Back road cycling: Senses come alive

BE scenery

Typical Willamette Valley scenery includes the occasional turkey vulture.

By Bob Ehlers

Recently, on a very pleasant weekday afternoon, I went for a round-trip ride on one of my formerly favorite stretches of back roads, from Hopewell to Dayton on the charmingly labeled S.E. Webfoot Road.

My usual routine is to drive from my house in south Salem to  the start of wherever I plan to ride. I do this because I abhor riding in city traffic, even Salem’s. I prefer the nearby rural roads of Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties, with very little vehicle traffic and/or occasional farm tractors and combines to contend with.

Farm houses dot the roadsides, interspersed with pastoral scenes of cows, horses, llamas, alpacas grazing in the fields indifferent to my presence, even when I call out a friendly, “hello.”

Just after noon, I arrived in Hopewell, a tiny collection of homes and businesses (two) about 12 miles northwest of Salem, a place more promising in name than in appearance. I parked my truck and unloaded my bike in the side parking lot of the now-closed Hopewell Store. The sign on the side of the building promised the essentials to survival – groceries, cold beer, pop. The real estate sign in the front suggests this dilapidated, forlorn structure is an ideal location for a wine tasting room.

Forgoing the wine tasting, I rode the one block to the north end of Hopewell, passed the Hopewell Bed and Breakfast and Paintless Dent Repair (same address), crossed Highway 153 onto S.E. Webfoot Road and began my journey toward Dayton.

As I mentioned, this is one of my formerly favorite roads to ride. In the past couple of years, the road surface has become extremely rough with many expansion cracks and potholes, presenting numerous opportunities to blow out a tire and/or wreck a rim. Lightly traveled by vehicles, the feature I most appreciate for my rides, it is probably the same reason the Yamhill County road department has not deemed it worthy of timely maintenance. I’ll come to the other major downside in a bit.

Approximately 3 miles north of Hopewell is Hauer of the Dauen winery, owned by the Dauenhauer family. Apparently, the name of the winery is an intentional, but meaningless, play on the family name. The winery tasting room sign says CLOSED, possibly a permanent state of affairs.

Just beyond, abutting the other side of the road, is the southeast corner of the back side of the massive, I mean really massive, Monrovia Nursery, covering 4,700 acres with cultivated shrubs, trees and many other landscaping plants, supplying Home Depot and Lowe’s along with many of the local gardening stores. It may be the largest nursery in the state, internationally known but tucked away on these back roads.

Continuing on, a couple of miles north is the site of the other reason this is no longer one of my favorite rides.  An anonymous complex of huge, windowless, aluminum-roofed sheds with huge fans constantly in operation, this is a contract poultry production farm.

BE poultry

Poultry sheds along Oregon Hwy. 153 are a source of eye-watering, nose-searing smells.

When the wind is in the wrong direction, the searing fumes of ammonia from the chicken waste are overpowering, burning my eyes, causing me to hold my breath and ride as fast as possible, dreading this part of my return ride. According to a neighbor (why they continue to live next door to this fowl – pun intended – odor is a mystery), this nameless operation apparently churns out a new batch of chickens every 14 weeks, supplying “broilers” to grocery stores, restaurants, etc. for happy-hour BBQ chicken wings and oven-roasted chicken for no-hassle meals.

Passing wheat fields, filbert orchards and vineyards and the occasional turkey vulture, I arrive in Dayton, a small town which is in the midst of wine-country gentrification. The Courthouse Square Park with its concert pavilion, fountain, and relocated 1856 military fort, is now bordered by restaurants serving gourmet brunches and lunches, wine-tasting rooms and gift shops. I paused long enough in the park to snack on a Fig Bar and enjoy the surroundings. Twenty minutes later, I’m on my way back to Hopewell.

BE dayton park

Courthouse Square Park sits in the middle of Dayton, a small town in the midst of wine-country gentrification.

Sadly, I think for the near future, this was my last ride on S.E. Webfoot Road. Although it passes through pretty countryside, and is mostly flat with few cars to worry about, the rough road surface and the stench of the poultry waste are reasons enough to head to my other regular cycling routes.

Bob Ehlers

Road warrior Bob Ehlers

As much as I enjoy the discovery of new roads to ride and the unveiling of various sights and sounds, I treasure the repeated journeys along familiar roads and past familiar scenes.

I know how long it takes to get from point A to point B, where the unchained dogs are in unfenced front yards. I witness subtle changes and characteristics over time — the evolution of family life in an osprey nest, a farmer’s yearly crop rotation from wheat to pumpkins to sweet corn, the ability to predict headwinds on a stretch of road, the ripening of apples and blackberries, and most importantly, being recognized as a regular passerby by the locals.


Bob Ehlers grew up on his family’s farm in northeast Iowa. These days, he is a retired general building contractor who lives in Salem. A long-time city dweller by choice, Bob says, “In my heart and head, I feel the greatest connection with the open spaces and farming communities in the rural areas around Salem.”

Editor’s note: Bob and I go back, way back, to when we became fathers, just days apart, and then members of the same babysitting co-op in Salem. Our wives bonded as did our sons, born just days apart, and my friendship with Bob has only grown stronger in the passing years. He’s a regular at poker, a frequent companion at Blazer games, and a guy who makes any gathering better because of his genuine Midwestern friendliness.

Tomorrow: Jennifer Brennock, Rhubarb summer


6 thoughts on “Back road cycling: Senses come alive

  1. pdxknitterati – Change is not a big deal for me. Generally, I embrace change, loss is another matter. I am saddened that corporate practices or poorly executed local governmental oversight can adversely affect my immediate environment.

    John – if you are headed in my direction, I can suggest some back road treasures which appeal to me.

  2. When we first moved to Oregon in 1996, it was to Hillsboro. Taking Sunday drives was a favorite activity of ours, and driving along the road you describe was included. There is such beauty in the valley. Thanks for taking me along.

  3. Total party fowl! Dang that’s a lot of chicken.
    I cycle, too. Unlike you, I have no truck and hate managing bike racks that scrape my Honda Accord, so most of my rides start from my house. I’m thankful for my residence’s location to rural get-aways, catching lakes and rivers and bridge looping. And familiar is king. I’m glad you are finding it pleasurable.

  4. My wife and I moved to Oregon in 2006 from California, and the presence of cyclists everywhere was one of the first “oddities” that struck us. I have worked along side bicycle warriors in all three of the workplaces that I have been a part of since that time, so you folks are less odd to me now… but just a little. 🙂

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