Zen On Dirt


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Hot Sisters Day 23 – To Bend…to the end

Well, I guess that’s that. We rolled into Bend today at 12:30, just in time to race to the post office and pick up our bounce box and roast in the near 100 degree weather. It was a little bit of a harsh reintroduction to ‘real-life’ as we knew that the van was out of radiator fluid, so we were left hauling a gallon of coolant several miles back to where the van was parked, in 100 degree heat. But really, the car adventures that ensued really aren’t a part of this bikepacking story. But, I think we were both half-ready to ditch the car in an abandoned lot and just start riding again.

The morning started out as all idyllic mornings do, with my sleeping pad being flat. It’s had a hole in it since pre-CDT, so I guess it’s a issued that I could have addressed long ago. The sky was hazy from the get-go, so it was an easy decision to point towards Bend instead of making some other adventures up. We had five hours to make it to the post office and the street sign said 30-ish miles to town, on the road. I didn’t think we had a chance.

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We retraced our steps along the Cascade Highway catching runners who were part of one of those massive 200-mile relay runs, this one going from Diamond Lake to Bend. Then when the road went up, a very fit looking, college-aged guy with a University of Oregon singlet caught us. I mean, we were’t exactly trying hard, but we weren’t dawdling!

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Then up a dirt road that paralleled Metolious-Windigo until we got to the top of the climb, and trail all the way back to the top of Mrazek, yet another trail I’d been told to ride earlier in the summer.

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It was 14 miles of swoopy, bermy fun. And it dropped 2,500 feet in a manner that often I didn’t have to brake or pedal. It was the perfect way to end a big bikepacking loop and we were all giggles when we finally hit the parking lot at noon. ‘We can still make the post office!’

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And we did. And we got the van. And currently the van is running. And the bikes are all tucked in cozy-like and our dirty clothes are in a bag waiting for a laundromat. And we’re plotting our next move from a nice little parcel of forest service land south of Bend.

The trip ended up being on the order of 700 miles. Eight hot springs. Countless lakes. Six fire lookouts. Endless classic Oregon trails including: Swamp Wells, Metolious-Windigo, Waldo Lake, Gold Lake, Fuji Mountain, Bear Grass, Moon Point, Middle Fork of the Willamette, North Umpqua, Salmon Creek, Olallie, McKenzie, Santium Wagon, Coffee and Creeks, and Mrazek. I’d say that it ended up being a pretty good sampling of the best of Oregon.

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This was hands-down the best bikepacking loop I’ve ever done. Fairly good resupplies, minimal BS-factor, beautiful rivers, amazing hot springs, low to no traffic roads, and countless thimble and black berries everywhere.

When we finished the CDT last summer, I didn’t know if I’d really recommend it to anyone. I think I’d recommend this one to anyone who asks.

Huge thanks to everyone who gave route info, store beta, and suggestions, especially Jolene and Gary. Your advice was spot on.


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Hot Sisters Day 22 – Hey South Sister!

Tonight is our last night out on this trip, and that makes me sad. It’s been really awesome to do a trip where riding bikes isn’t the primary focus. Instead, we’ve climbed mountains, soaked in hot springs, went swimming in lakes, and for the most part, tried to stop riding before we were toasted. It’s been new and novel. And the riding was pretty damn good too…

Today we climbed the South Sister, which was one of the selling points of this entire trip for me. I think the big volcanos in the Cascades are pretty awesome, and the S. S. is the third highest peak in Oregon. It’s also one of the only ones that doesn’t really require any rock or scrambling skills, so it tends to be a pretty popular hike at 12 miles round trip and nearly 5,000 feet of elevation.

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We got one of those semi-early Scott and Ez starts. We left our tent and gear in the campsite and went looking for a place to stash the bikes out of sight. Bikes secured, up we went. Well, a few steps before Scott had to go back to the bikes to get something but couldn’t find them at first. Made me feel good about our hiding place.

