A taste of summer.

The last few days we’ve gotten our first tease of summer here in the Pacific Northwest, a “spring heatwave” if you will. It’s been pretty nice since last week, but since Sunday we’ve seen the thermometer go up: 65F/18C on Sunday, 74F/23C on Monday, and 80F/27C on Tuesday. Eighty degrees! But it’s supposed to get even hotter tomorrow (Wednesday), topping out at 85F/29C. Wow! It’s supposed to be low-80s on Thursday, then showers roll back in on Friday and it cools down to 60F/16C, which is normal for this time of year.

When these previews of summer hit, I try to take full advantage of them. I’m glad that my Three Speed Ride happened on Sunday. On Monday I had an event to go to downtown in the evening so I rolled out the Bantam then headed north to St. Johns, over the bridge, and into Forest Park via Springville Road* to ride nine miles of the Leif Erikson Trail. It was great. I hadn’t been out there since fall, and thankfully the trail was pretty dry. Coupled with the ride up to Powell Butte on Sunday, I got quite a bit of “mountain biking” done recently!

Tuesday I had to work, so in the evening I pulled out the Trangia 27 Stormcooker stove set and headed over to Farragut Park to make a taco dinner outside. I love cooking outside for dinner, especially when it’s too damn hot to do it indoors. And using a camp stove gives me a little taste of camping. I wish I could get out this week, but work has gotten in the way.

I know I’ll think differently in August, but I can’t wait for summer. And there’s something about summer in the Northwest that you can’t know unless you’ve done one. It’s just the way it feels. Back home in Connecticut summer usually meant hazy humid days. When I lived in North Carolina for a year, it was even hotter and more humid. And the Bay Area? Ha! What’s summer?** But here we have long and dry days. Yeah, it can (and will) get hot, but you can find relief in the shade. And it cools down at night. So when I get that first feeling of that warm air, I just think of all the promise and adventure summer can bring. And I can’t wait.

*If you know Forest Park, you know that Springville from the St. Johns Bridge is ridiculously steep. I know this, but conveniently forget until I do it. (How steep? Well, the inclinometer maxxed out at 20%. Yes, I had to walk a bit.) Unfortunately the other option is Germantown Road. The grade is mellower at about 6%, but it’s a narrow and winding road with no shoulder and lots of fast traffic. Fun going down, though.

**If you don’t know what I mean, soak in this quote that it commonly (mis)attributed to Mark Twain, “The coldest winter I ever spent is a summer in San Francisco.”

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A Leif Erickson ride, 16 April 2017

Sunday, April 16 2017.  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.  (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.

Coffeeeuring 2015, Ride 5B, Wed 4 Nov: Where I introduce my Bantam Rambleneur to Forest Park.

Another decent fall day in Portland, a day I had off. What to do? Well, I have been wanting to ride the eleven miles of unpaved that is Leif Erickson Drive through Forest Park for quite some time. Not only would there be some fall color, but I have not yet ridden the Bantam Rambleneur through there, a bike that just says “unpaved roads”. And why not get in another coffeeneuring adventure to boot!

I zoomed from my house down N Vancouver to the Broadway Bridge, then worked my way up through NW to the Thurman Street gate, with a quick pause at Food Front for lunch supplies. Leif Erickson was surprisingly busy for a mid-week mid-afternoon (at least the first half), but then again, since the sun goes down now around 5, people have to get their Forest Park action in early!

The Bantam Rambleneur handled surprisingly well. Part of that is due to handling, but also because I smartly lowered the pressure of the tires to about 20 psi. This is something I should always have done with my high-volume tires, but stupidly rarely do. Even the really rough first couple miles didn’t feel bad this time. The trail was pretty damp and muddy in spots (and will be this way until spring), but the tires handled everything well.

At about milepost 3 1/2, at the junction of Chestnut Trail, is a picnic table where I customarily stop for lunch, so I did. This is where I also made coffee. Coming into duty was my classic Esbit coffee maker. I used some of the Five Points “High Score” beans (ground with a GSI Java Mill.)  I drank coffee and ate while watching a bunch of mountain bikers zoom by, plus some people on cross bikes. (Tis the season.)

The rest of the miles glided by. It was a bit past peak foliage, but there was still enough color to be found. I made my way to the end of the trail, zoomed down paved Germantown Road to the Saint Johns Bridge and then into Saint Johns itself where I had a nice pint of Altbier at Occidental. Then home, through the dark North Portland night.

