2.2.08: 27 June 2012: Vancouver to Longview / Kelso, or Making It Up As We Go

From Vancouver to Longview / Kelso, Getting Back to Our Route

Read about our rest day in Vancouver

Vancouver sets across the Columbia River from Portland.  The most immediate geographical feature is the River Valley.  Running north to Longview, it then completes its turn to the west, and runs on to the sea.  The Valley is quite large and spacious near Vancouver.  It narrows sharply as the River flows down hill.  Near Kalama, on the Washington side, the River runs close to the hills, pinching everything down, including the road network.  The hills and mountains, on both sides of the river, channel travel into this narrow corridor.


2208 mapWe awoke to our second morning in Vancouver, Washington.  We were 134 air miles from Bremerton, and 67 air miles from Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River.  Our goal for the day was Longview / Kelso, where the Columbia bends forms a great bend.  We designed our route, using GPSies.com.  Our route was 46.2 miles, with 3432 feet of climbing.  We started in Vancouver, near the I-5 Bridge over the Columbia River.  We rode in a NNW direction all day, crossing under I-5 in Vancouver, and riding on the east side, until we reached Kelso.  For much of the morning, we could see Mount St Helens to our right.  WE ate lunch in La Center.  In the afternoon, we met our stiffest challenge, Green Mountain Road.  We reached our objective, Kelso, late in the afternoon.

Our turn-by-turn route was:  0.0 – Start in Vancouver;  0.1 miles – RIGHT onto Columbia;  2.1 miles – RIGHT onto 45th;  2.4 miles – LEFT onto Main;  2.6 miles – LEFT onto Hazel Dell;  5.2 miles – RIGHT onto 99th;  5.8 miles – LEFT onto Highway 99;  7.7 miles – STRAIGHT onto 20th;  8.6 miles – LEFT onto Union;  9.0 miles – STRAIGHT onto 15th;  10.0 miles – LEFT onto 179th;  10.2 miles – RIGHT onto 10th;  15.7 miles – STRAIGHT onto Timmen;  17.6 miles – RIGHT onto La Center;  18.3 miles – STRAIGHT onto Pacific Highway;  23.4 miles – LEFT onto E CC;  23.7 miles – RIGHT onto Goering;  24.6 miles – STRAIGHT onto Old Pacific Highway;  25.0 miles – RIGHT onto Green Mountain Road;  29.8 miles – LEFT onto Martins Bluff;  31.2 miles – RIGHT onto Cloverdale;  32.7 miles – LEFT onto Todd;  33.3 miles – STRAIGHT onto Old Pacific Highway / Old 99;  36.1 miles – STRAIGHT onto Meeker;  38.4 miles – RIGHT onto Kalama River;  38.5 miles – LEFT onto Old Highway 99;  41.0 miles – STRAIGHT onto Old Pacific Highway;  43.4 miles – RIGHT onto Kelso;  45.8 miles – LEFT onto Grade;  46.2 miles – STOP at Kelso / Longview.

2208 elevations Through the day, we climbed 3579 feet.  The first climb, Burnt Bridge Creek, was modest, and familiar to us.  The second climb was on the outer edges of the urban sprawl, on Union Avenue.  Our third climb came as we crossed the Lewis River at La Center.  But the biggest climb came in the last third of the ride, when we climbed Green Mountain Road, at a place where the mountains spilled down, almost to the Columbia, and there was little room for I-5 and a back road.  The fifth climb was at Kalama River, and then a series of rollers, came on Cloverdale road.


Our second morning in Vancouver started out grey, but dry.  Gathering our stuff together, we readies ourselves to head north, away from Vancouver, and back to the ACA Route.  The prior day, at the library, we had accessed GPSies.COM, and mapped out a side-road path to Kelso.  I had been unable to download the route to my Garmin Edge 705.  We had hand-written notes of the turn-by-turn instruction.  This harkened back to our early mountain biking days, when we copied from various books, but had no GPS to give us our actual position.  We used the local area bike map to get us cleanly out of Vancouver.

