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, 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. 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.

Coffeneuring 2016, Ride 3: 19 Oct 2016

Wednesday, October 19. A break in the crappy weather we’ve been getting all month, though the nicest of the weather happened in the morning. When I woke up, it was sunny. But it was my day off, so I didn’t get going early enough to capture the sunniest part of the day. By the time I got going for my Coffeeneuring adventure it was closing in on two. The sun had turned to clouds, and the forecast called for a chance of showers. Oh well. I was going in a ride today, dammit!

The point of the ride (obviously) was to complete another ride in the Coffeeneuring Challenge, plus my own Three Speed October challenge. But where to go? I wanted something with a little bit of length, but not that far, and not that hard. How about head out to Kelley Point Park? It’s about nine miles from my house via flat bike paths for the most part. And I hadn’t been there in a bit, since it’s one of those “close yet far enough” destinations, and also since it’s not on the way to anything, since it’s the northwest tip of the eastside, at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. Why not?

I got out the door somewhere after 1:30, after I hurredly threw together something resembling a lunch, since there would really be no place to get food on this trip. (Why did I not pick up something the night before, when I was at store? Damn my stupid lack of planning.) The sunny weather had changed to the ominous high clouds that foretell more unsettled weather coming. Still, I got to take in awesome views of the snow covered volcanoes (in this case, St. Helens, Adams, and Hood) as I crossed the tracks on the Vancouver Ave Viaduct.

Rather than go directly to the Point, I stopped at a secret spot on one of the orphan channels of the Columbia Slough next to Heron Lakes Golf Course. Even though this is only three miles from my house, I had never been to this stone wall overlook until the Midnight Mystery Ride last month. See? There’s still plenty to explore in this town, even for someone so steeped in this town. I made some coffee here via my Esbit coffee maker and at some lunch. It was pretty peaceful here, it seems like no one knows about this spot except dogwalkers, blue herons, and possibly an otter. The drone of Interstate 5, barely a mile east, was easy to ignore.

More flat bike path action westward towards Kelley Point Park, with a pause at Smith Lake. It’s a seasonal floodplain lake connected to the Columbia Slough. In the middle of summer there’s no water in it, but after the good rains we’ve had this month, it’s starting to fill up, but nowhere near “full”. It’s a pretty peaceful spot despite the occasional clangs of industry and freight trains in the distance.

I got to a mostly deserted Kelley Point Park around 4. It was pretty quiet, only a few dog-walkers, so it felt like I had the whole park to myself. Even in the middle of summer, when it’s humming, it never feels quite “full”. By now, there were a few spits of sprinkles, so there goes the idea of a totally dry ride. The spot I gravitate to, the picnic table right at the confluence, is a great place to watch the ships plying the two rivers, whether giant ocean-going freighters or more humble river-going barges. There was plenty of both today, as it seemed like there was something big passing the Point every five minutes or so. While I know it doesn’t “count” towards the challenge, I decided to make some more coffee, this time with the integrated Esbit stove/pot to boil water for pourover. (And yep, still using the Trader Joes “Tanzania” that I used the last time!)

After my coffee, I hustled towards the St Johns neighborhood, about five miles down the road. I didn’t really feel like getting caught in the rain out here, and this part of the trip was mostly light-industrial with more traffic. I got some dinner at my favorite St Johns place, Proper Eats, then finished it with some fine German style beer at Occidental Brewing. At that point, it was dark and really raining, so no getting around it: put on the rain cape, grit teeth, and head home. I stayed mostly dry, thankfully.

By the numbers:

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2016

  • Ride No: 3
  • Destination: Kelley Point Park
  • Miles: 24 total
  • Coffee: Esbit coffee machine and pourover, using Trader Joes Tanzania.
  • Bike: Raleigh Superbe

A Kelley Point Ramble and a bonus Coffeeneuring adventure

It’s November, and I’ve been feeling it. November is possibly the toughest months because of the onslaught of winter, which means short days and rain. Not only that, November can be stormy, and it has been just that. Wednesday November 18 was a niceish day in between two very soggy days. While I had many things I wanted/needed to accomplish, one thing I needed was a little bike ride. I cancelled the last two big rides due to weather, and haven’t had anything substantial since the Forest Park ride two weeks back. If anything, I needed a ride for my mental health!

