The Ride: A three-county route offers escape to historic farms and quiet backroads

A barn along NW Helvetia Road 22 miles west of Portland.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Sponsored by Western Bikeworks

There’s a huge benefit to Portland’s urban growth boundary that never makes its way into planning debates: It allows people to bike from city streets to rural backroads in relatively short order.

I live in north Portland (about three miles from City Hall downtown) and I can pedal south, north, east or west and be among 100-year-old “Century Farms” or wild places and natural areas in about an hour or so. Sometimes I’m surrounded by so much beauty so soon after leaving the smelly and busy streets near home that I do a double-take at my watch: Have I really only been gone that long?

On Saturday this cherished phenomenon was in full effect as I set off on an evening jaunt into Washington County. I didn’t expect to be gone that long, but everything (the roads, my body, my bike) felt so good I didn’t get home for another five hours. I missed dinner with the family, but I had a feast of my own with friends I’ve come to know well over the years. Their names are: Newberry, Phillips, Helvetia, Jackson Quarry, Dorland, Moreland, Skyline, Rocky Point, Dutch Canyon, and my old friend Otto Miller.

Advertisement


Top of Otto Miller Road, an unpaved gem in Columbia County.

(When it comes to avoiding infection, these quiet and less-traveled rural roads feel safer than the crowded residential streets and parks in my neighborhood.)

These roads have always been a source of solace and challenge for me. Now with fewer drivers on them and spring in full bloom, they’re quieter and more picturesque than ever. For many minutes during this full 67-mile ride I felt like I was the only person on the planet. Just me, my thoughts and my bike. A true escape.

It wasn’t until I got home and saw the route on Ride With GPS (an amazing and local route creation and planning app that I strongly recommend) that I realized it explored three counties: Multnomah, Washington and Columbia. It also creates three distinct loops. You can start with the Portland-Newberry-Skyline loop, then add the Dorland-Moreland extension next time, and then put it all together with the Dutch Canyon-Otto Miller section. (Note that Otto Miller is an unpaved gravel road.)

Here’s the full route:

Please note that I took precautions to preserve my health and that of others: I rode alone, I rode at an off-peak time (even sacrificed dinner!), I wore a face covering while in the city and when other people were present, I stayed away from crowded areas, I packed all the water and food I needed so I wouldn’t have to stop at a store, and I didn’t ride beyond my fitness or abilities.

Stay safe and healthy out there, no matter where your bike is taking you these days.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
— Get our headlines delivered to your inbox.
— Support this independent community media outlet with a one-time contribution or monthly subscription.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

27 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jon
Jon
2 years ago

Cool mixed surface ride! This is a great time to get outdoors on the bike. All research so far indicates that the virus is extremely unlikely to spread between people outdoors if your avoid crowds and keep your distance. The car traffic is as low as I’ve seen it and the weather is improving. I don’t think it can get any better.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 years ago

Smoke Ranch Road is just gorgeous.

Kyle Banerjee
2 years ago

Wondering if you have a fav (or a couple favs) or it just depends on the day?

Absolutely great riding in that entire area though I normally try to plan routes to minimize time on HWY 30. Not for safety concerns, but rather because it’s just noisy junk.

Do you know if riding along the Gorge is OK if you don’t get off the bike? I know the lands are off limits, but if the roads aren’t, this might be a good time to enjoy them.

Chaise
Chaise
2 years ago
Reply to  Kyle Banerjee

I rode the Portland Rivers century route this past weekend, but was unable to continue on HWY 30 past the Y with Larch Mountain to climb Alex Barr Rd, as local rangers are barricading the road and only allowing local traffic to pass through. I think this could also present problems if you were attempting to ride anything that passes through the Cascade Locks area.

Jason
Jason
2 years ago

Are those Clemente tires, you rocking the tubeless? Those are some sweet roads to be riding.

