After a pretty rainy weekend, I saw that my two days off, Tuesday and Wednesday, were going to see some good weather, so it felt like time for a bike camping trip! I almost wanted to bail as Tuesday approached because I didn’t feel as into it as I thought I should, but that’s probably because the week previous was pretty low activity. So I needed a good adventure. And I managed to rope Brad into coming along again!
The destination is a pretty uncommon one for me (or Brad), Champoeg State Park, about 35 miles south-southwest of Portland, along the banks of the Willamette River. While it’s a relatively close camping destination (and open all year), I’ve rarely been there, only two times in the past. That’s because it’s not a particularly exciting camping destination, nor are any of the routes getting to or from there particularly great. (Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely moments on the ride, but there is always the crap, like getting around Oregon City.) The two times I went to Champoeg it was always on the way to somewhere else: the first time when I toured the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway in August of 2009, then on the way to Silver Falls for Memorial Day 2012. I’ve never been there just to go there.
The big reason we decided on Champoeg and not another local all-year park like, say, Battle Ground Lake is because of the new improvements made to the park. Champoeg has had a hiker/biker campsite for awhile (only $5 a night per person!), which is great (but still weird since there’s other parks that should have hiker/biker sites). But over the past few months the park has installed two covered shelters in the hiker/biker area, one over a picnic table, one intended for a tent! Nice. (And more hiker/biker sites should have these amenities!) And they also added four storage lockers for food and valuables, each locker featuring an outlet to charge all of our electronic gadgets we are so addicted to.
We left inner SE just around 11 am on Tuesday. The first 10 or so miles was pretty much all along bike paths, first the Springwater and then the new Trolley Trail from Milwaukie through Oak Grove to Gladstone. We had a bit of lunch in Oregon City and caught a view of Willamette Falls on our departure. Weird: I’ve lived in Portland fourteen years but have only gone to the falls a handful of times (though I have passed it on the southbound train countless times.) Next was the dreaded climb out of Oregon City. Brad had found a way that mostly bypassed the narrow, shoulderless way that most of us have taken out of town before. It used little known Water Board Park Road, an abandoned road that zig-zaged through woods on the way to the top of the bluff. Abandoned because the area is one big slide, and there were serious heaves and fissures in the pavement, enough that we had to hike-a-bike a few treacherous sections! But it was quiet, and we got a great view of Oregon City, the many buttes of the east side, and even downtown Portland!
After Oregon City, the route was predominately rural and pretty scenic in spots, but we did have to use busy Arndt Road for a bit. (As I said, there’s no good route to Champoeg.) We rolled into the campground at 4 pm. The place was quiet, but there were some other campers around. No one was in the soggy hiker/biker sites, so we had full run of the place. Brad set up his hammock and I set my tent up in the shelter–not because I was worried about rain, but because it was one of the few non-soggy spots to set up!
Dinner was made and a campfire was attempted while Brad and I hung out through the long dark February night. (A common winter camping theme: it always feels later than it is when the sun goes down so early.) I rolled into bed sometime before 11 pm. And I was determined to not make the same mistake I made at Oxbow in January: I would not overinflate my air mattress, and I would put my sleeping bag liner in. This definitely helped, as I was much warmer and much more comfortable sleeping.
But I didn’t get a most restful sleep, though. When I went to bed, the noises I heard were the frogs in a pond, distant freight trains, and occasional coyote yelps. I woke up around 3 am to sound of someone screaming bloody murder. Apparently around midnight another bicyclist showed up to camp and stumbled around the site looking for a place to pitch. (Brad woke up then and saw someone with a headlight wandering around.) So maybe this dude was having a nightmare? Well, I didn’t find out, because this guy was still in his tent at 11 am when we left. But as Brad says, it’s probably a good thing since he may have had words with him.
We opted to take a different way back home that would drop us off in Hillsboro, where we could take the MAX light rail back home. This was done for two reasons: variety, and returning on the route we came was less fun. This route took us through Newburg where we had lunch and then wound along the edge of the Willamette Valley Wine Country. It was nice, but we got a bit crusty half-way through, especially since there are no real “stopping” points. We got into Hillsboro around 3:30 and managed to avoid most of the crunch of rush hour on the MAX.
All in all a good trip, despite the mystery other bike camper. The weather was nice the whole time, cloudy but a high in the mid 50’s F each day. And it was great to get some physical activity in. The new amenities at Champoeg were nice, but as Brad said, we probably won’t be back for another three years.