A bike camping overnight a month. Intriguing concept, eh? I’ve definitely thought about doing a camping trip a month before, but after getting in a trip nine of the twelve months last year, I felt that would be a good goal again for 2015.
Then along comes The Path Less Pedaled. On Monday, they threw down the gauntlet: A Bike “Tour” a month in 2015. I was interested, but winter is tough: While the weather is temperate enough here to pull off such an “all-year” challenge, I’m not that into solo tent camping during those long dark nights, and cabins/yurts for one ain’t cheap. Then a few hours after the challenge was posted, my friend Brad said he wanted to go to Oxbow on Tuesday (which at the time was tomorrow.) Oxbow has the advantage of being a short ride from the east end of the MAX line in Gresham, and it is open all year. And the weather for Tuesday and Wednesday was as good as it gets here in January: sunny, high around 50F/10C, low around 35F/2C. I thought about it for a minute, and said, what the hey. I went home and packed, and on Tuesday afternoon I met Brad and his gf Kim for lunch, then we hopped on the MAX and got off at Cleveland Avenue just after 2 pm.
We opted for a rambly ride that used the Springwater Corridor trail for a few miles, then after a very-sketchy crossing of busy US 26, we were on the quiet backroads of East Multnomah County, passing through farms and orchards, giving us great views of the snow-covered volcanoes in the distance.
We got down to Oxbow at 4 pm. Oxbow technically closes at legal sunset (on today, around 5). While a bike can get around the gate, we would be able to pay for the night nor get firewood if we arrived late. We found a spot, paid up, got the firewood, and hung out near the fire during the long dark but clear night. Orion moved across the winter sky and Stasia, our third person for camping, showed up at 8:45, riding through the dark to get here!
We retired around 10 pm. I’d like to say that I got a great night’s sleep, but I didn’t. I was pushing the limit of my 32F/0C down bag. While I could have layered up more or put my bag liner in, I was just too stubborn/stupid to do so. And I over-inflated the pad, something I do way too often. Next time, I’ll know better.
We slowly woke in the AM. The problem with winter camping is if one doesn’t have to be gone by a certain time, it’s really hard to get up before sunrise. And sunrise is about 7:45 am in these parts. Brad had to be home by noon, so he was gone first, while I lingered in camp and Stasia went down to the Sandy River (which flows by the park.)
Before the camping plan came about, my original intention for Wednesday was to bike into the Columbia Gorge. At first I thought camping at Oxbow would negate that plan, but then I quickly realized that Oxbow was so much closer to the entrance to the Gorge than my house, so why not both?
The 1.3 mile out of the valley bottom was tough as usual, but after getting to the top I took some new-to-me backroads to get down to the Stark Street Bridge, where I would pick up the Historic Columbia River Highway. And this is where the wind really hit. Now the Gorge is normally a windy place, being the water-level route through the Cascade Mountains. In the summer the wind blows from the west, but on nice days in winter, that wind is coming out of the east, meaning a fierce headwind. Not only was I going east, I was also going uphill. To say the ride was a slog was a bit of an understatement. Wiped out and hungry, I wolfed down a burrito and a slice of pie at Corbett Country Store then continued on to Women’s Forum, the top of the grade and the first big view of the Columbia Gorge below.
Originally I intended to keep on going further into the gorge, maybe to Bridal Viel, maybe even to Multnomah Falls. But it was already 2 pm and I was in no mood to keep on battling against the headwind. (The weather radio said it was a consistent 25 miles/hour with gusts to 35.) So I decided that Women’s Forum was it for this trip, and I’ll come out here again at some less windy point.* And if you want an impression of the windy-ness, here you go.
But I wasn’t going to let the wind totally beat me! No sir, I was going to have Coffee Outside here at Women’s Forum! If I was going to win the Quintessential Brew Up Cycling Fiend award for 2015, how can you top a beautiful location with a touch of battling Mother Nature? Sure, there’s no barbed wire to be seen here, but whatever. And when it comes to windy weather, my Trangia 27 cookset lives up to its “Stormcooker” name. I still made sure that it was behind the stone wall, since I didn’t want the stove (and coffee mug setup) to blow around/over. But coffee was made, and I enjoyed a few slurps before bombing back down the hill towards Troutdale.
In Troutdale I took a pause for snack and libations at McMenamin’s Edgefield, and rather than taking transit home, decided to just keep on riding home. Because transit would be crowded at rush hour, and I had a tailwind. It was about 40 miles riding total on Wednesday, and man was I tired when I got home!
So I’ve fulfilled my January obligation for the Bike Tour a Month club. Will I keep it up? I don’t know, but I sure hope so. It’s fun to bike camp, especially with friends. And I already got January out of the way, the “worst” month, so it all gets better from here. And if not always better, the days will be longer!
Ride from Cleveland Ave MAX to Oxbow here.
Ride from Oxbow to Women’s Forum and then home here.
*I could have gone the extra mile to Vista House/Crown Point, but Vista House is closed during the week in winter, so there wasn’t much point.