Even though I do like winter (mostly) and ride my bike every day for all my transportation purposes, I still don't get in enough "biking" during this season. Summer is full of bike tours, expeditions, casual rides, and what not. The winter doesn't encourage this behavior as much. It's not necessarily the rain (though riding through a driving rain all day isn't necessarily fun), but the amount of daylight. When I work a day shift, I usually get out at 3. During the summer I still have 5 or so hours of daylight to play with. In winter, it's one to two at best.
I usually defer "epic" rides to my days off. Getting the planets aligned to give me a day off without obligations or shit weather isn't always easy. Last week two of my days off happened on days with good weather and no plans, but then I got a cold and had little energy to leave the house, much less go on a "bike ride."
So everything looked like it was going to align for Wednesday the 9th: a day off from work, no obligations, forecast sunny and near 50F/10C. The ride destination to me was obvious: the Columbia Gorge! Where else can I ride for just over an hour from my house and be greeted by quiet roads, rural countryside, unparalleled views and awesome waterfalls?
Then things started to turn on me. I ended up covering part of someone else's shift at work, starting at 6:30PM. This wouldn't be a big deal, because I'd want to be back from the Gorge by 5PM anyway (sunset), though it meat my return time and pace wouldn't be as casual as I would have liked. And when I woke up on Wednesday I was greeted to dense fog and a temp just above freezing. While I knew the fog was predicted to burn off by 10am or so, the fog didn't exactly motivate me. But I did manage to get out, knowing that once I started riding, things would get better.
I opted to take a bus through Gresham, our eastern suburb, because I didn't have much time and the whole point of the ride was "good stuff". When I got off the bus at 11am at Mt. Hood Community College, the fog hadn't lifted yet. Oh well. It'll lift, right?
I proceeded down Stark St towards the Sandy River. Upon the way I stopped to put on another layer (it was still cold!) and came across this beech tree and historical marker:
All around the tree is pretty much suburban development, so it is a miracle this got saved. However the urban growth boundary wasn't much further, and as soon as I crossed over to the other side all was rural. Here Stark Street descends into the Sandy River Gorge. The scenery is great! To the left the Sandy River below. To the right is a basalt rock wall interspersed with waterfalls. And the road is lined with beautiful walls made by the WPA.
Soon Stark St crossed the Sandy and I was on the Historic Columbia River Highway. The next five or so miles would be a gradual ascent of 3 to 4% grade up to Crown Point. Traffic was a bit heavier than I hoped it would be for the middle of a weekday, but after I passed through postage-stamp sized Springdale, it mellowed out. And the fog appeared to be burning off!
"Appeared to" was the key word. As I climbed the fog came back with a vengeance. I arrived at Women's Forum viewpoint around noon. Pea soup fog is all I saw. If it was clear (and summer) this is what I would see instead:
The point of doing this ride was the view! Well, hopefully it will burn off when I get over to Crown Point. Upon the way I passed by the turnoff to Larch Mountain, which is where my camera died. Crap.
I got to Crown Point and the fog didn't look like it was going away anytime soon. At this point I'd either turn back or keep on going all the way to Multnomah Falls. But I didn't have the time to get to Multnomah Falls (about 8 miles) and back to get to the hostel on time. But coming all the way up here for no view? No way! So I decided to see at least one waterfall. Latourell Falls is beautiful and only 2 miles down the road. But it is "down", as in those 2 miles I lose almost all the elevation I gained in the last 6. Usually I would get on I-84 to get home after seeing the falls. While not fun, it is a flat, quick ride back. (And yes, it is legal.) I never came back up this hill, so I decided today would be the day. And hopefully by the time I got back to Crown Point the fog would be gone.
It was an exilarating descent down the old highway to Latourell. The road is very twisty and turny, the surface a bit rough. The bare deciduous trees were beautiful, covered in bright green moss. When I got to the bottom and went to the bike rack, I discovered that I forgot my bike lock, and also my keys. Crap.
Now I remembered when I put the Carradice saddle bag on the Long Haul Trucker, I took the U-Lock off of it to make it easier to mount. Now the lock with my keys in it are on the futon at the house. A quick text to April to make sure she's still home (she is.) Well, at least I don't have to worry about getting in the house. But now I'm paranoid about leaving the bike (even out here in relative tranquility there have been car break-ins at trailheads), so back up the hill I go.
The going wasn't as tough as I envisioned. It was a 5% grade the whole way, and I was pulling a steady 6 m.p.h. in the granny, but it wasn't so bad, and I got back up in about 20 minutes or so. Unfortunately the fog still hadn't lifted from the top (though it wasn't foggy at Latourell), so nothing else to do* but bomb back down the highway towards Portland.
I got into Troutdale at the end of the highway at around 2:15, earlier than I expected to. I planned to take the bus back so I could get back to the house by 4:30 so I could shower. But now I had plenty of time, so I decided to bike the remaining 10 miles back to my house. It turned into more of a slog than I thought it would, maybe because I haven't done a long ride in a long time, or maybe it was the headwind? But by the time I got to the house around 3:45, I was sore and tired, and not really that into going to work. Too late to turn back now, here I go!
I still wish I got a great view from atop Crown Point, or that the temp got above 43F, but the ride was still fun nevertheless. 35 miles is a good ride!
Oh yeah, check out what April got me for Xmas: a thermometer that goes on my threadless stem!
*There is the historic and beautiful Vista House at Crown Point, with a snack shop, souvenirs, historical displays, and bathrooms! I always visit.But it is only open on weekends during winter.