I think I speak for many when I say, the urge to be out on those long rides is very strong. Especially with the assumption that traffic is light. Although, it seems like there’s more speed-balls out there now. What was it like for traffic?

Kyle Banerjee
2 years ago

I think a writeup of those tricks would help a lot of people and lower the barriers to cycling.

I often see people unintentionally doing things that encourage motorists to do dangerous/scary things. Riding’s safer and more fun if you these tricks — some of which are nonintuitive.

K
K
2 years ago

Yes, I’d be interested to read your tips. I have a route planned for tomorrow that looks very similar, though just a touch different – but same highlight roads. Excited to take my time on some lovely backroads.

todd.boulanger
2 years ago

I am so jealous! Beautiful barn photo.

dan
dan
2 years ago

Also wanting to do some longer rides! I’m a little hamstrung because I can only carry 2 bottles, which limits me to about 30 miles before refilling, and I’d really rather not buy drinks at a convenience store mid-ride these days.

dan
dan
2 years ago

Thanks! I’ll check that out. BTW, thanks for the great ride pics!

Adam
Adam
2 years ago

Also there are seat rail/ post mount options to carry 1-2 spare bottles. Check out ‘triathlon seat bottle cage’ systems. Personally I’ve also carried a Sawyer Squeeze Mini in a jersey or pack if I know there’ll be an accessible water source and have time to stop for 5-10 min to refill bottles. They are only 2 oz. and pack up small with a rubber band around it.

Kyle Banerjee
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam

Regarding tri behind the seat bottle systems — a lot of road cyclists won’t use them because they are prone to ejecting the bottles when you’re on rough surfaces such as the ones you might encounter on a descent.

Aside from the suggestions others have made, hydration packs are an option. Water is heavy/bulky and you eventually reach the limit of what you can carry. If you’re in populated areas, I’ve never had a business (it doesn’t need to be a restaurant or store) refuse a request to fill a bottle, and some buildings (such as churches) often have spigots you can fill from. If in lightly populated areas, you can also politely ask homeowners if you can fill from the spigot — many will fill from the sink.

rick
rick
2 years ago
Reply to  dan

Plainview Grocery and Auto Parts is a general convenience store at the intersection of NW Skyline Blvd at NW Cornelius Pass Road.

jered l bogli
jered l bogli
2 years ago
Reply to  dan

I must be a camel. In this weather I’d go for a 60 mile ride with one bottle and not even be done with it.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 years ago
Reply to  dan

Planning rides around county and city parks is an option – they often have water spigots but they might be shut off now. Ride with GPS is great for that.

Oddly enough, cemeteries frequently have a hose bib also for water flowers.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 years ago

*watering

Chaise
Chaise
2 years ago

While I haven’t checked every spigot/fountain at every park I’ve passed in an effort to not even touch anything while on out of town rides, the few I’ve checked at parks throughout the Portland Metro and in Southwest Washington have all been shutoff. That said, I’d advise riding with all the fluids/snacks/accoutrement you’ll need to complete the ride without stopping at a store.

Brian
Brian
2 years ago
Reply to  dan

Dan-I had the same predicament and started using a Dakine fanny pack for an extra bottle or two and all my food/tools. Works great. Others I ride with use bar bags for the extra cargo.

SERider
SERider
2 years ago
Reply to  dan

CamelBak-type pack/vest seems like a decent option.

Chris I
Chris I
2 years ago
Reply to  dan

Have you considered a rack and pannier bag, a la a “light touring” type setup? I’m not a total retrogrouch, but I’ve been using one on my do-everything bike for 10 years now. The rack is maybe 2lbs, and the bag is another 2 or 3. You can carry more water in the bag, along with snacks, tubes, tools, etc. I like to be self-supporting for my longer rides. You can always take the rack off for races.

Aaron Hampshire
Aaron Hampshire
2 years ago

44.5 MPH!!

Bike Guy
Bike Guy
2 years ago

impressively fast ride time on some classic deep cuts, Jonathan. Thanks for the write-up.