Motorcycle Touring the Oregon Coast

A motorcycle is the perfect transport for rediscovering childhood dreams. Story and photos by Jamie Elvidge.

I still ache for the Oregon coastline.

As children we dream in color. We will grow up to be doctors, firefighters, Olympic athletes or airline pilots.

We'll drive Ferraris, live in houses next door to our best friends, have plenty of dogs and do all the things we've been disallowed--Oreos for breakfast, turtles in the bathtub and scary movies until dawn. No bedtime, no sharing, no green beans, no rules. Instead, we'll ride motorcycles, never brush our teeth and live forever.

Of course what we end up with as adults is pretty black-and-white (except for the motorcycles). My beloved, and curiously long-lived, childhood dream was to become a lumberjack ('jackette in my case) and live on the Oregon Coast. It was an elaborate plan. My sister would join me and we'd grow all our own food, selling what was left in a roadside stand called "Yummies." Ah, but I moved to Los Angeles instead. Traded that lush, green dream for a piece of pastel desert and a paycheck. All these years later I still ache for the Oregon Coast, and at least once a year I ride there to pay homage.

From Brookings to Astoria there is astounding natural beauty along the Oregon Coast. The shoreline scenery can range from quiet sandy beaches to steep craggy cliffs and rock outcroppings that cruelly stir the blue-green sea. When U.S. Highway 101 sweeps inland you'll wind among monolithic dunes--that would just as soon devour the road--and tunnel through evergreen forests, the origin of Oregon's humble prosperity. There is life everywhere, from the wild rhododendrons to the towering firs. And everywhere there is water to sustain it, from the fog rising off the sea to the mighty rivers, lakes, ponds...and rain falling from the blooming skies most days.

Therefore, the first thing to know about touring western Oregon is the plain fact that you will get wet. It's part of the plan. Of course, you could stumble into a sunny day (which you can write and tell me about) but that doesn't mean you're lucky. The Oregon Coast without mist, drizzle and chill, just wouldn't be the same. There would be no mood, no weight and no reason to snuggle up to the fire at dusk with a steaming cup of joe. So pack the rainsuit, winter gloves, insulated boots and that wool sweater Aunt Gert knitted for you 10 birthdays ago.

I always plan my first night's stopover at Bandon-by-the-sea. Even if you're not planning to stay it's worth the five-mile loop on Beach Loop Road to see the incredible view beneath the Sunset Motel, where enormous rock formations jut from the sand and water like the teeth and fingers of Neptune himself. There's a wonderful restaurant at this eclectic lodging facility and not much else to diminish the essential seclusion that makes it so special. In the actual town (Bandon-on-the-Highway), you can stop at the local cheese factory for delicious curds and crackers.

The entire Oregon Coast Scenic Byway is less than 400 miles long, but I can easily make it into a three-day expedition. There are four spectacular state parks on the southern Oregon coast: Cape Sebastian, Cape Blanco, Umpqua Lighthouse and Honeyman. There is also Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area where 31,000 acres of undulating granules create an unforgettable spectacle, as well as an absurdly large sandbox for off-road play.

Past the dunes is Coos Bay, North Bend and Florence--all biggish towns that offer more than whirligigs, windsocks and caramel-nut fudge. The famously stinky Sea Lion Caves are the next tourist get-off, and here you can venture down a 208-foot high-speed elevator to admire the odorous animals in their enormous lair. Beyond Newport, another sizeable town, you won't want to miss the Otter Crest Loop, which climbs, dives and turns spectacularly as it leads you toward Devil's Punch Bowl State Park and Cape Foulweather, with its 500-foot overlook.

Another favorite stopping place of mine is Depoe Bay, and each time I return to Oregon I make a point of lingering in this old fishing village. It wears tourism like an old woman wears rouge and eyeliner--yet beneath the guise there is some truly remarkable character. Depoe Bay features the smallest navigable harbor in the world and from its docks you can embark on whale-watching tours and fishing extravaganzas. There's a wonderful aquarium too, and many great eateries (so don't fill up on salt water taffy). My favorite places to eat are Gracie's Sea Grog and the Whale Cove Inn. There's also an understated grill called Tidal Raves, which the locals would like to keep secret.

Thirty-four miles north of Depoe Bay is Three Capes Scenic Loop. This 37-mile offshoot combines great riding roads with perhaps the most magnificent vistas along the entire North Coast. Stay on it all the way to the Cape Meares lighthouse. The loop will deliver you back to the highway eventually, to a region of docile farming communities and pastures brimming with Jersey cows. Tillamook, and its world-famous cheese factory, are at the heart of this quiet, grassy expanse and Oswald West State Park with its 2500 acres of ancient rain forest lie beyond. Rumor has it there's a fortune in Spanish doubloons buried in the side of the sleeping volcano, Mount Neahkahnie.

Cannon Beach is another of my favorite haunts, but unfortunately it draws throngs of tourists and fugitives from Portland, which leaves it pricey and crowded. There is wonderful shopping here though--troves of artistic, local treasures and tasteful souvenirs.

Portland is an easy ride southeast from Cannon Beach on U.S. Highway 26 or you can continue on to Astoria, the first European settlement in the Northwest, and cross the Columbia River, which is all that separates Oregon from its comely neighbor. If you're like me, however, you'll long to turn around and ride back down this enchanting coastline.

I often wonder what my life would be like if I'd been true to my childhood ambitions. When riding in Oregon I fantasize about it constantly. It could be me living in that white farmhouse with wood smoke curling from the chimney...eating nothing but candy and never wiping my feet. Perhaps, if I live long enough it will be me. And I'll still ride motorcycles--well, at least on the days I can find my teeth.

WHEREWITHAL
Don't Miss:

Wayside, Umpqua Lighthouse, whale watching (best in the early spring or late fall), Cape Foulweather and Mo's Chowderhouse on Otter Crest Loop.
Season: Crowded in the summer, but your best chance for sun (yeah, right). Temperatures even in July are chilly. Spring and fall are the most beautiful times and the roads are not teeming with tourists.
Road Notes: Wood sap from lumber trucks leaves a sludge that's kicked up in wet weather. This will cloud your visor or glasses. Very hot water and a mild dish soap will remove it. Police are camouflaged in muted brown patrol cars.
**Contact: **Oregon Tourism Division: call (800) 547-7842 or check out Doormat.com or Pacific101.com The latter will give you info on the California and Washington coasts, too.

For more descriptions of our favorite motorcycle rides and destinations, visit the Rides and Destinations section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.

If you'd like to share your favorite ride that is 100 to 500 miles long and includes at least one interesting stop, send details of the route and your contact information to _Motorcycle Cruiser, 6420 Wilshire Blvd, Floor 17, Los Angeles, CA 90048-5515; or e-mail_ Jamie.Elvidge@primedia.com.