It happened: Chehalem Range Ramble, 26 Feb 2017

Yes, my friends, the ride I had rescheduled twice over the course of two years has finally happened. This time I had the determination to stick it out, no matter what.

And determination is what I needed as I woke up Sunday morning. While Saturday was beautiful, sunny and dry with a high near 50F/10C, I awoke at 6 am on Sunday to rain out the window, and a forecast of showers and rain all day. To top that off, I got texts from two of the people who were supposed to come bailing on me. Will anyone come? Or is this going to be an hour long MAX trip to just have breakfast in Hillsboro? I texted a couple other people who said they’d be going and got one confirmation, so that was something to raise my spirits.

The trip to Hillsboro was a comedy of errors. I missed my MAX train by about five minutes. No problem, I’ll catch the next one. But I forgot that early on Sunday morning the train runs at a half-hour frequency, which meant I was going to be late. To top it off, about 15 minutes in the train stopped for 15 minutes due to a medical emergency. I had to transfer trains two more times to get to Hillsboro. I was supposed to be to Hillsboro by 8:30, now it was more like 9:30! Thankfully, there were three folks waiting for me: Vince, Ed, and Aaron, and they were just finishing up breakfast. And miraculously, the rain had stopped, and the radar didn’t show anything for a while. A break.

The first 10 miles was the warm-up to the Chehalem Mountains, a relatively flat romp first through suburbia, then open farmland. A decent headwind made up for the lack of hills. But the real challenge started after we passed the always-closed Laurel Valley Market. Campbell Road started its charge skyward, and lower gears were wished for. Finnigan Hill Road started with a brief but screaming descent into the McFee Creek valley, then the true climbing began. For the next four miles we’d be gradually climbing up the mountain. But Finnigan Hill Road turned out to be the best way I’ve found up so far: generally a 5 to 7% grade with a few short steeper 10% pitches thrown in for good measure, decent gravel for the most part, peacefully quiet and pretty scenic.

But there would be another “challenge” thrown in. The forecasts had threatened a snow level of around 1000 feet all weekend, and we’d be easily going higher than that. We saw a couple cars descend down from the mountain with snow on them. And as we climbed further, we started seeing evidence of snow on the sides of the road, then eventually on the road itself. This is going to be interesting, I thought to myself!

The last mile to the top of the mountains on Bald Peak Road was paved and mostly clear of snow. A heavy fog clung to everything, and the state park at Bald Peak was covered with a light layer of snow. It wasn’t raining, but the snow on the Douglas Firs was thawing, creating a “rain” where our picnic table was. Plus, the heavy fog meant that there was no view. We all ate our food (and I made my coffee) as fast as we could.

It was all downhill from there, of course. The first bit of descent was sketchy as there was snow on the road, and unseen gravel mixed in. Thankfully, it didn’t take too long to get out of the “snow zone”. We turned onto Laurelwood Road for the true screaming descent, announced by a warning sign of 18% grade! Thank you, disc brakes!

It wasn’t long until we were out of the Range and back into the Tualatin Valley lowlands. We stopped in the tiny town of Gaston at about 25 miles in for food and warmth. We could do a ten mile loop that would incorporate Williams Canyon Road, one of my favorite gravel roads out this way. But we were beat already. We all came to the realization that we hadn’t done that much “good” riding this season, mostly because the weather hasn’t been conducive (and also for me, because my Bantam has been out of commission for months). While we could have done the loop, we opted for the easier option of heading back to Hillsboro from here. This was on more mostly mellow farm roads with a bit of rolling action and a lack of traffic. We got into Hillsboro just before 5 pm and hopped on the MAX light rail.

I am really, really, really glad that I did the ride after all. It was a fun time, and it reminded me of why I love this area. And besides the snow and fog at the top of the mountains, it was pretty much dry, too. (There was a brief sprinkle while we were eating in Gaston.) I wish there were more people that showed up, but I’m going to try to do a variation of this ride again, except early fall when the weather is better. In the meantime, I plan on getting back out here for more bike explorations. Maybe you’ll join me?

The basic ride route here on RideWithGPS.