Splendid Cycles Big Sale

Cycle Exploregon: Going off-highway between Bandon and Gold Beach

Posted by on August 17th, 2016 at 11:34 am

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Riding near Chismore Butte, 2,600 feet above the Coast Highway in the Roge River-Siskiyou National Forest.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Welcome to Cycle Exploregon, our annual adventure done in partnership with Cycle Oregon to explore beyond their official route. See other stories in this series here.

CO-sponsorsI love the Oregon Coast Highway — a.k.a. “The People’s Coast.” It’s a national treasure and also one of the most famous bicycle routes in the world.

But it has a dark side. It has stopped being the “Scenic Byway” it was intended to be and now it’s also a major thoroughfare used by commuters, commercial truckers, and oblivious RV drivers. I’ve ridden its narrow shoulder many times since my first ride down it 20 years ago. When I ride it these days, my main goal is to get off the highway as much as possible and leave the loud and smelly motorized traffic behind.

This is easier said than done. Because of rugged cliffs and steep mountains, backroads are few and far between — especially ones that loop back onto the highway eventually. And much of the land around the highway is privately owned by ranchers and farmers who put gates up on their roads to keep people out.

On Sunday, day three of my four-day journey, I rode from Bandon to Gold Beach. Along the way I made three attempts up three different canyon roads only to be forced to turn around by a locked gate and “private property” signs each time. I should have known better. My digital maps showed the roads looping back to the highway, but upon further inspection (after arriving home) my paper maps show the gates and dead-ends. (*Protip: Always consult multiple maps before committing to a route.)

Even though I had to turn back three times, the explorations where well worth it. Fourmile Creek Road led me into small canyons so quiet it seemed like I could hear every ripple in the creek and every bird in their nest — a stark contrast to the Coast Highway just a few miles away.

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Fourmile Road is a dead-end but it’s worth exploring.

My explorations in Fourmile also led me to a chance meeting with a hardscrabble fellow, Steve Miller.

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Steve Miller, a sheep rancher born and raised in the canyons above the Oregon Coast Highway.

I flagged down Miller’s dusty, beat-up pickup truck to ask if any of the roads would connect to Langlois Mountain Road — my connection back to the Coast Highway that I knew was paved and open to the public. From the moment he cracked open his door I wanted to know more about him. Thankfully he was happy to share.

Miller is 75-years-old and he and his family raise about 180 sheep on the adjacent 320 acres. The Miller Ranch has been in continuous operation since 1886.

“Back in the day, we were just trying to survive,” he said, with his truck door propped open to talk to a random guy on a bicycle. “Everything revolves around surviving winter.”

Miller seemed to know that he was a bit crazy to still be “chasing sheep around” at 75. He shared with me that his mom died after herding the sheep well into her 80s. “I think people out here live a long time because they haven’t got time to lay down. Gotta’ keep goin.”

“And the animals don’t care if you want another cup of coffee in the morning or if it’s raining. They just need to be fed,” he continued. “And besides, if you have animals you have a moral obligation to take care of them.”

Pondering how different Miller’s life is than mine, I pedaled up two more canyons only to be forced to turned back, crestfallen, after private gates stopped my progress.

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I was told by a neighbor that Mr. “CW” Waterman would probably let me through if I could just chat with him first. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to meet him. Maybe next time.

Then I tried Bethel Mountain Lane/Bethel Creek Road. I met a man tending his land at the bottom and asked him if I’d encounter any locked gates. He said there might be one, but it was intended to keep livestock in more than people out. With that in mind I pedaled on. The road became gravel pretty quickly and it went straight up for about five miles and 1,200 feet. The 360-views of mountains and golden-grass-covered canyons at the top were unforgettable.

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Glad I had 35mm knobby tires.
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Then I looked up and saw yet another locked gate.

I double-checked my map and realized I was only about one mile from Langlois Mountain Road. So close! I looked around to assess the situation: nothing around but rocks and plants and sheep; no “keep out” or “private property” signs on the gate; no indication of closure on my (digital) map. I used my intuition and decided this gate would be OK to hop over. (*Note: After returning home I realized the land between the two gates is marked “private” on one of my paper maps. In hindsight I would only do this loop again if I had expressed permission from the landowner.)

Eventually I made it to Langlois Mountain Road. Wow. The perfectly smooth paved road drops down from 1,300 feet to sea level in just four miles. I careened down, reaching a top speed of 44 mph while peeking over my bars from a tuck position to soak in breathtaking views of the Pacific. And like a cherry on top of a sundae, the road comes out right at the excellent Langlois Market, a prime refueling stop.

