and spontaneity that made the familiar moves fresh again. And surely moving on the uneven and sometimes sinking sand worked muscles in new ways on old exercises.

To the best of our understanding, ‘duner’s’ are folks that take dune buggies out onto the dunes and rip around just for the hell of it. The duner’s we see are a dedicated bunch with an attitude. They often travel in packs and participate in group events on weekends on inland dunes like those in Nevada. The ones that are most conspicuous to us are the folks in big RV’s hauling several dune buggies behind them on or in a trailer.

We however have borrowed their handle and have given it to our feet that love to rip around in the dunes naked. Our “duner’s” had been cooped up in shoes on city streets for almost 6 weeks this winter and were aching to leave tracks in the sand. The literally freezing cold wet sand on the beaches was too harsh for even our restless feet so we set our sights on Oregon’s stretch of sand dunes that would be mostly dry though still cold.

Pre-hiking season challenges in the driftwood.
Bill pulled off at one of the last sand dune access areas in Oregon late one afternoon. It was a half mile walk to the dunes but it was a small price to pay to let the toes play. The hour-long break in the drive was welcome and it was also prudent to slowly reintroduce our bodies to barefooting.

Curious onlookers always assume that it is our skin that needs conditioning for barefooting but really it is the ‘innards’ of the foot and calf, the soft tissue. Getting the feet off of board-like shoe soles and letting the foot bones twist and turn with every irregularity in a trail is like taking a foot out of a cast. Suddenly there is so much movement and it registers throughout the foot, ankle, and calf. Too much too soon, especially on dunes where the sand gives way unpredictably, can be injurious. So, this 40 minute reintroduction to some of the most extreme movements in barefooting followed by a series of non-barefooting days would be perfect.

Instead of dunes, a little farther south at Brookings we managed to add 1100’ of elevation gain to the exercise mix by hiking down from the campground to Harris Beach, back up to the campground, and continuing on to the summit of Harris Butte 4 times. Scrambling across the field of drift wood on the beach added some technical challenges for our feet and ankles as well. We were pleased with our early success on this trip in reacting to the changing environment to further our larger goal of using travel as a way to make fitness fun and self-propelling.

Heceta Head Lighthouse: a central Oregon coast classic scene out our dinette window.
Deja Vu
Our reactions to seeing places along the Oregon coast that we hadn’t visited for 12 to 50 years ranged from “Look how gentrified this area has become” to “It’s just as dumpy as it ever was.” And repeatedly I was commenting upon the wide new roadbeds because the sometimes treacherous, windy pavement was so much a part of the route’s old identity.

We admired the new-to-us low-cliff edge trail along the rocky shore at Yachts (a Native American name pronounced “ya-hots’) and the high cliff trail at Bandon and the many new and well-placed waysides and viewpoints, some that looked like they were made with cyclotourists in mind. We enjoyed staying at State Park campgrounds we’d never used before and lamented the closure of several State Parks, especially the favorite campground by Manzanita. As habitually safety-conscious travelers, we couldn’t help but notice the West Nile Virus warnings targeted to those of us over the age of 50 and the hundreds of tsunami warning and instructional signs. It was hard however to reconcile the conspicuous concern about tsunami’s with the relatively recent building frenzy a few feet above sea level and on new jetties.

The biggest “ah-ha” moment occurred when driving through the old town portion of Bandon, a southern Oregon port with a jetty over 100 years old. We both instantly recognized the old-fashioned corner cafe where we spoke to our very first cyclotourists back in the 1990’s. We’d been on a brief road trip along the southern Oregon coast and had noticed the official state bike route signs and a few loaded cyclists on the highway. A pair of them were in the cafe with their unlocked, loaded bikes resting against the cafe wall in the sun. Our careful inspection of their bikes and gear were alarming and they came out to check on us and graciously answered our questions. If they only knew that their brief time with us in front of that Bandon cafe was the impetuous for us becoming cyclotourists who racked up over 50,000 miles on the bikes....

Barking sea lions 300' below our camper serenaded us while we ate lunch.
Approaching the California Border
Farther on at Langlois, a wide spot in the road south of Bandon, I blurted out “They need a little help with spin around here” after seeing the Greasy Spoon Cafe and Raincoast Art gallery. And a day later I stiffened upon recognizing the first place that we ever cyclotoured where I became scared by the 'neighborhood'. I'd totally detached the emotions and the images from being in Oregon and they'd gradually merged with other creepy moments years later when we were overseas. It was like the shock of identifying a real location in a bad dream. All these years later it was easy to see why I felt vulnerable then--it didn't look any more safe or welcoming now and I was happy to whiz by in a vehicle.

Realizing that Oregon had a policy of free recycling services for laptops that now nearby California might not have, Bill sped up his decommissioning of the 2 old 10 1/2” screen, cyclotouring-sized, Fujitsu’s that had been languishing on our closet shelf for years. At the last minute, we had decided to bring them and the remaining 80 CD’s he wanted to download on to his computer before donating them. Nine CD’s made a park host volunteer’s day when we deposited them at the book exchange shelf of the State Park campground near Newport. Two days later, we left the Fijutsu’s at Port Orford’s recycling center, with the second of 2 completing it’s erasing routine minutes before we arrived.

We’d gotten off to a rough start on this season’s trip: a late departure, camping in a bit of snow in the Coast Range the first night, steady drizzle the first day at the sea, and then frost on the beaches the first several mornings on the road. But our initial pouting about the promised lovely weather not materializing soon gave way to the pleasure of being on the road again. We vividly remembered that our early bike trips had ended at the Oregon-California border but this trip with our camper would take us on into California. Like when crossing borders in Europe, we’d know we’d crossed the state line into California because of abrupt changes: the state campground fees would jump from $20-22 with hook-ups to $35 without; the price of gas would jump and stay up; and the weather would keep getting better.