Columbia Hills

img_5658This destination was really for Richard. He had ridden the Columbia River Gorge a couple summers ago and it had been a highlight. The aim for this visit was for him to ride the Washington side, so we found a state park at the eastern end of the ride that we used as our base camp. Easier than packing up and moving every day.

img_5595A secondary goal for this weekend happened to time with another Bruce maintenance service on the road. We keep clocking so many miles during summer trips that it’s becoming a matter of course that we’ll have to find an Acura dealership somewhere along the way. For efficiency, we planned it such that I could drive the entire route from east to west (90+ miles) with Richard and his bike on board, drop them off at the far west end of the route, and go get an oil change (for the car, not me).

I must say, the logistics worked out pretty well and I even got to get caught up on the blog using the super fast Acura dealership wifi while the work got done. All told, that was about three hours of sitting in the surprisingly comfortable leatherette chairs before Bruce was returned, all filled with fluids and devoid of road grit and many layers of bug splats.

img_5579I followed Richard’s route and caught him about 60 miles down Highway 14. He’s a biking beast. He noted a couple things about doing the ride on that side. First off, he probably started too far west and too close to Vancouver. It was pretty much freeway riding for about five miles and he had to cross a terrifying narrow bridge just outside Washougal. He avoided some of the highway by following the Evergreen Road, but even that eventually dumps you onto 14 before it’s nice. If he had to do it over again, he would start at Steigerwald Lake. Anyway, he made it and I picked him up safe and alive, and drove back to our campground.

img_5612The Columbia Hills State Park campground at Horsethief Lake was really pretty nice. It had hookups and access to a protected little lake right by the river. A happy surprise for us was finding an Altoiste family there when we pulled in. I love that. I also really liked the family and they had lots of helpful information about the area. One thing they said was that, yes, it is always windy there. And when I say it was windy, apparently I mean 20 mph sustained winds because they had a little gadget that measures wind speed. The number 20 feels way too low to describe the constant buffeting, but I fully defer to the gadget. In fact, it’s tops on my list to purchase one of these (in blue). One supreme benefit of the wind was that it was at Richard’s back and acted as a tail wind the entire time.

img_5659The park apparently has been aware of wind for quite some time and there was a nice perimeter of tall, mature trees whose primary function must be to create a block. I noticed it best when I tried to go boating the next day. There was a very distinct boundary in the water, beyond which the wind was just brutal. Staying within the invisible semi circle closest to shore, it was almost like a normal calm day. Cross the line and you’re gonna get a face full of spray and wonder if you could actually be carried out to sea from within a lake.

img_5621Richard’s second riding day began with me dropping him off at Drano Lake. For this stretch, he had to pass through several tunnels. There are buttons you can push to let cars know there’s a bike in the tunnel, and he said almost all drivers were courteous to him. All it takes is one asshole though. He did have someone beep at him in the tunnel, which you can imagine would not be calming. Mostly people were nice, but he did opt to get off the highway and take Old Highway 8, which he says was much nicer and provided spectacular views of the gorge from high above.

img_5632He then arrived back in the campground about the time I was deciding to call the boating quits for the day. We got to do a little walking around the park to look at their collection of petroglyphs. There are apparently more impressive ones, but you have to book a tour with the park ranger because they are in a protected area to prevent (further) vandalism. People suck. If we ever go back, we might want to give that a try. In fact, there were all kinds of historic museums and scenic hikes we did not do. There’s a lot to keep one entertained on the gorge. However, I don’t think I’ll ever be one of the hundreds out there with parasails or sailboards, or whatever you call things you attach to yourself when it’s windy and hold on for dear life. One sad thing I noted was that the damage from last summer’s fires is very apparent. There are entire mountainsides, once densely forested, that are now bare, save the charred remains of thousands of trees. That was a massive fire and the scars will be visible for a very long time. Otherwise, the gorge does not disappoint if you’re looking for a hundred-mile stretch of spectacular river canyon scenery.

Total miles from Barview Jetty: 173.1, 16.2mpg, 4 hours 6 min. Site 3. The sites are slotted next to each other with no privacy. But hookups, nice bathrooms, great cell service for both.

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