My ride to Warrior Rock, or Coffeeneuring 2015 Ride number 1

I’ve been wanting to get in some long rides, since I realized that over the past year or so I’ve gotten soft in the distance department. I had Tuesday October 6th off. The weather was nice, mid 70’s, a great fall day. (And it didn’t rain like it did on Wednesday.) So, where to?

Well, it has been at least a year, or maybe two since I’ve been to Sauvie Island. What’s Sauvie Island? It’s a big river island where the Columbia and Willamette meet, about the size of Manhattan, practically in Portland’s backyard. Rather than write something new, let me quote something I wrote here…uh…ten years ago: Sauvie Island is a world apart from the cosmopolitan city I enjoy, a flat plain surrounded by the Columbia River (mightiest in the West!) and Multnomah Channel, occupied by working farms and wildlife refuges. And yet it’s totally within my reach, the 10 mile distance from downtown making me able to travel here any day I want with ease.

Of course, just because I can go there any day of the week does not mean I do.  As said above, I go once every year or so. Part of it is its out-and-back riding. While one can make a loop around the south half of the island (about 30 or so mile round trip from downtown), to get to its further reaches requires more commitment. To get to Collins Beach out on Reeder Road, at the far north end of the island, requires almost 60 miles of round-trip riding. Not so bad for those who “crush it” and can do 60 miles before lunch, but as we all know, I am not one of those types. And since there’s only one way off and on the island, the Sauvie Island Bridge, it’s hard to incorporate a Sauvie adventure with other riding, unless you really like miles.

But today would be a day about miles. And this time I wanted to go somewhere on the island I’ve been wanting to go for years, but never have: Warrior Rock Lighthouse. Yes, there is a river lighthouse on the island!* These days it’s not much more than a concrete tower with beacon and bell to warn maritime traffic about “the rock”, a rock reef that sticks out into the Columbia (and remember, ocean going ships come all the way up to Portland), but hey! Any lighthouse is better than nothing. This wouldn’t be my first attempt to ride there: Back in 2012, a bunch of us tried (and failed) to bush camp up there. There would be no camping today, just the ride to the lighthouse.

I departed from my house just around noon. It was a quick cruise through North Portland and over the Saint Johns Bridge. A bit of not-thrilling riding on “Dirty 30”, then I was over the bridge onto the island. And there began the farms! This is all ten miles from my front door. (Slightly longer from my back door.)  At one of the farms, Krugers, I stopped at their farm stand operation and got hot roasted corn-on-the-cob with a slice of pumpkin pie. Delicious.

The first couple miles on the island is busy. But thankfully the traffic drops off considerably after that. Not so much on nice weekends, even into October, when all of Portland seemingly comes out to partake the pumpkin patches and corn mazes. There can be a bit of bicycle-auto conflict then, especially since the roads are narrow and mostly shoulderless. But midweek is a lot more mellow, and that’s why I go mid-week.

The miles buzzed by and I got closer to the destination. Near the end of the road is one of the metro area’s most (in)famous destinations: Collins Beach, one of two clothing optional public beaches in the state. The last few times up this way was to go here, but this time I was fixated on getting to Warrior Rock, not dipping into the Columbia au naturel. And man, they make it hard, as the last 2 1/2 miles is gravel. Now I usually relish the unpaved, but this has got to be some of the worst washboarding around, so much so that my high-volume tires weren’t soaking it up like I wish they would. Thankfully I got to the end of the road, where there’s the parking area and the trail head.

Now I will admit here that I’m breaking the rules: The 3 mile trail to the lighthouse prohibits bikes, but I rode anyway. Partially because I didn’t feel like hiking for two hours, but mostly because I don’t really understand why bikes are off limits: the “trail” is little more than overgrown service road, and flat too. While it skirts a wildlife refuge, I wouldn’t say its pristine, with a big “dredge pipe” running across it at one point. Are they worried about bikes scaring the animals? Well then, why do they allow hunting here? Or are they worried that hordes of mountain bikers will show up? If so, there’s plenty of other destinations I would choose to mountain bike than a rutted flat road. But I digress.

The ride down the trail wasn’t bad (it felt better than that washboard!) It stays mostly in the riparian forest (cottonwood with alder) with occasional glimpses of the Columbia. Then without fanfare, the trail ends at a beach. Just when you think the path led you astray, you see the lighthouse across a little bay. There it is at last! I put my bike down on the ground, rounded the not-that-big lighthouse, and pulled out my snacks and coffee making gear.

You see, it’s now Coffeeneuring time, and I wanted my first destination to be special. And how more special than finally getting to that lonesome and forgotten river lighthouse? This time I brought my Soto Helix pour-over coffee maker, the same one I used on the Eastern Oregon tour. To boil the water, my Esbit stove/pot combo. It didn’t take that long to boil the water, but unfortunately the ground coffee I brought (some Trader Joe’s product) was a bit too fine for the filter, so it took seemingly forever to get about a half-cup of coffee. You live and learn. At least it’s a scenic spot to painfully wait for the coffee to drip, drip, drip into the cup. A cargo ship headed upstream passed the light. Many speedboats, canoes, and sailboats plied the waters. And Mount Saint Helens stood majestically above it all.

The coffee drunk, I packed up the kit and rode back. I was getting tired at this point (it was 29 miles one way to the Light), but I really had no other choice, and just got into the rhythm of pedaling. I got back across the St. Johns Bridge just after 7 and got some dinner at one of my favorite spots, Proper Eats.

And there you have it! I finally got to Warrior Rock Light, and pulled my first coffeeneuring trip of this challenge. It was fun, but I don’t think my other coffeeneuring stops are going to be this far away! And while the Light was cool, I probably won’t be back for at least a year or so. (And I doubt I’ll try to camp there, other than the beach there wasn’t any great spot to pitch a tent.)

Stats: Coffeeneuring 2015 Ride 1: Tuesday 6 October 2015

  • Distance ridden: 58 mi/93 km
  • Maximum temperature: 77F/25C
  • Bike ridden: Bantam Rambleneur
  • Coffee: Trader Joe’s Espresso Roast
  • Coffee equipment: Soto Helix pour-over, Esbit stove/pot combo

*It’s supposedly one of two non-ocean lighthouses in Oregon (at least according to Wikipedia) but I haven’t found out what the other one is. (And Wikipedia isn’t helping.)


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