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Destination: Washington and Oregon

A Beer Lover's Bike Tour : Intoxicating views and rich, cold brews

May 12, 1996|DON RUSSELL | Russell is a reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News

BANDON, Oregon — Soaring down a steep decline along the Oregon coast, I thought about the question everyone had asked: Aren't you afraid you're going to fall off your bike?

Can't blame them for wondering. After all, this was a Tour de Brew through Washington and Oregon, a cycling odyssey that would take me to many of the Northwest's wonderful microbreweries.

Before this trip I had pictured rolling hills and cold, foamy beers; I had anticipated filling my saddlebags with the finest ales and sampling them each night while camped in the great outdoors. My friends had imagined me wobbling from tavern to tavern, crashing into spruce trees.

But I was stone-cold sober as I crossed the double-yellow line and zipped past a braking RV. At this speed, the tears flow out of your eyes and freeze on your face. Scared? Yes. But instead of squeezing my brakes, I reached into my handlebar bag, pulled out a camera and fired off a couple of 40-mph shots of a coast where rock piles as big as my house guard a beach covered with bone-white driftwood.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 19, 1996 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 6 Travel Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Due to an editing error, a black-and-white photograph accompanying the May 12 story "A Beer Lover's Bike Tour" was misidentified as the Maritime Pacific brewery in Seattle. It actually is Rogues Ale brewery in Newport, Ore.

The view was intoxicating.

This three-week bike trip took me more than 1,000 miles--ultimately, to San Francisco. The focus, however, was the stretch from Seattle through western Washington to Portland, Ore., and out to Oregon's Pacific Coast. This is the center of America's great beer revolution. The region has dozens of microbreweries that produce an unmatched variety of beers. Seattle has almost as many different ales as coffee; Portland has more breweries than any city in the nation.

Plus the region is bike friendly, with miles of inner-city bicycle paths and a scenic coastal bike route that stretches from British Columbia through Washington and Oregon to the California border.

For beer drinkers and bikers, the Northwest is Mecca. So, like any devoted disciple, I dedicated myself to months of pious preparation: daily 25-mile bike rides followed by long, grueling sessions of beer tasting. Eventually, I dropped 30 pounds, and developed a beer gut of steel.

But the first couple days of biking the hilly Northwest took its toll on my legs and backside. And I had to learn to pace myself.

Because I did most of my cycling in the morning (before the traffic and the temperatures heated up), I couldn't stay up all night partying. Also, I couldn't start sampling too many brews until I'd found a place to sleep for the night. Beer might give cyclists a slight carbohydrate boost, but setting up a campsite after dark with a cloudy mind is like clowning around with a lampshade on your head: strictly for amateurs.


But biking and beer are not incompatible. In three weeks, I cycled about 60 miles a day, visited about 15 microbreweries, sampled 68 different beers--many of them by the light of a campfire--and still managed to find my way into a sleeping bag each night.

It didn't, however, start out smoothly.

My first day out of Seattle took me 76 miles south to Olympia. Exhausted that night, I couldn't even imagine drinking a beer. My dream of sipping ales by the campfire was giving way to the reality of collapsing onto an air mattress after pedaling for eight to 10 hours.

But I had only myself to blame. I arrived in Seattle a few days before to do some warm-up biking, but instead dove into the city's beer scene. Seattle is home to one of the largest microbreweries in the country, Redhook Ale, as well as smaller ones such as Maritime Pacific, Hart and Pike Place.

All of these breweries provide walk-throughs for visitors. The tours are informative, although the intricacies of dry-hopping and filtering techniques become tiresome even for the connoisseur.

In Seattle, a great place to get a taste of the Northwest is Ray's Boathouse near the Ballard Locks. The pub's outdoor deck overlooks the locks, which raise vessels from the saltwater of Puget Sound to the higher freshwater of inland lakes. Passing commercial fishing boats provide a backdrop for pints of Trout Stout from Olympia or Salmon Bay Bitter from Ballard, Wash.

As terrific as the beer drinking is, the biking is better. Though hillier than I had expected, Seattle has miles of bike paths through woodlands and along lakes. Wide bike lanes line city streets, and motorists are uncommonly courteous.

I left Seattle by ferry, a convenient way for bikers to quickly put the metropolis behind them. All of the ferries accommodate bikers and add only a 50-cent surcharge over regular passenger fares.

The ferry crossed Puget Sound and dropped me off in Bremerton. Within minutes I was climbing a 500-foot hill into the forest. With only an occasional logging truck barreling down the highway, the woodlands are a quiet, cool, reflective place. It would be that way for the next three days through western Washington, from Seattle to the base of Mt. St. Helens and down along the Columbia River to Portland. Each day, I cruised smooth, two-lane asphalt roads, winding gently up through groves of spruce that gave way to ugly, clear-cut expanses.

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