An optin’ outside, givin’ thanks kinda ride: Mon 27 Nov

Last Thursday (November 23) was Thanksgiving in America. For most, a four day weekend, a time to travel home and/or eat lots of food. For others, the start of the holiday shopping season. It’s become a big thing over the past couple years to buck the whole waiting-in-line at midnight for doorbusters by #optoutside. Y’know, don’t go shopping, do something outdoors instead. I get it, but it somehow feels a li’l smug to me, especially when I get bombarded by everyone’s “rad adventure” photos on Saturday.

And why is that? Well, since I work in hospitality, I don’t get things like four day holiday weekends, even for Thanksgiving. In fact I work most Thanksgivings and Black Fridays. I can’t do the crazy awesome adventures. At best, I can hope for a little something.

And a little something was what I was hoping for on Friday morning (November 24.) The weather was nice, and there was a late-edition Coffee Outside near my house. So I hoped to do a little ride on the way to work at 3. That all got thwarted when I got a bit of a head cold on Thanksgiving night. So no optin’ outside that day. Nor the next several days, since I was still sick, had to work, and the weather got crappy.

But Monday November 27 turned out pretty okay. I had a little bit of time off, so I decided it was now or never for a bike ride. And I was jonesin’ for something, since it had been awhile. Quick and easy was the order of the day, so I headed down towards the Columbia Slough. First stop, Columbia Children’s Arboretum, a fairly obscure and secret spot of woodsy solitude, theoretically featuring every state tree. I had been down here a month ago, and the leaves were mostly gone. This time, I decided to take the path closer to a slough side channel vs. the main route through the arboretum.

I winded my way out of there and westward until I hit Smith and Bybee Wetlands. Smith Lake was full of water and geese, and the rapidly setting sun shone through the alder forest that lined the banks. Another peaceful moment.

Kelley Point Park was just a few miles away, and there was still daylight, but I didn’t feel like going that far, especially since it was becoming rush hour and the traffic would get bad.* Only if I left earlier, oh well. I headed southward, crossing the Slough at the ped/bike bridge by the treatment plant. I steered for St Johns for food and drink. I soon realized that St Johns on a Monday isn’t the best idea, as it seemed like half the restaurants were closed. Still, I found a great Indian place, and got a drink elsewhere.

I’m really thankful that I have spots like the Children’s Arboretum, Smith and Bybee Wetlands, and other lands around the Columbia Slough close at hand. All I need is an hour or more to unwind and recenter, and I can easily do this with just a couple hours left of daylight on an almost-winter day.

*While there’s a “bike path” that goes all the way there and almost into St Johns, it’s really an overglorified sidewalk with lots of driveway crossings.


Slough Country Ramblin’, 14 May 2017

Originally I was supposed to head out to the east side of the Columbia River Gorge for a ride on Sunday. But this was going to be a carpool type affair with folks I didn’t know. And I got the word on Friday that fitting my bike was a “maybe”. Plus,ย the meet point was ten miles from my house, at 7 am. I said, nevermind, I’ll try it again some other time.

The initial weather forecast for Sunday May 14 was crap,* but something remarkable happened: Around noon the rain stopped and the skies cleared up a bit. Nice weather for a bike ride.

I decided to pull out the ol’ three speed, my trusty Raleigh Superbe. This was also the same weekend of the Lake Pepin Three Speed Tour. After going for three years in a row, this was the first year since I started going that I wouldn’t make it. I’m a bit bummed about this, but honestly, I’m not as bummed as I thought I’d be. Well, if I couldn’t be physically in the Midwest, at least I could be there in spirit!

It seemed as appropriate as ever for a nice little ramble down into the lands of the Columbia Slough, especially since I have an upcoming ride down here.ย What better time to test that route than now!

First stop was Columbia Childrens Arboretum to eat my lunch. This obscure park was peaceful (and a bit muddy) on this Sunday afternoon, just the hum of industry in the background. That’s the ultimate irony of the lowlands of the Slough: One moment you are in a forest of cottonwood and alder, or next to a peaceful pond. The next moment you’re near an auto wrecking operation or trucking company.

Further on, I took a pause by that secret slough by Heron Lakes Golf Course. Parking the Superbe against a pine, I had a postcard perfect scene. Nevermind that I-5’s roar is just less than a mile away, and quite audible.

I rambled further down the Slough trail. The bike/ped bridge across the Slough by the wastewater plant is open again, so good news. But I decided to press on. The water in Smith Lake was quite high. I made it all the way to the “edge of the peninsula”, Kelley Point Park, where the Willamette and Columbia meet. The rivers ran high here as well, swelling with spring rains, obscuring most of the sandy beaches.

I rode back towards town, using Marine Drive towards St Johns. The busy freight route was quiet this Sunday, but there were still trains a’moving and other things humming. St Johns was quiet. I got a couple slices of pizza for dinner, then a drink, and headed back home.

As I’ve said before, I’m not totally in love with living all the way out on the edge of NE Portland. But having the lands of the Columbia Slough so close by is a big perk. I can get to peaceful nature settings in a little over a mile by bike. I wouldn’t be able to do that in many other parts of town. And I can’t take that for granted.

