Monday, February 24, 2020

Week 6: Moonset over the Murres

We’ll start off with a little link to a video that Steve Holzman shot of me when he, Rachel, and I were out chasing birds around:


Last night I employed the old curtain blanket trick, and I actually slept pretty well. The rain had hardly ceased, but I had a rendezvous to honor. The plan was to meet up with Anne Pelletier, a Georgia birder who I know from Georgia Ornithological Society meetings, a few miles south to do a little birding. To quote Anne, “the GA team rules!” She’s right; we look out for each other.

The same day I’d be heading to Reedsport, so I took all my gear with me. It was a tough commitment, to relocate and to bird, but I had the whole day to accomplish both objectives.

So first it was to the Siltcoos River hotspots. It was more or less a toss-up for seeing yearbirds, but it was a convenient enough spot to meet up and scour. The conditions were less than ideal, but it was all that we had. My inflexibility grounded us, so we were going to do what we could. We began by birding the Waxmyrtle Trail. There were some songbirds about, but hardly anything to get excited about. My binos were fogging up with the moisture, and I had a gloomy feeling about our prospects.

But we kept with it, clinging to the birding virtue that is perseverance. Sticking with it led us to the beach on the south side of the estuary. A couple of cooperative Wrentits in the dunes suggested a change in the birding tide.

Once on the beach, we waded through droves of Snowy Plovers that provided stellar views. I must have passed through the invisible Snowy Plover boundary, as I’d been on the coast all year but was just starting to see them as of yesterday. According to Rebecca and Walt, seeing a wintering Snowy in Oregon used to be unheard of about a decade ago, and now it’s possible to see dozens at certain locales.

We enjoyed our lucky status to be able to appreciate this recent phenomenon and pushed closer to the estuary. Anne suddenly cued in on an odd gull flying ahead of us. It was a freaking Black-legged Kittiwake! Out of the blue! Or should I say out of the gray?

I was instantly on cloud 9. There’s nothing like a Kittiwake to propel a routine birding venture into one worthy of storage in the vault of birding memories. Upon closer inspection, we picked out two birds frolicking in the estuary, though one quickly peeled out. The other, however, remained for an incredible prolonged viewing experience. We gawked as the bird repeated a regimented process of flying upriver, landing on the river outflow, floating to sea, bathing, preening, and repeating. It was a true Jonathan Livingston among posers.

Eventually it settled on the north spit with the other gulls. Birding is a real-life lottery, and we had just hit the jackpot by playing against the odds.

After birding the wetlands back by the car and adding some other passerines, we broke for a picnic lunch that Anne provided. We talked and talked until it was time to hit the road. I bid Anne adieu and thanks as she headed back north.

For me, it was the continued push south. It started off enjoyably enough until a long haul of an incline appeared. I was not aware of the full scale of this climb and just dove in head first, hoping that it would end. A couple hundred yards in and I had to call it quits, my legs quivering and my chest on the verge of exploding.

When I arrived at the top of the hill on foot, darkness was looming. I was feeling pretty weak and having trouble mounting. It got to the point where I considered leaving some of this confounded gear on the mountain. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized I had inadvertently done just that, leaving my wrist mirror for some lucky cyclist or future archaeologist to turn up and make sense of. (By the way, do not worry about these struggles-I’ve since made some adjustments and lightened the load).

Fog was closing in as I hit the downhill, and the Oregon woods were getting dark fast. My passage into the different microclimate of the valley was marked by ear popping and warm air. When I finally broke through to Gardiner, the sky opened up, providing the remnants of twilight’s glow.

It was under these conditions that I booked it into Reedsport.

I checked into a motel room and celebrated the thought of resolving my desperate need for a warm shower. However, upon turning the water on, I realized how bad the drainage was, and I was not about to shower in a moat of the filth of myself and countless others. My first response was to fashion a makeshift blockage remover from a coffee straw, but the severity of the situation superseded a DIY approach.

So I called in the manager, who provided access to the adjoining room, where the shower drained properly. A Sandy Komito would have milked the hell out of this process and found a way to stay for free. I was too much resigned to the situation to contest.


I woke up to a different Reedsport. I found that my conception of the town had been misinformed by the night’s withholding hand. The town was brighter than I had surmised, and I was pleased with the scheduled layover day. So I followed through with laying over, administration, and planning.


I’m done pussyfooting around. Today begins a new chapter of my trek through Oregon. And that’s to put the pedal down until I glance up to see California’s promise ahead. And don’t you think that by doing this I’m compromising my intent to live without haste. This is a different kind of haste than that which demands the frittering away of the day and living like a taskmaster. My haste is a longterm one. The days are still lived appropriately and in their own time, but I have adopted an awareness of progress that is centered around mileage. Time is there too; it’s in the peripheries. I’ve set waypoints in the context of time, but that hardly affects my daily experience.

I begin my new chapter of flight with, appropriately enough, a bit of a wait. Following the passage of an ephemeral shower, I take to the road once more. After passing Winchester Bay, I walk uphill and ride down to Umpqua State Park to take a shot at a little birding. I keep it quick and do not note anything spectacular at the jetties. A special thanks and shoutout to Meegan and Ron for letting me stash my stuff in the office. There’s nothing quite like strolling through a park with the peace of mind that some scavenger is not extracting my life support from the shrubs to scrap it for a buck. And believe me, there are plenty of scavengers about.

I rode the next 15-20 miles without stopping. Rain and sleet were intermittent, and it would be the last that I would really experience in Oregon. In this last dosage of nastiness, I walked the bridges into North Bend. To get to my Warmshowers hosts in Coos Bay, I did a bit of walking and a bit of riding to round out the day. An incredible full moon welcomed me to Oregon’s bay cities.

Daniel and Margaret greeted me warmly and walked me down to get some Mexican food. That night we played a round of the card game Five Crowns, and I had the most fun ever! There’s nothing like a little strategy and fellowship to recenter the mind after the trials of the road. It was the perfect thing for my hosts to offer. Really, I had forgotten how fun games can be and appreciated the hell out of this one.


Up in due time, Daniel prepared a yummy avocado bagel. He made the bagels himself, and I can no longer tolerate a hotel continental breakfast bagel. I have officially been spoiled.

After chatting cycling for a while and strategizing my next moves with a veteran of the road, Daniel and I mounted up and headed into town on a gorgeous morning. He led me through backstreets (minus the boyz) on his reconstructed 50’s chrome bike. I’m sure we looked like quite the team. We checked out the community bike shop, an impressive space for tinkering on pedaled means of locomotion.

From there, Daniel led me through town to access 101 and return to my highway calling. It felt so good to ride with a buddy again, even if it was just for a short stint. To Margaret and Daniel: y’all are the bomb! Thanks for a great stay!

Following Daniel’s suggestion, I stuck to highway 101 instead of taking the 7 Devils Road detour as called for in the bike route. The ride was pleasant from the get-go. As usual, and as Daniel observed, there’s always a hill to conquer upon leaving town first thing in the morning. I laid into the hill and took it for as long as I could before I had to take to my feet.

Once I figured to be the “top,” I mounted up and rode on. Cutover plots provided windows for spectacular mountain views; the visibility seemed infinite. I inspected the cut areas as I passed slowly by. Logging in Oregon is an insane industry. Check out this satellite image of the Oregon woods.

Do you notice the checkerboard pattern on the landscape? It’s an amazing bird’s eye perspective. Our activities have created an orderly repetitive sequence across what would otherwise be an unbroken blanket of green.