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The climb was spectacular. One thing I’ve really missed on this trip, and probably should have appreciated more on the CDT last summer, is the big views. Luckily, this trail pierced treeline quickly and we were treated to giant views both up and down.

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And then we saw the smoke. Coming from a fire down in the Medford area (we hear) and maybe the Umpqua, the whole top of Mt Bachelor across the road was obscured. Views to the west and south were hazy as we climbed into the smoke, both smelling it and feeling it in our lungs. Bugger. It had been perfectly clear yesterday.

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Luckily, by the summit we’d climbed out of the smoke and we got to share somewhat muted views with a PCT section hiker who’d come up as a side trip. South and east was pretty covered in smoke, but we could make out the hills as far north as Mt Jefferson. The views of the Middle and North Sister were stunning.

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Eventually, we circled the crater and headed down the loose ash/pumice/rock. Sliding half in control was actually a really good time and we had to stop several times to empty sand and rock out from our shoes. We’ll see if we pay for it tomorrow.

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Swimming in the lake was the first order of business. Then a 4 mile pedal to Elk Lake Resort down the road. It was a zoo, but they served burgers and sandwiches, but once again, their designation as a ‘grocery store’ on the Nat’l Geographic map is an overstatement. It’s okay, we hauled plenty of food from Sisters two days ago.

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Tomorrow, we retrace our steps to the top of Mrazek, a well-known and shuttled trail in Bend, and hopefully coast most of the way back to town. Then that’s it. And that’s sad.


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Hot Sisters Hot Springs Day 21 – Run to the hills before it gets hot!

We’ve spent the past hour while eating dinner watching a little squirrel cut pine cones out of a tree, drop them on the ground, and then later take them one by one back to his lair. We’re also witnessing an epic battle between a flock of gray jays and Stellar jays. It’s like we ate a TV dinner…except the entertainment was better.

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We’re camped at a free campground at the base of the South Sister. We weren’t planning on getting here until tomorrow afternoon, at best, so we have a lot of extra food. This is not a bad problem to have.

We woke up early-ish to try to beat the heat. Moving just shy of 7 is pretty good for two not overly spry-in-the-morning people. But they were predicting a high of 100 for Sister. It was time to get high.

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The friendly and happy West Peterson Ridge Trail took us out of our campsite. So flowy. So bermy. So easy. It’s closed to horses and oh so relatively not sandy. We followed it out of the main network and onto the 2 mile connecter to the Metolius-Windigo. They did an amazing job repurposing a decomissioned road to build the trail.

We were expecting the M-W to be horsey-sandy and were amazed when it wasn’t. It climbed steeply, but not unreasonably to reach a high ridge with big views of the Sisters and eventually Broken Top.

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We had 3,000+ feet to gain, and while I won’t say it went easily, it went smoothly with minor amounts of bike pushing.

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Maybe I’m just starved for big views, but I was ecstatic to be up there, even if the trail was so-so. Scott kept saying that some people might not like it, I kept asking what there wasn’t to like about it.

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The goal was to get to Three Creeks Lake before the heat of the day. We’d gotten beta after we’d already left Sisters that there was a store there, but we were skeptical. But there was! A little propane run shack that sold ice cream, sodas, beer, and snacks. When all was said and done, we’d purchase 4 ice cream bars, 2 sodas, and 2 packets of hot chocolate from the nice woman who ran the place.

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We went for a swim. We lounged in the shade. We did some ‘laundry’, We waited for the heat to dissipate. We made it to just after 3 before I got bored.

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We’d gotten word for a reliable source (he’d been spot on with all of the other route advice he’d given us) that the following 6 miles of M-W was super sandy, dusty, and not worth riding. It took us just shy of a mile to determine that he was right and bail onto the parallel road.

Soon we were back in the influence of Bend and mountain bikers were the primary users instead of horses, so we jumped back on beautiful trail. Descend, climb, roll, stop and gape at the views.

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We finally reached the Cascade Highway that we took down to our little campsite, overjoyed to find that it was free and that we wouldn’t have to go find another spot in the woods. Plus, it has a picnic table!

