Friday, December 4, 2020
Dec. 4, 2020

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Columbia Gorge winds give cyclists a big lift

By , Columbian Outdoors Reporter

MOSIER, Ore. — If the wind is blowing from the west, and it usually is in summer in the Columbia River Gorge, the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail is a great cycling spot.

And the very best part is a portion of the route just east of Hood River where the wind pushes you up hill.

No exaggeration. There’s about a mile stretch where the bluster in the Gorge moves up you a substantial grade if going west to east.

“It’s pretty awesome,’’ said Nathan Blades, manager of Hood River Bicycles. “People come in slightly apprehensive about the grades. We tell them ‘no problem’ there’s a strong prevailing tailwind.’’

Since 1987, the Oregon Department of Transportation and Oregon Parks and Recreation Department have been working to preserve, improve and reconnect the Historic Columbia River Highway.

Sixty-three of the 73 original miles are open to travel either by motor vehicle, foot or bicycle. Work is under way to restore and connect even more miles this summer.

But for a great, family-friend bicycle ride, the 4.5 miles been Hood River and Mosier can’t be beat.

It’s paved, wide (10 to 18 feet), scenic and passes through the Mosier Twin Tunnels. There’s only about 330 feet of elevation gain, good parking lots at each end and the cost is only $5 for an Oregon Parks day-use permit.

The twin tunnels, which are 1 mile west of the Mosier trailhead parking lot, are the highlight of the route, which gets as much use by pedestrians as cyclists.

The tunnels were constructed in 1919 and 1920. The west tunnel is 81 feet long. The east tunnel is 288 feet.

Two windows, called adits, were carved into the east tunnel’s wall. The adits were built for light and ventilation, but now allow spectacular views of the Gorge and are a refreshing wind tunnel on hot days.

According to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, the original tunnels were widened to accommodate larger vehicles and traffic signals were added to regulate one-way traffic.

But the downside was waiting vehicles were vulnerable to falling rocks from the bluffs above.

In the 1950s, the tunnels segment was bypassed for a water-grade highway. The tunnels were backfilled in 1954.

Restoration of the tunnels began in 1995.

Trailheads for the trip are at Mosier and east of Hood River.

The Mosier trailhead (exit 69 off Interstate 84) is easy to find.

Juan Munoz, a ranger assistant for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, said the Mosier lot fills up on weekends, but he’s never seen it totally full.

Starting at the Mosier end, cyclists and hikers can reach the twin tunnels in a mile or riding or walking.

The top elevation comes at mile 2.16 from Mosier, where a viewpoint offers a sweeping panorama of the Columbia Gorge. At the Hood River trailhead, there’s a visitor center open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

When riding back toward Mosier from  the Hood River trailhead, there’s a stretch of about a mile where it’s possible to let the west wind simply push you up the route, with little to no pedaling needed.

Of course, the downside of this is when heading west to east through this stretch, you’ll need to pedal to keep going down hill.

Meredith MacGregor of Portland walked the trail earlier this month and rated it an 81/2 on a scale of 1 to 10.

“I can’t give it a 10 because of all the wind, so I’d give it an 8 1/2,’’ MacGregor said. “I’d give it a 10 for ease, especially for wheelchairs or bikes, and there are no cars. But I’d definitely mention the wind to people.’’