2/6Last 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.
2/7I 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.
2/8I’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.
2/9Up 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.
2/10After 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...