September 14 2012 by Jason Fogelson
There's the easy way, and there's the fun way. I try to pick the fun way when I can. My destination today is Chehalis, about 91 miles away as the crow flies up the Interstate. That's the easy way. I'm going to take a big detour, riding a loop that will take me all the way to the Pacific Ocean before I swing back inland to Chehalis, tripling my riding distance in the process. I'm eager to see the Washington Coast, and I will put my feet in the sand today.
We're supposed to be seeing the peak of the heat wave today, so I eat a light breakfast in the lobby of the BEST WESTERN PLUS Parkersville Inn & Suites. I double down on the water, and I make sure that I have some water in my TourPak when I load up the Road Glide for the road. Hydration is everything in the heat.
Washougal is close to two big cities: Portland, Oregon, across the Columbia River; and Vancouver, Washington, just a few miles west. I'm skirting those two cities on this trip, in favor of more rural sights. I'm also skipping one of the area's prime attractions, Mt. Saint Helens, because I've been there before and written about it here. If you've never seen the famous volcano, which last erupted in 1980, make time for a tour. It's a sobering reminder of the awesome forces of Nature.
I take a quick blast up Interstate 5, leaving the superslab at Longview to jump onto WA-4. Once again, I'm following the path of the Columbia River. Scores of fisherman, boaters and campers gather at beautiful locations along the banks of the river. Houses and towns are few and far between, and when they do crop up, they are small and quaint.
At the town of Grays River, I detour off of WA-4 when I see a sign for a historic covered bridge. About 2 miles down Covered Bridge Road, I encounter the one-lane, 155-foot long timber bridge, which was originally built in 1902 and refurbished in 1989. Covered bridges are rare on the West Coast, and this one is a beauty. The road is tiny, the bridge is picturesque and takes me back in time as I drive across. I follow Covered Bridge Road for another half-mile until the pavement ends and the surface turns to gravel. Time to turn around and get back to WA-4. The Road Glide is good at a lot of things, but gravel is not one of them.
Lewis and Clark haunt me as I ride to the Pacific. I reach the Long Beach Peninsula, which is as far west as the historic expedition could go. Cape Disappointment, one of the Lewis and Clark National and State Historic Parks, is at the southern end of the peninsula, highlighted by an interpretive center and a lighthouse. I ride north, headed to the other end of the land formation.
The town of Long Beach is a vacation town in the middle of the narrow peninsula. The main drag, WA-103, is crowded with restaurants, gift stores, galleries and arcades -- a good, old-fashioned beach town. On a hot day like today, people stroll up and down the boardwalk, eating ice cream, window shopping and relaxing. Long Beach Peninsula boasts a continuous 28-mile beach along the Pacific. You can drive your car on the sand all the way up and down the 28-mile beach, and plenty of people do. It's kind of odd for a Californian to see cars and trucks on the ocean sands -- that's been pretty much eliminated in the environmentally-sensitive Golden State, where you can't even bring your dog onto the beach except in designated areas.
North of Long Beach, there's a little town called Ocean Beach, full of little cabins and RV parks. I detour off of WA-103 to ride through the historic village of Oysterville, because I just couldn't resist. There's not much there, but what is there makes you wonder what life was like on this peninsula back in the late 1800s when it was first settled.
I ride all the way to the northern end of Long Beach Peninsula, park at Leadbetter Point State Park and grab my camera for a hike along one of the nature trails. Lush foliage parts to reveal a beautiful, marshy beach that instantly lowers my blood pressure about ten points. The calm serenity of a nature preserve is a wonder, and I'm glad that this one has been so carefully maintained.
After my hike, I realize that I'm very hungry, so I get back on the Road Glide and motor back to the town of Long Beach. Even though it's crowded today, it's easy to find parking for a motorcycle -- one of the great perks of riding. I'm on the ocean, so I find a seafood place, Castaways Seafood Grille, and have a cup (okay, a bowl) of chowder and a blackened tilapia sandwich. Yum. After lunch, I stroll with the tourists, checking out the stores. I follow my nose into Marsh's Free Museum, a big souvenir shop that features a few taxidermied oddities, the highlight of which is Jake the Alligator Man. He's grotesque and compelling, just like a good oddity should be. I buy a Jake the Alligator Man refrigerator magnet and bumper sticker -- proving again that there's a sucker born every minute.
Back on the bike again, I backtrack down WA-103 and leave the Long Beach Peninsula behind. I turn north on US-101, which is a two-lane highway in this part of the world. In theory, you could ride US-101 all the way from the Canadian border down to Tijuana. I'd like to try it sometime. I think I've ridden most of the road already, in sections. US-101 actually passes within a mile of my home in Los Angeles, so it may be a trip to plan in the future.
I leave US-101 in Raymond, heading east on WA-6, which takes me all the way back to I-5 again over some very twisty rural roads and through some amazing farmland. Washington is blessed with an amazing variety of scenery, and I feel like I'm seeing ecosystem after ecosystem slide by as I glide by. A one-exit blast down I-5, and I exit at Chehalis, pulling in to the BEST WESTERN PLUS Park Place Inn and Suites. My Road Glide is happy to discover dedicated motorcycle parking right under the canopy in front of the lobby, and so am I. The smell of freshly grilled meat wafts in the air. Ashley, the front desk clerk, doubles as grillmaster on the hotel's patio, cooking up complimentary burgers and hot dogs for guests every evening. Incredible. Nothing makes me feel as welcome as a good thick hamburger upon arrival.
I check in, haul my gear through the comfortable lobby and up to my room. I've managed to clock nearly 300 miles in triple digit heat today, and I'm worn out. Glad I don't have to search for dinner tonight.
Tomorrow, I ride again, and I'll be back at the Pacific. Tonight, I relax.
Miles Ridden: 282.3
NEXT: Western Washington, Day Five: Chehalis to Ocean Shores