Shamrock Tour® - Eugene, Oregon

Text: Robert Smith • Photography: Robert Smith

"Skinner's Mud Hole" is hardly a name civic boosters would use to attract settlers to a new city. But in 1852 that's what everyone called the township Eugene Franklin Skinner established on the banks of the Willamette. Following his first spring there, when the swollen river had turned the area into a boot-sucking quagmire, Skinner sensibly redrew the town's layout and moved it to higher ground in 1853.

Arriving in Eugene in a chill, late-May downpour, I'm reminded of this historical tidbit as the faithful V-Strom plows through inches of standing water in the dark downtown streets. My search for the Excelsior Inn, near Oregon University, passes several houses draped with sodden yellow-and-green "Go Ducks!" banners. Ducks indeed! I park the Strom and squish my way into the warm, welcoming lobby. The room assigned is equally inviting, and soon I'm revived by a nice hot bath.

The next four days are reserved for explorations of Eugene's environs, out among the Cascade foothills, the Santiam Wilderness and the Coast Range, beyond which some of the prettiest sections of Oregon's Pacific shoreline lie.

Day 1: Bridges too far
The sun makes an early appearance as I load the Strom, but clouds are piling up in the surrounding hills. First stop is Cottage Grove, a small heritage town 18 miles south of Eugene on 99. Blustery crosswinds buffet the bike, inflating my tank bag's rain cover so much it resembles a wayward weather balloon.

As well as claiming "National Heritage Town" status and "Covered Bridge Capital of the World" (a title many towns in the East might challenge), Cottage Grove was immortalized in the 1926 Buster Keaton movie, The General. The town has returned the favor with the comic's moon-faced visage peering out over its main intersection from a three-story mural.

East to Dorena, where I find the first of the covered bridges, a white-painted wooden "shed" thirty-feet long across the Row River. Not intended as shelter for soggy travelers, the covered bridge shell protects the bridge surface from ice and snow, prolonging its structural life. Climbing into the Cascade foothills alongside the crashing rush of the Row, I exercise the DL650's tires over fast sweeping bends. The road narrows and the river shrinks to a number of small creeks as I wind my way through forest clear-cuts into the clouds - and a hailstorm.

(End of preview text.)

For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the September/October 2005 back issue.