By Bryan Hall
It happened a few years ago on a Saturday morning, the laundry was done, the house had been cleaned, the bike washed and serviced… and I was bored. And usually when I’m bored on a decent day, I climb on my bike.
The sun was trying to peek out from the clouds, and winning slowly. I had been thinking of riding down the back side of Mt St Helens, not having been on those roads since before the mountain blew up (I’m old, remember?) and I was still riding my Yamaha 650 Special. I decided, what the hell, might as well do it. I saddled up, kicked my Road King into gear and off I went.
I took a quick blast down I-5 to Highway 12, cut over to Randle, and then rode down Forest Road 25 over the 4000-foot high Elk Pass and down to the Pine Creek information station. I turned onto Forest Road 90 and rode through the town of Cougar, then caught SR 503 through Amboy and into Battleground…all throughout nothing but beautiful scenery and the road will definitely work you! It’s amazing to see how the landscape has “recovered” since the eruption of Mt. St. Helens 37 years ago. I took the road out of Battleground over to I-5 and dropped into Portland on I-205, stopped for gas and a bite. When I came out of the café, I saw Mt Hood rising above the skyline and thought why not ride around the backside of that too?
I climbed back onto my trusty Road King and headed east, caught Highway 26 out of Gresham, and rolled through Sandy and a number of little towns (Wemme, Rhododendron, Zig Zag) that dot the highway up past Government Camp and over the mountain. Just past Government Camp, the turnoff to Highway 35 appears, which heads south past Mt Hood Meadows ski area and drops down to the Columbia Gorge at Hood River. Very nice road, little to no traffic (my favorite kind!) and breathtakingly gorgeous scenery. I thought I should find a hotel for the night, as it was about 7:30 or so, but Hood River is not known for budget hotels, and not having planned ahead for reservations, I motored east along I-84 another 25 miles to The Dalles. Ah, Motel 6 baby! I had dinner, a few drinks, and crashed for the night.
The next morning was sunny and warm; I loaded up the bike and hit the road about 7 am. The tank on my scoot was more empty than full, so I topped it up in Biggs Junction and crossed the bridge into Washington on Highway 97. I was thinking of going up to Goldendale, then catching SR 142 west and following it down to Highway 14 along the Washington side of the Columbia River. SR 142 is an interesting road, to say the least…it rolls through farms and fields; most of the time you can see Mt St Helens bright and shining off to your right and in a few stretches you can see Mt Hood to your left as well! After going past Wahkiacus (not really a town, more like crossroads), the road starts winding and dropping down into the valley… and trust me, it snakes, bends, twists – all through hairpin curves, 15 and 20mph, mostly one lane, no guardrails, and a sheer drop-off on your left. Once it evens out, you’re riding along the Klickitat River, which is a very nice ride. The road ends at Lyle, and I turned left onto Highway 14 and there was the infamous Gorge wind – head on, cold and gusty! My plan, such as it was, was to ride the highway all the way to Vancouver and catch I-205 north toward home.
By the time I got to Stevenson (about 35 miles), I needed to stop, so I had breakfast at a little café there. Another 5 or 6 miles and I came to the junction for the Bridge of the Gods which crosses back into Oregon. It’s a toll bridge, but only $1.00 for bikes… unfortunately it is a steel grate bridge deck. Having had enough of that infernal wind, I decided to head back to Oregon and ride the old Scenic Highway along the gorge past Multnomah Falls and up to Crown Point.
The old highway is great for bikes, but on a summer day there are a lot of tourist drivers and pedestrians, as well as bicycles. I made a few stops along the way for pictures, and then rode through Corbett and Springdale into Troutdale. After a couple of stops for gas and something to drink, I rolled onto I-205 and headed for home, getting back about mid-afternoon. All in all, 703 miles since Saturday morning, not a bad “spur of the moment” ride at all!