Bike camping at Stub Stewart State Park with kids

Last weekend, the first truly great weather of the year here in Portland, we took a bike ride. Yes, a recreational jaunt, not something we often manage. We rode from our door to MAX light rail, took it to the end of the line west, continued through farmland and forest 22 miles to Stub Stewart State Park, stayed there in comfortable cabins, and back the next day. It was delightful. This is something many Portland families can enjoy, so here’s the story.
farmland

My boy and I started preparing only a couple hours before we left. We packed sleeping bags, some extra clothes, tools, food and water in the front basket of our Workcycles Oma. This bike is about 50 pounds of lugged straight-gauge steel, shod with fat tires, built for hauling in comfort instead of speed. We also considered riding a Brompton folding bike with its child seat and awesome touring pannier. These are the two bikes we go about our business around town with more than any other these days. farmland Either way, we wanted to keep things simple, in part to make the point that you don’t need expedition-class, Stokemonkey-equipped cargo bikes like we took on last summer’s adventure just to go camping nearby with your kids.

I admit that our bike was operating near the limits of its capabilities with heavy, high loads both front and rear. It’s the least stiff of bikes we carry in this class, so irregular surfaces and higher speeds or higher pedaling power would occasionally get it shimmying in a way that required a lot of steering input to hold a line. I’d choose it again, though, because it’s comfortable and fun to watch people’s reactions as I pass on my granny bike with big-ass wicker basket, wooly neo-Mennonite getup, big smile, cheery klang of brass bell, and the boy waving off the back. I might as well be on fire.

Dean and his two older boys took a tandem with Burley Piccolo attachment:
train

I’m a little bit skeptical of how meaningful is the real locomotive assistance provided by most young kids (and sometimes adults!) in arrangements like this. The strongest rider ends up doing far more than their fair share. That little man off the back? Thinks the pedals are foot rests. Dean is strong! My boy had actual footrests, but for all his excited jiggly fidgeting he might as well have been pedaling.

getting on MAXWe rolled out early in the afternoon to catch MAX downtown. In retrospect, that wasn’t the best place to board, as the train was a bit crowded there in the fareless square and our jumbo bikes wouldn’t fit in the small spaces allocated for bikes on each car. We split up to board at separate doors. We managed with assiduous bike-shifting not to hinder anybody.

Riding out, I was reminded of the last time I rode this train this way, in 2000, on my way down the coast to then-home San Francisco. I reflected on all that’s changed and stayed the same these nine long years. Same: practical bikes as instruments of bodily, social, civic, economic, and spiritual reclamation, integration. Different: almost everything else.

Once out in Hillsboro, we relied on the cue sheet. Suburbs faded to farmland soon enough, with its quiet narrow roads and open vistas. And what a day!

In Banks we stopped to eat and get our bearings. The cue sheet would take us the remainder of the way to our destination via Highway 47, which we preferred to avoid. 5 wheels 5 peopleWe asked at a gas station about the fabled Banks-Vernonia trail parallel to 47, and got directions to the trailhead just a hundred yards away. Attendant said it was rough for a ways but then got better. What it was was abandoned railway, “closed”, overgrown with brambles. But far in the distance it looked like it got better, so over the ties we pushed, maybe half a mile. We wondered whether the attendant was amusing himself at our expense, or had never come this way himself, or deemed any length of the highway unsafe for our passage. I worried about the tires on the thorns. When finally the way improved, there was a short path directly to the highway. Next time we’ll know better. At least the kids got to carry their weight a little ways.

The trail proper is very nice. Free from the threat of motor traffic, I put in some earbuds and enjoyed the latest David Byrne & Brian Eno [coming to Portland!] collaboration for the 1,234th time approximately, slapping the bars giddily in time as we shuttled along:
banks vernonia trail

The last six miles or so were uphill, gentle railroad grade, as we entered forest. Mr. Byrne was crooning something about his neighbor’s car exploding up ahead when on my left Mr. Todd Boulanger appeared astride his Batavus. He had raced ahead of his family to greet us, so we stopped and chatted about our day. Just as we were about to get going again, my front tire began hissing. Fiddling with the valve stem, it seemed to me likely that the tube had failed at this very point, which filled me with dread because while I had brought patches and pump, I neglected foolishly to pack a spare tube. We’d be stuck if the valve had failed. I’d investigate in camp, ideally, before dark. I decided to sprint as long as I had any pressure remaining, not wanting to push too many miles.