From the ground, I’m dumbfounded that all of these trees could be removed from this rugged terrain. The aftermath seems to suggest that somebody took a razor to the mountain’s face and then hauled off its whiskers with helicopters. Seeing this process in realtime must be a sight to behold: an operation coordinated with caution. I know that I could turn on Discovery Channel and for some reason see the process unfolding, but I’ll pass. Call me crazy, but I don’t fancy watching and listening to a virtual slaughter of forestland. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the harvesting of trees. I’m no Greenpeace operative. But I don’t really like the whole glorification of exploitation business.

I continued on to another incline, a truth which didn’t seem possible. Still, this was one of those doable climbs. There seems to be some perfect grade for riding unicycles uphill. An angle just slightly less severe than this golden grade becomes a bit harder, as does an increase in incline. It’s a phenomenon that I used to experience on the House of Dreams Road climb at Berry. Some gentle inclines would feel excruciating, while a slightly steeper stretch would be just right. It’s a true Goldilocks situation, and it must have something to do with the physics or mechanics of unicycling. I guess the angle of the road forces an optimal lean and pedal action to work up the hill.

Considering the mysterious magic of uphill unicycling, I was motoring along just fine. While getting into the second verse of Ventura Highway, I noticed a loud and guttural moan approaching from behind- the engine braking of a large semi. Just moments later, a truck loaded down with hay bales zoomed by and delivered an immense pressure wave that would have taken a kite to the air. What a sensation while on a unicycle.

Just like any hill climb, I was left with a lot of potential energy (especially due to my gear load) and downhill to cover. The downhill grade registered at 6% in some spots, and this brought its own challenges. I was forced to rely on the brake to save my knees. It’s tough gripping a brake on such a long downhill. You’ve got to focus on the road surface, try to keep an even application of pressure on the brake, and trust. Just like with anything, exerting pressure on one spot for a while quickly causes discomfort, and my hand was feeling that.

By the time the hair-raising descent had reached its denouement, my turnoff for a stakeout Burrowing Owl had arrived. So I ditched 101 and found myself on 7 Devils Road, the recommended cycling route. After seeing the condition of this road, I was happy not to have taken the detour. It rode like 7 devils had harassed the construction crew that built it. I misremembered the actual sequence of turns to get to the Burrowing Owl spot and got a bit turned around.

One unanticipated dirt road later and I was in high society. You see, this Burrowing Owl happened to make his home in a hole on a golf course, which seemed appropriate for this lead character of Hoot. And by hole I don’t mean the hole on the green, it was just some random hole on a mound off in the rough. Steve Holzman had alerted me to this bird, and it was not too far out of the way from my ride to Bandon.

I instantly felt out of place among the Mercedes G-Wagons, Audis, and BMW X3’s as I wandered through the country club with my high visibility garments and gaudy unicycle. It was no use trying to blend in, so I just sat in the parking lot to enjoy a lunch alongside the Audubon’s Warblers.

Using very precise instructions from a guy named Norm, I was able to spot the Owl’s head just above the ground’s surface. Although I tried to get better looks from multiple angles, the best that I could do was to see the plumage on the top of the head. I wasn’t about to press my luck and get any closer, so I accepted the mediocre looks at this yearbird and moved along.

En route to Bandon, I passed a suspicious flock of wild-looking Wild Turkeys, but decided not to count them because they were in someone’s yard next to a free-range chicken farm. The situation was too suggestive to check off that bird, and I know that I’ll turn them up later.

I rolled into the Oregon Islands NWR at Bandon just in time for an incredible sunset viewing over the Pacific. Rarely do I get to actually sit down and appreciate a sunset; I mean it’s kind of hard to do in the thickly forested southeast. But watching this one left me incredulous that this happens every single night and that it costs nothing but a few moments to view. Gulls streamed in for their evening roost, and I elected to appreciate the scene intrinsically, not from an observer or lister standpoint.

Birding can be a superficial pursuit. Although we’re after an experience in nature, it’s all too easy to get caught up in tabulating numbers, targeting birds, and looking at the damn eBird app on your phone the whole time you are out in the field. Far too often we birders are “seeing” but not seeing. I took this rare moment to just enjoy nature for what it was, and that is a mindset easer imagined than achieved for me.


After last night’s musing on getting too caught up in the bird chasing and listing, I couldn’t have been more surprised to be dealt a bitch-slap for letting my guard down in a moment of innocent nature appreciation. It wasn’t that I had actually missed anything dire, but the magnitude of this morning’s sighting served as a warning for future episodes of just appreciating the big picture.

I find it hard to believe that what I would witness first thing in the morning was not visible during my carefree sunset-gazing evening.

It all started last night when I checked into an oceanfront motel. I gave my obligatory explanation for my one-wheeled shenanigans to the concierge and mentioned the search for birds. She asked if I had seen Murres. Following my response that I had not yet but was on the lookout for them, she revealed that they had been swarming the rocks off the shore for the past couple of mornings, those same rocks that I had been admiring just an hour previous. I asked if this was in fact a recent sighting, knowing this to be the case in the summer during breeding, but she was adamant.

As usual, I took the info with a grain of salt and politely broke away and headed to my room for the night. After all, nothing of that magnitude had appeared on eBird recently, and eBird knows all.

Well, it was now 7:30 am, and I was back in the lobby for a rare continental breakfast. I decided to indulge myself and glance through the motel’s scope. I panned to one of the rocks off the shore and stood in amazement. The surface of the outcrop was absolutely covered in hilarious penguin wannabes- Common Murres!!! As my friend Mac would say, any day with a lifer is a good day. I would go further and say any day that starts with a lifer is a spectacular day. Needless to say I was giddy eating those bran flakes.

Jeremy Wade was right when he stated that the best intel is local intel. I’ve been reliant on eBird as a birder for years now, but being in unfamiliar terrain to start off this Big Year, I have been essentially dependent upon its user-generated sightings to know where to stop. And yet this infallible approach had just been taken to school by an unassuming receptionist.

I hurriedly finished breakfast to set off on a bird run, incorporating a Murre viewing into my pre-planned outing. I took in the full spectacle at a wayside viewing area just down the road. The full magnitude of the phenomenon quickly became apparent: I was looking at anywhere between 3-5,000 Murres stacked on the rocks, in the water, and in the air. These guys are driven by an ancient instinct to amass here, and love must have been on their minds.

I studied their quirky ways as the moon set over their pop-up colony. The outermost birds took the aerial plunge off the rocks in bombs-away fashion. Special care must be taken not to end up like a foolish base-jumper who failed to clear a rock shelf below. The birds were packed in extremely tightly on the rocks that protruded so far above the ocean waves. I guess the last birds to arrive in the evening were the first to leave in the morning, being forced to take a space near the edge of the prominence.

Birders often talk about the “when it rains, it pours” lifer moment, meaning that you spot a bird repeatedly after the lifer moment, despite having tried so hard and not having turned up the species until that particular moment. I was feeling that to the next level. It was my first ever sighting of a Murre, and there were literally thousands before my eyes. After a month on the Oregon coast, looking at dozens of sea stacks, I was now seeing one painted with an amazing bird. What the hell was I looking at last night?

The original item on the morning’s itinerary was a Shrike hunt. Leaving behind the Murres, who looked like ants on an inundated mound, I continued south for a few miles on my unloaded uni to reach the China Creek Beach access. This was the site of a Northern Shrike sighting just a week or so prior. I read about the bird on the Oregon birding listerv and contacted the poster for more information. I meandered down the beach, picking out every bird-shaped piece of driftwood and feeling false excitement as Black Phoebes sallied out from their dune perches. The Shrike would end up being a miss, but I nabbed an Osprey as it cruised right over my head.

