Jim O’Horo Columbia Gorge Explorer
Dave McQuery reports that he has not been able to make the plans necessary to pull off the 2021 Jim O’Horo Memorial Columbia Gorge Explorer, partly because of uncertainties with the campground reservations. Normally, he has made the campground reservations on September 1 of the previous year. At that time, everything was just too up in the air to make the several hundred dollar commitment the reservations require. Even now, he does not feel comfortable with such a large group, and even if there were a reasonable probability of safety, the number of campsites needed are no longer available, especially at Deschutes River and Viento. By next year, he hopes that things will settle down and this great ride can be re-established. Stay safe, keep riding, and share your adventures!
This four day scenic touring classic starts in Vancouver and takes two days to ride east along the Columbia River, crosses the Columbia at Biggs Junction, and takes two more days to return to Vancouver along the Oregon side. For many years, Jim O’Horo, a member of both the Vancouver Bicycle Club and the Portland Bicycling Club, and an activist in the cycling community (think Alice B. Toeclips award), organized and led this ride. Jim passed away a few years ago and the ride was renamed in his honor.
This is a moderately paced, 4-day, self-supported (i.e., loaded) bike camping tour of the spectacular Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, covering 51-65 miles per day, through breathtaking but sometimes challenging terrain. The tour this year leaves Vancouver, WA on Friday May 22, traveling east in Washington, descending past the Stonehenge WWI Memorial, crossing the Columbia River at Hwy 97, and returning to Vancouver on Monday May 25 by riding west in Oregon. The tour allows plenty of time for sightseeing at the many cultural, historical, and scenic points of interest.
We have reserved camping spaces for 50 riders. Registration will remain open until we reach that number or until May 15. Mail-in registrations MUST be RECEIVED by that date.
Maps and cue sheets will be emailed to participants as in previous years, but we will have downloadable maps and cue sheets for your GPS or smart phones. Links for the downloads will be provided to registered riders.
If you want to try bicycle camping, here’s an inexpensive opportunity to experience some of the best scenery in North America. This tour has run for 20 years to rave reviews. Although this is a good match for both first-time and experienced “tourers,” riders need to be physically prepared for the daily mileage and sustained hill climbing (mileages shown below are close, but individual bike computers may vary slightly. Side trips and shortcuts may also affect the total mileage.
Day 1. (49 miles) Vancouver to Home Valley Park. We’ll head out via local roads through Camas and Washougal, along forested Washougal River Road, drop down to Hwy 14, then pass Beacon Rock, Columbia River Gorge Interpretive Center, Bonneville Dam, and the town of Stevenson, taking in the views of scenic Gorge peaks before camping at a small county park just past the turnoff to Carson. Supplies and restaurants are available in Stevenson. Because of traffic concerns, we suggest leaving between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. rather than between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. as in previous years.
Alternative Start Day 1. The reason for an alternative start is the narrow, high traffic on SR 14. An Oregon start reduces traffic on day 1, is more convenient for Portland residents, and avoids a substantial hill on the last day returning to Vancouver. Kyly McMurray (VBC) and Dave McQuery (PBC) will lead the part of the tour starting at Larson’s Bakery in Vancouver. Bill Laitner (VBC) and Eric Moore (PBC) will lead the ride starting in Oregon at Panera Bread at 11563 NE Glenn Widing Drive. Start time is between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. Parking is available at Concordia College Columbia River Campus, 11703 NE Glenn Widing Drive, in Portland. Panera Bread is only a couple of blocks from the parking area. RideWithGPS maps will soon be available for both routes on the PBC ride calendar.
Check out some 2019 videos of the ride: Day 1 of 4 Columbia River Gorge Explorer
Day 2. (62 miles) Home Valley to Deschutes River State Park. Continue past stunning cliffs and peaks, through a series of tunnels and passing Catherine Creek scenic area, the small towns of Bingen and Lyle, and the pictographs at Horsethief Lake State Park. Then climb through open hills with expansive Gorge views to Maryhill Winery and Maryhill Museum of Art (extensive collection of Rodin sculptures) before crossing the Columbia into Oregon and heading to our campsite on the Deschutes River. Some food (mostly fast food) available in Biggs.
