We said our goodbyes to Rob and pushed on west anxious to get through the final miles of the TAT as quickly as possible.
We soon found ourselves back in the Umpqua National Forest, riding though the same country we had started our trip with so many days before.
We had expected fast, easy, straightforward riding but the trail wasn't done with us yet. Mixed in with the fire roads and Oregon dirt, we still found plenty of loose riding through sand, downed trees, and long steep hill climbs to contend with.
Paper plates counting down the miles adorned the trail, put up to cheer on another group of riders. Still they signaled the end for us as well, and encouraged us as we pushed on mile by mile towards the end.
At one point we lost the trail. The track showed a path connecting two separate fire roads, but the trail was overgrown and blocked by numerous downed trees. As we doubled back trying to find a way out and back to the TAT the air started filling up with smoke. A fire was burning very close, and we were relieved to find our way back to the fire road, where we passed fire crews just arriving and getting geared up to fight the fire. As we pushed on through logging roads a pickup moved to block our path, and a guy working for a logging company accused us of trespassing despite the fact that we were riding through public lands, and wrote down our license plates implying an association between us and the fire.
As we pulled away from the area we were able to look back down on the smoke.
Leaving the small forest fire behind us, we found a campsite next to a river and settled in for our last night on the trail.
We set out the next morning determined not to stop until we had reached Port Orford. But we did not count on the fact that half of Oregon was on fire. Riding into a small town, we could see helicopters and planes battling huge forest fires that looked to be directly where we needed to go. There was no way around. We either would need to abandon the TAT and backtrack to a highway which we would then ride to the coast or push on.
After so many miles, and so close to the end we were very reluctant to give up on the trail so rode on finding that we were able to make our way around the first fire in our path. Unfortunately, another loomed directly in front of us.
In the end we spent half the day riding around fires. I'm still amazed that we were able to get through, and if we had been a day later I'm sure we wouldn't have. The last fire that we rode through was the closest. The trail kept turning into the smoke and flames and we stopped several times to discuss turning around. In the end however, we were able to push through and finally put the fires behind us so that we could start making some progress towards the end.
This really marked the end of the photos for us. Clearing the fires we rode hard for Port Orford. The miles seemed to count down very slowly. We rode into the darkness, carefully making our way along the trail as deer and newborn fawns were everywhere. Starving, exhausted, and freezing cold we eventually dropped into Port Orford. At the end of a long trip we expected cheering crowds to run forth pushing beers into our hands, but instead found a dark, quiet, sleepy town devoid of so much as an open restaurant, or a vacant motel. We did manage to sneak into a grocery store in the final minutes before closing and by a huge bag of snacks.
With no choice we hopped back on our bikes with bags of groceries between our legs and plunged south through the cold, dark and foggy night, riding highway 1 in search of a warm place to sleep. We eventually found one 30 miles down the road. I had never been so happy to see a open motel. We went into town for a celebratory drink and called it a night. The next morning we were back on our bikes riding the coast to San Francisco and the end of our trip.