Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Banks-Vernonia Trail -- starting from Champoeg State Park, Oregon

Copyrighted 2014 Paula Joy Welter
Probably my favorite of the Banks-Vernonia Trail photos posted here.

A vista along the Banks-Vernonia Trail

Amelia, my Bike Friday New World Tourist 2006

In August of 2014, Phil, a dedicated cyclist based in Ashland, OR -- only a mere 80 years old -- read one of my postings on www.bikesovernight.com and enjoyed it.  He contacted me and invited me to join a few other cyclists on a bike tour.   He coordinates several each summer.

I was most appreciative and made plans to join 4 other cyclists on a tour in Oregon.  The route basically would loop around the greater Portland area, going through towns such as Newberg, Hillsboro, Scappoose, and eventually back to the starting point, Champoeg State Park, which is about 40 minutes south of Portland.


Several things amazed me on the three days of the 6-day tour that I pedaled with this group:

a)  I survived 90 miles of the 159-mile tour;
b)  Two of the cyclists were over 70, one maybe closer than further to 80.
c)  One of the cyclists had ridden the infamous DEATH RIDE three times.  Whoa.....  www.deathride.com    

As it turned out, I was joining some very capable and steady-on cyclists who are evidently more used to CLIMBING HILLS than am I, based in Sacramento -- think flat!

Looking back down the winding hill I was climbing on Mt. Chelalem

I should point out that I am not naturally inclined to push myself to my physical limits.  I don't bike for speed, for daring, for competitive reasons, or to break some endurance record.  I have always loved bicycling because it allows me to enjoy the freedom of the open road and to explore beautiful places.  I pedal steadily, but at a moderate pace.  That's how I'm wired.  I pedal on a loaded tour bike, at 6 to 10 mph, average, typically.  On my road bike in Sacramento, I pedal at 11-13 mph, average.  

So...let's just say this ride didn't follow that idyllic script for Day 1.  Early on, it became clear to me that I was the turtle, and the other 4 cyclists were hares!  Somehow, the overall route I had previewed on online maps showed elevation profiles that looked relatively flat, except for Day 1 and 3.  Day 1 looked the hardest:  picture a sharp point, as in an upside down carrot, as the elevation profile for that day.   But heck, it was only 4 miles, I  assured myself, and I could walk up it.

On Day 1, I was doomed to do just that! 

DAY 1:  Newberg to Hillboro, OR

Rising at dawn, we broke camp and began our 28 miles of biking, from Champoeg State Park to Hillsboro.  I've biked 40 miles in one day a few times on a fully loaded bike.  This 28 miles seemed longer, thanks to the climb AND 90-degrees-plus weather!  My luck!  I thought Oregon was cool!  My stamina halves when it gets above 85-90 degrees.  In Sacramento, I'm off the bike before 11 a.m. during the summer because of that.  No escape this time!

Barely 9 or 10 miles out of Champoeg, after breakfast at a cafe in Newburg, the mountain loomed.  (Okay, I realize this 1271 feet is a comparatively small mountain...but it IS called MT. Chelalem, so it is a mountain!)  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chehalem_Mountains

I gamely started pedaling it on my Bike Friday NWT, fully loaded.  (I'd say I had about 30-40 pounds of gear, including food, tent, clothing, etc., all as ultralight-friendly as possible.  And then, of course, there's me -- proud to be of sturdy Dutch-Belgian-German ancestry, so not a lightweight cyclist.)  The rest of my group pedaled the 4 miles of climbing...but I, the turtle, was very soon off of my bike, pushing my bike, Amelia, up the twisting roads that ascend to the summit.  There was little shade, and it was mid-day heat.  Ugh.

Once I was off my bike, I told the group to go ahead.  They said they'd wait for me at the first turn at the bottom of the hill, once I descended.   I was fine with that.  I had my cell phone and good turn-by-turn directions.  I trudged and trudged, stopping when necessary to guzzle more water, eat some carbs, catch my breath...step by step...WHATEVER I had to do to get to the top of that dang carrot -- I mean, mountain!  I drank the most water I've ever downed in one day, at least a gallon!  Finally, I reached the top and then carefully descended so that I was visible to cars coming around the curves. 

Why do I feel like I climbed Mt. Everest?
At the bottom of the hill, my group was waiting on benches outside a charming cafe  -- sadly, closed for the day!  A few of my pedaling friends told me they had even managed to take a nap while waiting for me.  Most humbling!  They had resourcefully found a hose along one side of the building to refill water bottles.

