Zen On Dirt


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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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Hot Sisters Hot Springs Day 16 – Road riding and nekkid people

“Back when I first started coming here 30 years ago, all the young people were naked and the old people wore swimsuits. Now it’s the other way around.”

I didn’t think I’d ever hear a 70+ year old naked-shame young people. He did have a point…thought the hot springs seemed to fluctuate from mostly PG-13 rated to completely naked and back throughout our time there. The Cougar Hot Springs were the highlight of the day…maybe the trip so far.

I think I sort of woke up on the wrong side of the tent this morning. No reason, just woke up not into the idea of pedaling a bike all day. Plus, once we got over the giant mountain in front of us, we had another big climb and then what seemed like a really long road ride on the Aufterhiede to the hot springs, at least on the map.

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Hopped up on Vias (thank goodness they had some in Oakridge), I was able to hide the overall grump for the first climb. Then we descended 2,000 feet, so there was no reason to be grumpy on that. Then on to the Aufderhide, a nearly deserted paved road that wanders through huge old-growth forest.

It was beautiful, as far as paved roads go.

We’d planned to get on the Constitution Grove Trail that someone had assured us was good trail. It looked overgrown the first spot we tried to get on it. Half mile down the road, we couldn’t even find the crossing. Finally, at Constitution Grove proper, where they nailed plaques with the names of all of the signers of the Constitution to 200+ year old trees, we were finally ready to give it a chance.

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It was okay. Lightly used, but okay. But when trees started being down, I mentioned I wasn’t really in love with the trail, especially since the road was 50 feet to our left. We bailed pretty quickly.

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“You’re grumpy,” Scott accused at the road.

“Am not.”

“Do you want a caffeine pill?”

“Yes please.”

Life got better after that. I guess the 2+ cups of coffee in Oakridge for three mornings didn’t really do a whole lot for the caffeine addiction thing.

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We climbed the 700 vert of the pass and started what seemed like the longest downhill in the history of downhills. It felt like we were able to coast 90% of the way to the hot springs.

We stashed our bikes, paid our $6 each, and hiked up to the springs. They were stunning. Everyone should go visit them…but not if you’re not a ‘clothing optional’ person.

It makes me happy that in a society where some people want to ban yoga pants for being too suggestive, people can still get together and soak naked in the outdoors and not think anything of if.

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We soaked for well over 2 hours before we decided we should probably hit the road. We made it up 3,000 feet of a 3,500 foot climb on the edge of the Three Sisters Wilderness. Tomorrow, barring rain, we climb to a fire overlook and then descend some sweet trail down to McKenzie Bridge. And then it’s supposed to rain….


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Hot Sisters Hot Springs – Day 15 – Escaping the town vortex, soaking in a hot spring

We really were planning on leaving Oakridge sometime mid-day and making it some distance down the road. But, the best laid plans…are often thwarted by meeting interesting people, last-minute Trackleaders.com issues for Scott, and the general futzing that accompanies getting bounce boxes shipped, food on board, and ducks in a row.

We went back to Lion Mountain Bakery for breakfast. We’d fallen in love with their potato/onion/egg/other goodies scramble, plus they had good coffee. And truthfully, they were closer to the motel than the other breakfast place, which was equally as good.

As we were bussing our plates and cups, another couple walk in, and asked, ‘Shouldn’t you guys be out bikepacking? Or did Oakridge draw you in like it does so many others.’

Turned out, it was Marcelo and Heidi, who we’d been told to meet while in Oakridge. It was good timing and we sat down to talk bikes, the semi-vagabond lifestyle, and the benefits of bike tourism on faltering small-town economies. If I were into that sort of thing, I’d buy real estate in Oakridge right now.

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Eventually, we hurried back to our motel room to pack up before the 11am check out. But, work wasn’t done for Scott, something about a bunch of big races going on this weekend, so we went back to the bakery and got a milkshake and mini-pizza.

Finally, across the street to the post office to ship our box of computery stuff back to Bend. Then down the hill to the grocery store for two nights and three days of food, then to the bike shop to get Scott a new light to replace the one that had been flooded out by the rains earlier this trip.

Then Trackleaders exploded. We ended up on the back porch of the shop while Scott frantically tried to do something. I meanwhile succumbed to my consumeristic tendencies and bought the cutest hat. I’d been searching for a new favorite hat since my Kep’s Balls one flew off on the ferry ride earlier this summer.

We also got to talking to three 13 year olds who’d taken the bus up from Eugene, ridden in Oakridge, and were waiting to take the bus back. That’s so cool.

Finally, we were riding. But only after a stop at the taco cart. Never leave town even remotely hungry.

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First stop, the warm springs 10 miles out of town. At 97 degrees, body temperature, they felt neither warm nor cold once you got used to the water, but perfect. We were joined by a somewhat odd gay couple who seemed to know a lot about hot springs in the area.

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Once wrinkly, we moved on and started climbing. We passed by one campsite that didn’t have a view. One that had too many sticks. One that wasn’t flat enough. One that wasn’t big enough. One that was too weedy. Eventually, being maximizers got exhausting and we found a campsite with sticks, weeds, a somewhat uneven surface, and a view of a bank of trees. At least it’s big.

