Biking Through the Bounty of Oregon
Story and photos by Tim Leffel

Seeing the Willamette Valley, Mount Hood, and Portland at cycling speed, there's a feeling that almost all the Earth's best riches are pouring forth from this one patch of land.

Oregon tour

The cornucopia starts as soon as I hit Portland and doesn't let up at any location. Every taste bud experience seems to hit a new high, whether it's a ripe pear, apple cider, wheat beer, or rich coffee. It's like everyone in this region tasted the best the world had to offer and said, "Hmmm, I think we can do better."

I could enjoy it all with none of the accompanying guilt because I was seeing the countryside over my handlebars. Biking through the Willamette Valley and then the Mount Hood region, I wasn't too concerned about my caloric intake. I was planning to indulge to my heart's content in what just may be the USA's best culinary region. And I know it will be culinary in the traditional definition of the word, "of the kitchen." Not the bastardized catch-all definition including food manipulated, altered, and subjected to chemicals. I would not be eating and drinking things here that showed no clear relationship with the ground or trees.

Oregon biking

First though, we feast on a bounty for the eyes instead as Lifecycle Adventures gets us started on the Banks-Vermonia State Trail, a converted rail bed that's permanently shaded where we start. We pass giant ferns and huge trees, them and the edge of the riding path both covered by bright green moss. It smells like the Earth in its primordial form, all lichens and rich earth and wet leaves. When the tree cover opens up it's to cross a river, with the thrill of zipping across wooden trundle bridges.

As the path goes through towns and along the rest of our leisurely 21-mile ride, we see the dichotomy that is Oregon. I spot more Prius hybrids in one day than I can ever recall, but also plenty of good-ole-boy pickup trucks. There are hefty men in plaid flannel and beards who have had that look since long before either was cool. We roll by hop fields and vegetable farms to Forest Grove, a compact college town on the edge of wine country.

cycling Willamette Valley

Famished, we chow down at Maggie's Buns, passing over the famous sweets to refuel with lunch fare like Mousaka, mango chicken, and bacon mac & cheese. After exploring the town a little while it all digests, our guide/owner Tony says we can ride another 15 miles to where we're headed, or we can put the bikes in the van and go check out some wineries.

From Austere to Audacious
A half hour later we're in the tasting room of Adelsheim winery, founded in the 1970s and now doing its magic on grapes from 247 acres. Adelsheim picks its grapes earlier than most and is more European in its taste profile than the norm in this region. We start with a Chardonnay and then move through four varieties of what the Willamette Valley is best known for: Pinot noir. All four bottles are from 2011, retailing from $55 to $90 each. These wines are serious, reserved, and elegant-I feel like I should be wearing a tuxedo instead of a cycling jersey while sipping them.

Willamette Valley travel

We then go just a few miles to a winery on a different hillside and it's like we've been transported to a whole different country. At sustainably farmed, biodynamic Bergström the wines are exuberant and exciting. With their official tasting notes referencing beef jerky, Red Hots, and berry pie, it feels just right that we're in biking clothes and our server has tattoos on both arms. We start with a Chardonnay that has "a youthful greenish chlorophyll tint" and "the slightest hint of buttered brioche" while watching the grape vines turn golden in the late day sun. I take notes on the delicious Pinot Noir I like best for the future, but at a price edging up towards $100, it'll have to wait. I'm not putting that kind of precious cargo into a bike pannier bag.

We spend the night in the laid-back town of McMinnville, but in a surprisingly elegant B&B run by an American woman and her French chef husband. Jacques Rolland has several cookbooks out with his name on them and he has worked in kitchens from Europe to Africa to Las Vegas to San Francisco, plus was first class dining room manager on a luxury cruise liner. Here at Tuscan Estatethe "breakfast" part of bed and breakfast is worth coming for. We dine on perfectly ripe local fruit and berries, flaky French croissants, and local blueberry/pomegranate juice before the main course arrives. It's a divine and decadent gruyere quiche with bits of black truffles. As if that's not enough, it's made with ostrich eggs.

McMinnville bed and breakfast

Underneath the (Dormant) Volcano
You could easily spend a week cycling between the vineyards and towns in the Willamette valley. There are more than 160 wineries open for visits and tastings. Eventually though we make our way west and start the day with a cheat. We get on our bikes at a high elevation on the side of Mount Hood and ride downhill most of the morning. This way we can enjoy the divine views of two towering mountains as we weave through forests and farms. This turns out to be the longest day of riding though, so after a lunch of sandwiches and pears fresh from a stand that's part of the Oregon Fruit Loop, the coasting ends. After that we go up and down hills for hours. I make it harder on myself by reading the directions wrong and going down a road I have to make a U-turn on—twice.

The scenery is gorgeous though as we pedal through orchards with branches hanging low, loaded down by apples and pears. In some there are ladders reaching into the trees, the ladders getting smaller as they rise higher, designed especially for getting every last piece of fruit from the highest branches. At times the air smells like a farmer's market, at other times like a cider factory as some of the fallen fruit is on its way to rotten.

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