This Space for Rent

Does this count as misuse of a rando bike?

Banks-Vernonia landslide

On Friday, my friend Ed Groth asked (on a local bikey mailing list I subscribe to) if anyone would be interested in coming along with him as he explored the old Crown-Zellerbach railroad/haul road from Vernonia/Pittsburg to Scappoose. It sounded interesting, so I wrote back offering some commentary and expressing some interest, but carefully wrapped in cautions about having to deal with shipping my children off to grandmother’s house (no river or woods in the way, sorry) for their regular saturday visit.

On Saturday morning, Ed got in touch with me (at ~9:30) and I said sure, I’d want to do it. But he wanted to head out of town basically right then, and I was 6 miles south of his house in North Portland.

“Are you planning on riding your red bike?” (I had been waffling about whether to bring the Trek or the mlcm, but decided (wisely, as it turns out) then that I should take the mlcm)

“Well, yes”

“Oh, you’re much faster than we are; meet us in Scappoose and we’ll head out from there.” (I was dubious about this claim, but it turned out to be the case this time around.)

So I threw on my clothes (I had been doing my usual Saturday morning sans brevet routine, which involves a lot of moving as if I had been dipped in molasses,) flung some cookie bars into the mlcm’s handlebar bag, and bolted out of the house as if I had been goosed by Satan himself, and after only one bad routing decision (I decided that I would route myself through North Portland and over the St. John’s bridge and thus avoid going through the west side and the tempting collection of stuff in the ex-BN yard there. I did avoid the yard, but at the expense of approximately 10,000 stopsigns between Williams & Willamette) I went screaming up to Scappoose at a new flat average speed of something on the order of 16.5mph, arriving at the Fred Meyer in South Scappoose about 15 minutes before noon (about 15 minutes after Ed & John Kangas arrived) and went inside to do some shopping.

I actually arrived at the Fred Meyer while they were still inside getting fud, but found the bicycles because (a) they were the only bicycles parked there and (b) the bicycles looked like Portland bicycles (a bianchi single-speed and a fully racked Surly LHT with a Citybikes kitty litter basket pannier.) I wasn’t sure whether or not that was them, but decided I’d wait for a while, and it wasn’t long before John came out and asked if I was David (answer: Yes, last time I checked.) And in the fullness of time (being defined as me going in and grabbing a sandwich and a couple more cookie bars, then waiting for Ed to come out) we got back on the road and headed out to the Crown Zellerbach haul road.

I’ll let you know that the CZ haul road is more scenic than the Scappoose-Vernonia highway (and safer for bicycles, because there are no cars on most of it) but it’s a lot slower. Near Scappoose a mile or so is “paved”, but then the path turns to gravel over pavement, just plain gravel, then a combination of paved NFD access road, gravel NFD & camp access road, paired gravel singletrack, and the occasional landslide and washout.

About five miles out of Scappoose the haul road turned abruptly to mounds of bicycle stopping dirt (I was following Ed up one of the piles when he stalled out and fell over, forcing me to stall out and leap off my bike to keep from falling over as well) which, after we’d walked a hundred feet or so, we realized was a fairly substantial landslide that had washed over the haul road and, presumably, had finished up by plummeting to Scappoose Creek down below. And no sooner had we cleared that when we encountered a more deliberate dirtpile, which blocked the road from where a trestle used to be before it was washed out by a little stream, which we had to carry our bicycles down to, cross and then haul up the other side before continuing on.

And then another five miles down the line we found another washout which was much more substantial, and which involved following a deer trail 50 feet down to the tiny little stream that had caused the washout, across the stream and up the other side of the ravine, at which point we collapsed in exhaustion for 20 or so minutes before clambering back onto our bicycles and continuing west.

Somewhere along here the old railroad ROW diverged from the haul road, so we missed the chance to go along and see the old railroad tunnel before we started grinding up the steep ramp that the haul road used to get up to the summit of the Nehalem divide. The roadbed here was interesting to ride on 26mm tires; the combination of fine gravel, mud, and leafmold made the ride slippery enough to feel as if I was riding on flat tires. I managed to lose my chain into the rear spokes once on the way up, but I was moving slowly enough to just stop when the chain went huuuurck! on me instead of chewing up the driveside spokes on my rear wheel, and it wasn’t long after that that Ed’s singlespeed dropped its chain in sympathy with mine.

And, of course, I do climb slowly; I made it to the summit easily a minute after Ed & John did, which may have been the furthest back I was on the whole loop.

