Today was almost entirely either sand, or singletrack. That wasn’t the way we thought it was going to go, but it was an interesting day. Making it up as you go has a way of keeping things interesting.
We started out on smooth singletrack along Clear Creek, heading to breakfast. Then more good trail to the proper end of McKenzie River Trail. We spied the 3000 year old stumps still visible at the bottom of the lake, this time around.
At the end of McKenzie is the Old Santiam Wagon road, which starts out as more of a nice singletrack than anything. We heard the rumors that this was to be a sandy climb, full of hike-a-bike. But there’s no alternative other than the very busy highway.
Well, we rode 90% of the first few miles, gaining elevation nicely. I thought we were done — on to roads and 2 tracks open to vehicles.
Oh, how foolish. The real sand and hiking was just to begin. The next couple miles were nearly completely unrideable, uphill. Not even our usual joke of ‘should have brought the fat bike’ worked — you’d be walking even with Bud/Lou tires.
The road up to Sand Mountain (hmmm) was reached, but though things did improve on this open-to-vehicles road, it was still too sandy to ride in many places.
We ditched packs, loaded up shoes and pedaled up the Lookout’s road. After most of the climbing, a little trail led the rest of the way. Running shoes!
The lookout held our first good view of the country we’ve been traveling through and living in, for the past couple weeks. The sisters! There are the sisters! Finally we can see them after being skunked on views from Newburry, Fuji Mtn, Olallie, etc.
This lookout actually had a lookout, meaning a person that lived up there. Brian kindly let us into his ‘home’ and answered some questions. He said only 2-3 people visit him per week, and that he sometimes stays 18 days at a time up there.
A semi-trail took us around the crater at the top of the mountain, then back around to the bikes. Now, how much more sand could there be?
A lot. We walked uphill, we walked flat, we maybe even walked a little downhill. The sun cooked us a little. Big Lake couldn’t come soon enough — a dip was well in order.
We waited out the hottest part of the day at the lake, drinking water, cooling down and checking in on the plentiful phone service. We’re on the desert side of the Cascades now, where the tree cover is much weaker, the dirt sandy, and the cell coverage steady.
Back on the bikes, same question – how much longer could the sand really go on? It continued for quite a while through some very interesting high desert terrain. It was pretty rideable, and often downhill, but a 29+ type of bike would be ideal.
We followed a track sent to us by Gary Meyer as it turned off the Santiam Wagon Road, we figured with good reason. We were looking at a steep sandy hill when it turned.
As we followed this line it drew our eyes further and further to the north, off our intended path. This was a very good thing, because consulting the map that Eszter has been carrying, we spied mucho singletrack ahead.
And of course we had to explore it.
Loose but fun ski-like trail took us down to Dark Lake, then Scout Lake, and finally Suttle Lake. A couple miles of super mellow and fun singletrack rolled us around the latter lake, and to a ‘resort’ of sorts. They only had candy bars for resupply, but also very tasty ‘to go’ type of wraps and salads. Wish we had known about this place!
Or, about the 4 miles of great trail that ensued from the lake, towards Camp Sherman, where…. there’s more food! We had a moment of indecision and almost guilt, at waiting for breakfast again, knowing we carried a bunch of extra food to climb Black Butte, and roll into Sisters. We almost skipped Camp Sherman, but good sense prevailed when we saw this idyllic campsite. It was past 7pm and it would have been sinful to ride past such a primo spot in the ponderosa pines, complete with bubbling creek in the background.
Today was another fantastic day on the bike. We got to ride the McKenzie River Trail. It’s a real gem, and in many people’s opinion, *the* gem in Oregon or maybe, anywhere.
I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it sure works itself well into a bikepacking loop. The lower half is lovely green circle riding — as smooth, wide and buff a trail as you can imagine. Just perfect by us. Probably the nicest change was the absolute lack of overgrowth, which is something we’ve been accustomed to on many trails as of late. Many, many people ride and hike this trail, so you know it’s going to be in good shape, cut out, etc.
We rolled a few easy miles from our (near) Belknap camp, then my nose detected the slighest hint of hot sulphur. There’s a spring somewhere! That’s not a subtlety I would have picked up on even a couple years ago.
Bigelow (or Deer) spring was our eighth and final hot spring on the grand tour. And, boy, it was a good one. It’s in a little grotto tucked in just besides the river, and we pretty much had it to ourselves. It was soooo relaxing, and we didn’t really want to leave.
But the trail called! That, and I happened to pick up the little piece of beta that the lodge at the end of the trail stops serving at 5pm. We had to be semi-kinda-not-really motivated.
