The Adventures of Lycra Grrl: First Solo Overnight to Champoeg

“Adventure is a loose word, encapsulating a spirit of trying something new, trying something difficult. Going somewhere different, leaving your comfort zone. Above all it is about energy, enthusiasm, ambition, open-mindedness and curiosity.”
-Alastair Humphreys

Over the past several months, I’ve often pondered why I bike. There are the surface-level reasons, such as concern for my health and the environment, but it seems unlikely that those things are the driving forces that keep me zipping up my raingear and bravely facing the deluges of Portland each winter.

In the end, I think it comes down to this: 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 the city I thought I couldn’t know any better. In the spirit of rediscovering such adventure, I recently decided to undertake my first overnight trip by bike, to Champoeg State Heritage Area.

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 year 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 to Champoeg was made of roads I had never seen, so going in I had only guesses about whether a road might have some steep hills, lack a shoulder, and/or sport high traffic.

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 so bad. Climbing through Oregon City and the series of smaller climbs between Oregon City and Canby burned through much of my energy, 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 Champoeg and easily accessible via the multi-use path that runs from the park directly to Butteville. Housed in a historic building decorated by old photographs and artifacts, the store serves good food, sells snacks (Tillamook ice cream!) and cold drinks, and offers visitors plenty of comfortable seating and hospitality. Relaxing in a rocking chair on their 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 farms in the afternoon sun had warmed me up, but the multi-use path was shady and cool.

If you’re not familiar, Champoeg State Heritage Area is 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 once stood now hosts regular archeological digs.) 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 the park. In fact, I trudged right through the Champoeg townsite when the “Townsite Trail” didn’t take me as close as I wanted, and I sighted the first of two snakes! Once I was back in my tent I tried reading my book about Oregon history as long as I could, but lost consciousness well before dark.

After listening to birds and napping in the morning, I realized time was getting away from me and I had yet to hit up the visitor center. This was of particular importance—the Champoeg visitor center holds the first museum exhibit I worked on, and I had not had a chance to see the finished product since it had been installed.

After chatting with many of the costumed volunteers about the exhibits and the very few errors that only the most nit-picky visitors had found, I realized it was already noon and high time to be getting back to Portland! My body was sore from hill climbing and a pillow issue while sleeping, and I knew it was going to take me a while to get home. After taking a couple snaps at the main entrance, I headed back 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 beautiful weather, but happiness was overflowing and I barely noticed the increased traffic at all.

Saturday was also warmer than Friday, and my body felt it. The closer I got to home, the more each little uphill challenged my body 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 points, 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 smells in my nose, and getting to listen closely to the sounds around me—rather than the 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 being by myself.

Champoeg trip photos on Flickr.


Filed under Bicycles

3 responses to “The Adventures of Lycra Grrl: First Solo Overnight to Champoeg

  1. You da woman!! Also, still my hero. 😉 One of the things I love about walking, aside from the exercise, is the smells. Lots of fragrant gardens in my neighborhoods, and lots of wonderful smells.

    Here’s to calling your own shots, and proving to yourself that you can do it.


  2. Nancy

    How awesome! Thanks for sharing and congratulations. I’ve never bike camped or done a solo venture like this, so I’m really admiring your spirit and drive. I do like bicycling in the Champoeg area.

  3. Pingback: BMI? OMG! | bikish

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