I decided to head out to Kelley Point at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. It’s been a few months since I had been there, so a good excuse to go back up that way. Plus, this nine-mile ride to the Point has the benefit of being mostly bike paths the whole way there. In fact, only the first mile from my house is on streets. Low stress!

The ride there was pretty straightforward, a ride I’ve done dozens upon dozens of time. The only new and interesting thing was the bike path connection at North Denver Avenue. Previous to the new construction here, the options to continue on the bike path was either ride the wrong way on an off-ramp, or cross a very busy street that had no marked crossing. But now, that off-ramp is closed to cars, so bikes can use it stress free!

At Kelley Point, I had a tea break. This is the butt end of the Coffeeneuring Challenge, at least to those of us doing the rides mid-week. While I have fulfilled the obligation of seven coffeeneuring rides in during the challenge, why not a bonus one? I enjoyed a cup of Steven Smith Tea (Brahmin Blend) while watching tugboats and kayaks navigate the cold, cold waters.

From the Point I headed towards Saint Johns for food and beer. While most of this ride follows bike paths, bike lanes, or low-traffic streets, there is a very sketchy short connection along busy and shoulderless Columbia Blvd to get into Chimney Park. I really hope the city does something about this soon, because when they do, cyclists can have a seamless, mostly pleasant loop ride up to Kelley Point.

After the beer and food, I headed back to my house in the wet, dark night.

  • Distance: 22 mi/35.4 km
  • High temp: 52F/11C
  • Bike: Bantam Rambleneur
  • Tea: Steven Smith Brahmin Blend
  • Brewed via: Esbit stove/pot combo
  • Bike friendliness: Much of it bike paths.
  • Route map: Ride With GPS

A hot Wednesday ramble up to Kelley Point, 12 Aug 2015

It’s mid-August and I feel summer fleeing. Though the weather is hardly fall-like: Right now, we have tied our record of 90F (32C) and above days, which is 24 days in a year. And summer ain’t over, I’m pretty sure we’ll break it.  All these hot days have made me lethargic, and I haven’t adventured as much as I’d like.

Nor have I camped as much as I want. Let’s face it: I haven’t been in a camping mood lately. Partly because of the heat (where I end up may be cool, but I still have to get there),  partly because work has worn me out, meaning I haven’t had the energy to go to further camping destinations, and partly because I’m bored of most of the stuff nearby. Now I do have a couple cool adventures planned before summer’s over. But I was honestly hoping of camping about every other week. And that’s not happening.

Take, for example, my past “weekend”. Since I don’t have real weekends off, my weekend was Tuesday and Wednesday. I had the idea of taking the bus out to the coast and camping at Cape Lookout, one of my favorite camping destinations. But by Monday night I was worn out from work, leaving me with no energy for planning or packing for a camping trip, one that I’d have to leave for fairly early Tuesday morning. So I skipped it, with the idea that I’d “do something” with my time off, but I didn’t know what yet.

Tuesday was mostly spent catching up on household things, emailing people, and zoning out. I woke up late Wednesday morning (yeah, I wish I could be one of those folks who can get up early and ride), got distracted (more emails to people, more stupid stuff on the internet), and before I knew it, it was 4pm, and it was of course 90F. But screw it, I needed to get out of the house. So I got on my bike and went.

But where to? Going to Kelley Point would be relatively easy (about 9 miles away) and flat, so I didn’t have to sweat up big hills in this heat. And the way there is mostly bike path too! Some of the path had recently been closed due to construction at the Denver Ave viaduct, but they’ve reopened it all, so now it is possible to ride the slough sidepath all the way from N Vancouver Ave westward to N Portland Road!

One of the things that shocked me about the ride was the lack of water. I knew that we are in a drought, but I had never seen the Columbia Slough so low. What was more surprising was Smith Lake, as there is no “lake” there anymore: it’s completely dried up and covered in grass and other low plants. I walked out a bit on the lakebed because it was so eerie, but the cracked surface made walking difficult. And unfortunately ATVs have found this dry lake as well, as you can see their ovious tracks on the playa. Ugh.