I’m not too worried. I think we’ll sleep well tonight.


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Hot Sisters Day 13 &14 – Oakridge entertainment

We had no specific plan for how long we were going to stay in Oakridge. We just knew that we were a good bit tired and could probably stand to spend a day lounging. So we did. We made minor amounts of noise about going for a run that first day, or maybe a short bike ride, but really, working and watching YouTube videos ended up winning out, and before we knew it, it was dark.

Really, we were only slightly disappointed.

We thought about riding Alpine, the ‘famous’ trail in the area the next day. For $25, you can get a shuttle to the top, leaving at 9:45. But, we’d been indecisive and not re-upped our motel room yet, and we couldn’t get ahold of the owner before we would have had to leave.

Really, we were only slightly disappointed.

But by that time, we’d gotten it firmly embedded into our brains that we weren’t leaving town that day. We were both still a little tired, even after coffee, Scott still wasn’t feeling caught up on work, and well, lodging and food is pretty darn cheap in Oakridge.

But neither of us had any intention of working all day.

Field trip #1 was to the fish hatchery down the road. The Willamette River Hatchery spawns and raises both salmon and rainbow trout. After listening to much talk about wild salmon runs in the area and the negative impacts of the hatcheries, we were both curious to check it out.

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Pools and pools of baby salmon.

A giant pool of huge ‘brood’ salmon waiting to be spawned, injected with antibiotics and ‘not fit for human consumption’.

Pools of baby trout ready to be released into lakes in the area to be fished.

A pool with 6 foot long sturgeons mingling with huge rainbow trout.

I think what struck me the most was the thought that so many fish that get caught in lakes are actually raised in tiny little pools and treated with whatever antibiotics they give them so that they can live in such close quarters. Not actually wild fish being caught out there…which is a little disconcerting.

We watched a cheesy video on the actual process of collecting, spawning, raising, releasing, and then recatching the salmon. I’m sure it’s on an equal level to the other monstrosities going on in our food system…but man…something in this system is broken. Way broken.

Anyhow, I’m glad we went.

Next up was a run that, for the record, Scott chose. A common shuttle ride for mountain bikes, we decided to go up, not really holding out a whole lot of hope for making it to the top.

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We ended up feeling pretty good, and the trail was entirely runnable, so we did, against our better judgement, make it to the top to Larison’s Rock.

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We got ourselves down just 10 minutes after both the pizza place and grocery store closed. Bugger. Instead, we shared our last yogurt, ate my left over toast from breakfast, and had the poptarts that we bought as breakfast supplement from our last day on the trail. Perfect recovery after an 11 mile run.

Tomorrow, we’re off. There’s a warm spring 6 miles up the road, so I could see not really making it far past there. Something about luxury touring..


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Hot Sisters Bikepack – Day 12

Back when I was a youngin’, I could totally get away with poor life decisions, like getting hot and dehydrated, and waking up the next morning having forgotten completely about the incident. Based on the general slowness that I was moving with this morning, I’m no longer a youngin’.

Luckily, we had a can of Starbucks…I swear, after this trip, I’m killing the caffeine addiction, and that perked me right up.

The road climbed gently and fairly unremarkably until we came around a corner. ‘Airstream!’ I exclaimed. It’s been, and currently is, a life-long dream to own an Airstream. In front of it was a sign that said ‘Fishwatch Volunteer.’

‘I think this is the guy from DamNation that watches the fish,’ I whispered. It was still early in the AM. I peaked down to see his little viewing platform and recognized it immediately from the movie. Seconds later, I heard the Airstream door slam and Lee walked down to talk fish with us.

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I’ve never met anyone with such a gentle life energy. He spends his days watching a deep pool of steelhead trout that grow huge in the pool making sure that the no angling rules are obeyed. With the reflections on the water being high in the mornin sun, he invited us to stay and watch the fish for a few hours. I would have loved to…but I knew that we’d planned our food to last to mid afternoon, and that we’d be rolling into Oakridge empty if we spent too much time there. That, and we were hoping to get the majority of the climbing done before the heat of the day.

I’d love to go back someday and spend some more time with the fish.

We encountered a closed road that we hoped we’d be able to cross on foot. One of the guys on the crew mountain biked and was happy to let us through. Lucky us, they could have turned us around.

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We pedaled the rest of the climb without much distress. 2,000 foot climbs are eaten for breakfast on this tour.

A fast descent brought us to the Middle Fork of the Willamette River trail again, 10 miles west of where we’d followed it east and upstream a week earlier. This time, we headed downstream to its terminus at a huge reservoir.

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12 miles to Oakridge! Unfortunately, it was 12 miles with a stiff headwind. It makes you appreciate being in a pair where both people can take long turns in the front and keep the pace somewhat reasonable. It wasn’t exactly the easy cruise to town we’d been hoping for, but it made the pizza once we got there that much more delicious. Somehow we walked in on a Tuesday’s Special day and got a large pizza and two liter bottle of Orange Crush for $15. It was a massive amount of food.

We checked into a quaint little motel, picked up our bounce box with lap tops, showered and put on clean clothes for the first time in two weeks, and headed to the local brewery for dinner. Thus far, Oakridge is impressing.