The Osprey sighting was significant not just for its positive impact on my year list. It was another sign that I was making real progress on my unicycle. I was actually moving through the limits of bird’s ranges, having entered the range of Wrentit, Mourning Dove, and now, Osprey, from the north. It was a very encouraging feeling.

I channeled the southern tidings of the Fish Hawk and headed back to the motel, packed up, and hit the road. A north wind and great weather prodded me along. I even saw a butterfly, a first of the year.

Before reaching Langlois, a town that is apparently world famous for hot dogs and mustard, I had a first. I had a stare-down with a dog that did not react to me speeding by. Clearly it wasn’t blind; it tracked me as I pedaled by. Was it mute? I’m still perplexed by this lack of reaction.

Langlois was my midway point for the day, and I chowed down at the store off the highway.  I also picked up my first Turkey Vulture of the year, my second raptor yearbird of the day. It was another sign of my southern progress.

The miles to Port Orford were simply exquisite, and I surpassed the 300-mile mark on my Oregon stint. I liked the port area of Port Orford. It felt like one of those one-lane wild west town sets had been placed on the coast.


I started my day at a diner, tackling a formidable All-Star type meal. That’s not to say that it had anything on an actual All-Star. I just used that modifier to give an idea of the scale and components of the breakfast dish, not to comment on its quality. After all, there simply is no substitute for Waffle House, and the withdrawals never do seem to ease up. I think that’s cause it’s an actual addiction.

After struggling to get all of that food down, I took to the road like a gorged vulture struggles to get airborne. The Wrentits delivered their ping-pong ball chorus as I rode on by in the sunshine. As I headed into the “climb out of town,” I began to think about how much nicer it is to climb a clean road shoulder than one strewn with debris. It makes a massive difference not having to dodge trash and pedal uphill at the same time. Gone are the days when I toss orange peels and apple cores out the window. I have never in my life valued a clean road surface so much.

Soon I was darting through the shaded and congested, yet beautiful, valley of Humbug Mountain and entering a slow climb.  I told myself that I would only be hurting myself later for not getting used to these climbs, so I kept with it.

I’m finally getting to the point where I can appreciate the scenery. Between my getting in shape, the great weather, and the dearth of traffic, I can actually take it in from the uni. Previously my observations were limited to “Oh, it’s raining,” “There’s a pothole,” or “Here comes another hill.” I’ve come a long way.

I stopped at a scenic spot overlooking the Pacific. I admired the crashing of the Hawaiian Punch Berry Blue Typhoon colored water on the wet concrete beach as I ate my protein wrap. Lunch consisted of peanut butter and avocado nestled in a leftover pancake roll. It was so gooey that it took ages to eat. Who cared? All I had was time.

I then blazed into Wedderburn. (It’s kind of funny that I feel inclined to use these verbs-I haven’t gone over 15 mph in six weeks, but I sure feel like I’m flying sometimes) I made a stop to try for a Northern Mockingbird just cause it was on the way, but turned up nothing new. While I waited, a lady named Kay wandered over and started up a conversation. We hit it off over our shared disdain for feral cat colonies. She had noticed declines in California Quail numbers in the neighborhood after the official construction of a feral cat colony at the jetty. And when I say construction, I mean construction:

Kay has been in the area for over five decades, and noted that only bad things have happened regarding the existence of that colony. I’m not sure what world I’m living in anymore when a feral cat colony is recognized on Google Maps. Remember folks, CATS BELONG INDOORS! They are the official leading cause of bird deaths worldwide, not to mention their immeasurable effects on reptiles, amphibians, insects, and small mammals.

I did make my way on over the bridge to Gold Beach afterwards. While shopping at a grocery store, Jimmy Buffet’s Changes in Latitude spoke to me on a level that it never had before.

The state line is within striking distance!


I set a new record for my longest ride today: 38 miles. Cape Sebastian was a brutal start to the day. I did get to enjoy the songs of Brown Creepers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Pacific Wrens along the way, all three of which are rare auditory treats for this southern boy.

Weather was sheer perfection, and it has become clear that Oregon is trying its best to convince me to stay after its moody treatment in the early days, but I’ve got my mind set on the next frontier.

I did have to do a good bit of walking on the day. Stretches that would have been thrilling on a motorcycle were simply too difficult for the uni. I did have the privilege of riding over the Thomas Creek Bridge, a structure with the notable designation as the highest bridge in Oregon. At 345 feet, it’s nearly 150’ higher than the intimidating Astoria-Megler Bridge and 125’ higher than the Golden Gate Bridge. I managed a quick glimpse below, and that was enough. I rode on, forgoing the photo opportunities offered below. But fortunately this is an oft-photographed bridge, so it’s easy to find images:

I sped into Brookings, fueled by the exhilaration of riding into a city. In town, I stopped for lunch at a promising spot, the Black Trumpet Bistro.

I devoured a killer BBQ sandwich and a very fresh-tasting salad. My server Rob covered the meal after hearing about my undertaking. Thank you so much for the amazing meal, Rob!!! You made my week!

I continued south, coming as close as a mile to the titillating crossing of the border before turning off on a backroad to reach my WarmShowers host for the night. It was my favorite stretch of riding on the long day. Winchuck River Road was a beautiful winding road through pastures, forested hills, and the scenic Winchuck River. Who could ask for more?

Karen, Jim, and their two dogs greeted me warmly before welcoming me into their house in paradise. The three of us dined on Karen’s yummy mac and cheese while we watched cycling touring videos.

And so concludes my last week in Oregon...

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Week 5: Southbound Baby/With a Little Help from My Friends

Y’all I’ve been moving. I’m writing from California after a seven day, 160 mile marathon. I’m trying to revert my mind to a time when the sun was just a three letter rumor that I vaguely remembered from another time and place.

As of Week 5, I’ve been out of a car for a month! It’s a strange feeling, being surrounded by cars around the clock but refraining from entering them. I suppose it’s only just retribution that I am subjected to constant inhalation of their exhaust fumes, having driven over 100,000 miles without really being the subject of any consequences of this mileage. I honestly can’t even think of a time that I stayed out of a fuel-powered vehicle for even a week. It is amazing that we have come to develop such a dependence upon something that did not even exist on a large scale just 100 years ago. This principle of my adventure has become so important to me that I’ve come to the point of having nightmares about accepting rides. As if I’d let my guard down in some casual situation and realize that I had tarnished my most sacred commitment just minutes into an insignificant Uber ride. Ha! Yeah right... Fat chance I’d ditch the one-wheeled life for that.

In other news (pun intended), my undertaking made the Augusta Chronicle! I owe a huge shoutout to staff-writer Miguel Legoas, who investigated all facets of this Big Year to produce a very well-rounded and well-written article. He interviewed my Dad and one of my WarmShowers hosts as well, and the result is a great combination of perspectives.


Couldn’t have ditched that motel sooner. After a Pig n’ Pancake breakfast, I took to the road and headed for Lincoln Beach. The ride was quick and easy. Aside from rainy conditions and a minor headwind, I had no troubles.