On Dutch bikes like this, the bars are so close that you can’t stand up to get more power. But you can rest your elbows on the hand grips and grasp the bars near the stem to brace your upper body and put your back into turning the pedals. Think Amish triathlete. So we powered our way up as I kept an eye on the bulging sidewalls of the front tire, stopping several times to pump a few more pounds of pressure in, thankful that it would hold air for half a mile at a time at least. Todd B. passed me at one of these top-off stops, offering that he had packed a tube just in case. He also offered to check us in at the camp registration site in case they’d close at five. This set my mind at ease in equal measure as it drove home my stupidity in not being prepared. What if he gave me a tube and then he or a family member had an irreparable tube failure?

Near the park entrance, the last mile, the way becomes quite steep. I stopped to ask an older fellow on a mountain bike to confirm that the camp was up the hill. Without answering, he flagged down a truck driver of his apparent acquaintance and announced that we needed a lift up the hill. “No, no, we’ll be fine thanks — just wanted to know the way!” “But it’s a LONG way!” he said. “We came from Portland!” I offered half-truthfully. Incomprehension. “Thanks!” I grunted up the hill. Pushed maybe half a mile, half from steepness of grade, half from flatness of tire. A nice cool-down in lovely late afternoon light. We made it.

The cabins were quite luxurious: electricity, heat, ample insulation against sound and cold, vinyl-clad futons, wood tables and chairs. Not really like camping at all! Separate bathhouse with free hot showers.

Team Boulanger put us to shame for thematic consistency with sweetly atypical touring bikes (for this continent). Their astonishingly well-socialized older boys, witty and vegetarian, each rode scaled-down versions of my bike. I think Todd B. prepared at least a 5-course dinner on his gas stove with elaborate nesting titanium cookery. I might have seen an apron. There was whiskey late and mimosas in the morning. And French-press coffee. Todd B. even fetched firewood for us after showing us how to operate the cabin keyboxes. (I promptly locked myself out.)
boulanger camp

Meanwhile in Camp Schlub, our kids dropped TJ’s wieners into the firepit, incinerated marshmallows, and threatened to put each others eyes out with pointy smoldering sticks. There was much coughing and beating of fly embers. I whittled something that could be useful in case of attack by giant marauding boars, snarling through their cruel sallow tusks, but dangerous in all other cases. Dean brought a Hobo Pie press which, filled with gobs of TJ’s pizza dough, produced excellent panini-esque Hobo goodness. That’s right, Mr. B, grilled panini: think European hot-pocket, only lacking any kind of filling or even salt. Mr. B. sent over some late-harvest estate-bottled Tuscan EVOO to keep them from sticking and turning to charcoal, as well as one of their leftover sauces for dipping.
hobo pie

My flat turned out to be the normal kind, a thorn, easily reparable. I was able to relax after fixing that. In the morning, Dean found his rear tire flat, too. Patching that, we chided ourselves for pushing our luck by not packing more contingency supplies.morning light We know better, but it seems running a bike shop has engendered in us an excessively casual approach to these things. Cobbler’s-children-go-barefoot syndrome? That and the iPhone, which can’t yet be used as a wrench, but did spare us from the horrible bother of a paper map. At least Dean packed a first-aid kit!

The morning light was beautiful. For the first time this year I left off the wool long underwear. The ride home was fast and easy down the long railroad grade. Too fast for Oma, it turns out. The trail is punctuated with many bridges. Many of the bridge transitions are sharp. I hit one at about 10 MPH, and the upward jolt caused my basket to fly open and my camera to tumble down a steep embankment. I had been looking for it for a few anxious minutes when along came none other than Mr. Todd Boulanger, who bounded down the slope and fetched it in no time. My camera now has a photo taken by Todd of the boy and me peering helplessly down at him, expertly composed I might add.

