Silver Falls by bike: Winter wonderland!

“You are an odd woman,” my brother told me the other day. We were talking on the phone, and he was perplexed by the fact that I was so excited about the time I’d just spent staying by myself in a cabin in the woods in the snow. I guess to him it seemed like a funny way to spend one’s time: cut off from the world, no cell reception, no company, even — just me, my journal, my book, my mind, the birds, in a world quieted by snow.

Even typing that out makes me excited for it all over again, though.

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(this was not my cabin, just an old bathroom building that I love at Silver Falls:)

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I’d decided late in the game, like maybe the night before, that with four consecutive days off I had, I would go to Silver Falls State Park and stay in one of their 9 cabins. It was one of those weird things where I’d known about my time off for a while, but had nevertheless had a hard time getting psyched about it — the weather was crappy, the world was cold, the nights are still long (though getting shorter every day!) and I couldn’t settle on any one adventure that I was really excited about. The one thing I really wanted to do (and still want to do, once the world thaws), was go to Smith Rock, camp, and go for some amazing trail runs, but it was supposed to be about 25 degrees and snowing there, plus it’s pretty logistically challenging to get there on a bike in the winter. As much as I like snow camping, it was hard to get too excited about it.

But then I remembered Silver Falls, with its heated cabins right by miles and miles and miles of trails, plus a bunch of beautiful waterfalls. Perhaps I’m getting soft, but the idea of being in a cabin in the snow, with lights and heat and space to move around, sounded much more exciting than being in a tent

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(this one was my cabin. Those were not my tire tracks;)

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So, one afternoon, I loaded up my bike, rode over to the Portland Amtrak, and hopped on a bus down to Salem. From there, it’s only about about 26 miles and 1800ft of elevation gain to get to Silver Falls, a pretty darn mellow commute for a winter’s day. (It’s also possible to ride all the way from Portland to Silver Falls — about 60 miles — but busing to Salem meant I got to sleep in, have a sweet Sunday morning with James, and still make it down to Silver Falls totally mellow-style). As I rode, the sun set and then it was fully dark, but I could see with my headlamp that there was snow on the sides of the road.

When I pulled up to my cabin and opened the door, park staff had already heated it for me — all I needed to do was unpack and make myself comfortable for a few nights. SO AWESOME. As I set into making myself a home, a giant grin permanently settled itself on my face, and I’m pretty sure stayed there for the whole rest of my visit.

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(hard not to smile when this is your world for a few days)

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In the winter, it is super nice to be able to bike somewhere, then park my bike for a while and explore by foot. The first day at Silver Falls, I woke up to snow, and immediately needed to be outside hiking. Within half an hour, I’d dressed, made and eaten breakfast, packed myself a lunch, and was on the trail, where I stayed until well into the afternoon. I’m not sure if it was the snow or what, but there was no one out — mine were the only footprints after I left behind two photographers parked at South Falls.

But it was so beautiful, snowing a million different kinds of snow throughout the day. Wet and sloppy! Dry and stingy on my face! Residual snow just falling off the trees! More wet, sloppy snow! Flakes that looked like hair! Flakes that looked like hail! For someone who doesn’t see snow that much, it was all enchanting.

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(plus, it made for a fantastic wintery wonderland)

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Then how awesome was it to come home to my little cabin, make myself some tea, wrap myself in my sleeping bag, and sit on my dry and covered porch? I watched it snow, listening to the kinglets and the chickadees high overhead and the little stream running right past the edge of my porch, going inside when I was too cold or if I wanted to stick my frozen hands in front of the heater for a while.

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(hey, blue skies!)

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The next morning, it was clear and sunny, and I went for a long “trail run” (more like “snow slog”) on the backcountry trails that hardly anyone uses — there are no waterfalls on those trails, so they’re fairly overlooked, even though they’re beautiful. Sometimes I actually could run, but other times I was postholing up to my knees, or crawling through vine maples that were curled over the trail in giant, branching messes under the weight of snow. But no worries that I got totally soaked — all I had to do back at my warm little cabin was put all my wet stuff in front of the heater for a while, drink some more tea, and everything was good to go again.

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(biking back home again was the biggest logistical challenge;)

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(though it sure was pretty)

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Winter exploring can be rough here when it’s soggy and grey and cold, which makes cabin “camping” all the more appealing and precious — a way to get outside and have a multiday adventure, without turning it into a total sufferfest. This was a perfect little mini retreat, even in the dead of winter, brought to me by Amtrak and my bicycle.

I love that this kind of thing is possible:)

One Comment:

  1. Way to cool ! Lately I have been going out in the woods and hewing timber (white pine and hemlock) with a broad axe, adze, and a thermos of tea ! A wood pecker was trying to keep in rhythm with my broad axe and adze. But finally he/she succomed after a few hours and flew away only to be replaced by a nagging crow who could only endure for about 15 minutes. So peaceful to hear the back ground music of the numerous small waterfalls. Only interruption were the infrequent jet on plane flying over the mountain, but would only last for less than a minute. Pretty soon the snow will be gone and the misquitos or black nats will be out.

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