Rarely leaving Corvallis, I decided to set out on an adventure for spring break. The Valley of the Giants is a small grove of old growth Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock that survived logging operations due to a surveying error. In the 1970’s Oregonians worked to protect the Valley, establishing it as a pristine natural area. Located down a winding network of logging roads, I found a map and some directions and loaded up my bicycle for a five day bike tour.
A veteran to touring, loading the bike is therapeutic. On the road you pack and repack your bike many times in a day, but the first time is always slow. Do I have everything? Well no, I forgot my rainfly, or my bike pump, eventually wrangling all of the gear into the minimal cargo capacity of the bike. Excited to be on the road again, but somewhat intimidated by the wilderness that I would be exploring, I gave the bike a final once over before heading out.
My roommate Carl, who has biked across the US from west to east, decided to join me for the ride out of town. We left the Peace House under overcast skys, and soon found ourselves on the outskirts of town. Carl is a wonderful riding partner, with a rock steady personality and an excellent knowledge of local roads. Cresting the first big hill, we plunged away from Corvallis into vast farm land. The quiet country roads filled me with nostalgia, remembering the Uwharrie Challenge bike rides from summer camp. Sharing that story as we rode along, my spirit regained the freedom of heading towards the horizon under your own power.
All to soon, we reached the point where Carl was going to loop around back towards town. Taking a minute to eat fig newtons by the road, we wished each other safe travel as I was on my way. Typical of life in Oregon, an aggressive mist was gently soaking me, so I changed into my rain jacket was happy to find a steady wind at my back. Blasting north, my body felt strong and my mind was clearing. The simple pleasure of doing what you love.
The mist picked up into a full out rain. Deciding to wait it out, I pulled the bike into an empty house construction site, and found a nice dry spot in the garage. Taking the moment to check the gear and shuffle my clothes, the rain died down and I got back on the road. My destination was Independence, Oregon, where my old scouting friend, Tom Moose, lives. Taking the back roads is always a treat, as you’re able to focus on the world around you instead of the rush of cars. Soon I was welcomed to Independence by a large sign, meanwhile realizing that my front tire was leaking air.
Pulling off the road I was thankful that I had made it to town before getting the flat. I figure the construction site, littered with nails and staples, had something to do with the puncture. Overwhelmed by the traffic noise, as I was right beside the bridge over the Willamette at rush hour, I walked the bike down a local road to find some peace. Realizing that a flat is part of almost any trip, I was glad to get it out of the way, and in many ways, the peaceful zen of bicycle maintenance makes the experience quite enjoyable. Instead of stressing about the flat, I was filled with confidence that I know how to fix the bike and know how to work in unison with it. The afternoon sun blasted through the clouds, as I took the opportunity to sun dry my gear while I tinkered with the bike.
Rolling again, I set off for a slow stroll through town. Tommy was still at work for a few more hours, so I explored Independence. Truly classic small town America, the quite back streets were filled with historic buildings and people enjoying the afternoon sun. Finding my way down to the riverfront park, I mused about bringing my bicyclist agenda to places like this. Around sunset Tommy gave me a call, and I made the short ride over to his place.
Catching up, and enjoying a fine dinner, I was glad to make the visit. A year ago, I spent almost every night couch surfing around, entertaining folks with stories from my vibrant life. Now a days, I have a steady residence and a post office box. Playing a little dulcimer, Tommy and I settle into a philosophical discussion, ultimately resulting in the conclusion that the solution to the worlds problems is empathy. Settling in for the night, I found myself in a bed, but eventually was able to sleep.
A bright morning greeted us, as we enjoyed biscuits for breakfast. Oregon is seriously lacking in the biscuit department, and it’s always a joy to eat with a fellow North Carolinian. The dishes washed, and some more philosophy, Tommy thanked me for getting him out of his regular routine, as we said our farewells. Climbing on the bike again, I made my way through town heading for the wilderness.
Stopping at a graveyard on top of a hill just outside of town, I stretched out while enjoying the rich greenness of Oregon’s rolling beauty. A crop duster plane was making passes over a field nearby, and soon was back on the road. The rural farms were further and further apart, eventually making it to the first gravel road. Coming around a corner, heavy foggy rain was ahead, so I stopped and waited underneath some dense trees. Amazed at how dry it was under the trees I took some time to reflect on the ride and settle myself into the slower gravel road riding.
As I continued to ride, evidence of civilization grew more sparse. Most of the land is used for lumber, and is in various stages of regrowth following logging operations. Cars were a rarity, loud beast roaring down the roads, while I pulled over to let them pass. The road I was following was once a logging railroad, so the gentle grade was a pleasant ride. Similarly, the roads were very well maintained making for easy progress alongside a winding river. Coming to fork in the road that went across a bridge, I studied my map and directions, and decided to make the turn. The path was much steeper and rougher, as I struggled up a hill. The occasional mile markers painted on trees started over at zero again, and doubt filled my mind. Is this the right way? Cresting the hill, I decided to just camp for the evening and figure it out in the morning.
