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.”


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.

What do you call pre-summer, anyway?

Man, it’s been damn nice in the Pacific Northwest the past couple weeks. After a very, very, wet winter starting around November, this was a welcome relief. We’ve had nice days throughout the rainy season, sure, but they were few and far between, and we never got more than three days in a row free of precipitation. But since Tuesday March 29th, it’s been dry and mild around here, the only exception was rain from Sunday night April 3 through Monday April 4. And it’s supposed to remain dry here until tonight (Monday). We’re going to have a damper week, though not as wet as it’s been in the past, and it’s supposed to subside come the weekend.

In any case, the paragraph above is a long-winded way to say it’s been nice here. And I tried to take as much advantage of it as possible. Earlier last week I actually camped on the coast (more about that in an upcoming post!) But the past few days I’ve been trying to do a little after-work adventuring.

On Friday, I kept it simple, as I was still a bit worn out from all the fun on the coast. I simply swung by the store, got a burrito and a beer, grabbed my radio from home and rode to a local park, in this case Farragut. I like coming to Farragut because not only is it close to my house, but it’s pretty unknown to the general population, hidden. It was nice but a bit breezy, a high of 83F/28C. Yes, that’s hot for early April, record breaking. And if you think that’s bad, it got to 85F/29C on Thursday!

Saturday was a bit more “epic” as it was my first visit of the year to the Leif Erikson Trail in Forest Park. Leif Erikson is an 11 mile unpaved road that winds alongside the West Hills, and runs under forest the entire time. A nice respite from the city while still being in the city! I don’t visit the trail much or at all in the winter due to the muddy conditions, and I figured that with the soakfest that was this winter, it would be good to stay away until we got a good dry spell. And thankfully, the trail was pretty dry overall. Sure, there were a few patches of mud and some token puddles, but the mud can stick around even in summer. And this time I was smart and lowered the tire pressure before entering the trail (and reinflating it when leaving) so the bumpiness didn’t feel as bad. After getting out of Forest Park, I cruised across the Saint Johns Bridge and enjoyed a beer at Occidental.

It’s been nice having nice weather for a bit. I know that there’s still some rain before summer kicks in, and we’ll be back down to more normal (60’s) temps, but man, after this winter? We deserve the break!

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.


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.