Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, Day 3

Another restless night sleep as if my brain couldn’t stop pedaling through the night and then we attacked the third and final day of our Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway adventure. After two days of 40+ mile rides, my legs were no longer tired, my arms no longer sore, and my brain on overdrive – yet still excited to get in the saddle.

The morning started with the continental breakfast at The Grand Hotel in Salem, complimented by a gluten free P&J sandwich that I had pre-packed just in case earlier in the week and two cups of coffee. Caffeinated, we kicked off the day with a visit to the Travel Salem offices and the Salem Capitol building.

Owling at the capitol building

Signing an imaginary bill into law at the Governor's desk.

Then we put on feet back on the pedals.

The most difficult section of the bikeway for traffic and direction, we maneuvered our way through the busy mid-morning traffic in downtown Salem as we eased out into the suburbs and finally to the countryside.

Greeting us with fresh air and wide open fields, the roads weaved north through scattered beautiful flowering fields. From acres of acres of cauliflower and trimmed hop fields, this section of the scenic bikeway was by far my favorite. Taking the trail at a relaxed pace, we glided through the remaining valley and enjoyed the end of fall sun on our backs. Only missing one turn along the way, the day flew by.

Biking into Willamette Mission State Park

Passing through Willamette Mission State Park, we goofed around in the park fields and wandered the hazelnut orchards. Here I also decided to take a bite out of the pavement with the only crash of the trip. In true Kelsey fashion, I tripped over my own pedal in slow-mo while trying to turn around from a dead stop. Luckily I came away with just a few skinned knees and a small break on my camera.

After dusting off my knees we checked out the biker and hiker camp at the park and test road the ferry crossing the Willamette River before embarking on the last ten miles of the ride.

With some flat fields and big sweeping curves, I road a good portion of the last leg alone. Thinking through each pedal… each mile, I kept just pushing myself further and further – another moment beyond what I imagined I could do and another moment setting expectations for what I could do in the future. So riding into Champoeg State Park was liking flying through the finish line ribbon for me. Only 7 months since having surgery for my Crohn’s disease and I finally felt like myself again – healthy, active, and alive.

The group survived all the way to Champoeg

More photos from Day three:

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Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway Day 2, Part 2

Albany to Salem – Miles 60-99

For some odd reason I left for day two of biking with the number 24 in my head – 24 miles that is – but oh how I was wrong. Pedaling from Albany to Salem as the second part of our Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway adventure, I should have know by pure driving distance on the indirect roads that it would be more, but my legs would never have anticipated that the length was to be nearly double.

Leaving around 11 a.m. we hopped on our bikes –everyone a little more softly on the seat then the day before and my legs tight even after stretching and walking that morning. But once we got moving, muscel memory set in and the legs just kept pumping.

The first section took us through the main roads of Albany then out to the farm fields, freshly plowed signifying the end of summer – though the warm round sun, heating up the road begged to differ.

At the top Scravel Hill just outside of Albany, we received some beautiful benefits from this scenic bikeway. Stretching out flat across the fertile valley floor, brown and green patchwork of countryside spotted with trees and homes decorated the horizon. A white barn from the farm just down the road waited for us as we stopped at the quiet graveyard at the top of the hill to take in the view, stretch out our legs and snatch a few photos.

Scravel Hill Road Panorama

Along the route, we also enjoy some vineyard views.

Biking past Ankeny Hill Winery

Biking through empty field, nowhere near Salem, we hit 24 miles with my legs already aching. The previous day’s ride had really taken it out of me and a rough night’s sleep didn’t aid in the re-coup process, but I powered on.

Luckily when we reached Independence, we took a quick break for ice cream – the ultimate energy boosting snack. And we definitely needed that energy when we realized the time. With another ten miles ahead of us before Salem, we only had an hour until we were supposed to be at an event. We really needed to book it into town.

Working against us though were the rolling hills. Mound after mound along the two lane road grinded at my legs. Beads of sweat rolling down my back made me swat at my jersey like pesky flies landing on an elephant. Yet finally at 5:30 p.m. (when we were supposed to be arriving at the event) we rolled into Salem with rush hour traffic.