A few miles on, I swallowed my last shadow of pride and borrowed Todd’s hex keys to adjust the child seat that the jolt had shifted. Thanks man! I owe you.

.

THE END

34 thoughts on “Bike camping at Stub Stewart State Park with kids”

  • Dave

    If I ever go camping with you, you're not borrowing my underpants if you forget yours :)

    Would have loved to see the look on the park rangers' faces after they offered to give you a half-mile ride and you told them you came from Portland - not to mention what I'm sure they thought about your choice of bikes :)

    We took a purely recreational ride on Sunday, though ours was only in the 10-15 mile round trip range :)

    http://www.portlandize.com/2009/04/hello-spring_07.html

    I have to say, riding along the waterfront that day with so many people out... I started having visions of a much more bike-filled Portland that I think will be coming one day.

    Thanks, as always, for reminding us that our bikes are practical for much more than we sometimes think (one of the best things about clever cycles in general).

    Reply
  • Dave

    By the way, don't you need clipless pedals and cycling shoes for anything over 5 miles? I could have sworn I heard that somewhere...

    Or maybe those were those shimano shoes, in which case, you'd clearly be fine as well.

    Reply
  • Pam

    Sounds like a great trip...a father-son adventure to live in his little soul forever (actually BOTH of your souls!). You must have forgotten the Boy Scout motto about always being prepared!

    Reply
  • Val

    So, really, all you need for trouble free luxury camping is a bike (any bike) equipped with a compartment that will securely carry Todd Boulanger. Good to know!

    Reply
  • henryinamsterdam

    I think you're onto something Val: All purpose Todd Boulanger tools. They cook and repair. But wait, that's not all. They also fetch lost items!

    A great trip and a great report, thanks. Pascal is now 8 months old and ready to sit in a Bobike Mini. My touring bike will become "Papafiets" for weekly adventures through the Dutch countryside and further afield. Photos will follow.

    Reply
  • Travis Wittwer

    I would love to attend the next one. If there is a list somewhere, put me on.

    Reply
  • patrick

    Todd, I think you really are on fire. This looks like a great time, sorry we missed it.

    I want a hat like yours. And a Boulanger-equipped dop kit.

    Whenever we take MAX over the hills we ride through downtown to the Goose Hollow stop. I think we avoid some of the downtown congestion that way.

    thanks for the wonderful post which has filled me with bike-camping envy.

    patrick

    Reply
  • Todd Boulanger

    Yes it was very fun to to be Todd Fs Dutch themed 'trunk monkey' for the day. A super hero of the path - just for the day.

    Actually 'Boy Team Clever' (we were sad the women stayed home) was not as sad as described above. They were packed as i usually travel...much lighter and basic than the double dutch panner set i had filled only for overnight trip - plus sleeping bags for heated cabins (who would have known?

    I took 3 tubes with our patch kit and tools since I feared I could not call the Clever shop for a mechanic to drive out for service for our odd sort of second hand fiets...but then again that is why I pack whiskey. (And our secret...we made the kids carry their stuff too.)

    It is a great ride i would love to do again for Pedal Palooza...say a 'Sans Deraileur' light touring trip - but with tents to avoid the 2000' climb to the cabins. It was much less stressful trip this time...vs. my first light single speed day trip from Hillsboro via the Banks trail to Astoria.

    All I had to worry about was making sure our team of young first time bike tourers would want to do it again - they say yes and soon!

    Reply
  • Todd Boulanger

    And actually Dean was the champ that day...pedaling up 12 miles of RR grade with two kids and gear...I was stocked there was no stoke monkey hidden under their gear when I passed. I had visions of the Metal Cowboy on his first climb to the rockies.

    Reply
  • Adrienne Johnson

    I really want to try bike camping with my kids. I have to figure out how. Most of the closer spots would require a bus and most of the bike friendly buses only take a max of 3 bikes (we have 3 bikes & an xtracycle to transport). Your pictures remind me that I need to do some research : )

    Reply
  • Todd (admin)

    Adrienne, bike camping with kids on Angel Island via ferry is super sweet and quite easy.

