Day 04 – Monday – Centralia to Portland
Posted by Mike
Estimate: 97 miles, actual: 110.1 miles – had to use a diversion in Longview and looked around Portland when we arrived, so that added on some miles.
Avg speed: 15.8 mph – very good
Cumulative distance: 346.98 miles
Good news! The Warm Showers cycling community has come good, (who ever doubted that they wouldn’t?!), and a lovely man in Portland called Roberto – and his housemate Larry – have offered to accommodate us. He was away on a camping trip when we sent our message, but he replied as soon as he came home. This means that we won’t have to search (and pay) for an hotel later, which is a bit of a relief.
Roberto suggested that we call him to make arrangements last night, but because of the problems with the wi-fi at the Motel 6, it wasn’t until we were in Safeway’s at about 9 pm that I was able to pick up Roberto’s e-mail and relate the good news to Matthew. He was so happy that he ended up buying too much – more than we could eat in any case, (but that seems so easy to do in the USA). It was a bit late to call, I thought, so I sent a quick message to Roberto to let him know that I’d contact him this morning, which I did. He said that he was working to about 8.30 this evening, which was good news, it meant that we didn’t need to hurry on our journey today. His housemate, Larry would be at home and would expect us. I told him how excited we were about visiting Portland, because it was famous as the cycling capital of America. He replied, “Yes. And we’re very proud of that.” It made me so happy to hear someone say that. This trip sort of evolved out of my strong desire to come to Portland and find out a bit more about it and experience it for myself. It was fitting and perhaps inevitable that we should cycle to get there. I’ve always loved cycling so much and I have always found the cycling community is a very open, accepting, relaxed and happy place for me to be. Portland is a sort of bicycle pilgrim’s Mecca. But there can sometimes be a little anxiety about fulfilling a dream … will the reality disappoint? Somehow that seems inevitable, and I’m something of a pessimist by nature: if I expect the worst, I’m less likely to be disappointed. ‘Pessimists only get nice surprises’, as the saying goes. What Roberto had said, led me to think that I wasn’t going to be disappointed by Portland. We took down Roberto’s and Larry’s address and set off.
Garmin was being particularly stupid today. Our routes are all stored in Garmin’s memory, but our route for today was no real use – it was to Sauvie Island, about 10 miles west of Portland, where we had originally been intending to stay. Roberto and Larry are in north Portland, so I programmed their address into Garmin and asked it to plot a route. It came up with a route with a distance of 200-odd miles – I knew that the journey was actually about 100 miles. Perhaps Garmin was piqued by the disparaging comments in yesterday’s post. Anyway, there was no way that I was cycling 200+ miles today, just to satisfy a cycling computer, so it was over to Google. I plotted a route on my iPhone that would be 97 miles … that was much more like it! While we were riding, we started to notice stencilled markings on the road – SP … later we discovered that this was the official Seattle to Portland bicycle route – we could have just followed that!
Today’s trip was in two sections: the first from Centralia to Napavine, then Winlock and Vader, through the Enchanted Valley following the Cowlitz River to Longview/Kelso for lunch.
The terrain was rolling woodland, beautiful – the roads were quiet and immaculately surfaced. That part of our journey was 51.49 miles and we managed an average speed of 15.5 mph – I’m very pleased with that. The weather was ideal for riding; a little cloudy and overcast, some quite welcome cool conditions compared to the last few days.
A man stopped to talk to us while we were having lunch outside Safeway’s (Kelso), (yes – this is becoming something of a habit, but at Safeway’s they usually have free wi-fi, a deli counter, and almost all of the things that someone as difficult to feed as me needs). Anyway, the man we were speaking with was called Bud and he remarked that it was a nice day for cycling! I’m not certain how, but we ended up talking with for an hour and ten minutes! We were only planning on spending 30 minutes or so having lunch in Longview. But he was really worth talking to. He was an out-of-work steel worker, very much involved with the US labor movement and still involved with his trade union. He was very happy, (to my enormous surprise since we’re in the USA), to talk about socialism and Karl Marx! He was very engaged with issues and worked hard to keep the pressure on his local representatives to be progressive and fair-minded. He told that the Republican Tea Party is known as the ‘Teahadists’ by the left – a wonderful joke, I thought!
