As the busy season for the shop slows down, we start planning our off season adventures. We wanted to start it off right so three of us at the shop decided to pedal down to Portland. We had seen some routes that go through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and that seemed like a more exciting way than the STP route that many are familiar with. We cobbled together a route and kept it somewhat flexible so we could change the route depending on how we were feeling throughout our 3 day adventure.
The Bikes and Their Riders:
We were all riding steel frames made by Waterford (Gunnar is their stock brand), 650b wheels with wide tires (42mm), and fenders so we were prepared for whatever this trip threw at us. All the bikes performed very well and we basically had no mechanicals the whole trip!
Gunnar Hyper-X – Tom
Tom had just gotten his new Hyper-X recently which he equipped with downtube shifters for simplicity and reliability, and a mountain derailleur and cassette with a very wide range of gears. He had a lowrider rack, handlebar bag, and frame bag for his gear (definitely the most prepared of the three of us). He also had a dynamo lighting set up which came in handy during low visibility situations.
Gunnar Hyper-XX – Matt
Matt was riding the shop’s demo bike. We set this bike up with a modern drivetrain (Shimano 105) and hydraulic disc brakes. Matt fit all of his gear on the bike by loading the Swift Industries Ozette Randonneur bag to the brim and strapping more gear underneath the bag and under the saddle. The two best comments about the bike during the trip were “These tires make chip seal feel like fresh pavement!” and “I don’t even feel the weight of the bike, it just wants to climb”.
Waterford ST-22 Custom 650b Rando – Parker
I had just put the bike together and this was its first extended ride. I had some things temporarily mounted since I hadn’t gotten all the parts I needed to finish the bike. Part of the reason to go to Portland was so I could pick up a custom rack for this bike so I had to go without a handlebar bag. At this time it was set up with a lowrider rack and Swift Industries Jr. Ranger Panniers for gear storage. I will post more about this bike once everything is dialed in, but the main things to note about this bike is that superlight tubing was used for a lively feel and it has a low trail geometry for intuitive and nimble handling (even while loaded). Everything performed flawlessly and I was ready for more pedaling even at the end of day.
We had a later start than we had originally planned (we had to button up a couple things at the shop before leaving), but the weather was looking good and we were ready to ride. We rolled out around 10am from the shop and started our journey south. The first part of our route wasn’t the most exciting and we mostly rode on the multi-use paths until we got to Orting. We stopped for some lunch then pushed onward.
The next part of the route was on a back road with hardly any shoulder and the pavement itself was not in the best condition, but our wide Compass tires (Babyshoe Pass 650bx42) were rolling over everything smoothly and kept us comfortable. We would have preferred having more of shoulder to work with, but sometimes when you get far enough away from the city you don’t have much choice and we made the best of it. Luckily there wasn’t much traffic and we enjoyed the rolling hills as we came into Eatonville and then continued on until we dropped down to Alder Lake outside of Elbe. It was getting close to sunset so we decided to stop earlier than we had anticipated, but there was a campground there so it worked out well. Matt and Tom set up camp as I rode a mile or so into Elbe to grab some tallboys and chips to accompany our re-hydrated dinners.
It was a little damp and chilly in the morning so we had our coffee, turned on our lights and headed into the fog. Since we didn’t get as far as we wanted the first day we decided to take a shorter route through Gifford Pinchot and opted to take the paved NF-25 rather than climbing Babyshoe Pass on NF-23. We cruised on the backroads and highways into Randle then we entered the National Forest and began the climb. By that time the weather was perfect; it wasn’t too hot or cold and it was clear with basically no chance of rain.
I had never been on this road before and I thoroughly enjoyed the route. There wasn’t much traffic and it was very scenic throughout. There was a bit of climbing, but everything we went up we got to cruise down the other side. It is always a fun ride when you get to go full speed down a 6 mile open descent where brakes are hardly needed thanks to corners with a gradual bend. After the first big climb and descent we came across a general store in the most convenient location and stocked up on Rainiers. We finished the 90 mile day by climbing most of the next pass (Old Man Pass) and setting up camp around some picnic tables. We got everything set up right as it was getting dark so another day with good timing. The view of the night sky was phenomenal and it had been a while since I had seen the large band of the Milky Way across the whole sky. This is one of the reasons why we go on adventures like this.
We woke up early and started to pack up and make breakfast/coffee before the sun rose. We bundled up in our warmest clothing and started riding as soon as it was light. We had made a good decision leaving about a mile of climbing for the morning. It allowed us to warm up for the second 6 mile descent. We left our warm clothes on (I am really glad I did since it was quite cold going downhill) and started the descent. There were no cars or trucks anywhere and the pavement looked like it had been redone fairly recently. This made for a very fast and flowy descent where brakes were not needed. I did slow down on the blind corners because I didn’t know what to expect; but after seeing how none of the corners were too sharp and there were no hidden potholes, I wish I could have gone down it again at full speed. After the steep descent we got to roll down to the Columbia river with a nice subtle downhill grade.
We rolled into Carson and stopped for a hearty second breakfast and more coffee. We continued onto the highway and crossed over the Bridge of the Gods into Oregon. As I rode across the metal grating of the bridge I could see the water below us and off in the distance to our right was our destination (we were mostly seeing the smog…). The rest of the ride went very smoothly. We rode along the Historic Columbia River Highway which is a mix of separated bike paths and two lane roads that wound along the ridge line parallel to the interstate. We were in tree cover most of the time which kept us cool and we got to see some waterfalls along the way.
There was minimal climbing on our last day and we made steady progress into Portland. Once we started to get into the city we hopped on a multi-use path and took that the rest of the way into the city. I then split off and met up with David Parsons, who was making the front rack for my new bike. After that I pedaled across the city to meet up with the others at Hopworks Urban Brewery (great way to end a long ride!). Riding through Portland was simple. There were very wide and separated bike lanes and bike paths from one part of the city to another (maybe 8 miles or so), which was stress free and easy to navigate even though I had never biked here before. We sat outside and propped up our bikes next to our table and proceeded to celebrate the end of our adventure with a hearty meal and plenty of drinks to accompany it.
Overall the trip was amazing and I got to see a lot of new things. If I had to do it again I might try to find some different roads to get to Randle that were a little more bike friendly. I would also want to mix in some dirt and gravel roads as well and give myself enough time to really enjoy them. This made me realize how much exploring there is to do in this area and I now I have some more trips to plan. This was also a good test of our bikes. We were all very happy to have wide supple tires and it definitely allowed us to roll faster and more comfortably than if we were on either a standard skinny-tire road bike or a touring bike with overly beefy tires. All of us kept most of the weight on the front end of our bike and we all agreed that it felt far better than other ways of carrying gear that we have tried before. I am very excited to see more facets of the bike industry going towards bikes that are both practical and comfortable, but still keep the speed and agility that I value in a high performance road bike.