A Ride to Leach Botanical Gardens via Portland’s Bikeways

Leach Botanical Gardens, in outer Southeast Portland, has been a well-kept secret for many years.  But recently, the park underwent a major transformation featuring aerial walkways amidst towering evergreens, a new “pollinator” garden, and many other upgrades.

The park was originally a residence, and clearly a refuge, built and curated by John and Lilla (Irvin) Leach, he a druggist, she a botanist, both avid naturalists and early members of the Mazamas. Lilla became an award winning botanist, identifying 5 new plant species and over the years developed an amazing array of botanical wonders in their multi-level gardens nestled along the banks and cliffsides of Johnson Creek.  The above photo is their residence, “Manor House”, which they built in 1936 after first residing in a lovely stone cabin on the other side of the creek.  Upon their deaths (John in the early 1970’s and Lilla in 1980), they deeded the property to the City of Portland to be used as a city park and botanical museum, but it took several decades after that for the city to finally recognize and invest in this amazing treasure.

A nice section of Portland’s bikeways – newly paved.

The garden entrance – the ALAN was the perfect bike for this trip.

The route to this destination can be done completely on Portland’s bikeways – an amalgam of neighborhood greenways and streets with bike lanes.  All of the bikeways routes are marked with periodic signage to help you navigate, but fortunately I looked closely at my interactive Portland bike map and plotted my course before venturing out.

My route took me from Mt. Tabor, down Mill Street with a jog over to Market, continuing east until turning south on 130th.  From there, the challenge is crossing the busy and bike unfriendly intersections at Division and Powell, but these crossings have been improved with some safety features.  The route continues south jogging amongst 130th, 129th and 128th, until finally reaching Foster Road, which has no bike safety infrastructure other than perilous bike lanes strewn with parked cars and trash.  So, once I hit Foster I proceeded the few blocks on the sidewalks until the turn off at 122nd which leads to the park.  Other than a few minor hills along the way, the route was completely flat.  Round trip is about 15 miles.  I encountered no cyclists on my way out, and only three on my way back. As it was a beautiful sunny Saturday, the lack of cyclists makes me think that these bikeways are pretty underutilized.  And, as is often the case with Portland’s bikeways, many of the road surfaces were potholed and there was still much winter debris to navigate – downed branches from this winter’s record-breaking ice storm as well as a lot of gravel which made me glad to be riding the ALAN with its micro-knobbies.  Still, any kind of bike would handle this journey just fine.

I’ve visited the gardens many times before, but today I could only stay briefly.  Below are photos from today’s visit and from previous excursions, for your enjoyment.

Alliums in the new pollinator garden.

A view of the Manor House from the aerial walkway.

A walk among the trees on the new aerial walkway.

Johnson Creek bathed in a bit of sunlight.

A deer I spotted on a previous visit.

One of the many botanical wonders you will see.

Trillums reaching for the sun.

If you decide to visit the gardens, be aware that with these new improvements, the city will begin charging an admission fee next year.  For now, they are encouraging “reservations”, but I arrived without one, and that presented no problem.  For those of you who live here or are planning a visit, I hope you have a chance to take in this awe-inspiring experience.

Bottin du Cycle 1951: The French Cycling Directory

I love cycling print media from days gone by.  This bible-like tome, the Bottin du Cycle, is a French compendium of all things cycling related.  Its 1,296 pages attest to the booming cycling industry in France during the post-war era.

The front, back, side, spine, and even the edges of the pages are covered in advertising. This book was meant to promote the industry, and I think it must have succeeded.  The ads featured on the exterior of the catalog include Caminargent (Caminade), maker of extraordinarily lightweight octagonal aluminum frames; LAM, a brake manufacturer; Sonnclair, maker of cycling bells; Pryma, a saddle maker, and Philippe, handlebar manufacturer.  Even the supplied bookmarks contain ads:  Dissoplast, a maker of glue and patches for repairing flats, and another ad for Caminargent.

The first part of the directory is devoted to a listing of the phone numbers and addresses of all cycling related retailers and manufacturers of the era in Paris (the blue pages) and then in the rest of France, by region and city.  The print in this section is very small, so I had to employ my vintage magnifying glass to read the text.  In it I found the telephone numbers and addresses of the French builders of the day, including listings for Camille Daudon, Robert Ducheron, Alex Singer, Rene Herse, and many others whose bikes have survived the test of time.

