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highway 101

I ride along with no plan other than to travel south.

Washington disappears under my wheels quickly, leaving me with only a series of flickering hazy images of impoverished hamlets – small groups of houses in various states of dilapidation, surrounded by pick up trucks and rusting car bodies. After 80 miles, late in the afternoon I come to a pleasant county campground where the park guy lets me camp for free on seeing my face fall when he tells me that the fee is $15. He makes me promise not to tell anyone so I’m not going tell you exactly where it is. I watch the sun set into the sea which is still a novelty for an east coast girl like me. The light reflected off the water paints everything a ruddy gold.

Golden light.

Golden light.

A peaceful campground in the evening light. Kids are back in school this week.

A peaceful campground in the evening light. Kids are back in school this week and so the place is almost deserted.

The next day I set off early, again with the sole aim of covering ground. The sun is still smiling on me but the wind picks up as I approach Astoria. I am battling around the bay, against a stiff offshore wind, when I see the Astoria Bridge which will take me across the state line to Oregon looming ahead. It seems endless.

The bridge is not, in fact, endless but it is over four miles long and it runs across the bay so that when I swing onto it the wind is now blowing from the side. Apparently, this bridge was built to withstand 150 mile-an-hour wind gusts. I have no idea how many miles-an-hours the gusts buffeting me backwards and forwards across the road are but the experience certainly amounts to the most terrifying that I have undergone on this trip. Trucks and cars whizz by me, sharing a single narrow lane, as I struggle to maintain control of my bike. By the time I reach the other side I am totally exhausted and I retire to a cafe to soothe myself with a dose of internet and a cool drink.

The Astoria-Megler Bridge is certainly a hansome one. It is the longest continuous truss bridge in the US. Crossing it in a vicious cross-wind was absolutely terrifying.

The Astoria-Megler Bridge is certainly a handsome one. For the technically inclined, it is, apparently, the longest continuous truss bridge in the US. Crossing it in a vicious cross-wind is absolutely terrifying.

An almost endless bridge.

An almost endless bridge.

When I have recovered it is almost 5.30 and I set off to find a somewhere for the night. Ambitiously, I decide to aim for a campground some 30 miles south of Astoria but, unsurprisingly, I find myself riding in the dark long before I get there.

It is immediately apparent that the character of the Oregon coast is totally different to that of the Washington coast. The road is lined with discreet, but obviously vastly expensive, architect designed timber houses weathered to tasteful silver-grey. They are set well off the highway behind high secure fences, nestled amongst the trees. The possibility of finding a quiet, unguarded, corner appears slim. However, the wisdom of continuing to ride in the dark in heavy traffic on Highway 101 is extremely doubtful.

Just when I am beginning to get desperate, I see a car park to the side of the road. I pull in and find a small park, with picnic tables and outhouses, overlooking the sea.  A path leads down the cliff to the beach. The evening is unseasonably hot and so the car park is still quite full and a large group of young people are on the beach, standing around a bonfire. I ponder the possibilities.

A west coast sunset is still a novelty for me.

A west coast sunset is still a novelty for me.

After hanging around the picnic area for some time, snacking on various items from my pannier, the crowd thins out. Soon there is only one car left and I push my bike toward the beach access path. I scout around looking for a place where I am unlikely to be disturbed or bothered during the night and eventually decide that the beach is the best bet. I push the bike awkwardly down the steps of the access path and onto the large round pebbles that line the beach above the sand.

At the end of the beach I set up a bed on the sand, with my bear spray and flash-light to close to hand, and curl up in my nest. I wake periodically in the night and each time I am aware of the stars swinging across the heavens above me.

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