We packed our panniers, rolled our bikes outside, and loaded them down with panniers.  We did our customary last-thing-room-search.  We always worried about forgetting something.  Still, because we completely filled our panniers,  we could usually tell if there was too much space.  I looked up as we in and out of our room.  We  were under scrutiny from one of the local residents.  Our observer was a tuxedo cat, just like Ricky, back home.

We rode away from our temporary home of two nights.  We chose Columbia Avenue over Main Street.  We climbed the long hill to Burnt Bridge Creek.  Traffic was very light, even in the morning rush hour.  Had we known we were riding the north bank of the Columbia the day before, we could have made the early part of the ride easier, by taking a Motel closer to Kelso / Longview.

When we had been at Vancouver Cyclery about 36 hours before, I had meant to get a spare tire for my bike.  We stopped by Vancouver Cyclery.  It was directly on our route.  Unfortunately, they did not open until 10 AM.  Not wishing to give back over an hour, we decided to take the risk.  And it seemed a day for risk taking, as the sun had come out, and the temperature had warmed up.  The day promised to be pleasant.

As we rode north the buildings began to thin out.  Climbing the hill to Union, we passed the last group of strip malls and fast food.  From there, we saw trees and open country, as well as clumps of houses.  Despite all the open country around them, people continue to build houses as close together as they can.  Real estate economics run counter to common sense.  And home owners blithely go along with it, quickly erecting eight foot tall fences to further reduce their sight lines, confining themselves to their small plots of land.

Our route kept us near I-5, with the busy highway to our left.  Sometimes we could hear it plainly.  At other times, we had no hint of it.  As we rode, we kept bumping into Old Highway 99.  We would find it, ride it for a time, and then the signs would disappear.  We would ride a stretch of road, make a turn, and ride a different road.  We had no large-scale map to confirm our route.  The tiny screen of the Garmin was an excellent tool for tactical maneuvering, but was difficult to use to make sure where we were, whether we had, unwittingly, strayed.  We trusted to our notes, and our eye sight.  Fortunately, our notes were good enough that we always found our turn.

We rode along the quiet lanes, with little traffic to disturb us.  The valley was broad, and negotiable rolling hills.  To the north, and the east, we could see mountains.  For some time, they had nothing to do with us.  The further north we rode, the closer we got.  The foot hills crept closer to the Columbia River, I-5, and our quiet by-way.

During the morning, we came upon a sign announcing Volcano Ranch.  That caused us to wake up and pay attention.  And then we understood.  We were not far from Mount St Helens, perhaps 35 miles to the north-east.  We found ourselves riding, eyes fixed to our 2 o’clock position.  We took a number of shots, hoping one of them would be “the” shot.  Sadly, we never found it.

The surrounding countryside was so different from that uneasy volcano.  Twenty or more years before, it had erupted, filling the skies with ash and debris.  For a short time, the weather in the northern hemisphere was cooler.  Yet, south of the volcano, life had returned to normal.  Farmers had tilled the land, and planted seeds.  Worker had stacked strawberry boxes.  Life went on, in the shadow of pent-up violence on a geological scale.

Eventually, the slumbering volcano disappeared behind a range of hills.  Try though we would, we did not catch sight of the mountain again that day.  We pedaled on, down mostly quiet rural roads.  To the left, we could occasionally see and hear I-5, but their hustle and bustle was not our concern.

Nearing lunch time, we crossed a bridge over the East Fork of the Lewis River, and coasted into La Center.  We needed food.  This hamlet was home to about 3,000 people.  The primary industry seemed to be a casino.   We stopped at a quiet intersection, just off the highway.  We enlisted the aid of a couple, walking down the street.  They recommended an establishment, a new restaurant tied in with the new Chevron station.  Marian had a hamburger, and I shocked her by ordering Hawaiian Chicken and rice.

We chatted briefly with a fellow traveler.  He had recently started out from Astoria  His destination was Maryland.  He asked the way to Portland  He had no maps.  When we asked him how he had gotten this far, he gestured to his iPhone and said he was picking put his roads from it.  He was already almost due north of Portland.  When he headed east, up Lockwood Creek Road, was going to ride parallel with the Columbia River, twenty miles to the south.  His route seemed to head into unending mountains to the east.

