Our 15th US State and the last one on the Trans Am Trail's route across the USA. Entering Oregon was a strange moment because we'd (almost) successfully travelled across the North American continent using only backroads, county roads and dirt roads but it was tinged with sadness because the month long trip was coming to an end.
Oregon was as expected. Trees, trees and more trees as far as the eye could see. Following forest trails all day it wasn't until the TAT route would emerge on a ridge above the tree line that you really began to appreciate just how wild and remote this part of the world is. Just about every TAT write-up you read talks of multiple trail closures and re-routes due to fallen trees within the forests in Oregon. As we began the Oregon leg we read reports from a rider on a TAT forum that the official route was a write off due to tree fall 'everywhere'. Wes was carrying a chainsaw (and had used it back in Tennessee) so we decided to press on until we hit an obstacle figuring your average motorcycle rider on the TAT doesn't have the luxury of space to carry a chainsaw to remove obstacles in their path. As it turned out, we only encountered a couple of branches blocking our path that Wes quickly dispensed with using his bowsaw. Other sections had been recently cleared using more industrial equipment beyond the scope of a battery powered chainsaw and a bowsaw.
The predominantly forest route through remote Oregon meant planning fuel and overnight stopovers was critical. Wes ran into the empty in his Jeep for the first time in Oregon when a fuel stop marked on the map turned out to have been closed for a good long time looking at the state of the rusty pump. We had no option but to ask the GPS to send us to the nearest fuel station which meant a diversion of some 30 miles. This is where the motorcyle guys run into trouble when they don't have the fuel capacity to run an unexpected extra 30 miles!
Travelling through the 'backwoods' also means motel options can be limited. Entering the small town of Cresent Wes went ahead to find a room in the only motel in town while I finished filling with diesel. As I pulled into the motel parking lot Wes was already pulling out. 'Are they full?' I enquired over the CB. 'I don't know' Wes replied - 'but there are people doing crack outside their rooms...' We backtracked north on the road to La Pine to find rooms. A town we'd driven through on the TAT over an hour previously.
It's worth noting that despite the TAT being primarily a dirt-bike/adventure bike route and various forums claiming that there are several sections that are motorcycle only, it was in Oregon where we encountered the one and only section we couldn't drive. The trail followed a track marked with a 'Dead-End' sign which petered out to a footpath width sized trail. Okay on a motorcycle but a diversion for anything on four wheels. Twenty minutes of forest trails later and we picked up the TAT route again.
Dust was another abiding memory from Oregon. Horrible fine 'bull dust' powder on the trails that was impossible to keep out of the cars. In the late afternoon as the sun was setting in your face driving due west, it would provide another hazard as the dust hung in the still air within the forests and the lengthening shadows from the setting sun provided the first real feeling of danger on the trip. On more than one occasion the combination of dust, going from bright sunlight to pitch black meant I lost sight of corners. The only solution was to stop completely and wait for the dust to clear or your eyes to adjust. At the end of a long 350 mile day, it was exhausting stuff and we agreed we'd not to drive so late into the day again.
That was the plan but when we pulled into the town of Canyonville on a Friday evening we discovered the cheap casino accommodation fully booked and discovered the motel alternative had been bought by the casino and left abandoned. We knew once we left Canyonville we were back into the forests so made the decision to camp on our final night on the TAT. We followed a trail for half an hour to the top of a mountain only to find a locked gate blocking the trail. So much for an early finish.... We back tracked and eventually found an isolated spot alongside the trail and dined around a campfire on Wes's self-heating military ration packs.
Two long driving days had put us ahead of our scheduled arrival at the trail end in Port Orford. Leaving the camp for the final morning felt odd. The vast pile of maps we'd started out with four weeks ago was now down to the last sheet. Sixty miles out from Port Orford we came across a sign in the forest marking the way to 'The Coast'. It took four hours to drive the remaining 80 miles of the trail and when the roll-chart indicated a left turn onto Pacific Coast Highway #101 we knew we'd left the last dirt road of the TAT behind us.
Wes had checked out Google Earth and found a way onto the beach at Port Orford so after the obligatory photo stop next to the sea we checked into a motel overlooking the Pacific Ocean and treated ourselves to a celebratory meal at what the motel owner has described as the 'fancy dining restaurant'. You could tell it was fancy. My meal came with real carrots. The first examples of fresh vegetables I'd seen in a month in the USA...
After dining, we checked in with our occasional travelling companion and room-mate Matt the dirt biker who we'd last seen in Moab over a week ago. True to form, he texted back to say he was three hours away! Matt joined us later that evening to tell us stories of his trip through the Nevada desert, his various breakages and having to pump his back tyre up every 20 minutes on some sections when his multiple tube repairs were barely holding air. It was great to meet up again and swap TAT tales and the perfect way to end the trip. Matt carried his panniers into our room and crashed on our floor. Again.
After saying our goodbyes, the following morning Wes and Matt turned north and I headed south on #101. This would be the first day in just over a month I hadn't looked at a TAT map and worked out where that day’s destination was going to be or turned on the GPS to pick up the trail for today. More tellingly, there was now no destination or end point in sight to aim for. Now I was just driving on the highway with everyone else. Just seeing county dirt roads branching off the main highway was weird. Those had been our roads and our world for a month. Now I was stuck behind a convoy of ridiculously huge RVs and 5th Wheel trailer 'campers' making their way home after a weekend in the outdoors. They had no idea. I'd just become the first person to cross America on dirt roads in a Land Rover Defender yet all I felt now was a genuine sense of sadness that the adventure was over.
The only way to get over the post trip blues is to begin planning the next adventure. Wes and I had only met three weeks previously but he turned out to be the perfect travelling companion and during our final night in Port Orford we began hatching a plan. The old TAT team will ride again and Matt the dirt biker will no doubt turn up at some point and crash on the floor...