    Reply
  • Lance

    Great story. I do have a questions about your route. After Banks, were you able to take the Banks-Vernonia trail all the way to the park? If not, at what point did you get back on 47? I just can't tell on a map when the trail ends.

    Reply
    • Todd (admin)

      Hi Lance - the best route out of Banks (on the outbound leg) is on 47. Less than a mile on your right will be a short path to the parallel Banks-Vernonia trail, which you will follow all the way to the park entrance.

      Reply
  • Lance

    Is this route doable with a touring bike? I was assuming as long as I didn't take the trail until it turned to paved it would be fine all the way. Just wanted to check before I hit the road with my bike. It's just that I noticed that the path may have been gravel.

    Reply
  • Todd Boulanger

    Hi Lance...I did the same route solo out to Astoria with my single speed Lemond Fillmore using 25 mm (front) & 28mm (rear) tyres last year.

    No trouble hauling 40-45 lbs (bike and gear) as the trail now is well paved - just avoid the closed section in Banks. (There were missing sections in the south end and the trail is much rougher on the end north of the park to Vernonia - the section we did not do this year.)

    My load in my Carradice (Camper Long) transverse bag was much lighter (bivy with sleep sac, water food, no stove, can of coffee, underwear/ rain gear, repair gear, etc.) than my load on this last trip.

    Reply
  • Todd Boulanger

    Todd F - after you left us at the cafe on the return trip...we ran into another group of Clever Cycle Campers...they (family of 5) missed us as they had gotten in late and were down in the hiker biker site by the HQ.

    Reply
  • Kate in Monterey
    Kate in Monterey April 19, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Thanks for a great story -- and for the heads-up on David Byrne and Brian Eno's new album. I bought it right away and love it. Recently set up my sweet old turntable just so I could play my worn copy of "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts."

    Reply
  • AC

    Sounds wonderful!

    No need to apologize or explain walking a bike. It's a healthy and wonderful way to move on down (or, more to the point, up) the trail. Can you imagine that some folks might look at that half-mile stretch and conclude the entire trip "unrideable?"

    Reply
  • Erik Sandblom

    Ralph Hütter from Kraftwerk sees cycling as more than a mere leisure pursuit, something closer to a political statement: “No, it’s not for holiday. It is the man machine. It’s me, the man machine on the bicycle. Holidays are an alienation, a consumption concept. To relax ourselves, we ride the bicycle, it’s enough. We are liberated from holidays.”

    http://www.bikereader.com/contributors/thurston/kraftwerk.html

    Reply
  • Ian Hopper

    Ok... that settles it. Gotta make a reservation for Angel Island and bike camping this summer, just me and the boy. Maybe we'll do China Camp too because it's even closer!

    Reply
  • Charlie

    Thanks for the 411. We totally copied your trip on dualing Xtracycles. We cheated because our friends all drove and brought our gear. So it was us + kids + snacks without all the stuff. While it's a long day, it's fairly easy. Two tips:
    1) Find the trail right outside of Banks as it'll take you directly to the camp site. You will never be on 26... it's totally brilliand
    2) Pick up the Max train beyond City Center and go early(ish) as the bikes are illegal and totally get in the way. It's a roll of the dice as you can be fined. But people (passengers) are generally cool about it.

    Reply
  • Travis Wittwer

    Charlie, et al, why are the bikes illegal on the MAX? Is it that type of bike, all camped up? Or is there another reason because bikes are allowed on the MAX (right?). Thanks.

    Reply
  • Adrienne Johnson

    I haven't looked to see if the camping has reopened on Angel Island, yet. A really good chunk of the island burned not long ago. I forgot about China Camp!

    Reply
  • Neil

    I think it might be this he's refering to
    http://trimet.org/howtoride/bikes/bikepolicies.htm


    Types of Bikes Allowed on TriMet

    * Only single seat, two-wheeled bikes and recumbents the size of a standard bike are allowed on TriMet.
    * Tandems and bikes with oversized wheels, three or more wheels, trailers or those powered by internal-combustion engines cannot be accommodated. Electric bikes with a sealed battery compartment are permitted.
    * Some bikes have wheels that are too large or too far apart to fit in TriMet's racks.
    * Bikes with child seats or accessories that block an operator's vision out the front of a bus are not allowed.