  • Bike taken: Bantam Rambleneur
  • Distance: 26.3 mi/42.3 km
  • High temp: 53F/12C
  • Coffee: Five Points “High Score” blend
  • Brewed via: Esbit coffee maker
  • Bike friendliness: Off roading, man!
  • Route map: Ride With GPS
  • Special note: I have now completed the seven rides needed for the coffeneuring challenge, as two of the weeks had two rides! But I’ll still coffeneur…

A Memorial Day Ramble

I had to work this Memorial Day Monday, as do I every Monday, but hey, I get holiday pay! And it was an interesting day at the hostel: We saw two German cyclotourists depart for Astoria. They had ridden up from San Francisco, partially on the coast (yes, yes, the wrong way), and partially via Sierra Cascades. They’ll be heading north again, up to Vancouver Island!

And it was also interesting due to racoons. We found a veritable nest of raccoons on the ecoroof of the hostel. My manager decided to shoo them away with a rake, so they promptly climbed the tall cedar next to the house. Well, apparently there’s a crow’s nest atop said tree, and the crows didn’t like it. The alarm was set, and dozens upon dozens of crows descended on the cedar to shake the three racoons out! It was an entertaining show, for sure.

After that, I felt that a good ride was in order. The weather was good, and being a holiday the roads would be relatively quiet. I ambled up towards Forest Park, as a good “ride-through-the-woods” was in order. On the way I passed by the Better Naito demonstration project on the waterfront. Michael Anderson of BikePortland was checking it out with Ryan Hashagren. I chatted for a moment and headed on.

Despite it being a holiday, Leif Erickson was pretty quiet. I saw some joggers and a few other cyclists on this unpaved path, but it was all within the first couple miles, save for a lone cyclist I encountered at the junction with Saltzman. I felt like I had this vast wooded refuge all to myself! When I had dinner at the picnic table by the creek by milepost 3, food picked up at Food Front Co-Op in NW, all I could hear was the gurgle of the creek and assorted animal sounds. The city had retreated.

This is why I love coming to places like this. Oh sure, Leif Erickson isn’t a “true” mountain bike experience (read: not singletrack), but I was still in deep woods, all within the city of Portland, all starting about seven miles from work. And man, it’s Pacific Northwest forest, with ferns and ash and bigleaf maple and Oregon-grape and of course, Douglas-fir. I had spent time in the woods in the midwest during the trip, and they were nice, but there is something about the west-of-Cascades forest, something magical, something otherworldly. It’s hard to describe if you haven’t been in one. And I needed that experience again, something to remind me why I am here, why I love this place.

And after bombing down Germantown Road after finishing up the 11 miles of Leif Erickson, what better way to remind myself of my Portland love by crossing the St. Johns Bridge? Oh sure, bike lanes would be lovely, but taking the right-most lane at 8 pm on a quiet night wasn’t bad, and I was greeted with a great view of Portland below me as the sun began to set. The city that I’ve called home for over 14 years. Why don’t I stop for a quick drink in St. Johns then head home? Why not?

I got home after dark, tired from the 25 mile ride I did. An afternoon well spent.

//ridewithgps.com/trips/4764151/embed

A Leif Erikson Ramble, 10 March 2015

I had a lot of ideas for what I could do for my “adventure day” this week. But on Monday night, I got the itch to ride as much on dirt as possible. While there are several options around Portland, the longest unpaved road/trail open to bikes in the area is Leif Erikson Drive which winds for over 11 miles in Forest Park. And a nice loop could be made out of it. I hadn’t been up to Leif Erikson in a good year, so a trip was overdue, especially since I want to do adventures in areas that I had never been, or areas I rarely go or haven’t been to in awhile. So the choice was easy!

After about a seven mile ride from my house up through the Northwest neighborhood, I entered Leif Erikson Drive at the NW Thurman St trailhead. I chose this trailhead to start with because it features a gradual climb from about 300 feet in elevation to about 600-700 feet in elevation, which is the elevation Leif Erikson stays in for the most part on its course. Other access points would mean steeper climbs. Plus, Leif Erikson is at its roughest for the first couple miles (this used to be a paved road for cars up until the 1980s, and they didn’t do that great of a job of removing the pavement in this section), so I’d rather be ascending here than descending.

The first few miles feel the most “urban” despite all the trees around. That’s probably because of the industrial district and its attendant noise below. The tree canopy is a bit more open (and a lot more deciduous) here, so it means better views but less soundproofing.