Strolling through the lobby of The Grand Hotel in downtown Salem in our shorts and helmets, we hastily shoved our bikes on the elevators and high tailed it to our rooms to shower.

At least there was prospect of wine to wash down the roughness of the day and relax the legs, I thought as I dropped my bags in my hotel room for the night – lots of wine.

The biking group enjoying some wine.

More Photos from Day 2:

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If you go:

The Grand Hotel

Lush pillow top beds and spacious rooms greeted us at The Grand Hotel in downtown Salem. One of the only accommodation options in the downtown area, the Grand is in walking distance from the capitol building, shops, and food. Additionally the offer a continental breakfast in a large dining facility in the morning that gives your elbows room to dive into their various food choices.

Willamette Valley Vineyards

Wonderful wine, beautiful views and a fabulous celebration for the new Oregon wine licenses plate awaited us this evening at Willamette Valley Vineyards. Meeting up with a few of our good Eugene friends, we felt right at home and enjoy some delicious finger foods and fabulous wine from all over the state. Both Eola Hills and Willamette Valley Vineyard’s Pinot Noirs wowed my taste buds and rejuvenated my legs. Plus Jim Bernau, the winery’s founder, graciously sent us loose for the night with a bottle of his wine in hand.

Jonathan’s

This is a great little place in the heart of downtown for late night appetizers on a budget. We strolled in around 9 p.m. and they were still serving a long list of food options from their “mini bits” menu. Plus check in on Foursquare and get a free mini bit with the purchase of a drink.

Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway Day 2, Part 1: Albany

Delicious cheesy quiche

The best part about staying at a bed and breakfast, especially when on a biking trip, is most definitely the breakfast and at Pfeiffer Cottage our growling morning stomachs were tastily answered.

The second day of our Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway trip started out leisurely as we prepared our gear, gathered our belongings and made our way downstairs. As soon as I reached the last step, the scent of warm breakfast on the stove instantly awakened my taste buds.

The meal began with a glass cup of cantaloupe topped with a small dollop of yogurt along with a steaming mug of coffee and fresh orange juice. Next, the B&B owner and cook brought out a personal pan quiche with bright, spicy peppers and a side of tortilla chips and turkey, apple sausage. Paired with chunky salsa, the food was hardy yet light and fresh – just what we needed before the start of the second day of biking.

After breakfast with stomachs full and my head a buzz with the much needed caffeine, we walked to downtown Albany to visit The Albany Brass Ring, Historical Carousel and Museum.

An all volunteer based project, the Carousel in Albany is a unique community centerpiece in the works. Designed to be a family-friendly attraction in the heart of Albany, the carousel is being carved piece by piece with a projected completion in four to five more years.

“It’s a labor of love that is creating a sense of community,” said Gary Roberts, one of the many devoted and enthusiastic volunteers. “The city is really standing behind this project.”

From the outside the museum doesn’t look like much – just another worn down old building on the corner, yet as soon as you walk inside the colors and shining paint of the completed carousel animals overcomes the senses is such a moving way that it is hard to describe.

Hand carved with diligent detail, time, and love, each animal is a museum quality piece with a story. Funded through animal sponsorships, each carousel piece is designed by its sponsor and carved to their exact specifications. Themed with traditional, Victorian style animals from horses to salmon and dragons to roosters, the carousel will be one-of-a-kind when completed.

Roberts telling us the story behind "Harriett the frog"

Additionally, many of the animals carved are also one-of-a-kind, like Harriet the frog. Purchased by a family as a memorial for their mother, the frog is decorated with details and memories of her life. The frog wears a tan, straw gardening hat because their mother loved to garden and would always wear a similar hat. Tucked in the bill of the hat, a yellow rose, her favorite flower. A purple sash, her favorite color. A jar held tightly to her chest because she would always pick extras from her garden to give away. Each detail made as a silent, visual reminder of her life all the way down to a small carved, safety pin on the back, inside pocket of the frogs outfit – one son remembers his mom by the spare safety-pin always attached to her clothing.

Walking through the museum, Roberts shared just a few of these many special memories that will forever be engraved in this community art piece.

