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Cycle Exploregon: Rolling on pioneer footsteps

Posted by on August 13th, 2016 at 12:05 pm

The precise moment when the Coos Bay Wagon Road emerges from forest to valley in Brewster Canyon.

The precise moment when the Coos Bay Wagon Road emerges from forest to valley in Brewster Canyon.

“Ride a bull. Bag an elk. Land a steelhead. Climb a mountain. There is no shortage of adventure to be had in Myrtle Point.” That’s one of the marketing slogans you’ll find on the City of Myrtle Point’s website.

After a 104-mile journey yesterday through the forests and river valleys that surround this small town, I think they should add, “Ride a bike” to that list.

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Speaking of lists, I found a road yesterday that should be on yours: the Coos Bay Wagon Road.

I started the day in Canyonville, rode north through the lumber town of Riddle then Myrtle Creek. Northwest of Myrtle Creek I rode through towns that time has forgot: Lookingglass (near Roseburg), Reston, Dora, and Sitkum.

These towns used to be stops along the Coos Bay Wagon Road, an historic connection between Roseburg in Douglas County and Coos Bay on the coast. It was built by the federal government and completed in 1872. According to a 2012 article in The Oregonian, it was one of four road contracts given out by the feds to help connect the growing west. And it’s the only one that still exists.

When Highway 42 was built about a century later, the Coos Bay road — and the rural communities along it — fell out of favor. If you’re a bike rider, you know what that means: a nearly traffic-free wonderland that offers enough challenge and adventure that you’ll have no trouble imagining how difficult it must have been to cross in a wagon.

My route from Canyonville to Myrtle Point. See more details and download it yourself at RideWithGPS.com.

My route from Canyonville to Myrtle Point. See more details and download it yourself at RideWithGPS.com.

I rode about 30 miles of the 50-mile road, turning south to my destination in Myrtle Point as the rode continues northwest toward Coquille or Coos Bay on the coast. The section I rode
started in a place called Lookingglass, home of a century-old general store that’s still open for business (and a must-stop for refueling).

From Lookingglass you head into a valley and then the road tilts up. There are two tough climbs, with the one to the summit featuring double-digit inclines for several miles. The road is smooth and well-maintained, except for about 10 miles of gravel on the descent before you get back into the valley flats.

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The gravel section is very fun if you’re ready for it. It clings tightly to the East Fork Coquille River which roars and trickles through the steep canyon forest into fantastic pools and rocky waterfalls.

The riding is superb: You start and end in bucolic valleys dotted by historic barns, on the way up it’s just you and the forest, and the way down is a thrill ride.

Riding this road yesterday was made even more interesting because I started the day by rolling on an intact segment (ruts and all) of the 1846 Applegate Pioneer Trail. Ted Romas from the Myrtle Creek Chamber of Commerce had told me where to find it. And I’m glad he did because it’s very easy to miss. Right off NW Dole Road as you leave town there’s a barely visible grassy, dirt road that veers off to your right.

Once I saw it I knew it was the Applegate. It’s hard to see in photos, but the naked eye can discern it. What a thrill it was to roll my tires along the same stretch of dirt that Oregon’s pioneers once rolled theirs.

Here are photos from the ride:

South Umpqua River south of Tri-City.

South Umpqua River south of Tri-City.

Riddle sign

Riddlelumber

The town of Riddle is all about lumber.

The town of Riddle is all about lumber.

South Umpqua River near Surprise Valley.

Cow Creek in Riddle.

Hard to capture in an image, but the tamped down section of road on the right is the Applegate Trail.

Hard to capture in an image, but the tamped down section of road on the right is the Applegate Trail.

River, rail, and road — all such important parts of the rural economy.

River, rail, and road — all such important parts of the rural economy.

Very appropriate sign for this route.

Very appropriate sign for this route.

Lookingglass-Sitkum sign

Historic James Wimer Barn in Lookingglass Valley. Built in 1892.

Historic James Wimer Barn in Lookingglass Valley. Built in 1892.

New roads and adventures make me happy.

New roads and adventures make me happy.

Leaving the Lookingglass Valley.

Leaving the Lookingglass Valley.

My favorite part of the climb, a magical forest with sunlight in the trees.

My favorite part of the climb, a magical forest with sunlight in the trees.

View from near the top of what I think is Mount Gurney (about 3,000 feet).

View from near the top of what I think is Mount Gurney (about 3,000 feet).

Gravel descent on Coos Bay Wagon Roads

Gravel descent on Coos Bay Wagon Road.

Gravel and big tree

Is there anything better than riding along a river?

Is there anything better than riding along a river?

Big set of waterfalls off Coos Bay Wagon Road. Haven't figured out the name.

Big set of waterfalls off Coos Bay Wagon Road. Haven’t figured out the name.

Sitkum Lane (Coos Bay Wagon Road) through Brewster Canyon.

Sitkum Lane (Coos Bay Wagon Road) through Brewster Canyon.

Coquille River valley is paradise.

Coquille River valley is a paradise for cows (and humans too).

Brewster Canyon with Coos Bay Wagon Road/Sitkum Lane.

Brewster Canyon with Coos Bay Wagon Road/Sitkum Lane.

Getting to see the sunset is one advantage of riding into the night.

Getting to see the sunset is one advantage of riding into the night.

I’m in Myrtle Point now, about to explore the town (I hear they’ve got a great logging museum) before shoving off to Bandon on the coast.

These stories are made possible through a partnership with Cycle Oregon. If you’re going on their Week Ride (registration still open), you’ll get to sample a paved section of the the Coos Bay Wagon Road (please note: I’m only loosely basing my routes on the Cycle Oregon route). Also thanks to Western Bikeworks for supporting this trip with some great gear.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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8 Comments
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    rick August 13, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    Gorgeous

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    John August 13, 2016 at 10:19 pm

    Can’t wait until next month!

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    Joseph E August 14, 2016 at 3:20 am

    Nice ride! We rode the Coos Bay Wagon Road from Roseburg to the west on our bike tour. There was almost no traffic after Lookingglass.
    The climb up to the pass was almost 3 miles at a 10% to 12% grade, and we ended up walking it for an hour. But the descent down to the west was great, and the steep part at the beginning is paved. The gravel section of toad along the river had only a couple short steep sections, and the cool river valley is lovely in summer.
    We camped at a county park about 40 miles from Roseburg, and the next day we made it to the coast at Bandon.
    Besides the river and creeks, there was no drinking water between lookingglass store and the park.

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    RF August 14, 2016 at 8:23 am

    looking good, dude

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    JeffS(egundo) August 15, 2016 at 9:07 am

    Thanks, Jonathan – this looks like a fabulous ride. I went over (and I do mean over) the road north of here, between Coquille and Lookinglass, about 15 years ago – Burnt Mt. Rd. or some such. Mostly (all?) paved, no traffic, no people, hellacious climbing on a loaded touring bike.

    I think you chose the better route. Looking forward to the upcoming installments!

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    KristenT August 15, 2016 at 11:43 am

    Wow! Great photos, what a beautiful part of our state! Thanks for bringing us along the ride!

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    Doug August 16, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    I started in Winston but took the southern road and stayed in a nice campground on the Coquille River in Remote Oregon. The person who named that had a rye sense of humor. Remote it still very much is.

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    Ted Timmons (Contributor) August 20, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    Fantastic. Looks like one of those perfect days of riding.

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