Borrowing Jammer’s Vespa, Getting Lost Around St. Helens, OR

Getting Lost on a Vespa Is a Great Way to Tour a New Area.

Rather unexpectedly, I found myself in St. Helens with two hours to kill and a friend’s Vespa at my disposal. His p200 is very similar to mine (albeit with some pretty major cosmetic differences), so it was an immediately comfortable ride.

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I’ve only been to the Scappoose / St. Helens area of Oregon once before, so I headed out to a scenic area I knew from my prior trip. Old St. Helens was established in 1850, and the town square and old buildings along the waterfront are largely intact. Beautifully restored vintage boats and arts/crafts booths were set up along the marina and in the town square as part of the St. Helen’s Thirteen Night on the River festival.

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I felt a little like a parade float myself, zipping aggressively in on this profanely-stickered, noisy Vespa. On a scooter, I’ve always been kind of a dick, dodging through traffic and cutting across off-limits areas. I’m a good Vespa rider, and scooters are so light and flicky that it’s easy for me to feel (over)confident. Throw in some vestiges of teenage bravado and the knowledge that women in their 40s can get away with nearly anything and you’ve got a recipe for AWESOME. Let’s add the tall boots, ripped jeans, and confidence to my noisy, 2-stroke smoky chirp into my parking space: there was nothing subtle about my arrival. I found myself talking to nearly everyone in town about something: antique shopping, local music, the complications of boat restoration, and video gaming. One nice guy bought me a shave ice, too.

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My favorite interaction was with a chubby gamer who had dragged his gaming system and huge TV onto the sidewalk in front of his apartment, plopping himself on the concrete to continue gaming in the sunshine. I’d been to Comic Con a couple of days before, so we chatted for quite a bit about gaming culture in general, my shave ice melting stickily down my arm.

Deciding to take surface streets back to my friend, I found a few gravel areas and dirt roads, got distracted by some kids playing, managed to get turned completely around, and took off in the utterly wrong direction. I remembered vaguely hearing as I was leaving that it could be easy to get lost in the hills with no cell service (therefore no gps); clearly I’d not paid attention as getting lost is not a major concern for me. I became more focused on having heard about a demolition derby that was taking place at the Columbia County Fairgrounds. It’s usually easy to find events like this without directions (or a sense of direction): just follow the rednecks. I pulled over and waited for less than a minute, then jumped in behind four lifted trucks in a row and was at the fairgrounds in less than five minutes.

Two minutes after that I was sneaking the Vespa into the pits, chatting with a few of the race teams. Apparently the fairgrounds frequently ran stock-car races, and the cars all looked like they’d been run hard for years. Keeping an eye out for security, I darted from pit to pit, making brief conversation and checking out the cars. I knew I was only going to be there for a few moments and would not be able to stay for the races anyway, so when security cheerfully scooped me up and politely ejected me, the whole event felt like an unqualified success.

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Sooooo I got to the fairgrounds, no problem, but which way was the house? If the Columbia River is THIS way, then the house must be over THERE. (The Columbia River was THAT way, so I zoomed off in the absolutely wrong direction… as per usual.) Man, the roads through the hills around there were gorgeous, sun-dappled, smooth, empty. A guy on a sport-bike gave me a big, enthusiastic thumbs-up when I indicated up the road behind him, so I knew I found a great, twisty section. Cater Road going toward Vernonia: I highly recommend it. More wrong turns, past an archery range (which meant a quick stop and some happy conversation about bow hunting), more getting lost, and then finding cell service to discover that 1. I was really late, and 2. I was really far from where I was supposed to be. Thank goodness I turned around, as I had to click over to reserve on the way back.

Bouncing happily in the door upon my return, I was asked what I did on my ride. “Oh, the usual~.”

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Based on some landmarks and the use of an entire tank of gas, here’s where I think I probably went. There was quite a bit of backtracking and going around in circles, of course, but it was a beautiful afternoon and a great ride.

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What’s your favorite getting-lost story?
I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

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5 Responses

  1. Tony stockwell says:

    We don’t get lost here in Columbia County we just find new roads to drink on!

  2. Eugene Grosswiler says:

    Like this website so much, you’re a dope lady.

  3. Jammer says:

    Ummm, you did what on my Scooter? And yes, you were definitely late….

  4. Lance says:

    Cool adventure! I’ve been up in those hills a bunch. Getting lost is easy to do here in Oregon, over a million miles of forest roads & more ohv areas than can be mentioned! If your in northern Oregon and have time, hit me up and I’ll show you some back roads!

  5. Skully says:

    Been lost several times in the Colorado Rockies. To be fair, I’m a guy and get lost in my own neighborhood. Half of the fun for me on the bikes is going where I’m not supposed to (like a 150cc scooter) or riding the Honda out into the middle of nowhere.

I'd love to hear what you think!