Next stop: Oregon. As I biked my way southward, I followed a central route through Washington away from the coastal areas. The first city I arrived in was Portland. It is well known as the state’s largest and one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country. I approached the city from its western side and it was not very pleasant. There were too many trucks and the bike lanes are not really the safest. But once I reached town, many commuters immediately surrounded me on much better lanes and trails. I spent three nights in Portland tenting in Vivian and Norm’s backyard. They were super friendly Warmshowers hosts, provided me with a lot of useful information regarding my upcoming route, and even took me out for a beer to one of the many local breweries.
Portland was a great place to refuel on healthy food and to upgrade/replace some of my gear. I always felt like overheating wearing my rain pants. At one of the bike shops, I finally found a decent pair of rain shorts. Some of you might wonder: What the heck are rain shorts? Well, my biking friend, Mark Watson from New Zealand, whom I met in Canada introduced me to them. They allow more ventilation than pants which is perfect in high humidity or when it is not extremely cold, yet these shorts still cover your knees so your legs remain warm enough.
On September 17, I woke up in the morning and the weather was miserable. I wanted to stick to my plan to move on and barely managed to pack my tent without getting it soaked under that continuous rain. Somehow, I always prefer getting rained on when I am already on the bike rather than in the very early morning when you pack your gear.
I headed east into the direction of Hood River hoping to get at least a few views of the Columbia River Gorge, which looked impressive in the pictures I saw online. On that day, luck, however, wasn’t on my side.
I didn’t take out my camera a single time. Instead, I got drenched and decided to stop at Cascade Locks campground about 30 km short of the distance I had intended to cover. There was a micro-brewery right next to the campground. I had a beer, but due to the gloomy circumstances, it was not the most enjoyable one on this trip. While I waited for the rain to stop or at least become lighter, I chatted with a few guys who were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Most of you are probably familiar with the movie “Wild” which was shot along the PCT in Washington, Oregon and California. It was interesting to hear their experiences coping with weather, food supplies, and staying motivated on that months-long hike. After a while, I dropped my hopes and set up my tent under the rain in record time. At least that warmed me up a bit before I finally jumped under a hot shower and let out a sigh of relief.
The next morning, the rain finally stopped. Almost immediately, I could feel a spark of hope growing. Especially because I was looking at the fact that I was getting closer to the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains. I quickly made my way to Hood River, which is famous for its world-class kayaking, windsurfing and kitesurfing. For that reason, I was curious to get a feel of the town. I only stopped for a short breakfast but enjoyed riding through the town center. You know that feeling when you get to a new place for the first time, you often get this instant feeling of liking or disliking it. Hood River gets a thumbs up from me.
My plan, however, was to keep going and head further south into the central parts of Oregon. In order to get there, I still had to climb more than 1,600 vertical meters along the backside of Mt Hood. This was definitely a piece of work given that the weather wasn’t cooperating. It remained unstable with the occasional drizzle, cold winds, and high humidity which means tough riding. To cap it all of, on that day, this volcanic mountain actually never revealed itself to me.
I got further into high altitude passing snowmobile parks and Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort. For me, it is impossible to remain dry no matter how sophisticated your weather gear is. If I had to create a list of the worst days on this trip so far, September 18 would definitely be somewhere on the top. Luckily, I was able to set up my camp in the National Forest, put on some dry clothes, and cook some warm dinner. Soon enough, I was in my tent, sleeping like a log.
Well, I had to slip into my more than moist cycling apparel at 3 deg C in the morning but after 10 minutes of jumping and packing like a maniac, I felt a bit better and ready to ride downhill into the arid zone through the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. After those two horribly wet and cold days around Mt Hood, I literally had a huge smile on my face upon seeing wild horses run next to me for a couple of kilometers as Mt. Jefferson stands proudly in the distance (see below).
As always on a long distance bike touring trip, a great day follows a bad one. In a way, that’s what bike touring is about – a series of ups and downs on the road that gives a massive boost of endorphin. Overall, I must say the awesome moments outweigh the shitty ones by far. I am definitely grateful for that.
As so often in small towns, I stopped at another one of those local road grills in Warm Springs and pampered myself with a nice burger. From there, it was only another three hours to Smith Rock State Park, which turned out to be one of most amazing places in Oregon to me. Thanks again, for the recommendation, Ben. 😉
Smith Rock is considered as the birthplace of American sport climbing. People who stay at the campground are almost all part of the climbing scene. But even if you don’t climb, it’s an amazing place to visit with one of the best campgrounds I stayed in so far. Scenic, spacious, hot showers, and power charging ports – all that for just five bucks.
From Smith Rock it was only a two and a half hour cruise into Bend. A city which consistently shows up in “Best Place to Live in the U.S.” rankings. No doubt about that. Bend gets 300 days with sunshine per year. Like many places in the Pacific Northwest, Bend started as a logging town but has been identified as a gateway to the outdoors. So many people move or retire here for that reason. I did enjoy the vibes, the cafe scene, as well as the hospitality of my warmshowers host Krystal and her lovely family. Definitely a place where I could have spent more time, but I was sort of eying at my next destination: Car-free day at Crater Lake National Park on September 24, a nationwide event in all U.S. National Parks.
Since the weather forecast looked very serious, the day before I pre-booked a motel in Chemult, at the foot of the mountain about 70 km away from the National Park. It was a cold and gloomy ride through drizzle and temperatures around freezing. I was certainly more than happy to have a hot shower, a heater to dry all wet gear, and the luxury of getting dressed in a warm room the next morning. When I stepped out of the door at 1 deg C pushing my bike over to the cafe, I smiled because that 50 bucks was a very wise investment. 🙂
That morning, I probably had at least 1500 cals for breakfast. It was one of those typical American breakfasts with a massive cheese omelette, sausage, hash browns, buttered toast, pancakes with maple syrup, and sweetened orange juice. (Obviously, don’t even think about eating that unless you bike in the cold as well!!!). I was totally ready to face the cold, which after about 15 minutes of pedalling wasn’t too bad. It was still humid due to the fog and not yet the time to take off any layers but I could see the blue sky in the far distance, so I took it slowly for the first two hours to avoid getting too sweaty and eventually cold. The climb turned out to be very gradual making the 1,000 vertical meters almost seem to be too easy when I reached the crater rim. Up there, I was rewarded with an epic view of Crater Lake.
Crater Lake is famous for its deep blue color and water clarity. The lake fills a nearly 655 m deep caldera that was formed around 7,700 years ago when a volcano called Mount Mazama collapsed. A very interesting fact is that there are no rivers flowing into or out of the lake; the evaporation is compensated by rain and snowfall at a rate such that the total amount of water is replaced every 250 years.
I spent about four hours riding my bike around the rim road, enjoying the views, and later slept at a campground just a bit further down the mountain. This is where I met Uli and Dieter, two friendly Germans bike touring from Portland to SF. When Uli told me that he was already 70 years old, I almost kneeled down to pay respect to him. How amazing would that be if I were still able to do such a strenuous bike tour at that age. I still can’t believe it.
When I woke up the next morning, the temperature was again close to freezing. I quickly packed my gear, had breakfast, and couldn’t wait to start riding west again. I was determined to get out of the cold and targeted a 140 km long ride that day. Sounds like a lot but, to be honest, the first 40 km were literally just downhill. Temperatures rose by the hour and by the time I arrived at my destination, the gauge indicated 35 deg C with less than 20% humidity. What a change within half a day. That shows how diverse Oregon is and how many micro-climates this state has.
On September 26, I crossed the border to California, following Highway 199 that gave me a very pleasant taste of the upcoming Redwood forests at which I went to take a closer look over the next few days.