This feeling goes away, though, as the forest gets deeper and the drive winds in and out of the many little valleys and canyons on this side of the Tualatin Mountains (aka West Hills). Just after milepost 3.5 there is a picnic table at the junction of two creeks (and next to Nature Trail and Chestnut Trail). I had a bit of lunch here. I always stop here, as I love sitting beside a babbling brook. And the babble of the brook was all I really heard!

At about milepost 6, Leif Erikson Drive intersects Saltzman Road, another unpaved path open to bicycles. I could have dropped down from here and out of the park, but that would put me on busy NW St Helens Road (US 30) right at the peak of rush hour. No, I wanted to continue riding a bike on a path in the woods. And the second half of Leif Erikson I find the best part. The Douglas-fir forest here feels more “deep” and mature, and the surface at its best (though man, it would be really nice if they regraded it at some point!)  It’s one of those “I can’t believe I haven’t even left the city limits, in this city of 600,000” type of experiences, and I wanted to milk it for what it’s worth.

This part of the ride goes by remarkably fast, and soon I found myself at the intersection of Springville Road (just past MP 9), another unpaved path leading out. This is where I would normally leave Leif Erickson, but I wanted to go all the way to the end at Germantown Road, especially since somehow I had never done the last two miles of trail!

The big problem with going all the way to Germantown is this road is one of the main ways over the West Hills in this area. The road is windy, steep, narrow, and highly trafficked. But I would be going downhill at about 30 miles an hour, so no big deal. (If I was climbing it, however…)

And I was back on the mean streets of Portland. I rode across the St Johns Bridge into North Portland and from there home. It was about a 30 mile loop altogether. I know that Leif Erikson isn’t a true “mountain bike” trail (and Forest Park has a lack of those, much to local mtb’ers chagrin), but the dirt road in the woods adventure is the type of stuff I like.

A few rides to clear my head (and stuff done to the XO-3)

Waiting for the Canby Ferry

If you read my post last week, you know it hasn’t been a particularly easy time for me. But I’ve been doing ok, at least after the initial shock. One way to get my mind off things is to go out on a bike ride. I liked that idea so much, I took two.

The first one happened last Saturday, July 27. My friend Brad organized what he called the “Totally Generic Century”, a 102 mile loop around Portland. Nine of us met up in inner SE at 8(ish) to test the route. The first quarter traversed familiar lands and used the Springwater Corridor trail to get out to rural Clackamas County. Then it was 25 miles over some serious rolling terrain on quiet country roads with great scenery and views. We broke for lunch in Canby and then crossed the Willamette by the Canby Ferry. There are three vehicle ferries on the Willamette between Eugene and Portland, yet up until now I never crossed any of them! Check that off the list.

It was about 10 miles later  until we got to our major hurdle: on the outskirts of Wilsonville the road we intended to use did not exist anymore! Rather than attempt to detour to get back onto our route, we opted to shorten things up and head back to Portland. (It was getting late, we were tired, and it was a warm day.) Our 100 mile day turned into an 80 mile one instead. Hey, it’s still more than a metric century, right?
On Monday I opted for a solitary ramble with the Bridgestone XO-3. I haven’t ridden it for awhile, as it was in the shop getting a new rear wheel built, so it was nice to put it through the paces. I headed out on Leif Erickson Drive through Forest Park, as I hadn’t been there in a bit. I got new Resist Nomad 700x45C tires (the Panaracer Paselas that I initially installed on it got switched over to the Long Haul Trucker). While unpaved Leif Erickson Drive is rough regardless of tire width, it was a noticeably comfier ride with the fatter tires. (Score!)

This time I took Leif Erickson all the way to Springville Road, a distance of about 10 miles. This is the longest stretch of the road I’ve done in years, as my previous adventures had ended at Saltzman. From Springville I crossed too busy St. Johns Bridge into North Portland. From there I meandered along the bluffs above the Willamette, passing by some of my favorite spots in Portland like the fabled Dead Madrona Tree of Rivendell Ridge. 

Oh yeah, eagle-eyed readers may notice a few changes to the XO-3, changes that I haven’t had time (or have been too distracted) to mention. I swapped the generic drops with Nitto Mustache bars (and Nitto Dirt Drop stem) provided courtesy of Big Dummy Daddy. (Thanks, Andy!) And the clamp-on Sun Tour downtube shifters? Gone, replaced with Shimano bar-ends. All done up with some cloth tape, twine, and shellac. Much more Bridgestonesque/Rivendellesque/Petersenesque. (I know, I know, the 1992 XO-3 didn’t come with mustache bars, but whatever.) Also to note is the green Carradice Lowsaddle Longflap that I got from Nick of Gypsy By Trade.

