Did you know there’s a lighthouse on Sauvie Island? It’s one of two Oregon lighthouses that are not on the Pacific Ocean, the other being Willamette River Lighthouse — which actually burned down in the 1950s and doesn’t exist anymore. So that alone makes Warrior Rock Light kind of a cool deal.
It’s also cool because at least right now, it seems that not so many people know about it. I remember learning about its existence about a year and a half ago when a berry-picking ride to Sauvie Island later prompted me to look up island info, and bam! It turned out there’s a lighthouse there! I even wrote at the time that I’d have to go back and see about that, since even though it’s clearly on the website I kind of didn’t believe it. A river lighthouse? On Sauvie Island? Maybe 35 miles from my house in Portland? How come I had never heard of it?
As things go, I sort of forgot about it after that, but come new year’s eve, when I was contemplating a bring-in-2016 adventure and brainstorming some natural areas I could bike out to with my winter-bird-scoping binoculars, I turned my eye to Sauvie. Right! The lighthouse! I had some unfinished adventures there!
I remembered that my friend Shawn of Urban Adventure League fame had also semi-recently biked out there and written about it, which was convenient: always nice to have an idea of what to expect from someone who’s already done it (thanks, Shawn!). Because of his post, I knew which of the Suavie Island roads to take, that I would lose the pavement near the end, and also that once I got to the end I was in for a three-mile-one-way hike if I wanted to actually get to the lighthouse (some places call it a 3.5-mile hike, though I suppose it’s all about the same). I brought my non-cleated shoes, just in case.
Despite how I’m presenting it now, when I left my house I wasn’t necessarily intent on making it all the way to the lighthouse. I wanted to adventure; I wanted to birdwatch; I wanted to have a nice day on my bike in the sunshine to bring in the new year. I didn’t necessarily want to hike. I figured if I got out there and felt like lighthousing, so be it; if I didn’t, that was fine too. So I took my time, not leaving until a little after 8:30 and then having to turn around 10 minutes later since I realized I’d forgotten my binoculars. I stopped to take pictures or look more closely when I was so inspired, and I hoped with all my hoping that the ridiculous tailwind pushing me along would die down by the time I decided to turn around and come home.
It was pretty quiet on the roads, perhaps a collective sleeping off of new years’ over-festivities, and once I got to Sauvie Island I was excited to sink into the soundtrack of sandhill cranes and to spy on the twenty bazillion immature bald eagles sitting around in the trees that, without their leaves, I could actually see them in. (I’ve since learned that “sub-adult” is the better birding word than “immature,” at least when you’re talking about birds like eagles that take a while to get their adult plumage — so there you go;). I stopped at random beaches along the Columbia and for a peregrine falcon that bombed over my head. I never stopped for too long because it was fricken cold, but the relative niceness of the day kept impelling me down Reeder Road until, sure enough, I got to its end.
The fact that you can actually see Warrior Rock Lighthouse in the distance from the trailhead is perhaps what made up my mind that I should definitely go check it out. Eh, who are we kidding — since I’d already come all that way it would have been a huge waste not to. But the definite goal in the distance helped. I knew from Shawn that there would be signs at the trailhead prohibiting biking, but I also knew that he had biked it anyway to save himself time. I considered it too, but was ultimately super glad I left my bike behind: the trail was a mess of frozen mud-ponds and there were so many trees and branches fallen all over from our recent superwinds. As I scrambled through yet another tangle of fallen cottonwood, I was definitely glad that I wasn’t portaging my bike. Plus, it was a super lovely trail, great for wandering.
It took me about 35 minutes to walk/jog my way out there — the age-old tension between wanting to see everything around me and wanting to get to that far-away goal faster. As I went, I kept getting random glimpses of the lighthouse, always so far away, until I finally turned a corner and there it was, a short walk down the beach in the direction I’d come from.
Despite all the cars at the trailhead parking lot, there was no one out there with me. I suspect everyone else had been a hunter and had gone the other direction into the wildlife refuge where, oddly enough, hunting is allowed. I relished the sunshiney solitude and had a frozen banana-and-nut-butter lunch, enjoying the views of all the mountains across the Columbia River. And then my 35-minute commute in turned into an hour-and-fifteen-minute commute out as I listened, noticed, bird-watched, and picture-took my way back to my bicycle.
Sadly, the wind stayed true, and from then on, I biked my way into a very cold, very strong, rather disheartening gale for the next three hours. But! I made it home, only slightly frozen and ravenous (I should have brought more food!) and pretty dang excited to have fulfilled so many different new years aspirations: adventure, time in nature, seeing new things, days spent outside.
(For a few more pictures of new years adventure, see here.) Yay 2016!