I have only ridden McKenzie at the end of a bikepacking trip, and I did it out and back style, and unloaded. I knew that I loved it, and enjoyed the challenge, and walked minimally. But how would it go fully loaded? I’d been warned by multiple sources that it was gnarly and not worth doing in the ‘wrong’ direction, as we were going.
I forgot about all the lava rock leading up to the Blue Pool. It’s very chunky by Oregon standards…. but, we loved it. Eszter was killing the chunk, with big rallies and lots of impressive moves. Then we started running into a few larger group of mountain bikers. There was a post being shared around recently asking if riders had forgotten that uphill supposedly has the right of way. Many of these riders had forgotten that, and even though they couldn’t ride down through the rocks, they weren’t going let anyone even try to ride up them.
It was pretty comical, really. I thought surely some of them would respect the effort being put in by Ez to rally up the rocks with bikepacking gear, and at least make a minimal effort to get out of the way. But, instead they got back on when they saw her coming, and proceeded to skid and ride one-footed, out of control, nearly into her.
A minute later a guy stopped right in the middle of the trail and started cleaning off his sunglasses. I was riding, gave him plenty of warning with a friendly greeting, and watched dumbfounded as he stood there completely blocking the trail with nowhere for me to go, not even a lean in one direction.
I slowed to a near trackstand and actually asked, “ummm, can you please move out of the way?”
Good entertainment, really. And pretty standard for a popular shuttle ride.
Other funny comments included a dad saying to his kid, “See, it can be done!” After Ez rode through a section. “Alright, bikepacking, legit!” Other riders were super cool and a couple even recognized we were bikepacking, which is rare since we really don’t carry that much stuff.
The trail does get pretty hard near the big blue waterfalls. Luckily it’s one of the coolest places a trail exists, anywhere, and any nomial hike-a-bikes are quickly forgotten. You get to explore the bottom, middle and tops of the falls as you climb your way up. And you get to bask in the cool air of evaporative cooling. Hear the rush. Dazzle in the rainbows. Just magic.
Hot springs, huge falls, water so clear and so blue, electric green mosses, old growth forest, fun bikepack-tech trail, smooth rallying…. there is so much to like, and man, what a day.
We made the lodge with time to spare. And…… the resupply was looking really thin. Sandwiches to go! Our order thoroughly confused the waitress, and as we sat a little longer, we decided to ditch plans to keep moving and instead find a spot to camp on Clear Lake. There’s the lava side of the McKenzie, which features paved singletrack at times, so we could run around the lake. The bonus? Breakfast at the cafe, and a better shot at making the cookies and candy bar resupply run to the town of Sisters work. With any luck, we’ll bag two lookouts on the way.
Are you a camper, or are you a glamper? Bare bones, or do you carry the luxuries? There are many styles of camping, and bikepacking almost always falls far from the glamping side.
You have to keep things light or you can’t ride trail, and it’s just not fun. Services are often few and far between, making food and water weight significant too.
But sometimes, just sometimes, you can camp off the bike and it feels like you have *more* that you need. You have the luxuries. All is right in the world. You’re happy.
So it is tonight, as we set up our tent in the warm and perfect air along the bank of the McKenzie River. An idyllic little spot just off the river trail, with plenty of open soft dirt. The crystal clear river is rushing and already almost lulling us to sleep.
We just enjoyed an evening soak in Belknap Springs, then rode all of one mile to get to camp. We’re warm, dry and relaxed. There was a store maybe 5 or 6 miles back where we resupplies on various luxury items, mainly of liquid form. Things you’d never think of hauling for multiple days. But the trail to get here is so flat and so effortless, it doesn’t matter.
Plus we’ve got a tent, we’ve got camp shoes (running shoes), we have a stove for hot meals and drinks. Infinite water nearby. Warm, did I mention it is warm?
It is not often all these things come together for such a nice night. Ahhhh…. bikepacking. Or bike-glamping.
OK, it’s not all glamour and roses. We awoke to a bit of a clammy and cold morning, up above 4000 feet near the Pat Saddle trailhead. We had several hundred feet to climb to get there, which was a good warm up.
Bikes were ditched. Shoes laced up. We started running. Or, we ran when the thimbleberry and bear grass allowed, which was most of the time. We cursed a bit at the fog and heavy cloud cover, knowing we were heading towards an amazing spot to view this corner of the world: Olallie Lookout.
The views were not totally hidden, but definitely not what they could have been. Still, there was an eerie spookiness to the old and deteriorating structure at the top. A relic from another time, now lost inside a Wilderness area. The run back was fun, racking up a tad more than 7 miles on the feet.
