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Escape the City: In search of Hobo Joe

Posted by on October 14th, 2016 at 5:19 pm

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Just a few miles north of Hillsboro and Highway 26 are miles of unpaved roads waiting to be ridden.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Before we get to know Hobo Joe, I want to share a brief programming note…

When I started mountain biking back in the 1990s one of the things that really drew me into it was the solitude. In just a few minutes of pedaling (I was lucky to live close to mountains), I could get away from busy roads full of smelly and loud cars.

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This new Giant TCX-SX is nimble and fun whether
on the racecourse or on backroads.

These days I’m motivated to ride and stay in shape for that same reason. As our roads get more crowded and more dangerous, my urge to escape has never been stronger. And I don’t think I’m the only one. My hunch is that the huge surge of interest in “gravel grinding” and “gravel bikes” is coming from a desire to escape urban areas. It’s an urge that’s driven by a fear of traffic, a need to unplug from the insanity of modern American culture, and partly by a good, old-fashioned thirst for adventure and new experiences.

Many of us are drawn to roads less traveled (a.k.a. #roadslikethese) and they’re often unpaved.

Thankfully, advances in technology make escaping by bike easier than ever. Drop-bar “road” bikes now come with bigger tires and more comfortable frames and there are many digital tools and devices to help plan and discover new routes — and to keep us from getting lost once we’re out there.

Over the coming weeks and months I’ll be sharing some of my favorite escape routes. I’ll also introduce you to some great characters who I’ve come to think of as Portland’s escape artists — people with vast knowledge of unpaved routes that are off the beaten path. In addition to getting away from it all, we’ll also be getting into it on the race course.

This coverage is being made possible thanks to a partnership with River City Bicycles and Giant Bicycles. They’ve provided me with an excellent bike for exploring and racing, the new Giant TCX-SX (above). With just a month or so in the saddle, I can already report that my TCX has exceeded expectations on the racecourse and on some of the most remote backroads in the region.

Hope you enjoy the coverage.

Now, onto this Hobo Joe character…

Washington County recognizes 220 miles of unpaved roads on their official map and Beaverton resident Dan Morgan has ridden nearly every inch of them. (“Dyno Dan” is one of the escape artists I plan to tell you more about in an upcoming post.) When I asked him to share a favorite Washington County escape route last month, he emailed back a route named Hobo Joe. Hoping to find out why he named it that, I met up with him at Jessie Mays Community Center in North Plains (which is a great spot to know about if you ride in this area because it has a porta-pottie and a drinking fountain.)

To get there, I rode up and over the west hills via Springville Road and then skirted over to my favorite west-side-traffic-avoidance-alternate-route: Rock Creek Trail. By taking advantage of the ribbon of nine greenspace parks between housing developments it’s possible to avoid five miles of busy and stressful roads. Whenever going east-west north of Highway 26 I take the Rock Creek path between Kaiser Woods Park and the Rock Creek Powerline Park soccer fields.

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Rock Creek Trail near Bethany Lake. Sure beats riding on West Union.

Once I got to North Plains and hooked up with Dan, we rolled north onto Old Pumpkin Ridge Road. It didn’t take long before we hit gravel on Corey Road. A few turns later a big view of a valley opened up with farms and trees and mountains as far we could see. “In the winter there are so many white geese in these fields it looks like snow,” Dan said.

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Looking west toward Gumm Creek and Dairy Creek.
Advertise with BikePortland.
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Dan gritting out a short but steep climb on Corey Road.
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Hard to believe this is just a few minutes from Highway 26.

By riding on Corey Road and Keller Road (both of which are unpaved) we were able to avoid about five miles of riding on Pumpkin Ridge Road, which is paved, has poor sight lines and very little shoulder room to ride in. By the time we re-connected with Pumpkin Ridge we were so far out of town that we didn’t have to worry about other traffic at all.

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Pumpkin Ridge Road near Horning’s Hideout.

After four or so miles climbing up Pumpkin Ridge we headed east on Smoke Ranch Road at a locked yellow gate (it’s open for biking). On one of the gate posts someone had tagged “Hobo Joe” with a bicycle clearly drawn on both of the “Os” in Hobo. Who was this person? Dan has no idea and neither do I. Whoever it is, Smoke Ranch Road seems like the perfect place where a bicycle hobo would want to be. Overgrown with weeds and brush, it winds through thick groves of trees and crosses seven creeks on its way to Dixie Mountain Road and the highest point of our loop — 1,500 feet.