Once they congratulated me for surviving thus far and determined I was okay, they said they were going to keep going, which I agreed made sense.  I didn't want to feel like a rat on a treadmill keeping up with their faster pace, and of course, I didn't want them to have to pedal the speed of a turtle, after all!  We agreed to meet up at the Hillsboro campsite.

I sat outside on that cafe bench by myself, gratefully eating my peanut butter and whole wheat sandwich, banana, and drinking MORE WATER.  At some point while sitting there, a man in his 40's unexpectedly poked his head out of the cafe's door and inquired in a most empathetic voice:

Man:  "Hi, are you the one the group was waiting for?"

Me:   "Yes, I am."

Man:  "Do you need anything, say some ice water?"

I asked if he had a bathroom I could use, and he ushered me in, thankfully.  I was then able to refill my water bottles for the 18 miles still ahead.  We talked briefly as he worked on some baking he was doing for the cafe he helps manage.  He told me, interestingly, that he used to travel and bike a lot all over the world, writing travel guides for Frommers, including one about Nepal!  Very nice gentleman, maybe an angel in disguise.  I thanked him profusely and decided I better pedal on after that 30-minute rest.

Looking back, I should have rested and recovered LONGER.  However, I started out on the remaining 18 miles through country roads that would take me to Hillsboro.  It was getting even hotter, now that it was mid-afternoon, and I was definitely not feeling "recovered" fully.  I settled on a rhythm of pedaling a mile or two and then stopping to rest and drink water.

At one point, I sat along a dusty bank of dirt under a lone tree, feeling as though I might be close to bonking.  Much of the route was in full sun, so that shade was needed respite.  Then, back on my bike, I pedaled as long as I could keep going before needing another rest!  I did my best to pay attention to nutrition and hydration, but I couldn't shake that "bonking" feeling.  (Note:  I was not imagining the difficulty of getting from Champoeg to Newburg, it turns out.  After the tour, Ken told me he was 74 when he started the ride from Champoeg State Park on Day 1, 79 by the time he got to Hillsboro at the end of Day 1, and then after a good night's sleep, 74 again.  :>)

Finally, I spotted a Norman Rockwell-reminiscent farmhouse and yard, complete with a tractor,  a garden in the front,  and a harmless looking dog.  Even more comforting, it had a spot of green grass out in front along the driveway area, in full SHADE.  A farmer was standing in the yard, so I asked him if I could rest on the grass for a while.  He was very nice and told me to do just that.  It was glorious to lay flat on my back, my hat over my eyes, and doze off a bit...eventually I heard the farmer addressing me:  "Ma'am, are you okay?  I just want to be sure you don't have heat stroke!"

I opened my eyes, sat up, and assured him I was okay, that I'd been drinking a lot of water.  He told me to come up to the house if I needed anything and headed back to his chores.  I rested a bit longer and then got back on the bike, somewhat more fortified to pedal further.

Eventually, Hillsboro loomed.  I wended my way through the town's busy streets.  It's a modern town, lots of wide streets with lots of traffic.  Felt like San Jose, just smaller.  Intel and Nike are based there.  No place to camp in Hillsboro, officially.  However, Phil had cleverly arranged through the Mayor's office for a make-do place where we could safely camp for the night.  I was looking for it in, of all places, a warehouse section of the town.  There was evidently an adequate area of grass and trees somewhat hidden behind one of the warehouses to pitch our tents.  Also,  a key to the city's maintenance facility would be made available to us, for access to nice hot showers!

As the sun slipped lower in the sky, I finally found this little oasis in suburbia.  "My people" again greeted me with hugs and enthusiastic "you made its" all around!  After setting up my camp and eating the dinner I'd brought along in a pannier, I retired early, knowing we needed to be up at dawn for Day 2.  I felt like I'd biked 100 miles... and slept like a baby!

DAY 2:  Hillsboro, to Banks, to Vernonia, Oregon 

At dawn, all of us woke up and I felt resonably revived -- more than I would have expected.  We broke camps, loaded our gear back on our bikes, and headed a couple blocks over to a strip mall with a market, Starbucks, Subway, etc.  (The group actually wanted to eat at Wendy's, so maybe that's their secret for endurance! I think they need to all donate their bodies to science!)

