It’s hard for me to get a good amount of time off from work in the middle of summer, due to the nature of my job. At best, I can hope for a couple extra days off scattered here and there, and cleave out a couple extra days off attached to my regular days off. So I managed to get Monday August 1 to Thursday August 4 off. So where to tour?
Up until a few weeks before the trip, I had my eye on exploring the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It’s not that far from Portland (maybe 30 miles at its closest reach) and consists of lots of forests and mountains in the Cascade Range on the Washington side of the Columbia River. And the Gifford features two volcanoes, Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens! But Gifford is known for its fairly intense riding conditions and dearth of spectacular views. And I hadn’t been on a tour, nor riding distances much lately. So it seemed daunting.
But I also hadn’t been to the Mount Hood National Forest for a long time, not since 2012! While the riding can definitely be challenging here, there’s many options for roads and places to camp, and lots of great views. I managed to snag my friend Ed into coming as well. While I love solo touring, it is nice having someone along for the ride sometimes. And Ed has a good amount of knowledge regarding this area, too.
We departed Monday morning, August 1st. I didn’t want this tour to be hurried, and I didn’t want to “push” beyond what I felt like I was capable of. So we were perfectly cool with a leisurely breakfast in town, then a MAX ride to the end of the line in Gresham, then “the usual” way out to Estacada. By then it was past lunch, so we had some pizza, stocked up in the grocery store (last chance for a few days), and rode up the Clackamas River Road into Mt. Hood National Forest. The great thing about heading up into the forest this way is it is a lot less busy than US 26, the main way in. Also, seeing the river is beautiful, and there are plenty of campgrounds. We ended at Roaring River campground, which neither of us had been to. It’s right off the road (most of these campgrounds are) but also featured a few “walk-in” campsites more divorced from the rest of the (albeit small) campground. Plus, the Roaring River was just over the rise, whose sound kept me company all night. (And it was good for soaking sore feet!)
The next day, Tuesday August 2, would be all about climbing. We got our first real climb about five miles in, the dreaded “hill before Ripplebrook” which lulls you into thinking “this isn’t so bad” until you turn the corner and are encountered with soul-sucking grades of 8 to 13 percent! Thankfully, there is the reward of the store in the old Ripplebrook guard station, where I sucked down a soda and met another bicycle camper who was coming from the other direction and heading back to Portland.
And then, more climbing, some of it pretty steep. The highlight of the day was Forest Road 5710, quiet, single lane, steep, and oh yeah, the bridge is out and the road is gone for a small section. Nothing a bike couldn’t handle! Then we found ourselves at Timothy Lake, a reservoir on a branch of the Clackamas. Normally, I’m not big into reservoirs, but this one is pretty nice. And while we could have pushed on further, we decided to camp on the lake for the day, as there were several campgrounds. We headed for the north shore, which featured a not-that-technical singletrack trail that led to several primitive campgrounds on the lake itself! We didn’t get a view of Mount Hood from the lake (we would need to be on the south shore for that) but got to see Mount Jefferson instead. That was nice.
For the third day, Wednesday August 3, we continued on the single track for a couple miles where it actually intersects and overlaps the Pacific Crest Trail. We walked it for a few hundred yards, got to see the awesome of Little Crater Lake, and then continued to climb on roads until we got to the highest point on the trip, Blue Box Pass at 4,024 feet. We could have kept going further east for a bit, or head north so we can actually circumnavigate Mount Hood, but wisely decided to head down the mountain and towards home instead.
There was a bit more up and down, then we got onto the gem of Still Creek Road, a narrow gravel road that parallels the busy US 26. This brought us back to 26 around Zigzag and the other small settlements collectively known as the Mount Hood villages. We could have made it all the way home, but decided we still wanted to camp some more. So we headed to Dodge Park, with its promise of the waters of the Sandy and Bull Run Rivers and showers! Of course, we chose to go the “hard way” over Devil’s Backbone, featuring some of the steepest climbing of the whole trip. But a thrilling descent back down into the Sandy valley brought us to Dodge Park.
The biggest benefit to camping at Dodge was the short day home on Thursday. It was just a 12 mile ride back to the MAX in Gresham. Ed opted to ride the whole way home. I could have done that too, but it was getting hot and I wanted to arrive home somewhat early and somewhat refreshed! 😉
All in all, a good trip. After all the trepidation I had about touring before getting on the road, it did feel good to get back out there. But yeah, I should get back into better shape for more tours! I guess I’ll just have to do more touring…
You can see all the photos from the tour here.