Mountain Bike Meccas (Pt. 2 of 3) - Escape Sun And Sand For Oregon’s Lush, Green, Trails
Living in Tahoe we’re accustomed to the abundant sunshine and the fact that most of our precipitation comes in the form of snow. Not that we don’t like snow. But, Tahoe’s mountain biking trails can gradually turn to kitty litter after the snow is gone. We’re fortunate to have an area a few hours North that offers a totally different environment and a great way to vary what we ride once the seasons start to change. That area is Oregon.
My first adventures to Oregon were when my sister lived and worked up there. She kept telling me about the seasonal affective disorder, due to the constant grey skies and drizzle. Well, every visit I had just happened to coincide with sunny skies and great weather. What was she talking about? Then, the whole family went to visit over Thanksgiving and I learned firsthand what she was talking about. There was a constant wetness that penetrated everything. Finally I understood what made the forests so lush and green. But, I welcomed it. Compared to California and Tahoe, the lush, green, wet, environment was a welcome break. I knew one day soon I would be back to take on the Oregon trails with my mountain bike.
It seems like every October we keep returning to Oregon. Last year, our annual mountain biking adventure took us to Ashland, OR. Honestly, I had really only heard a few things about Mt. Ashland as a ski area. And, I had a vision of Ashland as just another pit stop along I-5. Well, I was in for a surprise.
We drove into town with an original plan to meet up with some friends then continue out towards the Oregon coast. But, the Oregon weather was making a coastal visit a grey and dreary endeavor. So, we acquainted ourselves with town, settled in at The Bard’s Inn, and started to call an audible.
The weather in Ashland was amazing. It was cool, yet sunny. The fall colors were in full swing. So, we decided to explore the area a bit more in depth. That exploring would take us up on the mountain, high above town.
There are plenty of places to camp on and around Mt. Ashland. I did a quick online search of where we might want to ride. I also stopped in Ashland Cycle Sport to look for some pedal pins, as well as get some more local trail information. They didn’t have my brand of pins. But, they did have maps and some good intel on how to tackle the Ashland area trails.
My original plan involved the Wagner Gap area, but I soon learned that Mt. Ashland might offer a better base camp option for what we were looking for. We could camp mid-mountain. Then, we could even catch a shuttle to take advantage of all of the mountain’s vertical drop. So, off we went to find a place for the night. Luckily, there was enough daylight to see along the forested roads. And, I was able to use GPS pinpointing to get us close to one of the mountain’s bike trails. There’s nothing better than being able to camp right next to your ride.
We found a spot next to the convergence of Lower Bull Gap & Upper Lynx trails. The location was ideal for earning our own descents. But, it also allowed us to easily get back to the truck when all was said and done. These trails and the fire road climbs were a great introduction to the area. As for the campspot, it wasn’t perfect. But, it was an isolated area and right next to the trail. Well, isolated may not be the right word. There were a few logging activities and we may also have had a big kitty in the neighborhood. I think the cat scared our dog into the top of the Habitat. She wasn’t too keen about being alone and primed for cat food. So, maybe we should look for a better option for tomorrow’s ride.
The next day we decided to really take advantage of the mountain’s vertical. We researched a dogsitter through Rover.com and arranged for a shuttle through Ashland Mountain Adventures. They would take us to the top of the ski resort area. And, we could get back to town any way that we wanted. There were a multitude of options off the top. We decided to explore the area around the back of the mountain along Time Warp, all the way down to Jabberwocky, and into town near Southern Oregon University, then back to the shop. Talk about a fun ride. High speed, lots of logs, ruts, mountain roads, and great trails. Now I see why the California Enduro Series makes it’s stop in Ashland. This ride is definitely in an isolated area, so be sure to be fully self-sufficient and prepared for anything.
Ashland does have a little something for every rider and their ability level. The camping is pretty easy. And, the navigation is straighforward. Plus, we avoided any of the Oregon dreary grey days. Ashland is known for The Shakespeare Festival. But, I think they can also be known for their mountain biking, too. After a long day of riding, Jackson Wellsprings is an interesting place to rest, rejuvinate, and clean up before the next adventure or even the drive back to Tahoe. Also, feel free to stop for some beer and food at Caldera Brewing Company and Standing Stone Brewing Company. You won’t be disappointed.
