Friday, October 16, 2009

Bike Camping, Stub Stewart State Park

Where have we been? Deep in the land of baby-prep, new-job-stress, and pregnancy fatigue, mostly. Dave is still riding the bike part of his multi-modal commute, and I'm still on the bike for errands and little bits of exercise, but with six-ish weeks until the baby comes, we've been a bit preoccupied.

But as the weather turns beautifully gray and wet and blustery, I'd like to take a moment and finally post on our bike camping trip back in August.

I don't think either of us had thought seriously about bike camping until our move to Portland, when stories like this one and adventures like this one began to get under our skin. Moreover, camping was an important part of both of our family lives as children, and the thought that not owning a car would mean less or no camping for our kids was... well, kind of a bummer. So we figured we'd try it out.

The first problem we had to figure out was not bike-related, but rather pregnancy-related. Earlier in the summer we had gone on a (car-based) camping trip with a group of friends, and made the unpleasant discovery that my pregnant body could not sleep on the thermarest + sleeping bag set up that we were used to-- we ended up spending that weekend sleeping in our Zipcar, for want of better options. Did this mean the end of camping until next summer?

We stewed on the problem, contemplating air mattresses (heavy, won't fit in the tent), hammocks (light, but no sure-fire place to put it) and so on. But the answer, it turned out, was simpler than all that: cabins. Unlike the state parks of my youth, the parks surrounding Portland all have cabins to rent. And while the price is steeper than a tent site, and the reservations require more prior planning than I'd like, cabins with beds seemed to be the perfect answer.

With help from Cyclewild's guide to bike camping in the area, we hunted down the next available cabin rental within our comfortable cycling distance, and ended up with a reservation at Stub Stewart State Park.

We planned on taking the Cyclewild route from the Hillsboro MAX end-of-line to the park, about 22.5 miles. We made a few missteps, though, that made our ride out... more eventful than we would have liked.

First, we left late. Dave had some last-minute wrenching on the Mundo that took longer than anticipated (doesn't it always), and I had been unable to sleep the night before and so ended up needed a nap before I could get on the road (one of the unexpected pitfalls of cycling pregnant!). By the time we got to the Goose Hollow MAX station with our loaded bikes, it was (oops!) rush hour. We waited about 45 minutes for a train with enough space for us to squeeze onboard, and so were even later.

03 Bikes Waiting at the Goose Hollow Max.JPG

Once we got to the end of the line, we set off for some beautiful riding from the edges of Hillsboro, though fields and a massive nursery to the little town of Banks. We stopped just outside of Banks for a snack.

09 Bikes & Barn.JPG

As we finished our snack it became obvious that we were battling nightfall, but between Dave's heavy load and my general slow-ness, there wasn't much to be done. We pushed on.

It was about half-way through the 3-mile stretch on Hwy 26, as dusk settled in around us as cars sped by a few feet away, that I began to suspect that we had made an incredibly stupid choice: a voice in my head began pointing out that if I read a news story about a five-month pregnant woman getting hurt or killed while riding on the shoulder of a busy highway in the dark, I might not be all that sympathetic. But we were well past the half-way point by then, and as we were counting on the cabin, we had no tent that would let us stop short of our goal. So-- onward!

Turning off of Hwy 26, as the last light of evening began to fail, I had another sinking realization. The cabins at the state park lock have combination locks. In our rush to get out the door, I had failed to write ours down. And, arriving so late, there would be no rangers to help us out. I mention this to Dave, who agrees that this is most unfortunate. But what is there to do? We keep riding.

It is clear from the cue sheet-- but had somehow escaped my proper notice-- that in the 4.5 miles from that turn off of 26 to the camp visitor center, you climb about 750 feet. We met this climb in the dark, in need of food (but unwilling to stop for it), and already tired from pushing ourselves to go faster to avoid the darkness. It was steep, and the shoulder was narrow, and it was some of the hardest riding I'd ever done.