    Reply
  • Lance

    So my wife and I just took this trip. It was really fun. I love how you felt very welcome and that there were very few autos. Are there any others that feel as comfortable as this and similar distance/difficulty? Anybody heard of Oxbow Park, http://www.bikely.com/maps/bike-path/Gresham-MAX-to-Oxbow-Park?

    Reply
  • Ray

    Hi Todd. I plan to camp on Angel Island next week to celebrate my 55th birthday!
    We plan to take our bikes as well. From what I've read so far I'm not sure if we're allowed to take the bikes to our campsite... but will have to walk in nearly 2 miles. We will be on the eastern side site, site # 1. Do you know if we are able to bike to it? From the maps I've come across it sure seems feasible, just not sure if it's officially OK.

    Also luv My Life in the Bush of Ghosts!

    -Ray

    Reply
  • Tomaso S

    "I’m a little bit skeptical of how meaningful is the real locomotive assistance provided by most young kids (and sometimes adults!) in arrangements like this."

    Since I have a similar setup (family of five on two tandems and a single rider trail-a-bike), I'll offer an opinion. How much? Well, more than if they didn't have pedals at all.

    On level ground, my four year old can power the whole rig. On an incline (up) my oldest son can kick in enough power so that I can't keep up with him and his mom (even though I'm a much stronger cyclist than either one.) Of course, CAN does not mean DOES. The question is how to get everyone to do "their fair share". My answer, so far, is not to sweat it too much, but to call upon their help when you need it most (going up hill) and to try to get the kids to compete against each other ("Hey, let's pass your brother") especially at the end of a ride when Mom and Dad have already done their "fair share."

    Of course, "fair share" or not, there is no doubt we can cover moreground on our two rigs than we could with single bikes and trailers.

    Reply
  • Todd (admin)

    Ray, I last camped on Angel Island 5 years ago. You could certainly bike to the site then. I would check with a more currently informed source if in doubt.

    Reply
  • Lucy

    Greetings greetings--- I was observing the blog entry re: bike camping with the kids, and I saw that a gorgeous mint bike had GIRAFFE PANNIERS. WHERE CAN I GET ME HANDS ON THOSE? Please if you can help direct me to their origin. Thank you so much.
    Cheerio,
    Lucy
    Enjoy the day!

    Reply
  • Ron Grandia

    Touring and camping with kids is a GREAT way to spend time with your children! I've toured with my 13 year old son, and taken my 10 year old daughter on her first overnighter this year. Magic!

    Having kids on their own bikes is a different experience than what you describe, though. When they are done, they are DONE, and you'd better be where you need to be. My daughter's first trip was 30 miles, which I thought was just the right amount of challenge. Unfortunately, our planned departure day was brutally hot, and I completely underestimated the inclines of the last 4 miles to camp.

    She complained a lot, gave up more than once, but we were out of cell range to call for Mom in the family escape pod. We HAD to get there. We rested and snacked our way incrementally up the hill. While I never would have chosen to drag her through that kind of hardship, I was very pleased to see her dig deep and push through.

    She's pretty proud of herself.

    PS. Love the "Oma," but even Dutch grannies know that you should wear your helmet - especially around kids.

    Reply
  • Dave

    You should also just pass on propaganda to your children as truth whenever you hear it, rather than presenting your child with a world where they can evaluate choices and make their own. We don't need people who can think for themselves.

    Dutch grannies would think you're a bit silly for wearing a helmet, I'd guess. None of them did, or do now.

    Sorry, if that's a bit too snide of a comment, you can delete it :)

    Reply
  • Erik Sandblom

    Ron, thanks for sharing your story.

    Bicycle helmets are sometimes controversial. The European Cyclists' Federation is against helmet promotion. You can read about that in their brochure:
    http://ecf.com/3675_1

    You can also find lots of information on the subject at www.cyclehelmets.org

    Happy cycling!

    Reply
  • No

    @Ron - A far better example to give the children is to not worry about a helmet and show that cycling is as safe as many other aspects of life.

    Reply
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