Lake Of The Woods - Klamath Falls, OR
This is an area that has actually been on the list for quite awhile, but the timing never seemed to work out. We’ve stopped in Klamath for some yummy Mexican food coming back from other areas. But, for one reason or another, we had never been able to make a mountain biking trip work to the Klamath area. Well, we finally made a Fall trip to Lake Of The Woods. And, we made sure that we would ride the area, because it was scheduled as our first stop.
Well, in typical Fall fashion, about the time we got north of Reno was when we got our first drizzle. Then, the drizzle turned into a deluge. And, finally we were experiencing the weather that Oregon was famous for. Not to be deterred, we pushed forward. After all, we had the Habitat for a good shelter. Plus, we had a campsite lined up for the night.
As is typical, the weather cleared when we got into Klamath. But, as we headed towards the campsite that we chose, we noticed signs stating that the campsite was only open weekends. Well, this was a Thursday night. Hmmmm, what should we do? Time to start exploring the area and looking for a dispersed site.
It wasn’t too long before we found a nice place to call it a night. We had looped around the lake and our spot was at the end of a “road” right next to one of the trails. The weather held all night, but the forecast looked wet the following day. Our plan was simple. Get up. Get coffee. Get food. And, get on the trail.
Right as we were ready, the drizzle began. It wasn’t bad, as far as precipitation goes. But, it was going to be a colder, wet, ride. That’s what good outer layers are for, right? So, we headed up Four Mile Lake Rd. to begin the wet climb. Gradually, the rain got heavier and heavier until we had to make a tough decision. Do we continue to climb, get wet, and risk more on our first day? Or, do we seek out a cutoff to shorten this trail and get back to the truck? Well, we took the cutoff.
The cutoff was actually a pretty nice doubletrack situated next to a canal. It was aptly called Cascade Canal. We took that for about two miles to meet up with Rye Spur. This was the original trail we planned to descend. But, our detour would eliminate the top 2/3rds. Right away, our decision seemed like the right call. The heavier rains created a rain rut right down the middle of the trail. Any detour out of the rut would quickly pull you right back into it. Soon, we got to road 3633. And, that’s where the trail really improved.
This lower section of Rye Spur was fast, flowy, fun, and free of ruts. We contemplated doing another quick loop. But, instead we decided to head into civilization to find some warm coffee and food. We hit the road and headed north towards Crescent, OR and the Bigfoot Tavern.
Well, sometimes you glance at the weather forecast and get a bit worried. Oregon can be really tricky to predict what the weather is going to be like from one area to the next. When you’re a guest in a new land, it’s sometimes best to err on the side of caution. Seeing the radar to the west led us to seek out a hotel for the night.
We’ve had our fair share of success with places to stay in and around Bend. And, this time wouldn’t be any different. Previously, we met some friends and stayed at the Bend Riverside Motel. But, that may be a bit more than we needed for this trip. We wanted a place to secure our mountain bikes, be close to downtown, get a hot shower, and enjoy the pool and hot tub. Super 8 by Wyndham fit the bill for price, availability, and proximity to downtown. Plus, we just heard that Fall Fest was happening. So, time to get a break from the weather and enjoy some city adventures.
There’s always something going on in Bend. At one point, Bend was on my list of places to settle down. Now, it’s a getaway when our Tahoe life gets a bit crazy. The areas are a bit similar with both being on the edge of the high desert and both have great mountains to play on, whether it’s winter or summer. But, Bend is definitely a larger “metropolitan” area. There are a multitude of good food options, as well as a few places to wash down all that yummy food with great beers. As long as we were in town...well, we might as well enjoy some of the local offerings before we were back to camp food and whatever yummy libations were still in the Yeti.
