A Bike Overnight to Ainsworth State Park, 22-23 October

Another week of good weather around these parts. I see it as “payback” after suffering through a sucky September. I had a few days off in a row yet again, so yet again I decided it would be a good time for another Bike Overnight.

This time the destination would be my favorite quick overnight destination: Ainsworth State Park in the Columbia River Gorge. While the camping setting isn’t the most idyllic (pretty much any camping option on the Oregon side of the Gorge will feature noise from both I-84 and the Union Pacific Railroad) and the reason why Ainsworth comes up tops on my list is the ride: It’s just about 25 miles from the east side of Portland, and it passes through an area of immense beauty, with numerous scenic vistas and waterfalls. While other nearby destinations may have better (and more secluded) camping, the ride just doesn’t compare.
So I left Tuesday morning around 11 am from my house. Yes, this is just right after the Coffeeneuring/Sunrise Ride. If I was smart I would have loaded my bike with camping gear before the Sunrise Coffee Ride, but I’m not always smart. And while the Long Haul Trucker is the obvious “go to” bike for touring and camping, I decided to mix it up a little bit and take my Raleigh Crested Butte instead. I had intended to do some bike camping with the Crested Butte this year, but besides the two cabin excursions during the winter (Stub Stewart on New Years, Battle Ground in February), I hadn’t used it yet. (And since the two previous excursions were to cabins, it doesn’t really count.) What better time than now? She loaded up quite well, thank you. (The basket helps.)

I originally intended to ride the whole way out, but because it was later than I hoped by the time I got underway, I hopped on the MAX from the central city to the Ruby Junction stop and rode from there. I’ve talked a bunch about the ride on the Historic Columbia River Highway so you should check out older entries here, here, and here for more info. But in my quest for “mixing things up” I decided to use some different roads between Troutdale to Corbett, the only area where you can get off the old highway. (And the highway tends to be the busiest in this area.) This new routing meant some steeper climbs and more rolling action than the very-well graded old highway, but the payoff was some great views and low traffic.

Just outside of Corbett I got back on the Historic Columbia River Highway and it was a tour of all the spots that make this area great:
The Columbia Gorge money shot.
Crown Point with Vista House. Beacon Rock in background.
Latourell Falls.
Multnomah Falls.
Horsetail Falls.

And fall foliage was at or near peak, which added even more romance to the experience.

I rolled into Ainsworth State Park around 5:30 pm. I typically head for the woodsy “walk-in” sites, but they added an official hiker/biker site this year, so I wanted to try that out. Unfortunately the experience is a bit underwhelming: They simply converted a grassy field by throwing in a couple picnic tables and a firepit. Not only that, there isn’t any indication that this is the “hiker/biker” site, nor are there any signs at the main information booth indicating that there is a hiker/biker site. I just knew it was there because of people camping there over the summer…and by the fact that there were already cyclotourists camped there! Yep, four young dudes on break from Reed College*, and the first time bike camping for a few of them, too.  I made dinner while the guys got a fire going, and we talked for a bit before crashing for the night.

The next morn, Wednesday October 23, rather than go straight back, I decided to try out the newly-opened section of the Historic Columbia River Highway trail, a car-free path. The new link connects Yeon State Park to Bonneville Dam, which means I don’t have to ride on I-84 for that three miles. Yet despite the grand opening happening over the past weekend and the four dudes riding this trail just yesterday, this is what greeted me:

Undaunted, I rode in a little bit, over beautiful McCord Creek, but turned around when I saw an active backhoe in the distance. Herman the Sturgeon will have to wait until the next ride…

The ride back along the historic highway featured the same scenic highlights again, but it’s always nice to see them from a different angle.

Once I got up past Crown Point, I diverged from the historic highway again. This new to me route was mostly downhill with some rolling hill action, more great scenery, and little traffic. 

Eventually I got back on the Historic Columbia River Highway which brought me into Troutdale. I had a late lunch at the Edgefield and then decided to head on down towards the Marine Drive bike path. By the time I got down there it was almost sunset, which added a nice touch.

I then hopped on the MAX at Cascades Station near the airport and took it home. All in all, two great days of riding and camping. And hopefully I’ll get to get in one last Bike Overnight before it gets too cold out…

More photos here.

*You know you are getting old when you refer to college age folk as “young dudes”.

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