One other thing to note about the tires and wheels: Unlike my other primary bikes, the XO-3 is fenderless.* I did have some Planet Bike Fenders on for one hot second when the 700x35C Panaracer Pasela Tourguard tires were on it. Then I got the fatter Resist Nomads** and there just wasn’t enough clearance, so the fenders went. Thankfully it’s summer in Portland so I don’t have to worry about rain, but when the rains return I’ll have to decide whether to install janky clip-on fenders, go for a smaller tire, or abandon the bike until drier weather returns. Any thoughts, people?
*Or, if you are like that, mudguardless.
**Though the Resist Nomads are billed as 45 mm wide tires, folks who have physically measured them said they are more like 41 mm wide.

The Tuesday Ramble: West Hills Hiking, 2 April 2013

The Portland area is rich in points of interest. Too rich, if you ask me. There are so many great places to go to that it’s hard to go to them all, all the time. Every time I end up on Powell Butte, or Rocky Butte, or biking Leif Erickson, or up to Kelley Point, or (insert location here), I wonder aloud, “Wow, it’s been awhile since I’ve been here! I need to come here more often!” And of course, it will again be awhile before I return to said location.

Trillium in bloom.

But there is one type of thing I don’t do as much as I should, and that is hike. Yes, I get around a bunch, but it’s all mostly by bike. But a foot-oriented adventure is rare. I realized that the last time I went on a true walk or hike was in October when I led the Council Crest Climb. That’s half a year ago. So I made a point on one of my days off to head towards the West Hills for a pedestrian adventure.

Balch Creek as it descends into a culvert.

I decided to start my hiking adventure in one of my favorite spots: Macleay Park in NW. Macleay is now considered part of larger Forest Park, and its main feature is Balch Creek and the steep canyon it creates. I really like Balch Creek, as it is the closest and easiest mountain-style creek that is close to where I live. Pretty much every creek on the flatter east side of Portland has been paved over. The major exceptions are Crystal Springs Creek and Johnson Creek, which are not too far from where I live. But both creeks don’t have a lot of “drop” and the lands surrounding them are pretty developed. The West Hills have lots more creeks due to the geography, as it was harder to bury the creeks. And because of the steepness of the hills, the creeks have much more drop, making them more the “babbling brooks” of my East Coast childhood memories.

Balch Creek is paralleled by a trail (Lower Macleay) and the path quickly leaves the more urban environs of NW to the sheltered wooded canyon leading upward. The trail passes many a little waterfall and large tree, and meets the “Mainline”, the Wildwood Trail, near the spooky Stone House. I call the Wildwood the “mainline” because it is a 30 mile long hiking trail following the West Hills. It starts right near the Zoo and heads north for most of the length of Forest Park. I’ve explored most of the five-mile section from the Zoo to the Stone House, but the upper 25 miles is still a mystery. I definitely want to do more exploration of this area in the future. But for now, I’ll head south towards the Zoo with a quick stop at the Audubon Center where I’ll get to see a great horned owl.

Wildwood Trail.
Pittock Mansion.
The view.

It was about a half hour of hiking upward on the Wildwood to the next point of interest, Pittock Mansion. Henry Pittock was the publisher of local newspaper The Oregonian. Being a man of wealth, he built his home high in the West Hills (1,000 feet elevation) with one of the best views in town. Now it’s a city park.

From there, I descended through the tony neighborhood of Willamette Heights and back down to the bike. It was a good three or so hour circuit of walking. I need to get back up into the hills for some more hikes soon!

Thurman Street Bridge at Macleay Park.

For more photos, go here.

Rough Stuff in Forest Park, Part 2: The Monday Ride

You may remember that all the way back in December I took the Raleigh Crested Butte on its first true Rough Stuff ride through Forest Park. Even though Forest Park is right over there, I rarely go to it, and this was the first time in a number of years that I had biked through it. It was a lot of fun, and I promised myself I’d be back soon.

