Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Skateboarding Terwilliger To Tram

On July 12, I completed a skateboarding adventure that I had been thinking about, daydreaming about, talking about, and planning for more than a year. It was a complete success and I really enjoyed it. Before I tell you about it though, I have to put in a disclaimer.

Disclaimer: This story is absolutely not a recommendation for anyone else to try what is described here. The activity described below is extremely dangerous and -- as the saying goes -- may result in serious injury or death. Skateboarding on the street is legal in the city of Portland. If you are an experienced skateboarder and feel comfortable skating down Mt. Tabor, this route would probably work for you. On the other hand, if you are more like, "Mt. Tabor, what's that?" then this route is not for you. Wearing protective gear is a must on a route like this. I wore a helmet, knee and elbow pads, and wrist guards.

I should point out that I'm no Tony Hawk, and the closest I ever get to doing amazing skateboard tricks is in video games. I'm also not a high-speed downhill rider. I like to carve turns and always be at a speed where I feel comfortable and I can quickly stop if needed. But I do like to do "adventure rides" on the street.

Last summer I had been doing a lot of street skateboarding around Portland. My favorite run was to skate the back roads down from the Zoo to Goose Hollow, then take the MAX train back up to the Zoo, almost like using the MAX as a ski lift. So I started to wonder if it would be possible to do the same thing using the Portland Aerial Tram as the "lift" instead of the MAX. I asked around a few skateboard shops to see if anyone had heard of this being done before. The reactions I got were always either, "no, that's nuts!" or "no, but hmm, that's kind of a good idea."

I scouted the route by bicycling before attempting it on a skateboard. Then I did various shorter sections of the route separately before trying to link it all up.

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My basic plan was to skate down Terwilliger Boulevard into downtown, then from downtown skate to the waterfront, then along the waterfront, connect to Moody Ave, then to the lower station of the Portland Aerial Tram, then ride the tram back up to OHSU and skate down Terwilliger again. I started early in the morning on a Saturday, in order to minimize the number of cars that would be around.

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I started at the intersection of SW Terwilliger and SW Capitol Hwy. I walked up the jogging trail to the parking lot across from Westood Drive. Then it was time to put on my pads and helmet and start skateboarding in the street. It was going to be almost all downhill for several miles from here. My skateboard for this run was the Arbor Hybrid longboard, completely stock.

One nice aspect to Terwilliger is that there is a bike lane the whole way. So there is always room to move into the bike lane and let cars go past.

I wanted to skate in the street or bike lane the whole way. So this trip did not involve skating in the jogging path, that would be bad for several reasons: because it would annoy joggers and walkers, and because it is not really wide enough to carve good turns.

The route is almost all downhill, though there is a short uphill section near Hamilton Street, where I got off and walked up the jogging path until I got to the top of the hill again. The last section of Terwilliger from Campus Drive until SW Sheridan is probably the most fun. The hill right before Terwilliger intersects Sam Jackson Park road is a bit steep, so I had to do a lot of foot braking here. By the time I got to the Lilac Garden area, my legs were pretty tired. This is quite a long continuous downhill.

Once Terwilliger turns into 6th Avenue, the downhill cruising part of the ride is over and the ride becomes a downtown adventure. Riding on the streets downtown is fun, but the streetcar tracks are a hazard, and of course there are more cars coming from more different directions. Going down 6th I could keep up with the car traffic because of the low speed limits and the need to stop for so many red lights. 6th and Jackson is tricky because of cars coming in from the freeway off-ramp. There were one or two blocks here where I got off and walked, because the road construction made it impossible to have enough margin of safety if a car tried to pass me. I turned right on SW Market St and headed down the hill. Most of the time traffic was very light so I skated this, but here again there were one or two places when there was traffic coming in all lanes, and it made more sense to walk for a block or two instead of risking disaster.

When I got to Naito Parkway I crossed at the crosswalk, skated down to the waterfront, and turned right onto the wide multi-use path. This was all low speed flat pushing. From the path I turned up to River Parkway and then south on SW Moody Ave, back to skating on the street and bike lane again. The skate down Moody to the tram is very nice, most of it is very slightly down hill. The total distance from where I started at the top of Terwilliger all the way to the tram station is about 4.36 miles, almost all of it downhill or flat!

By the time I got to the tram, it was about 8:45 am, so I had to wait until 9am for the tram to make its first run (because this was a Saturday). After riding the tram to the top, I walked through the OHSU building, bought some coffee at the shop near the back, then went out the back door to walk down to Terwilliger along SW Campus Drive and take in the view.

This section (above Terwilliger) should be walked and not skated, for many reasons. First, I believe this section is private property, so skating may not be allowed there. Second, it is much too dangerous to skate there anyway. It is very steep with no bike lane, sharp turns, bus traffic, and cars pulling in and out of parking lots. The chances of disaster are too high to make this worth it. It's a great little walk though, with amazing views of the city.

Once I got back to Terwilliger, I had closed the loop. I repeated the lower part of the route as far as Naito Parkway and then got on a bus home. I had finished my dream route without injury.

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