We live in a passionate cycling community but my bike has dust on it and the tires were flat. I've never been a confident cyclist but with an eight-year-old daughter who learned to ride last summer while we were camping with friends... it was time to get rolling.
We hauled our bikes out to a free family bike safety clinic for a refresher. (Another reason to love Eugene is great offerings like this!) After pumping our tires, adjusting our helmets, practicing our hand signals and completing the skill-based obstacle course - we were ready! It was a beautiful spring day and with the bikes already in the car, I knew I had no excuses - we were going to cycle the Row River Trail in Cottage Grove.
This cycling route is also known as the Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway because it passes several historic covered bridges. Stretching over 35.5 miles (57.13 km), a sizable portion of it is along a family-friendly paved path hugging Dorena Reservoir. My daughter had a goal to pedal eight miles - the distance her upcoming school bike trip was going to cover - and I just wanted to enjoy the soft sunshine and get a little fresh air. And warm up my non-cycling legs...
Cottage Grove is twenty minutes south of Eugene, an easy drive down Interstate 5. We parked at the Mosby Creek Trailhead - which is not the beginning of the route but does offer restrooms and an easy place to hop on the paved path. Within minutes we were crossing a "Rails-to-Trails" railroad bridge which had starred in the movie "Stand By Me."
As my feet pressed the pedals, springtime called out to us from all sides of the path. White cherry blossoms petals were drifting down all around us like a springtime snow. Little white butterflies looking like petals themselves fluttered over an array of wildflowers. Birds sang and horses nuzzled up against the fence line of their pastures. Green fields spread out in all directions decorated with classic red barns - really it couldn't have been more picturesque.
Of course, we were cycling at a child's pace which meant we were slooow...and could see everything. Including bugs and crawly creatures. We stopped so my daughter could rescue a fat green worm that was crossing the abyss of pavement. When the worm was safely relocated away from the danger of bike wheels to a damp clump of grass, we resumed the ride.
During this chunk of the trail we mostly passed pairs of walkers. The path ran straight through farm land, quite distant from streets and buildings. It was perfectly flat and smooth, and went in and out of dappled sunshine. There were several road crossings but they were well marked and gave us a chance to review our safety skills.
When we reached the edge of Dorena Reservoir the trail had slight incline changes and many more bumps from tree roots - but all clearly marked in yellow paint. My daughter called them "speed bumps" and made sure to ride over every single one.
The path was also more shady with towering trees and dipped down below the Row River Road, running between the road and the lake. Increasingly the tree line opened up to stunning views of the water. Benches and picnic tables along the path tempted us to stop and enjoy the view periodically or read the interpretive signage.
Walkers were now replaced by the occasional cyclist, but so very few compared to other bike paths I've cycled. We came to a hilarious traffic sign showing Sasquatch and warning us to "avoid eye contact." While I enjoyed the joke, my daughter was a little less sure and glanced around nervously for the next half mile.
At Harms Park, I considered that for the first day of riding it was time for us to turn around. But that idea was met with resistance - we were having such a good time. Because the weather was lovely and the trail was enchantingly scenic we continued on, my daughter promising I would not be stuck with two bikes to push and a whining child later on.
She started announcing that she would cycle around the entire lake. I appreciated her enthusiasm but of course, for us, that was not a realistic option. Besides the mileage, the route on the other side of Dorena Reservoir is on roads and we weren't ready for that yet. And if we were to continue to Culp Creek along the path, the incline would get steeper. I explained to her about the importance of "training" for rides and how our insufficient supplies and water and lack of advance planning would make such an impulse reckless.
So we agreed to stop at Smith Creek Bridge which was 7.5 miles into our ride. By the time we returned to our car, we'd have just about doubled our goal with a 15 mile bike ride. (Tip for parents - plan your route in advance - if you wing it like we did, you may be lured by the beautiful trail to go farther than is prudent - and every mile forward is another mile back with a tired child.)
On the way back we stopped to explore the edge of the lake. It was so peaceful with the lapping of the water against the rocky shore. Interesting pieces of driftwood were scattered about. Blue hills rolled away into blue sky at the far end. Birds swooped down along the beach and the sun shone warm. We soaked it up. And she soaked her shoes. But pedaling in soggy sneakers is part of learning...
Back on the path my daughter kept her word and there was no whining. But my seat was starting to be sore and my legs and arms ache slightly. She felt it too and her pace dropped. I didn't know it was possible to go much slower but I managed to barely pedal and mostly coast. It is much harder riding a bike slow than fast! Still, we cheerfully finished the ride and loaded the bikes, proud of our first day of springtime cycling. It had taken us just a little over three hours.
Overall the Row River Trail ride was even better then I'd expected. Just right for our family's novice skill level, well maintained, not crowded, stunningly beautiful and with a varied landscape. Now that we've discovered this trail, I don't think the dust will have a chance to settle on my bike this year.