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On October 13th, 2007, Aaron, Ira, Greg and Daniel, with friends Tony Pereira and Rachel Bagley, rode Portland’s most accessible and concentrated piece of epic called Dutch Canyon. It’s a 50-mile barbell shaped ride (an out-and-back with loops on either end), the crux of which is a 3.5-mile gravel climb on a road called Otto Miller. This route links together a number of favorite local every-day rides and climbs Skyline 2.5 times for a total of 4,100 feet.
On the northern-most tip of Portland, not far from where the Columbia meets the Willamette, is a tiny town at the end of the world’s most beautiful bridge, both are called St. Johns. In the center of town is the James John Café where we all met at 8:00 am for coffee and distraction before heading out into the cool sunny autumn day. We left at 8:37.
Within minutes you ride west over the recently renovated St. Johns bridge, known for a number of things, not the least of which it’s unique celeste blue-green color. Two massive towers, between which suspension cables do an upside down swoop, frame (in the shape of a bulbous minaret) Forest Park and the Northwest Hills. Once over the bridge, which offers a sidewalk primarily used by runners and full-suspension commuters, you pick up Highway 30 and its wide and comfortable shoulder for a few miles before Newberry Road.
Newberry is a two-mile climb through the middle of Forest Park. It begins in earnest the second you leave Highway 30 and with every turn in the road the pitch gets steeper and longer until the middle, when it kicks-up to a double-digit grade for several hundred yards worth of turns. The second half thankfully backs off for an easy wooded climb to the top.
Skyline, the backbone, is a north-south cycling thoroughfare running the length of the West Hills. It rolls and pumps along the top of a ridge with views of the Coast Range to the west and Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens to the east. At Cornelius Pass, and the bottom of a rushing descent through farmland and rolling hills, you leave Skyline for Rock Creek and a trip through Little-Appalachia.
Rock Creek begins with a brutal but short descent on a road in complete disrepair with numerous holes, uneven joints and sections covered in gravel—not to mention a particularly nasty train-track crossing at just the wrong angle and turn in the road. All that aside, this a narrow, dark and cool creek valley where time stops and abandoned cars and gravity—defying brick sculptures are as at home as the burbling creek and vine covered hillsides. A mile or so in, you leave with an abrupt right turn past a picturesque stable nestled into the hillside, the shaded and canopied lower section for the steeper, hillier upper section of Rock Creek.
At the top you find yourself once again on Skyline for a brief moment before descending Rocky Point, a fast and sketchy drop seamlessly alternating between steep and sandy switchbacks, at unsightly angles, and flat-out 45-mph straight-aways. At the bottom it’s Highway 30 once again for several miles to the town of Scappoose and your last chance for food and water for 20 miles.
Leaving Scappoose, you head west up a beautiful river valley bordered on the right by steep hillsides and old broken homes. And on the left, by farms and fields dotted with cows, alpacas and horses, and outrageous McMansions. As you make your way deeper and further-along the hills on the left, once a backdrop to the pastoral setting before you–begin to merge with those on the right until finally the valley ends. It’s here that you pick-up Otto Miller and the finest gravel climb imaginable. The road seldom sees cars and is usually, depending on the season, in great riding shape. The climb is quiet and challenging in spots, with steep switchbacks forcing you to consciously pick lines and force traction. The climb is just over three miles long. Once at the top, the gravel continues for several miles, diving and climbing, along the top of Dixie Mountain. At a few points, if the weather permits, Helens, Jefferson and Hood are visible from the same spot. You pass defunct stables and working farms and ranches on your way back to the beginning/ending (depending on your point of view) of Skyline.
This section of Skyline, the north-end, is bigger, hillier and more remote as it takes you on your 18-mile return to Portland past Rocky Point, the top of Rock Creek, Cornelius Pass Road and eventually Newberry, where several miles later you pick up Germantown (the top half has just been repaved while the bottom is dodgy but still very fun) and descend once again to the 30 and the St. Johns bridge. A quick trip up-and-over to the eastside gains you access to St. Johns’ many places to eat, most of which are long on character and short on good, and Willamette Road, the easiest and most direct route back to North and Northeast Portland.