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Ash from Eagle Creek Fire adds to poor air quality in Portland: Is it OK to ride?

A woman wears a mask while cycling on North Vancouver Avenue this morning.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

“Rode today with a mask, but some eye protection is needed. My eyes started to itch after a while.”
— Alex Fallenstedt via Twitter

Larch Mountain, Crown Point, Cascade Locks — to people who love to ride bicycles, these places are more than cherished icons of Oregon’s beauty. They are ride destinations and inspirations.

The Eagle Creek Fire that’s still burning out of control in the Columbia River Gorge is having an emotional impact on many of us. People who live and work in the Gorge are struggling right now. And for those of us with emotional bonds to those places forged by hours in the saddle we can only watch in horror as the damage spreads. Even if we could put it out of our minds, the ash falling in Portland makes it impossible to ignore.

That ash has mixed with bad air quality (at hazardous levels last I checked) has many of you wondering if it’s safe to bike in the city. The answer is yes, but…


… here’s some common sense advice:

– Try to find an alternative to biking: Take the MAX or the bus.

– If you choose to bike, go slow and don’t exert yourself.

– Try to limit the quantity and distance of your bike trips until the air quality improves.

– Consider wearing a mask and/or glasses/ski goggles to shield yourself from particulate matter.

Reader Alex Fallenstedt shared via Twitter this morning that he rode to work with a mask and wished he’d also worn eye protection. “My eyes started to itch after a while,” he said.

Others have noticed a decrease in the usual bicycle traffic around Portland today. Kiel Johnson, proprietor of the Go By Bike shop and bike valet service under the Aerial Tram said he’s parked about 100 fewer bikes than normal today. “Everyone is very concerned about the ash,” he shared.

How are you feeling about the fire in the Gorge?

Do you have tips or insights on riding in these conditions? Please share what you know.

UPDATE: The fire will likely cause immense damage to the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail that was so tantalizingly close to completion. Here are images from Twitter showing the Oneonta tunnel engulfed in flames.

I’ve reached out to to sources with the Friends of the Historic Columbia River Highway and the Oregon Department of Transportation and will share an update on the impacts to the State Trail as soon as possible.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and

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