It seems like most cyclists have a certain “jam” with regards to where they bike. Look at their photostream or blog, where do they usually end up on a bike if they don’t have anywhere more specific to go? For years I thought maybe my “jam” was something more cool and exotic in the Portland area. And while I do ride in Forest Park, or up to one of the many east side buttes, I’ve come to realize that the lowlands around the Columbia Slough are my jam.
While riding on a floodplain isn’t as challenging as riding up a big hill,* many scenic nooks and secret crannies abound in this area. The lowlands are a patchwork of industrial and residential, wild and developed. It’s where we put the airport, sewage plant, and landfill. But it’s also teeming with wildlife and big ol’ cottonwoods. There are a lot of bike paths down here, too. And most importantly, it only takes me a mile to get there. This makes the Slough area a very easy destination for a later day bike ride, or on a day when I just want to get out there and ride but don’t have any real plan.
And that’s how it went on Tuesday December 20. After all that snow** over the weekend, I was itching for a ride. And a great day for it! It was fairly clear (though no mountain views) and a high of 52F/11C. Yeah, low 50s, twenty degrees warmer than it was a few days ago! To some of you folks living in more wintry winters, 52 seems hot. And while it’s indeed a bit more mild than we’d normally get on December 20th, you have to remember that the average high here for December is 46F/8C. Compare that to Duluth with an average December high of just 22F/-5C! It’s like almost twenty-five degrees warmer! And today there was practically zero sign*** of snow from Wednesday. The snow felt like a decade ago.
Anyways, I left the house around 1:30 pm, with about 3 hours of daylight to spare. I could head west towards Kelley Point Park, which is always nice, but I went that way a couple weeks ago when I went to Smith and Bybee Lakes. (I didn’t write about it, but pictures are here.) Instead, I decided to head east since I could hit up the Swedish Embassy of Shopping for late lunch and pick up some more coffee.****
On the way I hit up the East Columbia neighborhood, a truly obscure district in the Slough lowlands. It’s a small collection of houses plus a few small urban farms, with a feeling far from the rest of Portland, yet it’s only about a mile north of my house as the crow flies.***** I passed by a cornfield and saw a turkey! Within East Columbia lies one of Portland’s more obscure parks, the Columbia Children’s Arboretum. The idea of this arboretum was to show the state tree of all 50 states. It’s not well marked, so I don’t know if they ever met that goal. But it does have the state tree of Connecticut, the white oak, and that’s all that matters to me!
From there eastward, it was a quick and sucky mile on NE Marine Drive until I got to the dedicated bike path. A quick pause at Broughton Beach to watch a guy fly a kite and watch a few jets take off from Portland International Airport. Another few miles eastward onto the path until I took a side path to get over to the Cascades Crossing retail development where the Swedish Embassy of Shopping and their delicious veggie meatballs (and all you can drink free coffee) was located! Despite it being just five shopping days until Christmas, the place was only modestly busy. I guess housewares and bags of frozen meatballs don’t make good gifts?
From there, I took the more direct way home, which wasn’t as fun because it was dark and busy and the shoulders full of gravel. (We use gravel here for traction in snow and ice.) I guess the “storm” wasn’t as long ago as I remembered, eh?
So there you have it: my go to biking spot. I will be back soon enough, yes. Do you have a “jam” of your own?
*Unless of course you have a headwind!
***There were a few lingering snowpiles from plowing in the parking lot at IKEA.
****I was running low, and I actually do like IKEA coffee. It doesn’t hurt that it’s $4 for a half-pound bag.
*****There’s no direct “air line” route between the two, so the ride is more like two miles.