I was at my Warmshowers stay by lunch. After meeting, Tricia and George walked me down to the hotel restaurant by the house and treated me to lunch. From there, I made my way on foot to Boiler Bay to take advantage of the remaining “daylight” in the afternoon. I was drenched by persistent rain by the time I made it, but it paid off. Horned and Eared Grebes were quick year birds. The crowned jewel were the Ancient Murrelets that were visible with binoculars in the bay. The third bird that I happened to check turned out to be one of these unusual critters. Between bins and the scope, I had wonderful lifer looks at the goofy little guys. I could clearly see the pale bill and breeding ear tufts, key field marks. It would be my first ever Alcid. I watched as one flew in and transitioned straight into a dive. These birds behave so weird; they’re truly from another world. Floating on the water’s surface, they look like insects that met their unfortunate demise in a pool: trapped to the water by the force of adhesion, uncomfortably out of their element. It seems ironic that their life is the water. And watching them dive was hilarious. They basically flop to propel themselves below the surface in a graceless and awkward act. But they’re cute little guys, and they’re hard not to like.

Deciding against pushing onwards in the poor weather to Depoe Bay, I set my sights back on Lincoln Beach. The evening spontaneously cleared up, and I took in some impressive overlooks.

Once back at the house, I shared a meal with my hosts and learned all about their massive bicycle tour back in the 70’s. Back then, they didn’t even bother to wear helmets! Can you believe that?


A stunningly beautiful day. It was one of those mornings that you walk out and the Rascals just start to sing about this beautiful morning in your head. I had a pretty early start from Tricia and George’s and made it back to Boiler Bay in no time. Conditions were ripe for scanning. The light was from the rear, the atmosphere was clear, and the birds were out. Mighty breakers collapsed upon themselves, shattering against the crushing weight of air-assisted gravity, their frustrations epitomized by thunderclaps that cut to the core. And amid this chaos were birds, sprinkled like pepper grains in a washer machine. They thrived on the riches below and begged to be investigated by the patient observer.

Gulls coursed casually over the fellow members of their class, celebrating their place along the shoreline and away from the hostile and uncaring sea. I surveyed the scene with a similar sentiment. At this distance, the Pacific’s ferocity registered as less of a threat than a spectacle.

The most notable addition from this visit was a pair of Pigeon Guillemots, a fairly benignly-colored, yet distinctive, seabird. Up until yesterday, I had never seen an Alcid in my 22 years. And now I’ve seen two species in two days!

I lingered on, pushing two hours of stay. There was just so much to sift through, and the conditions were amazing. I felt like I hadn’t totally covered the area. But as the morning wore on, more visitors arrived, prompting more questions about my undertaking. Soon I was doing more of a Q&A than birding.

So, at the next opportune moment, I mounted up and headed to Depoe Bay, hopefully to get some food and a shot at Rock Sandpiper. After descending the hill, I was there. I walked along the shore, scanning the rocks for a shorebird flock. The area was crowded and not conducive to my needs. I could’t see anywhere to eat where I could keep an eye on my unicycle. I felt like I was behind schedule. I walked right past the sea spouts and the vehicle tourists and decided to ride out of town.

My OCD was kicking into overdrive, and I was getting scattered. I began to sweat as my mounting attempts failed repeatedly between bouts of traffic. Food, scheduling, crowds, it was all working against my psyche.

Eventually I took off my jacket and rode with the intent of sorting out this bird’s nest in my head, keen on finding food.

I made it to Otter Crest Loop, a detour from 101, but had to start walking after the road turned to one lane. The grade was steep, but the effort produced incredible views. A Peregrine Falcon, the connoisseur nature’s most impressive vantages, made his place up top.

From there it was down the hill for smooth riding to Newport. As I departed 101 and entered town, I passed by a skatepark and got a funny salute from its patrons. Finally I stopped at an Irish pub and chowed down on a burger.

But the real attraction to Newport was waiting for me on the other side of the river: local specialties and a local with some know-how. That local was Steve Holzman, a dedicated birder and member of the Georgia birding community. Steve rapidly put me on two life birds in the smorgasbord of birdlife at the south jetty. One was a Western Grebe imposter: a Clark’s Grebe disguised among his more prevalent brethren. With the Clark’s in the bag, Least Grebe is the only remaining regularly occurring Grebe that I expect to get this year. The other lifer was a continuing stakeout immature Glaucous Gull, and the looks at this guy were ideal. Steve pointed out key characteristics as we picked through the regular gull flock at close range. With two life birds in five minutes, Mr. Holzman was setting a high standard for himself.

Following an failed attempt at rustling up a Wrentit in the fading light, we headed for the Holzman residence, Steve in his vehicle with my gear, and me trailing behind on the uni.

We arrived to a very artsy house, complete with spinning mosaicked disco balls that were attached to the ceiling. There I greeted Steve’s wife Rachel, another skilled birder and member of the Georgia birding group. I had first encountered the two five years prior at a stakeout Harris’s Sparrow in Columbia County, and it had been since then that I had seen them.

We enjoyed a wonderful pasta dinner as we filled in the gaps.


It was the last day of January, and it would not be wasted. I got up when I got up. Steve had already headed to work, leaving Rachel and me to enjoy the feeder show. Rachel tossed out some peanuts to incite a feeding frenzy of Stellar’s Jays, Pine Siskins, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Chestnut-backed Chickadees. Good luck finding better breakfast entertainment on TV.

Then I mounted up and rode to the USFWS office to meet Steve. Rachel followed directly in an unsuccessful search for a Nashville Warbler that the two had seen days prior. Rachel did point out an American Goldfinch, a year bird and “easy tick” in her words.

From there, I crossed the bridge to take care of some errands: a post office package pickup from home and a visit to the Newport bike shop. The guys at the bike shop fixed me up good, gifting me a portable bike pump and bleeding the brake to return it to working condition.

Over lunch, Steve and I talked strategy as he presented my most likely year pickups, according to a spreadsheet that he generated from eBird sightings and my year list. Steve’s technological contribution to the Big Year would play a large part in the success that’d I’d experience in Newport.

Following Steve’s recommendation, I checked out the Sea Lion haul-out by the river for close-up looks at these hilarious beasts. The scene can be summed up by a conversation that I overheard between a mother and daughter. The daughter exclaimed that the Sea Lions looked lazy. To this, the mother replied, “They are lazy.”

Now, with my business in Newport complete, I crossed the bridge for the last time. Steve and I met at the jetty again for Groundhog Day: a hopeful repeat of yesterday’s route. Our follow-up efforts were rewarded with a Herring Gull sighting, another new one for the year.

Back at the house, the three of us enjoyed tasty turkey burgers and fixins while watching Jason Ward’s Birds of North America and Documentary Now’s Blue Jean Committee.


Rachel and Steve were truly the perfect hosts. Not only did they look after my basic needs, they took my year list seriously and wanted to do all that they could to boost it. And they worked around my transportation limitations seamlessly, developing a game plan that checked all the boxes. January brought me 123 species, and if Steve and Rachel had anything to say about it, February would bring more.

So the plan was to hit Beaver Creek State Park. I would ride light, and the Holzman’s would be my support vehicle for the time being. In our sweeping coverage of the area, the three of us managed to locate three species that were new on the year for me: Mourning Dove, Barn Swallow, and Virginia Rail. The Rail was the real draw, and the views were BBC quality-a rare thing for this skulking denizen of temperate wetlands.

Photo by Steve Holzman 

My fantastic run with the Holzman’s would end on this high note. Their efforts revitalized my status, from my diet to my list to my gear (I was heading onwards with a sturdy dry bag!). Thank you for everything Rachel and Steve! You have no idea how good it felt to bird as part of a group again!

