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Escape the City: In search of Hobo Joe

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

In search of Hobo Joe with Dyno Dan.-8.jpg

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.

In search of Hobo Joe with Dyno Dan.-19.jpg

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.

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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 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Middle of the Road GuyJonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)ScooterTed Timmons (Contributor)B. Carfree Recent comment authors
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rick
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rick

Beautiful

Stephen Keller
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Stephen Keller

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.

Keith
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Keith

Jonathan,

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.

Keith
Guest
Keith

I see I missed the map. Scratch that part.

wsbob
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wsbob

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.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

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 :).

Ride With GPS
Guest

Smoke Ranch Road is the best!

Middle of the Road guy
Guest
Middle of the Road guy

That is one gorgeous road 🙂

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

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.

Alan Love
Guest
Alan Love

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.

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

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 (http://www.nwtext911.info/map-view/). 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.

Middle of the Road guy
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Middle of the Road guy

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.

JeffS(egundo)
Guest
JeffS(egundo)

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?

B. Carfree
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B. Carfree

“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.

Scooter
Guest
Scooter

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.

Middle of the Road Guy
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Middle of the Road Guy

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