Oregon Hideaway: Sweet Creek
The central Oregon coast is a unique region. The terrain here is interesting, in that to the west of my residence is the colossal expanse of the Pacific Ocean, which restricts triking from that 180 degree arc of the circle, yet, the other half of my world offers much to explore using human power. The ocean is beautiful and mesmerizing to behold, and refreshes the human spirit, but you can’t pedal a trike on it.
Immediately to the east of my residence is the realm known as the Coast Range, a mountain chain small by some standards, yet certainly challenging by cycling standards. And no matter how one sees it, few would disagree that it is visually gorgeous by human standards. This is the realm in which I explore Earth regularly on my recumbent tadpole tricycle, sometimes with my bicycling buddy Matt Jensen, former owner of a Catrike 700.
One beautiful journey in these mountains is documented here, the Sweet Creek loop. Loops are nice because the route is all new territory, no riding out and then riding back the same way. The 50 mile Sweet Creek loop is much like a day on the road of an overland trike journey, with varied terrain from flat high speed pedaling to steep low speed spinning, and with each mile revealing new sights. Riding the Sweet Creek loop feels like a long haul trek, except that two things are missing: 1) the trike is not loaded with cargo, and 2) you don’t get up the next day and do 50 more miles, day after day.
On this particular ride, I left the house shortly after 10 AM, returning that evening shortly after 6 PM, having simply enjoyed the grandeur of nature here and there along the way, taking time to eat energy bars and visit, and stopping with Matt at Woahink Lake to visit a lady friend of his. It was a leisurely ride along rivers and creeks, through forests, and over daunting mountains – the kind of experience that makes you really feel alive, and happy to just be.
The morning was nippy at the coast, and we wore layers as we headed east along the river towards Mapleton, Oregon, a tiny town that floods every year of heavy rains. Many residents have their houses built on tall stilts. On more than one occasion during the 18 years I’ve lived in this area, people have actually been able to canoe and kayak through town where we rode today, as the highway was literally under water. On one ride to Mapleton a couple weeks ago, it was breezy and cool at the coast, but 80 degrees Fahrenheit just 15 miles inland.
The first 15 miles are along Higway 126, which heads inland towards the Willamette Valley and Eugene, over the Coast Range. From Florence to Mapleton is along the Siuslaw River (pronounced Sigh-Ooh-Slaw, with the emphasis placed on the Ooh). It is named after the Siuslaw Tribe of First Americans who live in this area. The highway has huge shoulders and allows for triking speeds up to 20 miles per hour, although a rate of 12-15 is more sustainable. I usually make the ride to Mapleton in one hour, thus sustaining a 15 MPH average.
At Mapleton, we turned south off Highway 126 onto the Sweet Creek road, which ultimately takes the explorer to the Sweet Creek Falls trailhead, an incredible hike through a dense forested canyon with awesome waterfalls along the way. About three miles shy of the trailhead, Matt and I cut off on forest road 24, which quickly heads up the mountain – a long haul, low gear spin and grin ascent, where melding with nature and talking with friends make it easier. Of course, as I see things, uphills are my best friends because they make me stronger and more fit, fully prepared for maximum functional longevity. Life is respected through honoring the abilities of the body.
The scenery on this trip is as serene and beautiful as it comes, different from many other scenic rides of course, but breathtaking nonetheless. Forests standing guard over farmers’ fields and livestock are seen here and there. Secluded ranches dot the lower elevations occasionally. Once out in this region of the ride past Mapleton, automobile tire whine is nonexistent, because even when the two cars that passed us the entire day drove by, they were going so slow that the tires were not humming in my ear. Usually only local residents drive this far out. Tourists are virtually unheard of.
Forest road 24 is a single lane affair, only fully paved over the top about 2 years ago, having had a gravel section for a long time. The pavement is rough compared to the highway, but due to lower speeds climbing the mountain, it is not bothersome. This trip, I spread out my energy bar intake, which worked well to keep me sustained physically. I ate a total of about 1100 calories on this 50 mile ride, but burned about triple that number. Needless to say, I was ravenous come supper time, which it was by the time I had my trike put away and taken my shower.
The ride to the crest of the mountains is very steep compared to what one experiences while riding the coast Highway 101. Rural roads are just like that around here, steep and very curvy. On the descents, I had to continually be applying the brakes of my ICE Q trike, as the corners are too sharp to maintain speed without flipping over. This is where Matt had a decided advantage on his Long Haul Trucker bicycle, as he could lean into the curves as on a motorcycle, thereby leaving me in the dust. Only on straighter descents with open curves can I maintain enough speed to shadow him.
Across the summit peaks of this ride, expansive distant views abound through the trees. Nice cloud formations could be observed far away, bringing perspective to how high up we had climbed, and the distances in these mountains. At one point on one of the killer uphill portions, we briefly stopped to chat, and I stood up and walked around a bit. Well, the trike was not sitting level, so before I could stop it, that old Q rolled backwards right off the road into the barrow ditch and roadside flora. Figured it was time for a nap.
The trees up here are massive, and one photo below shows Matt pedaling along ahead of me under the towering evergreens. I love how nature shows me my true place in things, and how utterly insignificant I am as a human being. This magnificent forest was here long before I was, and will remain long after I leave my sentient form. We are however, of the same unknowable source of life.
Once down the western slope of the range, the route again moves along through serene pasturelands. The road flattens out for the most part, and pedaling in higher gears once again becomes possible. There are still a few hidden hills just to keep the cyclist from becoming too full of his ability to speed along, but the vistas are so breathtaking that hills actually give one time to mentally pause and take it all in. Speed removes the landscape, even on a trike – automobile drivers never see a road like a triker does. I have driven this loop in an automobile, and vaguely recall how it goes, but only on a trike or bike does one fully remember forever every little nuance of the terrain, every hard-fought uphill, and every green paradise surrounding the mind.
The golden brown horse towards the end stood aflame in the afternoon rays of the sun, and I simply had to capture its portrait. Just as I was about to press the shutter button, it turned its head sideways, and made a memorable image even more stunning. I love how the sun casts an incredible ambiance to the animal in its green pasture.
After rejoining the coast Highway 101 south of Florence, we pedaled alongside petroleum powered metal boxes that passed us at 55 miles per hour speeds. The serenity and quiet of the loop route had disappeared, but not the uplifting scenery of the coastal forests. Once back in Old Town, I snapped a final photograph of a boat at the dock on the Siuslaw River. What a cornucopia of visual treats this area truly is! I am happy to live here. From deep forests to the wide ocean, the central coast of Oregon state is full of beauty and diversity that call to my spirit.
I slept straight through the night, deep and free, my body rebuilding itself to be even stronger the next time out. Unlike a petroleum powered engine that wears and becomes ever so weaker with added miles, the human powered organic engine grows in power over the miles, an added perk to this triangular mode of locomotion. Enjoy the photos. See ya’ next time for another Oregon Hideaway …
A very short 3 second movie: