French Prairie - Northwest passages: riding out the storm - CycleBlaze

March 17, 2020

French Prairie

Today’s ride

Today is the start of our new normal: life as virtual shut-ins, except for forays out in the world to take a bike ride or hike in a quiet, safe, isolated location.  After sitting around the apartment this morning waiting for the day to warm up we throw Rodriguez and the Straggler into the Jetta and drive fifteen miles south to Boones Ferry Marina just across the Willamette from Wilsonville.  There’s nothing special about this place, other than that it’s a good spot to park the car for a ride across French Prairie.  In case you’re unfamiliar with it, French Prairie represents an interesting piece of Oregon’s modern history.  It’s a crescent along the east bank of the Willamette River from about where we’ve parked the car to as far south as Lake Labish, just north of the Salem-Kaiser urbanization.  It derives it’s name from the French Canadian fur traders who settled here in the 1830’s, displacing the native Kalapooians who were decimated by disease. 

Our ride begins with a flat five mile ride on Butteville Road west along the south bank of the river to Butteville.  The road follows a narrow ribbon of a floodplain and at least today carries very little traffic.  It’s hard to fathom now, but at one time Butteville was the main port town in the upper Willamette Valley.  Today nothing remains but the historic Butteville Store, the oldest continuously operating commercial establishment in Oregon.  It’s closed for the season now and now undoubtedly won’t be reopening any time soon, but in a sunnier time we should come back, have an ice cream or deli sandwich, and show you around it’s interior.

Moose with grape hyacinths, Butteville Road.
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On Butteville Road. Blueberries?
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Andrea BrownYes. Blueberries prefer acid soil, thus the sawdust mounded at the base of the plants.
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2 months ago
Butteville Store, the oldest continuously operating commercial establishment in Oregon.
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Just past Butteville is the northern entrance to the bike path through Champoeg State Park, more properly known as the Champoeg State Heritage Area.  Now it is a beautiful public greenbelt along the Willamette riverfront, but 170 years ago it was a thriving community and surprisingly was the site of the convention that established the first Oregon provisional government.  The town and its industries were destroyed by the devastating flood of 1861, which we can see shocking evidence of today by a high water sign twenty feet up a tree.

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In Champoeg State Park.
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In Champoeg State Park.
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In Champoeg State Park.
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High above the ground is the high water mark for the 1861 flood that destroyed Champoeg. Far below is the mark for the historic flood of 1996. It looks like nothing by comparison, but it devastated the region. Volunteers were piling sandbags on the waterfront trying to save Portland’s downtown.
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In Champoeg State Park, biking past a Ponderosa Pine. This Is probably a Willamette Valley Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa var. willamettensis), a low elevation subspecies adapted to our region.
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Leaving Champoeg Park, we continue west on quiet farm roads, still following the bottom land near the river.  It’s almost flat and heavily agricultural here, primarily planted in hazelnuts, hops and nurseries.  There is almost no one on these roads, and it makes for delightful, leisurely cycling.  We follow Riverside and then Horseshoe Lake Road until eventually reaching a dead end at tiny San Salvador Boat Landing.

Just south of Champoeg, we look across hazelnut orchards to the foothills of Chehalem Mountain on the opposite side of the river.
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On Riverside Road.
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Looking north across nurseries, with the low hills in the distance topped in snow.
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Liming season.
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Looking East down the Willamette from San Salvador Boat Landing. Just around the bend is the confluence with the Yamhill.
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At San Salvador Boat Landing.
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San Salvador is our turn-back spot on the day’s ride.  We make a loop of this end of it, crossing northward across the flats until eventually climbing gently to Saint Paul, the locally famous home of the Saint Paul Rodeo.  From there we turn back to Champoeg park along French Prairie Road and then backtrack the rest of the way to the car.

On the way home we make a call to Grassa, a downtown Italian restaurant we’ve never visited before.  They, along with all other restaurants on the entire west coast, are closed to sit-down customers; but they’ve got a take-out menu that sounds appealing.  When we arrive we pick up our order on the sidewalk, after phoning for it to be delivered through the locked door.  It feels like we’re taking part in a drug deal. 

On Horseshoe Lake Road.
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Jen GrumbyThat red .. wow!