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Hot Sisters Hot Springs Day 20 – Dust and Sisters

Dust. The word of the day today was dust. Not sand. Sand doesn’t make you filthy, but dust that sticks to everything, makes everything on your bike creak, and makes the going slow, but goable.

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We froze our little patooties off on the coast down to Lake Creek Lodge, and then had to wait 15 minutes for them to open for breakfast. It was worth the wait and we filled our bellies with goodness.

We talked to a couple staying at the lodge who rode and told us that the Metolius-Windigo trail that we were planning on taking, while loved by horsey-people, was ‘soft, but doable.’

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They weren’t lying, and after checking out the headwaters of the Metolius River gushing out of the side of a hill, we proceeded to climb nearly a thousand feet on soft, but ridable trail. I just had to stay far enough back to avoid getting completely dusted out.

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We ditched packs and camping gear in the woods just shy of the road to the Black Butte lookout and started riding up the road, expecting a similarly empty trek as yesterdays. We were more than a bit confused when we got passed by several cars and found a parking lot full of them at the top. The two mile hike to the top at 6,500 feet had lots of people on it too. I guess I did pull it from the 16 Best Hikes in Central Oregon.

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The view from the top was impressive stretching from Broken Top to the south, to the Three Sisters, Washington, Jefferson, Hood, and then Adams in the distance. Oregon’s got a pretty good lineup of volcanos going.

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We jogged back down to the bikes, coasted back to our packs, and enjoyed french fries from Clear Creek Lodge in the shade of a tree. It was roasting out.

The M-W trail continued to be sandy, but for the most part, fun. Not a trail I’d put in my Top 10 places to ride, but it so nicely connected where we were to where we wanted to be, which was Sisters. The last 6 miles to town were on the Sisters Tie Trail, which, as far as fun ways to get to town go, was amazing. Never have I ridden a buffer, flatter, or easier trail…while staying entertaining.

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We found Sisters to be a little more upscale than Oakridge with no cheap motels, so we charged our devices first over smoothies and milkshakes and then over pizza. I’m starting to understand the appeal of dynamo hubs…Then we loaded the bikes up with some food and drinks, and a massive amount of water, and headed south. 3 miles out of town on a flat and fast trail network, we’re happily nested in among the trees and a (nearly?) full moon.

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Tomorrow is going to be hotter than today, so we’re going to make a run for a lake to spend the hot-hours swimming, then on towards Mt Bachelor and the South Sister.


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Hot Sisters Day 19 – Making it up as we go

I think this is a little bit what it would feel like bikepacking without a set goal, route, or timeline. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do…but have yet to do it. Today’s talking to people, looking at maps, and ummm…slight lack of food has led to some bonus trail, a bonus dinner tonight, and a bonus breakfast and resupply tomorrow.

And a kick ass campsite next to a babbling brook, a bench, and more space than we can cover with all of our crap.

It was good, warm camping last night. The type that when Scott starts to move and work towards getting up, I say, Nooo, just one more snuggle. And then we sleep for another half an hour.

We packed up quickly and scored ourselves breakfast at the Clear Lake Resort along with coffee that was more water than coffee. We ordered a round of french toast to take with us to complement the sandwich that we’d gotten to go the day before, a bag of cookies, and some candy. Pickings were slim.

A lovely mile of McKenzie River Trail took us to the start of the Santium Wagon Trail. We’d been warned that it was sandy and maybe only good in the other direction. We are poor listeners and tried it anyhow. It was actually pretty good. Then once on ‘road’ and not trail, things turned to shit. Knee-deep sand.

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‘It’s only 1.8 miles to the turn-off, even if we have to walk the whole thing, it won’t take that long,’ Scott said encouragingly.

We walked the whole thing. It was like those nightmares that you’re trying to push your bike through deep sand and it doesn’t go anywhere…except it wasn’t a nightmare.

