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

Posted by on April 29th, 2020 at 8:48 am

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.

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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
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Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)Chris IBike GuyKyle BanerjeeK Recent comment authors
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Jon
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Jon

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
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Middle of the Road Guy

Smoke Ranch Road is just gorgeous.

Kyle Banerjee
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Kyle Banerjee

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
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Chaise

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
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Jason

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?

todd.boulanger
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todd.boulanger

I am so jealous! Beautiful barn photo.

dan
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dan

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.

rick
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rick

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
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jered l bogli

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
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Middle of the Road Guy

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
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Middle of the Road Guy

*watering

Chaise
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Chaise

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
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Brian

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
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SERider

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

Chris I
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Chris I

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
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Aaron Hampshire

44.5 MPH!!

Bike Guy
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Bike Guy

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