Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Portland Oregon Ride

My business trip to Portland is almost at an end. Work went well, and we managed to have a couple very nice dinners to boot.

Of course, I was very excited about experiencing some of the cycling scene while I was here, and I had a chance to do that on Sunday morning. My hotel (the Doubletree near the Convention Center) is nothing to rave about, and the surrounding area is also unremarkable, but it's a very easy walk over the Steel Bridge (that is, the dedicated foot & bike bridge underneath), or a quick ride on the tram to Old Town.

So on Sunday, I was up early and walked over for a nice breakfast at Cafe Bijou, then went to Waterfront Bicycles to hire a bike for the morning. I was lucky to be as early as I was, since there was already a queue at 15 mins past opening, and I got one of the last rentals they had on hand. I was allocated a hybrid of some sort, but then I spied a Redline 29er and got that instead! The staff there handled the fracas admirably and fairly, and I was all kitted out in less than 15 mins or so. The person who set me up recommended that I ride up to Forest Park and do the Lief Erikson trail, a wide hardpack gravel road up along a beautiful forested mountain ridge north of town. He marked a good route on a free Portland Bike Map and I was off!

The route through town took me through some delightful neighborhoods and up a reasonably steep hill to the entrance to the park. The grid system was very easy to navigate, and it certainly helps that the streets in that area are numbered going one way and alphabetical the other! At some point, I also picked up a series of signs pointing to the park.

When I reached the entrance to the park, I was glad to find a water fountain, since I hadn't brought any water with me. Trail continued uphill, and the surface was a hardpacked gravel, with some really rocky, bumpy bits. Beautiful trail, though, with glimpses of the river down below through the thick forest. It continues about 11 miles from one end to the other. I opted to turn around at the halfway point and head back downtown, where I tooled around for another hour or so before returning the bike.

I took the wonderful Max tram back to the hotel to prepare for an afternoon meeting after a mediocre burrito from a stand in the Saturday Market.

It was a really wonderful ride, and a great surprise to be able to spend time on an offroad trail, not just around town. I'd wanted to be immersed in the famous Portland bike culture, and I guess I did that - to the degree that such a thing is possible in a few hours. I had a great chat with the guy at the bike shop, and experienced lots of marked bike paths and dedicated infrastructure, and also headed out of town to share one of the city's greatest assets. The tram was also a high point, and apparently a boon for cyclists, since every ride I took had at least one cyclist onboard with his or her bike.

Note: I had hoped to do a guided tour by bike, and I was referred to Evan Ross of Portland Bicycle Tours. I didn't contact him until the night before, so by the time I heard back from him, I was already on my way back to the shop to return my rental bike. Once we had established contact, though, he seemed very responsive and friendly. Definitely worth a try next time!

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