Southern Exposure: 85-miles
This year’s Portland Century heads south, exploring both sides of the Willamette River. Named after the indigenous Native American tribe, settlers changed the river’s, and valley’s, pronunciation from Will uh met’ ee, to today’s Will am’ ett. Flowing into the mighty Columbia, The Willamette River distinguishes itself by flowing from south to north and is nationally recognized as a “historic river”.
The ride begins at the beautiful University of Portland campus, home of the Pilots, the 2010 national champion women’s soccer team. The campus overlooks downtown Portland and the first few miles ride along the edge of the bluff. As the route steers east on one of Portland’s famous bike boulevards, it passes Peninsula Park, one of the city’s showcase rose gardens. Heading south, the course rides straight through the center of downtown Portland before plunging into the woods at city’s edge. A long gentle climb earns a fast descent into the town of Lake Oswego and the first rest stop. On the bank of the Willamette, the rest stop boasts the (still-standing) first iron furnace on the west coast, complete with a 3-ton “salamander”, an iron plug from the bottom of the furnace.
Continuing south, the riverside path empties onto the bucolic River Road and wanders toward Oregon City. Riding along the western bank of the Willamette, the road looms over the magnificent Willamette Falls, the original power source for the Portland area. After descending to water level, it is time to earn your lunch. Jackson’s Hill, named after the ride’s beneficiary, and assigned to the most challenging climb of the day, looms ahead. It’s really not that bad, and once you have reached the top, there is virtually no more climbing ahead! A prolonged descent, past rolling farms with lots of cows and horses, brings you to the turn-of-the-century cable ferry to transport you across the Willamette. The town of Canby lies on the other side and Wait Park, and the Canby Gazebo, comprise the second, and third, rest stops. In between, the ride loops around the patchwork farms and serene pastures of the Willamette Valley.
Continuing north, on the east side of the river, the road hugs the river as it rolls toward the falls and Oregon City. The old power station will be developed into a mixed-use project with condos, restaurants, shops, and riverfront parks and trails.
Just past Oregon City is the fourth rest stop, Clackamette Park, at the confluence of the Clackamas and Willamette Rivers.
After leaving the park, the route continues down (another) aptly named River Rd, bypassing the towns of Gladstone, Jennings Lodge, and Oak Grove. River Road ends where the Milwaukie waterfront development begins, boasting light rail, art installations, and riverside pathways.
The trails link up with the Springwater Corridor, a rails-to-trails corridor that is part of a 40-mile loop. The trail passes Oaks Amusement Park, Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge and OMSI, The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. At this point the trail becomes the Eastbank Esplanade, a nationally recognized waterfront development project where the trail literally floats on the river in many parts.
Head north on a bike boulevard, pass the Penninsula Park Rose Gardens again and you are back on campus where a delicious meal, refreshing beverage(s), live music, and great camaraderie awaits.