I did the Gorge by bike and it’s the longest and most beautiful ride I’ve ever done

View from Portland Women’s Forum. (Photos: Taylor Griggs / BikePortland)

When I saw there was a Pedalpalooza ride from Portland to Multnomah Falls, I was immediately thrilled, and then shocked at myself.

Ride leader Shawn Granton

Up until very recently, I wouldn’t have thought this was even something a person could do. I’ve had pretty low faith in my athletic abilities for my entire life – physical activity was just something I kind of brushed aside. I’d bike and walk for practical transportation reasons, but why waste calories by doing more? 

However, when I began seriously biking in the last few years – and especially since I moved to Portland last year and subsequently got rid of my car – I underwent a very unexpected metamorphosis. As I racked up miles on my bike, it got easier and more fun to move my muscles, and suddenly I felt strong for the first time in my life. So I signed up for the ride, and yesterday I headed out into the Columbia River Gorge with a group of about 15 other riders. What’s more, I had faith that I’d be able to get it done and even enjoy the process. 

I met up with Willy, my friend who had also signed up for the ride, and we headed for the meet-up spot in Gresham via the Springwater Corridor. After we connected with the Pedalpalooza group – headed by the intrepid Shawn Granton of the Urban Adventure League – at the eastern end of the blue line in Gresham, we headed for the Historic Columbia River Highway. 

Millions of years of geologic marvels, and here we were: a group of people who like to ride bikes and are lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

This scenic highway links up with Stark Street at the Stark St Bridge across the Sandy River (map), which is where I had my first big jaw-drop moment. In fact, I was so enthralled by the view I missed the rest of the group turning off into the Dabney State Recreation Area for a rest stop, and came to believe they all just managed to get so far ahead of me I’d have no chance of ever seeing them again. 

But no worries – we met up shortly after and continued on our way. There was no rush. The weather was perfect, the vegetation remarkably green and the endorphins were kicking in. And we were just there to bike. 

After a stop at the Corbett Country Market, where I refueled on caffeine (others sampled the pizza, ribs and beer offerings) we made for the Portland Women’s Forum viewpoint (named for the group of women who bought this property in 1956 and gifted it to the state parks and recreation department for public use). 

I felt a little sore from the incline upon our arrival to the lookout spot, and I might’ve opened my mouth to complain if I hadn’t looked up and seen the view, which was so spectacular it was almost hard to look at. The Columbia River twists and turns as far as the eye can see, surrounded by an expanse of tree-covered cliffs, and seeing it from this spot was worth every cycling muscle ache I’ve ever felt in the past and will feel in the future. 

The Columbia River Gorge began to form during the Miocene period more than 12 million years ago, when the Cascades emerged from a series of volcanic eruptions. The true geological phenomenon occurred at the end of the Ice Age a mere 12,000 years ago, when the Columbia River flooded and forced its way through the canyon toward the Pacific Ocean, carving out steep canyon walls as it roared through the earth. Looking out at this view, I felt like a part of nature.

Millions of years of geologic marvels, and here we were: a group of people who like to ride bikes and are lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Thank goodness that combination works so well.

The Gorge stretches from the confluence of the Columbia and Deschutes rivers to just east of Gresham, and Multnomah Falls is situated pretty close to its western end. The waterfall is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Pacific Northwest for good reason, but people flocking to its beauty in cars have caused problems. This year, the Oregon Department of Transportation has tried to alleviate car traffic congestion and encourage people to use other means of transportation to get to the Gorge by implementing a permit system

I have nothing to compare it to since this was my first time biking this route, but it appeared to me this permit system is working pretty well. The majority of the ride on the scenic highway was pleasant and very low-car, and while it got busier as we neared the falls, it still felt safe to bike, especially with a group. We could take in the scenery and the sensory experience of flying downhill through lush forests without much fear.

Pausing for a breath after making it to the top of the Vista House on the way home. (Photo: Willy Giambalvo)

One thing about biking up and down hills for dozens of miles: it will make you hungry. When we got to Multnomah Falls, I bought another coffee and an apple turnover. Then I saw one of my fellow cyclists eating a chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream cone, and I kicked myself for rushing to eat the apple turnover before examining all my treat options. But I didn’t dwell on it for too long: I bought an ice cream cone, and a big pretzel to top it off. And why not? I needed the sugar to conquer the ride home. 

