My reason for bicycling on country roads is much the same as for cycling on city arterials—to go some place by routes that are direct, paved, free from complicated traffic, easy to follow, and pleasing to the senses.
Recreational cyclists, however, are likely to avoid country arterials, instead choosing to ride on trails and byways—meandering on these roads when it doesn’t really matter where they go.
The contrast is illustrated by two ways of cycling in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, a productive agricultural basin that lies athwart the Willamette River, from Eugene to Portland. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department is developing a series of scenic bike trails through this part of the state in order to encourage cyclists of varying abilities and interests to find satisfying routes.
As a recreational cyclist, I do an occasional century ride sponsored by bike clubs and other organizations in Valley communities—Salem, Albany, Corvallis, Newburg, Hillsboro. There’s beautiful scenery, enough climbing to make things interesting, and coffee shops and tasting rooms spaced out at just the right intervals.
At least once a year, however, I travel through the Valley because of research interests in Eugene. On some trips, I’m able to bicycle both directions, but on other occasions, as this year, I take Amtrak one direction and bicycle the other. In either case, I follow a route that stitches together a series of old country arterials.
From the university district in Eugene, my customary route takes Hilyard Street to the bike trail along the Willamette River, crosses the Ferry Street bridge, and continues northward on the Coburg Road bike trail, which soon becomes a bike lane through the historic community of Coburg. The road follows a slightly meandering route to another old town, Harrisburg, twenty-two miles from the campus.
Half a mile on U.S. 99E takes me to the second country arterial, the Peoria Road that follows the northerly course of the Willamette River, with quiet farming country on both sides of the road. A little past half way, the road slips through the diminished village of Peoria, where I attended a one-room school during my fourth grade.
At the twenty-one mile mark (forty-three miles from Eugene), the Peoria Road crosses the Willamette, which puts me in downtown Corvallis, with all of the hospitality opportunities, including bike shops, that any traveler would need.
The next few miles are along OR 20, a heavily traveled route from Corvallis to Albany. The well-paved shoulder, however, provides a bike lane nearly as wide as the regular vehicular lane, and this part of the ride passes quickly.
There are two more country arterials on the Eugene to Portland itinerary: the Corvallis Road, through Independence, and the Wallace Road from West Salem to Dayton, each of them a little more than twenty miles in length. To get from the end of one to the beginning of the other requires another short jog on a heavily traveled state highway, OR 22.
The names of some of these roads suggest why they work so well. They started out as farm roads that took people to town where they could ship their produce, purchase supplies, and socialize with neighbors and friends. Because they have always connected people and places, with farmland in between, they still work as efficient arterials for people traveling at moderate rates as cyclists do.
The Corvallis Road takes people through Independence, a pleasant old town on the west bank of the Willamette River. It also travels through some of the finest countryside in the Willamette Valley. At Dayton, however, the pleasurable parts of my customary route have disappeared. Cyclists have little choice but to travel on the beat up shoulder of U.S. 99W, which has become one of the most crowded and unpleasant stretches of highway in this part of Oregon.
In fact, this part of the route has become so difficult that I’ll probably make a change next time. A few miles north of West Salem, I’ll leave Wallace Road, cross the Willamette on the Wheatland Ferry, and then take a reasonably quiet route through St. Paul and back across the river in Newburg.
At that point, the country arterials run out, and cyclists have to find their own way through the Portland metropolitan region. I have worked out a pattern on moderately traveled city arterials that works fairly well for me. Every time that I ride the country arterials, however, I give thanks for these fine old roads. While they last, they are some of the cyclists’ best friends.