Camping at the Coast

It has been a wet, dreary winter here in Corvallis, even by PNW standards. So, when we saw the glimmer of potential sun in the forecast, we decided that it was time for a “shakedown cruise” in the Sprinter. The target was South Beach State Park in Newport, a mere hour from our home in Corvallis. This was an opportunity to make sure the van is outfitted with all of the necessary gear and provisions, and I’d say we did pretty well.

Our van trip to Newport along with our passages down the coast in 2019 and back up in 2021.

We headed out late on a foggy Saturday morning in Corvallis, and were treated to sunshine and blue skies as we headed through the Coast Range. We arrived at South Beach State Park in the early afternoon and headed to our campsite on the C loop. It was surprisingly crowded for a January weekend.

Gwen relaxing at our campsite at South Beach State Park.

It was sunny and in the mid 50s, so after a little bit of lunch, we got on our bikes to explore. There is a band of wetlands and dunes between the campground and the beach and there is a paved multi-use trail that goes from the campground to the South Jetty. As you can see from the image on the left below, it would have been a piece of cake coming in to Newport on the boat on Saturday. On the upper right is the Yaquina Head light, which I did not see on the way up the coast in August because of the thick fog. Lower right is looking back at the 101 bridge.

From the South jetty, we headed over towards the bay and the Marine Science Center, where NOAA’s Pacific fleet is stationed (after a former director and OSU professor “stole” it from Seattle). We rode on a little trail along the estuary and past the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

Not far from the Aquarium is an arcade full of kitschy beach shops and sea creatures statues, including one of “Nessie”, reportedly caught in a terrible storm off Yaquina head. I didn’t quite manage to touch the lower jar.

Aquarium Village
Is this what you call a “Land Yacht”?

It’s great fun to tootle along on our bikes and an easy way to cover a lot of ground. The map below shows our track (from my very cool/fancy bike computer). After returning to the campground we walked from the campsite on one of the trails climbing up and over the dunes. There was a distinct lack of driftwood on the beach, which was somewhat surprising. Gwen wondered if it was because the tsunami waves from last weekend had picked it all up and washed it away.

The next day was a spectacular almost spring-like day. Sunny from the moment we woke up and warmed up to almost 60! This time we rode inland along Yaquina Bay on the aptly named Yaquina Bay road, marked as the Newport Marathon route, which extends to the town of Toledo. We started on the North side of the bay on the waterfront, as it looked too sketchy to ride our bikes over the busy two lane bridge from the cmapground. We went as far as an area called Boone’s Island, named after Daniel Boone’s great grandson who settled in the area in the mid 1800s, before the Newport region was “removed from the Coast Reservation and opened to settlement” as the tourist plaque stated.

After some excellent beer and halibut fish and chips at Rogue Brewery, we stopped at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area (yes, the Outstanding is part of the official name). It is overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, and a small entry fee is required. We decided to buy an annual “America the Beautiful” pass here, since it covers lots of recreation areas that we hope to visit this year. In a few months, I will earn the dubious privilege of being able to by a “Lifetime Senior Pass” for the same $80 price of our annual pass. One of the few joys of aging.

Gwen in front of the lighthouse, camera at the ready.
Surf breaking at Yaquina Head

The lighthouse was restored in 2005 and is perched on a bluff surrounded by rock formations (and apparently good tidepools). This made for some dramatic views, including this huge eagle gazing over his domain.

This was taken with Gwen’s camera, and a long zoom lens which clearly captures the light differently than my Iphone.

The next morning we headed back home, making the transition from sunny blue skies to freezing mid winter morning fog. The quick trip was a big success – no problems with the van, and only a few items to add to the outfitting list. It’s nice to know that we have lots of options to explore the Oregon Coast starting only an hour from home.

A new chapter: selling the boat and condo, moving to Corvallis, gravel rides

It has been some time since we last posted, and a lot has happened!

Our beloved Miss Miranda has been sold to a very nice couple from California. Her new name is Pinguino, and she will remain in the Pacific Northwest for the near future. We actually had a private offer on the boat before completing the last leg of our journey up the Pacific Coast. We were told that the buyers were well-qualified and ready to make a purchase. But best laid plans…. after a lot of serious looking and discussing, they decided commuting to a boat on the West Coast from interior eastern Canada wasn’t going to work for them.

In the meantime, our condo went on the market and we had an accepted offer within days, with a closing date of November 1. This left us in a tricky position… the boat would have to be sold by then, or at least moved out of the slip. We wound up listing the boat with Devin Zwick of Nordhavn NW in Anacortes and quickly had a couple of very good offers in hand. We signed an agreement with the current owners, who managed to line up a survey and haul out that would fit with our November 1 deadline. Everything went smoothly from that point… except…

The pressure gauge on the Fireboy with the needle clearly in the “Recharge” zone. If only it was that easy.

