Bicycle Adventures Columbia Gorge Family Tour



Our vacation was, to put it succinctly, fabulous. Bicycle Adventures did a great job, our guides were great, and we had lots of fun. While some of their other tours require more bicycling ability, you could do the Columbia Gorge Family Tour even if you aren't in great bike shape, as the low end is around 80 miles for the week (actually, the low end is zero miles - you can ride in the van the whole time if you'd like, but that kindof defeats the purpose of the vacation).


This is a multi-sport vacation - while you do ride 4 out of 5 days, we also got in a morning of white-water rafting, an afternoon of windsurfing, and a night of stargazing. In this tour, you stay in real accomodations (ie no camping), and eat well. This was the inaugural edition of this tour as a family tour (there's an "adult" version with more mileage), and we were about split between adults and children, with the youngest kid being 5, and the oldest being 17. One family is from Seattle, one from Southern California, one from Houston, and another from back east.


I took my Trek, and my wife and daughter took their Burley Duet tandem. Though they took really good care of my bike, I'd consider my rain bike if I did it again, as having your pretty new bike go up and down on top of the van multiple times tends to increase your anxiety level a bit.


We drove down to Portland on Sunday and stayed at McMenamins Edgefield in Troutdale, east of Portland. This hotel was originally a poor farm, and now features European-style rooms (ie there's no bathrooom "en suite", as they say on the continent (well, technically, I've never heard them say that)), and a 8 pounds of funkiness stuffed into a 5 pound bag, in the form of pubs, wine tasting, and lots of artwork.


Monday, we got picked up by the BA van, loaded some other passengers, and headed over to Washington to climb Beacon Rock. Well, to be fair, "walk up" is a better term for how we assaulted this 600 foot monster - "climb" should be reserved for those who climb the rock. Great views. We ate lunch at a nearby campground (sandwiches), and then vanned over to our first drop-off point for our ride for the day. This set up a typical pattern - ride in the van someplace, get out the bikes, ride to somewhere else, often for lunch, but not always. The ride was mostly downhill (as most of the rides were), and about 14 miles in length.  Our destination was the Flying L Ranch, our home for the next few days. After securing spousal approval, I rabbited off the front and rode most of the way to the ranch, realized that Kim and Sam would not be happy with the headwind, turned around, and went back and pulled them into town. Here's a typical example of the views that you are subjected to on this ride:  


That's Mount Adams, one of the nicer Cascade volcanos. It used to be overshadowed by its neighbor to the west because of the startling symmetry of the neighbor, now it is still overshadowed because of the neighbor's fiery reputation.


Adams is one of my favorite mountains. Not as big as Rainier, but very nice to look at. If you turned around at this point, you might be able to see the tip of Mount Hood peeking over the hills, if you managed not to be blown off your bicycle at that point.


The Flying L is a great place to stay - except for a couple of other guests, we had the whole ranch to ourselves, and were able to hang out, get to know each other, and relax while looking at the mountain.


That night the local astronomy club brought by two of their nice scopes, and we did some stargazing. The conditions unfortunately weren't great - we could see Jupiter and the Galilean moons, but they were a bit fuzzy. I did see the Ring Nebula for the first time, helped out by the on-board index of deep sky objects built into the scope.


Tuesday morning, we vanned to Zoller's Outdoor Odysseys for our rafting trip down the White Salmon River (which, due to a dam, is unfortunately devoid of its namesake), a class 3-4 river (a detail which I include to sound impressive). Zoller's is located on the banks above the gorge, so after getting wet-suited, helmeted, and some brief instructions, we headed down about 100 steep steps to the boat. I'd never been rafting before - I swim very well, but haven't wanted to risk losing my contacts and/or deal with the hassle of dealing with my very thick glasses - so I was wondering how things would go. After 5 minutes of instruction from our guide, we pushed off, and were in the rapids. While the forward momentum that you provide by paddling is important to the guide, the real reason that you do it is to keep your mind off of what you're about to do. This trip does not disappoint - lots of rapids, and we lost one child overboard for about 35 seconds. Near the bottom of the run, you have the option of going over a 15' waterfall if you're an adult. We shuffled kids to get rafts full of adults, and headed out. You paddle hard for a few seconds, the guide says, "down and hold on", you sit in the bottom of the raft, go over the waterfall and...


Well, things get a bit hazy at that point, but the result ends up with an enormous amount of water in the still-right-side-up boat. I'm in the middle on the left side in the pictures.


After the waterfall, there were a few more small rapids, where our guide Casey tried to toss the two fathers out of the boat (I teetered on the edge as I heard the other father fall in), and then a boring but tranquil float to the pull-out point. Highly recommended.


This brings us to one of the great features of this tour. When we've gone to vacation in Hawaii, after we got there, you have to decide what activities you want to do, and then pay for them individually. On this tour, however, the activities are paid for up front, so the cost doesn't intrude into the experience. I've noticed the same effect with a ski pass - it hurts to pay up front, but when you actually go up, the cost doesn't detract from the experience.


Wednesday is a transit day - we headed across the Columbia into Oregon, and on a short ride to the east to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center. The ride is about 15 miles, with a few reasonable climbs, and a tail wind. That's fine, until you hit it as a 20MPH sidewind. The tandem does fine, but the Trek gets really squirrely, and I need to slow down quite a bit through that section. After lunch, we head back to the hotel - the Hood River Inn - for the optional wind surfing lesson. Kim begs off because her back has been bothering her, but Sam and I go in for the three hour lesson. You start with a simulation session on the land, then you learn to do a 180 turn on the water, then you get your own rig.


At least, that's the theory. What really happens is you do the simulator part, you do one 180 turn, and then you spend a couple of hours flirting with competence while not actually ever reaching it. This was complicated by the 20 MPH wind with gusts that differed across the course, but it's mostly due to my lack of skills. I did, however, get really good at pulling up the sail. After a couple of hours, my shins were bruised and I lacked the motor control to go much further, though I was still quite good at the falling off part.


Lots of fun... But... I need another hobby like I need a hole in the head.


Thursday took us up onto the northern flanks of Mount Hood, for about a 20 mile ride down to lunch. After a few climbs - on an optional loop - I started the descent, with about 20 minutes at over 25MPH, and 10 minutes over 30MPH. A nice descent, but the valley we rode into was about 90 degrees, so it was a little tiring to get into lunch. And, due to unforeseen circumstances, the pool at the park was closed, so instead of playing in the pool, the kids got to ride another 20 miles. Fine for me, but everybody else was a bit toasted.


That night, the kids went with two of the guides for pizza and ice cream, and the adults to a nice restaurant in Hood river for adult food.


Friday found us up on Mount Hood for one last ride, this time a bit to the West. Another nice descent, plus an ugly (and optional) loop with about a 12% climb in it, and then lunch in the park. Afterwards, a quick stop at Multnomah falls, and then home.


Skip to main content