Sunday, April 5, 2015

Back to the Gorge for a Longer Ride

An overnight bike ride can be a fantastic mini-vacation for folks who just need a brief respite from their daily routines. There are so many great overnight options in Oregon but at the top of my list was a return Columbia River Gorge. I haven't added any posts to this blog since my last ride there, but that was actually over a year ago. Time to ride and write!  So, last week I took a couple of days off from work and with Mrs. C’s blessing, I set off for my own adventure.
Vista House at Crown Point, along the Historic Columbia River Highway

I decided to drive to Portlandia and begin the ride from there, heading east on the Springwater Trail and then to the Stark Street Bridge. You don’t feel the need to ride as fast when you’ve got camping gear loaded onto the bike; it felt amazing just to be out there, doing this ride regardless of the speed. The climb into Corbett allowed me to focus on my pedaling and breathing, and all the worries and stresses just sort of calmed down.

The view from Chanticleer Point
The Historic Columbia River Highway could be all on its own a worthy attraction for tourists, thanks to the engineering and artisanship that created it a century ago. But it’s really the jaw-dropping viewpoints and waterfalls along this byway that draw thousands of visitors each year. Reaching the top of the hill, I paused just long enough to snap a few photos, eat a piece of chocolate, and enjoy the l-o-n-g winding descent that followed.

Ainsworth State Park had already opened for the season, thanks to the unusually warm winter and early spring weather. Spring Breakers filled the entire campground except for the hiker/biker area, a big grassy area which I had all to myself.  Five bucks got me a camping spot, and another five got me a bundle of wood for a campfire. Hours of quiet contemplation by the fire brought me to that inevitable moment when, bleary-eyed, one decides to slip into the tent and surrender to a deep post-ride sleep.

The stairwell
Next morning I headed farther east using the trail that was recently added to the Historic Columbia River Highway route. This car-free, paved path from Ainsworth to Cascade Locks is quite scenic and a far better option for cyclists and hikers than the shoulder along the treacherous interstate. I was looking forward to trying out the well-known stairwell near the fishery; the groove along the steps is certainly helpful but given the added weight of all my gear I had to "portage" it in separate stages. Still, it's an impressive solution to a steep grade and I tip my helmet to the folks who made this possible.

Cascade Locks and the Bridge of the Gods served as my turn-around point. I figured while I’m turning around I might as well stop in for a bite to eat. This is one of the great rewards of riding for several hours: eat as much as you want. I did. Another great perk of cycle touring is that you are instantly popular with everyone. The loaded bike inspires conversations about this kind of travel and people want to talk about it.  There was never a stop along the way that didn't include at least one fun interaction with someone.
Part of the car-free portion

An out-and-back bike ride lets you see the same sights you just saw, but from the other direction which is cool...and things seem much closer together on the return trip so it went fast. I got lucky with weather; almost no wind (in the gorge, no less!) and lots of sun. Clouds began to set in later in the day, and a half hour after my ride concluded, I was driving home in a pelting rain. Perfect timing!  Now, a little over a week has gone by and I’m already feeling the gorge beckoning me back. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Short Ride In The Columbia Gorge

Every cyclist should have the old Historic Columbia River Highway on their bucket list, whether you live right here in Oregon or as far away as, say, Benin.  Any chance you get to ride a segment of this highway, do it. The HCRH is ever-improving for cyclists and hikers, and has has gotten some exciting press thanks to the recent completion of the project at Moffett Creek

Today’s outing had to be short so I chose one of the highway's most ridiculously scenic parts to ride. Multnomah Falls to Vista House and back provides a great climb and descent, some expansive views, and only a handful of cars sharing the road. A winter weather system is about to overtake this area, but today folks were here in droves to hike, bike, and take some pictures of the sights that make this the most visited spot in Oregon (if you don’t count the factory outlets, and I don’t).

There’s no shortage of things to see and appreciate. Several examples of the highway’s original engineering and masonry have endured, adding to the allure for its visitors. The waterfalls that drop as much as 700 feet from the cliffs above are certainly the show-stoppers, and most are visible directly from the road. It would be tempting to make lots of stops, but if you’re on a bike, all you want to do is roll on the road.  Photo ops will just have to wait. 

Back in the car and driving away, I was already thinking about the next time I can ride this road again. It's still on the bucket list.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Into The Wind

I had a couple of free hours in Portland today, and had my bike with me. I decided to return to one of my favorite spots, the Springwater Trail. It’s a nice urban trail with surprisingly few street crossings. I wanted to get away from being on the streets with car traffic, and this was just the ticket.

There’s talk of making this trail connect all the way to Mount Hood someday.  I wonder how they got that idea...

