Sunday, April 5, 2015

Back to the Gorge for a Longer Ride

An overnight bike ride can be a fantastic mini-vacation for folks who just need a brief respite from their daily routines. There are so many great overnight options in Oregon but at the top of my list was a return Columbia River Gorge. I haven't added any posts to this blog since my last ride there, but that was actually over a year ago. Time to ride and write!  So, last week I took a couple of days off from work and with Mrs. C’s blessing, I set off for my own adventure.
Vista House at Crown Point, along the Historic Columbia River Highway

I decided to drive to Portlandia and begin the ride from there, heading east on the Springwater Trail and then to the Stark Street Bridge. You don’t feel the need to ride as fast when you’ve got camping gear loaded onto the bike; it felt amazing just to be out there, doing this ride regardless of the speed. The climb into Corbett allowed me to focus on my pedaling and breathing, and all the worries and stresses just sort of calmed down.

The view from Chanticleer Point
The Historic Columbia River Highway could be all on its own a worthy attraction for tourists, thanks to the engineering and artisanship that created it a century ago. But it’s really the jaw-dropping viewpoints and waterfalls along this byway that draw thousands of visitors each year. Reaching the top of the hill, I paused just long enough to snap a few photos, eat a piece of chocolate, and enjoy the l-o-n-g winding descent that followed.

Ainsworth State Park had already opened for the season, thanks to the unusually warm winter and early spring weather. Spring Breakers filled the entire campground except for the hiker/biker area, a big grassy area which I had all to myself.  Five bucks got me a camping spot, and another five got me a bundle of wood for a campfire. Hours of quiet contemplation by the fire brought me to that inevitable moment when, bleary-eyed, one decides to slip into the tent and surrender to a deep post-ride sleep.

The stairwell
Next morning I headed farther east using the trail that was recently added to the Historic Columbia River Highway route. This car-free, paved path from Ainsworth to Cascade Locks is quite scenic and a far better option for cyclists and hikers than the shoulder along the treacherous interstate. I was looking forward to trying out the well-known stairwell near the fishery; the groove along the steps is certainly helpful but given the added weight of all my gear I had to "portage" it in separate stages. Still, it's an impressive solution to a steep grade and I tip my helmet to the folks who made this possible.

Cascade Locks and the Bridge of the Gods served as my turn-around point. I figured while I’m turning around I might as well stop in for a bite to eat. This is one of the great rewards of riding for several hours: eat as much as you want. I did. Another great perk of cycle touring is that you are instantly popular with everyone. The loaded bike inspires conversations about this kind of travel and people want to talk about it.  There was never a stop along the way that didn't include at least one fun interaction with someone.
Part of the car-free portion

An out-and-back bike ride lets you see the same sights you just saw, but from the other direction which is cool...and things seem much closer together on the return trip so it went fast. I got lucky with weather; almost no wind (in the gorge, no less!) and lots of sun. Clouds began to set in later in the day, and a half hour after my ride concluded, I was driving home in a pelting rain. Perfect timing!  Now, a little over a week has gone by and I’m already feeling the gorge beckoning me back. 

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