I explained to them that fast food wouldn't do it for me on this trip, and I headed to the market close by to get fresh fruit, yogurt, whole grain bread, nuts...figuring I needed the best nutrition I could get for this new day of pedaling -- 37 miles, some more climbing ahead.

Once we all were ready to roll, off we rode at a 12-mph clip for the first 4 miles through Hillsboro's morning commuter traffic.  Finally, we were out in the country, and at that point, I told the group I would need to go at a slower pace than they were comfortably pedaling.   I assured them I'd be fine and would meet them at the end of the day or somewhere along the Banks-Vernonia Rails-to-Trail route that we were all very much looking forward to pedaling.


Wishing me well, off they pedaled towards Banks, OR.  I pedaled the ensuing miles to Banks at about 9-10 mph an hour, happily drinking in the lovely farmlands along the route.  At one point, a man who I'd estimate was in his early 70's rode up alongside me on his road bike and said, "Hey, a Bike Friday loaded for tour!  Good for you!  I own a Bike Friday Tikit, and I love it!"  We yakked for a couple of miles, and then we reached a fork in the road, him heading in a different direction.  He made me smile when he said that he admired me for my pluck, that it took a lot of guts to be pedaling the roads alone on a bike tour, wishing me well.

With my spirits buoyed,  I kept pedaling.  Though I felt more energetic overall, I was still feeling the effects of Day 1's climbing and heat.   Overall, though, the route to Banks was not hard pedaling, so once I arrived, I stopped at a market for supplies -- and an ice cream sandwich!  Then I headed to the trailhead of this lush converted rail trail that is 21 miles long.  It climbs a 3-5% grade for about 15 miles, and then descends to the tiny town of Vernonia. 

Briefly stopping at a conveniently placed bike shop at the trailhead, I started pedaling towards distant hills, comforting myself with the fact that rails-to-trails conversions are GRADUAL climbs.  Trains don't climb hills easily, otherwise.  Gradual climbs are okay!  It's steep climbs that do my flatlander legs in.

I enjoyed ascending the 15 miles to the highest point of the Banks-Vernonia Trail.  It is beautifully laid out and most of it is BLISSFULLY SHADY, a canopy of trees overhead much of the way!  I took my time, enjoyed the natural beauty, stopped occasionally at a beckoning picnic table, enjoyed taking photographs of the various vistas...and eventually arrived at the point on the trail where I could glide downhill for the last 7 miles or so to Vernonia.  Right where the trail dumps onto the streets of Vernonia,  I found Anderson RV Park, where Phil had reserved us camping -- and hot showers!  My pedaling friends were again the light at the end of the day!

On one of the trestles I traversed on the trail
Though Anderson Park is a small RV park, there is a huge play structure for children in the center of it, and a creek and plenty of grass on one side of it.   We were quite happy spreading out there, instead of having to pitch tents amongst the RV's.  We had picnic tables to cook on, too, so I used my Trangia alcohol-burning stove to heat up a Mountain High backpacker's dinner of Teriyaki chicken and rice.  I had never eaten a dehydrated dinner before, and I was pleasantly surprised at how good it tasted, once rehydrated! 

Another good night of sleep, we again rose early, walking a short distance to a cafe on the main street of Vernonia for a hearty breakfast.  After breakfast, as the others headed back to camp, I thought to ask one of the waitresses what she knew about the route we were taking, and she informed me that she lived out in the isolated area where we'd be heading.  She told me we should be aware of the fact that there is no cell phone coverage for about 13 miles, 4 miles out of Vernonia.  Ummmm, this fact and another day of climbing -- evidently not as daunting as Day 1's climbing but definitely more daunting than Day 2's gradual climbing -- got me to thinking hard.  Another fork in the road...

Did I really want to be out in the middle of nowhere, alone on my bike, with no cell-phone coverage and more climbing than I might be up for -- and back to back with the first two days of climbing?  I decided that it was not in my comfort zone, realistically.   I returned to camp and informed my group that I had made a decision:  I was going to bike back along the 21 miles of the Banks-Vernonia Trail to Banks.  My son had agreed to meet me on the trail, pedaling his cargo bike and two young boys for a bit of recreation until meeting up with me.  We'd head back to his Portland house in his truck then.