There are local elections taking place all over this part of the US at the moment, and it’s impossible to ignore the billboards and poster boards in people’s gardens calling for someone to be elected mayor, chief fire officer, town treasurer, woodland commissioner and the like. Unlike in Britain, election posters tend not to state which party a particular candidate belongs to. When we talked about it on one if our rides, Matthew thought that there were more independent candidates in US local elections than in the UK – so maybe that explained it. I was less sure – I’m pretty sceptical about the notion of independents – in my experience they’re almost always conservatives … or worse, who have a particular reason for not declaring their true right-wing political affiliations. So I wondered if it was possible to ‘decode’ the posters, for example text in red being more likely to be for a Republican and on blue a Democrat. Bud said that often happened and there were other ways in which for some elected positions, party affiliations had to be withheld, but that most everyone would know based on positions taken on issues what candidates’ values were. Bud was amazingly knowledgeable about British politics and the coalition – I think that he would shame plenty of British people with what he knew! I hope that he’s not out of work for too long – perhaps he should run for Congress! We’d have enjoyed talking with him longer, but there were still another 50-odd miles to go, so we had to get back on the saddle and head out on our second leg.
The start of the second part of our journey from Kelso, through Longview took us from Washington State and into Oregon. The state border is marked by the mighty Columbia River. The cantilever bridge over the river is the most Super-Scary Bridge I’ve ever cycled across: the Lewis and Clarke bridge is over 2.5 km (one and a half miles) long and 64m (210 ft) in the air. At the time of completion in 1930, it had the longest span in the United States. I don’t really like heights to start with and I had a real sense of trepidation as we approached the bridge – it’s huge, I mean HUGE! There were long tailbacks of traffic to get onto the bridge, including massive lorries loaded with gigantic logs. As logging and timber are significant local industries, there are pieces of bark and bits of wood strewn all over the roads – most of it seems to get pushed over to the sides of the road, where we’re cycling – so that makes riding a little bit more bumpy and hazardous. When we started up the bridge access ramp, it quickly became clear that the bridge only has a very narrow cycling lane and that it was heavily strewn with bark, bits of wood and other pieces of roadside debris. It was really difficult to keep an eye on steering around the rubbish on the roadway without going into the line of traffic and also (for me) making sure that my view didn’t mean that I was looking over the edge. The bridge is so high to allow big ships to pass underneath and one was moored just underneath. It was a very odd sensation to look down from so close onto something else that was so big – but I just kept averting my eyes and concentrating on the road surface ahead. To compound the general high-level anxiety that I was feeling, there was work being done on the bridge and a couple of sections of bridge on the Oregon side were shrouded in plastic – as we cycled through these, the light levels dropped and it became very dim, also the roar of the traffic was deafening. My heart was pounding and my mouth went dry. I felt a little giddy and I was anxious about Matthew’s safety as well as my own. We’re both experienced cyclists and we’re used to all kinds of difficult situations – but this one was up there among the worst! Thankfully we both survived and coming off of the bridge and I started to calm down.
I rather feared that some of the conditions on the bridge might be replicated on the road as we continued south, but this wasn’t the case and Highway 30 was fine. Although the traffic was quite heavy, (no respite from the logging trucks), there was a wide cycle lane almost all the way into Portland – often with room for us both to cycle along side by side.
We rode through Rainier, Columbia City, St Helens, Scappoose, past the entrance to Sauvie Island, (so that original Garmin route would have been useful after all), and into Portland. The road ran parallel to the Columbia River along a flat valley floor. The river was really wide and there were lots of beautiful lakes either side, covered in lilies, which must look incredible when they’re in flower. There was a broad flat plain on the far side of the river, and we could see a long way across the water. To the west and south side of the river where the road we were riding on was built there were lots of wooded hills.
It was fantastic to get to Portland at last … and unsurprisingly as we approached the city from the west at about 6.00 pm, we saw more and more cyclists. On the outer edge racing cyclists out on their training rides then inside the city there were lots of commuter cyclists. It was heaven! I was also amazed by the amount of runners out along the sides of the river – but Portland id the headquarters of Nike, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised.
We arrived in Portland a little earlier than we expected – Highway 30 was fast and smooth (riding along there brought our average speed up to 16.1 mph – an excellent pace. We decided to spend a bit of time exploring downtown Portland and the cycle routes along the river before heading to Roberto’s and Larry’s for the evening.
We’re staying in Portland tomorrow and don’t have anywhere to get to, so I’ll update the blog on our evening with Larry and Roberto, more about Portland and a summary of cycling in Washington State tomorrow.
One last thing for now – and just to prove how amazing Warm Showers is, two (count them), two Warm Showers members from Portland: Lisa and Stasia, emailed us to offer accommodation. Stasia isn’t even in town at the moment, she’s in California, but said that her partner James was still in Portland and could put us up. How amazing is that?! I think that I might have written already about how Warm Showers is full of stories of miracles and that cyclists were a ‘good sort’ – here’s even more proof.
Second leg: 58.61 miles at an average speed of 15.8 mph