This past weekend was our second trip to Mountain Bike Oregon (MBO). If you aren’t familiar with the event, think summer camp for adults riding mountain bikes. It's three days in Oakridge, OR, of adults getting on school buses and getting driven to some of the best mountain bike trails around, then coming back to Oakridge’s main park, that temporarily resembles a refugee camp to hang out in the beer tent drinking free beer all night while competing in mini-bike races and junk bike tosses. And no, I didn’t make those last three up for sensationalism.
Somewhere along the preparation for MBO this year, I got the idea to ride from Bend to Oakridge. After talking to a couple people it became obvious that it wouldn’t be possible to pull that off in a day. It did seem possible to ride from Mt Bachelor (about 30 mins and several thousand feet from Bend )over to Oakridge. Using the vast resources of the interwebs, trolling on MTBR.com, and countless evenings pouring over paper maps, plotting courses on the computer and consulting with some locals, I decided on a route. Luckily, the amount of trails between Bachelor and Oakridge left me with a lot of options, and several bail-out locations to the highway where I could cruise down, hitch or call the wife for a ride in to town. My goals were to complete it in a day, and maximize the singletrack while minimizing pavement and roads. Interestingly, all the routes were about the same length, approximately 80 miles. The variable was how much of that would be highway versus singletrack.
The general plan involved taking the Central Oregon Breeze shuttle from Portland to Bend. It leaves daily from the bus station downtown (or the airport) and takes about 41/2 hours to get to bend. Not too bad for public transport. For an extra $5 you can bring your bike as long as you pack it in a box. Our good friend Celia picked me up from the shuttle in Bend and cooked a delicious sole for dinner. She also got up awful early in the morning to drive me up to Mt Bachelor. She also took advantage of the early morning drive to hike up Bachelor and get in some skiing. Yes, you can still find some snow in Oregon in August.
For my plan I worked out 4 potential routes for the trip:
1) If I was having a bad day, I would ride over to Waldo lake and meet up with some friends that were riding the Waldo lake trail and get a ride from them back to Oakridge.
2) If I was having an OK day but the ride was harder or taking longer, then I would bail after the Mt Fuji trail and ride down to hgwy 58 and then 20 some-odd road miles to Oakridge.
3) The route I was hoping to pull off was to ride up from the end of Mt Fuji to the Bunchgrass trail and ride the upper half of that and bail out to a gravel road and cruise that down 3000' and 10 miles to a 6 mile paved ride to town.
4) The optimal route, but seemingly impossible would be to ride the entire Bunchgrass trail to the Heckletooth trail and in to town.
Things started pretty well. I was riding by 7am with clear skies and a beautiful view of Mt Bachelor, the Three Sisters and Broken Top. About a couple miles or so in I realized my camera had fallen out of my feedbag so I had to turn around and go look for it. Luckily it wasn't too far back, and learned to keep the feedbag closed all day. I rode a trail through Mt Bachelor to the Metoliuos Windigo trail. It was a really fun, twisty trail, a few ups and downs to warm me up a little but nothing major. The Metolious Windigo was mostly a descent down to Lava Lake. It was a great way to start the day. At some point I managed to get a pinch flat in my rear tire. I'm not sure how as I didn't feel like I hit anything too hard but sure enough, I had a good snake bite on the tube. Took my time fixing it and even patched the old tube at the same time in case I needed later when I was more tired and pressed for time. Luckily it was the only real mechanical issue of the entire ride. From Lava Lake the Metolious Windigo heads into the 3 sisters wilderness. Leaving the only legal option to ride the road over to Cultus lake. I was tempted to try riding through the wilderness as it only cut through a short corner of it, but since it looked to climb significantly I thought better of the plan and reluctantly hit the road. After a couple miles I saw a sign for the Coral Swamp trail, 2 miles down a dirt road. A quick check of my GPS showed that it would allow me to cut out the rest of the paved road and take me to Cultus lake. What the heck. Well, any trail with Swamp in the name should give you pause. And this was one. It wasn't that bad, just sees a lot of horse traffic and as a result was more of a dust swamp. The climbs were real loose and tough to get up and the descents were equally loose and sketchy at best. At one point I saw a martin scamper across the trail and as I looked up to see where it went, my front tire washed out in the dust nearly sending me over the bars. Tragedy narrowly avert, the rest of the trail was fine. Wouldn't go out of my way to ride it again, but it sure beat riding the road.
From here I had a few miles of dirt road to the Lemish Lake Trail. This was the first real climbing of the day as the trail worked it's way up Charlton Lake. It was a series of short steep pitches, each one seemed to end with a big root or rock drop to get over at the very top, just when you would be completely red-lined. Sure had me glad to be riding the 29er.
