SEA to PDX “Backdoor” Tour Diary – Day 5

After a bit of preemptive celebratory evening at Thunder Island Brewery, we moseyed back to our campsite and retired to our encampment of tightly concentrated tents, or “tentrification” as I so proudly coined it. Unfortunately throughout the night, there was a seemingly endless amount of freight trains passing by along the Columbia River, blowing their horns to announce their presence.

Despite the groggy night’s rest, we awoke to a stunning view of the Columbia River and headed for the local diner, where we wolfed down some more traditional breakfast fare. As we were getting ready to leave the establishment, Brian was standing outside with his shirt off and was lathering on sunscreen while others of us were in various states of undress, and a customer walked out and gasped. I thought the sight of a group of such handsome and strong gentlemen startled him but in actuality he simply said to his family, “Look there’s a whole bunch of naked people out here!”

Leaving the city of Cascade Locks, we made it onto the Columbia River Gorge Bike Route, which was a pleasant bit of separated bikeway infrastructure. It was a nice feeling after previously being exposed to insults on the roadways near the Washington/Oregon border. This well maintained multi-use path that was gradual in grade and had plenty of foliage to provide us cover. There was one section that had to be traversed by a set of 50 or so steps of stairs and we struggled to lift our loaded bikes (maybe not as strong as I thought) onto the wheel tracks on the side of the stairs and push them up the obstacle.

Nathan had conversed with some locals at Thunder Road Brewing who had given us suggestions to make some detours to check out some waterfalls in the area. They had told us that Wahclella Falls was a nice short detour that wouldn’t set us off course for the rest of the day. We spent about an hour marveling at the falls, especially since the drought conditions have hit most of California really hard. It was nice visiting these specific falls because later down the road we saw various other waterfalls, or should I say parking lots full of people trying to go see waterfalls.

The last big climb of the day was up to Vista House, a weird looking observatory that looks out upon the Columbia River Valley. After we all had visited the small gift shop, I had noticed that the majority of the group had opted for an ice cream sandwich and a Coca Cola. As we sat in the shade and ate our nearly identical treats, I realized it had been a long 5 days on the road (7 counting the travel day) and it started to show, if not in our beards, then in our attitudes. Everyone was still jovial but it was as if most of the spectacular riding had been completed and we were just anticipating to get to our finish point. The last 20 miles or so were a complete blur. There were an endless number of suburban cities along the way to Portland and the scenery transitioned from suburban wasteland to slightly more interesting neighborhoods. Topher mentioned at a certain point he was really disoriented when he began to see sidewalks and traffic lights again.

By the time we reached our final destination in Portland, we were all completely zoned out. We snapped a picture at the awesome 8-bit mural outside Velo Cult and knocked back a few beers to return to normality. The mechanics in the shop gave us compliments about our bikes and snapped some photos of our ragtag group. Sky, the owner of Velo Cult, welcomed us into his establishment and gave us a tour of the spiffy surroundings and the downstairs areas.

The group said their final goodbyes to Bill, who had a train to catch back to Seattle, while the rest of us dispersed to visit our different groups of Portland friends. The next 3 days were spent gorging ourselves with food, visiting bikes shops and aimless wandering. We had made plans to meet up with Joshua Bryant and Russ and Laura from The Path Less Pedaled and we all had a great time exchanging our various touring and biking stories. Joshua was even nice enough to take us on a morning ramble up to Mt. Tabor the next morning before he had work!

It’s been nearly a month since we got back from the trip and I only have some rough conclusions about how I feel about the tour. Mainly it’s that we were inspired by a bunch of cool e-famous bike people who turned out to be *gasp* real nice in person as well. While we didn’t get to meet up with Mr. Heine, he served as the main catalyst for this trip, as it was after reading too many issues of Bicycle Quarterly, that members of our group were curious to see how the gravel and dirt roads of Washington compared with California’s offerings. In e-mail exchanges, Jan was very helpful by providing a GPS route that formed the basis of the trip. The Path Less Pedaled were instrumental in guiding many of our early interests in touring and providing us information and motivation to get out and explore the world by bike, and Russ and Laura were extremely down to earth and great people to be around. When talking with them in person, you see how much knowledge they have accumulated over the years and that they genuinely enjoy helping others get into bike touring. Likewise, Martina and Jason from Swift Industries and Joshua Bryant of Cycles J Bryant are also very rad peepz and when they aren’t making awesome products or going on cool rides like the Oregon Outback, they don’t find it beneath themselves to slum it and ride with Boyz on the Hoods.

Seriously, the main takeaway is that it was empowering to plan, embark and finish a tour of this nature. I feel like a dork for writing all these wordy ride reports but hey, if it gets someone stoked to go out on a bike ride, S240 or a cross continental tour, or whatever, then mission accomplished! Anyways I’ve written way too many words about this trip now and without any further delay, enjoy the world premiere of our super pro video edit from the tour: