Thursday, May 07, 2009

4/25/2008 -- Columbia Foothills 205k

Having recently designed and submitted to RUSA 3 permanents, I decided that it might be a good idea to actually ride them before I sent my woolly randonneuring friends off for sheering. I've ridden most of each of the three, but designing a new route is nothing to me if I can't satisfy my yen for adventure by throwing in some new roads. While I'm pretty confident in the research that I do beforehand, there's just no substitute for actually going out and seeing what things are like on the ground. And, half of the fun in designing a course with new roads is in then going out and riding them.

So I sent out an email to Sam Huffman to see if he was up for a 200k adventure for no credit, and he was game. He met me at my house on a cool, grey Saturday morning. The plan was to get a leisurely 9 am start, spend the day scouting out the Columbia Foothills 205k, and finish up before dinner.

The Columbia Foothills 205 is based on a year-round route that I've done a couple times, going up to Longview on low-traffic roads on the Washington side of the Columbia, and coming back into town on US 30 on the Oregon side. I've modified the route a little bit to make it into a permanent, though, simplifying it through Vancouver, and adding a segment that goes up to Apiary on the Oregon leg to add some distance and to get you off US 30 (for a little while, anyway.) I'd checked out the route from the I-205 bridge to Daybreak Park back in January, and found it to be just fine, but the Rainier-Apiary-Deer Island leg, while not literally uncharted territory, was outside of my experience. I was excited.

Sam and I set out, unhurried, around 9:15, and made our way to Vancouver by way of the world's loudest bike path (where I think we saw Mike Bingle heading in the other direction.) I was pleased to discover that the route I'd described through Vancouver was easy to navigate and reasonably pleasant, though once we got onto Andresen, I'd describe it more as "efficient" than anything else -- flat and straight, with a wide shoulder. We settled into a good rhythm that carried us to the east fork of the Lewis River, and Daybreak Park.

Past Daybreak, we were on roads that I had only traveled in the other direction, on RACC. It was flat for a while, but soon we had to climb out of the Lewis River floodplain and it was rollers to La Center, and beyond that, more rollers. In this stretch, Sam asked what busy road was yonder through the trees, which I then identified to him as I-5. We arrived in Woodland not long after.

Through Woodland on a frontage road, and onto Green Mountain Road. A quick bathroom break, and it was time to tackle Green Mountain. I hadn't come this way in a couple years. I remembered it as steep, and my memory didn't fail me. It's about 1.5 miles from bottom to top, with grades frequently in the double digits. Fortunately the climb stair-steps up, relenting 3 or so times, giving you a chance to catch your breath. I climbed steadily, and well, but Sam easily pulled away from me on the steepest parts. I came up with a few control questions based on landmarks as I climbed.

At the top we took in a great view of the river and floodplain below. The road wound around and rolled a bit, before plunging down to the left in a crazy steep, technical descent. In spite of the fact that I had actually been on this descent several times before, Sam had way more confidence his bike handling skills and the quality of his tire-roadway interface, and pulled away from me. At the bottom of the hill, we found ourselves on old US 99, which never gets too far from I-5, and some rollers took us through Kalama and Carrolls into Kelso, the halfway point. We took a break to take in some calories.

After catching our breath, we made our way to the Lewis and Clark Bridge through industrial land on the south side of Longview. At the foot of the bridge, we stopped at the Starbucks to refill my bottles and escape a sudden downpour. To this point, we'd had mostly occasional drizzle, but as we headed towards Oregon, the weather began to change in earnest. The stop at the Starbucks was long enough for things to clear up again, though, and so we headed over the bridge.

Conditions on the bridge weren't too bad. The rain had let up, and there wasn't the nasty cross-wind that you can get high above the river. Once we got to the Oregon side, we even found that ODOT had swept the shoulder for us (the League of American Bicyclists can suck it!) On the other side, we were quickly in Rainier, made a right turn on 6th, and found ourselves on new ground.

The climb out of Rainier is pretty long and challenging, but not nearly as steep as Green Mountain. It reminded me quite a bit of the climb up OR 47 out of Clatskanie, but it wasn't anything like that long. The dwellings got further apart the higher we went, replaced by forest, pasture, and clearcut. The rain came back as we ascended, drenching the two of us pretty thoroughly. After a couple miles, the grade relented considerably, and while the road continued to trend upward, it was more of a middle-ring grade. Halfway to Apiary, I put together several questions for the information control.

Fern Hill Road ended at Apiary Road, where we turned left and briefly found ourselves in familiar territory. Then, around a couple of turns, we turned left onto Meissner Road, and once again I was in the dark. Meissner rolled a bit, but continued the upward trend through alternating clearcuts and lush woods, with the occasional dwelling. We never reached what we identified as the crest, exactly, but the uphill bits started getting switched out for swooping downhills that just about got us into our top gears without spinning us out, featuring sweeping turns that never quite got tight enough to make us reach for our brakes. There were sections that wound along creek drainages, sections between neat, square farm parcels, and a section on the spine of a ridge, with views of the coast range to the left and the right. It was, in short, a hell of a descent. Before we knew it, we were spat out onto US 30 at Deer Island, next to the Quick-Mart.

We turned south on US 30, and got the whole US 30 experience. The rain had stopped, thankfully, and the day stabilized into overcast and slightly blustery. This meant alternating periods where we were fighting quartering headwinds and periods where we were on the conveyor belt. There were lots more cars than we had seen to that point and there were sections with a bunch of crap in the shoulder. We took one last break in Scappoose, and then got onto the conveyor belt for the rest of the ride. I teased Sam whenever we went by the entrance to one of the roads that goes up the west hills: "Hey Sam. Look, there's Rocky Point. We're not doing this ride for credit, we could do a detour if you wanted. You go ahead, I'll be right behind you." "Hey Sam. Logie Trail, Sam, it's not too late." Nevermind that it wouldn't really have been an issue for either of us if it had been called for, I think we had both drunk our fill of bicycling for the day.

Our momentum was only impeded by a screw that embedded itself in my tire on the approach to the St. John's bridge. That taken care of, we proceeded through its cathedral arches into North Portland, and wound our way along Mock's Crest and Alameda Ridge, back to my house. We glided to rest into my driveway at 5:45, completing 205 kilometers in around 8:30.


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