There’s even a section on “Cyclomoteurs” – bicycles made to accommodate a small engine, usually 50cc.  This ad features a frame style by Veloto amazingly similar to some of today’s e-bike models, such as this one available at Portland’s Clever Cycles.

Here’s an ad for Cycles Metropole featuring a drawing by Rodolphe Rebour, Daniel’s brother.

The rest of the book is devoted to featuring the retailers and manufacturers, arranged by category.  Ads appear throughout the book, some of them in color for those who sprang for a higher ad budget, such as Tron and Berthet, shown above.  I couldn’t use a scanner due to the book’s girth, so I used my camera to photograph some of the more interesting pages.  Here’s a look, for your enjoyment:

VAR tools – the gold standard, still made today.

Gnutti hubs – a competitor to Campagnolo.

Mavic and Super Champion rims – both excellent choices for a build.

LAM brakes, featured on many higher-end bicycles.

A Perry coaster brake internal hub.

An innovative hub design – removal can be done sans freewheel.

Arc-En-Ciel (“rainbow”) – loopy frames and whimsical handlebar – I have never seen one of these but would love to.

J. Moyne freewheels – my Camille Daudon features one.

And, of course, the compendium would not be complete without an offering from Peugeot.  The above PH models from 1951 are some of the best of their model range from this era.

This directory will come in handy when I need to research component makers and builders, and is also just a fun bit of cycling history.

A Southeast Portland Adventure

I love it when a routine bike ride turns into something a little different.  This morning, with a promising break in the rain, I set out on my 1975 Centurion for what I thought would be my usual route out to Oaks Bottom and back to town on the Springwater Trail, with a brief stop at Tadpole Pond.  But, as I was getting underway, I could see that other COVID escapees had a similar plan.  My initial leg of the journey was crammed with pedestrians and other cyclists, as well as a fair number of cars.  So, en route I veered off course.

I headed south on SE 28th, past Clinton and Powell, and at that point thought that maybe a stop at the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden would be first up.  I cycled past the encampments which line 28th as one approaches the East Moreland golf course.  The course was fully stocked with golfers teeing off on its manicured greens, and offered a disturbing contrast to the disarray of the encampments just across the course’s fence line.  But, I kept my thoughts in check as I maneuvered the bike through the debris and then pulled in to the Rhodie Garden’s parking lot.  There were only two other bikes parked there, including a cargo bike with kid’s strider bike tucked neatly into its giant bags.

Unfortunately, once again everyone seemed to have the same idea as I did, and the Gardens were jammed with people taking in the serenity of the 9.5 acre park, with its teeming waterfowl.  So, I opted not to go in.  The above videos are from a recent visit (middle of the week, rainy day) when I was lucky to be one of just a few guests.  The birds featured in the 2nd video above are American Wigeons, a type of duck with an interesting, delicate call.

Upon deciding not to head down to Oaks Bottom, which I suspected would also be crowded, I meandered back into town going first north on 22nd from the Sellwood area, and then followed previously un-vetted (by me) cycling “greenway” routes back in to town.  As is sometimes the case with Portland’s cycling infrastructure, the recommended routes can be ill-conceived which I discovered when I found myself at the apex of a 5 way multi-lane intersection with no bike lane in sight.  Once I’d found my way again, I finally had a chance to see the Gideon Crossing, a structure which was built to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians waiting on railroad crossings.  This part of my route was at one time a section of my regular commute but I haven’t been out this way for about a year and a half.  I tried out the elevator, and then walked my bike across the bridge.  All worked fine, and the view from up top was fun.

Once back in town, I stopped off at one of my favorite local haunts, and a place that I miss now that “hanging out” is not an option.  Often there are interesting bikes (and persons!) parked out front.  Today it was quiet, so I ordered a latte and began a walk through the neighborhood while I sipped my decaf, in between re-masking whenever others were nearby.

And that’s when today’s special moment happened.  I approached an intersection that I ride every day on my commute, but I came at it from a different direction.  I caught a whiff of something extraordinary and unexpected during the height of winter:  the fragrance of jasmine, strong and powerful.  I looked up to see a lovely stone house with a front garden which has to be the envy of all its neighbors.  It was teeming with jasmine plants in full bloom and with ripe berries as well.  What a fantastic way to wrap up today’s journey.  In that instance, my trip turned into an adventure instead of a ride. The fragrance of the jasmine is still with me.