Instantly I was a lone wolf again, or so I thought. While recalibrating my balance and relearning the mounting process on the weighed-down uni, a car passed by, and from this passing vehicle came an exclamation: “JP!” Out stepped two unfamiliar faces onto this backroad, and I was a bit confused. But the suspense keeled over and died when the two introduced themselves as Walt and Rebecca Cheek, my birder hosts for the night. How is it that my hosts always get the jump on me!?

My new friends were glad to lighten the load so that I could ride on to Seal Rock a bit easier. I would rendezvous with them at their place later in the evening, but only after trying once more for Rock Sandpiper at a historical location. My hopes were also up for shots at Black-legged Kittiwake after hearing that the Cheeks had seen them a few days before.

Despite clamoring all over those confounded rocks at Seal Rock and frequently scanning to sea, my targets were not acquired. So I sat up on the guardrail and snacked, casually scanning the surf for odd gulls. But the odd gull had been right under my nose the whole time. While scanning the roosting gulls below, I realized that there were two California Gulls beneath me, my fourth year bird for the day!

On that note, I headed to my host’s residence, where I was put up in a guest cottage stocked with snacks for late-night cravings.

Over a rich seafood chowder dinner, Rebecca, Walt, and I talked birds, Peru, and the South (the three of us having all originated there).


It was a crisp north Georgia mountain day. From Rebecca and Walt’s kitchen, a Caribbean-like view of the yard and commanding Pacific lay before us like an ultra-vivid film hybridizing the two distinct landscapes. Rebecca and I could not resist becoming part of the equation, so we headed out for a quick bird check in the yard. Our route culminated at their hummingbird feeder setup. The liquified energy frenzied hordes of Anna’s Hummingbirds. The activity of their complicated and rapid maneuvers would have driven a Hartsfield-Jackson air traffic controller into a state of panic. I’ve honestly never seen anything quite like their hummers. Rebecca confessed to having to supply liters of sugar water a day to these thirsty little buggers (without any dyes of course)!

Soon I was down on the road, intending to ride off picturesquely down the highway as Rebecca and Walt spectated. It ended up being quite the letdown. After multiple failed attempts, I was forced to walk a ways down the road to take advantage of a negative road angle. You’d think by now that I would have learned to arrange the perfect factors for a successful exodus, but I guess I’m just a wishful thinker. To Walt and Rebecca, I owe you two more than just a mounting demo! Thank you for having me!

I was so determined not to have to mount again that I just rode all the way to Yachats. En route, I rode over the Alsea River, on a bridge very conducive to riding. With wide shoulders and sidewalks, I christen this bridge “the People’s Bridge.” The Alsea entered the Pacific with a bit of timidity, an attitude reflected in the complexity and sinuosity of the estuary. Unlike the mouths of most other rivers that I pass by, this one was jetty-free, and it showed. Sediment sculpted the river’s last bit of channel into a maze of fans and sandbars. I caught a glimpse of the Harbor Seals basking below.

Yachats soon arrived into a view. Proclaimed as “the Gem of the Oregon Coast,” it inspired high expectations. I have to admit that the scene was pretty nice, though it was no Astoria. The weather was spectacular that evening, so I walked along the coastline. Meanwhile the Chiefs etched their name into history.


A rest day for this traveller. I did do a little bird walk to try for Rock Sandpiper, but I just turned up its entourage of usual suspects (Black Turnstone, Surfbird) as they scoured the rocks like a cleanup crew following a music festival.

Since I didn’t do much to write about, here are a few thoughts from the road of late:

The road is impersonal. I like that. I like its anonymity, its coldness, and its objectivity.  The only expectations related to the road are self-imposed. It doesn’t keep tabs, and it’s not superficial. The road is a means, nothing more. It may be tough, but its hurdles are meant to be overcome.

Another feature of life on the road is observing license plates. It’s a solid form of entertainment, and I don’t have to divert my eyes very far from the surface of the road to see what state these people are repping. One nefarious figure continues to provide a grimace when I see his visage on these metal identifiers: Smoky Bear. This loser sure does have a strong presence here. Oregonians totally object to burning woods but apparently not burning weed... I guess I should have come prepared with some Burner Bob stickers to slap in visible locations.


The road called. During my now familiar packing session, two young guns drummed up a conversation with me. Their names were Nicole and Bryce, and they were staying in the same hostel. I was surprised by their curiosity about my trip and their friendliness in general. Since I’ve been underway, I haven’t really interacted with many people in my generation.

The two were on a six-week ski tour as a celebration for finishing their masters and rightfully so! That’s no small achievement. Speaking of achievements, Bryce has been the only King Arthur to successfully ride the Battlestar. Very impressive! Although everybody that I encounter seems to have some sort of personal connection to unicycling, Bryce has been the only individual to actually put his money where his mouth is.

Bryce and Nicole, if you happen to be reading, congratulations being masters, and thanks for being the friendly and cool people that you are!

Soon I was southbound in the clean and crisp air, heading straight into the climb at Cape Perpetua. Traffic was light, and I stuck with it, tackling the mountain and feeling pretty proud of it.

I was starting to notice a transition along the Oregon coast. This southern half was characterized by less traffic, fewer tourist attractions, and less civilization in general. At some point I entered Lane County and found myself walking through a tunnel that was under construction (or reconstruction).

I continued on foot to the Sea Lion Caves, a definite tourist attraction in the aforementioned dearth of tourist traps. I enjoyed the wailing and barking of these celebrities while others handed over a few greenbacks to get a closer look. The ocean stood in stark contrast to the cacophony of these irritable mammals, appearing as placid as a pool on this stunning day. Nicole and Bryce caught me off-guard as they passed me by.

Shortly thereafter, I was riding the downslope down to Florence. Florence was soon to see its machine. The city of Florence and its immense dune system stretched out before me, providing a view that recalled a descent in an airplane. I soon realized that I was not in an aircraft when two countersinging Wrentits registered on my auditory radar. I couldn’t miss these Field Sparrow-like vocalizations after listening to it time after time again as Steve and I tried for them in the Newport dunes.

I stopped to see if one of these holdouts would show. It was another species to receive the rare designation of being a year bird that I actually got from the unicycle. Once one appeared, I was stunned by how rufous the plumage was. This didn’t seem like the grayish Wrentit that I had last seen in SoCal in 2015. This guy seemed more deserving of the name Ferruginous Wrentit. As I watched it fly floppily across the highway, I realized why the Columbia River was a barrier to their dispersal. Wrentits do not occur north of the Columbia, apparently bound by the fear of such expansive open water. That river crossing gave me hell too, little buddy.

Back at sea level in Florence, I felt as though I’d entered the familiar realm of the Florida scrub. Rolling dunes with exposed sand and lichen patchwork were capped with a monoculture of Shore Pines. In Florida, they’d be Sand Pines, but the visual effect was the same. Check out this satellite image of the sweeping dunes around Florence:

No doubt I was entering a new phase of my Oregon trip.


Rain again. Today would bring a 3.5 mile relocation south to Honeyman State Park, one of the few landmarks that I had actually scheduled to see before coming out to the Pacific Coast. The plan was to baptize my uni here in the waters of the great Pacific in a nod to Jedidiah and Weston of to Shake the Sleeping Self. Their epic trans-hemispherical bike trip began at this location. I wasn’t going to let it pass by unnoticed; homage is due to pedal-and-wheel powered globetrotters like these.

Arriving at noon, I ditched my stuff in a damp yurt before striking out across the impressive dune system that lay just beyond the trees of the campground. I was grateful in a roundabout way for the comparable discomfort of the yurts. I had no interest in seeking shelter from the rain in that musty hut.