We ate an early lunch and set our expectations appropriately low for what followed — an adventure ride on the Olallie Trail. We knew that people regurly ride or shuttle, part of this trail. But I had seen postings of trail work, mentions of being epic’d and high adventure. Best to keep things realistic, especially when starting out with a hefty climb.
Said climb was “surprisingly rideable”, in that we rode probably 98% of it, smiling the whole way. Once we gained the ridge the character of the challenge ahead became apparent — thimbleberry and bear grass — and LOTS of it.
Based on the sheer number of sticks my front tire broke as I pedaled along the next 6 or 7 miles of trail, we were the first to ride this section this season. The overgrowth was impressive and the trail below was rarely visible. That would normally spell disaster for an endeavor such as this, but the designer of this section understood the meaning of the word CONTOUR. Not only that, they seemed perhaps religiously adherent to the concept. There were no steep grades, and usually a decent bench underfood. So, even if we were constantly getting slapped by bear grass stalks, and rolling over thimbleberry, we were still ROLLING, and not walking.
It made for some really good low effort adventure riding. I really can’t believe more people don’t ride it.
When the Oleary trail junctioned in, as well as a shuttle-able road, the growth disappeared and the trail shot down.
Down, down, down. Rally, rally, rally. Smooth, smooth, smooth. Like a descent out of a dream, it was just primo trail.
A brief section on roads took us to the deli and store at McKenzie Bridge, where we sandwiched up and switched into glamping mode.
Bikepacking, maybe it could always be this good?
What a nice night. We woke refreshed and ready to climb the rest of our bonus climb. The road down to the Aufderhide (FR19) was kind of interesting, with some views of sharp rock fins and a 2-track type of feel. I’d say it was a win, though someone wanting to save some leg strength on this route would be well advised to skip it and cruise the lower roads.
FR19 is fully paved, but most of the time it feels like a 30 ft wide bike path. Very few cars, even though it is Saturday.
For variety, we rolled onto the Constitution Grove portion of the North Fork trail. It was a fun diversion, but probably 5 times slower than the parallel road. Ez hadn’t had quite the caffeine intake she’d become accustomed to in town, and was…. lets just say… getting a tad grumpy. It was a-OK with me since the trail was so slow (trees down, overgrowth, etc). It just rarely gets used.
We climbed, we descended seemingly endlessly, and then we were at hot spring #6, and easily the biggest and most popular. We paid our $6 to walk up the short path, and were informed it was ‘clothing optional’.
Terwilliger Springs is quite the spot. Nice setting, nice and clean water, and not too crazy crowded even on Saturday. There was more nudity than I’ve ever seen in a day, that’s for sure, but it just seemed natural. Male and female, young and old. No one was making a big deal of it. It was refreshing. As Ez has said, it’s nice to know places like this exist out there in the world. We certainly enjoyed the soak and the scene at large.
We took a full 3 hours off the bike, after hiking, soaking, and eating 2nd lunch. Then we rolled around the rest of the reservoir to look for cell signal at the dam. I found a tiny bit in order to make a coding change for a canoe race. Then we pedaled on and climbed a good 3000 feet before calling a little wide spot in the road ‘home’ for the night. There’s a bubbling spring and we have plenty of food, and tons of hot chocolate. Life is good. Especially if it doesn’t rain.
Tomorrow, a hike to a lookout, and what may be a bit of an adventure MTB trail down to the much lauded Mckenzie River Trail.
Alrighty, we finally left the town vortex of Oakridge. The more time we spent there, the more it grew on us. It was a nice couple of days, for sure.
But we were anxious to get back on the hot sisters loop, too. The main thing keeping us around was the fact that trackleaders has 3 events starting this weekend, and all 3 have a fair bit of setup going into them.
Things kept popping up, as they are want to do, making it so that our original joke of only riding the 10 miles to the next hot spring was looking a lot more like a reality.
We did get to hang out at the shop some, and meet some cool locals at breakfast, among other things. But finally just after 4, we rolled out of town.
Singletrack along Salmon Creek was a nice way to start out. We popped out onto pavement a few times after not following the correct trail in the spiderweb system. Then back down.
The street tacos I had picked up just before we left came out at Salmon Creek Falls. Mmmmm…. never leave town hungry, or even with the possibility of being hungry.
A short climb and semi-rideable singletrack took us to the Wall creek spring, also known as Mediation Pool. It’s only 97 or so degrees, which is also the temperature of the human body. So it’s more of a comfortable soak than a soothing one. But it also makes it so you don’t want to leave. We soaked for a good hour, talked to a couple guys that showed up, then saddled up to climb some more. Camping next to the pool would have been ideal, and we had everything already up there, but it was looking not so secluded.