Onward I pressed towards Kelley Point, where I hung out for a little bit. This park is generally sparsely used, since it’s miles from the nearest house. But it’s got a beach (or two beaches, one on the Willamette River, the other on the Columbia) so there were a bit more folks here. I should have expected this: while it’s a weekday, it’s a hot weekday. And it’s after work, too. I can’t fault the appeal, since this beach also offers a bit of shade. (Broughton Beach, about 10 miles east on Marine Drive, has a bigger/better beach, but no shade.) Still, I was hoping for a little more solitude, so I didn’t hang out super long.

But I did appreciate the time I spent there. It made me wish that I got going earlier in the day, early enough so I could have spent several hours here, hanging out by the water. I’d bring more food, a book, the sketchbook, enough for me to last the day. But I would have had to get going early, something that’s hard for me to do on a lazy day. So I have to settle for a quick ride in the afternoon, right when it’s hottest. Eh.

The other thing I realized is how much I like being by big rivers. When I was in the San Juans a few weeks ago, I got jealous of those living so close to the sea, even folks in Seattle. When I got off the train at King Street Station, I could smell the salty air immediately. Portland’s as far inland as I’ve ever lived. But there’s something…serene about a big old river, something you don’t get from the ocean or sea. (Water warm enough to swim in, for one.) I wouldn’t get this feeling living in Seattle, though Vancouver BC has the Fraser on the far end of town.

I decided to move on and head into St. Johns for dinner and drinks. Along the way I ran into Timo who was leading a bike ride through Pier Park. A nice end to a nice ride.

Three Speed Ramble to Kelley Point: 18 Feb 2015

After camping the week before, I knew that I would have a more low-key adventure this week, especially since I had things to do and social obligations on both of my days off (Tuesday and Wednesday.) The weather was a bit better on Tuesday, sun and high of 64F/18C (I wore shorts and sandals!) but it worked out better to do something on Wednesday. This day was overcast and a high around 55F/13C, more typical weather for this time of year, but it felt a tad…cold after a week of above 60s weather. (I know that all you folks in the east with highs around 5F can totally relate right now! 😉 )

I decided that my adventure would be along the bottomlands along the Columbia River, which are practically out my back-door. This area is a favorite of mine, as it hits up a lot of things on the checklist: bodies of water, good views (when clear), bike paths, natural areas (in between industry), and just the notion that one is off the beaten path. I decided to head all the way up to Kelley Point, the furthest-most point on the North Portland “Peninsula”, where the Columbia River (and Columbia Slough) meets the Willamette. It’s not particularly far, about 10 miles from my door, but because it is never on the way to somewhere (unless you get to St. Johns the very, very, very long way), I don’t go there as often as I should, the last time being in October. What better time than now? And what better bike to bring than my Raleigh Wayfarer, as a ride like this just speaks “three speed ramble!”

From my house, I rambled through the neighborhoods of North Portland for a bit, trying to stick to the streets I rarely (or never) go on, getting all the way to the Peninsula Crossing Trail by the sewage treatment plant. From here, it would be bike path in various conditions and configurations all the way to Kelley Point. Much of it was pleasant despite the skirting of industrial areas and train tracks…until I got to the few miles of bike path paralleling N Marine Drive. The Drive was busy with truck traffic, and the path has several driveway crossings, where drivers of small cars and tandem tractor-trailers alike pay no attention to anything happening on the bike path. (Yep, a couple close calls.) I often forget about how bad it can get up this way, probably because I often come out on weekends.

Thankfully the badness ended, and I was at Kelley Point Park. I ended up at the picnic table right at the confluence of the two rivers, my preferred spot. I got the Esbit stove going to make tea while listening to the radio and watching the boat traffic pass by. Or in this case, not pass by, as all West Coast ports in the US have been effectively shut down over the past week. There were several ocean-going cargo ships sitting in the middle of the Columbia, waiting for the next move. The cranes at the nearby Port of Portland terminal sat idle. The only shipping traffic moving on the river were tugs and barges. Maybe that’s why things seemed a bit more peaceful than normal? Anyways, I drank tea and ate a snack. I felt like I should have gotten down here a few hours earlier (it was about 4 pm) to linger a bit more, but the relative coolness meant I didn’t want to linger that long.

