Ahh, nothing like the first bike overnight of the season!
This past weekend I took a 26-mile ride up to Battle Ground Lake State Park in Washington State. This tiny little baby park is nestled in the western foothills of the Cascade mountains, and features a lake formed in an extinct volcano cone. Think Crater Lake, only much, much smaller.
The draw of this ride for me was not the lake as much as proximity and degree of difficulty. My longest ride so far this season was 37 miles, and I wanted to go someplace new and aim for a ride I could feel confident about with my fitness level. And did this ride deliver!
What makes this a great bike overnight?
- Vertical Challenge, or lack there of
- Forgivingness of the area on your potential packing snafus and other creature comforts
- Beautious surroundings
I took the I-5 bridge across the Columbia and followed a route up out of downtown Vancouver, taking the industrial St. Johns Blvd (what can I say, I’m partial) which thankfully was equipped with bike lanes. Only one “significant” climb on this ride, and it was in the last few miles of the journey to get up to the park. The ride was a little heavily trafficked at times, but boasted a few beautiful views of Mt St. Helens, Cascade foothills, and farmland. Salt of the Earth. I did get chased by a scary barking dog for the first time, after leaving town to head up to the park. Thankfully he didn’t get me, and I didn’t encounter him on the way back.
The town of Battle Ground, Washington was named for a “battle” which was anticipated, but never took place between soldiers at Fort Vancouver and local Native Americans. The town’s population is around 18,000 and is home to a coffee shop called Battle Grounds which won the award for Best Turkey Sandwich of my weekend.
Also in town are grocery stores and even a dreaded Wal-Mart, should you find that you are missing something in your gear or didn’t pack enough food for breakfast. Not that I did this, but I was satiated by the idea that only a few downhill miles away was civilization.
Battle Ground Lake State Park has both firewood and ice for sale on the premises, as well as some concessions. Since it’s a lake, you can expect the noises that come along with a public swimming hole, such as the joyful cries of children and barking dogs.
The campground was full, except this park has a designated hiker/biker group site.
One of the most appealing features of Washington State Parks besides stunning scenery and nature-y things, is that there’s always room at the inn, no reservation required, for a park with a hiker/biker site. I will say I was a touch disappointed to pay $12 for my night, as opposed to Oregon’s $5 hiker/biker sites, but it was all worth it.
The site is set just a few hundred feet from the driveway and entrance, so you do hear the intermittent (sometimes not so intermittent) noises of cars and trucks coming in to camp, and the voices and exchanges between park rangers and patrons. The good news is that you also hear the wind through the teeth of the evergreen above, the sound of birds is constant, and there is a lush wall of green surrounding the area, so you feel pretty secluded regardless. You can see some cars in the parking lot not far away, but once night fell it didn’t matter. In fact, being so close to the entrance probably had an advantage because hiker/bikers are far from the general “car camping” sites and therefore much more quiet at night.
For dinner and breakfast, I tried Mountain House brand dehydrated meals. I had never had these before, but wanted to test a few kinds for our emergency kit (earthquake preparedness, y’all) and was beyond excited to find that my neighborhood Fred Meyer (grocery and much more) had a huge selection of these Mountain House just-add-boiling-water MREs in the camping section. I picked chicken and rice in the evening, and biscuits and sausage gravy the next morning. I was surprised at how pleased I was with these meals. I hadn’t tried anything like that before, and they tasted good!
I met a great pair travelling from Key West to Alaska – Megan & George – and we talked around the fire. This is her fourth trip across the country, and his second! Good people.
Fantastic weather, birds chirping. All in all, pretty blissful.
I took a different route back, which I liked much better. This route skirted around the eastern edge of Vancouver, and thanks to the lack of chip-seal on the roads and scenery was more pleasant than the route on the way up. I missed a turn on my way back, and luckily I could check the map on my phone real quick and see how forgiving Vancouver was, but I definitely encountered a steep hill going back (on.. Andresen?) That I might not have otherwise had to climb. But hey, I did it.
I made a quick cold-brew-coffee-and-chocolate-chip-cookie stop at a coffee shop in a plaza at the bottom of the hill, just before getting on Columbia, the final stretch in Vancouver along the waterway before looping up onto the I-5 bridge to head back to Portland.
It was my first time in Vancouver by bike, and I really feel like I got the royal treatment, especially when I got to witness the drawbridge go up to let a sailboat pass through.
My trip back was much shorter time-wise than the outbound ride. The return trip was one mile shorter, but an HOUR AND TWENTY MINUTES SHORTER! Wow! Average speed of 8.5mph on the way up, and 14.3mph on the way back. The calorie count can’t be right though, because there is no way I expended more calories on the way down. We have to remember that technology can be flawed like that, so to rely too heavily on it can be unintentionally limiting. Gotta apply critical thinking. I’m sure MapMyFitness equates the average speed as an indication of your level of intensity, or something. I’m assuming anyway, I didn’t actually research this at all.
All in all, Battle Ground Lake State Park in Washington is a highly recommended trip for anyone looking to cut their teeth on a bike overnight from the Portland Metro area.
Q: What trips are you planning for this season?