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January 14, 2012 Flood Ride

Closed road

Two weekends ago, I deliberated as to where to see the ravages of Wednesday´s flood. I decided on visiting Aumsville and Turner, instead of Buena Vista and Independence.

But first I had to check out my old stomping grounds along State Street. With a temperature over 40 degrees, I could ride casually and stay warm. I rode up Ferry Street, adjacent to Shelton Ditch, from 14th. Brad lives along there somewhere, and I was curious as to whether I´d recognize his home. If I saw it, I missed it and there was no Ruby, Brad´s pit bull, to correct me. But there were plenty of sandbags lining several houses and street corners.

I rode behind the storage where I parked my old Falcon during the flood of ´96. This is next door to where Oregon Canoe Sport once operated. I purchased the first canoe to leave via Mill Creek, as I lived just up the creek on the south side. Plenty of Mill Creek mud was pushed up against the wall facing the creek, and the debris indicated a plenty of water had headed for State Street. I left my tire tracks paralleling someone´s mountain bike tracks.

Flooded road

I headed east on State Street expecting to see evidence of high water at the intersection of Hawthorne, but outside of the small lake next to the penitentiary, nothing revealed itself. I´m sure that if I turned down Hawthorne towards Costco, there would have been more signs of sandbags and debris as it approached the bridge over Mill Creek.

I turned south on Lancaster Drive — it´s been a long time since I´ve ridden any part of Lancaster! -- crossed Kuebler onto Aumsville Highway and rode up the hill to Joseph St. overpass. The camels were out and I stopped to take pictures of them. The caretakers passed me from behind and turned in the driveway, but apparently were accustomed to seeing such activity as they didn´t address me.

Towards the intersection of Witzel, there was a high water sign, but by now it was just a trickle wandering across the road. When you reach the crest of Aumsville Highway, where you can see Aumsville, you can appreciate why it floods. It´s surrounded by hills on three sides, and all the run off heads in that direction.

Flooded road

I thought about taking Mill Creek Rd. into Turner, as there are many bridges crossing the creek as it winds back and forth to Turner, but decided to take W. Stayton Rd. to Shaff Rd. as there´s lots of low lying ground out there. As the road crosses Mill Creek, I could see where it had flooded the road, leaving weeds and other debris embedded in the fence and bowing it downstream.

I could only see one incidence of a canal flooding Shaff Rd., everything else stayed within its banks. As I approached Cascade High school, I did stop to ease my bladder in the blackberry thicket. Barney and his pals were still there among the empty suitcases and their contents someone had dumped during the summer!

I turned north on 70th, where the ditches on either side of the road were close to overflowing. Must have been exciting on Wednesday! I was surprised that the culverts could keep up with the flow even three days later. I turned west on Mill Creek Rd., but stopped to take some pic´s of the water rushing under the bridge at 70th. It was pretty close to bumping the bottom of the bridge, even now.

I took a few more pic´s of the creek as I crossed the bridges to Turner. It´s a pretty placid creek in the summer, quite the contrast to its swollen state now. The new bridge in Turner takes all the fun out of crossing the creek. When it was under construction, we rode our bikes across before it was doable by car.

Sandbags had begun to appear back where Marion Rd. intersected Mill Creek, and as I turned north on Turner Rd., I could see moving vans as well as sandbags parked at residences along the creek.

Flooded road

Riding west along Delaney, I crossed Mill Creek for what must have been the 8th time. The bridge there allows quite the panorama of water spread wide beyond the creek´s banks. The No Trespassing signs in the trees seem a little obvious at this point, though I´d love a picture of someone paddling a canoe beneath one! I was surprised to find yet another high water sign after cresting one of the hills on Delaney. You´re riding on the shoulder of a hill, but the amount of water that was funneled off the hillside, must have been focused on this site.

At the intersection of Battlecreek, you can see the private bridge surrounded by water on both sides, and the fence above it decorated in weeds, again bowed downstream. After cresting the hill, you can see sandbags protecting houses down in the creek´s ravine. It´s usually no more than a trickle!

Coming back into Salem left me thinking that I´d waited too long after the deluge to fully appreciate what it can do, but compared to most winter rides, every corner was an adventure!

Flooded road

The following Saturday was a brisk 29 degrees as I left the shop, but it had been dry and sunny for a couple of days, so I wasn´t too concerned about frozen liquid on the pavement. I´d heard of frost warnings, but figured that was aimed at motorists traveling at high speed. I was pretty bundled up, complete with a balaclava and an earwarmer, but was looking forward to muscling up some hills and gaining some warmth in doing so! It wasn´t very far beyond Kuebler, on Skyline, that I noticed the de-icer on the roadway. I dislike the de-icer as it makes it harder to distinguish the dark pavement from black ice at a distance.

