Fat Biking in the Oregon Coast Range

Surly Fat Bike takes a rest while sunrises in the Oregon Coast Range.

Fat Bike takes a rest while sunrises in the Oregon Coast Range.

The idea of building a statewide multi-user trail network has been a passion of mine for the last several years. Along these lines, I have been promoting the vision of an Oregon Coast Pathway since 2010.  This interest naturally led me to the Salmonberry Corridor trail, a project in the preliminary planning phase, which would connect Banks to Tillamook via the Oregon Coast Range. After attending my first meeting last fall, I have been following the project closely and was determined to attend the latest public meeting last Friday in Wheeler as a representative of the Northwest Trail Alliance.

Now, in the children’s story, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, we learn that sometimes a simple action can lead to a complex chain of events.

If a hungry little mouse shows up on your doorstep, you might want to give him a cookie. And if you give him a cookie, he’ll ask for a glass of milk. He’ll want to look in a mirror to make sure he doesn’t have a milk mustache, and then he’ll ask for a pair of scissors to give himself a trim…

Wild Salmonberry in the Oregon Coast Range

Wild Salmonberry in the Oregon Coast Range

In my case, you might say the cookie was a salmonberry. I was determined to attend that meeting at the coast. And I decided I wanted to bike there from Portland. And since I was biking there, I decided I should travel as near to the corridor as possible. And since I was going to be biking out there in the wilderness, I figured I ought to take a friend with some experience.  So I hit up  my good friend, bike shop owner, and endurance racer, Nathan Jones, to join me.  And since Jones has started renting Fat Bikes, we figured it might be a good idea to do some gear testing on a long ride that would tackle many road surfaces. So, if you give a mouse a cookie-of-a-meeting in Wheeler, Oregon. It could turn into fat bike demo and adventure in the Coast Range.Salmonberry Corridor Segments

The four segments of the Salmonberry Corridor.

The four segments of the Salmonberry Corridor.

The 70 attendees at the Salmonberry Corridor Coalition Meeting represented a variety of agencies, organizations, and interests. The meeting was led by Rocky Houston the State Trails Coordinator for Oregon Parks.  Many coastal residents and community leaders turned out to show their support for the project. A large contingent from The Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad also came to have their right-of-way concerns addressed. OCSR representatives assured coalition supporters of their strong support for a rail with trail project in the currently operating coastal and Nehalem river sections.

Salmonberry Corridor Coalition in Wheeler, Oregon

Salmonberry Corridor Coalition in Wheeler, Oregon

Many coastal leaders and residents attending would like to see this project start right away for a variety of reasons, including their desire to see a safer route for the many bicyclists who use Coast Highway 101. There were also some community concerns, including the possible use of chemicals to deal with foliage along the pathway, which could be harmful to people with sensitivities and those who want to pick edible berries nearby.

The historic rail right-of-way heads into the wilderness at the confluence of the Nehalem River and the Salmonberry river.

The historic rail right-of-way heads into the wilderness at the confluence of the Nehalem River and the Salmonberry river.

Jones always up for an adventure, briefly promoted the idea of riding fat bikes along the Salmonberry section. Luckily, I recalled a story about a couple of guys who had taken fat bikes in there and found it rough going. An internet search turned up their story in this brief article by Herb Belrose and his longer article “Riding the Burn Cycle” on issuu.com.  It sounded like an amazing, if harrowing, adventure and probably one best done with hiking boots. Nature has proven who really owns the right of way in the Salmonberry especially since the massive flooding and wash outs of ‘07. The area is reverting back to its natural, rugged state.

That settled it, we were going to stick to the logging road path that Nathan had originally routed for us over the Coast Range. We figured fat bikes with knobbies were overkill for this gravel and paved route.

Hillsobor to Wheeler route.

Hillsobor to Wheeler route.

But we wanted to see how fat bikes fared on these surfaces over a long distance especially since Jones is now renting these glorified mountain bikes through his shop, Ride Yr Bike. We knew we faced some extremely steep climbs and radical descents. We didn’t figure there would be snow in some places above 3000’ or gravel sections where much of the rock was about the size of a child’s fist.

Riding a snowy ridge road.

Riding a snowy ridge road.

 Much of our ride was spent going up hills and then ridge riding, by permission, through big sections of private timberland and the Tillamook Forest. We had to keep a close look out on our GPS so as not to take one of the many unmarked wrong turns.  The tracking devices saved our bacon a couple times but in one instance the road mapped did not exist.  We just happened along a forest service worker, the first car we had seen for hours, he had been searching for the same road and had determined based on maps that it did not exist.  It was pure luck that saved us quite a bit of time and taught me an important lesson about carrying a real-life map for backup.

