Day 70 (5/27). The incredibly scenic West Cascades

I can’t believe I’m already past the crest of the Cascades and it’s now mostly downhill between here and the Pacific!  When studying maps before the tour, I saw that I’d be going through a deep, winding gorge here, but I somehow assumed it would be uphill.

It briefly snows in the morning and I know that at lower elevations I’m going to get a lot of rain, but I’m so euphoric (to the point of giddiness) that I don’t care about any of this bad weather stuff.

I break camp and cycle a mile down the lake shore to the moderately fancy lodge/resort for a hearty breakfast.  Then after a short ride up the spur road back to Hwy. 138 I’m off on my journey through the mysterious kingdom of spruce and fir.

30-meter-high vertical walls of trees squeeze the road on both sides.  This live canyon meanders in long, sweeping curves and I’m flying on my bike, cool air rushing pleasantly around my face.

The forest here is drastically different from the pine forests back on the eastern slopes.

Sunlight touches a pine forest lovingly and paints it gold.  The sun freely, confidently enters the forest; the rays and the trees embrace and dance like childhood friends.  The air is warm with needles and tar.

Today’s forest is silent and dark.  The sun touches the trees but they proudly refuse to change their hue.  Very little light penetrates.  Those few rays that are let into the sanctuary are confined to its front chambers and step there discreetly.  The spruces and firs stand dense, united in their purpose:  to guard the forest’s Dark Secret.

I feel the forest magically drawing me into its interior.  I park my bike on the side of the road, step into the forest, and am surrounded by thick mosses hanging from branches.   Ferns cover the soft damp floor.  Everything is still and quiet; the light is dimmed, sounds muffled.  The cool air smells of damp earth and mushrooms.

This is an enchanted forest straight out of a Nordic or Russian fairy tale, replete with elves and Baba-Yagas.

The road turns west and the canyon of trees gives way to a real canyon — the North Umpqua River Gorge.  The gorge is spectacular and grand.  Huge black mossy cliffs prop up the sky and are lost in the clouds.  The scenery here is on the scale of Zion National Park’s, except that misty black forest covers the gorge’s walls.  At times the road lies deep in the gorge, next to the river; at times the river drops and churns hundreds of meters below.  I’m in heaven — never seen anything so beautiful in my life!

Suddenly I realize, as if waking from a dream, that it’s pouring hard.  My new waterproof clothing must be working perfectly if I failed to notice how the downpour began!  The sun and the clouds had been playing tug of war throughout the day and the clouds won in the end.

Over the 40 miles of the gorge’s length and almost 5,000-foot elevation drop, the North Umpqua picks up strength from many streams and waterfalls.  It’s a torrent by the time it reaches Colliding Rivers.  Here the North Umpqua makes a sharp left turn and collides head-on with the Little River, mixing its clear blue-green waters with the yellowish, muddy ones of the Little.

I reach the town of Roseburg and get a room in a cheap motel.  Tomorrow I should reach the Pacific, stitching the third major coast onto my “coast-to-coast” itinerary (the first two coasts being those of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico).

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