Cycling through Oregon ticked off a lot of new experiences for us.
For the first time, we cycled around a mountain, through canyons and river gorges, passed through remote farming communities and toiled through hot deserts – all in one amazing state. We also experienced two different sides of bicycle travelling. Starting on our own route, we passed through towns that had never heard of people travelling by bicycle, and then connected with the popular TransAmerica trail, which is travelled by thousands of cyclists every year.
Astoria to Portland
Arriving in Astoria was kind of scary.
If you state of Oregon from the Washington coast, your only option is to travel the notorious Astoria-Megler bridge. You can expect a bridge that’s 4 miles long, 200 feet in the air, with a shoulder that’s between 1-2 feet with cars, RVs and trucks flying past you with hardly any room to give you space. Be prepared for a steep climb and a lot of debris and dead birds on the shoulder.
Once we got to Astoria though, we fell a little in love with the town and stayed longer than we had originally planned. Bikes and Beyond remains one of our favourite bicycle stores out of the 2000 miles we’ve travelled so far. They helped Erika re-adjust her bike and find a better riding position, and adjusted my brakes without charging us. This, of course, led us to buy a bunch of gear there – but we love to support great bike stores.
We spent the night at Fort Stevens State Park which has great hiker-bikers, then made our way to Gnat Creek campground, which wasn’t so great for hiker-bikers! That’s where we met Jack and Barbara from Cycling the Paper Road.
Jack and Barbara were both really lovely people. By the time we had met them, they had been cycling around the world for 14 months and had a lot of great advice that we just soaked up. We camped with them for two nights. Hopefully they didn’t get too tired of our questions!
We then made our way to the Banks-Vernonia State Rail Trail which was a very nice 21 mile forest bike path through the Oregon woods which goes through L.L. Stub Stewart State Park . If you’re passing through the area, or even if you live in Portland and want to do an overnight ride, the hiker-biker site here was great. You’ll sleep amongst the thick woods where all you will hear is the rustling of the leaves in the wind – and the occasional cheeky squirrel.
After parting with Jack and Barbara at the end of the trail, we made our way into Portland by cycling to Hillsboro and catching the light rail.
We don’t normally make a point of cycling to big cities, but we’re glad we made our way to Portland. The city is a cyclists dream; well established bike paths, cyclist-conscious drivers and very easy to navigate. We had such a great time in Portland, mostly thanks to our WarmShowers host Hanna. Even if you’re not a cyclist, here’s some things we enjoyed on our day off there:
- Get a pre-loved book at the massive Powell’s Books downtown
- Eat at one of Portland’s famous food truck pods
- Check out some improv comedy at Curious Comedy, Portland’s only non-profit comedy theatre
- Sample the many bars and restaurants at Hawthorne Bvd in eclectic Hawthorne
- Check out the famous River City Cycles (if you are a cyclist and need something!)
Our original plan was to cycle the Columbia River gorge. There was one problem: a fire had damaged the highway en route. Our choices were either to cycle on the Washington side on highway 14 or to cycle down and around Mount Hood and start the gorge at Hood River. Highway 14 is famous for fast trucks and a lot of wind – so, obviously, we chose to climb the mountain.
We’re glad we did!
Cycling route 26 around Mount Hood gave us some of the most beautiful riding we had to this point. There was a lot of climbing, 2 or so days of it, in fact. The climbing was worth it, though, as you’re rewarded with dramatic views of snow-capped Mount Hood as you ride through the thick woods that line either side of the highway. There’s lots of great campgrounds and also pull-outs into the woods that you can camp at for free. Most of these pull-outs were taken, so we chose campsites. However, we later learned that you can pretty much pull out into any section of the woods and set up a tent for free.
On our descent we camped at Toll Bridge Park. The campsite was closed for some reason, but the campground hosts felt sorry for us and let us have the whole campground to ourselves. We bathed in the freezing Hood River and cooked our dinner by the water – it was one of our favourite nights of the trip.
