Let it be stated for the record: I am not a morning person. Oh, I try to be, but I’m not. So I always marvel at Super Randonneurs and other Early Morning Cyclists, those who can drag themselves out of bed at some ungodly hour (before the sun rises, of course) and get out there and bike. Because when the alarm went off at about 5:45 am on Saturday morning, all I could think about was, “How did I get myself into this? Can’t I just stay in bed for a few more hours? Do I really want to go on a bike ride on a rainy day like this?”
But I somehow mustered the energy to roll out of bed, dress myself, roll down to the MAX, ride light rail to Hillsboro, and get to Elmers Restaurant at 8 am to meet other eager cyclists (five total, including myself) ready to attack this ridiculous ride on a less-than-optimal day.
And a bit ridiculous it was: about 54 miles total,* two crossings of the Chehalem Range with a cumulative elevation gain near 4,000 feet, and at least 1/4 of it some form of unpaved road. The big break we’d get today is that the rain stayed mostly away. The big rain of the morning happened while we were inside eating breakfast, and besides some rain in the last few miles when it got dark, we just had a couple passing sprinkles.
But the climbs? They were still there. The thing about the Chehalem Mountains is they aren’t big or high, elevations from 1,000 feet to the highest point of 1,600 feet at Bald Peak. But they have prominence, as the valley floor is at about 200 feet. And since they are a narrow mountain range, there’s no easy, meandering way to get up and over. No river that carves a mostly easy grade through the range. It’s all about going up.
The first ascent started about five miles outside of Hillsboro, the start of the ride. The climb using Iowa Hill and Dixon Mill Road was in stages, with the first stage being the steepest. The false summit gave good views of the Tualatin Valley below. And near the actual summit, a good two miles of gravel, the first of the ride. Then a screaming descent into the Yamhill Valley and the tiny town of Gaston, 15 miles in, where we took a break at the store. (Which was convenient, as it was raining, and there was a good awning.)
The following ten miles were (mostly) my favorite part of the ride: the gentle climb up South and Williams Canyon Road to the summit of a smaller hill about 600 feet high. The dirt/gravel started right after we left town, and we had pleasant views of the farms and hills that make up the start of Oregon’s vaunted wine country.
After the summit, we dealt with the worst “gravel” road on the trip: Bishop-Scott Road. When I rode this road last year, it was fine, if a bit steep in sections (I was coming from the other direction.) But it was dry then. Well, in the rainy season, this road is a morass. Mud, potholes, ruts, all that. I did my best to “hold my line” for the couple miles of this, but I definitely was this close to eating it a couple times.
Then a few miles of pleasant pavement and we were in Yamhill, the second and final service stop of the ride. We ate some snacks and headed out of town using OR 240 and Laughlin Road with its many wineries. (Wine country, see?)
At the intersection with Spring Hill Road, we faced the hard choice of Albertson Road. We could just head back up Spring Hill towards Forest Grove to avoid the second and harder crossing of the Chehalem Range, or go up what would be a good climb. We decided on Albertson. And yeah, it was tough: completely unpaved (though in much better shape than Bishop-Scott), and a climb of about 1100 feet in just three miles. Thankfully the grade stayed at an even 7-8% (my estimation) for most of it, except for a couple steep pitches toward the end, which many of us walked.
Albertson Road intersected with Bald Peak Road. We could take the easy way out and turn left, which led to a paved descent back down into the Tualatin Valley (and would probably shave about 5 to 8 miles of the ride.) Or we can turn right, finish the 300 feet of climbing and get to Bald Peak. We were a tired, hurting unit at this point, but the consensus*** was to go to Bald Peak, since we’re already all the way out here, and when will the next time we’d get up here?
And it was worth it. The last bit of climbing wasn’t that bad, and pretty soon we were at the highest point in the Chehalem Range (and since the Chehalem Range are the highest hills contained within the Willamette Valley, the highest point in the valley*** as well,) Bald Peak. Unfortunately these days it’s not as “bald” as it used to be, as a line of trees block the good view towards the Tualatin Valley, but we did get quite the impressive view of the Yamhill Valley and the beginnings of the Coast Range to the west.
But we had no time to lollygag as the sun was to set soon. The descent down Bald Peak was fun, and afforded an even better view of the Yamhill Valley. Holly Hill Road had more gravel, but mostly in good shape. Then a few miles of great (and paved descent) and we were back in the “flats” of the Tualatin Valley. The last ten miles was straighforward and direct and featured more traffic than we had seen in quite some time. And we found our way back to the MAX in Hillsboro just after dark.
All in all, a good ride, but a bit tougher than even I thought it would be! The Crested Butte handled it well, but I haven’t really done a long ride in awhile, so my body was hurting afterwards (and on into the next day.) But I know I’ll be back. It’s funny: up until a couple years ago I had barely explored this area by bike, and until last year, I had not summited the Chehalem Range. But I know there’s other roads going up and over this small mountain range, and I definitely want to explore them! And next time, I hope to be in better shape.
*GPS track said about 53, my cyclometer said 54. Potato, potato.
**I really had my mind set to go to the top, but I let someone else say “let’s go to the top” first, lest I be strung up to the nearest lamp pole.
***Yes, I know. Oxymoron.