So the intrepid group pushed on.  They promised they'd let me know once they reached Scappoose RV Park, their next destination.  I promised I'd let them know I'd reached Banks.  When they called me to confirm their safe arrival in Scappoose, they told me they all agreed I'd made the right decisions...that they'd encountered some tough climbs, parts of which they had to walk, and that it had been a long 40-mile day.

I was most impressed, again, about this group's endurance!

The day following that one didn't sound a lot easier for them either...but for me, once I head back from Vernonia long the Banks-Vernonia Trail, it was just 7 miles of climbing the railroad-friendly grade, and then a smooth-cruise sail down the next 14 miles of the trail.  I met up with my son -- and my two grandsons, sitting on the back of his fancy cargo bike -- in Banks.  Talk about back-pedaling!

It was definitely a day of rest, once I was finally back in Portland -- if you call babysitting a 6-year-old and a 3-1/2 year old restful.  Heck, that is almost as wild as climbing a mountain!  LOL!

Heading back, last couple miles of the flat part of trail, near Banks, OR

What would moms do without a son and grandsons?

Looking back, this was 90 miles of touring I'll remember well, and even with some pride that I got as far as I did. To date, it's the longest tour I've done.   I was very inspired by my pedaling mates to do MORE touring down the road!  I will, without guilt, avoid hills when possible, and I will likely walk up them if needed....but I will look forward to more touring adventures on my bike.

I couldn't have asked for better pedaling mates!  We plan to keep in touch.  Who knows...maybe I'll even try to keep up with all of them again on a future tour...but I'll likely still be the turtle.  That is okay, as long as I keep moving!

On my long ride home from Portland (via my Honda Element), I stopped in Ashland and was delighted to meet Phil and his wife over a lovely lunch.  I gave them one of my bicycle mandalas in gratitude for including me on this adventure just survived!

http://paulajoy.artistwebsites.com/art/all/bicycle-inspired+imagery+/all  if you are interested in ordering one as a greeting card, a cell phone case, a photo, a canvas, et.

Notes on the group, more amazing facts:

(Sadly, Phil, last minute, had to bow out of the tour -- after doing all the coordination!  He was waylaid by mechanical problems on his recumbent trike, which are soon to be behind him.  He lamented missing several weeks of touring opportunities he'd worked so hard on planning.)

Two of the cyclists, Ken and Leslie are over 70.  Ken is 74, and I think Leslie might be closer to 80?  She rode a recumbent trike, and the Ken rode an upright bike.  Leslie told me she loves her trike.  She explained that its gears allow it be pedaled as slow as 1 mile an hour up a hill, if needed.   It has a parking brake if the trike needs to stop while ascending a hill!  She also mentioned that she'll be riding an upright steel-framed bike on an upcoming trip to WI and MN:  50-70 mile days, 3700 miles of cumulative climbing.  OMG!  Both Ken and Leslie live in retirement centers.  This definitely breaks some stereotypes in awesomely refreshing ways!

Two other cyclists, Frank (think Death Ride) and Linda, were on Cannondale touring bikes -- and to my amazement, they had a 20-pound DOG along for the tour, Boomer.  This dog sat in a contraption that mounted to the rear rack of one of the Cannondales, complete with a canopy and water on hand to spray him as needed if he needed some air-conditioning along the way.  He was absolutely the sweetest, most uncomplaining dog I've ever encountered.   Frank and Linda said he's been on century rides and other tours numerous times. All three of them traveled like pros!

Ken, the pacesetter!

 Leslie, on her fancy trike!

Linda, Boomer and Frank, ready to roll!

Boomer on guard!
May the road keep going, may I keep pedaling, and may the hills NOT rise up to meet me!


Anonymous said...

Your descriptions of each day's ride, along with your beautiful photos had me riding with all of you on what, i sense is an interesting tour route. I intend doing this tour next season with my new electric assist trike recumbent.

Ken Kelley said...

For the record, Paula, I am only 74. Like I told Phil, when I started the ride I was 74, when I got to Hillsboro I was 79, and then after a night's rest I was 74 again.

The ride from Vernonia to Scappoose was 24 miles, including a pass that forced me to walk about a mile. The curvy, crazy downhill on that route was exhilarating.I was thankful to be in one piece when we got to the bottom.

The day passing through Portland was 42 miles, but thankfully a lot of downhill until the last walk up the hill in Oregon City.

Let's ride again sometime. Thanks for the great photos.