Once we turned into the gates of the park, there was more climbing up to the visitor center. We were both struggling to ride in a straight line, but fortunately, we were done with cars by then-- all the other campers had the good sense to arrive in daylight, I suppose.

14 Bianchi at Visitor's Center.JPG

At the visitor's center, finding not even a single night ranger to help us with the cabin problem, we made a distress call to my brother in California, who obligingly logged into my email and found the code for us. We had a snack, used the restroom, and then set out for the last climb up to our cabin.

The cabin was awesome! The combination worked! Dave stared in on boiling water for dinner, while I set up the cabin with sheets, sleeping bags, and so on. Very homey:
17 Cabin Interior 3.JPG
15 Cabin Interior 1.JPG
16 Cabin Interior 2.JPG

(Yes, I brought a body pillow. Yes, it was worth it. See above, on pitfalls of riding pregnant.)

The next morning, we made breakfast, chatted with a wandering ranger, and watched the kids from the next cabin over race around the parking lot on their bikes. We went for a short hike to stretch our legs, packed up our gear, and cruised down to the (now open) visitor center to ask about a sign we'd seen the night before regarding the Banks-Veronia trail.

30 Banks Veronia Sign.JPG

We learned that it is Oregon's first rails-to-trails project, called on some of its signage a "Linear State Park," which we found charming. Furthermore, it runs from Veronia (just north of Stub Stewart) to Banks (which we had passed through the previous evening). And, looking at the map, it became clear that taking the Banks-Veronia trail would bypass the part of the route on Hwy 26 entirely. Why hadn't we known this before?!

The trail had a lovely shallow grade, unlike the road we'd climbed up to get to the park. It was lined with blackberries, which made for excellent mid-ride snacking. And it had beautiful features like this converted bridge:
32 Beautiful Banks Veronia Bridge.JPG
If you're going to make this ride, I strongly recommend that you get onto the Banks-Veronia trail just after you pass through Banks, and stay on it all the way up to the park. MUCH more pleasant than the corresponding roads, though a bit longer.

In Banks, we stopped for ice cream sundaes at the Banks Trail Cafe, and then enjoyed a mellow ride back to Hillsboro.

35 Ice Cream in Banks!.JPG

Thanks to our morning hike and leisurely ride, we reached the Hillsboro MAX... just in time for the early rush hour. Fortunately, as we were getting on at the end of the line, everyone else had to squeeze around us this time. Still, rushes on the train are important to keep in mind, especially if you are trying to move around a loaded Yuba Mundo on a weekday.

In spite of our long list of mistakes and mis-calculations, though, I think this trip was a huge success. We finished it feeling exhausted but satisfied, and looking back on it now, I'm very grateful that we pushed through our second thoughts and got out that door-- especially since now, at 8.5 months pregnant, my limit for a day's riding is about 10 miles, and I wouldn't be able to make the trip.

5 comments:

melanthius said...

On a "doh!" note, I had read the Clever Cycles blog post that Katie linked above long before we made our own trip. I recalled reading it when we (ahem, Katie) planned our trip, but as inspiration and not instruction. I had forgotten the details.

I read it again after our trip, and much to my chagrin, not only does it describe a trip between the same MAX station from which we left and the same state park we visited, but it describes taking the Banks-Veronia trail to do it! It's a great ride, and obviously it being a rails-to-trails project means the climbing is all steady and shallow, not short and brutal like it was for us on the roads. The bridge in the photo is a train trestle. Most people never get to see one up close because, well, they're built for trains. It's a beautiful structure and well worth a nice ride to see it.

Rachel said...

This is awesome. You guys are awesome! Great story about a great adventure!

sara said...

I gotta say-- I am impressed about the BIKE camping, but far more impressed with the PREGNANCY BIKE camping!

Julian said...

Yes, IMPRESSED. Big ups for bringing the pregnancy pillow.

She Rides a Bike said...

8.5 months pregnant. I'm really impressed with your stick-to-tiveness and energy level. Good post and pictures