The East Winds coming down through the Columbia Gorge were a factor today, making it a formidable workout as I headed towards Gresham. It felt like being on an indoor trainer loaded high with resistance. At times, 15 mph was a moral victory.  Of course, there are days when the East Winds can pretty much just stand you up and knock you right over, so I wasn’t about to complain!

And why complain anyway, when you know what’s waiting when you turn back around for the return trip!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Misty Morning Ride

Some of the best bike rides are the ones that aren't about exercise or even getting from point A to point B. The rides that we remember and appreciate tend to be slow and improvised, allowing us to be more attentive to the senses than usual. SIghts and sounds and smells that reside in the halls of the memory for a good long time. 

This morning provided that kind of ride. On a cool and damp morning as I rode through the heavy mist, it felt good to go slow, and go wherever I wanted, to be fully present for whatever I was going to encounter.

Anyplace I went seemed to offer up something to enjoy. Something you couldn't capture from inside a car. The smell of wet leaves as I rolled over them, the heavy reverberations  of a passing freight train, the sounds of kids and grownups laughing while on walks together, the smell of coffee and fresh baked bread as I rolled past a bakery shop, condensation collecting on my face and glasses.

I’m sure that eventually I’ll grow weary of the constant gray days that are now here, and so much a part of living in the Willamette Valley.  I'll yearn for the return of those sunny warm days that spoil us in late summer and early fall.  Right now this change is a welcome sign, beckoning me to throw on a layer or two, get out on the bike and enjoy what Fall has to offer.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Salmon and Stroads

Wrong-way cyclists (aka salmon) crossing through busy lanes on Market Street in Salem during rush hour

You’ve probably noticed all the “salmon” out and about lately. That’s the nickname for people on bikes who insist on riding the wrong direction in some of our busiest traffic.  Salmon will ride day or night, in the bike lane or shoulder, on and off the sidewalk, darting through oncoming traffic and busy parking lots. They defy everybody else to figure out how to react in time to not hit them. Scary.

Where are you most likely to find salmon? Stroads, of course!  (If you need a refresher on what a stroad is exactly, look here and here.) You hardly ever will see salmon riders behave the same way on downtown streets or on roads. For various reasons, cyclists flow with traffic far more consistently on these thoroughfares. Stroads are unique in this regard.

There seems to be something about a stroad that deceives the rider’s brain: “trust me, it’s better to ride in the opposite direction of everybody else.” What is beyond comprehension is how a cyclist could ever come to the conclusion: “yes, riding against traffic IS my best choice here!  Thank you, stroad!”

Hmmm. Maybe part of the problem is stroads...consider Lancaster Drive, hands down Salem’s stroadiest stroad. Well-stocked with salmon riders, day and night. Come to think of it, Lancaster just recently went through a major reconstruction at Market Street, increasing the number of turn lanes and putting this stroad on steroids. 

You know, that’s when more salmon riders appeared. Maybe twice as many. Along a two-mile stretch of Lancaster I’ve counted as many as six wrong-way cyclists at once. I shudder to think of how many near-misses just those six riders had with cars, and then how many more there probably are every day. And dang it, these are totally avoidable!

The answer...more enforcement? Education? Yes and yes, but resources as they are, it’s unlikely that either would become a priority unless there’s some public pressure. And, these are temporary fixes at best. What will really solve the salmon problem, in my opinion, is eliminating stroads.  

Is that even possible?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Cookie Power

They tell you that the Monster Cookie Bicycle Ride is not a race.  That’s true, unless you’re a cyclist who also happens to be a church musician. Let’s just say that the songs might have been “extra peppy” this morning so that I could just squeak in before the deadline to start riding.

It felt good to join the 2,000 other riders, especially when I finally caught up to them. We’re all a bit eager to welcome the spring, the sun, and the exquisite riding that the Willamette Valley offers. The wind coming up from the southwest made us feel like champions all the way to Champoeg, and like rag dolls all the way back to the Capitol.  Didn’t matter, it still was a perfect day for riding. Thanks to the Salem Bicycle Club, and the many volunteers, for making this ride happen.

And, did I mention the cookies at the end of the ride?  Oatmeal Raisin for me!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Day One

On Day One of every new year we’re encouraged to create new goals for ourselves, become more organized, get skinny, and stuff like that. I probably should have been hitting the stores to buy totes and planners and Dr. Oz cookbooks.

But today the Willamette Valley was awash in sunshine. Quite a contrast to the slushy stuff that pelted our faces yesterday and made visibility a problem. Sorry, Dr. Oz.  You just got trumped by Mother Nature.

Today you could see as far as the mountains allowed, in every direction. The cold dry air made it a spectacular day for riding out on some country roads out south of town.

Winter birds were quite entertaining, and I encountered several folks with high-powered cameras who had to have come away with some amazing shots.

I think my goal for 2013 will be to remember that days like today are gifts, not to be missed.