If I needed something else to remind me that I had to abandon my penchant for aesthetics, the destruction of my after-market stainless still thumb shifters certainly provided another case study to ignore.
So I caught the bus the remaining stretch into Portland because the bike was stuck in a particularly low gear. I made for a rib-tickling sight, legs pumping rapidly as I rolled slowly to my hostel.
Portland is regarded as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the United States. Bike shops and brewpubs are to Portland what bakeries and pharmacies are to France – they’re everywhere. A few phone calls to various shops sent me to a place that was highly regarded. They told me they didn’t even have to order the unique replacement part I needed and were familiar with the fairly sophisticated internal gear hub that I use.
Well, that was about as positive as it got. After taking the bike in, I was told that the workshop was booked out for two weeks. Being the only bike shop in the city with the part I needed, I had to cop the wait. I spent the time explorting the city, going on hikes (still don’t really get hikes) and making friends with hostel folk and the locals.
Portland is a very hipster city. There’s just weird stuff happening everywhere. Like the pedal-powered bar that does a circuitous pub-crawl of the city, or a group of 20 people in a park who’d decked out their bikes and themselves in neon lights before going on an impromptu ride through the night streets. And the coffee is generally quite good.
A fortnight later, I went to pick up my bike and I was told that they’d only just looked at it yesterday and realised I needed a different gear cable box which had to be ordered in. I was justifiably furious because I had told them just that when the bike was booked in two weeks earlier! It would take an extra week to finish the job.
Eight days later, the bike was ready but the delay put paid to any hopes of a transcontinental trip. I could try to cycle as much of the trip as possible, taking buses and trains between particularly interesting areas (Rockies, Yellowstone, Bighorns, Deadwood, Badlands). This was not my preference, because I don’t like the idea of being constantly behind schedule, and the states I had chosen to cycle (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska…) don’t necessarily have the most pervasive transportation networks.
Instead, I will be completing my West Coast cycle in Seattle, and then catching a train or plane to Chicago or beyond and continuing as planned so I can take my time and enjoy the trip.
I guess I’ll have another crack at the big trip in a couple of years.
I was told that skipping the Columbia Gorge would be a huge mistake, so I headed east along the Columbia River Historic Highway, the scenic alternative to the busy interstate that remained at river’s edge. After a decent climb, the gorge was laid out beneath me in spectacular form.
Two shakes of a crying baby later, I was whizzing along the valley floor, before a bike path took me back up to the cliffs.
The Columbia River Gorge is an extremely diverse environment, ranging from 4,000ft elevation to sea level, and with annual precipitation transitioning from 2,500mm a year to 250mm along its 80 mile course.
There are also loads of underground springs and aquifers that have resulted in almost 100 waterfalls distributed through the gorge, the vast majority of which lie conveniently on the historic highway on which I was travelling.
The most spectacular is Multnomah Falls, plunging 180m over two drops. According to a sign, it’s the second tallest year-round waterfall in the United States
After the falls, the highway took me into Cascade Locks, where someone with no sense of hubris has named the bridge that traverses the river into Washington the ‘Bridge of the Gods’. Have seen better bridges tbh.
I had a terrific burger at a roadside spot with a long line before being forced onto the Interstate. Highly unpleasant: very little shoulder and road surface sub-standard. Must do better.
The reappearance of the bike path provided temporary respite, before a return to the Interstate. That took me into Hood River, 80km east of Portland and my lodgings for the evening.
The next day continued along the gorge, with even stronger weather providing for more stunning visuals.
My destination was a campsite on the other side of the Columbia River in Washington, and it was only a 40 mile ride from Hood River. However, the undulating landscape and plenty of photo ops meant that I made it to The Dalles in mid-afternoon, and didn’t make it to camp until the late afternoon.
From here, I head north over a smallish mountain range into the old west of the Yakima Indian Reservation, before veering west over Chinook Pass and a fairly standard range towards Seattle.