A little over a week ago, I convinced my boyfriend and other friends into a long-haul (for us) biking trip from Portland to the nearby LL Stub Stewart State Park--accessible from the Banks-Vernonia trail.
Not one of us had ever been bike camping in the past; that isn't to say that we don't camp, but most of our collective camping experiences centered around the much easier variant -- car camping. The trip, though, is very easy-- just take the MAX to its west-most point, navigate your way to the Banks-Vernonia trail, and follow the trail until you reach the road leading into LL Stub Stewart State Park, and wouldn't prove too challenging for any of us.
The route, starting at my place in the Mississippi District, started at the Yellow line MAX Station at N Prescott Street, we all became acquainted with what would turn out to be a relatively stressful part of the trip-- boarding the MAX.
Our trip to Hillsboro would involve two boardings of the MAX-- once nearby my house at N Prescott St, and another downtown to transfer to the Blue line train that would take us to the end of the MAX line in Hillsboro. Both, but especially the second boarding, would prove a bit stressful. There were five of us-- each with his own bike, most of us with our own tent, sleeping bag, food, etc. attached to our bike. There being only four bike hooks on any car of a train, we certainly wouldn't board the same car, and in a couple cases wouldn't successfully accomplish the boarding, removing attached nonsense, hanging bike from hook dance to board the same train. We did, though, eventually assemble in Hillsboro (miraculously on the same train).
Having not planned ahead terribly well, we began plotting our trip to Banks using Anthony's help. Unfortunately, the route provided by Google Maps was almost certainly the most bike-hostile route I've travelled on since moving to Portland. Halfway to Banks, we paused on the streetside, each individually reflecting in our minds about how happy we'll be when we arrive at our destination safely. We did, though, eventually make it to Banks (albeit, not in very good time, and not without angering many a driver in the process).
The trail is a reclaimed railroad line; so the slope is very gradual; you do, though, gain nearly a thousand feet of elevation over the course of just a few miles. All but one of us was on either a fixed-gear of single-speed bike with a full load of camping equipment and food attached: you do not need a touring bike, just go! After about two hours had passed since disembarking from the MAX, we arrived at our destination, turning right from the trail to the (very steep, but short) road leading up to the campground, we proceeded to our camping spot.
Incidentally-- although reserving a spot in the normal campground is a good idea if you're biking out and want a good fallback location, when you arrive, see if there are spots in the hike-in spots and transfer your reservation over (we just wrote it on one of the payment slips, and I received an e-mail from them the next day refunding the difference in charges).
Once we arrived, we set up camp in our wonderful relatively secluded campsite, across from, as it would turn out, some local celebrities (who -- although I wasn't sure until I got home to check -- I had read some work by before). We set up camp, had a bite to eat, and gathered around the communal campfire talking about life with our co-campers. One of our neighboring campers even gave us a better route home to follow (see the light blue line on the map).
The rainy trip back home in the morning was largely uneventful-- although rather a lot easier, and our new route caused our trip to be fantastically less stressful (thanks, Logan!).
If you live in Portland, have camping equipment, and want a nice weekend adventure-- do this; you won't regret it.