TROUTDALE, Ore. (AP) — As laid-back as Portland is, it’s still a city with hustle and bustle. My escape is right at my doorstep: a picturesque slice of Oregon that appeals to my urge to aimlessly wander on lonesome roads.
My father, a native Vermonter who passed away two years ago, had a life-long love of exploring the Green Mountain state’s back roads. Bud Petty would be driving his pickup along a dirt road and when he saw one that was unfamiliar, he’d take the turn to see where it led. Then he’d take the next turn, and the next.
I wasn’t fully aware I had inherited this trait until I started cycling in Oregon, my adopted home, about a dozen years ago.
Two miles from my Portland home is Marine Drive, a well-traveled road paralleling the Columbia River. Pedal east for 10 miles on Marine Drive and you’re in the winsome town of Troutdale, gateway to the majestic Columbia River Gorge. From there, you can take the Historic Columbia River Highway to tourist stops like Crown Point, a promontory with a spectacular view of the river, and then to Multnomah Falls, Oregon’s tallest waterfall.
This is an uncomplicated, out-and-back route through the gorge that is popular with cyclists. It’s also busy with cars and trucks. Less-traveled byways began beckoning to me. I listened. And that, to quote my dad’s favorite poet, Robert Frost, made all the difference.
Like the river it is named after, the Historic Columbia River Highway has its own system of tributaries, in the form of obscure roads that become ever-quieter as you head deeper into farm country, the woods and the Cascade foothills. When I am riding my bike, these roads are where I feel at peace.
My rides take me through secluded glens and tiny hamlets, and along wild streams that gush from the glaciers of Mount Hood. I meet some interesting people along the way – a retired spy, a medicine man, foreign tourists who wander off the historic highway and stop me to ask for directions.
I never know what’s around the bend. I once found myself in the middle of an elk herd that was crossing a forest-flanked road in the Cascade foothills. They stopped and watched as I pedaled through.
There are many, many miles to go before I run out of rural byways to explore. I’m not always sure where I will end up. As I pedal through the countryside, Bud Petty whispers to me. Take the next road. And then the next.