Most of the people in the Pedalpalooza group were going to camp overnight a little deeper into the Gorge, but Willy and I said goodbye and headed back west while I still had my sugar and coffee buzz. Going home was a little harder (you can’t go downhill both ways) but I put my bike into its lowest gear and fixed my gaze upwards, and we made it through. 

All said and done, the trip was almost 70 miles – about 45 miles more than the longest ride I’d done prior to this. I’m proud of myself for this accomplishment, but I want to make it clear that it’s totally feasible and fun to get out into the Gorge from Portland, no car required. At risk of sounding highly corny: you can probably do more than you think. If I can do it, you can too.

New route guide will get you into the Gorge without a car

Megan Ramey’s handy Columbia River bus and bike route guide.
Ramey showing off the Columbia Gorge Express bike rack. (Credit: Kyle Ramey)

A trip to Multnomah Falls on a beautiful summer day can lose its luster after spending an hour circling the parking lot to find an open space. But there’s another way to enjoy everything the gorgeous Columbia River Gorge has to offer – and with no parking required.

Thanks to Hood River bike advocate Megan Ramey, who put together a guide of 15 ways to explore the Gorge by bike and bus, you’ll see it’s easier than you might think to enjoy this amazing place without driving to it.

The Gorge Pass offers unlimited rides from Portland to various parts of the Columbia Gorge, including Hood River and the Dalles. The Columbia Gorge Express, which is part of the Columbia Area Transit system, goes from Portland to the Dalles, with stops in Troutdale, Multnomah Falls, Cascade Locks, Hood River and Mosier along the way. If you want to take a bike ride on one of the many routes along the Columbia River, don’t worry about cramming your bike on a car rack or in your trunk and finding parking at the trailhead. You can put your bike on the back of the bus and take it for a spin when you’ve reached your ideal starting point, and then catch the bus back to Portland after your ride.

To help pick the perfect route for your needs, Ramey has organized the guide according to intensity. Riders can pick between four levels; from a family-friendly jaunt on The Dalles Riverfront Trail to 14-mile adventure on the Hood River Fruit Loop. Each route features a summary, a map, and connecting transit information.

Routes categorized by intensity.

This new guide is just the latest in a recent push to encourage people to take carfree adventures around Oregon, particularly in the Gorge. The Oregon Department of Transportation implemented new permit requirements to drive a car into the Gorge this summer to limit traffic on Historic Columbia River Highway.

The benefits to going into the Gorge carfree extend beyond bypassing crowded parking lots and car traffic: you’ll be able to experience its beauty directly, with the summer breeze in your face, and you can feel free to relax with a glass of wine or a beer without worrying about driving back into town.

“When I think of biking and the Columbia Gorge, I think of waterfalls, views, flora, topography, food, beer, wine, swimming holes, primo hiking access and a more immersive way to experience it all,” Ramey wrote in an email to BikePortland. “There is a bike ride for any ability, age or riding preference.”

Take a look at the guide to see all 15 suggested routes.

And if you’re Gorge-curious and up for an adventure, there’s a Pedalpalooza ride with an overnight camping option that leaves from Portland Wednesday morning.

The Historic Columbia River Highway is open again for your riding pleasure

(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Along with an announcement today from the U.S. Forest Service (see below) that Multnomah Falls has begun a phased re-opening comes news that the last section of the Historic Columbia River Highway closed due to Covid-19 precautions is now open.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has officially re-opened the Historic Highway between Bridal Veil and Ainsworth. This means the entire highway and State Trail between Troutdale and The Dalles (minus the five-mile Mitchell Point section that requires riders to use I-84) is back to its pre-pandemic status. Keep in mind many of the trails and other recreation sites remain closed.

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The Oregonian: $9 million award for couple hit while biking in the Gorge

Screen grab from The Oregonian.

The Oregonian reported earlier this week that a jury has awarded more than $9 million to a couple who were hit by a truck driver while biking on I-84 in the Columbia River Gorge.

According to The O, the collision happened in 2016 when Eric Moutal and Andrea Newman (both from Vancouver, BC) were biking to Portland on the westbound shoulder of the Interstate about seven miles east of Cascade Locks (near Wyeth Trailhead at mile post 52). Eric suffered severe injuries to his leg.

When I read about this case, two big things stood out to me.

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