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But, the goal was to access the Sand Mountain Lookout, and this was the only non-highway way to do it. We ditched our gear at the turnoff, rode up the closed lookout road until trail, swapped to running shoes, and walked the rest of the way. We met Brian the Lookout. He’s got a pretty sweet little hideout up there. Stove, kitchen, bed, and ah-MAZE-ing views of the Three Sisters, Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Jefferson, and Hood way off in the distance.

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We took some pictures, did a lap around the summit crater, and headed back to the bikes and then coasted down to packs. It was a super-cool little side adventure.

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We hoped it would be fast going to Big Lake through the OHV area. It wasn’t. It would have been if we had a throttle and sand was no big deal, but we have two feet, and sometimes sand can feel like a big deal.

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We did make it eventually and immediately went swimming during the hottest part of the day.

Leaving the lake, we decided to follow the track that a local had sent us, bringing us north on the maze of roads sooner than we’d planned to. But the roads were sandy, and we figured he knew best. It would have been perfect terrain for a fat bike…which made for good Should Have Brought The Fatbikes joking. It was actually plenty of fun on ‘skinny’ tires.

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We took the map out at an intersection. ‘Is that a trail that goes down to that lake?’ We were in a new section of the map that we hadn’t even considered. ‘Let’s try it.’

Loosey-goosey, it was a good time and we ran into a group by a lake. ‘Is there any food nearby?’ Scott asked. We were entering super-campground land. ‘Yep. There’s a marina at Suttle Lake.’

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Score. More trails down to the lake and around it brought us to a spa where they not only let us in but served us dinner.

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Epic lodge door

Pointing at the map in front of us, I said, ‘While we’re making shit up, should we just take this trail to Camp Sherman with the grocery store icon, and then cut back to Black Butte?’

The lady at the lodge confirmed that there was breakfast at Camp Sherman and we were sold. The trail, thus far, has been land-speedery and fun, and when we came across this campsite, we couldn’t pass it up. Luxury camping, or something like that. Tomorrow, we’ll get breakfast plus a resupply, go climb to a fire lookout, and then cruise into Sisters for the night. Then only a few more days left of this little adventurita


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Hot Sisters Day 18 – Climbing the McKenzie

Today I crashed while running. One of those Catch one toe, go for the save with the other foot, think you’re going to hold it up, trip again with foot number one, go sprawling down the hill. I only find this funny because we actually rode some fairly technical trail today and had many people tell us to be careful. I’m far more dangerous to myself on foot than on wheels.

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The day started with more idyllic McKenzie River Trail. Smooth, fast, we were at our hot spring five miles away in no time. It was nestled under a little cove right at river level. While not overly hot overall, the earth continued to fart on occasion sending up plumed of really hot.

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We soaked for well over an hour enjoying the early-ish morning sun.

Scott had warned me that after Trail Bridge, the trail turned hard. ‘We’re going to be hike-a-biking some’ he said. When Scott says a trail gets hard, I set my expectations to zero and occasionally get surprised. Fun, side-hilling, but smooth trail eventually turned to lava rock. Maybe it was the coffee we drank at the hot springs, maybe living in Tucson for the winters is finally paying off, but I felt like I was actually rallying some of the climbing.

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So fun.

We got to see some atrocities in trail etiquette though, my highlight being riding at the bottom of a techy climb, looking up to see a group standing at the top, putting my head down to focus on the climbing, and then out of my peripheral vision, seeing a lady skidding down towards me with one foot out of the pedal. People should be forced to take a brief multiple choice test before allowed on trail: If you’re stopped and see someone riding up a hill that you’re not certain you can actually ride down, should you a) Go or b) Wait.

Anyhow. The lava rock section was one of my favorite sections of trail that we’ve done so far this trip. I think a small part of me misses Tucson riding.

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We stopped for lunch at the blue pool and watched teenaged boys jump off the waterfall and into the deep water. One guy jumped from the top, which was pretty impressive in my book. I love that we can seamlessly transition from being way-out-there to being part of the peanut gallery and love both.

