Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Springtime Cycling On The Historic Columbia River Gorge Highway
If you’re up for a quick drive out to Hood River, there’s an amazing ride waiting for you there that will hook you for life. You’ll keep coming back. Springtime is a really good time to go, and because of the mild winter we had, it’s time right now. So, cancel your plans for this Saturday and take a ride instead. Not even kidding.
Most of us know something about the Historic Columbia River Highway, that little ribbon of scenic roadway that we keep promising ourselves to visit while we go zooming by on I-84. Some stretches of the old highway are open for motorists who like to putter along and enjoy the scenery, but other parts are exclusively for the non-motoring crowd. Going past six waterfalls and an infinite number of breathtaking views, the scenic highway was truly an engineering marvel, making use of the contours and curves of the land in a way that you simply cannot appreciate from the superhighway down below. Choose a day when the weather reports tell you the gorge winds aren’t going to be too strong. Still, it’s probably best to just accept the fact that you’ll encounter some wind while you’re here. If you’ve got a small camera you can take along for the ride, it will come in handy.
Just east of Hood River is a really spectacular spot to ride. It starts with a quick climb up from Highway 35 to a spot known as the Mark O. Hatfield Trailhead. If you’ve got kiddos or novices along with you, the parking lot is a good place to start and end the ride, and avoid the hill altogether. From the trailhead, you’ll ride a lovely no-cars-allowed stretch of the old highway that features two restored tunnels and an amazing change of scenery as you pass from Western to Central Oregon in just a few miles. Spots for viewing and picnicking are provided near the tunnels as well. It is true that in this short spin you will cross between two climate zones, from Western to Central Oregon. The gentle climb you’ll take getting to the halfway point rewards you with a fun descent on the other side. It’s only a few miles long, but this little ribbon of asphalt is heaven.
Now you could just ride to the edge of the trail, turn back around and be completely happy with your ride. But you would have missed some important stuff. Keep going.
At the eastern end of the trail, a little road greets you and you’ll take a left, for a two-minute ride down into the tiny little town of Mosier. There it is, square in the middle of town: 10-Speed East. This hip little joint is your one-stop-shopping experience, folks: it’s a roastery, cafe, wi-fi spot, and social gathering place all in one. You get a sense as you come up close that this could be an interesting visit, and you’d be right. Swing the door open and take in the aromas that only a great little roaster house can give you. Look at the whimsical bike art everywhere, then the chalkboard filled with espresso and tea options. Yep, you’re living the ride-bikes-drink-coffee life. My favorite: "Kickstand," the house blend. Enjoy!
Now keep going...you’ll thank me later. Just seven more miles, and a little bit of a climb and you’ll have reached Rowena Crest Viewpoint. If the idyllic scenes along the way and the spectacular view of the gorge weren’t reward enough, the wildflowers in the spring definitely are. Because of the mild winter we just had, they're already blooming! If you’re here on a sunny day, the word “vivid” only starts to describe the colors you’ll enjoy along the hillsides. Spectacular.
The whole ride from Hood River to Rowena Crest Viewpoint and back could be done in a couple of hours, if you weren't stopping for pictures and coffee. Of course it goes without saying that you need to stop for ice cream before you leave Hood River.
Not such a bad way to spend part of your weekend, really.