*If I did go on the original Gorge ride, the weather would be nicer, since it was on the drier side of the mountains.

A taste of summer

After what seemed like the longest winter ever (or at least since as long as I’ve lived in Portland)* we’re finally getting a taste of nice weather. And in this case, summerlike weather, with the warmest weather of 2017 (so far).

Wednesday May 3 was sunny and warm, with a high of 82F/28C. After work I grabbed a burrito and high-tailed it over to Rivendell Ridge, aka “Dog Bowl” for some Burrito Outside action. Normally by this point of the year, I’ve done several burrito outsides/Sunset Burrito Clubs. This year, it’s just the second one!

On Wednesday May 4, it got even hotter, 85F/29C. It was a bit more humid, too. It’s rare that it’s warm and humid here, and that little bit of stickiness (and it was just a little bit) reminds me of summer on the East Coast. Because of the added humidity, there were scattered thunderstorms in the area throughout the afternoon, though none hit me.** (Though later that night, I got to watch quite the lightning show from a distant cell.)

I got a little more adventurous and headed east for pizza. I was in the north side of Montavilla, so I decided to hit up one of my favorite obscure natural areas, Rosemont Bluff. There was barely anyone around, the grass was high and the wildflowers blooming. Just perfect. Well, except running against prickly plants with bare legs, but that’s what summer is about, eh?

I further rambl’d through NE on the way home, hitting up the rough trail that hugs the north side of Rose City Golf Course (and sits beneath the Alameda Ridge.) I also meandered through Cully, finding yet another secret foot path that connected two unimproved streets. I love finding these secret nooks and crannies in my city!

The weather got damp and cool on Friday, but then got nice again starting Saturday. Relief.

And I can’t wait for more nice weather…

*And it’s true: We have actually had the wettest and coolest winter in about 30 years.

**Thunderstorms are pretty uncommon here, since the conditions are just not right. There is more of a risk east of the Cascades, and there are some “dry” (as in no rain) thunderstorms in the mountains during the summer. In fact, lightning strikes from these dry thunderstorms are the leading cause of summer forest fires.

A Leif Erickson ride, 16 April 2017

Sunday, April 16 2017. ย A pretty nice day around these parts. not that sunny, but dry and a high reaching 63F/18C. A nice day to be outside. I had no work or obligations. Where to go? Well, there was a ride heading out to the tulip festival in Woodburn. Sounded fun, but it would be at minimum a 70 mile round trip ride. I don’t know if I was in shape for that yet. Going out to the Gorge would be cool, but on a nice Sunday? Think of the traffic. (Not only that, but there was a stiff east wind today.) Nope, something closer to home, and shorter, since I didn’t leave the house until after noon. How about Leif Erickson Drive in Forest Park?

Yes, Forest Park, that vast wooden expanse stretching northward from downtown along the West Hills. I wanted some “woodsy” time, this would give me quite a bit of that! Sure, Forest Park isn’t exactly pristine wilderness, but it’s enough for me right now. And some sounds of the city can permeate the dense woods, but it’s pretty serene nonetheless.

I decided to enter Forest Park from the south, via NW Thurman St. I do this for a couple reasons: 1) Heading east across the St Johns Bridge via bicycle is easier than west and 2) Most of the climbing happens in the first mile or so. Not only that, but the first mile or two from the Thurman gate is the roughest section of the Leif Erickson trail, so it’s nice to ascend here than descend.

There were plenty of cars at the trailhead, and there were a decent amount of folks within the first couple miles. Beyond that, things thinned out a bit, though the trail had users on it the whole eleven miles on this nice Sunday. There were walkers, joggers-I mean runners, dogs, and other cyclists. The bikes ran the gamut: while this is considered a “mountain bike” trail, I did see folks with fairly skinny tires (28 mm?) and I also saw a few fat bikers too. ย (I was in the middle with my plump Rat Trap Pass tires, which did well on everything except mud.)

But I wasn’t here to see cyclists, I was here to see trees! And the ride didn’t disappoint in that department. All the creeks were flowing mightily with winter rains, the buds on the deciduous trees were in bloom, and there were trilliums everywhere I looked! The trail itself was in okay condition, though there was its share of puddles and mud.

I rode the whole length of Leif Erickson, then bombed down Germantown Road to the St Johns Bridge. I got dinner at Proper Eats (which is closing at the end of the month, alas.) Then it was a fairly short jaunt homeward…

Here is my route.

A pretty good day for a bike ride: Sunday March 12

Man, this winter. Even people who claim to luv Portland’s damp winters are pretty sick of the rain and the cold by now. We’ve had the coldest winter in a quarter-century, and every month is breaking the record for rain. Dry days have been scarce, and having two dry days in a row is too much to ask for.

But spring, spring is definitely coming. It’s starting to finally get warmer, ever so slightly. Which means those when those dry days happen, they are getting pretty nice. Friday March 10th was nice, but I had to work. But Sunday March 12th? I had off. Oh sure, I have a million things to do this week before I leave for my California vacation, and sure, I’ll have plenty of time next week to bike care-free around the sunny and warm Bay Area.