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We rode by two amazing water falls, and just like that, we were at Clear Lake mid-afternoon…where the ‘grocery store’ icon on the map is a little bit of an overstatement. We thought about the possibility of cookies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and breakfast again, supplemented by some to-go sandwiches, for the way to Sisters, but thought better of it.

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Run around the lake to take a look at the lava flows, free-camp somewhere next to the lake, get up and get breakfast and COFFEE! Sold. In theory, now we’ll ride into Sisters morning/midday the day after tomorrow instead of trying to push it in tomorrow. We’ll still eat cookies for most of our sustenance for the next day, but at least we’ll have a good breakfast in our bellies.

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We found a campsite right next to the lake, which is giving us a view of Sand Mountain across the way. I feel like it’s the first campsite with a view we’ve had. It’s lovely.

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And now I have a scraped knee and knuckle to show for our run.


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Hot Sisters Day 17 – Lookouts, Olallie Trail, and hot springs

Tonight, we are doing our best to define bike glamping. Or, bikepacking glamour camping. I’m sure others could outdo us, I’m looking at Nicholas and Lael here, but for Scott and Ez…I’m impressed.

We have a campsite right next to the McKenzie River (which means unlimited water for cooking). We soaked in the Belknap hotspring just 2 miles down the road, we have another hot spring to soak in 3 miles up the river in the morning, we have an unexpected box of wine, a smoothie, a bottle of orange juice, hot chocolate and enough food to keep us legitimately fed until our next resupply tomorrow afternoon. Plus, we had a pretty dang good sandwich in McKenzie Bridge earlier today. AND – it’s warm out.

It was supposed to rain tonight. I’m so glad it didn’t.

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This morning was one of the colder mornings, and given that we’d ended our ride with a big climb, all my riding clothes that I had to put on in the morning were still soaked. It’s my least favorite part of these adventures. Luckily, we’d left ourselves some climbing and core temperatures rose quickly. That’s my favorite part of bikepacking.

The morning goal was to climb up to the Olallie Lookout in the Three Sisters Wilderness. We parked our bikes, put on our running shoes, and headed up the trail hoping that the cloud cover would dissipate.

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It didn’t, but the old lookout was still cool and we got to watch clouds move in and roll out in the valleys below us before heading down.

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We didn’t really know what to expect of the Olallie Trail that we planned to take down to McKenzie Bridge. “Are you going to put your water in your pack?” Scott asked, and I knew it could be serious. With the lack of any serious hike-a-bike this entire trip, I’d Tour Divided my bike out and put my water in my frame bag and started riding with a really light pack. Great for riding, terrible for hike-a-bike.

We ate some lunch to further reduce pack weight and braced ourselves for 700 vert of hike-a-bike. It was 98% ridable. I don’t know how Oregon trails do it.

Once on the ridgeline, the trail alternated between super dense bear grass making the trail hard to ride, thimbleberry overgrowing the trail making it hard to ride, and wide open forest trail. But, even when the trail was overgrown, the surface was good, so with a little bit of caution, we were able to stay riding for most of it. Plus, the trail designer believed in 100% contour. It was pretty awesome.

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When the trail intersected Saddle something-or-other, where people who shuttle it come in, it got to silly fun. More giggles per foot than any other trail on this trip, and that’s saying a lot. We screamed down to McKenzie Bridge, stoked that the climb to the top last night was worth it.

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We got some sandwiches, we got some dinner/breakfast/snacks and got onto the world-famous McKenzie River Trail.

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I’ve never met such a mellow, cruisy trail. We weren’t initially going to stop at the Belknap Hotsprings Resort because it was developed and all, and required bathing suits, but it *was* right on the trail, and it was only $7 to soak. Why not, we decided. It’d be dumb to skip it. Plus, we got a shower out of the deal.

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Another mile of easy pedaling brought us to this camp site. It’s pretty ideal as far as campsites go. Pretty stoked on the situation.

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