Each volunteer also continues to add more memories and history to the carousel with every wood shaving. In the eighth year of the project, the carousel has over 300 active volunteers and 118,000 recorded hours and growing. The carousel encourages anyone who wants to help to come lend a hand. Trained volunteers and carvers give basic instructions so visitors can practice on small rosettes and wood chucks.

Two volunteers from the McKenzie River area working on animal carvings.

Once all the animals and decorative pieces are completed (1 animal can take as long as 14 months to 4 years to carve, plus 10-15 layers of paint), the carousel will be erected in the museum’s current location on a 1909 donated Dentzel mechanism.

No detail is overlooked on this carousel project either, which also includes decorative wall panels and overhangs, jesters, small stationary animals for toddlers, and of course the brass ring.

Open Monday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Wednesday from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m., the Carousel Museum and Studio invites visitors to stroll through the building, watch the carvers at work, try their hand at carving, and become part of the project.

To find out more about the Albany Carousel, see photos of all the animals, and meet the volunteers check out it online at: www.albanybrassring.com.

Here are more photos from my visitor to Albany:

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For more things to do, see & eat around Albany, visit the Albany Visitor Center:

250 Broadalbin St. SW, Suite 100 – Albany, OR 97321 - 541-928-0911

Day two bike ride story to come in Part 2.

Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway Day 1

“The most difficult step of the journey is the first.” ~unknown.

I started getting that gurgly feeling in my stomach more than 24 hours before the early a.m. departure. As if I didn’t remember between three-hour long training rides and frantic, last-minute gear shopping, my body had to remind me of what I was about to do. And as someone battling Crohn’s Disease, a gurgly gut is not a welcomed anxiety feeling – but all and all, I was stomach-achingly excited for what was sure to be an epic trip one way or another.

Three days, 139 miles, 4 bikes, 1 sag-wagon, and high hopes for a grand-old time on the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway.

Day 1: September 28 – Armitage to Albany – Mile 1 – 59

Meeting at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning at Armitage County Park just north of Eugene, we were all smiles. Despite, the cool fall air that decided to greet us for the get-up, my four co-workers and I were geared and ready to begin the journey north.

The group ready to take off from Armitage Park in Eugene

After a few commemorative photos and loading up the sag wagon with our suite cases and snacks, we were off. Today was to be our longest day, traveling 59 miles from Eugene to Albany via Brownsville – plus I foolishly tacked on six extra miles before the start of the ride.

The morning started with a deep, thick fog filling the sky. The sun filtered through as it masked the approaching hillside. (Boy was I glad that the sales man at Pearl Izumi’s talked me into that neon green windbreaker). My fingers frigidly grasp the handle bars of my borrowed bike as we cruised through Coburg and its antique malls.

The damp sky smelled like the sea – you could practically taste the salt in the air – and a strong headwind pelted the front line of our bikes. But there was no turning back now. Luckily, as we made the first turn of the day and crossed over I-5, rush-hour traffic, my anxieties and chill quickly dissipated as the sun burst through the heavy clouds and we made our way toward the hills leading to Brownsville.

Samara riding a Bike Friday bike from Coburg to Brownsville

The only ranked climbs along the entire Willamette Valley Bikeway, the slopes ramped up the forested foothills in small sections. With only two days of hill climbing practice out of my one month bike training, I prayed my legs would guide me to the top. Yet to my surprise, I tackled the inclines without even using my granny gear and then rewardingly sailed down at nearly 30 mph.

Now if only the next 30 miles were so gracious on my turtle legs.

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” ~ Greg Anderson

Before lunching in Brownsville, our group of tourist girls stopped for an exploration of the Living Rock Studios.

Built of Oregon agate, crystal, petrified wood, flagstone and other local area rocks, this house is a living graveyard for rock hunters. A ruggedly twisted two-story house that curves into a flowering tree with stone column limbs and canvas top, the museum was built by Howard Taylor stone by stone beginning in the 1960s.

Like a Where’s Waldo world for old-timer collectables and hooting owls, Taylor’s living daughter led us through the crafted house with a raspy voice as if telling a ghost story. And with the stone chill I wouldn’t be surprised if the late Howard Taylor or “Daddy” as the thin, sweater clad lady referred to him still roamed the home.

Stones, rocks, and cystals at the Living Rock Studios

Video from our tour of the entrance room of the house.

