It’s been a while. Too long. My last bike camping excursion was in mid-October to Oxbow, and that was under less than optimal conditions, as I was getting sick. We’ve had some choice weather this past March, but it seemed like a lot of the good days (warm and sunny) also were really windy. To top that off, I’d been seeing reports of other people’s bike camp outs, and I was getting jealous.
So I was eagerly watching the forecast for the last weekend of March. The nice weather window would be closing, as a week of unsettled weather was promised for the beginning of April. But the weekend forecast kept on getting better and better, two full days of temps in the mid-to-upper 60’s, clear skies, and calm winds.
I chose Ainsworth State Park in the Columbia Gorge as my destination. I haven’t camped out there since 2017, which is a very long time for me. That’s because the devastating Eagle Creek Fire that happened at the end of summer 2017 pretty much closed most access to the Gorge for 2018. Riding into the Gorge has been “my jam” since about 2006, so I really wanted to get back out that way, especially to see how things looked.
There’s a big reason why the Gorge is my jam: accessible scenery. Ainsworth is about a 34 mile ride from my house. In that 34 miles I get to witness the majesty of the Gorge from viewpoints like Women’s Forum and Crown Point, and big and beautiful waterfalls like Latourell, Wakeenah, Horsetail, and Multnomah. I can find better camping in other locations, but I won’t get the same type of ride.
I took off from my house in the North Tabor neighborhood around noon on Saturday March 30th. Yeah, I should have taken off earlier, but I knew I didn’t have a long ride. Plus, after six months of not camping, it took a little bit longer than expected to get everything together.
The first third of the ride is not exciting, a trek through the eastern suburbs on busy roads. I could have just taken the light rail to shave off some of the riding, but it wouldn’t have shaved off much time, so I rode instead. Plus, I needed the riding, after a lack of long rides over the winter.
But then I crossed the Sandy River just east of Troutdale, and things got much better. Now I was in the country. A smile came across my face. The road was busy, as to be expected on a nice weekend, but I tried to not let it bother me too much. The sites along the way were humming with tourists. So my stops were pretty perfunctory, just enough time to savor the moment and head on. (And there’s lots of moments to savor!)
I didn’t see much evidence of the fire. The only noticeable places were the last four miles of the ride, between Multnomah Falls and Ainsworth. Here, the fire came down to the road. I saw plenty of blackened tree trunks. There were a few spots of clear cuts. And the area around Oneonta Gorge and Tunnel were closed off from the damage. I’m sure I’d see more evidence of fire if I continued further east (the fire began seven miles east of Ainsworth). But I was happy that the fire didn’t devastate everything.
I rolled into Ainsworth State Park around 5:30 PM. The park was busy, but not full. And to my surprise, I found actual hiker/biker sites! This is new. I typically try to get a spot in the wooded tent loop, since the unofficial hiker/biker over the past few years has been a grassy field near the horseshoe pits. But Oregon State Parks went ahead and built a true hiker/biker area, with several spots for tents and “hitching posts” to lock up bikes. But it still feels “undone” as there’s a fire pit with bench but no picnic table. Also, some food storage lockers would be a nice touch. Still, it’s a nice start.
What was more surprising was the lack of other cyclists. A nice March weekend at the end of spring break just seemed to be tailor made for a bike overnight. Maybe folks went elsewhere? So I enjoyed the semi-quiet* evening by myself, looking up to the starry sky while trying to get something on the Shortwave radio.
I awoke around 8 AM, made breakfast, and broke down camp. The ride back home was nice and pleasant, a bit less crowded than Saturday because I was passing through a lot of the area early. Still, Multnomah Falls and the Angel’s Rest Trailhead were choked with cars. (I watched a couple sheriffs ticketing badly parked vehicles.) Even though the ride through this zone is relatively short (about fifteen miles), with all the stops it feels like it takes all day. I got to Crown Point (13 miles in) at about 1:30 even though I left camp before 11 AM!
I got into downtown Gresham around 3 PM and had a late lunch and a long break. By then I was getting tired, so I opted to cut the ride short and take the MAX back home.
It was a great first camping trip of 2019! Everything worked, and I remembered most everything needed (except for coffee, but thankfully I had a few emergency VIA pouches packed in the kit.) And the Bantam worked like a dream. Now I’m really looking forward to more bike camping and touring!
*The biggest drawback of camping in the Gorge on the Oregon side is the proximity of I-84 to most campgrounds. And the Union Pacific mainline is just a couple hundred yards away, so you’ll hear trains day and night. Thankfully it’s not as bad as Viento State Park, where the tracks go right through the campground, meaning one gets to hear train horns all the time!