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My next foray off the highway was just a few miles south on the Coast Highway at Elk River Road.

Elk River Road is part of a new Oregon Scenic Bikeway. It clings to the winding river and gets more interesting, quiet, and remote with each passing mile. There are swimming spots galore that will tempt you with crystal clear water and deep blue pools.

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Elk River Road.
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The official route is an out-and-back that follows the river for about 22 miles each way. I wanted to make it a loop so I turned onto National Forest Road 5502 at about the 10-mile mark. With gravel and dirt under my wheels I left the Elk River canyon and climbed for about six miles and 2,000 feet of elevation gain over buttes and mountains. The climb was tough, but the rewards of solitude, high-mountain views, and a 14-mile descent through the forest more than made up for it. I eventually popped out on the pavement at Euchre Creek Road and then met back up with the Cycle Oregon route on Squaw Valley Road.

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Can’t resist the dirt and rocks!
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Advertisement

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Views well worth the climb.
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Euchre Creek Rd.
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Squaw Valley Road just north of Gold Beach and the Rogue River.
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Gold Beach and the Patterson Bridge from Rogue River Road.

After a full day of explorations I finished well after sunset with a roll over the Patterson Bridge into Gold Beach. I rode 100 miles from Bandon to Gold Beach with only 20 of those miles on the Coast Highway. Mission accomplished.

Here are a few more photos from the ride:

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Bandon is full of great seafood joints. This one is right on the waterfront.
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Yard art in Bandon.
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Coquille River Lighthouse.
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Tsunami fears have led to new bike paths to high ground in Bandon.
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Special thanks to Western Bikeworks for sponsoring this series.

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

Our work is supported by subscribers. Please become one today. You can also make a one-time donation here.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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9wattsTed Timmons (Contributor)B. CarfreeJonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)todd boulanger Recent comment authors
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Todd Boulanger
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Todd Boulanger

Jonathan…thanks for the mental break from desk work today…now dreaming of my next coastal bike camping trip…

Cory P
Guest
Cory P

Having ridden and skated portions of the coast, I dream of a coastal bike path some day. Imagine the tourism dollars that would come to our state if you could safely ride the full length of the coast.

fourknees
Guest
fourknees

Loving this series….
…seems like there is an opportunity for the first annual “Unlocked Gates” ride. I bet most of those land owners, as the one mentioned, just want to keep their animals in, not necessarily people out. Especially for a low impact bike ride bringing tourism dollars to their community.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Perhaps a fundraiser ride organized through the local Grange?

I have often thought that the Grange Halls would be a great overnight camping resource if an agreement could be worked out…like a “Grange Pass” similar to a NW Forest Pass. Other than some income it would be a way of educating urban populations about the history of the Grange movement, rural economies, etc. [I had once hoped that Cycle Wild might have been a long term vehicle for this…in addition to Cycle Oregon’s well known work.]

The issues that the Grange Movement fought against in the 1870s/1890s are back in force now that we have entered the second “Gilded Age”…

http://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/populism-and-agrarian-discontent/resources/grange-movement-1875

BB
Guest
BB

“click here for information on a paid subscription for those who are not K-12 educators or students.”
Linking to a paywall huh..

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

See also: FUTON bias.

9watts
Guest
9watts

“I bet most of those land owners, as the one mentioned, just want to keep their animals in, not necessarily people out. Especially for a low impact bike ride bringing tourism dollars to their community.”

Really? Have we collectively already forgotten about the Oregon Outback fiasco? I love Jonathan’s photo essays of beautiful parts of Oregon explored by bike but I was a bit surprised at the dare I say indignance at closed gates. If we could point to an unblemished record of behavior or standards we hold ourselves to; offered property owners some accountability then I think we’d stand a chance but my sense is that we’re not there yet.

One more thing to consider. Jonathan’s one guy. Perhaps some of you are imagining sixe or ten to follow his lead. But what if it becomes 5,000? or 50,000?

Ich Bin Kurt
Guest
Ich Bin Kurt

I love the less traveled roads you are riding! Amazing canyons you are finding there sir. Langlois market…INCREDIBLE fresh hotdogs & house made mustard. One of the most memorable lunches on my coastal tour(that wasn’t seafood).

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Love the tsnuami evacuation route that is only for bikes ( and peds). A interesting nod to the reality of evacuating the coast after a subduction zone earthquake. FEMA’s assumption is that there will be no intact automobile worthy roads left after the “Big One”. And that the only way to leave for those who survive the Tsunami is via foot, bike or sea. Good reason to be a cyclist on the coast.

