Story and photography by Steve Mustoe
Oregon is well known for its dramatic coastline, and the views of the Pacific from Highway 101 can be truly spectacular. But for those who choose to travel on two wheels, getting there and back is more than half the fun. My favorite route to the coast is also a popular ride I lead annually as a Concours Owners Group (COG) event. Today I am going it alone, free to dawdle and sightsee to my heart’s content. In keeping with this relaxed state of mind, I decided to leave the Honda VFR800 in the garage and jump on the Suzuki V-Strom 650 instead.
A rider in a hurry could just head west out of Eugene on a major highway and pick up Territorial Highway in a matter of minutes. I instead chose to follow a slower route. Fox Hollow Road winds its way out of town to join Lorane Highway (like Territorial, it is a highway in name only—a remnant of Oregon’s pioneer past). I continued westward and several miles later turned north on Territorial. Along the way I passed sheep and llama farms, wooded homesteads, sprawling pastures—and more riders than cars. The road is gently rolling, with little hint of the curviness soon to come. The next half hour was spent leisurely cruising past more farms, green fields and a winery. Benton-Lane specializes in pinot noir, arguably Oregon’s best-known export. I was on two wheels, though, and chose not to indulge. It helped my decision that the tasting room wouldn’t open for a few more hours.
Just past Monroe I turned east on the Alpine cutoff. A few miles later the real fun began. The road from Alpine to Alsea climbs steeply up, then down, a series of very tight curves as it traverses the Coast Range. The road is almost entirely in shade, a narrow ribbon cut through the forest. Parts of it are one-lane with pull-offs. Until recently this former Forest Service road had a significant gravel portion, but now it is entirely paved. Lots of fun, but not a road to drag pegs on—occasional gravel in the corners and the frequent inattentive cager drifting into my lane dictated that I slow down and enjoy the rhythm of the road. Stopping for a short break at Alsea Falls picnic area, I strolled over to the viewpoint. It’s an easy climb down to the base of the falls. On this day in late summer, I was looking at a heavy trickle. Had I been there in early spring the roar of the Alsea River streaming over the rocks would have carried to the road several hundred feet away.
Back on the bike, I soon drifted through the small town of Alsea. There I found gas and a café (I didn’t need either yet), as well as the highlight of the ride: Oregon Route 34. This delightfully curvaceous road connects Corvallis with the coast, but is not as heavily traveled as U.S. Highway 20 to the north. I love it! Many are the times I have ridden it all the way to Waldport just to turn around and ride it back. There are a few dangerously tight corners but mostly it’s just fun. Fun at legal speeds I might add—no need to play Ricky Racer on this road, just relax and enjoy the curves….
At Waldport I gassed up, then headed south along the coast on Highway 101. This impressive stretch of road hugs the shore, climbing to spectacular vistas then drops back down to run alongside the beach. At times the heavy RV traffic can be a frustration, but there are numerous turnouts that allow a rider to savor the view.
As I pulled into the small town of Yachats my stomach was growling. I quickly weighed the merits of my two favorite lunch stops. One, Leroy’s Blue Whale, is a favorite of the COG crowd thanks to its ample seating area, motorcycle friendly staff, and excellent fish and chips. The other, the Drift Inn, is smaller and tends more toward gourmet entrees.
I decide to forgo fish and chips (even the small order at Leroy’s was more substantial than my appetite) and pulled up in front of the Drift Inn. Soon I was sitting by a window, watching the tourists drive by while savoring a cup of seafood chowder and an excellent Teriyaki Halibut Burger.
From Yachats to Florence is an oft-photographed section of the coast, and I copied the other tourists by stopping for a snap of the picturesque Heceta Head lighthouse. A few hundred feet below me noisy sea lions were basking on the rocks and playing in the surf. The wind off the ocean was just brisk enough that I kept my riding jacket on despite the sunshine. A couple on a Gold Wing from Iowa pulled in next to me, and couldn’t stop talking about the beauty of the scene. When I pointed out the spout of a whale off in the distance they were as excited as schoolchildren.
At Florence I headed inland, running alongside the slow-moving Siuslaw River. It’s usually filled with small fishing boats but today it’s surprisingly empty. At Mapleton I split off from U.S. 126, the heavily trafficked main route home to Eugene, and chose Oregon Route 36 instead. This lightly traveled stretch of pavement twists its way past Swisshome and climbs up to Triangle Lake, a nice blend of farm-lined straights and winding wooded stretches.
A few miles later the road once again crosses over the Coast Range, dropping quickly down to the hamlet of Low Pass and the fringes of the Willamette Valley. Traffic was virtually nonexistent and the air smelled of fresh cut hay. I followed 36 to Territorial, turned south and started to retrace my route back home. As I passed through Veneta I succumbed to a powerful urge—a stop for pie and coffee at Our Daily Bread. Housed in an old church, it’s a favorite breakfast place. I was thankful I chose to skip Leroy’s fish and chips, otherwise I’d have had no room for dessert—and passing up this slice of marionberry (with a scoop of ice cream, of course) would be criminal!
The valley was considerably warmer than when I left that morning, but was still a pleasant riding temperature. I found myself going even slower the last few miles, trying to stretch the experience out as long as possible—it was one of those moments when I’m exceedingly happy to be alive and on a motorcycle, reveling in the sights, smells and sounds of the day. Seven hours and 244 miles after departing I pulled into the driveway. My wife greeted me, saw my smile and didn’t bother asking how the ride went. She knew.
Benton-Lane Winery, www.benton-lane.com
Leroy’s Blue Whale, (541) 547-3399
The Drift Inn Café, www.the-drift-inn.com, (541) 547-4477
Our Daily Bread, www.ourdailybreadrestaurant.com, (541) 935-4921
Yachats Chamber of Commerce (information on lodging, camping, dining, etc.), www.yachats.org