John's Gravel Tour: Bikepacking Seattle to Portland, Day Four

This is Day Four of our four day tour from Seattle to Portland via backwoods roads. Find posts from the rest of this adventure here.


Our last night before getting into Portland, on the Columbia River, the amenities of civilization came with a price. The fancy campground at Thunder Island suffered from freight trains passing by fifteen feet away every thirty minutes throughout the night. So while we were able to sit down to a cooked breakfast in a restaurant that morning, all of us were wearing the signs of a poor night's sleep on our faces. If you're up for this route, camping before or after Thunder Island either on the edge of Gifford Pinchot, along the Columbia River, or even just stealth-camping on the east edge of Thunder Island (the west side is where all the tourists go to walk around) would make for much better sleeping arrangements. Thankfully this would be the shortest day of our tour. A laughable forty five miles on the Historic Columbia River Highway, through the Columbia River Gorge, stood between us and Portland.

We grab breakfast at a restaurant inside a hotel. These are usually the only ones you'll find open early enough for those of us who sleep outside next to trains, thus are awake at 5am regardless. The restaurant even has vegan breakfast options, then we set out on bike-specific paths. between the amenities and lush greenery it feels very Oregon.

I know many cyclists in the Portland area have ridden this highway and will back me up on how pretty it is. It weaves up and down, left and right, along the ridges of the gorge. The sun is out, though strangely all the other guys have kept their shirts on today. But sunny weather isn't the usual, certainly not what's on the forecast, and in the short period where the highway curves into the mountains before shooting back out to a ridge everything has changed. Blues have left the sky, there's now a slight chill despite all our huffing and puffing, and fog has taken up residence low into the gorge. 

But everything beautiful wrapped in the soft light. We pass by all the amazing waterfalls seen from the highway, though at which the choice is made to stop is random and I think all of us are still of the mindset that we'll need to ride another hundred miles today. At least it keeps our pace steady, and our only big stop is at the ubiquitous Crown Point Vista House where the view is immaculate in the way I've come to love. Blue skies and seeing for miles is great and all, but watching hills disappear into fog has always caught my eye.

What follows our descent out of the gorge is, well, boring. We ride into the heart of the suburbs and get a slap-in-the-face reminder of traffic lights, aggressive cars, and having to stop every quarter mile for a ten-minute light cycle. I swear, city traffic looks graceful and fluid in comparison to these suburban nightmares. On the edge of Portland, we say goodbye to John. Our smaller group becomes a paceline going into Portland, and we head straight to downtown to sort out trains, donuts, and supplies for what comes next. I also say goodbye to the group, for now. I'm spoiled with my arrival into any major city- each one has friends that I need to see, and I only have one day to be social before I'm on the next train, and the next adventure.