And we all know how that story goes. Despite my intentions, I didn’t end up going back until Monday. And it’s interesting that I went up on Monday, as it was just one day after I led the Three Speed Ride. You figure I would need a break, no? But after the completion of the Three Speed Ride, I had a lessening of obligations for a change. I also was in the mood to ride, and the weather was cooperating: sunny, high 57F/14C. I had Monday and Tuesday off, and Tuesday promised (and delivered) rain. So Monday it was.

Of course, I took my sweet time in getting there. The entrance from Forest Park is a good six or so miles from my house, and I ended up stopping a few times before I got there. Coupled with the late start, it was around 3:30 pm when I entered the park at the Thurman/Leif Erikson Gate. My plan was to ride the part of Leif Erikson I missed in December: the six miles from Thurman St to Saltzman Road.

And now a word about Forest Park itself: Forest Park is the largest park in Portland, sometimes erroneously labeled the largest city park in the US. While it isn’t, it’s still big, one of the largest urban forest preserves in America. The park consists of the eastward slopes of the Tualatin Mountains north of the Northwest neighborhood, this range known locally as the West Hills. Heights of the hills range from 800 to 1500 feet. The area that now consists of Forest Park was logged in the nineteenth century, but eluded attempted development until the early twentieth century, when enterprising developers built Leif Erikson Road along the hills with hopes of building exclusive residential districts. Well, that would have happened if it wasn’t for the unstable slopes of the Tualatin Mountains continual slide downward towards the river.* The plans were thwarted, the city bought up the land parcel by parcel over the years, and it became the park it is today. Leif Erikson was either depaved or allowed to rot, so now its a graded but rough and muddy dirt road traversing the park.

The first 1 1/2 miles on Leif Erikson from NW Thurman Street is a steady climb from about 200 feet in elevation to 600 feet, and then it mostly plateaus with some up and down action. (The highest point of the ride was about 800 feet high.) The first 1 1/2 miles was dry but the roughest section, with lots of rocks in the roadbed. I also saw the most people on this section of the trail, mostly joggers and dog walkers. Not a lot of folks, despite it being a beautiful day. Then again, it is a weekday afternoon. I’m guessing next week when Daylight Savings takes hold and the sun sets at 7pm, we’ll see more after work warriors up here. After the first couple miles I saw only cyclists, and only four at that.

After the initial 1 1/2, the road got muddier, though not as muddy as I expected. Things pretty much looked like variations of this photo for the rest of the way to Saltzman.

The one drawback to Leif Erikson is there isn’t much of a view from the road, though you do see more during the winter when the leaves are bare. While you definitely feel like you are in the woods the whole time, just below the path is the industrial lands that hug either side of the Willamette. The eyes see forest, the ears hear freight trains, ship horns, the clang and clamor of industry, and the low-grade hum of traffic.

This changes when the path turns inward towards the hill to follow the contour of a creek valley. After three miles in, Leif Erikson crosses Rocking Chair Creek, where one of the few picnic tables on the road are located. I take this opportunity for a snack break. Here the noise of the city is drowned out by the quietness of the forest and the gurgling of the brook. A small dam is located on the creek.

Another three miles and I reached the junction with Saltzman Road. While there are a few other fire roads I could have turned on to get back down to river level, those tend to be steep tracks, whereas Saltzman promises a gentler, better graded descent. At the junction is another picnic table, renowned as Forest Park’s version of Westpoint Inn. I took this opportunity to clean off the buildup of mud that had formed on my front fender.

Saltzman Road to the left, Leif Erikson Drive to the right.

And now the descent out of the park. It was about five minutes of coasting and braking down Saltzman to the Saltzman Gate. I paused here for a second and realized that one of the bolts attaching my front rack to front forks had gone AWOL. Shit. Well, I’ve got three other attachment points…

It was about another 3/4 of a mile down the non-park section of Saltzman. The road is still narrow, but paved. (Roughly paved, I might add.) A few houses line the street. I wonder what it must be like to live out here, tucked onto the side of a forested hill, above the industrial district, a few miles in any direction from anywhere to go. Secluded and isolated comes to mind.

And after the descent, I was presented with the clang and dirge of NW Industrial, and high-traffic NW Saint Helens Road (US 30), clogged with commuter traffic. Such a different world than the wooded wonderland I just left. The ride back to central Portland was fast and boring. I’ll be back to Forest Park soon, promise.

Like most creeks running down from the West Hills, Saltzman Creek is sent underground for its last stretch under the Industrial District and to the Willamette River.

More photos here.

*This didn’t stop developers from building on the hills south of here, though. Pro tip: Not a good place to be when the big earthquake hits.