2.2.09: 28 June 2012: Longview / Kelso to Cathlamet, or Headed Down the River

From Longview / Kelso, Down the Columbia River, to Cathlamet

Read about our ride from Vancouver to Longview / Kelso
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The Columbia River cut through mighty mountain ranges to reach the sea.  When it turned at Longview, it did not cut evenly into each bank.  For a time, it favored Washington State with a flood plain.  Further on, it favored Oregon.  Longview sets on lower ground, while the south bank is steep.  At the next turn, the plain on the north bank disappears into steep cliffs, while the south bank broadens out.  From there, until reaching Cathlamet, Highway 4 climbs the hills along the river.

Our Route

2209 2210 mapWe started the morning 99 air miles from Bremerton, and 43 air miles from Astoria.  We near the pick-up point for the ACA Pacific Coast Route.  We intended reach it by following Highway 4.  We had captured The stretch from Longview to the Route in our notes, but the ACA route was in my Garmin Edge 705.  Our path was straight-forward, once we departed Longview:  0.0 miles = START onto Grade;  0.4 miles = RIGHT onto 5th;  0.5 miles = LEFT onto Allen;  1.2 miles = LEFT onto Cowlitz;  1.3 miles – RIGHT onto Highway 4;  6.8 miles – STRAIGHT joining ACA Route;  26.7 miles = LEFT onto Main;  26.8 miles = STRAIGHT onto Front;  27.1 miles = END at Cathlamet.

2209 2210 elevationsWe expected an easy day, with 27 miles and 1775 feet of climbing.  We knew of three climbs for the day.  The first was about 13 miles away, at Mill Creek.  At about 16 miles, starting at County Line Park, there was a climb to a saddle, with another climb and then a drop.  The last climb began near Able Creek, about 23 miles away.

Our Ride

Our night in Kelso passed too quickly.  The complimentary breakfast was generous.  Still, we felt the effects of yesterday.  We pushed our bikes down the hall, dodging through a youth softball team.  The day was warm and humid, as it had been before.  The sun was out, and we expected to rejoin the ACA route somewhere to the west.

Our directions called for us to travel Highway 4, along the north bank of the Columbia River.  A surprise awaited us as we reached Highway 4, in Longview.  Signs directing cyclists to the sidewalk, as the bike path.  Never before had I been given, not just permission to ride on the sidewalk, but directed to it.  The blocks were long, with few intersections.  Riding on sidewalks always worries me.  Car can, unexpectedly, turn into driveways, or cut off the cyclist at a cross street.  We exercised caution.

As it was, we came upon the aftermath of an amazing accident.  We had just completed our shopping at Safeway for our daily supplies.  It was difficult to believe that no one was seriously hurt in the collision.  Glass and pieces of car were everywhere.   We think a car, parked so it faced forward, pulled out of their driveway.  A second car, traveling very fast, seemed to have crossed over from the other lane and struck the first car.  The first car was spun clear around and tossed up on the lawn.  The impact had shredded the entire driver’s side of the second car, a minivan.  A front wheel up on another other ripped from the minivan.  The G forces on the first car must have been terrific,.  The sudden deceleration of the second car must have been brutal.  This gave us something to think about as the miles passed.

Finding the ACA route was surprisingly easy.  When we reached the end of the bike lane / sidewalk at the edge of Longview, we came to Coal Creek Road.  The purple trace of the ACA Route showed up on the Garmin.  Our adventuring had returned to a more structured format, with a well described route, defined elevation changes, and a list of eating establishments, motels, campgrounds, and other places of interest to an adventurer.  There were actually very few on this stretch.

Leaving the urban setting of Longview, we finally found ourselves out in the country.  The roadway became a causeway, crossing a slough, not far from the Columbia.  On this stretch, a guard rail protected the unwary from straying off into the bog.  That same guard rail often limited the shoulder, forcing us out into the two lane roadway.  Fortunately, traffic was reasonably light, and most drivers gave us wide berth, especially the logging trucks.

Once we got clear of the slough, the guard rail was gone.  I put it out of my mind.  The shoulder was usually wide and in good shape.  A few times it dwindled to nothing, but those stretches were mercifully short, and we quickly moved past them.

We rode along a smaller river, perhaps thirty yards wide.  The highway was following lesser tributaries or branches.  We knew we were very close to the Columbia River, beyond us, through thick trees to our right.  After riding for a time, we finally came to the River.  Up to that instant, we had only seen it from a distance, from a bridge, from a train, from a hillside.  My first instinct was to compare it to something I was familiar with, such as San Francisco Bay.  But, that wasn’t fair.  What I was biking beside was fresh water, unbelievable cubic yards and miles of fresh water, flowing down to the sea.

We rode on for a time, before we stopped to admire the view.  Sometimes the highway was next to the river.  At other times the highway moved away from the shore.  Sometimes, houses perched on the bank.  Other times, trees and pastures filled the space.  But, we remained forever aware of the river, off to our left.

We came to a stretch of the river, finding others with passions matching or surpassing our own.  Drivers had parked cars and trucks on the shoulder, and filled the pullout areas.  Fishermen were out in force.  Some braved the river current, using boats.  Others waited on the bank, at the  edge of the river.  Still others, with heavier gear, such as might be used in deep-sea fishing, stood on the high ground.

We stopped to admire the view.  Looking back up river, we saw Mount St Helens.  We had not see it since mid-morning of the day before.  We noticed that the sun was losing out to the clouds, and we could feel a breeze from the west, a head wind.  The temperature was dropping.  We didn’t know if the Pacific marine influence was asserting itself, or if the weather was changing.

As we looked at the road, we each had two different initial reactions.  We could imagine how the river looked before building the highway.  Cliffs and steep grades would have plunged into the River.  The builders had wounded the living rock to make way for the highway.  I could only wonder at the work it had taken to build the highway on the north side of the River.  They had expended enormous effort.  As it was, the roadway perched, perilously close the water.  Steep cliffs hemmed it in, on the right.

Marian, on the other hand, immediately thought of how Nature had been wounded.  Still, we didn’t have to look far to see Nature’s vigorous response to this intrusion on her order.  Just above the roadway was another man-made artifact.  Perhaps it was another road, or a rail cut  New trees were everywhere, reclaiming the hill-side.  Left untended, it isn’t hard to imagine a new forest overwhelming the works of man.

The obvious attack by Nature reminded me of something about the Colorado River,  the Grand Canyon, and concerns about the dams destroying that river.  Lava flows and up-thrusts have cut the Colorado River off from the Gulf of California at least a half-dozen times.  Each time, the Colorado River cuts its way to the sea.  I have no doubt that Nature can take care if itself, that it will erase man’s dams, roads, bridges, and cities.  Over time, it will seem as if they never were.

Circumstance provided us an opportunity to measure the size of the Columbia.  Around the bend, coming down river, was the BCC Vermont.  We used her to put the river in perspective.  I searched, in vain, on the internet, for any mention of this ship.  Unfortunately, I found nothing.  I have no idea of the size, or the type of cargo she would carry.  She might be a bulk carrier.  In my imagination, I have compared her to ships I have seen in San Francisco Bay, passing them on the Ferry from Tiburon to San Francisco.  I am not sure if she is a true deep water ship or not.

The BCC Vermont was making good time, with the current.  According to the shipping list, the transit time from Portland to Astoria is about 6.5 hours.  A bar pilot was, no doubt keeping her safely in the shipping channel.  Just to the right, we could see the snow-capped peak of Mount St Helens.

