Ramblin’ to Vancouver Lake

Wednesday May 27th had all the right ingredients for a ramble: A day off with no hard obligations, nice summerish weather, an urge to get out. Initially I had thought about a more ambitious ramble, something using the MAX and the westside suburbs, but after all the ambitious rambling last week in Minnesota and Wisconsin, turns out I wasn’t that game for it. I wanted something that I could roll from my front doorstep after a lazy morning, and something that I haven’t done in awhile. Vancouver seemed like a likely destination: downtown Vancouver was just five miles away across the Interstate Bridge, and I haven’t done much over there lately. And the ride is relatively easy: a nice flat ride along the Columbia River bottomlands in a landscape reminiscent of Sauvie Island, sans St. Johns Bridge and Dirty 30.

By the time I left the house after 1 pm, it was quite the warm day, reaching 80F/27C as the day went on. I navigated the maze of trails and ramps to get up to the Interstate Bridge, skirted the edge of Vancouver’s downtown, and headed out on Lower River Road (SR 501) towards Vancouver Lake. River Road, while better than 30, isn’t exactly exciting here either, going past all the Port of Vancouver stuff. Lots of trucks whizzing by on a Wednesday afternoon. Thankfully the shoulder is wide, and pretty clean. It didn’t seem too long before I was at Vancouver Lake Park, a nice little park beside this lowland lake. I found a shaded picnic table to eat my sandwich and make coffee. Despite it being a Wednesday afternoon, the park was seeing some use: a few sunbathers, a couple playing volleyball, a family picnicking.

After eating, I decided to ride the three miles along a bike path to Frenchman’s Bar Park. This park is right on the Columbia itself, and its sandy beach had its fair share of revelers (and would get more, as high school was letting out.) I decided to dig deeper and found a dirt path that went through the riparian forest of cottonwoods and alder. This path wound on for maybe a 1/2 or 3/4s of mile, and terminated at a secluded beach devoid of people. (Well right now devoid: Of course I find an empty beer bottle to remind me of human contact.) I hung out for awhile, enjoying the relative solitude, hearing only bird calls, jets, boats on the water, and an occasional train horn in the distance. And it’s easy to understand why it’s quiet: most fun-seekers want to walk only 5 minutes from their parked cars, especially if they have loaded coolers and/or little children. This secluded beach would require maybe a 40 or so minute round trip via foot, so no takers (unless, of course, the beach really gets busy.) But with a bike…I made a mental note of this secluded beach, in case I came back this way.*

And I thought about the ride I just took: I had started from my doorstep, passed by city and port, then an active farm, and a river with seagoing container ships. Now I’m seemingly on the edge of things, in the countryside, away. And I had traveled just thirteen miles, about an hour of cycling unaided by transit. How many other major American cities could I do this?

I turned around, heading for downtown Vancouver where I’d meet The Baker at a brewpub for drinks, then Vancouver’s best li’l wine bar, Niche, for more. Yeah, it wasn’t the most epic of rambles, but the drinks felt well earned!

*SR 501 heads a few more miles north until it dead-ends at a wildlife refuge. Probably more solitude out there, but I didn’t go out there today.

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