2023 Columbia River Loop Tour

Blowin’ up to Bickleton

by Chris Hodgson

Bickleton is a village on the Columbia River Loop tour which meandered through Washington and Oregon, an eight-day jaunt led by Robin Howe and Dan Carey in early September. Here’s the bare facts: 19 experienced cyclists; six days of cycling over a distance of give-or-take 500 kms; all warm, sunny days; all motel accommodation; a happy, congenial group; 40% on e-bikes. Dianne Collier very kindly drove the U-Haul chariot so we could all cycle each and every day. The “loop” descriptor in the tour name referred to our passing twice through the town of Goldendale. The title above means the wind was almost always against us (of course), and the highest point on the tour was Bickleton.

But there was a lot more to the tour than that. We soaked up local history and culture at every turn: a Greek Orthodox monastery for women (shouldn’t that be a nunnery?) where we purchased Greek pasta for dinner on Day 1, the excellent Gorge Discovery Centre in The Dalles where we learned all about Lewis and Clark and their princess guide, a fabulous art museum at Maryhill further up river, visits to the Observatory at Goldendale, wine tasting and a guided tour of the Yakima Cultural Centre in Toppenish. Never an idle moment! But there was always time for happy hour, coordinated by Bruce, squeezing his accordion and crooning songs from our youth, and Jurgen filling in on his guitar. Nancy, who knew all the lyrics, led the choir and warbled like a warbler.

Bruce and his accordion. Mike, Jennifer and Jim behind.

  And for happy hour hors-d’oeuvre, first choice on the plate was dill pickles and mustard, anecdotal remedies for cramps. A quick word about the food in this part of the world: it’s not exotic, but beware, it is plentiful. A Mexican dinner in Goldendale delivered the hugest burritos I have ever seen.

Deadpan Allen cracking another joke at a Mexican restaurant in Goldendale.

Each day we shared a joke-a-day led by brother comics Terry and Lorne.  An example: What do a tornado in Oklahoma and your divorce have in common? With either one you’ll lose your trailer! OK, pretty corny, but when you’re pedaling hard uphill, a little humor goes a long way. Even fixing flats was a fun time for these guys.

Terry and Lorne happily fixing another flat.

And we did have our share of animal encounters. Starting on the small side, Donna was startled by a resident mouse while doing her daily yoga at our Goldendale motel. Then there was the occasional deer. And finally we found the big guy, a cougar. Yes, a cougar! Terry and Lorne almost collided with it as it sauntered back and forth across our backroad to Bickleton. What’s the best cougar protocol? Should we make a run for it, or get off our bikes and walk to show no fear?  We chose to run.

Of all the rides, Day 1 was perhaps the most difficult, an 80 km grind from Toppenish to Goldendale. The first 57 kms were uphill to Satus Pass at 3,107 feet, the last 10 kms of which were a steep climb against a headwind.

Conquerors of Satus Pass: Mike, Diane, Bruce, Dan & Chris (camera man)

 Looking ahead, we dreaded the climb up to Bickleton on Day 6, a 120 km stretch to Bickleton on the summit at 50 kms and 3200 feet elevation; fortunately, this ride was to be quite tame (except for the cougar), the slopes less steep and the wind at our backs. Day 2 took us down through pretty Klickitat and fly fishermen on its river to the Columbia River and on to The Dalles. For the curious, “The Dalles” is French, meaning stone slabs or pillars, referring to the impressive benches of basalt benches rising above the gorge.

Diane admiring Columbia River basalt cliffs

 One must remember that Canadian Coureurs du Bois ranged these hills long before settlers arrived and perhaps even before Lewis and Clark. Day 3 was an out-and-back ride to Hood River, a popular spot for river sports. The scenery was magnificent, with us and many other cyclists riding this historic Route 30.

Brian and Donna descending from Rowena Crest on Highway 30.

Day 4 took us back to Goldendale with a too brief stop at the marvellous Maryhill Art Museum, the former home of tycoon and philanthropist Sam Hill. Nancy, who was cycling alone after the Art Museum, unfortunately missed the turnoff to Goldendale and was halfway to Idaho before her e-bike ran out of juice. While the rest of us were enjoying our first beer in Goldendale, Nancy was out alone under a cloudless sky in the middle of nowhere. Dan finally found her, loaded her bike on the U-Haul, and all was well. An important precaution for e-bikers!

Allen, Lorne and Leith on road to Bickleton (photo by Elaine).

Day 5 gave us a well-earned day off and a chance to visit the Goldendale Observatory. We made two visits, one to study constellations, the other the sun; both well worth it.

Day 6 took us from Goldendale to Sunnyside. We climbed through never-ending pasture lands and cattle ranges on this uphill jaunt. The village of Bickleton, the high point on the route, is described as the “bluebird capital of the world.” We
saw only plywood mockups. We were told it was not the right time of the year. Bickleton is high in terms of elevation,

 The village of Bickleton, the high point on the route, is described as the “bluebird capital of the world.” We were disappointed not to see any live ones.

As close as we came to spotting a bluebird in Bickleton

 it was not the right time of the year. Bickleton is high in terms of elevation, but less so in grandeur. It compares well to the dusty main street of “High Noon” for those who remember that classic.

Main Street, Bickleton, with false-front stores

 Day 7 was an easy ride back to our home base at Legends Casino in Toppenish, with stops at a winery and at Yakima Cultural Centre.

Most of the gang at Yakima Cultural Centre, Toppenish. Back row: Leith, Brian, Dan, Lorne, Diane, Dick, Chris. Front row: Jennie, Dianne, Robin, Jennifer, Donna, Elaine.

 Sad to say, no happy hour at the Casino as alcohol was strictly forbidden. Then followed our thank you meeting, small gifts for Robin and Dan and a last farewell. We met some old friends, made some new ones and enjoyed cycling the Columbia River area immensely. We’re looking forward to more bike explorations in this untrammeled corner of the globe.

Here’s a ditty by Nancy reminiscing on her stray bike adventure:

“Oh where oh where has our Nancy gone,
Oh where oh where can she be?
With her water all gone and her battery dead
She’s just a lost soul whose map is unread”.

Epilogue: One final thought. Be on your best behaviour in this part of the world, or bad things might happen.