Re-energized by lunch, we headed north, making good time.  The weather was outstanding, and we began to think about camping for the night, in a dry camp ground.  We crossed the Lewis River at Woodland. We had ridden to the top of a funnel.  The Columbia River and the mountains came together, pinching everything.  I-5 skirted the mountain. Our turn-by-turn directions called for us to continue until we reached Green Mountain Road, and then turn up it.  We learned, long ago, that the choice of names is important.  We were nearing a quaint lane called Green Mountain Road.  We joked about, in gallows humor fashion,  suspecting what was going to happen.

Had I remembered the elevation data, I would have known we were facing a very strenuous, very challenging climb.  Had I known what we were about to experience, I would have invested the time and effort to ride a half mile to the I-5 on-ramp.  While states seldom advertise it, it is legal to ride bikes on some stretches of limited access highways.  On-ramp signs designate who may not enter the highway.  If the sign forbids cyclists, it is not legal to ride.  If there is no sign, it is legal.  I will always wonder if we could, legally, have ridden that 4.8 mile stretch, with 272 feet of climbing.  I would, gladly, have invested 45 minutes of traffic noise and clutter to avoid Green Mountain Road.  Interstate shoulders are usually quite wide, smooth, and reasonably safe to ride a bike on, even when traffic is screaming by, at 75 miles per hour.

Green Mountain road, simply put, was a bear.   At the time, I had no idea of the grade involved, or the distance.  There were grades in excess of 18%.  Any physics major out there can work the math.  The energy needed to move 300 pounds of rider, bike, and gear, on level ground is far, far less than that needed at grades exceeding 10%.  We pushed our bikes a great deal of the way.  It was miserable.

The road layout contributed to our misery.  We did not understand the geography.  Instead of climbing to a crest, we climbed along a shoulder, perched on the west end of the mountain.  From prior experience, I know I can more easily endure hard rides, when I understand the distances and grades involved.  Thus equipped, I can known when and where to ride hard, expending energy, or saving it. We did know we still had 20 miles to go, to reach Kelso / Longview.

Unfamiliar with the road, we continued to climb, not knowing how far we needed to climb.  We expected, at some point to reach a crest.  But, we didn’t.  And, for a time that day, I knew despair.  I wondered if we could physically make the climb, to have energy left at the top, to finish the ride.  Near what turned out, in the end, the high point on the road, a driver slowed and shouted encouragement to us.  He assured us we had just about finished the hard part.  It was welcome news.  We could finally, look north, up the Columbia River.

I was in survival mode.  I was ready to continue riding.  Marian got me to stop, to take in the views, to savor our success.  Looking down river, we wondered if we could see the ocean.  We could not, but the view was spectacular.  The broad Columbia separated Washington from Oregon.  We fancied we could see an easier ride on the Oregon side, with a broader flood plain.  Instead, we were on the north side, riding hills that hugged the river.

We zoomed down Green Mountain, and into the town of Kalma.  We tried to rebuild our strength.  We still had a quarter of the ride to go.  The day was getting on, toward the dinner hour.  We stopped at a fast food place for a cold soda.  We met a nice young family.  They were on their way to see the husband’s father.  His father had done a coast-to-coast ride, east-to-west, when he was young.  He did it after he left home and headed to San Diego for Marine boot-camp.  We all agreed he was probably in fantastic shape when he got there.

We ground out the rest of the ride, often within a few hundred yards from I-5.  Tired as we were, we had to deal with homeward bound traffic.  We got into Kelso far later than we had hoped.  We were too late to camp.  Instead we spent one of our few pleasant evenings in a motel, rather than our tent.  We lugged around the camping gear, and paid premium prices for motel rooms, the worst of all world.


The ride had taken longer than we hoped.  And Green Mountain Road had demanded everything we had.  Still, we happily discovered we could tour without ACA maps.  We were also satisfied that, with access to a library computer, we could plot a workable route.  And, although we had proved our independence, we were happy to return to the ACA route the next day.

Read about our ride from Longview / Kelso to Cathlamet

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Filed under Cycle Touring, Travel

Let us know what you thought, we'd love to know. Thanks - Pat and Marian

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