Stretching out while my dinner curry cooked, I listened to the silent woods around me. Far from houses and paved roads, the quiet was heavy, the sounds cushioned by the thick moss covering everything. Enjoying my evening meal, I reflected on how thankful I was to be riding again. The simple peace of doing whatever is in front of you with your undivided attention is hard to achieve in a busy, computer intensive world. Crawling into my hammock, I noticed the stars high above me, twinkling through the dense trees.
The clear night got rather cold, especially since I had far fewer blankets than my domestic camping life. Very early in the morning, the sound of logging trucks filled my sleep, as they slowly rumbled up and over the pass. Eventually light filled the world, and I quickly broke down camp with cold hands and feet. Deciding that I had made a wrong turn, I headed back down the hill to reevaluated the road. The steep descent chilled my bones, as I had no need to pedal, just clinging to the brakes. Returning to the fork in the road, the other direction showed signs of more traffic. Stopping to soak in the morning sunshine while enjoying some hot coffee, I stretched out and waved to the occasional passing log trucks.
Down the right path, I was soon climbing again, but this time on a steady railroad grade. Reassured that I was on the right path, I made good time, stopping at the pass to take in the view. On the descent again, I was following the South Fork of the Siletz River, and made the turns into Valsetz, an abandoned logging town. Little remained of the town, just a foundation and a crossroads. Confident that I had found my way I continued down the river, stopping to collect some water from a gushing green stream.
The river continued to grow as I made my way along, eventually coming to a large bridge. Two local fishermen were standing on the bridge, scanning the water for salmon. “So where are you going on that bike? we saw you yesterday, way down the road? I’m heading to the Valley of the Giants. Well you missed the road for that, it’s a couple hundred feet back that way, the old one hundred road. Alright, thanks guys.” as I turned back towards the prescribed road.
Grateful for the kind knowledge of the locals, I climbed over rougher roads heading north. I was now following the North Fork of the Siletz as the rapids churned below. My bike was starting to concern me. Something was wrong with my drivetrain. Thinking it was my worn out derailleur, I stopped to check its alignment. Thinking I really need to replace this thing when I get back, the derailleur has 8,000 plus miles of riding on it. Still concerned, I got back on the path, thinking of ways I could bypass the derailleur if it did ultimately fail. I’ll just shorten the chain and run it as a single speed, I decided, comforted that I had a plan. Back on the road, I realized it wasn’t the derailleur, but the freewheel that was giving me trouble. Whenever I would coast the freewheel would slip, and when I went to pedal again I would spin furiously before it would finally engage. Realizing I just had to keep pedaling, and not let it freewheel, the crisis was avoid for now. Reflecting on the irony of a failed freewheel, am I still freewheeling Dylan? Following my directions, I crossed over the Siletz for the final stretch before the Valley.
The road was very step and rough. Deciding that it would be faster for me to just push the bike (plus my concern about destroying my weakened drive train by forcing it up the hill) the final mile was an exercise of patience and anticipation. The trees seemed to be getting taller, and the moss thicker as the raging river shrank away below me. Cresting the pass, I remounted the bike to coast / pedal down to the parking area. Several cars waited for hikers, as I dismounted my bike and packed my backpack for exploring the Valley. As I was packing some of the hikers returned, with the amazed look that accompanies “You mean you rode your bike up here?”
Excited to have found the Valley, I set off down the footpath. Awestruck as huge trees loomed overhead, I slowly advanced down the trail. Realizing that pictures could not do the trees justice, I soaked in the mental experience of being under these giants. Nonetheless, I snapped plenty of photos anyway. Reaching the headwaters of the Siletz, I crossed over a substantial bridge and into the true Valley.
A lone picnic table seemed like a great place for lunch, as my eyes studies the dense forest around me. One of the wettest places in Oregon (over 130 inches of rain annually), I had lucked out with the sun shining through the trees. Having munched down my snacks, I set off for the one miles loop trail that explored the Valley. Consistently blown away by the scale of the trees and the pure texture of old growth forest, I wandered through the forest. Stopping to play the duclimer under a particularly large fellow, I was at complete peace.
In meditation with the natural world around me, the strength and longevity of the Giants humbled by brief human self. Many years they have stood in silent determination, harvesting the sun’s energy to slowly build their colossal scale. An ancient harmony exist beyond the deafening electric hum of human society. A harmony of interdependence and mutual survival, the harmony of life.
Continuing my excursion beneath the giants, I stood in awe of the former second tallest Douglas Fir in Oregon, Big Guy. Estimated to be over 600 years old, this mammoth organism was felled by a wind storm in 1981.
The land around the Valley has been logged, exposing the massive trees to more wind damage. Several exploded trunks littered the Valley, with a recent fall detouring the path.
Returning to the picnic table, I took a final look at the old growth world around me, before heading back to my bike. The journey had been an adventure into the wilderness, and the destination was an awe inspiring oasis of ancient strength. Returning to the parking lot, I was the final pilgrim to bid the trees farewell.