The Columbia River Gorge is famous for the windsurfing and kitesurfing. And cherries. The landscape is truly remarkable, and the river large and deep enough to accommodate barges and ships from the sea all the way to Idaho – our nation’s most inland seaport. (Yes, Idaho. Seaport. I know, huh?) It’s also the route followed by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their sponsored trek to the Western shore. Later, it was part of the Oregon Trail, pointing the direction for many young, brave, determined immigrants who sought a better life.
Today the Columbia River Gorge draws people for lighter reasons, much of the time. Our most recent trip brought our paths across those of long-distance truckers, kids driving off to college in beat up old cars with an assortment of oddly shaped containers roped to the top of the car, elderly couples keeping an eye out for a rest stop or a vista point. On our trip, we saw mainly tourists, recreational adventurers heading either to Mount Hood volcanic peak or to the river for water sports. And, many many Dave Matthews Band fans on their way home from the Concert in the Gorge.
It was an excellent windy day as we passed Viento State Park (ha ha), so we were treated with glimpses of colour all along the river surface. The bright splashes of nylon kites practically sparkled in front of the drab yellow hillsides and slate rockslides of the eastern Gorge.
We found a restaurant in Biggs and ate while we watched with great interest as a large family began loading their gear onto their bikes. There were six of them; Mom, Dad, and a whole passel of young ones. And yes, they were all in their safety gear and ALL climbing onto two amazing, custom bikes.
The woman’s reflective vest had this: 6TZEN, on the back, and Mark tapped it into his iPhone while we watched them through the window. Four small children take a long time to get loaded, which allowed us to quickly read up on the family’s adventures. How Amazing the story!
Please look them up, this is wonderful: http://www.6tzen.org/
A kind, caring, beautiful family from Normandy decided to travel from North America to South America on bikes. Their kids’ ages range from 2 to 6, and all of them share in the pedaling except for little Eva.
Once I found this out, I had to speak with them, so I ran to the car and grabbed the camera and came back to chat. Arnaud wanted some help in choosing which side of the river to travel, and I was worthless for it because I don’t know anything about bicycling. So then he said his specific concern was that his guide showed that part of their route should be on the Interstate. They wanted to know if they should ride on the Interstate. I thought that was a bad idea. A woman was standing near and listening, so we asked her. She was also not a bicyclist, but thought that the Interstate was illegal for bikes. She and I spent a lot of time trying to explain that we were pretty sure that in America, Interstates were not bike friendly.
Arnaud finally brought out his map and I realized I had been an idiot. At least I wasn’t talking like a parent to a three-year-old, like the other lady. But I had assumed that I knew more than they did, at least about four-lane highways and bikes. I did not. They had an amazing bicycling travel guide, which showed routes along every major road, distances, elevations, and places to stop. Turns out, the southern route was not ALL Interstate. Mostly the Old Columbia River Highway, and then just 10 miles along the Interstate till they could cross on a bridge to Bingen. They had it all figured out. They already knew that the busy highway was not an ideal place to ride, but that was the route with the most gradual climbs. All they wanted was a second opinion.
They were gracious and forgiving as I stumbled through my embarrassment and offered to go call the police for them and ask. The other woman went as well, and came back first, when she found someone who could confirm that 10-mile stretch of highway was often used by bicyclists.
The kids were obviously not impressed that they were part of something incredible. They looked bored. Very polite kids, but simply not as amazed about the trip as I was. I laughed inside, thinking of how often it would happen to me that I would go out of my way to do something incredible with Tara, and her big highlight of the week would be that she found a penny, or she saw a squirrel.
I asked them, if their goal was to travel from Quebec to South America, why were they so far West? Why not head south from Quebec? Because the flights are inexpensive to Quebec, answered Arnaud, and because their original plan was to visit the Western US. So, save some money and add on a couple thousand miles, why not? Whew. What a family! They said this plan allowed them to visit Yellowstone Park, and they were very glad they had done it.
So the wonderful family completed their packing up, obliged a couple of photos, and faced West with high spirits.
I found my friend Celia on facebook, who is French, and asked her to help me read the one page I found of this family. I wanted to contact them and offer them a place to stay, since they were heading toward Portland. Celia was extremely helpful in translating what I needed to know to create an account on their French site so I could send them a message. I had no idea where they would be when they checked the Internet next. I sent out my phone number and wished them well.
I never heard anything from them, but found a different site later, which I translated to English. Since then, their own site has been revamped to offer translations, and their blog explains that they found very kind families in this region who were quicker to the punch than I, and were able to share their hospitality and some respite to the world travelers.