Zen On Dirt


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A week near Bend

We had somewhere on the order of a week to kill before our next trip. After a somewhat stressful afternoon coming off of the Hot Sisters route with the car misbehaving and there being no cheap open rooms available in Bend, we finally pointed to the National Forest land south of town, found a pull out, set our tent up, and collapsed.

With the smoke supposedly in Idaho as well, we didn’t really have a clear vision of what we wanted to do. Go scout a better route for Hot Sisters? Head towards Idaho and dork around there for a few days? Go to a town with a cheap motel and work for a week?

Both of us being a little tired didn’t help the decision making process.

We spent one morning scrambling around two caves near our campsite, because really, who’s in a hurry to get to town with power outlets and reliable internet in order to get to work.

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After a second night at our campsite where a swarm of bees (wasps?) didn’t want to leave us alone, we knew it was time to do something.

Drive to Crescent Lake. Let’s go scout the route.

At the very least, it would get us out of the heat.

Day one of scouting took us north from Crescent Lake to the north end of Odell Lake where a dirt road would connect to Gold Lake Camp on our route. It was a mess of snowmobile trails and jeep roads next to a railroad, but it went, with minimal BS. Plus, we got to ride a backcountry landing strip straight to a resupply.

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Winning. Now, if only it went to the south.

Back at camp, we went for a swim in the lake. Daily swims are required to get the thick layer of dust off the skin after every ride around here.

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Later in the evening, two PCT thru-hikers stumbled into our camp. We knew that they were bailing off of the actual PCT to go to Shelter Cove, and their maps advertised free camping with running water and toilets somewhere in the area. We fed them sodas and brownies and had a good chat with Farmer before he went to the other side of the parking lot we were camped in and set up his tent.

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Our second day of scouting involved climbing the Metolious-Windigo trail up to Windigo Pass. In the seven miles of trail, we ran into no fewer than a dozen PCT hikers. Seemed like all of them wanted to hike 10 fewer miles and get to their next resupply more directly, so they were bailing off the PCT. All were friendly. Some were in a hurry. Most didn’t seem bothered in the slightest that they had to share a non-PCT trail with bikes.

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At the pass, we met a Trail Angel, Burk, who had some friends on the trail and thought it would be fun to spend three days up there handing out sodas, candies, and beers.

Eventually, we got on our way, down a questionable horse trail that would take us to the top of the North Umpqua trail, and hook us back up with Hot Sisters. Thanks to it being a popular equestrian trail, it was beautifully cleared of trees. We met two horsey riders, one with a horse with minimal bike experience, and the rider thanked us profusely for letting her horse take a good look at both our bikes and us as we stood there talking for a little bit.

Turns out, we can all get along.

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We coasted the rest of the way down to Lemolo, met a group of four cycle-tourists riding the 4-pannier Surly Long-Haul Trucker setups who were also going around the Three Sisters Wilderness via dirt and paved roads. Their next stop was Crater Lake, just like us three weeks ago. We gave them some beta on food and camping before starting up the road back to Windigo, satisfied that our Hot Springs Alternate was viable.

This time through the trail angel camp, he twisted my arm enough to take a beer from him. It was pretty ideal at the top of the climb. I can’t turn down a Black Butte Porter. It’s my go-to beer.

We passed a few more hikers on the way down, including one that told us we had a ‘thru-hiker vibe’ and another that said she wished she had a bike right then and went swimming again, meeting two south bound hikers at the campground who were professors at Rutgers and making good use of their sabbatical.

We needed to start making our way back towards Bend, but the smoke had cleared, so we made the quick jaunt up to Tumalo Mountain in the shadow of Mt Bachelor. It was great views of the Sisters…without the smoke this time.

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Breakfast with my brother and his girlfriend who happened be passing through town. A quick ‘let’s reconnect and share a hug and beta on trails in Idaho and hot springs in Oregon’ with Kimberly from Salida who was also passing through town, and lunch with Triple Crown finisher Alice Drobna, who is one bad-ass woman.

And then we got to work.

We spent two more nights at a campsite out by the Deschutes River, working till we drained the power from computers and phones, going for a ride to see the waterfalls on the river, and then heading to town where we found a plaza with a Barnes and Noble with reliable internet, a Jamba Juice for daily vitamins, a Hawaiian BBQ place, and a Safeway, all within walking distance. It sort of became our daytime home base.

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We finally left Bend yesterday afternoon and drove to our standard midway spot, the Horseshoe Bend hotsprings on the OR/ID border. We had a good pre-bed soak.

This morning, we detoured down to the Snively Hotspring for a quick morning soak on the way to Ketchum, where we’ll meet up with Alexis and Denny sometime tomorrow and start the Idaho Hot Springs route. There will be riding. There will be soaking. There will be fly fishing.

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Summer rolls on.

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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.