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

Dutch Canyon Rd

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.


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
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