If you’ve been around here long enough, you know that I like to go bike camping. And I do get my share in during the summer months. But there’s a special urgency when it comes to a nice “weekend” in October. (I use weekend in quotes, as my days off fall in the middle of the week.) These nice days are not going to last, and soon very short cool and wet days will be the norm. I can camp in those months, but it’s more of a challenge, especially when about a third to half of the local campgrounds shutter for the season. This “weekend” is nice, sunny, highs 75-80F. I can’t be sure that the next “weekend” will be nice.
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.*
I put it out there to see if anyone else wanted to join me on the night of Tuesday October 8. And Evan and Dane bit, though we decided that it would be a “get out there at your own pace” type of thing. And believe me, I went at my own pace! I didn’t get packed up and out the door until 1:30 pm. Thankfully it’s not too far to Ainsworth (another reason why I like going out there), but because sun sets around 6:45 pm, I debated riding I-84 out. (Yes, it’s a freeway. Yes, it’s legal, at least east of Troutdale.) My reasoning is that I could go the “regular” way via the very scenic Historic Columbia River Highway on the way home on Wednesday. ( I’ve talked a bunch about the ride on the Historic Columbia River Highway so you should check out older entries here, here, here, and here for more info.) But thankfully I decided to go out the old highway, and do it at a faster speed than normal. I wouldn’t be going necessarily faster, just stopping less. (And taking the MAX out to Gresham helped, too!)
After riding 24 miles from Cleveland Avenue MAX station in Gresham, I rolled into Ainsworth State Park at just after 5:30 pm. Evan and Dane were already there, and had set up their hammocks. I decided to forego the tent and bring a bivy sack. There was no chance of rain in the forecast, and it’s nice to be able to look up to the night sky when in bed. (There’s a bit too much tree action in the walk-in sites to have a great view of stars, though.) We made dinner, hung around the fire until it died, and crashed for the night.
On Wednesday morning Evan and Dane needed to be back to town afternoonish, but I had all day, so I opted for the very long way home. First I head further east out to the Bonneville Dam fish hatchery, about six miles east of Ainsworth. The big deal about this (besides seeing Herman the Sturgeon) is I finally, finally was able to ride the new and completed section of the historic highway trail, the three-mile segment connection Yeon State Park to Bonneville. Before this opened, you had to (had to!) ride the shoulder of I-84 for those three miles. So this is a vast improvement, allowing one to bike from Portland to Cascade Locks without jumping on the freeway. (Cascade Locks to Hood River: you still have to jump on the freeway, but a trail is in the works.) But the last time I tried to ride the trail, back in October 0f 2013, the trail was “closed” even though it had just officially opened. (See the October 2013 report for more.)** And I hadn’t been east of Ainsworth this year, so I decided to seize the opportunity.
The way back was pleasant. I stopped more often, including a stop at Multnomah Falls for mediocre pizza. (I forgot to pack a lunch.) I also did my obligatory stop at McMenamins Edgefield in Troutdale for food and drinks. And instead of taking light rail, I rode all the way home, which made for a 55 mile day. I took Marine Drive home, which gave me the opportunity to watch the full moon rise above the Columbia River.
All in all a good trip! I didn’t get the greatest sleep, and I wish the trees in the Gorge were a little further along in the colors, but I can’t complain. I hope to be able to get one more overnight in when it’s still mild and dry. Maybe not this coming “weekend” (and the weather doesn’t look good) but maybe the next?
*Yes, this is the exact same paragraph from the October 2013 report. So sue me.
**I did ride it once in May 2013, but that was before it was officially open. It still needed work, requiring some portaging.