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Once atop Dixie Mountain Road we were treated to a stroke-inducing, 13-mile descent back to Shadybook Drive and eventually North Plains.

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Classic Washington County backroad.

The Hobo Joe loop is about 33 miles and 3,500 feet of elevation gain. If you’re looking for an escape from Hillsboro, Forest Grove, or Beaverton, I highly recommend checking this out. And if you ever find Hobo Joe, tell him I’d like to meet him.

Stay tuned next week for an escape to Gunners Lake, a hidden gem of Columbia County.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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  • rick October 14, 2016 at 5:24 pm


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  • Stephen Keller October 14, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    Part of that ride (down Springville and the Rock Creek Trail) make up the about half of the best-part of my regular summer-time commute to work. There’s nothing like an empty stretch of SW country road at 6:30 am to make up for the rest of the day.

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  • Keith October 14, 2016 at 7:13 pm


    You should consider writing a guide book. The rides you’ve posted over the years all look like great fun. Maps would also be a great complement to your articles.

    Thanks for passing your experiences on.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 14, 2016 at 7:55 pm

      Hi Keith. Thanks! That’s my plan. But not a book. I want to put all these routes and photos together into a more easily usable digital guide on the blog and on phones.

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      • Middle of the Road guy October 17, 2016 at 8:21 am


        myself and a buddy rode much of that area this year and put together some routes and even punched a connection though one area that was not supposed to have one.

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 17, 2016 at 9:14 am

          Oh do tell Middle of the Road guy. I would love to know what you found out. Do you have a GPS track? – i’d love to take a look. I’ve been researching the area myself to find a fully/mostly unpaved route from Dutch Canyon – Bacona and then north of West Union back to Skyline.

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          • Middle of the Road Guy October 17, 2016 at 9:47 am

            I’ll look at my old ride with GPS routes. Man, Bacona road was nasty – that was easily the worst ride of the year from a flats/getting stranded perspective.

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  • Keith October 14, 2016 at 7:14 pm

    I see I missed the map. Scratch that part.

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  • wsbob October 14, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    I’ve not ridden much west of North Plains, and try stay on paved roads and away from gravel. Still, I’m aware that many people increasingly will be interested in riding the thousands of miles of roads, gravel and dirt surface, less or rarely used with motor vehicles. Residents and voters of Oregon ought to take more steps to have those roads be better for recreation with bikes.

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    • Middle of the Road Guy October 17, 2016 at 10:41 am

      I think part of the fun is that they are not well supported. These are rural roads, that’s part of the allure and what makes them fun. One has to be self-supported. Sometimes that means finding a spring for water or simply hoping for the best :).

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  • Ride With GPS
    Ride With GPS October 14, 2016 at 9:53 pm

    Smoke Ranch Road is the best!

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    • Middle of the Road guy October 17, 2016 at 8:23 am

      That is one gorgeous road 🙂

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  • Dan A October 15, 2016 at 10:15 am

    My cell service is very questionable once I leave civilization. I’m interested in a lot of these rides you ride about, but concerned about not being able to call for help if I need to, or be able to check my phone’s GPS. I’m interested in reading about how you cope with that.

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    • Alan Love October 15, 2016 at 11:22 am

      The calling out part is tricky, but ride with a buddy and the chance of a catastrophic issue is diminished. Plus, it’s more fun to yell at steep hills with a friend. A decent smartphone with GPS provides enough capability to not get horribly lost. I use RideWithGPS (see the post above, and no I’m not a paid corporate shill), and when you have a route plotted ahead of time, you can download the relevant Google map layer info, so no cell service needed for mapping.

