Hiking in the Northwest well the worth trip
The Aspen Times
I went to Washington and Oregon for a long-anticipated group bike ride in July, but hoofing it in the Columbia River Gorge and on the coast with a few friends turned out to be the most memorable part of the journey.
The idea of riding in the 34th annual Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic (STP) was hatched last year in the sweltering heat of Iowa. Me, a handful of cousins and a few friends slogged our way through the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, a longtime event better known by its acronym, RAGBRAI. We suffered through long distances in blistering heat stirred by broiling winds. Recollections of the suffering soon faded while the good memories were enhanced, so we agreed to meet again in 2013 on another organized ride.
Because several of my cousins and friends have ties to the Northwest, we signed up for the STP last winter and reserved a space among roughly 10,000 riders. Being a solitary sort of guy, I don’t necessarily thrive on crowded, organized bike events, but I’ve done a few over the years. I did Ride the Rockies in Colorado a couple of times, and I’ve done part of RAGBRAI twice.
Every event is different and has its pluses and minuses. STP wasn’t as challenging as Ride the Rockies because of the lack of elevation gain, nor was it as social as RAGBRAI because of the lack of partiers and comraderie. But it still had its charms.
STP was physically demanding despite the lack of elevation gain because it piled on back-to-back century rides, the name for 100-mile days. The first half of the first day was way too urban for me as we negotiated secondary roads through the Seattle-Tacoma metro conglomeration. But by the end of the first day, we were rolling along a beautiful 14-mile bike trail hemmed in by beautiful Northwest forest. Our first 100-mile leg ended in Centralia, Wash. The second day, a 103-mile slog, was much more delightful in the lush, rolling terrain of the southwest Washington countryside. We negotiated one long, mostly gentle hill after another.
Throughout the journey, big peaks loomed in the distance. In Colorado, we’re used to being surrounded by so many mountains that we don’t know the names of many of them. On STP, majestic Mount Rainier dominated the view from the distance. Later, the level-topped Mount St. Helens came into view and Mount Hood greeted us as we neared Portland. The snowy upper slopes of all three glistened in the near-perfect weather of 80 degrees and bluebird skies.
One treat of the ride was staring down at a log-storage yard on the banks of the Columbia River while we waited for a motorcycle to escort us across the Lewis and Clark Bridge at Kelso in small groups. The view from the bridge of the incredibly large river was dazzling, but no voluntary stopping was allowed — thus no pictures.
We followed the rivers — first the Columbia, then the Willamette — through northwest Oregon and wound our way into the urban jungle after crossing the St. John’s Bridge.
The ride was well-organized by the Cascade Bicycle Club. I was glad I did it but not sure I’d do it again.
The hikes, on the other hand, I couldn’t get enough of. In Colorado, a hiker or motorist can catch glimpses of waterfalls here and there, especially during spring runoff, but not enough to blunt the thrill of seeing the falls of Oregon. We hiked eight miles up a steep trail alongside and around the unbelievably beautiful Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge. The water tumbles 620 feet, second-most in North America.
We ended our stay in Portland a few days later with a visit to the spectacular Silver Falls State Park, where 10 falls of varying sizes are easily accessible.
Sandwiched between was a delightful trip to the Oregon coast. We hiked over Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain through low clouds and a thin mist that never seemed to get us wet. The temperature climbed, and the sun poked out every now and then as we climbed through moss-encrusted trees of various types. Only the drips of water drops and the piercing calls of birds broke the silence. Just when our group of four thought it couldn’t get any better, we visited mellow Short Sands Beach. We found paradise, indeed.