No matter, another hour of climbing put a good dent into our ‘for the loops sake’ climbing over to the Aufderhide Road. There really isn’t a good reason to climb up to 4600 feet only to drop back down, but it does put the spring on route and avoids out/back to town.
Plus we knew if we were back in Oakridge, we’d probably get sucked in again.
I think we’re as pleased as punch to be up here, camping a nice warm night in the woods. More trail and a hot spring tomorrow!
Last night’s camping was warm — silly warm. I fell asleep on top of my sleeping bag, with shorts and no socks on, and didn’t wake up slightly chilled until there were millions of stars in the sky and it was the middle of the night.
Still, we slept well. It’s been nice to have …. [Continue reading]
So close, yet so far. “Come on trail, take us down there!” “No, not hike-a-bike up!”
All we wanted was access to the emerald green river we have been following for 50-some-odd miles. We were roasting, having just ridden through a burn area and with temperatures in the mid 90’s. But…. the trail …. [Continue reading]
Mmmm… today we started the North Umpqua Trail, which is really one of the best in Oregon.
But first, we left campo deluxeo and rolled the dirt(ish) route back to Lemolo Lake. The timing was perfect — we had 1.5 hours to stuff ourselves at the all-you-can-eat breakfast! It was glorious. And cheap. And the …. [Continue reading]
Today was one of those days that combining hiking and riding works out beautifully. We are so comfortable here at campo deluxe-o that we really didn’t want to leave. So we didn’t.
We spied a big mountain with a trail up to it: Mt. Bailey. So after a 3 mile spin to breakfast at …. [Continue reading]
Well, this wasn’t planned, but it’s been on our list since buying a Parks pass and since our PNW road trip back in May/June.
Crater Lake National Park.
We spent the better part of a day up on the rim, and peering over at the deep blue lake never got old, it never …. [Continue reading]
Lemolo Lake, thank you for the hospitality and the recharge.
We spent much of the day on the ‘computer’ working off the decent 4G coverage at the lake. It’s a beautiful setting and very peaceful there. It’s a small lodge, family-run, with the basics a bikepacker needs. Food, namely.
We spoke at length with …. [Continue reading]
Hot springs – 3 Mountains – 3 Lookouts – 1
We made it to Lemolo Lake and the wonderful lodge that is here. That lodge serves up big burgers with the best bacon on the planet (they tried a half dozen different suppliers).
“This burger finally ends what was 3 days and 3 nights …. [Continue reading]
We’re running thin on food, but that’s pretty normal for us . This section is the crux of the route, as far as carrying food goes. Of course it would have been a lot more manageable without our extra-curricular activities, but then, that’s the point, right?
Fuji view of Waldo
Indeed, the extras were …. [Continue reading]
We rode a boatload of good trail today. That’s the summary.
It rained hard last night, and we awoke to fog. A few miles up our climb a pickup pulled over and asked us for directions. As they left I asked if they stayed dry last night. “Oh no, we got real soaked.”
We …. [Continue reading]
Hot spring count – 2 Mountains climbed – 1
The tent works. I’m typing this to the sounds of rain drops on the fly, and all of said drops are being directed away from us.
This is at least the 3rd storm today, and it is packing more power and thunder than earlier ones. It …. [Continue reading]
Hot spring count – 1 Mountains climbed – 0
Well, after all the talk and excitement about the little tent we are carrying, we find ourselves indoors tonight, and quite happy about it. Last night in the tent was great — no doubt about it. We even slept in some. The morning was fine too, …. [Continue reading]
Tires roll onto soft dirt and pumice. Almost instantly we relax, the trip has finally begun. I think Eszter said it best, “sometimes the first mile is the hardest.” Or, getting to the first mile, rather.
It does seem like we’ve been waiting a long time for this trip, though really it was only delayed …. [Continue reading]
Day 0. Hot spring count: 0.
We are in Oregon, and (car) camping at hot spring #0. Tomorrow we finally load up the bikes and head out for a good bikepack.
The original plan was to thru-ride the Pacific Northwest Trail, a 1200 mile trail from Glacier NP to Olympia NP. But after seeing the …. [Continue reading]
We smiled as we headed northwest, to Washington and Oregon. The skies were clearing as we left behind the rainy desert southwest. We smiled at the irony. We smiled at being on the road, with unknown adventure ahead.
Eszter had been recruited for a stage race in Bellingham. That was the excuse for …. [Continue reading]
With our lives packed into our cars and a little shed that leaks, it was time to head north. Each time I’ve repeated this exercise it makes me wonder why I have so much junk. Junk that I am happy to live without for half the year, and that I won’t even think about during …. [Continue reading]