Mike Sanders
Guest
Mike Sanders

This is why the state should be talking to these landowners about signing agreements for a right of way thru those properties to create a safe Oregon Coast Trail. The sections going thru these areas could be signposted to keep users on the trail. Violators would be subject to prosecution for trespassing, with big fines and / or jail time. Other places have done this and such arrangements generally work well. Such agreements could be precedents for similar setups elsewhere.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Good luck. Property rights seem to be more important than human rights in America. Might have something to do with the fact that the founders and nearly all politicians have been wealthy property owners…

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Yup, the founders and their decendents certainly took care of those pesky natives that didn’t share the european’s zeal for private property rights.

Adam
Subscriber

Blame the feds for stealing land from the native population and giving it to white people.

Mike 2
Guest
Mike 2

People were stealing land long before the “feds” got into it. I am sure you can find incidents of native people stealing land from other native people.

Adam
Subscriber

Did you seriously just apply the racist “black on black” crime argument to native people? Wow.

Mike 2
Guest
Mike 2

There is nothing racist about my comment! Stop trying to see everything as one faction against another; us vs them, cagers vs cyclists, government vs natives.

If you want to believe that land was never stolen before the government existed, then you are free to be wrong, naive or ignorant.

Anglo-saxons and vikings are native people too, and they stole land from each other long before “the feds” came to the U.S. (like a thousand years). I suppose that offends you too.

Wow. History of white on white, red on red, black on black, purple on purple crime. It’s so racist!

Mike 2
Guest
Mike 2

But yes, blame “the feds”.

JeffS(egundo)
Guest
JeffS(egundo)

Yeah, stupid Malheur Wildlife Refuge – somebody occupy that goldarn thang already.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

The real issue, is that since the begining of industrial civilization motorized vehicles have brought with them the destruction of the natural world. Gates to keep out other people are just more acceptable in society than what we really need, rules to keep out motorized vehicles. Undoubtably the people who live and own these places get there in cars so it doesn’t occur to them that in the grand sweep of history its the cars and trucks that wreck everything, not the kids in hoodies.

ean
Guest
ean

Is that bike tubeless?

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

Regarding the horrific traffic on hwy 101 in Oregon: For many years, I was riding the coast from Reedsport to the Russian River twice per year. Now I’m down to about once per year. It took me a couple of trips to realize that pretty much all of the traffic woes are solved by riding mostly at night. I don’t ride between sunset and midnight, but I’ll start my day between midnight and 3:00 AM, depending on where I am (relative to bars that drunks will be driving out of).

The scenery is actually better at night. There is nothing quite like the waves breaking on the shore under a full moon as viewed from the cliff above. Also, there’s much more interesting wildlife in the hours before sunrise than there is in the afternoons. The time I had a bobcat running along the highway ahead of me in my headlight comes to mind, but there have been many other interesting meet-ups.

The trucks I encounter are extremely considerate, safe and just plain nice at 3:00 AM, as opposed to being indifferent to my safety at 3:00 PM. I think they feel a kinship with an old fellow, perhaps on a tandem with his wife, working along in the early morning hours while they are working.

rick
Guest
rick

Beautiful

Doug
Guest
Doug

What do you do in the next interesting town along the coast, hungry, thirsty, at 0400 in the am? Go to Denny’s or nothing. Sorry that sounds like I’d miss my opportunity to do anything.

9watts
Guest
9watts

What happened to the upvote buttons?

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

I have often wondered if a lot of the Oregon coastal tourist traffic woes [conflict between bikes and RVs in peak season] could be managed better…since the coastal bike tourists generally ride north to south to stay with the wind how about ODOT requesting (via marketing and prizes) that RVers drive south to north…for long distance trips when trip planning?

(Is anyone at ODoT or the Oregon’s Bike Tourism office listening and open to discussions?)

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

9watts

One more thing to consider. Jonathan’s one guy. Perhaps some of you are imagining sixe or ten to follow his lead. But what if it becomes 5,000? or 50,000?

Ah, the slippery slope. One person becomes 5000, there’s no way it might stay reasonable.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Can’t tell if you’re being facetious, Ted, but just this afternoon we visited the Vista House with my in-laws (in a car). Wow. THOUSANDS of cars jamming up every nook and cranny along Hwy 30. Having grown up here it was quite eye-opening to realize what forty years of population growth can yield.