Friday, August 20, 2010

Biking the Columbia Gorge

“Dad, you and Cathy should go bike from Hood River to The Dalles”, Thor said. I had driven down the Alaska Highway with Cathy in her ‘Jumbo JH’ U-Haul Moving van from Anchorage to Portland and was enjoying the warm sun and fine weather. I keep a vintage handmade Italian road bike made by Ciocc at Thor’s house, so I don’t need to transport it every time I head south. So Cathy and I drove to Hood River and headed east on old Highway 30 above the town towards Mosier. The old road is closed to all but foot and bike traffic and has been newly resurfaced, so it’s a dream on a road bike. The first section rises steeply, and the day was hot. Below us the Columbia river runs west to its mouth at the Pacific. I thought of Lewis and Clark in the region, over 200 years ago.

The Columbia River below

Cathy is in fine shape and pulled ahead. I’d been dormant for a month, and my thermostat has been set to ‘winter for the past 10 months, so I suffered mightily pulling the first couple of miles uphill in the hot sun. Cathy muttered something about ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen...’


The old road sits high on the hillside. Constructed in the 1920’s, it is a marvel of engineering and landscape architecture, coming from an era when aesthetics and form meant as much as utility and function. The sidewalls and overlook terraces of the road were built by hand with local stone mortared into place. The road follows natural contours and weaves through the countryside; little scenic pullouts provide a view of the Columbia Gorge and surrounding landforms: The great Cascade volcanoes, Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams to the north, and Mount Hood to the south.

Yours Truly with the vintage Ciocc bike: sew-up tires, downtube shifters, pink paint job!

It is a popular venue with the local cyclists. Hood river has become a thriving artistic and resort community. Brewpubs and fine restaurants dot the street where Patagonia, bike stores, and sailboard shops predominate. Real estate is pricey. I asked Thor what all the seemingly idle young folks did for money. “Parents”, he answered.

The bike trail and overlook, a popular place

After five miles, the road is open to cars, but since it doesn’t go anyplace, few were seen until we coasted downhill to Mosier, a sleepy little burg with a couple of shops. We decided to push uphill another six miles to Rowena Crest where the overlook was said to be excellent. The wind was in our back and we made good time.

Looking upriver from the Rowena Crest

At the Crest we had another decision to make: turn around in the heat of the day and head for a cool lunch somewhere, or take the Tour de France-like hairpin turns down 2 1/2 miles to Rowena just to say we did it. The architect of the road built the grades to no more than 5% and the turning radius that would allow a semi-truck to negotiate them. We couldn’t resist. How would we face our kids if we didn’t do the Rowena Loops. Down we rocketed. I worried about a bulge in one tire, so I applied the brakes on the turns. Cathy did not! We exceeded the speed limit, usually difficult on a bike, but could not resist. At the bottom we simply turned around and started the long pedal back uphill. We almost did it a second time.

The Rowena Loops

Now we were heading back west into the wind. The hot air pounded hard into our faces and dried the sweat instantly, leaving a salt crust on our skin. We even pedaled downhill, otherwise the wind would stop the bike. At Mosier we stopped at the only shop: it sold ice cream and Porsche cars. I’m always interested in these little businesses that say things like, ‘Tanning Salon and Gun Store’. We needed water desperately, so we ordered a mocha milk shake, and although it tasted great, it sat like a bag of marbles in my stomach. A glass of water would have been better. The woman filled our bottles for the rest of the ride. I was intrigued by the Porsche shop filled with memorabilia from years gone by. What a cool place!

Ice Cream and Porsche store in Rowena

Only six miles to go till beer and pizza at the Double Mountain brewery in Hood River. They make the best pizza, and the IPA is killer! As we sat at the sidewalk table, the waitress made conversation and asked her if she were local. ‘Yes, I’ve been here four years’, probably an old timer by resort town standards. At the neighboring table a loud drunk talked about how Memphis was so great and how Oregon sucked. I almost suggested he return, but the pleasure of the day prevented any unpleasantness. It was so fine we will likely do it again!

1 comment:

sbt said...

Great write up Ralph! I'm glad you & my mom had such a fun time out there. Thanks for coming to visit!!!