Scanning my map, I quickly realize what an incredible motorcycling wonderland I’ve arrived at. There are not many locales where you can visit the ocean, the rain forest, the mountains, and the desert in a few hours. Oh, and did I mention that three national parks and one monument are also accessible within the ride? The fall daylight is warm and inviting, so it seems like a most opportune time to explore the Pacific Northwest.
Our story begins in Longview, WA, which is centrally located along the I-5 corridor between Portland, OR, and Seattle, WA. Autumn is a terrific time to investigate this area as sunshine is abundant, and ideal temperatures range from the 50s to the 80s. During the next four days, I’ll delve into this region’s rich history and explore terrain that has been shaped by rain, wind, and volcanoes.
Exploring the Lower Columbia River and Coastal Communities
Today’s route takes me to the Pacific Ocean and heading northwest on Washington State Highway 4, which parallels the Columbia River separating the states of Oregon and Washington. With its headwaters in British Columbia, Canada, the Columbia is 1,243 miles long and carries more volume than any other North American river draining into the Pacific Ocean. I roll through the 1870s German immigrant community of Stella, WA, whose residents once supplied fuel wood for steamships, and then I take a brief side trip to Norwegian-settled Puget Island. I survey the dairy farms and quiet roads before stopping in Cathlamet for duct tape to secure my tankbag to the motorcycle after an attachment point failed. Continuing west, I leave the river and ascend to the tree-covered hills.
After turning south onto Highway 101 from Highway 4, I encounter more coast-bound recreational vehicles slowly traversing the curves, so I take time to soak in the views of the broad river estuaries and inland bays. Willapa Bay is rich with bird life and includes many shore birds feeding in the mudflats. Most of them are in the midst of long migrations—some starting in the Arctic and ending in Central America. A side trip to Long Beach, WA, leads me to lunch at the Hungry Harbor Grille. After the tasty fish and chips, I walk along the storefronts and enjoy the beautiful day.
Heading south towards Astoria, OR, and passing through the city of Ilwaco, WA (settled in the 1840s by the French Hudson’s Bay Company), I cross the Columbia River into Oregon on the Astoria-Megler Bridge. At 200 feet above the water at its highest point and at a length of four miles, I’m thankful that there is no wind, or the crossing could have been rough. After visiting the Columbia River Maritime Museum along the Astoria waterfront, I wander the downtown streets past a variety of shops and restaurants. Back on the Beemer, I travel east on Highway 30, but I am lured off the highway by a little side road that takes me to Mayger, an old logging company site along the Columbia. Only a house and small dock are left, but as I watch several boats traverse the river, I realize that side trips provide some of the best vistas I’ve encountered.
Working my way east and crossing from Rainier, OR, to Longview, WA, on the Lewis and Clark Bridge, I pick up dinner at Burgerville (a great local northwest restaurant chain) before rolling into the Red Lion Hotel with a smile on my face.