So I took to the dunes with the uni, intending to cover the 2 miles to reach the ocean’s realm.

Upon arriving at the proper dunes, I was awestruck. It was like looking at Tatooine. The environment was so harsh and shifting that even the European Dunegrass, the champion of domination, couldn’t keep hold. ATV tracks dotted the expanse, and I was grateful to have the whole view to myself and to be spared of the whining of four-stroke engines.

Crossing these dunes reminded me of the meditation tapes that my mom used to watch. Except it wasn’t tranquil, sunny, or warm out. Just gusty and bleak.

I was gunning for the road access to the beach, but I quickly became lost in the labyrinth of flooded ATV trails jut behind the foredunes. With the sound of the waves and Google Maps as my guide, I wiggled my way out to the beach.

The figure of a lone shorebird at the water’s edge immediately became apparent. I dismissed it as a Sanderling before the bird’s erratic run-stop-wait-ambush pattern of foraging suggested otherwise. It was a Snowy Plover!

It would be the only witness to the baptism ceremony.

Despite having lost the key to the yurt in the dunes, the park host did not chastise me. In fact, he brought me some hot lasagna for dinner. Many thanks to you Brian! What a way to end the week!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Week 4: Snow Buntings on Me/Gray Jay Way


The Pacific Northwest winter is the most fair-weathered friend I’ve ever known. It’s like living in a world controlled by a Sour Patch Kid. I can just see him up there now, laughing diabolically as he cues in on a helpless unicyclist putting down the highway- a perfectly innocent subject for torture. He grasps the wind speed lever, coating in in sticky grains as he dials up the intensity. Meanwhile the sunshine button sits neglected and immaculate to his side. Remember buddy, you have to be sweet after your sour episode.

After a breakfast in town, I said my thank-you’s and goodbyes to the generous Hannah and Erik. And, with their production (and unicycling skills), they produced a quick departure video. The fruits of their efforts can be found here:

Thank you for the all-star treatment Hannah and Erik! Keep on spreading the love of birds to the people!

So I mentioned that the winds in Long Beach were the strongest that I had ever felt, right? Well that little Sour Patch Kid “caught wind” and decided that it would be funny to jinx me. The winds that night in Washington were but a Catalina breeze compared to the gales that would rock my boat today.

After riding through Cannon Beach (and inadvertently attempting to steal the key to the Puffin viewing room), I was grounded by the Pacific’s harsh and jarring wind front. It was a complete momentum killer-a brick wall.

Walking past Silver Point, I chuckled at the thought of scanning for Oystercatchers in this wind and cold rain.

Pushing onwards, I would begin to see stirring in the puddles and standing water on the roads, a signal of the grave threat of gusts scheming to kill my progress. It was like the leaves stirring in Bird Box, only instead of going psycho, I would lose control of my unicycle and be forced to throw it down on the road. That’s how strong the winds were. I literally couldn’t push my unicycle without the very air around me demanding that I toss it aside.

From there on, it was a brutal walk for miles.

Finally, after passing the Tillamook County line, I was afforded a downhill stretch to Oswald West State Park. I had been urged by numerous people to take the quick detour on foot to Short Sands. The pitiful weather surely impacted my impression of the place, although the woods were humbling.

After grabbing a quick bite from my foodstores, I walked the last stretch of uphill to the Neahkanhie Mountain overlook, rumored by some to be the most awe-inspiring view on the Oregon coast. The mountain is the highest point on the Oregon Coast, its name originating from the Tillamook language and describing the place where a god resides. Well clearly this god was not partial to my visit because my time at the overlook was not exactly enjoyable. Just to give you an idea of the intensity of the moment, a tornado had touched down in this area a day before. My main focus was to get off of that exposed precipice and down to my arranged Warmshowers stay.

The visibility worsened as I made my way down the mountain in the fog, but eventually I could ride on into town. Town for today was Manzanita, pronounced as if Sam Elliott had christened the place. I’m pretty sure you could get away with throwing an “r” on the end (Mahn-zah-kneetar).

I finally made my way to my hosts, John and Susan. Their beautiful home was a sight for sodden eyes. I quickly changed into dry clothes and initiated a much-needed laundry session.

John and Susan would treat me to a home-cooked spaghetti dinner and a showing of the beautiful handmade kayaks that they produced with their own bare hands. From there they headed to a commitment.

My intention was to occupy my time until they returned, but the exhaustion of Neahkanie’s thrashing came over me like a dose of melatonin. I was out by 8:30.


Following John and Susan’s recommendation, I relocated to a heated yurt at Nehalem Bay State Park. J&S had to head to Portland, and I’m glad that I could at least spend one comfortable night with them.

Nehalem was just a few miles from the house, and I made it in no time. As I approached the kiosk, I was confronted with a “no vacancy” sign in the yurt section. I dreaded the thought of having to ride to Garibaldi. There was the potential for me to pick up three year birds at this State Park, and one of them really got me excited.

Fortunately the sign was a false indication, and the park host was happy to accommodate me in a yurt for the night on short notice. Another night’s stay could not be guaranteed because of weekend popularity. No big deal, I’ll just knock out this target bird and be gone by morning.

The main target bird that was in mind was Snow Bunting, a bird of the far north with a preference for ridiculously desolate and harsh environs. Erik and Hannah had given me a heads-up about this locale, putting a bird on my radar that was totally unexpected for me. I had not even considered having a shot at this species along my route; it was a true bonus bird.

I stashed my effects in the yurt and appreciated the Lewis and Clark-type living that I’d experience for the night.

My first move was to head for the beach, the present haunt of the local flock of Snow Buntings. Immediately I was greeted by the ocean’s now familiar hostility. I couldn’t walk more than a few steps to the south, the grit-infused headwind effectively shielding the beach from exploration. Immediately resigned to defeat and ready to escape the unnecessary discomfort, I set my sights back on the access.

Just then, a streak of movement caught my attention. As I focused on the subject, the figure of a solitary Snow Bunting became apparent. It cruised in to the scene as if it were a Cardinal coming to the birdbath. I was dumbstruck.

Here was this target bird, sitting where I had just trod 60 seconds earlier. It was so easy that I wondered if it was a vision. It was literally the first bird that I saw on the beach.

Hell yeah. The pressure’s off, and I can just casually bird the park and appreciate the rest of my time here; no extra day necessary!

Charged by my good fortune, I set off on an ambitious route to the south jetty, using the interior corridor of the cape to escape the winds and push south. I’d walk the beach with the wind on my back to return to camp, hopefully with Snowy Plover checked off the list. I’ll save you the suspense: I didn’t add anything significant after the Bunting. But I did have a surprising find among a small patch of woods on the jetty trail.

Rhinoceros Auklet 

Seeing this bird alive would have been amazing, but I was just a tad late for this guy.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the warmth of the yurt, savoring the dryness before walking the beach into town for dinner. Three more Snow Buntings on the Manzanita Beach provided the official appetizer to my burger dinner.

Northern Pacific Tree Frog 


The $47 yurt was a good investment. Despite having to sleep on a a sheet-less mattress that felt like sleeping on a tumbling mat, I was rested. It reminded me of fond memories staying up at Cabin Fever in the North Carolina mountains and huddling around the heater on cold nights.

Weather conditions were surprisingly good when I woke up, so I made an attempt at that third possible year bird: Wrentit. The two-and-a-half mile walk was brightened by the coy appearance of the sun. Maybe the most notable sighting of the walk was the Nehalem State Park airfield. Can you believe that a State Park has an air strip for fly-in campers?