Do you know what that is?
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2 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyIsn’t that amazing though? no, I don’t know what it is. Some kind of willow maybe? Maybe Bruce or Andrea would know.
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2 months ago
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I don’t often see such a cooperative killdeer. He just ran along the ground, standing still from time to time and even stopping in the middle of the road. I wonder if he has a nest nearby and he’s decoying to protect it.
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Looking southeast, we get a surprisingly good view of Mount Jefferson. Not far from here we also have fine views of both Hood and Saint Helens.
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On French Prairie Road.
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Weeping Willow, French Prairie Road.
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Crusty wagon wheels, Butteville Road.
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Looking ahead

Like everyone else, we’re feeling overwhelmed by current events and the rate at which alarming news stories come at us.  For the last two weeks we’ve been repeatedly readjusting our plans and outlook in the face of worsening conditions and dire new realities.  At our last report, we had scrapped our planned ride through the Texas Hill Country.  We were going to mark time locally for a few weeks and then drive down to Saint George for the start of our planned ride across Utah to Albuquerque.

Now though, it looks almost certain that that tour will be called off too.  And, with the recent closure of the Canadian border to non-essential travel, I don’t expect that our July tour up the Sunshine Coast will happen either.  And I’m becoming more skeptical by the day that we’ll be going on that autumn ride from Copenhagen to Rome that we’ve already purchased our flight for.   Maybe the world will be somewhat back to normal by then, but it hardly seems likely any more.

For what it’s worth here’s our latest idea of how we’ll spend the next two months.  This will take us up to the first of June, the time we plan to return to Portland.  We’ll keep ourselves local, staying at a few Airbnb rentals for a week or two at a time - places in small but not too small communities that have local resources but are rural enough that we can use them as a good base for local day rides and walks.  Currently we’re looking at The Dalles, Walla Walla, Pullman, John Day and Yreka as promising spots to park our homeless butts and hunker down for a spell.

As far as this journal is concerned, we’ll just keep it going for as long as there’s enough cycling going that we can feel reasonable posting about our small lives here.  It will help us keep our sanity and hopefully provide a diversion for some of you as well.  I hope you’ll keep following along, and drop a line from time to time.  Us shut-ins need all the company we can get!

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Ride stats today: 40 miles, 1,000’

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Bill ShaneyfeltKeep posting! Every day, more and more journals on both sites give up and go home.
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2 months ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesLike so many others, we are having to take decisions based on the acceptance that this nightmare situation is actually real. Reading of your deliberations helps with ours. But also you are right, the diversion of being able to read your blog helps fend off any stir craziness that might develop on our side. So, keep posting!
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2 months ago
Susan CarpenterScott and Rachel,
These are challenging times indeed, especially for wandering souls like you. In the spirit of looking out for all our friends and touring buddies, I venture to suggest that your choice of a “temporary home town” consider the availability/proximity to good medical care, preferably a hospital. While we all practice social distancing to slow the spread of the virus, I believe that at some point we all will become infected. Hopefully we will experience a mild case and quickly recover. Even better, infection may be delayed until a time when therapeutics or vaccines are available. In planning for all contingencies, however, I think it prudent to consider access to good medical care a top priority in your travel plans. Despite this gloomy response, I hope that you enjoy the sparse traffic and unique landscape of “the east side”. Stay healthy and feel free to call or text if you want to discuss more or commiserate about the failure of US pandemic preparedness and/or ineptitude of current administration. Fiveonefive509sevenninesix2. Best, Susan
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2 months ago
Jen GrumbyPlease! Keep riding and posting.

As for your small town plans, will you stay in places where you can prepare your own food?

There are still a couple restaurants in Silverton that offer take-out, but most are shut.

I suppose there's Domino's and fast food, but bleh!
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2 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyYes, places with a kitchen are mandatory. I’m sure we’ll opt for whatever takeout is available from time to time, but we certainly expect to eat in most of the time. Quite a change for us!
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2 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Susan CarpenterThanks for your thoughtful comments, Susan. I’ve been thinking along the same lines myself. We want a community with basic services; a hospital and airport nearby; and with luck, a few restaurants that will do takeout. And I think you’re right about risk. It feels like it’s just a matter of time before most of us become infected, but the further out into the future we can push it the better.
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2 months ago
Bob DistelbergI'll add my vote for you to keep posting your local adventures. Doing this daily read is something I look forward to. I'm sure it's tough dealing with this in your currently 'homeless' situation with all this going on.
When this all started, we were 2 months into a 3 month getaway (not a cycling getaway unfortunately), but made the decision to make a run for home before travel conditions got worse. I'm glad we did. I feel much more comfortable in familiar surroundings, especially if there's ever a need to get into a medical facility.
Good luck, stay healthy, and thanks for keeping us entertained!
Bob
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2 months ago
Suzanne GibsonKeep riding and keep posting, Scott! Best way to stay healthy and sane.
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2 months ago