by Sarah Shaffer

It was a cold and dreary day in mid-December 2017. A high of 34 degrees, cloudy and a bit misty. It was also the first time in awhile that my husband Mark, and I had a full 8 hours kiddo free, so we were going to use it to our advantage.

Mark and Sarah Shaffer made it to the top of the plateau.

Sarah Shaffer making her way up the grade.

Deciding what outdoor fun to be had that day was a bit difficult, it hadn’t snowed in awhile, but it was chilly enough to snow. Rain was in the forecast for the mountains and for the Valley. After much debate we decided a bike ride up Rock Island Grade would be sufficient. It would give us some good cardio (with a elevation gain of 2,000 feet in 3.5 miles) along with beautiful views of the mountains, the river and the drainages along the bluffs. We could turn around at any point to be back to the car and it was a 20 minute drive back to the house. It also gave us the opportunity to get house chores done as well, Mark had a deck to finish building before the ground froze and we had a list of things to do that are hard to get done with a small child around.

The music was blaring in the car on the way there along with the heater, black tea was drank in large quantities and questions as to whether we were going to have fun or be miserable ran through our heads. As we approached the dirt road we would be biking up we could see snow on the mountainside. “Look snow” I said, Mark “that looks promising”. Once we made it to where we park the car to start the steady uphill climb by bike we got out of the car slowly and cautiously. We then mounted our bikes and started up the mountain hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Mark Shaffer cruising up the grade.

It was a tough start as the climb is stiff from the get go. My legs were cold and achy and Mark already seemed to be having a blast. He loves uphill torture and so do I, but less enthusiastically as him. Every so often Mark would pull way ahead of me and then circle around and ride downhill past me, smiling gleefully. Then would ride past me again a few minutes later. He enjoys a workout and keeps me company when I can’t keep up with his pace.

Once at the top we changed from our light jackets and donned the puffy jackets. Looking out at the vastness of the land we couldn’t help but notice the large dark cloud almost directly overhead and so, decided to turn around instead of continuing along the rolling hills of the plateau. Biking downhill in rain is rarely an enjoyable experience due to how cold you can get, and it was 34 degrees out, we wanted to keep this ride a happy one.

I decided to experiment with a new trick before heading back down the mountain. As a woman, my bra always gets sweaty when exercising and that is what typically makes me cold on the downhill. So I stripped all layers off the top including the bra and then put the jacket on. What a difference it made to not be wearing all these sweaty layers underneath my warm coat. We put our hoods on over our helmets, stuck on our sunglasses so that we didn’t cry tears on the downhill from the wind, gloved up, and downhill we went.

Check out that mud blowout all the way up Sarah’s back onto the hood of her jacket.

Half way down the mountain we both noticed that mud was going up our backs and down our pants. Mark had mud all the way up his jacket hood, thinking to myself, we would be washing these puffy jackets for sure later that evening.

On the ride down I couldn’t help but notice the shimmer of the water along the Columbia River, glistening with the small bit of sunlight that shone through the clouds. The surrounding mountains had the dark blue tone of snow in the shadows, while small basalt rocks gently rolled down the hillsides as we biked past. The air was crisp and delightful.

Once at the bottom we assessed the mess and discussed the ride. “Was it worth it I asked?” Mark “yes, totally a fun ride even in cold conditions. I forgot how much I love biking.”

CLICK HERE to see the guidebook details on the Rock Island Grade ride.

This post was originally published 12/21/2018. 

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