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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Mano a Mano with the Wind,
or my Neil Peart bike riding day

How 'bout this weather? After an unbearably rainy November (rainier than any in recent memory, but remember, Novembers are generally pretty rainy), the rain has relented in December (as it has the past few years.) I haven't seen a drop of rain since Thursday. The weekend was particularly sunny. Cold, too, though cold in these parts is "the 40's" (which was the high temp), but it feels a little colder because of the wind. And it's the time-in-time-out pattern of winters in Portland: rainy weather comes in from the Pacific (the west), bringing with it warmer air. When it's dry and sunny, the air is coming from the desert (the east), funnelled through the Columbia River Gorge at speeds of 25 miles an hour or so.

So why the big weather and climate lesson? On Saturday (Dec 2nd), I went on a bike ride. It was the first big one since I returned to Portland in mid-November. I haven't gotten around to it until now because (a) after 1,800 miles on the bike total in two months during the trip, I wasn't in any hurry to take a long ride (especially for three weeks of that I was riding up to 70 miles every day) and (b) the weather sucked. But everything was aligned in my favor, so on the trusty Centurion I went.

My vague idea was to head east along the Springwater Corridor for a bit. Rather than head due south from Hawthorne or down to the OMSI-Springwater first, I cut all that out (the part between SE 45/Johnson Creek and Foster Road is not my favorite) and cut through South Tabor, Foster-Powell, Arleta, and Lents to arrive at Springwater at Foster. The air was fresh, but since I was heading due east, there was a significant headwind, getting stronger as I went along. Near Powell Butte I got my first good glimpse of Mt. Hood in all its snowy spendor.

I paused for a moment at the bridge over Johnson Creek just east of Powell Butte. The easy plan was go to downtown Gresham, head north to Marine Drive via 223rd, and then west towards North Portland, maybe as far as Kelley Point Park if I was ambitious. But then I thought, it would be fun to go down a bit of the Sandy River Valley as well. Then a grander notion: if I'm going all the way to the Sandy, why not go to Crown Point?
I thought about it. Crown Point wasn't that close, making for a long ride. But it wasn't that far, either. I've done it before, and after the bike tour toughening me up, a 50 or so mile round trip didn't seem that bad. It wasn't yet noon, and there was at least four more hours of decent daylight. Fuck it, to Crown Point!

The Springwater to downtown Gresham was nice ('specially the pavement on the Gresham part), the 223rd Ave segmemnt tolerable (bike lane on a multi-laned suburban boulevard), Stark St until the Sandy River Valley crappy, same type of sub blvd but going uphill and into a fiercer headwind. Things got rustic again after Mt. Hood College as Stark dipped down into the Sandy Valley. And then it was the Historic Columbia River Hwy up and up. Even with the colder weather and the headwind, it didn't feel as hard as when I biked here in August on a short tour of the Gorge--maybe because then my bike was overloaded as a test of its abilities pre-Coast Tour.

It was roughly seven miles from Stark St Bridge to Crown Point. As the elevation gained, I actually saw small patches of ice on the side of the road, making me afraid of the descent. Finally Crown Point loomed in the distance, the shining overlook of the Columbia River Gorge. Arriving at the Vista House, I was nearly blown sideways by a gust--here there was nothing between me and the full force of the Gorge winds. Unlike all other times of being here, I didn't stick around outside, I hightailed it to the safety and warmth of Vista House, taking in the sights behind the rattling glass windows.

Of course I was the only bicyclist up here today, and I got the expected "You must be so brave!" comments from the people inside the Vista House, as they purhase a souvenir and then run hurriedly back to their warm cars. Brave? I don't know. Maybe a little silly, stupid, and thickheaded. I wanted a ride, and by golly, I was going to have one today, despite the wind. (The cold itself doesn't bother me--you can always layer appropriately and at least it ain't raining!) Maybe if I had realized how gusty the gusts were at Crown Point (50mph?) I would have scaled back my ambitions. But really, it wasn't all that bad, and I'm not complaining. You gotta face the elements sometimes, right? It makes you touhger, builds character. I thought of the day's ride as a Hemmingway type experience. Or hell, more of a Neil Peart experience. At least he rides bikes.

It was getting near 3pm and I knew I had to get going. I didn't want to be out this way at night. The ride back down was much easier, especially since I had a tailwind. Rather than go back up Stark I head down the Highway to Troutdale, and then stopped at McMenamins Edgefield for beer and a (garden)burger. More people complaining about cold/wind and hypothesizing I'm going to have a tough ride. Hell no, this is the easy part!

Leaving Edgefield, dark was dusking. The lights were beautiful, even the smokestack papermill red ones over in Camus. I headed west on Halsey until the I-84 bike path, a bike route possibly engineered by Nazis. If you think I-205 bike path is bad, you should check this one out. It was an endurathon for the four miles of path until I got to Parkrose Heights and then Gateway. A crossing of I-205 and then over to the familiar lands of "True" Portland via the Tillamook Bikeway. A stop at Trader Joe's in Hollywood and then home, exhausted. It was actually good to feel that level of physical tiredness again, not felt since Coast Bike Tour. It reminds me that I'm alive.

All in all, a 53 mile day, with 26 miles from 30th and SE Hawthorne to Crown Point.

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