Just a quick trip on the MAX blue line west of Portland (about 25 miles) lies Forest Grove, a small town rich in history that just so happens to make a great launching pad for cycling adventures.
I’m out here thanks to McMenamins Grand Lodge, a hotel and resort looking to establish its bike-friendly credentials. McMenamins invited me here to spend a few nights and ride and photograph local roads and backroads. I eagerly accepted for two simple reasons: I was happy to hear that McMenamins, owners and operators of 56 establishments throughout Oregon and Washington, wanted to be more bike-friendly; and I really like riding bikes — especially in new (to me) places.
McMenamins and Forest Grove are a perfect match. One has a rich history and the other specializes in highlighting it. Forest Grove was incorporated in 1872, making it the first city in Washington County (thanks Wikipedia). It’s nestled at the western-most edge of urban development and there’s no civilization (except farms) between it and the Oregon Coast.
While there are some intimidating high-speed highways out here, all it takes is a turn or two and the roar of speeding cars gives way to the singing of birds, the rustling of creeks, and the slow pace of life farmers in these parts have enjoyed for nearly 150 years.
In all four directions from Grand Lodge, people who love riding bikes will find something satisfying: To the southeast you have Bald Peak and the Tualatin Valley Scenic Bikeway; to the north lies Oregon’s marquee rail-trail – the Banks-Vernonia; head south and you’re in world-class wine country; and point your handlebars west and you can find as many gravel and dirt logging roads as you can handle.
McMenamins’ Grand Lodge is a great place to call home while you explore the area. They are slowly getting hip to the bike-friendly thing. There’s nothing here that really screams “We love bikes!” but it really doesn’t take much to be welcoming of guests with two-wheeled vehicles (and they’re just at the start of their bike-oriented efforts). There’s a very relaxing vibe around the Lodge (I saw a lunch party openly taking hits from a pipe with not a worry at all and it’s almost expected that you walk around with a glass of your favorite alcoholic beverage), so bringing your bike in your room is no big deal and you won’t be judged if you walk around salty, sweaty, and spandexed to the hilt (not that I do that of course).
My first day here I wasted no time seeking out what makes this area so special. I found a route that took me southeast of Grand Lodge. Just a few pedal strokes off Tualatin Valley Highway I came across wetlands, ponds, produce stands, and the calm and quiet I feel is a requisite of any ride I do these days. Then a few turns later I found another huge reason to love this area: big views of Mt. Hood and the Cascade Range.
And in case you haven’t noticed, I have a soft-spot for farms. Maybe it’s my longing for that age of innocence I feel our country has lost. Maybe it’s my respect for the hard work it takes to make one successful, or the land’s connection to its history and my appreciation that it’s still land — and not parking lots or strip malls.
Leaving the farms and valleys behind, my ride yesterday took me up — nearly straight up. Bald Peak is a leg-busting 1,000 foot climb in just 2.4 miles. But the reward is many-fold: You get the adrenaline rush and sense of accomplishment, a stellar view, and then an exhilarating dive down the other side.
One of the unexpected discoveries I’ve had out here are the tiny sleepy towns I never knew existed. Places like Laurelwood and Dilley, where people have lived for well over a century, shielded from the fast pace of modern life. This time of year the valleys are covered with clover, a crop farmers plant to enrich their soil in between harvests.
Have I mentioned how incredibly green and lush everything is out here? It’s remarkable. So green that even a boring field made me pull over.
Forest Grove is a pretty cool place. They even have the largest American flag I’ve ever ridden under.
There are so many riding possibilities from Forest Grove. I’m grateful to the McMenamins folks for offering up their Grand Lodge so I can explore some of them. Stay tuned. Today I tackled something a bit more challenging — a 50-mile loop on rocky and steep logging roads. I’ll share more about that adventure soon. But first I’m headed to the soaking pool — with a drink in my hand of course.