Monday, March 18, 2013

Mount St. Helens Loop from Portland

Today was one of those magnificent mid-March days in Portland that makes you realize that spring is just right around the corner.

It's not, of course, and we still have two to three more months of soul-crushing rain and dismal cloud cover before we really get to enjoy nice weather...

Nevertheless all this sunshine has me thinking of one of my favorite after-work motorcycle rides out of Portland.

The "St. Helens" loop as I like to call it has some of the more exciting and beautiful hill climbs (paved) that you can hit up in the wee hours between clocking out and nightfall on a summer night in the northwest. Best done in a "clockwise" fashion the route leaves from Portland northbound on I-5. I'm sorry, I hate freeways too, but if you time it right you'll miss the traffic entirely. Once you hit Woodland get off I-5 and head East on WA-503.


After all the rural/residential BS the trees will close in and you'll hit one of the first climbs. What makes this climb so amazing in my opinion is the low tree cover and smooth pavement. You definitely need to watch for sharp drops in the pavement (a benefit of being on a dualsport) in the blind corners, but otherwise it's a fast, hard carving, stretch of road. It's best hit during early afternoon when the sun is coming through the trees slightly behind you. It makes the whole road glow green and the leaves look like a low ceiling you're riding beneath. Breathtaking. If only it lasted another 20 miles...

After you pass the reservoir be on the lookout for the right-hand turns onto NF-90 and again onto Curly-Creek Rd (towards Carson, WA). As soon as you turn onto Curly-Creek you're on the second climb. It's one of those sections of road that makes me hate the fact that my KLR tops out at 85. Not that I condone "wreckless" riding or "speeding" (whatever that means) but I will say I was crazy jealous of my friend who blew past me on his Triumph Daytona on this particular section of road a few years back. It has the potential to be a damn fast bit of road. As hard as it is to stop when you've got a good climb like this I do encourage you to keep an eye out for the "Scenic Overlook" signs as you're rounding the long right curve on the uphill. It affords a stellar view of Mt St. Helens on clear day.

From the scenic overlook it's easy to continue following signage back into Carson, and then stick to the North side of the Columbia river back in to Portland. There isn't an dirt on the ride of course, but it's meant to be a high-satisfaction quick loop to unwind after a hard day, and you and your buddys can enjoy it regardless of the type of bike everyone is on.

Now get out there and pretend it's summer while you can before you slip into your last bouts of Seasonal Affective Disorder until July. Or say "Eff it" and go find yourself some mud between here and the coast to play in while it's still awful out.

2 comments:

  1. Can you actually do this route this time of year? I've been wanting to go up there for months (I'm new to the area) and from what I can tell, the roads are closed in the winters.

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  2. To be honest Hayden I haven't tried it this time of year. I do know that there's likelihood of encountering snow and ice quickly with the rapid elevation gain. I recommend checking the site for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest for road closures. They have an active listing of closed roads on the right hand side of the main page: http://www.fs.usda.gov/giffordpinchot/ There are a lot of great offshoots up through there worth taking so it's good to know the roads in the region that may or may not be shut down. Those roads are also susceptible to closure due to landslides during the heavy rains in the spring and fall so it's good to check even if you're riding outside of the "winter" months.

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