We enjoyed the level road, and the broad shoulders.  We knew, up ahead, that we would have to climb three hills to get to Cathlamet.  We came to County Line Park, at the foot of the first climb.  From this point, the cliffs became so steep that the road builders took to the high ground, which meant climbing for bikes

We stopped at the only public park we passed on this stretch of the river.  It was completely filled by RV’s.  Perhaps thirty or forty rigs of various sizes, from modest to monster, were parked hub to hub.  Only two sites were empty.  They might have been hiker / biker.  To think that I had toyed with the idea of an RV.  Where would I have ever found a space to park it?

We began our climbs for the day.  On our side, the shoulder was wide.  The other side of the road had no shoulder at all.  Traffic was, generally, polite.  Washington State Police cars, four in the space of a mile, went completely over into the other lane, giving us the widest possible berth.  We shook off the few clueless people who announced themselves by honking.  We could hear them coming from far down the hill.  We had less charitable thoughts about two drivers who seemed to deliberately buzz us.  I still do not understand such immaturity, and poor judgment.  We wished one of the State Police cars had seen them.

We struggled a little on the last hill, and then coasted down into Cathlamet, a hamlet of 500.  By now, the sky was quite gray.  Rain threatened.  We had ridden less than 30 miles.  We stopped for lunch at the only deli in town, and considered our options.  We could cross the river and make for Astoria, 30 miles away, with another 2500 feet of climbing.  We could cross the river, and try to find lodging or camping at Westport, on the Oregon side.  Or, we could stop in Cathlamet, and either camp or find a motel.

Looking out the window, it was clear that rain would be falling, soon.  Reluctantly, we passed, yet again, on camping.  And, if we decided to ride to Astoria, we would be setting ourselves up for the longest ride we would probably attempt on the Pacific Coast.  And, that ride would be in the rain.  So, the question became, which side of the river would we spend the night.  I made a fateful decision.  In retrospect, I wish I had decided to take the ferry and cross the river to Westport, Oregon.  Instead, I let the mayor, eating in the deli convince us to try the Hotel Cathlamet, a newly reopened establishment.

The price was twice what we had expected.  The rain was starting to fall, lightly.  In the end, we used the small elevator to carry our bikes to the second floor, one by one.  The hotel took the entire second floor, with various shops on the first.  The hardwood floors had all been redone.  The walls were freshly painted, without a mark.  We had never been in an almost brand new hotel before.  There was no cable or satellite TV, just six fuzzy channels.

Donning our rain jackets, we walked about the small town.  The most distinguishing building was St Catherine Catholic Church, perched on a hill.  It is white, tidy, harkening to another time.  We walked through a small park, and down by the river.  All the while, I experienced buyers remorse, wishing we had crossed over to the other side.

We returned to the hotel, unused to free time.  We had not explored all the amenities of the hotel.  We did not realize a kitchen / rec room was at the back of the building.  Had we known, we would have purchased food at the grocery store just down the street and fixed supper there.

Instead, we went out.  Our deli had closed for the night.  We made certain the local grocery was still open, in case we needed to buy food.  We walked three blocks to the pizza parlor.  After devouring our food, we returned to the hotel.  We were the only ones in the hotel!  The staff, all family, goes home at the end of the day.  We were the only guests.  We settled in for the night.  TV had nothing we cared to watch.  We went out into the small lobby, and curled up.  We felt like small children, afraid to make noise and attract an adult, who would ask us what we were doing there.  Marian read a book.  I remembered Netflix on the Kindle.  So, I watched two episodes of the original Mission Impossible, with Mr Brigs.  Afterwards, we went to bed, hoping the weather would improve by morning.

Our Thoughts

Our ride to Cathlamet was far different from any ride we had done.  We had reached the Columbia River, finally able to see into the distance, unencumbered by trees.  Our ride, not as strenuous as other days, was just about right.  I made a mistake, stopping at Cathlamet, instead of West Port.  I have to wonder if, presented with the rain the next morning, Would I  have decided to push on to Astoria, rather than take the ferry back across the river?  Looking back, I wish I had crossed over.

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Read about our ride from Cathlamet back to Longview / Kelso
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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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