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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

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