A day after the survey, but before we closed on the sale, I went down to the boat and heard the engine room fire extinguisher alarm going off, which usually means the cylinder has discharged. My first panicked thought was that somehow a fire had started in the engine room. I ran down to find that they system had NOT actually discharged, but that the cylinder pressure had gotten too low.

Relieved, I thought that I could just call the local fire extinguisher service shop and have them refill the cylinder. Of course, nothing is that simple on a boat. It turns out that Fireboy, the manufacturer of the system, does not allow anyone else to service their cylinders, and of course, my cylinder was discontinued. The only solution was to buy a new cylinder. Fine, but they said the lead time was 6-8 weeks, well past the time that the boat would need to be out of the slip. Fortunately, I was able to buy one locally and have it shipped to the service shop. They were able to get it installed a few days before Miss Miranda, now Pinguino, was to pull out of the slip under command of the new owners.

As all of this was happening, we were packing up the condo, wondering when the movers would arrive, wondering if we would close on the new construction house before our stuff got to Corvallis and dealing with some last minute issues with the condo. It all worked out, and we were moved out the last weekend in October and into the new house on November 2nd.

The new house in Corvallis

The next couple of weeks was busy with unpacking and getting new appliances (washer/dryer, refrigerator) and furniture (dining room, guest room, office). By Thanksgiving, we had things well enough organized to have the Oregon branch of Gwen’s family over for a big traditional Turkey dinner.

The Thanksgiving turkey, from a local farm. It was excellent, if I do say so myself!

We are now almost completely unpacked. The only boxes that remain contain books for the bookshelves that we are planning to have built. We’re also waiting for a custom master closet to replace the crappy wire shelves installed by the builder, and cabinets for the laundry room.

We are enjoying life in Corvallis so far. We were wondering what life would be like without Miss Miranda, and like many ex-boaters, we contemplated land-based explorations. We’ve always enjoyed riding bicycles, and really missed that spending most of the last couple of years on the boat. We decided that our next chapter would be to explore the Pacific NW and beyond by camping and biking. Too old to sleep on the ground, we bought a 2004 Mercedes Sprinter that has just been converted to a camper van by a small shop up in Bellingham, WA.

Should we call it “Mercedes Van Miss Miranda”?
The garage under the bed platform. Water tank is in the cabinet on the left side, electronics on the right.

It is a fairly basic setup, but very nicely built. It has most of the comforts of home including AC and DC power, fresh water, refrigerator, small propane stove, diesel heater and a queen sized platform bed with a “garage” underneath for bicycle storage. It does not have a shower or toilet, nor does it have a water heater. It is really meant for weekend trips for bike camping, not for “vanlife”.

We’ve been doing some riding over the past month, working on getting back in shape (it seems like it’s going to take longer to do that now that we are older). Corvallis is a very bike-friendly town and there are some great roads through farm country South of town, where we live. We have joined the Mid Valley Bicycle Club, and while we have not yet joined a club ride, we’ve taken advantage of their extensive ride library. This weekend, we decided to check out one of the club’s routes that started a little bit south of us.

We brought the bikes out to the van for the first time and learned that they would not fit in the garage with the fork mount setup (which is not shown in the photo above). The idea was to take front wheels off and secure the forks to mounts on the floor near the rear doors. My bike was too tall to fit even with the front wheel off. Gwen’s bike would fit, but only if we move the fork mount. We were able to slide them in and secure them with bungee cords, but need to find a better long term solution. Anyway, off we went to the start of the ride at Bellfountain park, about 15 miles South of our house.

Our first gravel ride.

The route was about 50% gravel and 50% paved roads winding through farm country around the town of Alpine. Gravel riding has become all the rage lately and consists of any road or trail that is not paved. This can include actual gravel roads, forest roads or even single track

We made some small changes to our touring bikes to optimize for riding on gravel. We switched out our 1.25″ road tires for 1.85″ all terrain tires, and added both suspension seatposts and stems. The wider tires make the off-road surfaces more manageable, and the whole setup makes for a much more comfortable ride, even on the road.

Riding past a local farm

On this ride, the gravel roads went through the woods and past a number of farms. A number of other rides go through tree farms owned by local timber companies, which require a (free) permit to access.

Not much traffic on these gravel roads.

One of the really nice things about gravel roads is the lack of traffic. It’s nice to be able to ride side by side without worrying about cars zooming by. The downside is that the roads are obviously not smooth, and can get muddy after rains.

Back at the van.

This was a kind of shake down cruise for biking with the van. We learned that we need to make some modifications to carry the bikes… you can see part of my bike in the photo below, leaning against the box on the side of the garage. We will find a way to move/use the fork mounts or buy a hitch mount.

Hi, Gwen!

We are really looking forward to doing some bike camping, as there are great places across the state from the coast through the Cascades and on over into Central/Eastern Oregon. We will continue to write posts on our more interesting trips, and Gwen looks forward to continuing wildlife and nature photography, so you can expect more photos too.

In the meantime, happy holidays to all!