Trip Report: Stub Stewart cabins bike camping trip, New Years 2020

This isn’t my first Stub Stewart cabin rodeo! Nope, after this trip, I’ve stayed at the cabins at Stub Stewart State Park a total of seven times: Three of them Cycle Wild New Years Trips in 2011, 2012, and 2013, plus a non New Year Cycle Wild Trip in 2014. There was the trip with Pete Rhodes back in early 2017 and then the Emee and me excursion at the end of 2017. It’s almost like I’m an expert at going here. Or at least there’s nothing “new” about the experience. But it’s still a good experience!

Emee and I got on the MAX Light Rail near our house at about 12:30 on Monday December 30. I knew from the 2017 trip that a noon departure would mean riding into the night. We aimed for 10 AM but sometimes life gets in the way. Oh well. We had good headlights and didn’t mind a bit of night riding.

The train ride was uneventful and we got into Hillsboro, the end of the line, a little before 2. A quick stop for restrooms and a snack and we were on the road. The countryside begins just a mile from the station, and the next 10 miles featured pleasant cruising on country roads. The weather was as ideal as it gets for this time of year, cloudy and 47F/8C. It wasn’t going to rain or snow.

Leaving the Urban Growth Boundary.

And cruising those country roads, I was in the moment. I had been out this way so many times before that I don’t need cue sheets or maps. But it just reminded me of the good times of being out here. And I was riding. As much as I felt trepidation in late summer about losing my bike touring mojo, everything was fine. The bike felt just right, not sluggish, not uncomfortable. The only issue was a bit of disc brake squeak. I was just going, and it was good. Maybe I can do more bike tours in 2020 without being all neurotic about it?

We did a quick stop in Banks where we got supplies and then got on the Banks-Vernonia Trail. It would be another 12 miles until the cabins, the first 6 flat, the second half featuring that 3-4% logging road incline. By the time we hit the climb it was dark, our lights showing the way. Somehow the climb didn’t feel as bad as it has before. Maybe it’s because we can’t see? Normally, this area is a tree tunnel, and the incline not visible by eye, so you wonder why you’re struggling along at 7-8 miles an hour. Now we just rode.

It’s a good final mile of steep hill (7-10% grade), and then we were at the cabins around 6 PM. It was quiet all around. We had a hearty dinner, did a little reading, and slept.

The next day, Tuesday December 31, was the damp day. We stayed in the cabin for much of it, but did do a little hike. The trails were way muddy, beaten to a pulp by equestrian use. We only saw some sections of “improved” trail where gravel was the norm. Stub Stewart State Park is a weird beast: it was former private timber land, given to the state a few decades ago. It’s not a prime destination like say a hike in the Gorge is. There are no grand views or waterfalls, just second-growth forest in various states of regeneration. As such, it’s been designed with more “recreation” for the swelling Portland Metro area in mind–so equestrian and mountain bike trails* are the norm. But it doesn’t look like some of these trails get the love that they should.**

Anyways, despite concerns that there might be some serious partying going on by other cabin-dwellers by the set-ups they had rolled in, the Last Night of The Twenty-Teens was another chill one. Everyone else seemed to be tucked into their cozy cabins as the year turned*** and so were we.

We awoke to sunshine mixed with an occasional shower on Wednesday January 1, 2020. Emee and I made breakfast, packed up, and went. It’s a nice six miles of descent from the cabins, and after so many cold descents I’m smart enough to layer up before I go! We got to the bottom of the hill, delayered, and pressed on. The destination tonight: McMenamins Grand Lodge in Forest Grove. From a 2013 blog post:

The Grand Lodge is a historic property, a former Masonic group home, that was converted to a hotel plus restaurant and bar by the McMenamins brothers. For those outside the Northwest, the McMenamins shtick is to take over historic properties and convert them to some sort of lodging/restaurant/movie amalgamation. And they manage to keep prices affordable in the process. 

The Grand Lodge is a great place to spend a night: restaurants and bars on site, cozy areas with fireplaces to read or draw, and a soaking pool! Emee and I enjoyed ourselves.

Thursday January 2nd. It was a gray and misty day. We decided to hang out in Forest Grove for a little bit. Forest Grove is a small city of 20,000 about 25 miles west of downtown Portland. It sits at the western extreme of the Metro area, as such, we rarely come out this way. So we rode into downtown, had lunch at a brewery, did a little thrifting, and then rode east to Hillsboro.

While the distance from Forest Grove to Hillsboro is just about five miles, there is only one real way between them–Baseline Road, a state highway (OR 8) that is always busy. There is a consistent bike lane, so it’s doable, but not pleasant. We opted to meander for a little bit, heading south by Fernhill Wetlands for a few more miles of rural riding before the trip was over. We arrived in downtown Hillsboro at about 4 PM, the trip finished.

*****

It was a pleasant way to ring in the new decade. While going to the cabins at Stub Stewart is nothing new, it’s always nice. And it such a good bike trip, too–close enough that you can leave mid-day from the house, but far enough that you feel like you got a decent ride.

And I’m happy to see that everything went okay, bikewise, for both of us. This early-season bike camping has me excited to do more in 2020. Maybe I’ll even attempt a tent camping excursion before spring…

*If this was a pristine destination so close to the city, you’d know that there’d be push-back to mountain bike use.

**I know that there are work parties for the mountain bike trails here, but what about the equestrian trails?

***I’m guessing that the rain didn’t make for great “hanging-out-by-the-fire” weather.

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