My departure from this facility-rich campsite would not be on the wing, as fun as that would be. No I was back to the road on the uni, blazing south until I hit a wall of wind coming across the Nehalem River. Winds made my progress for a while a bit choppy, and I had to alternate between walking and riding.

But by Rockaway Beach, I was really in stride. Boy was I moving. It felt good to pass by towns and have no need to stop. Their services weren’t needed. The only business that I had was with the road.

The riding was flat, and before I knew it, I was nearly in Garibaldi, my destination for the evening. I was planning on staying two nights to catch up on blogging and planning.

A twisty upslope and need for lunch were begging me to stop, but it was the sighting of a prospective bird opportunity that really grounded me. I had stumbled across Painted Rock- a prominence among a complex of sea stacks that offered promise for some birds.

Harlequin Ducks cavorted in the surf as cormorants gracelessly alighted on the rock. I appreciated the artistry of the Harlequin’s plumage, but my true attraction was to the spread of greasy black birds that loafed above. You see there was still one cormorant at large: the Brandt’s Cormorant. Double-crested and Pelagic Cormorants made themselves obvious, so I summoned my injured scope to fish out their less obvious friend. It was a wonderful exercise in cormorant identification, and I ended up pulling three Brandt’s out of the mix for year bird #109.

I was charged coming down the hill into Garibaldi, so charged that I just breezed right through. With Garibaldi in the rearview, I celebrated my next destination. I was happy to not have to have stayed in the town that I had just passed: it seemed sleazy and industrial, complete with a Pink Floyd Animals-type smokestack.

It was only two o’clock, and I felt that I could burn through the next 10 miles to Tillamook in good time. It was a relatively easy stretch, but I was feeling the pain, causing me to adapt Bad Company’s Burnin’ Sky to a spoof that fit my present situation. “My crotch is burnin, I believe my butt’s on fireeee!”

Tillamook would bring a totally new chapter to the Oregon trip, its agricultural expanses providing opportunities for gains to the list. A man in a BMW interrupted my daydreams. His name was Eric, and he was a self-professed unicyclist back in the day, admitting to attempting stunts on a uni that I would never dare to consider. Somewhat remarkably, he was also a birder, and his amusement with my story led him to donate a $20 bill to the cause. Thank you Eric!

Between random hand-outs and the large quantities of change that I encounter on the road shoulder, I might just break even on this Big Year.

And then I saw it. A suggestion of hope on the horizon. It was a sign, bearing that telltale Christmas palate that suggested saccharine salvation in the form of one of nature’s most perfect shapes. Who could mistake it? That combination of red, green, and white was a dead giveaway for glazed seduction. My mind instantly computed the indicators: there had to be a Krispy Kreme doughnuts ahead.

But my impression fell short of the mark. Mere moments after the excitement had arrived, the insidious truth of this establishment was revealed: it was nothing more than a Sinclair gas station. I was crushed. I had just been thrown through a cravings rollercoaster. The dizziness of the experience remained, but I was left with no satisfaction. Darn you Sinclair and your imitation pattern.

Just before reaching my motel for the evening, a flock of Brewer’s Blackbirds presented themselves in a pasture bordering the sidewalk, and I gladly accepted my second year bird for the day, a shocking feat for a day devoted to travel.

A Good Omen?  

Not What I Meant by Vagrancy 


On the phone from the moment that I wake up to 10 o’ clock. This unicycle business is funny. During the off times that I can catch up with my friends and family, I’m subjected to a range of different concerns: my family wants to know if I’m okay, my friends if I’ve found anything, and random people if I’m sane.

This day was slated as the rest/admin day that I had planned for in Garibaldi. But fate would make it much more productive.

Fuel for the morning was provided by the motel. I was free to pick from a variety of knock-off cereals, among which were Apple Zings, Berry Colossal Crunch, Cinnamon Toasters, and Coco Roos. It doesn’t take a strong imagination to reveal their inspirations. Cereal was supplemented with a honeybun from a variety of plastic-packed sugary pastries. I was already ready for lunch.

A man back in Raymond, Washington told me that I had to make it up to the Tillamook Dairy for a bite to eat, so I did just that. En route I spotted another year bird, a lone Great Egret. Tillamook was like an unexplored wilderness for birds for me. Brewer’s Blackbirds roamed the grounds of the dairy like extras in a movie.

After my lunch, I walked to the nearby hotspots of Suppress and Boquist Roads, on a whim and partly to procrastinate returning to the motel and my date with the keyboard.

Boy was that a good decision. The minute I set foot on Suppress Road, I was catapulted into an active mixed flock. I enjoyed a novel combination of the regulars as they treated me to eye level views in this wetland.

Suddenly a songbird with a flashy pink bill caught my attention. My brain computed the image instantly. It was a friggin Harris’s Sparrow! Now it may not sound like much, but this is an uncommon sparrow that I certainly did not anticipate seeing on the year. It was yet another bonus bird! What made the experience even more gratifying was that the two previous experiences that I had with the bird were at backyard feeders, never just out and about!

Fortunately I wasn’t too absorbed in the sighting to miss the Merlin that shot by my feet just feet away, darting like a missile over the wetland and swooping up to briefly survey the scene from a large Fir. Seeing this falcon in this scenario was like watching IMAX.

I finished off the loop, capping off the list with an incredibly cooperative perched Peregrine Falcon. Clearly the falcon feature had not concluded. I never see Peregrines chilling in a mid-sized tree this close. It’s the kind of views that I imagine the ornithologists describing our nation’s avifauna must have encountered regularly with our birds.

The rest of the day could only pale in comparison to these exciting events.


Time to leave this town. Tillamook has been good to me birdwise and recharge-wise. But it’s also stinky, and it’s time to move on. This is the third day in a row that has been nice and very conducive to riding. Such days are so precious in the Northwest winter that I often feel conflicted about how I can make the most of the good weather. Is my time best spent riding, birding, or just enjoying the weather? It reality it doesn’t really matter much, as long as I’m being productive. Moving days will be moving days, and I’ll bird when I can. Good weather is just a bonus.

My prep for departure was achieved with the help of the latest episode of Ed Unicycles the USA. The southeastern US imagery for this installment ignited my sentimental spirits. I would channel this emotion for my next stretch.

I was so anxious to get underway that I did not even review my route for a final time. But I knew that I would be continuing on the Oregon Coast Bike Route and that signs would point the way. Plus I loosely knew where I was going. I was gone before check-out time.

I blazed south on 101, briefly stopping south of Tillamook to check out a massive congregation of Cackling Geese and ducks. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like it; it’s how I imagine the central flyway in peak migration appears. I wouldn’t have stopped except I spotted a light goose among the Cackling that demanded closer inspection. Either Snow or Ross’s Goose would be a year bird. After stopping on the shoulder and pulling out my binoculars, the whole flock took off, rendering an id of the goose impossible. I could have spent hours picking through this waterfowl buffet, but the poor condition of my scope and a desire to cover some miles convinced me otherwise.

The miles ticked by quickly as I cruised down the flat and wide shoulder of 101. Before I knew it I was at my point of divergence from the highway, following the bike route back to the coast and to my next destination, Pacific City.

I veered right at Sandlake Road, which was a beautiful and low-trafficked backroad. The first stretch of the road was so clean and smooth that the shoulder begged me to pull over and each my lunch right off of the road’s surface. The water in the ditch appeared crystalline and thirst-quenching.