Sure enough, they´d sprayed plenty of de-icer on the bump just past Moore Rd. Normally I would build as much speed as I could to get as far up it before resorting to grunt mode, but today I wanted to approach it cautiously, just in case I needed to dismount gracefully! Even the de-icer can be slippery, and so as it turned out, there was no ice on the roadway, just the shoulders. Nonetheless, I stayed seated and searched for the bumpiest parts of the road for traction. Just beyond the top of the bump, they hadn´t sprayed de-icer, and there was a long patch of frost, or so I hoped, on the roadway. I glided motionless down that stretch, only to be honked at from the SUV approaching me from behind as I reached the corner. Fortunately, the bump as you approach Cole Rd. was dry and I could use some momentum to crest it. I was concerned about the bump leading to Concomly, and didn´t build up momentum, but pedaled slowly in my lowest gear over the most abrasive sections of the roadway.

I knew that I was going to set the slowest speed record descending to Riverside. I remember the year when water running off the hillside had covered the section overlooking the river below with gravel, and wondered if I´d find a sheet of ice awaiting me. It wasn´t, and while feeling bolder, still felt the need to be cautious. It paid off as I rounded the hairpin turn, for a 6´ wide trickle of water had crossed the road there. It didn´t appear to be frozen, but there were car tracks on either side of it, and I worried that they had perhaps frozen. I got off my bike and tentatively put one shoe in the middle of it — it felt firm and solid. I looked beyond it at the tracks, and walked my bike up the slope to the other side of the road. It was only wet, not frozen, and I regained my saddle and commenced my descent. They´d obviously heavily de-iced this steep portion, but I remained suspicious and kept my speed to a crawl.

It was some relief that I reached the bottom of Skyline and headed toward Independence Bridge on Riverside. I knew that there was some possiblity that there would be high water just beyond the railroad trestle, but figured that maybe the water would be low enough that I´d ride my bike thru. And it was noticeably warmer nearer the river. At worst, I could take some pic´s and turn around to ride back to Liberty Rd. to come back to town. Kinda hoped to ride into Independence and then south to Buena Vista, if the water was low enough for the ferry to be running.

Just before reaching the trestle, the high water sign appeared, and after reaching a second set with a barrier, I dismounted to take a picture. As was putting my lobsters back on, a truck passed and wound around the gate. I delayed following it, waiting for the noise to subside before pulling out onto the roadway. But instead, the noise increased as the truck was in reverse and coming my way again. Wow! The water must be pretty deep as it was a pretty big farm truck, I thought. I wasn´t sure what to do, as I was uncertain how far he would back up before backing into my lane to turn around. Instead, he backed up to me, and then asked if I wished a ride across the stream!

I hoisted my bike into the back of the truck and then climbed into the warm cab. An old guy, with a patch over his right eye, greeted me! Loud music was pouring from the radio, and he didn´t offer to turn it down while attempting conversation. Apparently, he´d come thru last night and the water had been up to the doorwells. There wasn´t any signs of water in the truck, so I guessed it must be water tight.

In past years of flood, we´d ridden our bike down to this part of the road and had always chickened out of attempting to ride thru it. The roiling water on the far side of the road contrasted pretty strongly with the placid pool upstream. As we crossed it, I indicated that he could let me out and I could pedal the rest of the way. He informed me that he didn´t think so, as there were three, maybe four, more streams crossing the roadway. I doubted him, but decided that the dice had been thrown, and the only way was to see the result. Sure enough, there were three more to cross!

Now what if I´d had the foolhardiness to cross the first one by bike, only to find that the second was too intimidating, or managed to cross it, and found the third was too intimidating. Or had wet feet, and cold ones at that, and didn´t want to risk freezing them a second or third time. Dance around waiting for another ride across? Maybe that would have been an adventure worth risking!

After letting me off past the fourth one, he offered to get me into town, but I told him I needed the ride. The Willamette had risen quite a bit and the low lying areas on either side of the road were full of floating flotsam, but I did not encounter any more torrents of water crossing the road until I reached River Road. I hadn´t really thought about it, but all that water going over Riverside had to be going somewhere! Lots of tracks and mud around the barrier — it was obvious that folks were disobeying it. I used to do that in my old Falcon as well. My mom did it in her Honda Accord, but the air intake to the motor was in the wheelwell, and my mom ended up with a new motor! As I rode back towards the bridge, a four-wheel, full-size, truck came down and worked its way around the barrier. It successfully crossed the stream and continued on up the road. I wondered if I´d missed another ride, or if the back of the pickup would fill with water, or worse, perhaps stall in the middle of the current. Hmmmmm, stuck in a cold cab and no means of getting warm until rescued . . . .

So, I resigned myself to riding up ugly Independence Hwy., and even uglier Hwy. 22 into Salem. Independence showed no signs of flood alarm, even the city park still had cars parked out on the bank surrounding it, though the auditorium was a small lake. In the past, I can remember the decorative architectural columns standing in the Willamette River´s overflow. The river really isn´t visible from most of Independence Hwy., so helped with a tailwind, I maintained pretty good speed until reaching Hwy. 22.

Some nice views from Hwy. 22 of the river sprawled out on either side of its banks, but I quickly resumed my cadence and continued toward the end of the ride. Reaching the West Salem offramp, I could make out homeless camps towards the river, still a long ways from the city center. But with Wallace Marine park, and the adjoining areas, under water, perhaps this was the nearest retreat for them.

Next time high water returns, I think a journey out beyond Keizer would be challenging and offer new understanding of its terrain.