2019 day 2 video: Day 2 of 4 Columbia River Gorge Explorer
Day 3. (50-52 miles) Deschutes State Park to Viento State Park. Warm up with a short ride to The Dalles for a hearty breakfast. Most riders will eat at Cousins Restaurant. Then we’ll continue on the Historic Columbia River Highway for the steady climb to the Rowena Crest viewpoint, continuing on a car-free multi-use path through the spectacular Mosier tunnels, then via Hood River to our forested campsite. Supplies, restaurants, and bike shops are available in Hood River.
2019 day three video: Day 3 of 4 Columbia River Gorge Explorer
Day 4. (58 miles) Back to Vancouver, mostly along the Historic Columbia River Highway including recently added car-free paved trail sections, through Cascade Locks, past seven waterfalls including Multnomah Falls, with a climb to yet another spectacular viewpoint at Crown Point before descending to ride along the Columbia and back to our starting point. ODOT is reporting that all roads and trails through the Gorge will be open by Memorial Day. The link-up in the bike path between Viento State Park and Cascade Locks is now complete, so if you don’t mind another 600′ climb, no more riding on the Interstate!
2019 day four video: Day 4 of 4 Columbia River Gorge Explorer
Things to Know
This tour was designed so that first-time bicycle campers can try loaded touring at minimal expense. Participants pay $20 with registration that covers the cost of our reserved group campsites on all three nights.
NO SAG is provided for this tour. The tour is self-supported; you must be able to ride the indicated distances with your gear and be able to do basic repairs yourself including fixing a flat and replacing a dropped chain. A few basic tools should be part of your gear. You need your own emergency contact and backup plan in case of severe mechanical failure or injury. Make sure you and your bike are in proper condition for the ride. Not to worry, however, if you are not an ace bike mechanic. There will be quite a few riders who are, and they can at least jury rig something to get you to the next bike shop. In fact, this is a terrific opportunity to learn from more experienced touring cyclists, including some who have ridden cross country. Riders may choose to find a partner or two to share gear and lighten each other’s load.
Yes, there are sustained hills, but no long grade exceeds 7%, and at the expense of missing some of the scenery, three of these can be bypassed. The route has been designed to take advantage of quiet roads and multi-use paths at every opportunity, but there are still stretches where it is necessary to ride on the shoulder of a highway or freeway.
Although designed for camping, the route includes enough motels and B&Bs to provide other lodging options in the case of severe weather. Each day provides multiple opportunities to stop at cafes, restaurants, and grocery stores (although there are no restaurants at the campsites); some riders choose to carry most of their food, while others prefer to minimize their load and eat out as much as possible or buy food at stores near the campgrounds.
Starting in the spring, registered riders will receive emails containing suggested gear lists and other information such as cue sheets and a detailed itinerary. There’s so much to see and do on this route you can’t possibly do it all, so we’ll supply a laundry list of possibilities including many historic sites, side trips to parks, hot springs, and several museums.
For more information, read our FAQs and check out some Columbia Gorge Highlights. In addition, the downloadable ODOT Columbia Gorge Bike Map provides a useful overview of much of the area we’ll cover.
The ride leaves Friday, May 22, 2020, between 7:00 am and 8:00 am, in small group staggered starts, from Larson’s Bakery, 13411 SE Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver, Washington. Riders must sign in at the start. If you can’t make the early start (or just don’t feel like getting out of bed so early), the start will be open until 9:00 a.m. Just be prepared to encounter heavier traffic on Washougal River Road and parts of Highway 14.
There are two ways to register:
OR print, complete, and sign a registration FORM and mail with a check to Dave McQuery. Checks must be payable to Portland Bicycling Club.
A non-refundable shared camping cost of $20 per person is to be submitted along with the completed registration form. There are no discounts for riders who elect to stay at motels, other campgrounds, or alternative modes lodging. Registration is due by May 15.
For additional information or questions, email the ride leaders, Dave McQuery of the Portland Bicycling Club, or Kyly McMurray of the Vancouver Bicycle Club.
13050 NW Cornell Rd A-2
Portland OR 97229