Monday, July 23, 2012

Bridges of Lane County, Oregon

Last night at dinner someone called The Bridges of Madison County a chick flick. I mentioned that Clint Eastwood, aka Dirty Harry, directed the movie. A conundrum. In large groups questions can get thornier and more complicated.

On the other hand problems that seem insurmountable can and do get solved. Excellent coffee every morning for 50 people in camp. A homemade contraption, part bicycle pump and part pressure cooker. A shifter fixed with instructions from the Internet and a slightly melted WD-40 straw. A tandem permanently fixed to the top of a car, liberated when someone's key matches the lock. Such are the benefits of traveling in a group.

A detour featuring this covered bridge.
From Camp Yale at Belknap Hot Springs we set off down a busy local highway with marginal shoulder. One SuperTourist had already scoped out an alternate parallel route starting at mile 4. He announced it at dinner and this morning everyone followed the new improved route. The local roads were densely forested and carried little traffic.

Our cue sheets were no help at this point. But with Jeff-the-GPS-guy in our pack, we successfully navigated the turns.

On a fast downhill, trouble ahead... a disorganized clump of cyclists in the road. A crash? A mechanical issue? No, just a local attraction. Today's route is a moderate 70 miles, encouraging stops for exploration.

Then comes the left turn onto a road we follow for the rest of the day. Its formal name is the West Cascades Scenic Byway. And scenic it truly is. 60 miles with no turns. Lush fir forests. Rivers following along the road. Cool temperatures under the shade of countless trees. 

Conversation drops to a minimum and soon stops entirely. Mike and Jeff continue up the hill while I stop at a campground for a snack. Time stretches into long dreamy moments, marked only by birdcalls and the rushing of the McKenzie and Willamette Rivers.

Riders emerge on the other side near Westfir with a look that says 'this is why I love riding my bike'. 

Just before town the road passes under this railroad bridge. I can't help gazing at the underside with its structure totally exposed. Wonder if the bridge is still used. Then comes a distant whistle. A few moments to decide: stay underneath or make a getaway. 

Unlike the soft quiet space inside the Belknap Bridge the train is unapologetically loud and fractious. It rattles the air below the structure like an echo chamber. The bridge itself does not vibrate or budge an inch, even under thousands of tons of rushing equipment. 50 feet above tiny Westfir, the long freight train passes without a glance.

This is just the kind of experience that used to terrify me after the accident. I'd be overwhelmed by the loudness and vibration. I'd watch for signs that the bridge was about to collapse under the weight of the train. The neuropsych folks call this "fearing the worst will happen" on their tests. Today it's only noise and no big deal.

Just a few yards away, another covered bridge. Every one of these bridges is slightly different.

The Office Bridge, longest in Oregon.
This one led to the mill in Westfir, which burned to the ground in 1984. At its peak the mill employed over 500 people. You can still tell the timber industry was strong here. Tall hills on every side are covered with second-growth trees. All the forest service campgrounds along the scenic byway are on former timber land. This mill site is now the trailhead for a huge network of mountain biking trails. Both Westfir and nearby Oakridge are banking on mountain biking tourists.

A mile or two down the road the large open field at Casey's RV Park hosts us for the night. The showers are a fair walk but after a serene and gorgeous ride, we have few complaints.

1 comment :

  1. Gorgeous!!! HB, sweetie! Wishing you lots more beautiful riding!!! Love you.