I bike camped this week. This shouldn’t be a big deal to say here on the Urban Adventure League blog, since I’ve sort of wrapped my identity around bike camping and touring. But after a pretty minor 2019 bike camp/tour season and this whole pandemic we’re living under, it’s a bigger deal than it should be. While I did technically bike camp over the New Year when Emee and I went to Stub Stewart, that was cabins. The last time I pitched a tent was almost exactly one year ago, when I attended my friend’s wedding at Beacon Rock in the Gorge.
I’ve been wanting to get out and camp for oh so long, but the uncertainty and fear revolving around COVID had made me hesitant. And with the current situation of federal police teargassing protesters downtown, camping seems frivolous. But I knew that I needed a night alone in the woods for my mental well-being, and to prove that I could still do it.
For my first bike camping trip of the season I wanted something simple, something easy. I didn’t want some gnar bikepacking through the forest experience just yet, nor did I want to stealth camp nearby. But this coronavirus landscape has made the simple act of going to bike camp much more difficult. The closest campground to home, Oxbow, is closed. Dodge Park’s campground was unceremoniously shut down last summer, even before COVID. My go-to of Ainsworth State Park in the Columbia Gorge is open, but much of the historic highway is not, so I’d have to ride I-84 to get there. Not fun. The hike-in loop at Stub Stewart is shut down, meaning I’d have to camp in the meh main loop. And Milo McIver’s hiker/biker site has been shut down. So where to go?
I decided on a non-standard option: Barton Park on the Clackamas River. It’s 20 miles from my door and provides access to the river. And there’s a market right at the entrance, so supplying up for the night is easy. Yet I’ve never camped here. Why is that? Well, there’s no hiker/biker site, so I end up riding the extra ten miles up the river to McIver* if I wanted to go out that way. And it’s a seasonal campground, open only in summer. After an off-season of sticking close by, by the time June rolls around, I want to go further. And the biggest reason why I hadn’t camped at Barton is the yahoo factor. It’s the “put out” point for tubers who float six miles downriver to Carver. The river is quite the party scene in summer, and I’m sure that carries over to the campground. But perhaps that yahoo factor won’t be in effect on a weeknight?
So I went ahead and booked a site. I’m not taking chances during the pandemic. While most campgrounds wouldn’t turn away a cyclist if the campground was technically full, I’m not putting that policy to the test right now. And if anything, plunking down $30 (the most I’d ever want to spend for a campsite)** will make sure I don’t bail at the last minute.
I took off from my home around 3 PM on Wednesday July 22nd. The previous few days had been hot, but today was more tolerable, around 80F/27C. The first ten miles was through the far east side of Portland and Gresham on city streets. Nothing exciting, but nothing bad either. I took a break for late lunch in Gresham, then pushed on along the last five miles of the Springwater Corridor bike path. Eating a big falafel turned out to be not a great idea, as the heat of the day bared down on me. Plus, this is the section of the path with about a steady 2-3% upward grade. Even though this is technically the nicest part of the ride, it wasn’t that pleasant.
The trail currently dead-ends in the aptly named Boring, so the final five miles was on narrow country roads with great views of Mount Hood, but way too much fast traffic, especially at rush hour. The Springwater will eventually go through to Barton, but there’s a missing trestle over a canyon that needs to be built. For now, I have to ride a few miles of shitty road. Thankfully there were no close calls or incidents with traffic, and that’s a big deal in itself. Clackamas County isn’t renowned for courteous drivers.
After twenty miles of riding, I arrived in Barton at 6 and found my camping spot. I chose the primitive loop which is on the far east side of the park. It was wooded and shady, though fairly busy for a Wednesday night. The campsite was pretty far from the river. I could have walked down if I wanted, but decided to just chill in camp, make dinner, write some letters, read a magazine, and tune into the shortwave radio. (It’s eerie to tune into Radio Havana Cuba and hear them talk about the current situation in Portland.) I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the Neowise comet or some stars in general, but the sky clouded up as soon as the sun set.
After a so-so night sleep*** I awoke to a cloudy Thursday morning. This cloud cover was nice for the ride home! Instead of returning via Wednesday’s route (which would mean getting to do that five miles of crap while going up a big hill), I went home a different way, first west along the Clackamas River, then following I-205 through the southern suburbs. The first five miles on country roads was great, the reverse of Wednesday’s experience. I paused along the river at Carver Park for a bit, which was nice. The Clackamas has such a “mountain river” vibe to it that I love. And I can get to it in a couple hours by bike! I also got to ride on a new-to-me path, the Sunrise Corridor, which connects OR 224 to the I-205 Bike Path. And even though the routing was completely different, it was just about the same distance as Wednesday’s ride.
So I’m happy that I finally got to do a bike camping trip this year, even if the destination wasn’t that exciting. As someone who constantly worries that I’ve “lost my touch”, it’s nice to know that I can still do it. And I didn’t forget anything, which is probably a first! 😉 Will I camp at Barton again? Perhaps, but not anytime soon. There’s more exciting destinations around, either with better facilities, better scenery, or a combination of both. I’d be more willing to camp here again whenever the Springwater connects all-the-way. The Richey-Amissiger Road connection is too hairy for even this seasoned bicyclist.
And I really hope that when the good bike connection comes Barton Park will rise to the occasion. The completion of the last gap in the Springwater to Barton means there will be a continuous bike path from downtown Portland to the Clackamas River. It will be so easy for folks to bike out here, especially for families who want to bike camp. (No cars to worry about beyond street crossings!) Will Clackamas County Parks create a hiker/biker site for this new market? One can hope.
In the meantime, there are some other spots I hope to head to for bike camping. Champoeg isn’t a favorite, but their hiker/biker site remains open. It’s a big area that can fit a lot of tents, so I’m not worried about it being too full. Perhaps that’ll be my next trip?
*Or go even further up the Clackamas beyond Estacada to one of the National Forest campsites.
**And I really don’t ever want to pay that much, but sometimes one has to. I can definitely see the appeal to bush camping.
***I generally don’t get a great night’s sleep the first time I camp in awhile. My body needs to get used to sleeping on the ground.
Yay!! Super excited for you:)
Also, I hate that gap after Boring. Amisigger Rd is the biggest reason I don’t bike that way more often–even as a pretty damn not-squeamish-around-cars person, I’m always afraid I’m going to get squished on that road.
Yeah, I’d probably go out that way more as well if not for Amissiger. I’m really hoping that they get the Springwater finished in the next decade.
I’ve thought about looking for an alternate route west and east of Amissiger, but they all add miles, and I don’t know if they’d be necessarily worth it. Maybe someday I’ll take the van out there and check out those roads.
But still, there’s issues with riding that part of Clackamas County. This is basically where I’ve had all those dumb car incidents in the metro area: passed too close, “coal rolled”, things thrown at me, things yelled at me. And it’s on quiet roads with barely any traffic too! But it does look beautiful out there.