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Portland, Oregon: 100 Miles on Two Wheels

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Courtesy of Waterfront Bicycles, Portland.

By David McKay Wilson

Portland, one of America's most bike-friendly cities, is a great place to ride, with its sprawling network of trails and bike lanes that take you safely around town, and beyond the city limits to glorious cycling terrain.
   
After arriving in Oregon for my nephew's wedding, and with a day free to explore in mid-July, I decide to see the region by bike before that night's happy hour at the Bridgeport Brewery. 

From the Portland Airport, I take the Max Rail downtown, stopping at Waterfront Bicycles to rent a lightweight carbon-fiber Fuji ACR 2.0, which I discover has plenty of pop in the local hills. I line up a guided ride at Waterfront with Craig Ruby, a lanky racer with shaved legs, three days growth on his chin, and a cue sheet for a 100-mile loop down the Columbia River gorge.



Portland-bike-passing-lane-702872

Portland, Oregon, a city with bike passing lanes.

The next morning, it's 55 degrees and overcast when Craig meets me in arm-warmers and a jacket at the Mark Spencer Hotel, where the wedding party fills a dozen rooms, and our two-room suite with kitchen comfortably fits me and two nephews. 

Leaving the city by bike provides a glimpse at what makes Portland such a model for nonmotorized transportation — an entire lane painted green down one street for bikes, a wide sidewalk on the bridge for cyclists and pedestrians, bike trials for several miles towards the suburbs, leading to the bridge to Washington State over the Columbia River on I-205. There, cyclists traverse the river on a protected lane down the middle of the interstate that was built to accommodate the never-completed extension of the Portland light-rail line.

Once in Washington, we head up the Washougal River, a little trafficked route resplendent in wild peas blooming along the roadside in their pink summer glory. By then, I've started to ease my way into the groove of laid-back riding out west. While us Easterners can become obsessed with our mileage logs and average speeds, neither my rental bike nor Craig's Fuji have an odometer to quantify our progress. So we just enjoy the countryside, each others company, and the vast landscape that surrounds, and challenges us.

As we cross Canyon Creek, a coyote scurries across a hay field. By the river, we watch an osprey dive to snag a fish for lunch.

We ride past Beacon Rock, that monolithic rise of basalt with steel steps to the summit that glint in the late morning sun. By 11, the clouds have burned off as we pass the Bonneville Dam, that monument to American national will and ingenuity in the 1930s. As we cruise by on two wheels, the Woody Guthrie anthem, "Roll on Columbia," echoes in my mind.

The cross the Bridge of Gods and stop for lunch in Cascade Locks at the Eastwind Drive-In. We savor grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches, root beer shakes, and French fries, which fuel us for the return along historic Route 30, built by the WPA back in Guthrie's day. 

We've returned to Oregon now, and we soon descend on a trailway through the dank rain forest, with moss covering huge boulders, ferns carpeting the forest floor, and evergreens soaring a hundred feet to form a canopy that blocks the sun.

Crown-point
The view from Crown Point.

We emerge to glimpse the delicate flow of Horsetail Falls, and finally arrive at the five-mile slog up Crown Point. At the summit, we  soak in the vista up and down the Columbia, and make our hasty descent back to Portland.

By the time we reach Marine Drive, the wind has picked up from the west. I hang on Craig's wheel and catch his slipstream as we pedal in rhythm along the flats, feeling the afternoon beat down, and marveling at the house-boat community that bobs along the Columbia shore. We arrive back in Portland as bumper-to-bumper traffic crawls along the highway. We ride alone on the bike trail,

I have 100 miles under my belt as I return to the Mark Spencer to get spruced up for the wedding eve gathering. I've earned my thirst, which soon gets slaked by a couple of India Pale Ales at the brewery.

If you go:

Waterfront Bicycles

Mark Spencer Hotel

Portland Wheelmen

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4 Comments

  1. Vespaliciousyogi@gmail.com
    August 3, 2010 at 3:08 pm — Reply

    This sounds like a wonderful journey and a fabulous way to tour our great Portland and Northwest area. I have had the pleasure of renting one of the great bikes at Waterfront. The staff there are so friendly, and have so much knowledge not only of the trails, but special local tips of our area.
    Whenever I have out of town company, we make it a point to drop by, rent a bike, and pedal till our hearts desire..just for a nice leisure ride, taking great pics along the way, or having a cool ice tea along our route.
    Waterfront Bikes Rocks!!

  2. August 3, 2010 at 5:11 pm — Reply

    Would you promoted this cycling ride on august 15
    http://www.lancettememorialride.com Its to dedicate the ride to a wonderful person and a awesome mother of 2.
    she was a victim of domestic violence.

  3. Ed Wetschler
    August 4, 2010 at 7:27 am — Reply

    Bicycle city, indeed. Last year more than 3,500 bicyclists participate in Portland’s annual naked bike ride.

  4. January 29, 2012 at 8:33 am — Reply

    Thanks for sharing your experience, sounds like an awesome ride. We are going to reference your article in a story to promote converting the Tappan Zee Bridge into a bike/ walk trail. There is a proposal to demolish the bridge, we hope tho utilize this amazing structure.

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