A large sign jutted out of the ground, visible from far away.
“What do you think makes it ‘world famous’?” my husband asked me with a hint of sarcasm in his voice as we drew nearer to the sign. Not being meat eaters, we weren’t about to find out, but I was intrigued nonetheless, even more so as we approached the store and there was a “growler fill” sign.
While in an urban metropolis a store that fills growlers would be nothing to write home about, we weren’t anywhere near an urban metropolis. We were cycling down the Pacific Coast, on a three-week trip that would end in San Francisco. We were about 20 miles south of Bandon, rolling into, according to the map, Langlois, population 177. While in a car that might be a quick trip on a bicycle it’s enough distance to start to feel like you’re not close to anything, and at the end of the day, you’re hoping there will be a place to stock up on food and drink.
A map can only tell you so much, and you never really know what you’re going to find at these stores. They can be anything from a full blown grocery store to a small convenience shop. I could have pulled out my phone and looked at a digital map, but sometimes, that takes the fun out of things. Traveling by bicycle is about planning for serendipity; you don’t always need to know what you’re coming to or where you’re going, all you need to know is that you’re headed in the right direction.
Luc sat with the bicycles out front, already in a conversation with a fellow cyclist sitting and taking a break, to the Langlois Market, wondering what kind of beer they might have on tap in a rural locale like this one. What could one hope for here? Coors?
On the contrary, I was shocked to find that an entire back room of the store was devoted to beer, a better and more diverse selection of beers from funky, indie microbreweries than I have seen at some places in more beer-centric capitals like Portland. I got a growler (well, half growler - a 64 ounce growler felt like a little too much to drag along on a bicycle tour) filled with an IPA from Ecliptic Brewing and made my way to the cash register.
“So, do you think they’re really world famous?” I asked him.
“I don’t know, but it’s pretty good,”he responded.
But beer isn’t just a drink to relax at the campsite, it’s a way to explore. As we made our way from Western Washington down to San Francisco, brewery stops (and of course, when breweries weren’t around, the store stop) became an excuse to go a little off route and take a break, as well as fill up the howler for later.
Even if a brewery wasn’t in the cards, a decent beer could usually be found. While other culinary delights might be hard to come by in more rural areas, with the rise of the craft beer movement, even the dingiest of of stores or service stations along the highway is going to have a good IPA or two. No matter where the beers came from, they were always memorable. Plopping down in the sand on Pacific Beach, removing our socks and enjoying a celebratory camp cup of beer after making it up and over the strenuous climb at Cape Lookout. A marionberry sour bought at Rogue, later consumed while watching the sunset on the beach. Sharing a howler with cyclists riding along the same route, fellow like minded souls, strangers quickly turned into good friends.
The day after we stopped at Langlois Market, we rolled into Gold Beach, Oregon around lunchtime. My legs felt like they had been zapped of energy and I was on the verge of irritable. We had been fighting a headwind and heavy fog all morning, and while we had starred a brewery on the map just south of town, I wasn’t really in an exploratory mood. By the time we missed the exit I was more interested in just pushing ahead then turning around.
We got off highway 101 and turned onto the windy Hunter Creek Loop. Flying downhill on the bicycle, all I could think about was how I was going to have to ride up this hill again. We found our way to Arch Rock Brewing, a brewery housed in what looked to be a warehouse space (it’s actually an old cabinet shop) with a tiny tasting room. Outside of the center of Gold Beach, it’s not a place we would have found had we not been looking for it.
Ride a bicycle and people tend to ask you where you’re headed.The brewer at Arch Rock, James, was no different and we struck up a conversation. He gave us an extra tasting for free, provided a list of his preferred breweries we would pass through in Northern California and tipped us off to his favorite brewpub in Brookings, where we were headed that evening. With some time off the saddle, a taste of beer and a jovial conversation, my mood had improved, and after a lunch of slices of bread slathered in peanut butter and honey, I didn’t even think of complaining about the hill that we had to ride back up.
Despite my body resisting getting back on the bicycle, after setting up camp, we mounted our two wheeled steeds and rode the mile into Brookings, headed for James’ recommendation, a brewpub called Vista.
Truth be told, I can’t remember what beer I ordered, but I know it was a sour, and a good one at that. On top of our portobello burgers (“they’re so good, sometimes I order those even though I eat meat” proclaimed our waitress), we also got an order of onion and smoked mozzarella sticks. Because, bicycle touring.
By the end of the meal, the leg muscles had loosened, I was full and we had just enough daylight to pedal back to the campsite, brush our teeth and crawl into the tent and pass out. A beer might not be essential to a bicycle tour, but it’s always going to make for a memorable story.
Arch Rock Brewing, Gold Beach, Oregon
Redwood Curtain Brewing Company, Arcata, California
North Coast Brewing Company, Fort Bragg, California
Iron Springs Brewery, Fairfax, California