The weather was sunny and clear and we were able to spot five peaks in the Cascades from Mt. Jefferson to Mt. Ranier.   Clearcuts and logging roads allowed these panoramas not possible in roadless wooded areas.  This type of lumber extraction creates a patchwork of bare land, freshly planted trees, and young stands of timber — and gave this third generation Oregonian (who once worked in sawmills) lots to think about as I grinded my way toward the Pacific Ocean.

Ridge Road Summit with view of Cascades.

Ridge Road Summit with view of Cascades.

Of course, one of the main community drivers behind the Salmonberry Trail is the promise of economic development in a region that once had much more sawmill and other forestry related business and jobs.

Nice little bakery and Mexican Food in Wheeler

Nice little bakery and Mexican Food in Wheeler

The Banks-Vernonia rail trail, which now sees 250,000 users a year, coupled with Stub Stewart State Park together have brought visitors into the nearby communities and have opened up new opportunities for tourism related business.

Even the most primitive trails require ongoing maintenance. How can this trail system make sure it has the ongoing maintenance it needs? One idea I proposed on behalf of the Northwest Trail Alliance was to utilize the trail cycling club to help build and maintain natural surface sections, especially in the wilderness areas that may never be feasible to be paved.  NWTA has already helped build a mountain bike network at Stub Stewart and has demonstrated many other successful trail building projects in our region. This kind of partnership could help reduce cost and connect community and users.

The Tillamook Forest Heritage Trust, the organization responsible for building the multimillion dollar Tillamook Forest Center, is interested in taking the lead non-profit partnership role in developing the Salmonberry Trail because it aligns with the Trust’s mission of “developing tools and experiences that help Oregonians better understand and appreciate the Tillamook State Forest and all of Oregon’s State-owned forests.”  The Oregon Coast Scenic Railway also offered their building equipment and access to tons of gravel to help with the build.

Nathan Jones riding down the Riding Oregon Coast Scenic Railway tracks towards Rockaway Beach.

Nathan Jones riding down the Riding Oregon Coast Scenic Railway tracks towards Rockaway Beach.

 

To get a sense of the coastal section of the pathway, Jones and I decided to fat-bike it towards Tillamook on the railroad tracks after the coalition meeting.  It was a sun-drenched, car-free, and train-free path (the OCSR only runs during the summer and on other special occasions the rest of the year).  This stretch of coast that starts in Wheeler and runs through the towns of Rockaway, Garibaldi, Bay City and Tillamook, already has many points of interest and places to stay for tourists. Unfortunately,  it cannot be safely or easily traveled by children, the elderly, the disabled and others.  Recently two vulnerable users were killed by car drivers near Barview Jetty County Park — even riding in a car is relatively dangerous on Coast Highway 101.  I have cycled this route three times and loved it, but riding down the tracks was just so pleasant and peaceful, except, of course, for the constant bumping of the railroad ties! (That problem was alleviated quite a bit after I dropped to the fat bike tire pressure to almost zero).

 

I could see a path in the coastal section being used not only by thousands of tourists but also by locals as a way to easily get from one community to another or safely to school or work.   Overall, a rail/trail path from the valley to the coast is the kind of transformative project Oregon needs for community health, transportation and tourism.  “Giving ourselves a Salmonberry” will likely lead us down a long, complicated set of twists and turns before completion.  I can tell already (from the people I’ve spent time with to the places I’ve seen) that getting there will be half the fun.

Wheeler Wheelies

Wheelies in Wheeler at the Bay Lodge

For snow, sand, or off-road adventure rent your fat bike at Ride Yr Bike. Apply your rental to the purchase.

Comments
  • Dan Morgan January 23, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    Great Summary, will you ever do it on a lesser bike?

    • dan k January 23, 2014 at 4:47 pm

      I thought the fat bike made an all around good choice for this route and conditions. So probably not. I think there would be too much walking with a tandem. Now, once the Salmonberry trail is built, that’s another story!

    • dan k January 23, 2014 at 4:53 pm

      It would certainly be doable on a mountain bike. Maybe it could be fun a cross bike or randonneur but I’m not so sure. I am really getting sold on the Fat Bike for any type of off-pavement riding (gravel, trail, mountain and, of course, snow and sand).

  • Joe Rowe January 24, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    Dan. Thanks for the news and update. This reminds me of the trip I took with my kid in summer 2013. No cars and 140 miles of bike path. It’s called the GAP trail in Pennsylvania. No snow.

  • Brian November 27, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Hi Dan,

    I’m planning on taking my Surly ECR out to the coast from Portland for Christmas with the family this year. How long would you say this route took you in total? Are there any things to be aware of before I attempt it?

    Thanks,
    Brian

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  • […]  I’m a larger guy and the 3.8 tires are like magic on degraded rail trails and gravel, my voyage to the coast just a few weeks ago proved that to be entirely true.  So I’m kind of setting out to prove […]

  • […]  I’m a larger guy and the 3.8 tires are like magic on degraded rail trails and gravel, my voyage to the coast just a few weeks ago proved that to be entirely true.  So I’m kind of setting out to prove […]