Columbia River Gorge
We arrived at the Columbia River Gorge through the town of Hood River. Amongst the world wind-surfing community, the Hood River section of the Columbia River is famous. It provides wind-surfers with ever-changing winds that provide a challenge to even the most seasoned windsurfers.
We cycled the Columbia River the best way possible: on the Historic Columbia River Highway. You might recognise it from car and motorcycle advertisements because a lot of them are filmed here! From Hood River to Mosier, there’s a 7 mile section just for cyclists and hikers, which has been one of the most spectacular rides we’ve done so far. In Mosier, we were hosted by Paul and Ines who fed us incredible amounts of awesome food and helped us plan the next leg of our trip.
Deserts of Oregon
Did you know Oregon has a desert? We sure didn’t! At least, not until we were cycling in it.
Following the Columbia River Gorge, we cycled through a combination of wheat fields, wind farms and desert, where nothing grows but shrubs. There were small farming communities, where we stayed at RV parks, which would give you a shower, wifi and a space to pitch your tent for $10. If you have a butane burning stove, we would recommend you stock up at a big town like The Dalles. We forgot to buy a can of butane and then went for 10 days without a cooking stove due to how small and remotes the towns were in this section of Oregon.
The riding through the deserts of Oregon was, as you can imagine, very hot. There wasn’t any shade, so we had to start cycling as early as 5am and then find somewhere to hold out between the hours of 11am and 4pm, where it was far too hot to ride. Throughout the hard work of riding the desert, we found a great campsite at Cottonwood Canyon State Park which had a nice river you could swim in.
The Fossil Beds
Following the John Day River, you pass through gorgeous canyons which are known for the well preserved fossils that have been found there. In the 1800s the area lured gold-seekers and pioneers, and was often an area of conflict between Native Americans and settlers. In the 1860s fossils were discovered and the area became internationally recognised drawing interest from scientists to come study the ancient land.
Riding along the river was a scenic, flat ride. If, at any point it was starting to heat up, you could literally pull over and jump into the river. The area is also famous for fruit-growing, so we stopped at one of the local cherry growers and bought a few pounds of delicious rainier cherries and some dried fruit for the road. In the fossil beds, we camped at the school in the town of Fossil and then the Spray Riverfront Park, which was a campsite right on the John Day River.
The TransAmerica trail (Oregon section)
Up until we connected with the TransAmerica trail, we had not seen another bicycle traveller for 10 days.
From the moment we started pedalling on the TransAm, we were seeing at least 4 or 5 cyclists per day cycling the opposite direction to us. Every cyclist we met had stories from the road, tips on the next few days of cycling and a sense of excitement and adventure that’s unique to someone who’s decided to put their day-to-day life on hold to travel across the country.
In Dayville, our first town on the TransAm, we were looking for a place to pitch our tent for the night. To both our delight and surprise, we learned that the Dayville Community Church has been hosting cyclists since 1981! We spent the night there in great comfort – having a hot shower, use of a stocked kitchen (mmm.. pancakes), laundry and having access to WiFi.
The next morning we heard a knock on the door and were introduced to 30-40 cyclists who were cycling for Habitat for Humanity Manitoba. They were stopping at the church to have their lunch before finishing their day in the upcoming town of John Day. We spent some time with these amazing guys and they graciously invited to share their dinner and campsite with us at John Day.
After John Day (where we finally got camp fuel!), we camped at Bates State Park, where we met Paul and his cycling dog Mona. Paul’s cycling to New Hampshire as well, so we would end up cycling and sharing campsites with him multiple times in the next states.
After Bates State Park, Oregon started to really heat up. We were back in the deserts once again when we reached Baker City. Between here and the Idaho border, we met some amazing cyclists like Lynne & Jenny and Alex & Liam who feature in our videos. Sometimes, we also had some days where cycling was hard, like the one time we cowered in the shade of a small cabin for a few hours because the sun was too hot to cycle in.
To sum up our time on the TransAm trail, though, you have such a great time camping and cycling with other adventurous bike travellers that you hardly notice when you’re having a bad cycling day.