My First Solo Bike Overnight: Champoeg State Park

When I started bike commuting as an adult, I became an autonomous being, free from the angering ritual of fighting traffic. The world was new again, rife for adventure. It piqued my energy, enthusiasm, ambition, and curiosity to explore Portland, the city I thought I couldn’t know any better, and surroundings. 

In the spirit of rediscovering such adventure, I recently decided to undertake my first solo overnight trip by bike, to Champoeg State Heritage Area (it's commonly pronounced sham-POO-ee).

It was extremely important to me to do this trip completely by myself, from dreaming up the concept to unpacking my dirty socks. In the past I’ve fallen prey to messages that I couldn’t do such a thing for a host of reasons. Over the past two years in grad school I’ve proved many times over that I can get through anything. In fact, challenge usually finds me rising to the occasion and kicking it square on the bum. It was something I had forgotten about myself over the past decade.

Given my “no outsiders” rule, it was also important for me to not utilize route information from people I knew. People I didn’t know, on the other hand, were fair game, so I took my Clackamas County Bike It! Map and combined my thoughts with a couple of ideas from strangers on Bikely. Two thirds of my route was made up of roads I had never seen, so going in I had only guesses about whether a road might have some steep hills, a shoulder (or not), and/or a high traffic count.

A few of the locals I encountered along the way.

Journeying to Champoeg on Friday was a sunny and scenic affair. My ride took about three and a half hours, including a brief snack stop in Canby. The route I planned was a little challenging, but not too bad. I burned through much of my energy climbing through Oregon City and the series of smaller climbs between there and Canby, but biking through miles of bucolic scenery helped my spirit remain high!

Nearly at the park, I stopped in at the Butteville Store -- one of my favorite things about Champoeg.

The store is not technically inside the park boundaries, but it’s run by the Friends of Historic Champoeg and easily accessible via the multi-use path that runs from the park directly to Butteville. Housed in an historic building decorated with old photographs and artifacts, the store serves good food, sells snacks (think Tillamook ice cream!), and cold drinks, and it offers visitors plenty of comfortable seating and hospitality. Relaxing in a rocking chair on the shady front porch, I enjoyed a delicious veggie sandwich and spinach salad before riding the final two miles into the park. Traveling through miles of farmland in the afternoon sun had warmed me up, but the multi-use path was shady and cool.

Champoeg State Heritage Area marks the place where citizens voted on May 2, 1843, to pursue statehood by forming a provisional government. Oregon didn’t become a state until February 14, 1859, but this vote destined the land for statehood over the interests of the British and French-Canadians who were also present that day. The park features the Champoeg Pioneer Memorial, where the vote location is commemorated by a stone monument, the Pioneer Mothers Memorial Cabin, and the former site of the town of Champoeg. (The town washed away when the Willamette River flooded in 1861 -- the grassy field where the town formerly stood now hosts regular archeological digs.)

The dock near where Champoeg Creek flows into the mighty Willamette River.

Adjacent to the park but independently operated is the Robert Newell House, a residence that the 1861 flood failed to damage. All this historical significance is of course complemented by more usual state park amenities like a disc golf course, a boat dock, camping facilities, a visitor center, miles of trails, special events, and wildlife viewing.

In other words, Champoeg is a great destination for a bike trip!

That evening I took in as much of the park as I could, both biking and hiking around it. In fact, I trudged right through the Champoeg townsite when the “Townsite Trail” didn’t take me as close as I'd wanted, and I sighted the first of two snakes!

Once back in my tent I tried reading my book about Oregon history as long as I could, but lost consciousness well before dark.

In the morning, after napping and listening to the birds sing, I realized time was getting away from me -- and I had yet to hit up the visitor center.

Breakfast wasn't a fancy affair, but it was nutritious and filling (yes, including the Goldfish!)

After chatting with many of the volunteer costumed docents who are supremely knowledgeable about Champoeg’s history, I saw that it was already noon and high time to be getting back to Portland. My body was sore from both hill climbing and a pillow issue I'd had while sleeping, and I knew it was going to take me a while to get home. So, after snapping a couple of photos at the main entrance, I aimed for home using the main road rather than the multi-use path.

It took me about five hours to bike home, including a meal stop in Canby. (Several people at Burgerville asked me if the triathalon was over. Apparently a) there was a triathalon happening in Canby that day, and b) Canbyites don’t know what triathletes look like, nor what they eat!) As I suspected, the back roads were busier on Saturday due to the weekend and its beautiful weather, but happiness was overflowing and I barely noticed the increased traffic.

Saturday was also warmer than Friday, and my body felt it. The closer I got to home, the more each little uphill challenged me and slowed me down. Despite the weariness, upon returning home I was very proud of having successfully completed my first solo overnight trip! It was challenging at times, but at no point did I need any assistance.

Some of my favorite things about this overnight jaunt were the smells. The smells! Once outside of Oregon City, the sunny farm roads offered heavenly spring fragrances. I smelled fir trees, warm grasses, fruit blossoms -- even the smell of cow dung was a welcome change from the mundane odor profile of Portland. The sun on my skin, the aromas in my nose, and getting to listen closely to the sounds around me -- rather than the often uninteresting conversations of others -- was a real joy.

Despite having done three overnight bike trips previously, this was the first one that I thoroughly enjoyed. Why? I suspect it has something to do with sparking that sense of adventure. Not only did I give myself a challenge and totally rise to meet it, but I called each and every shot along the way. It was an empowering, energizing, enjoyable, and easy experience -- made more so by going it alone.

Get more information about bike overnights.

Tip for this adventure: Don't miss the Butteville Store, described above! And be aware that many more of my photos from this trip may be viewed at Flickr.

Favorite local bike shop: The Bike Gallery, Woodstock Boulevard location in Portland.

4 responses so far ↓

Jasper Gates - Oct 15, 2012 at 1:55 PM

Thanks, I like the do-it-by-yourself aspect of this trip. You're right: sometimes we need to remind ourselves of our capability for self-sufficiency. Love those photos too.

Mari - Oct 15, 2012 at 8:14 PM

I just cycled 3600 miles across the states but with a friend. I think cycle touring by yourself is much braver. Go girl. Good for you.

Tim - Oct 16, 2012 at 11:20 PM

Great! Fun sounding adventure & well wriiten. Gonna share w/ my 9 & 12 yo dtrs. Continue your revolutions!

Rob - Jun 11, 2014 at 12:49 PM

I enjoyed reading your story of your first solo overnighter. I myself am now just planning my first overnighter by bike. Still up in the air as to where to go and how far to pedal.

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