My suggestions are pretty simple. I like a good breakfast, flavorful beverages (coffee, beer, and even a nice Bloody Maria) with tapas size portions, and an occasional nice dinner. Lunch always seems to be more snacks on the go. And, I do love fancy dinners. But, I don’t want to feel underdressed. Isn’t that what life on the road is really about. Here’s a quick glance at our food choices for Bend:
* The Victorian Cafe - victoriancafebend.com
* Rockin’ Daves Bistro & Backstage Lounge - rockindaves.com
* The Sparrow Bakery Northwest Crossing - thesparrowbakery.net
* Crux Fermentation Project - cruxfermentation.com
* Deschutes Brewery Bend Public House - deschutesbrewery.com
* McMennamins Old St. Francis School - mcmenamins.com
Feel free to check any of these out or ask us for more information. I’m always happy to share yummy places to eat and drink. Sometimes, I don’t think you need a full play by play of my personal food choices. These are great places that you should all try so you can make your own valued opinion. Plus, this is supposed to be about mountain biking. So, let’s get more into that.
Exploring the area on our rain day led us to Pine Mountain Sports, a bike shop right below Cog Wild Bicycle Tours & Shuttles. They had a multitude of maps, a repair shop, and a great selection of gear. Plus, we could research possible shuttles to really maximize our days in the saddle. We checked the local map and eventually decided to setup a base camp near the popular Phil’s trail, along Skyliner Rd. We found a spot that was close enough, yet felt worlds away from the crowds.
We got to camp with plenty of daylight left for a ride. So, I jumped on the bike and headed uphill to evaluate the neighborhood. I heard some good things about the Whoops area and the 310 Rd. was an easy pedal. Seriously, after some of our climbs in Tahoe, this was a cake walk climb. In a short amount of time, I was at the top with a fun bench/log ride and so many possibilities. I chose to see what Phil’s was all about. There are two sections that require a little bit of skill on trail features. But, for the most part, this is a fun trail with lots of flow. I had one little boo-boo at the bottom of Phil’s when one of the berms blew up on me. I repaired my divot, patched up my wounds, and continued on. The views along the trail are pretty secretive. But, honestly, I’d rather have a great trail in the woods than a bland trail with a view.
The next day we decided to push farther. After all, we had some yummy meals and beer to work off. So, we went back to the 310 Rd. and continued climbing. We climbed all the way up to the Shooting Star shelter. Camping is restricted at these shelters. But, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t well equipped with wood stoves and plenty of wood. Remember, this is Oregon, not California. So, we grabbed a quick snack and pointed it down Upper Whoops.
Now, this is a trail that got all of us smiling. Little hits to get some air, tight berms to lay the bikes over, and lots of trees to slalom through. As with most of the trails in the area, this takes you back to the cool, hand-carved bench.
We decided to mix things up a bit.
There was a group from Orange County that were primed and fueled. We let them lead the way, then we came up on the cleanup crew. Maybe I should’ve waited a little longer, because my 233lb body carried a bit more momentum on the downhill. This area is full of manmade features for the jump crowd. I manualed, jumped, and kept it loose through this zone. But, when we got to the bottom, it seemed like a quick run. So, back up the hill we went.
We discussed the climbing options with a few others at the trailhead. And, I thought we had a good, mutual, decision. But, I was bringing up the rear and noticed everyone else missed the turn. So, we separated. This time, we climbed Pine Drops. I’m not really sure where everyone else went. I thought they may have climbed Phil’s. But, that was the last time we saw them for the day.
Well, we climbed back up to our usual bench. This time it was to head down Phil’s. After the day before, I felt confident that I knew the terrain a bit better. So, it was a point it, let go of the brakes and shred run. That’s the way all runs should be tackled.
Like so many other areas, we left with a feeling that there were a LOT more trails to return to ride. Next time, we’d have a bit more knowledge and be ready to explore. Specifically, I have a few rides that I’d like to hit that would take advantage of some of Cog Wild’s available shuttles.
Let me start off by saying that Oakridge is a “new” area. And, I really only started hearing about the area in the Spring of 2018. But, when we checked in for our shuttle, courtesy of Oregon Adventures, we quickly learned that they’ve been in business for 15 years. In fact, they recently got a little competition from Cog Wild, out of Bend. I guess that’s a sign that the area is gaining in popularity. Even with shuttles, this area still presents some challenging terrain. Many of these rides are definitely NOT for “shuttle bunnies”. Expect to earn your ride.
