July should be a month when the year’s cycling activities reach their high point, but for me family travels got in the way. I was out for solid rides only three times, 60 miles for the month instead of several hundred. For any open road cyclist, this inactivity is a challenge, but for an octogenarian like me it is a potential crisis. With every advancing year, it is harder to keep going. My first rides since coming home have been slow and painful.
Today, with a forecast of 95 by mid afternoon, I did my ride during the morning when the temperature still was temperate. My purpose for the ride was to pick wild blackberries on Lower River Road, Washington State Highway 501, that runs along the Columbia River. From my condo to the new gate that marks the end of the road, the distance is exactly 10 miles. When I started the temperature was 70, with a noticeable NW breeze (http://www.columbian.com/news/2015/jul/12/far-segment-lower-river-road-closes-cars-tuesday/).
The first two or three miles take travelers through the Port of Vancouver, but then Lower River Road passes through a strip of agricultural land that is unexpected so close to a major urban center. Corn fields and herds of dairy cattle are interspersed with nearly dry swales. Near the north end of the road, the Fazio Bros Sand Company mines sand most of which is used for construction in Clark County and vicinity.
In addition to traffic generated by Fazio, the port, and related industries, Lower River Road also services a marina, prison, power generating station, and three public parks. The road is level, well paved, with wide shoulders, and segments of a walking-biking trail that gradually is being developed.
It is extensively used by cyclists and on today’s ride, despite the fact that it was during the working day, several others on two wheels were enjoying this excursion in a semi rural environment. My goal was to put a few more miles into my legs by cycling at an easy pace and enjoying the scenery.
One of the most interesting stops was 8 miles out, near the marina. Two stubs of trees and a utility post were the building sites for active osprey nests and two more inactive nests were located nearby. A county employee was also stopped to photograph these large, sea-faring hawks. She cautioned me to be careful where I stood. Earlier she had stopped at the foot on one of the trees, not noticing the nest. While photographing the other, she narrowly missed being splattered with a juicy glob from a digestive tract high above.
Most of Lower River Road is separated from the river so that travelers can’t see it. Two places provide for public access to the Columbia. One is a viewpoint with trails to the water, situated at a spot where it is possible to discern the place on the Oregon side where the Willamette River joints the Columbia. Fortunately, an illustrated, permanent exhibit gives a brief account of the discovery of the Willamette by Lewis and Clark and helps visitors to identify the confluence that is largely hidden from view.
Much larger is Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park that was opened in 1997. It was named after Paul Haury, a Frenchman who early in his working life was engaged in fur trading in Alaska. Near Astoria, Oregon, he jumped ship to work in the salmon canneries. Wanting to improve his lot, he bought five acres of land on the Columbia near Vancouver to net fishing of salmon.
Today’s ride was part of my plan to recover lost cycling capabilities during the next few weeks. Today’s 20 miles were slow and easy, but they are helping my body remember what it is supposed to be able to do. Most of my forthcoming rides will be much more disciplined and aggressive. I know that I can never be the cyclist I used to be, but I want to recover the ability to do metric centuries and more day after day. My training will include a mixture of easy going, opportunities to enjoy interesting places and hard charging training rides. There still is time for two or three multi-day trips before cold, wet weather returns to the Pacific Northwest.
By the way, I did pick blackberries. The peak of the season was half way through July, but there still are places along Lower River Road where luscious berries await an easygoing cyclists like I was today.