This is a great time of year for me to start really thinking about bike camping and touring. Originally April and I had even hoped to bike camp last night, but my body decided to catch a cold and the weather conditions not so good, (can we say hail?) so we're holding off until next week. But being at home I can do my second-favorite thing next to bike camping and bike touring: thinking about bike camping and bike touring. And upcoming tours are on my mind.
I'm still working my job at the hostel. Because summer is obviously our busiest season, it's really hard for me to take extended breaks during June, July, and August. I'll be still able to do some overnighters and three day jaunts, but anything longer than that is tough. So I try to take a little time off in May, and a little more time off in September.
I've already have a vague idea of taking the second half of September off and doing some touring around Cascadia's Inland (or Salish) Sea, the interconnected body of water that encompasses the Puget Sound, Strait of Georgia, Strait of Juan De Fuca, and other "lesser" bodies of water. I've explored parts of this area over various tours through the years, but I hope to do a grander tour encompassing a lot of what I've seen and some of what I haven't. And September is a great time for bike touring around these parts, possibly my favorite time as the weather is still gorgeous (while there is always the possibility of rain, "the rains" don't usually show their face until about mid-October) and the tourist areas less crowded. The one downside of September touring is the shorter days, but it's not that big of a deal.
This leaves May. I've requested a week off around the middle of the month, which will give me some time to explore. But where? May is an okay time to tour around these parts, but the weather is a crapshoot: it can either be really nice, 70s and sunny, or rain and 50s. The bigger issue if one was to do an extended tour is the issue with mountains. Many of the mountain passes will still be snowy in May, and the ones that have seasonal closures (like Rainy/Washington and MacKenzie) will most likely still be closed. So I turn to the lower elevation areas instead. This leaves four different areas to explore: the Coast, the Willamette Valley, north towards the Puget, or the Columbia Gorge. I just did a tour up towards the Puget last year (and will be going up that way in September) so I'm not up for that right now. The Coast is always worthy, but the weather will be the crappiest out there, and I just am not feeling it right now. The Willamette Valley is a place that I haven't explored as much as I should, but a week almost seems like too much unless I did a really extended loop. Anyways, it's not exciting me that much either, and I can just do a two or three day tour down the valley sometime later in the season and hop Amtrak back from Albany or Eugene.
So that leaves one option: The Columbia Gorge. Yes, an area that I've explored many times during my bike camping/touring career, and will continue to explore. But there has been a Gorge-based tour a-brewing in my head over the past couple years, a concept I call the "Super Gorge". Y'see, while I've been out to the Gorge many times on a bike since 2006, I generally get only as far as Cascade Locks/Stevenson, about 35 miles east of Portland. I've only been out as far as Hood River (the next town east) two or three times, the last time during the Hood-Adams-Helens Tour last year. And I've only been east of that once, out to The Dalles (about 70 miles east of Portland) in 2006. And there still is more "Gorge" to see east of that.* I've seen this area from The Dalles to Pasco, Washington from the window of a train (when it's daylight, which it often isn't) but never from a bike.
And it's a dramatically different landscape when you get east of The Dalles. The familiar green forests one associates with this area of the world give way to a near-desert environment of sagebrush and grasslands. This part of the state (or states when you include Washington) is "the dry side", so the rains I might have to battle with on the West side of the Cascades will be less a problem out here. This area gets pretty toasty in summer, too, but May temps should just be right.
The approximate distance between Portland and the Tri-Cities is 250 miles. Broken into 50 mile days, that's five days of riding, a manageable distance for a week. I plan on doing some side trips too. If I had more time, I might attempt to ride all the way to Spokane, but that adds another couple hundred miles, and that would be tough for a week. Travelling west to east means I should have a tailwind the whole way, and I can take Amtrak home from Pasco.
So the maps have been out, and I've been poring over them all. I'll let you fine folks know the progress of all this tour planning.
*The area generally referred to as the Columbia River Gorge is between Troutdale and The Dalles, a sixty mile stretch where the Columbia River cuts through the Cascade Mountains. The Columbia River still cuts a "gorge" east of The Dalles, but its just through the Columbia Plateau, so it's not as dramatic.