Oakridge is way different than Ashland, Klamath Falls, & Bend. Oakridge is an old logging town that sits near the Cascade crest. That means that all of that Oregon moisture finds it’s way here. And, it makes for the most lush, muddy, wet, and wild rides in South Central Oregon. I often felt that I was riding further into the Pacific Northwest and even into rainforests. This area was exactly what my partner was looking for. However, I may have bit off a bit more than she expected.
We signed up for the 9:45am shuttle through Oregon Adventures via their website. We had an issue with many of the campgrounds being closed for the season. Then, it was difficult to navigate the dark, dense, forests to find an area for dispersed camping, since we arrived too close to nightfall. So, we broke down and chose to sleep at the newer Best Western for the night. Honestly, it was probably a great decision. We could regroup and get a good night’s rest without worrying about breaking camp in the morning. Plus, the room included breakfast and we could refill the ice for our Yeti cooler. That seemed like a win-win scenario, especially with the earlier shuttle.
The shuttle was their popular Alpine shuttle. And, at the minimum, it’s a 17 mile descent. We chose to ride our bikes to the meeting area. I checked the map and our hotel looked close to the end of the trail. But, when we rode in, they quickly informed us to get our car to leave at the trailhead. I was a bit unnerved about leaving our fully loaded vehicle at the trailhead. But, the owner informed me that there would be cameras and not to worry. I guess I was a bit jaded by the bike theft warning signs in Bend, as well as our own personal experiences at home. So, we went back, got the car, and returned for the 45 minute ride up the mountain.
Driving up, we discovered that we weren’t the only ones from Tahoe.
About a third of the van was from South Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley, Truckee, Incline, etc. we all had the same great idea. But, some of these guys were willing to take advantage of the double down offer and get one of the other shuttles in the afternoon. I had another idea. I wanted to do the epic ride - A.T.C.A. (Alpine Trail, Tire Mountain, Cloverpatch Trail, & back to Alpine Trail). That looked like a way to extend the ride to approximately 24 miles. How bad could it be?
Well, I should’ve taken a cue from the first part of the Alpine Trail. It was right into a grueling climb on moisture laden trails. The traction was surprisingly good. But, we did NOT make record time on the climb. At one point, we felt like we were a LOT higher in elevation. But, we were only around 4500’. Maybe we just needed to get our legs primed.
Well, we kept pushing forward, and occasionally pushing our bikes up the hills. But, we had a good rhythm. So, when we got to the Tire Mountain turnoff, I convinced my partner to add the loop to the ride. I saw that it was a 4.8 mile detour on Tire Mountain, then a 3.3 mile ride on Cloverpatch. What I didn’t see was the elevation change or the mileage for the fire road and doubletrack to get back to Alpine Trail.
As we dropped lower and lower along Tire Mountain, the scenery got more and more lush and green. It was actually awesome and I almost felt like we were in a completely different zone or a different ride. That was good and bad. We started thinking about our pace, what the elevation out would be like, and how dark the forest would be when the sun set for the night. There was a bit of back and forth going on. And, there was some doubt on our exact location and heading. I knew one thing. We needed to keep moving. I was confident in the map and glad I brought extra battery blocks to verify on our GPS.
It was uphill after uphill and many were demoralizing. The trail was either too wet (specifically the roots) or just grueling with my gearing. So, we walked a few more uphills and barely talked to eachother. It was almost funny. Every time we would get a good downhill flow, we were met with another uphill. But, we kept going.
Eventually, we made it back to the trailhead and our lone vehicle. The total mileage ended up being approximately 27.7 miles with 5,517 feet of climbing. All the other vehicles had wrapped up and called it a day. But, the bathrooms were open. So, we freshened up and plotted our dinner and where we would call home for the night. I highly recommend Brewers Union Local 180 (aka The Pub), brewersunion.com. Until next time, Oakridge. Thank you for the solid riding experience. And, thank you Oregon Adventures!!! Check them out at http://oregon-adventures.com/.