Don’t worry, I did not give in to either of these impulses. Clearly I just had some weird attraction to the road going on.

There was some hilliness to the road, but the gradation was perfect for me to keep on powering through, and I stopped very few times because the riding was so enjoyable. The only stint that I had to walk was the hill just south of Tierra del Mar. Another Haystack Road appeared over the point, initially making my progress seem like an illusion. Its resemblance was uncanny, but this stack is actually called Chief Kiawanda Rock.

Tough Choice 

Less than three hours from my departure, I was descending into Pacific City, having traveled a respectable 26 miles. Man was it freeing not to have to look at my phone for the trip. I felt in control of my destination, and I was not obsessing over mileage or the time.

I rode in to my motel destination, the Surf and Sand Inn, the best motel that I have seen so far on the trip.

Following a recommendation from the manager, I walked over to Beach Wok, a sit-in stir fry place. It was exactly what I needed. I chowed down on some yummy stir fry as a groovy playlist of KC and the Sunshine Band, Taste of Honey, and others floated through the restaurant. Great vibes.

Pacific City was quick to impress. Riding off of my high, I made my way on foot to Cape Kiwanda State Park, which I kept transmogrifying in my mind into Kiwanuka SP. I don’t think they would name a State Park in Oregon after a contemporary British musician.

Charismatic Megafauna

The main target here was Black Oystercatcher, a potential life bird. As I made my way out onto the beach, weather conditions deteriorated. A dead sea lion on the shore served as a warning to all of the perils of the Pacific. Even as a lifeless mass, this marine mammal intimidated me. It was my first chance to inspect one of these beauties at close range, and it seemed so alien, like if a submarine and a pig had a baby. The flippers were just wild. It honestly looked like a kid doodled an animal and it came to life.

I promptly ignored the sea lion’s caution and made my way for the cape. In scanning the rocks, I picked out two plump, jet black figures with blood red bills: Black Oystercatchers. The looks were poor due to intensifying conditions, but they were satisfactory for life looks.

With my target in the bag, I decided to press onwards, hoping for better views from the cliff overhang. Standing on top of the cape, I began to fully appreciate the uniqueness of the site. There must be some unusual geology going on here...

It was like if Great Sand Dunes and Red Rocks melded together and met the avant-garde sculpting abilities of the Pacific. Painted rocks were being thrashed by the sinister blue-tinged waves, creating an interesting matrix of shoreline that ranged from caves to exposed rock to shifting dunes.

I found myself amidst a torrential rainstorm/sandstorm. For a moment I was legitimately concerned that I was going to get blown off of this point. My pockets began to fill with sand rapidly, and I was forced to make my escape. But facing the storm was impossible, so I had to backtrack in reverse to avoid the stinging sands.

I felt like a mud minnow that had been lured into a minnow trap, propelled by the promise of raw hot dog meat but quickly ensnared due to foolish tunnel vision.

The only way that I could escape from this funnel was literally to walk backwards until I could make my way back down to the beach, which is exactly what I did. I was physically soaked for the walk back to the motel, but hey, I had a new bird to show for it ;).

Meet me tonight in Pacific City.


Today’s adventure was Nestucca Bay NWR, a small parcel of National Wildlife Refuge just 5 miles south of town. Gray Jays had been reported here periodically in the past, and this seemed like one of my best opportunities to get this species on the year.

It was nice to ride the lightweight unicycle again, despite the morning’s drizzle. Upon arriving to the parking area, I stashed my ride and keyed in on a flock of Red Crossbills: a good sign for the search for alpine birds.

I made my way up to the ridgeline and began to walk the loop stealthily, hoping to catch the Jays in a candid moment.

With the failure of that tactic, I switched gears. Whistling the Sabre Dance and the Nickelodeon theme obnoxiously, I hoped to garner the curiosity of these intelligent beings. Eventually I arrived at a picnic area, and I was sure the bird in question had to have been nearby. Often referred to as “camp robbers,” these corvids have learned to score easy meals at outdoor locations where people tend to dine.

But all I found was a heavier rain, a sign I interpreted as a nudge to head back to cover. I resigned to defeat in the search, departing Nestucca with a respectable 37 species list.

Weather was worse for the day’s remainder, and I relished in the warmth of my motel shelter. I saved up my energy for the next days ride and gorged on yet another delicious meal at Beach Wok.


Today was a great day. I made my way out of Pacific City in a bit of a drizzle. I was met with the same minor headwind that has appeared on my last few rides. My first stint was along a route that I had blazed yesterday to visit the National Wildlife Refuge. It wasn’t long before I was in uncharted territory, climbing a gradual ascent. I made it all the way to Neskowin without a hitch and was proud of myself for sticking with it.

Just past Neskowin, I detoured to Slab Creek Road at the suggestion of the bike map that John, my Warmshowers host from Manzanita, had gifted me.

The beginning of the road was really nice and smooth, and it was clear not many people had any business waiting for them on this backroad. Gradually, the road’s condition worsened, and the gradual incline, or “gentle grade,” as the bike map puts it, continued. Nearing the top of one hill in a long stretch of climbing, I put my head down and tried to knock it out. A Jay chatter seemed suggestive and worthy of investigation, but I continued onwards, hellbent on defeating this hill.

That is, before a Gray Jay floated in front of my at eye level, its angelic grace stopping me in my tracks. After yesterday’s failed, yet diligent effort at tracking one of these guys down at the small holdout NWR population, this sighting was a true blessing. I admired the specimen, its shaggy dress the result of nature’s shower. Soon more would appear, sharp subjects worthy of immortalizing capture.

Their calls reminded me of Cardinal vocalizations. A brief pishing session activated their curiosity. Within seconds, the whole clan of these curious gems made themselves visible. In all, ten birds filtered out from the safety of the woods. Their sentinel continued watch as the flock came in to inspect me, opting for interest in place of caution.

What a rare and beautiful interaction with these intelligent creatures. And I actually spotted one while on the unicycle!! Following this sighting, I have seen the three main groups of this species: Rocky Mountains, Taiga, and now Pacific.

Intensifying rain brought an end to the dream, so I headed up the last bit of hill to ride on.

I rode for another bit of the road before it became too difficult. So I made my way to the crest of the hill on foot amid incredible forest scenery. On the leeward side of the hill, I broke for lunch. I was grateful that the rain could allow the spectacular beings in my surroundings to exist. The trees were just so majestic and impressive that nothing but being a witness to their might could sum up the scene.

The rainy lunch put a bit of a chill in me, and I reverted to riding with my insulated rain coat. I hadn’t done that in a while because mild conditions had induced sweating. The remainder of the road was gnarly, and I had to play it like Zac Brown. I channeled my mountain unicycling skills, picked my lanes, and weaved down to level ground. It was somewhere in this stretch that my week long occupation of Tillamook County came to an end. I had unknowingly entered Lincoln County, its boundary not signaled in any way on this infrequently traveled route.

Just like that and I was in Lincoln City, an un-refreshing reentry into civilization. I checked into a Motel 6 that was laid out like hospital or penitentiary, and it wreaked like a locker room. It’s the kind of place that you want to leave as soon as you arrive. But it’ll save you money.

I made a dinner run to a chain that the family and I had visited in Olympia. Something felt familiar about it, and I finally put two and two together to make that connection.

Back at my room in Motel 6, I took a bath. Yeah right... the only people that have been in this bathtub have long since been washed down the drain in a sulfuric acid solution.’s not that bad. But I’m surely glad to be moving on.