Once at Charlton lake things leveled off, then a fun descent down to Waldo lake and the Waldo lake trail. For a lake trail it had some decent elevation gain as it climbed away from the lake and then back down nearer the shore and away again. Repeat. At one point I was riding along and noticed a lot of smoke on the trail. I wasn't too close to the lake so I didn't think it was from a campfire, also it was about noon not too likely for someone to be at a campsite. I could see that the smoke was coming from a spot about 20' off the trail, so I went and took a look. It appeared that there had been a lightning strike there and it was s till smoldering some. I made a note of the location and headed off to South Bay campground where my friends had parked to ride the entire lake loop and to fill up on water. They were still out riding but I took advantage of their tailgate and had lunch there. I also dropped some clothes and flipflops that I had been carrying from my bus ride to Bend. It was nice to lighten up the pack a bit. After a break and some lunch I filled up the camel back and happened to see a Forest Service Truck roll by, so I stopped her and was able to report the lightning strike.
Since I was still feeling good, I headed off for more. From Waldo lake I headed off to Betty lake then down to Gold lake. This was a real fun decent, highly recommend it if you are in the area. From Gold lake it was up Mt Fuji. This is a long grind of a climb. And at mile 60 or so it was tough. About halfway up I felt miserable and decided to bail out at the op and take the highway back to town. I still had 3 more days of Mt Biking after all, why kill myself and ruin a fun vacation. I took a short breather at Birthday lake and threw down some gel and Cliff shots. That was all I needed and I felt a ton better on the second half of the climb. So much better that I started to rethink my decision. At the gravel road at the end of the trail I sat on a log to look over the map and make my decision. Unfortunately the mosquitoes wouldn't let me rest much so I headed off and decided I would at least ride up the to the trail and see how that felt. Once up there I knew I wouldn't turn around so the decision was pretty much made there.
Now I had ridden the Bunchgrass Trail at the previous years MBO. It is described as advanced only and a hard to follow rough trail. My recollection from that ride was of a hard but fun rustic trail. There were some steep loose switchbacks I would have to deal with but nothing to insane. I also had downloaded the GPS route of the trail from someone who rode it so I wasn't concerned about getting lost. It is remote and on a high ridge, being late in the day I knew a bad crash could easily mean a night in the woods if not worse. So I texted Margi where I was and that I thought it would be about 1-2 hours or so to get back to town. What I didn't account for was selective memory. I could see off in the distance where I had to go, and it did seem a little intimidating, but the trail started off real fun with a good raw descent and twisty singletrack through the woods down to the last road and last possible bail out before I started climbing. Emboldened by the fun start I headed off. Soon enough things got harder. What started as a fun ridable trail turned into a series of on and off the bike after unrideable section after another. Granted some of it was me being overly cautious, but as I continued on, my memory from the year before came back to me and I seemed to remember thinking then that this trail was a bit ridiculous. This went on for miles with the hiking sections getting longer and climbing up and up. It seemed like half my energy was spent getting on and off the bike. While my foot was starting to bother me from the walking.
I started to wonder if I had died earlier in the day and I was now stuck in purgatory. My carrot at the end of this stick was the saddle above the sketchy switchbacks through an old burn, otherwise known as the toilet bowl. I had no shame in walking these too, why stop now. From here on it was more of the same. My now untrustworthy memory had me remembering one last grunt of a climb to a ridge then a short spin to where I could catch the road. Of course it was further along than I remember, had more walking and was harder to make it up the climb. I think last year I only got off once on the climb. This time I walked most of it. I was beat. And staring at the GPS screen for that darn road. In reality maybe it wasn't that bad, or maybe it was and my selective memory is already kicking in. What it definitely was, was a beautiful amazing place. And sure as heck better than a day at the office.
In the end it took over two hours to get through the Upper Bunchgrass section. And I still had 16 miles to get to town. I stopped and called Margi to let her know I got out. She was still stuck in traffic in Eugene. I downed a whole bunch of dark chocolate chips I had been saving as a reward and headed down the road. Not sure I pedaled for the next 20 minutes. If I did, I didn't need to. It was nice sitting and cruising. After some 10 miles of descending on gravel I hit the homestretch of 6 paved, slightly downhill miles. Rode straight to camp where I was lucky to run in to Laurie who pointed me to our camp area and the clothes I left with Sarah and Thor, I was glad to get out of the chamois I had been wearing for over 11 hours. And within a few minutes Margi arrived with the rest of our stuff for the weekend.
After a hot shower, it was off to dinner at the Trailhead Cafe for a quesadilla, a delicious tempeh burrito, a chocolate chip cookie and a coconut macaroon. I was hungry three hours later!
In the end it was just under 88 miles and 11,000 feet of climbing in 9.5 hours of ride time and 11 hours total. The longest non-race Mt bike ride I had ever done. And there was still three days of hard riding at MBO to come...