After the museum we pedal into historic Brownsville that shined with beautiful classic buildings, clean streets, and all that small town charm that any American city would be proud of. Settled in 1846, Brownsville is a quaint spot to spend the afternoon and check out its other claim to fame, filming locations for the movie Stand By Me.

For an energy loading stop we grabbed a bite to eat at Bella Cuccina, a small specialty bakery offering a delicious Mexican influenced lunch menu. I enjoyed three corn tortilla, chicken tacos and lots of refreshing ice cold water.

Popping a few peanut M&Ms in my mouth and my helmet back on my head, we put our tires back to the road. Still another 30 miles to go.

Around mile 40 my legs started to really burn. Further than I had ever biked in my life and I could tell from then on that it was going to be more a battle of the brain than really the body.

Along the mapped route, we took a short diversion to Thompson’s Mill State Heritage State, the oldest water-powered grain mill in the state located just south of Albany. Refurbished, the mill is now a park site with antique milling machinery and interpretive exhibits. Unfortunately until the river water levels rise, you cannot enter the mill because of safety concerns, yet still a great stop for the second half of the biking day.

The mill's grain silos.

Closing in on the 50+ mile mark, we curved our way along a small two-lane road, through a beautiful fall color-changing canopy of trees and past a beaten down one room, white wooden church before finally crossing the bridge into the neighborhoods hugging downtown Albany.

The biking day ended as we rolled up to Pfieffer Cottage, a 1909 Craftsman Bungalow converted into warm, bed and breakfast located just off the downtown. We were greeted with hot showers, a claw foot tub and a cheese, cracker and salami appetizer. Soaking my legs in the tub and scrubbing off the pesty dust from the back of my calves, I allowed my body to finally relax. Enveloped in the aroma of citrus body wash and daydreaming of the cold beer and dinner I was about to have from Calapooia Brewery, I temporarily turned my brain off for a quiet moment of bliss.

Fifty-nine miles down, only 93 more to go. “I can do this,” I thought as I melted further into the bubbles.

More Photos from Day 1

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If you go:

Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway – Albany to Brownsville and Brownsville to Eugene Map & Cue Sheet

Living Rock Studio

Open Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. this unusual museum is a not to miss stop in the quaint town of Brownsville. Just be prepared to take your time – it can be a bit of a long winded tour, also don’t go alone!

Bella Cuccina

122 Spaulding St. – Brownsville, Oregon – 541-466-5902

Thompson’s Mill State Heritage Site

Open seven days a week from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. for self-guided tours.

Boston Mill Road – 541-491-3611

Pfieffer Cottage

Accommodating for everyone from bikers to honeymooners and the regular football fan crowds, this bed & breakfast has a comfortable living space and lovely outdoor sitting area for relaxing – plus the hand-prepared breakfast is wonderful!

530 Ferry ST SW – Albany, OR  97321 – 541-971-9557

Calapooia Brewing Co.

Brewing local, hoppy microbrews, Calapooia sends suds with delicious flavor straight into the hands of Albany residents at their restaurant and brewery. Open Sunday – Wednesday, 11:30 – 10 p.m., Thursday, 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m., and Friday & Saturday, 11:30 – midnight. I highly recommend the Chili Beer Chili, with its just-enough spice, and a side of tots. As for beer, I’m always a sucker for the IPA.

140 Hill St. NE – Albany, Oregon 97321 – 541-928-1931

Sun On My Tires

Biked 30 miles today!! woot woot. That’s my best yet in prep for my three day bike ride at the end of the month. The legs felt good but my shoulders and neck started to ache about half way through, I will need to work out some serious kinks tomorrow. But for now here is the photo of the day from my sunset bike ride last night.

Sun bouncing off the river during bike ride.

Biking the Willamette River

A few of my co-workers and I have decided to bike the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway at the end of the September. Over the course of three days we will be traveling 130 miles from Armitage County Park in Eugene to Champoeq Park, south of Portland. It should be very epic. In prep I have been trying to travel as much by bike as possible. So today’s photo of the day is from one of my many rounds along the Willamette River bike paths. This just so happens to also be a bucket list item for this summer as well!

Biking over the DeFazio Bridge