I returned home primarily along the same way I came out. But I paused at a small lake along the Marine Drive bike path, just north of Smith Lake. I had seen this nameless lake countless times before, but this was the first time I noticed that there was quite a bit of flat, grassy land on the other side of the jersey barrier. I thought this would be a great spot for a clandestine urban camping expedition, as it looked pretty and vehicles on Marine Drive wouldn’t be able to see me. Of course, there was plenty of evidence of human activity here as well, so it may not be as peaceful as it looks right now. Still, I savored the moment, then headed home.

A cold bicycle cruise around the Peninsula

Saturday December 7. We were in the middle of “Arctic Blast 2013” or whatever you wanted to call it. While it was sunny and cloudless, daytime highs were barely hitting freezing, which is a big deal in this temperate region. Cold weather or not, I wasn’t going to be stopped from enjoying a nice long bike ride, especially since I had been itching for one for quite a bit.

The destination for this adventure? The “Peninsula”, also known as the outermost parts of North Portland, as the Willamette and Columbia Rivers create a sort of peninsula. I hadn’t been out to Kelley Point Park, the furthest point of the peninsula (and the furthest NW point in Portland) since probably “working” our Portland Perimeter Populaire during Pedalpalooza in June. A visit to this area was long overdue, cold extremities or not.

I layered up appropriately as the weather forecast issued dire warnings about the cold and wind chill. Wool baselayers, wool long socks, synth vest, wool sweater/jacket, wool neckwarmer, wool cap, and my new Rivendell anorak/windbreaker. I soon found out the windbreaker was overkill, as the wind was very light at best by the time I got out of the house and all the other woolness kept me warm.

From the house it was just a mile before I hit the beginning of the more-extensive-by-the-year (but not yet fully extensive) bike path network that line the lowlands between the Columbia Slough (a back channel of the river) and the main Columbia itself. This bike path was significant, however, because it just got paved very recently. It was a lovely mile on fresh pavement paralleling the Slough (besides the goose shit), then a rough connection to the path on the west side of Interstate Avenue.

Here I had some great views of mountains. Though it doesn’t come across well in the photo, I could see Mount Rainier just to the left of Mount Saint Helens. It’s always a great day when you can see Rainier from Portland, and it’s best on a winter/early spring day when ol’ Tahoma is laden with snow.

I took a moment to pause and reflect on my surroundings. Besides some birds (including a bird of prey flying overhead), the omnipresent drone of traffic in the distance, and planes flying overhead, things were pretty peaceful and quiet. I only saw a couple other cyclists on the path, and things didn’t feel quite as cold as I thought they would be. A perfect little moment.

I pressed onward and westward. Soon I came to Smith and Bybee Lakes. The top of the lakes were freezing over, which is a pretty rare sight. I doubt that it was more than an inch in thickness, but it was still cool to see that.

Then westward along the Marine Drive bike path. Right where it ends and leads into Kelley Point Park there is a stub of a bike path that heads southeastward along the Columbia Slough. I know the hope is to extend it to something, but right now it connects to nothing. And right now it’s closed off. Flaunting danger, I decide to ride as far in as I can. The path was mostly good with some bumpy sections, but right before the end I found the reason for the closure: a good 50 foot section had collapsed.

Since the path went nowhere, there wasn’t any need to fix it for now. Undaunted, I pushed through the wreckage and finally found the end of the line. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to be down here recently, as there were very obvious tire tracks, probably from an ATV, in the fresh snow.

I turned around and headed on towards Kelley Point. It was about 3 pm now, so I knew I didn’t have much daylight left, and then things would get really cold. (This would become the coldest night in the Portland area in 40 years, seeing a low of 12F/-11C.) I could feel that cold as the shadows increased down in the park, but I paused quick enough to see the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia.

From there I sprinted along N Lombard into the St Johns neighborhood where I enjoyed a well-deserved soup, sandwich, and beer at Proper Eats, then continued through the dark streets of North Portland back to my house in Woodlawn. A fun adventure altogether!