Trip Report: Oregon - When the Cols are Calling

  • By Jasmin Welter


    I have had a special relationship with mountains since a very early age. Many of my childhood memories center around hiking and climbing trips to the Alps in Austria and Switzerland, where I got to enjoy panoramic views many people only know from postcards.


    Being a cyclist in Chicago is obviously much less wild and romantic. Elevation barely exists in Chicagoland, so in September of this year, I made my way to Oregon with my bicycle to put my legs to the climbing test.



    Happily, I realized traveling with a bike is much easier than anticipated. Touching down in Portland with my bike intact calmed my heart rate, but it was sure to spike soon after when hitting the first ride. What was advertised as a typical after work ride for locals was a 27mile ride with 2500ft of elevation. From downtown Portland we went up the Willamette Heights, cutting through a road that was rightfully called Skyline Boulevard - a moderate 6 mile climb for starters. Obviously, all climbing comes with a side of descending, which is quite exhilarating once you are unused to it. I took the descent cautiously, navigating the dwindling road at around 35mph. Luckily, I had just gotten new brake pads! A brief moment of recovery was followed by another short, punchy climb up Germantown Road. But my German-turned-Midwestern legs were not happy as I was cranking the hill up at 8mph.


    I wondered what had I gotten myself into. For the weekend, we had planned the "real" climb - an 85miler up to Larch Mountain. This ride would not only be the longest of my year to date, but with a total of about 5,000ft of elevation, it would also be the hilliest one. Especially hearing about the actual 14mile straight up climb to Larch Mountain (which was actually over 20miles of climbing), I was hesitant to convince myself this was a good idea. But oh well, there is a reason my mantra is "Quand on ne sait pas, on y va" - which roughly translates to: "If you don't know what you're getting yourself into - just go and find out."



    During this ride I must have experienced every emotion possible. I loved my bike, I hated my bike. I felt incredibly strong, I felt awfully weak. I was spirited, I was exhausted. I thought I couldn't push harder, only to push harder - setting a new FTP record during an 85mile ride is both inspiring and weird and makes you wonder how much power sits in your body, usually untapped.


    After a lot of both positive and negative self talk grinding up the mountain for an hour and a half, it was done, I had made it. Walking up the stairs to the actual summit was painful, but so worth it - the view did not disappoint. Gazing over the other peaks, like Mt Rainier and Mt St Helen, made me forget the wobbly legs I had underneath me. 



    What followed after ample refueling with the obligatory mountain top banana and trail mix menu was an hour of almost straight descending, where again I tried to manage my speed to keep my head calm - and my body in one piece. Riding around 20 miles back to Portland felt unreal, the mountain range slowly disappearing in the background, and my thoughts fixed on as much post-ride ice cream as possible. 



    The following day, it was funny to see that even my recovery ride had a more impressive elevation chart than my regular rides in Chicago. My legs felt surprisingly happy and I was confident to push myself a little bit harder on the two more rides to come.



    Being relatively close to the Pacific, a trip to the actual West Coast was mandatory. So we drove out to Pacific City as recommended by some nice folks at the Athletic. Being from Chicago, we were treated to something that is virtually impossible here; a 55 mile ride with no stopping whatsoever: no lights, no stop signs – and almost no traffic. What we did have was plenty of wind, which was about equally as rough as the hills we had talked before. Averaging around 20 mph for close to 3 hours with no stopping while still covering a moderate 1300 feet of elevation was no joke – but I kept telling myself that the beauty of the winding road following the Nestucca River deserved my full physical dedication. What followed this ride was a delicious meal at the beach, with fresh caught salmon and a salty breeze in my hair. I think this was what is called true happiness.


    While my trip was coming to a close, there was one more ride to be ridden – Redemption at the Skyline Boulevard. We started the ride the same way we did on our first day – but this time I was semi-prepared for what was to come; and knowing how many watts I had put out on the 85mile ride, I was not to give in to the pain until I made it up there much faster than on the initial ride. I completed the 3.9 mile segment of the Thompson Climb by over 2.5 minutes! A personal record! Happy with this achievement, I agreed to extent the ride for just a few miles to go to Council Crest, a relatively small climb with a nice view over the city of Portland. What a wonderful view with the sky turning all shades of purple with the sun setting.



    Riding bikes can really make you feel so many things. It is as much an emotional experience as it is a technical and a physical one. While I feel that I definitely learned my lesson in climbing, my descending definitely still needs a lot more skill and courage. But that is for the next trip to a mountainous destination somewhere in the world.


    Jasmin Welter is a dedicated commuter and competitive cyclist and triathlete, riding her mostly pink bikes around Chicagoland year-round. Jasmin is an Ambassador for The Chainlink and is involved with several other initiatives and brands to get more women on bikes. Jasmin writes regularly about new products, women cycling, commuting and more. Follow her on Instagram: @tri.heart and @princess_layup.