(Photos courtesy Jen Sotolongo)
[This story was written by Jen Sotolongo, a Clackamas County tourism development specialist. It first appeared in the Clackamas County Bicycle Tourism Newsletter and is being used with her permission.]
Using a combination of biking and public transportation, Laura Foster, author of the beloved Portland Hill Walks (Timber Press, 2005) wanted to make the trek to Timberline Lodge without a car. Learning that her childhood friend Ellen Schulte would be in town for an Oregon fix, Laura hatches a plan for a four-day bike adventure.
As kids in the 1970s, Laura and Ellen explored the country roads west of their Illinois hometown. After years on hand-me-down wheels, in seventh grade they saved up their babysitting money to purchase a matching pair of Schwinn Collegiates for $70 apiece.
As kids in the 1970s, Laura and Ellen explored the country roads west of their Illinois hometown. After years on hand-me-down wheels, in seventh grade they saved up their babysitting money to purchase a matching pair of Schwinn Collegiates for $70 apiece. Though neither had ridden much in the past 15 or so years, Laura wanted to travel at a pace a bit faster than walking, hence the impetus for this 130-mile ride.
The original plan would take the women from Laura’s house, about 15 hilly miles northwest of downtown, to Oxbow Regional Park using a combination of TriMet MAX light rail and bikes. They would then continue to Welches on the second day and Timberline Lodge on the third. On the final day of the trip, Laura and Ellen would take transit back to Portland: the Mount Hood Express, SAM (Sandy Transit), and MAX, and then they would then ride the final 15 miles back to Laura’s home.
On day one, by the time Laura and Ellen reached the Nob Hill neighborhood in northwest Portland, their legs were still felt fresh and they had plenty of energy, so they skipped the planned MAX ride to Gresham and rode out the Springwater Corridor instead. In Gresham, they stopped for lunch at Nicholas Café, with enough leftovers for dinner, before continuing on to Oxbow Park where they swam in the Sandy River before seting up camp for the night. With abundant refueling options along the urban route, the two women had no trouble finding water and food during the first day of the ride.
The following morning, the ladies headed the nine miles from Oxbow to the Tollgate Inn, their breakfast destination. After a couple of six-egg omelets (with three eggs going into a to-go bag), Laura and Ellen continued through downtown Sandy about a mile to Organic Sandy where they purchased a few more items for lunch (since provisions are nonexistent on the 20 or so miles on Ten Eyck, Marmot and Barlow Trail roads between Sandy and Welches).
After climbing and descending the Devil’s Backbone, the bane of Oregon Trail pioneers, Laura and Ellen enjoyed a well-deserved pint of beer at Brightwood Tavern in Brightwood, a great old-time watering hole. From there, the women headed for check-in and showers at the Cabins Creekside in Welches. From there they walked to a delicious dinner at the Rendezvous Grill.
Day three brought on the gravel grinding along Still Creek Road from Rhododendron to Still Creek Campground, just below Government Camp. The road gains 2600′ in elevation over 14 miles. Although riding on thicker hybrid tires, the gravel made travel tough and Laura noted that the only other riders they saw along the road were mountain bikers riding downhill. Though the surface made for a bit of a grueling ride, Laura and Ellen enjoyed the abundant huckleberries and thimbleberries lining the road and cooling off in Still Creek, which followed the road.
The end of the 14-mile slog brought the women to Still Creek Campground in Government Camp where they caught a ride on the Mt. Hood Express to Timberline Lodge. Operating a smaller bus that afternoon, the only two bike racks available were occupied by mountain bikers who would ride the bus up to Timberline to bomb back down and repeat the process over and over. The larger bus can hold 12 bikes at a time. Luckily for Laura and Ellen, the driver allowed them to bring their bikes directly on the bus.
The short ride dropped the ladies off at the famed Timberline Lodge where they were instructed to bring their bikes to a locked area under the pool. Not knowing what the next day would bring, Laura and Ellen enjoyed relaxing at the lodge before the return trip home.
On Monday morning, the women packed up and got back on their bikes, heading down West Leg Road and enjoyed six miles of almost no cars, passing through numerous ski runs to Government Camp. The women fueled up for the day at the Huckleberry Inn and caught the Mount Hood Express bus from Government Camp to Sandy.
Arriving in Sandy with plenty of energy left in their tanks, the women decided to make their way back home on two wheels instead of the original plan of taking SAM — the Sandy to Gresham bus — and MAX to Portland. The downhill grade on the Springwater Corridor much of the way made for a quick and easy ride. The temperatures that day reached the low 90s, so before the women crossed the Hawthorne Bridge, they plunged into the Willamette River off a dock near the bridge that was packed with swimmers, kayakers, SUPers and rowers.
From there, Laura and Ellen’s ride got a little less pleasant as they pedaled on Highway 30 during a hot, noisy rush hour, back to Laura’s 20-acre property beyond Forest Park to fully relax and take in the journey they’d accomplished.
Laura said between biking and public transportation, getting to Timberline Lodge from Portland was simple and a great adventure.
Laura also shared a few notes of advice:
Finding bike racks proved tricky, but they made do with fences or other sign posts to lock their bikes. She stressed the importance of carrying plenty of food and water for the back roads, between Sandy and Welches.
She did also note that though a lovely park, riders may want to consider an alternative route that avoids the 1,000 foot climb out of Oxbow Regional Park, by continuing on to Boring and Sandy from Gresham and staying in the Best Western in Sandy.
Looking back at the ride, Laura said it was a “leap of faith” in her and Ellen’s abilities. If it weren’t for a few local bike shops that helped her along the way, she said, she would have never made “the transition from timid to triumphant.”
“Stefan at River City Bicycles gave his expert advice on bike touring essentials and gave me a better route from Oxbow to Sandy than the one I’d mapped out. Twenty-first Avenue Bikes fixed my broken front brake in two minutes after the cable came loose while bombing down NW Thompson Road. And Pedal Bike Tours loaned Ellen an awesome bike for the ride.”
— For more on transit options around Mt. Hood, see our post about it from back in July.