And then it was downhill almost all the way to Pittsburg. Ed and I charged foolishly down the steep ramp from the summit, while John followed, sensibly, far enough back to avoid any possible wrecks and we slithered down the gravel and mud all the way to the end of the accessable haul road (the last mile or so is chainlinked off; presumable the present owners of the line are still using the yard to service their logging properties west of the Nehalem divide) just north of Pittsburg.

And then we got back onto the road and, battling a persistently constant headwind (it didn’t matter when we were on the haul road, but there were headwinds pretty much constantly from the St. Johns bridge north, west, and south to Vernonia,) made our way to Vernonia and the Black Bear Coffee Company, where we stopped and had a little something before proceeding to the Banks-Vernonia Linear Park to loop back into the Portland metropolitan area.

Most of the Banks-Vernonia Linear Park (the ex-United Railways line to Vernonia) is paved, which makes it not only scenic but fairly fast, but one of the long trestles on the line burned a dozen years or so ago, and the path for a few miles each side of it isn’t really maintained any more And we weren’t going to take any pesky shortcut on the main road to get around the unpaved part of the trail, but instead climbed up the side of the valley towards where the trestle used to be, then plunged down a steep ballasted ramp to the road, crossed over, and pushed our bicycles up the 13% ramp back to the railroad grade, which then obligingly dropped us 700 feet or so down to the flatlands northwest of Banks.

26mm tires are, as I may have mentioned, not the finest thing for cyclocross-style riding, but they coast much better than the 35mm tires that Ed & John had on their bicycles. Just coasting (and with my dynamo headlight turned on, because rainclouds were blocking out the sun and it was getting quite dark periodically) the mlcm would regularly outrun Ed & John, forcing me to stop and take more pictures while either waiting for them or watching them sail by so I could catch up again.

And then we reached the end of the Banks-Vernonia Linear Trail, which ends in a very Elroy-Spartaish manner by abruptly becoming just a railroad grade, and then a railroad grade with railroad on it. And we proceeded forward, past the “TRAIL ENDS HERE” signs, onto the branch and ballast-strewn ROW, which, not more than 1000 feet along, managed to – after I misjudged a wheelhop – catch my bicycle’s front wheel and stop the bicycle, but not me, dead in its tracks. And then after I picked myself up after my no-doubt-elegant superman-style endo, I continued along at a more walking pace until the railroad ROW dumped us out onto the highway at the intersection of Sellers Rd, Banks Rd, Cedar Canyon Rd (of Verboort Flat Tire Extravaganza! fame), and highway 47.

We were about 75 miles into the ride by now, and it was closing in on 7pm, so we decided to take highway 47 down to Forest Grove, then ride baseline east to Hillsboro to catch a train so I could get home for our weekly ethiopian dinner, and as I was cruising down 47, I was thinking to myself “I am so ready to ride a 400km loop next week!” This, of course, meant that no sooner had we cleared Forest Grove than I got a call that Russell was being taken to the emergency room with suspected appendicitis. This made the six miles into Hillsboro much more interesting, because all of a sudden I was overflowing with adrenaline and moving much faster than before. So I’d be cranking along, fretting about how to get home most efficiently, and then I’d realize that I’d left Ed & John faaaar behind. And then I’d stop, wait for them to catch up, and repeat the whole shebang, over and over again until we finally got to Hillsboro and the Tri-Met station (just in time to see an eastbound train pull out as we scrambled to buy tickets.)

I probably would have made better time if I’d just bolted east on my bicycle (we had to wait 20 minutes for the next train, and at the speed I was going then I would have been six miles down the line before that train departed) but I still made it back before anyone thought I would (including a 20+mph sprint from the First & Yamhill interurban station to home) and was able to get to the emergency room before we switched to the other one and were, after 4 hours, shifted to the “his appendix isn’t going to explode, so we’ll send him home with you now” timetable.

I am still ready for the 400km. I spent most of the time in the emergency room either fretfully trying to do stuff on the computer or pacing around, because even though I was tired my legs were not. And in the grand scheme of things I would much rather have a emergency room appendicitis scare happen when I’m 50 miles away from home instead of down by Eugene and looking forward to a 130 mile “sprint” home.

And the poor mlcm? Well, I’m going to have to scrape the dirt out of the fenders, clean the seaweed out of the wheels, brush the mud off the wheels, the brakes, the braking surfaces, and the parts of the transmission and downtube that fell foul of “I didn’t get around to putting a mudflap on the front fender yet.” But the bicycle survived, the bicycle luggage survived, and the rider survived, so we’ll just pretend I didn’t do 45 miles of trail riding (~28 miles unimproved?) yesterday.

I’m taking advantage of flickr these days, so you can see a more complete pile of photographs of the loop at