by Nancy Bestor
Mid-summer this year in Ashland, Oregon was a smoky one. Forest fires burning 50-75 miles to the north brought our Valley incredibly thick and nasty smoke, so bad that for a couple of weeks we spent as little time outside as possible. Walks and bike rides were cancelled, as were several outdoor shows at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. To escape the smoke and also get in some much needed exercise, Bob and I drove one Friday morning to Cottage Grove, Oregon, a small town I’ve previously only sped by on Interstate 5, on my way to points further north. It turns out that among other things, Cottage Grove boasts a 15.6 mile bike path along an abandoned railroad line. The beautiful Row River Trail winds through woods and past farmland, travels along the shores of Dorena Lake, and features three historical covered bridges nearby, that date as far back as the 1920’s.
We found the ride on a great website, RideOregonRide, which offers ride searches based on difficulty, length and location in the Beaver State. On the day we biked it, the Row River Trail was sparsely populated, and the weather was beautiful, with not a whiff of smoke in the sky. We stopped by the Cottage Grove Chamber of Commerce (always a wealth of information in any city… I must remember to use these free services more often!), and picked up a map of the trail, as well as advice on where to park and what not to miss.
The ride itself was lovely, mostly flat (always my personal favorite), with smooth pavement. Several movies were filmed at sites along the trail, including Buster Keaton’s “The General”, and much more recently, “Stand by Me,” and I can see why, because parts of the trail and the small towns along it still look like the towns of yesteryear. Take unincorporated Dorena for example. Established in 1899, the original Dorena Post Office was named after two girls in town, Dora and Rena. Although the lake was full on the day we rode past it, during winter drawdown you can still see the old railroad route at the bottom of the lake. Doesn’t that sound ripe for a classic western movie, or at the very least, an episode of the Brady Bunch where they get locked in the jail of a ghost town? Alas, I digress.
After our bike ride we headed into Cottage Grove proper for a late lunch at Big Stuff Barbecue. More than 45 outstanding Yelp reviews led us to Big Stuff, and the yelpers did not let us down. Bob feasted on a rack of ribs, while I daintily ate an entire pulled pork sandwich. Both were delish, and the sides—coleslaw and baked beans were our choices—were equally good. Big Stuff is owned and operated by two brothers, who first started their Cottage Grove business in an empty parking lot with only a slow-smoked pit barbecue. The portions are big and the prices are little, just the way I like ‘em.