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2006 Columbia River Gorge Ride - By Michael Wolfe

It really was colder than what a bunch of kids would have enjoyed. Cold enough that when riding through stretches of moss covered pavement one questioned how slippery the surface was. A recent gale had covered the ground with dead conifer needles that contrasted sharply with the verdant moss.

When riding through the tunnel, you can appreciate both the work that was done in the initial construction, and the success in excavating and repairing the holes left in the tunnel afterwards. When I-84 was finished, ODOT backfilled the tunnel with loose rock to prevent any loitering in a non-maintained structure. Some falling rock and landslides caved in the top of the tunnel during that period prior to re-opening the passage. It certainly doesn't appear the way it did prior to I-84, especially the approach from Hood River, but it still has the holes in the side that allows a view of the gorge below. And while not lit, there is still the dates and names of the travelers stranded in the tunnel during a snow storm in the '30's.

Columbia River Gorge

Upon exiting the tunnel, there is another viewpoint that gives you an eagle's perspective of I-84, almost directly beneath you. Looking away from the river, the hillside becomes a cliff running parallel to the roadway, though some ways away.

Mosier is pretty quiet in the winter, perhaps especially in the temperature we were riding in. The Porche museum/restoration garage that sells coffees, and ice cream, in the summer was certainly closed. No groups of walkers strolling the streets, nor even an occassinal cyclist was to be seen.

But Mosier now has a totem pole -- no paint, just carved fish, birds and animals intertwined and balancing on a spire to the sky. And as we pedaled east out of town, new foundations for a condo complex beneath Riverview Estates. Wonder how much river will be viewable when the complex is complete?

TotemBeyond locating the Mosier waterfall, I had not cycled east of Mosier. It starts climbing almost immediately and after rounding one more turn, you are greeted with a straight road with orchards on either side. It's hard to imagine the hillside terrain would allow such a straight line to be drawn. It leads almost directly to a large farmhouse that has the look of a bygone era, carefully nestled beneath the protective outcrop sheltering it from the winter east winds.

Rounding the outcrop, the land reverts to rocks and conifers, almost arid with no signs of agriculture attempts at all. Memaloose outlook is the next excuse to stop. And it's a long drop from the outlook. Apparently, the long drop has proven to be a source of amusement for some, as the windshield from a car reflects the light at the bottom. We also spotted four blacktail deer feeding at the bottom, but the flash from my camera soon sent them scurrying elsewhere!

At Memaloose, we were informed by an interpretative sign, that the islands in the Columbia had served as burial grounds for the native Americans. They wrapped the dead in tule mats or robes and placed them in canoes or in cedar vaults on the islands. In the '30's, there was a relocation of the bodies with the building of the dams and the subsequent flooding of the islands. Memaloose Island, which in Chinook means "to die", is now only one-third of its original size since the damming of the river. Ironically, only Victor Trevitt, an early pioneer printer, legislator and champion of the native Americans, remains buried on Memaloose today.

Rowena CrestRowena Overlook was more impressive than I thought it would be. From the viewpoint off the road, one looks down almost to The Dalles, and the road winds like a steaming spaghetti noodle below you. This particular grade was a challenge for the builders, as the climb from the river to this crest could not exceed 5% nor have a less than 100 degree radius bend! I suppose this was due to the horsepower of the early trucks. There was really no point in riding to The Dalles, short of the Pioneer Interpretative Center. But, the thrill presented by the road below, tantalized me and I convinced John that the ride to the bottom of the overlook was worth the climb back.

We put our jackets on and our shells over our long-finger gloves before leaving, a precaution against the chill factor of the downhill. I'd been warned that the ride down on a windy day is really scary -- it's open to the east wind and as you wind down the face, the wind is constantly changing direction. Today, however, it was only really cold, with only a slight breeze. We really don't gain any speed on this descent and didn't worry about braking thru the curves. We reached the bottom all too soon, but I was looking forward to seeing the views at a slower pace on the uphill ride.

A rock and mortar wall follows the riverside of the road as you climb. You really appreciate the amount of time it would take to construct this today, and at what expense! Approaching yet another hairpin turn, I spotted a group of blacktail deer. I was already far behind John as I was taking pictures from the saddle and concentrating on where the best shots could be had. I stopped to take some pictures of the deer, and the opportunity to relieve some excess water. I had barely gotten started when here comes John, wondering if I fallen over the wall somewhere, or perhaps had a flat to fix in the cold. We'd appreciated the extra protection of our jackets and shells, and the climb was so gentle that we didn't overheat with them still on.

Memaloosa signWe rode without stopping back to Mosier where I easily convinced John that we should stop for a meal at the restaurant. It's obvious that the restaurant is aware of the number of cyclists using this historic highway, as the food is wholesome and satisfying. We found a seat, ordered our meals, and John surprised me by asking the young woman who was our waitress, whether she was a runner, a cyclist or a windsurfer! To both our surprise, she answered that she was none and that it was a longer story than she had time to explain how she got there. I gave her a card and asked her to email me her story and that I'd put it in this story posted on our website. Later, before we left, she explained that she was a "gypsy" from New York and that she and her boyfriend had recently moved here from Colorado. They just enjoy the community and nature of the Columbia Gorge in Mosier's environment. She must have decided that was an explanation enough, for she has never emailed me.

When we were returning to Mosier, it dawned on me that I'd left my wallet at the shop earlier this morning, and had no means of purchasing a meal nor gas to get back to Salem. Fortunately, John had as always, come prepared and rescued me. It was pretty uneventful the rest of the way to Hood River, it was getting later, but there were more people out on the trail than when we departed.

Both John and I agreed it was a very worthwhile and scenic ride, but a long ways to drive for such a short ride. We rode some 30 miles, with a surprising elevation gain of 2500 feet. I know I'll return with the kids in tow, a great ride for them, and perhaps some of their friends.