By Jerry Dixon, of Seward, Alaska
Corps of Discovery floated from Wallula Gap to the Pacific in one-ton
dug-out canoes. The Columbia was a living river, teeming with an estimated
25 to 30 million salmon. The corps' chief concern was running or portaging
rapids and securing enough food. Today the mighty river has been harnessed
with dams; it is a "working river" and a gauntlet for salmon.
From the mouth of the Walla Walla River I biked sections to the sea
on paved and unpaved roads that run on the Oregon side of the Columbia.
I rode dirt roads whenever and wherever I could.
It was exciting to see the number of wind farms that have been installed
there since I lived in Walla Walla in the mid 1960s. The windmills
line the ridges where I once hunted pheasants, and march off into
the distance, their long blades turning slowly in the prevailing winds.
Perhaps these wind farms and other non-polluting energy sources will
allow us to one day set the Columbia free.
I crossed the mouth of the Deschutes on my way to the Dalles. The
Deschutes River is one that Lewis and Clark would recognize. It stills
flows freely beneath towering cliffs and is full of salmon. There
is an excellent trail on the east side of the river that was once
a railroad right of way but is now for river access. In one morning,
along a nine-mile section, I saw 51 boaters, fishers, bikers, and
hikers. That's more than I saw in paddling almost 200 miles of the
Middle Snake Lake over five days.
One of the sweetest sections to ride is from The Dalles to Hood River.
The historic highway parallels the Columbia on the south shore and
has excellent views. In places it is specifically a hiking and bicycle
path. Since the prevailing west wind is always in your face, it is
much fun to ride above the bluff with the blue waters below.
is a scenic highway that runs along the Columbia for a portion of
the way to Portland. It was built 70+ years ago and is a joy to ride
on. The section from the Dalles to Hood River is "non-motorized"
but here you can bike through the scenic tunnels that once had motor
traffic. There are sections from Hood River to Portland that run parallel
to the freeway and have been preserved as a scenic byway. This road
climbs above the Columbia and winds through the country side.
Oregon gets an A for how it treats bicyclists on its roads. I was
incredulous to see a sign near a bridge that told motorists that this
is a "shared" route and they should give the right of way
to bicyclists! One would never see a sign like that in Alaska. Alaska,
where I live, gets an F for how it treats quiet-sports participants.
Our state is the snowmachine death-and-injury capital of the world
(many of them innocent pedestrians). We have nine times the accident
rate of the next highest state. We kill ten times more in boating
accidents per capita than any other state. Riding a bicycle through
Oregon was a breath of fresh air.
Portland was a surprise. It was the one major city I had to get through.
I was getting my things in order there when I looked up to see several
bicycles riding across a freeway bridge! Then there were ten, then
hundreds, then thousands. I was enthralled, so I jumped in and started
riding with the throng through downtown Portland with no idea where
I was going. About ten miles into the ride I stopped to ask someone
what was going on. It was "Bridges Day," a 27-mile tour
of Portland where they close down major sections of freeway so people
can ride. I was amazed! Thanks Portland; what a wonderful gift to
give someone traveling through the area by bike.
"The waters of this (Columbia) river is clear, and a Salmon may
be seen at a deabth of 15 or 20 feet." Corps of Discovery, October
west of Portland lies Sauvie Island, which is a gem. I circumnavigated
it, riding on country roads. It was here I stopped to do T'ai chi
on a beach where sailing ships were passing on their way to the Pacific.
A couple asked me where I was riding. When I told them of my journey
starting three months previous paddling up the Missouri river, the
woman exclaimed, "That is so awesome!"
At 5:30 a.m. on August 12, 2003, I rode my mountain bike onto the
sandy beach where the mighty Columbia enters the Pacific. Looking
north I could see past the mouth and to the Washington coast. Looking
south I had an uninterrupted view until the headlands disappeared
into the mist. It was a stunning vision of our nation's youth, no
structures or roads in sight. A voyageur from 1803 would recognize
the panoramic view. This, more than almost anything else, shows the
true wealth of America, that one can traverse the Rocky Mountains
on a human-powered ultra marathon and come to a beach where this view
is possible. I did a 30-mile loop on the beach around Steven's Point
I am Alaskan. I met my wife, Deborah, while teaching in a Northwest
Arctic Inupiat village and my two sons have been raised in the Great
Land. So I have been happily surprised by the amount of wildlife,
magnificent country, and exquisite rivers still found on the Corps
of Discovery Trail. As someone who has lived in the Brooks Range for
seven years (150 miles from a road with only a dog team for transportation),
horselogged and built a log cabin on the Yukon River, climbed mountains
and run rivers across the west for decades, I have an appreciation
for wild places. There is so much on the Lewis and Clark trail that
merits wilderness protection or wild river status.
you come to experience this magnificent Lewis and Clark Trail that
crosses the heartland of America, make sure to get out of your car
as much as possible to ramble in the mountains and float the rivers.
Check for salmon in the streams and look for the Lewis woodpecker
and Clark's nutcracker as you taste the air of this magnificent country
and feel the wind on your face. Then just as important, join a conservation
group (or many) and help work to protect this magnificent heritage,
the wildness and the wonder of it.
Here is my prediction: In 25 years the middle Snake will be free-flowing
with wild salmon returning to their native mountains, swimming up
a shimmering river. One hundred years hence, major portions of the
Columbia, if not all of it, will once again flow free to the Pacific.
I could only hope that a voyageur traveling this route in 2103 or
2203 will experience the wild country, the beautiful rivers, and the
wonderful people that I was privileged to find here.
Read the six-part account of Jerry's trip:
of the Mountains to Lemhi Pass
Pass to the Salmon, float Salmon to the Lost Trail
of the Beaverhead Mountain Range
Trail Pass to Lolo and across the Lolo Pass
the Clearwater to the Snake, Snake to Columbia and Columbia to Wallula
Biking to the Pacific
Back to main page of this journey.
Photos by Jerry Dixon. Top: The Deschutes River.
Next: Bill Burgel kayaking to Wallula Gap on the Columbia. Next: Author
practicing T'ai chi on the shore as the sun rises to light the day
for a 21st century voyageur. Bottom: On the beach, where the mighty
Columbia still flows in the deep blue of the Pacific.
For more information about the Sierra Club's Lewis and Clark campaign or to find out how you can help, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.