Sep 22-27, 2021
Cycling Yakima and Columbia River Gorge, WA & OR

Prevented last year by forest fire, B and I decided to have a go at it again. Thanks to Mika for all the route planning, which we pretty much followed to a T. Lucked out mostly with fair weather, though the ride into Portland was a bit soggy. Tbh, felt kinda good after the nosebleed air of the East side.

a row of windmills at the top of a hill

This tour more than any before did not de-stress me instantly. It was days before I stopped thinking about tasks and responsibilities, and even then, there was a certain forced uneasiness, a can’t-check-my-messages-so-no-use-worrying-type attitude. Perhaps I’ve been better prepared before, more tasks squared away or passed on to others, while this time the forgotten things kept asserting themselves. Still, even then, by mile 100, 200(?), during the mindless drone of miles of rail trail, melting under an unrelenting western sun, or maybe it was the epic high of descending Maryhill Loops, or the ceaseless headwind of the mighty Columbia… somewhere there, duty and obligation falls to the back of the mind, replaced by a familiar singular focus, a line on the road that pulls one forward…

Day Start End Miles Elev. (ft)
1 Seattle Hyak (Snolquamie Pass) 73.6 4557
2 Hyak Big Pines Campground (Yakima Canyon) 76.9 742
3 Big Pines Campground Brooks Memorial State Park (Satus Pass) 79.2 3595
4 Brooks Memorial State Park Columbia Hills State Park 45.7 1948
5 Columbia Hills State Park Carson Hot Springs 40.0 1400
6 Carson Hot Springs Portland 55.9 3442

Full route GPS: Link

screenshot of ridewithgps track of our route

Day 0 -- Tuesday, September 21


Gear: Surly Long Haul Trucker, front and rear Ortlieb panniers.

I don’t think I’ve ridden this bike since last year’s tour so a lot of tune up needed: swap out the front tube, derrailer and brake adjustments, add pedals and seat, dusting off of things etc. Everything runs surprisingly smoothly.

Day 1 -- Wednesday, September 22

Seattle to Hyak (73.6 mi, 4557 ft)

Biggest altitude gain day, but hardly felt it on that rail grade. First 30+ miles are just your average daily route to Snoqualmie Falls, so it didn’t feel like the tour had begun till we turned right at the bottom of Snoqualmie Parkway. The day stayed damp and misty on and off till Rattlesnake Lake, then dried out during the climb up Iron Horse. Fun to finally be on the trail I’ve crossed many times before on the way to so-and-so trailhead (Mt Washington and Humpback Mountain used to be regular maintanence hikes). Laugh out loud moment of the day was B trying to go for it in the tunnel without lights.

a hillside with pine trees and golden wildflowers on a misty fall day
Ascending to Snoqualmie Pass
an old train tunnel with a tiny speck of light from the other end
The light at the end of the tunnel

Day 2 -- Thursday, September 23

Hyak to Big Pines Campground in Yakima Canyon (76.9 mi, 742 ft)

Mostly gravel day, downhill but some work needed. Air immediately crisps up over the pass. Stopped for bbq at Smokey’s in South Cle Elum, milkshake in Ellensburg, before entering the canyon.

alpine lake
Descending from Snoqualmie
dry desert canyon with river and train trackd
Yakima canyon

Day 3 -- Friday, September 24

Big Pines Campground to Brooks Memorial (79.2 mi, 3595 ft)

Hardest day, hot and dry, with a long stretch without facilities after leaving Toppenish. Morning was easy: accidently stopped in a right wing coffee shop, late enough start to pick up tamales at Los Hernandez for the evening, young apple trees growing trellis-style with fruit bouncing onto the road. Afternoon was…hot and exposed, and the road too busy with cars and big trucks. A kind driver made a U-turn to deliver us a message as we sat under the pitiful shade we found along the roadside: there’s a bear hanging out a bit ahead on the side of the road, you might consider moving along. A bear…of course. The top of Satus pass could not be more welcome. We descended to camp in the sunset, and celebrated B’s birthday at camp!

dry plains east of the cascade mountains
Looking down over the valley from Route 97
a highway stretches up towards a pass
Hot ascent

Day 4 -- Saturday, September 25

Brooks Memorial to Columbia Hills (45.7 mi, 1948 ft)

Best of the best: Monastic bakery. Maryhill Loops Road. Stonehenge. Columbia River Gorge.

a bike leaning against a sign for St Johns bakery
Monastic bakery at Satus Pass
stonehenge replica
Stonehenge at Maryhill
a man stands on a rock at the top of a cliff overlooking the Columbia river
First open views of the Columbia

Day 5 -- Sunday, September 26

Columbia Hills to Carson (42.0 mi, 1400 ft)

The headwind started when we entered the Columbia River Gorge and never let up. That plus the mostly fast traffic along highway 14 made this a pretty unpleasant traverse. The things we do for hotsprings, especially when presented in individual clawfooted tubs. Oh, and showers and a bed after several nights of camping. Can’t complain.

a man bikes on the shoulder of a single lane highway
You can't see the wind
a road curves around the bend along a river
But you can sure feel it

Day 6 -- Monday, September 27

Carson to Portland (55.9 mi, 3442 ft)

The rains were forecast and the rains came. A slight drizzle the previous night into full blown wet droplets. At least we got a chance to use our rain gear. Route 30 was all in all quite pleasant, though looking at waterfalls has always held limited appeal for me, and even less so when soaked through. A few bright moments at the Bridge of the Gods, the stained glass lookout at Crown Point, and peering down through the mist at Bonneville Dam. After a brief break in the suburbs, we roll into M and T’s in Portland <3.

a truss bridge on a rainy day
Bridge of the Gods
two touring bikes with panniers leaning against a railing
Obligatory bike selfie

Day 7 -- Tuesday, September 28

Took the train back to Seattle!