But goddamn it, I need a bike ride NOW.

So I put everything on hold, and just a bit after noon, I got on the Raleigh Superbe, and got riding.

Where to? Well, I’ve been fascinated with the milestones along SE Stark Street. Y’see, Stark follows the Willamette Baseline, and because of that, was one of the first “highways” leading out of town. Sometime in the mid nineteenth century, someone put up stone mileposts along the way, for fifteen miles out. Surprisingly, more than half of them survive! I’d seen the three extant ones east of 82nd many times (MP 2, 4, and 5 for those of you playing along at home.) But east of 82nd? I hadn’t seen any yet. So what better time than now, when it’s sunny and 60F/16C?

And saw these milestones I did! There were six to see MP 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 14. Now, Stark Street is a pretty crappy street for biking, esp. west of 162nd where it is a busy multi-lane thoroughfare lacking a bike lane. I stuck to parallel streets there, then got on Stark near 162nd to finish the rest of the quest. Yeah, even with the bike lane, it wasn’t exactly pleasant (and there was a moment where I thought I might die at the intersection with Burnside.) But I was more concerned with the milestones, and also the weird and random shit one sees out on these busy East County thoroughfares. If I led a bike ride out here, I’d stick to quieter roads where possible.

It was about 5 pm by the time I made it to the end, Milepost 14. The original plan was to head over to Powell Butte to watch the sun set and moon rise (full moon!), but the descent down into the Sandy River valley was too tempting, so I went that way. So I got to the beginning of the Historic Columbia River Highway. I haven’t been out that way since at least summer, and just the taste of the highway was tantalizing. But it was too late in the day for a jaunt to Crown Point, so I’ll save it for another nice day. Hopefully we’ll get another one!

Instead, I rode towards the Columbia. The goal now was Chinook Landing Park. The sunset was pretty good, moon rise, not so, since there were too many low clouds on the east horizon. It took awhile before the moon cleared them. At that point, I was on Marine Drive westbound, to home. I was a bit worried being at least ten miles out from home, since it’s pretty dark out this way. But my B+M Eyc headlamp with vintage 1968 Sturmey-Archer Dynohub worked great at illuminating the path ahead. And it was just so damn peaceful out. A great end to a great day.

At the end of the day, I had biked 52 miles, all on my three speed! And it felt fine. Oh Superbe, you are so superbe!

Now we just need another nice day…

Return to Tabor Mountain, March 1, 2017

March is upon us! First month of spring in the Northern Hemisphere! Woot! It’s been a long and wet and cold and snowy winter here. While we are definitely not done with rain and cool just yet, the onward charge towards Vernal/Northern Equinox (and summer solstice) means longer days. Longer days mean I don’t have to save my “going on a bike ride” type bike rides for one of my days off, I can actually do a ride after work!* Well, I mean, I could do a nice ride after work in the middle of winter, but sometimes it’s actually nice to see things, ya know. ๐Ÿ˜‰

The weather was decent on Wednesday March 1st, a high of 50F/10C, and not raining. A high of 50 is a bit cool for now, since the average is more like 55, but I took what I could get. My destination for a little ramble was up to Mount Tabor, a volcanic cinder cone about two miles (as the crow flies) east of work, and the highest point on the east side of the city. Nothing earth-shattering here, as I’ve been up to Tabor a bajillion and one times in my sixteen years in Portland. The biggest deal is I hadn’t been up there in a couple months, at least.

But goddamn, it sure was nice. It’s nice to be in a woodsy environment,** divorced a bit from the city while still in it. I’m lucky that we have quite a few places like this in town, within easy reach. And people were definitely enjoying the views and the ambience of the park when I was there. (It doesn’t hurt that Wednesday is the “car free” day, where some of the access roads are closed.)

And while I’ve always sort of liked Tabor from Day One, I didn’t truly appreciate this gem of a park until I moved close to the mount in late 2007. Before, I would get up into the park by the couple obvious routes, take in the view, and descend.*** Besides, the view from Rocky Butte is better. But moving closer to the parkย encouraged me to try out all the different ways one can access the park by either bike or foot. (And there’s a lot of ways!) And due to proximity it was just easierย to spend more time in the park, and explore the non-obvious corners. It’s not just about the view from the top or the reservoirs, no.

I didn’t spend a hell of a lot of time up there, just enough to be satisfied. I descended the mount via the east side, and headed to the Montavilla neighborhood, one of the many ‘hoods I’ve lived in, to get a beer and pizza. An afternoon well spent.

And that’s the thing: One doesn’t need to have an epic bike ride to have fun. It’s just about three miles to the top from work (though it’s a good eight miles home from there.) And I’m glad I have these opportunities so easily accessible!

*I typically work until 3 pm when I have a day shift.

**I hesitate to say “woods”. While there are many a tall Douglas-fir tree in the park, and from the distance looks like forest, the naturescape of the park is a bit too…managed (read: we clear out a lot of the underbrush) to give a full on “being in the woods feeling”. But it is close.

***And I also associated the park a bit too much with pot smoking and drum circles. Not that those things stopped…

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.