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    • Alan 1.0 October 15, 2016 at 4:07 pm

      All probably obvious but… Set your phone to allow roaming. SMS (text) gets out on a flakier signal than voice, and in the area of this ride 911 accepts SMS ( Cell signal is better higher up the hill. PLBs or satellite messenger devices are available. Old school: leave your route and a “call the sheriff” time with a trusted party – and don’t forget to check in with them when you’re done! An emergency space blanket weighs 3 ounces.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 15, 2016 at 8:13 pm

      Hi Dan,

      Good questions. These rides aren’t really that remote… and keep in mind we’re riding on big fire roads, not technical singletrack, so the chance of a really bad crash is low. That being said, things can happen of course. I always tell someone (usually my wife) where I’m going so they know where to look for me if I never come home. I ride by myself a lot so that’s a key consideration. As for GPS, the good apps like Ride With GPS and Gaia GPS allow you to download maps and routes to your phone so you don’t need a cell connection to read the map. Also, if I do a very big ride I will take a backup battery with me to make sure I don’t run out. Another thing about calling out for help… I’ve been in the position where I had to walk up a long dirt driveway and knock on a rancher’s door to get me home. ;-).

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      • Ted Timmons (Contributor) October 15, 2016 at 9:17 pm

        When I used to be more adventurous I would carry a SPOT tracker. It sends to satellites, so it works in all the fun places (e.g., where phones don’t).

        I’m more boring now and less likely to be two hundred miles from the nearest help.

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        • B. Carfree October 16, 2016 at 7:50 pm

          I love my Spot. I regularly end up far from the nearest cell service so it’s nice know I can send out a pre-programmed email to a select few friends to come get me if I have a mild catastrophe or hit the SOS button for an emergency response if I have a major catastrophe. (I’ve never actually sent either message out.)

          My folks and in-laws love being able to track our progress when my spouse and I take off on a tour. Plus, when we’re meeting someone they can estimate our time of arrival by checking on our progress.

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          • Ted Timmons (Contributor) October 17, 2016 at 9:35 am

            This gets dark, but the “tracking” feature of SPOT is how we discovered a friend was dead- in fact, before the state could identify him.

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    • Middle of the Road guy October 17, 2016 at 8:24 am

      That’s why they call it adventure riding.

      My experience is that Verizon usually has a signal out there 90% of the time. ATT less and TMobile not at all.

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  • JeffS(egundo) October 15, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    Good ride to highlight, Jonathan! I would add that If I remember correctly there are a few intersections between Smoke Ranch and Pumpkin Ridge where it is not entirely clear which fork to take. Adds to the adventure…

    Last time I did this ride in the spring I hung out at the gate for a while, and don’t recall seeing the “hobo joe” – maybe it’s relatively new?

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  • B. Carfree October 16, 2016 at 7:59 pm

    “Thankfully, advances in technology make escaping by bike easier than ever. Drop-bar “road” bikes now come with bigger tires and more comfortable frames…”

    That gave me a chuckle. Those “advances” were what we used to just call bikes. My primary half-bike is still my 1981 Trek 720. It fits 38mm tires on the rear and 35mm on the front. I changed my wife’s 720 last year to an even older “advance” by having the brake posts moved so she can run 650B wheels. She rolls 42mm but could fit 48mm.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 17, 2016 at 9:46 am

      I hear you B. Carfree…. I’m referring to the fact that the mainstream bike industry is now making these types of bikes more available to the masses and is embracing them in general. This means that the activity is suddenly on a lot more peoples’ radar. Similar to the start of MTB’ing in Marin… Lots of folks were riding fat-tire bikes in the woods well before the “Repack” crew… But it was their smarts and foresight and work to bring mass-produced products to the market that really made MTB-ing a phenomenon.

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  • Scooter October 17, 2016 at 10:26 am

    You passed up Hobo Joe twice on your ride. As you climb Saltzman you can see his mark on the gate as you cross Leif in Forest Park.

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  • Middle of the Road Guy October 17, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    How does the 1×11 work on that Giant? Miss any gear ratios?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 17, 2016 at 1:03 pm

      So far I love it. At first I thought it would bother me because I am really big on getting just the right cadence. But I never think about it now. I love the 42 for getting up steep fire roads in Forest Park (I’ve climbed BPA road on this thing!)… and I have done 70+ mile dirt/pavement combo rides without ever feeling like I wanted a better gear ratio. The shifting is really solid too. Stays in adjustment so far… even in the demanding conditions of cyclocross racing through deep mud and water.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 17, 2016 at 1:03 pm

      And other thing.. .I’ll be sharing more about the bike in a separate post.

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      • Middle of the Road Guy October 17, 2016 at 3:28 pm

        Cool. My buddy and I have been having discussing on converting (gears) **removed borderline content -ted**

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