Thursday, November 5, 2015

My Mostest Favoritest Bike Trip: Central Oregon

My most favorite bicycle trip is no longer. No worries, though, it's been replaced by an even more favoriter trip.

Had you asked me two weeks ago to tell you my favorite bicycle trip, I would have answered that my favorite trip was my ride down the Pacific Coast in 2012. The trip had been at the top of my list for a number of reasons: the route included stunning views of the ocean, the ride was jam-packed full of fantastic people and places, and the trip signified a big step for me -- my first, long-distance, solo tour.

But my favorite trip has now been outdone by an even more favoriter trip. The honors now go to a recent ride through Central Oregon. The trip jockeyed its way to the top for a number of reasons: the ride included continuous, spectacular views of forests and mountains, the route consisted primarily of traffic-free roads through the wilderness, and I had an awesome riding buddy with whom I got along super-duper well. Similar to the Pacific Coast ride, this trip also signified a big step for me -- my first foray into off-road touring.

Plus, how could a trip not be the mostest favoritest when the final sunrise looked like this?

The sunrise on the final morning of my mostest favoritest bike trip.
Note that this is an unedited photo --
no colors have been prettified in this photo.

You may recall from my last post, Sampling the Sierra with Adventure Cycling, the mention of a guy named Brian. He was the mechanic on the trip. And, yup, he was the guy who spent a good deal of the trip being sandwich-kissed. Well, Brian asked if I might be interested in joining him on a bicycle ride through Central Oregon in October.

Would I be interested in a bicycle ride through Central Oregon in October? Uh…hell yes! I had been wanting to explore Central Oregon since I rode through the state last summer on my Sierra-Cascades ride. Last year's ride was quite the tease, tantalizing me with the Beaver State's exquisite beauty and arousing within me a desire to explore more of its vast wonderfulness. Plus, the ride through Central Oregon would be great preparation for my upcoming bike trip to South America.

And so it was that Brian and I set out for an 8-day ride through Central Oregon. Little did I know, at the outset of the trip, that our little adventure would soon take reign as my mostest favoritest bicycle trip.

Unlike my previous bike trips, which have all been on paved roads, this bike trip would incorporate miles of riding on non-paved roads -- primarily dirt and gravel. I'd always been hesitant to ride on non-paved roads, as Shirley's relatively svelte touring tires didn't fare well on these surfaces.

We rode on this wicked washboard for seven miles.
Riding this road reminded me of those 1950s exercise machines
that jiggle away your fat.
All I can say is, "Thank god for sports bras!"

In preparation for the trip, I swapped out my standard Schwalbe Marathon Plus touring tires for a robust pair of Schwalbe Mondial touring tires. Highly-regarded for their off-road touring performance -- allowing for a combination of speed, grip, and durability -- Schwalbe Mondial tires are bomb-proof!

Damn, what a difference it makes to ride on surface-appropriate tires! As soon as Shirley got her new tires, my bicycle was instantly transformed from a touring steed into one helluva beasty'n'tough touring machine. Shirley was definitely wearing her big-girl panties now!

Shirley proudly wears her new tires,
as Brian gives Shirley a once-over before the trip starts.

Although Shirley had donned her big-girl panties, I'm not so sure that I was wearing my big-girl panties, as the first day or two were rough going for me.

I was convinced that something needed to accept responsibility for my rough days. Perhaps it should have been the fact that I was sorely out of shape. Or perhaps it was my virginity to off-road riding. Or perhaps it was Shirley's new tires. Yup, that was it! I was going to blame it on the tires; it felt as though I was pedaling a bike with flat tires. Though Brian is a fan of running tires at low pressures, the low pressure wasn't working for me. As it turns out, I'm a high pressure kind of girl. After pumping more air into my monster tires, my pedaling became more productive. Sarah was back at it.

Sarah & Shirley, all smiles once again.

Ok, back to the trip preparations…

Aside from passing through Sisters and touching the outskirts of Bend, our route travelled exclusively through the wilderness, and so stopping every day or two for groceries was not an option. Before leaving for the trip, we prepared five days worth of food, most of which was in dehydrated form.

Our five days worth of food.

Notice that we each packed our favorite riding snacks -- nuts and M&Ms for Brian and candy corn for me. It turned out that I wasn't the only one who enjoyed candy corn.

Brian shows off his candy corn fangs.

The "Noodles for Poodles," on the far right, ended up being a winner of a dinner.

Candy corn-fanged Brian picked a fantastic, novice-friendly route. A smart man was he; Brian figured that if our first trip didn't scare me off, perhaps I'd join him for another ride! Our route started just east of Eugene, headed northeast to Sisters, up over McKenzie Pass, south to Bend and Sunriver, and then back west to Eugene, via Oakridge.

The route took us across a bridge that spanned the beautiful McKenzie River.
Can you spot our shadows?

Brian was also smart to incorporate a visit to the Terwilliger Hot Springs. These hot springs are known as some of the best free'n'wild (read: "clothing optional") public hot springs in the state.

We rolled up to the Terwilliger Hot Springs on a Thursday morning, only to find that the hot springs were closed. A rope blocked off the entrance to the path, and hanging from the rope were signs that read "Thursday Cleaning," "Do Not Enter," and "Closed - See Ya @ Noon." Closed for cleaning on Thursday mornings! You gotta be kidding! What a bummer! We were also disappointed to see that there is now an entrance fee to enter the hot springs. The hot springs earn a quadruple thumbs-down from us.

A quadruple thumbs-down for the Terwilliger Hot Springs.

A close-up of our faces is necessary to relay the true disappointment of the Terwilliger Hot Springs:

These are not happy faces.

From the hot springs, we continued on to McKenzie Pass. The pass has been on my to-ride list ever since last summer, when my Sierra Cascades riding buddy, Randy, couldn't stop ranting'n'raving about the pass. Since then, I've heard a number of people tell me that I gotta ride McKenzie Pass.

Shirley rests just before starting the climb
up McKenzie Pass.

We experienced all sorts of weather on our trip. During the days, it was multiple-long-sleeve-layers weather when we rode under the shade of the forest trees, but single-layer-long-sleeve weather when there was a break in tree-cover and the sun was able to cast its rays directly upon us. Starting at sundown and continuing through mid-morning, it was dang cold.

See that frost!
It was dang cold as we pedaled up and over McKenzie Pass.

McKenzie Pass was lovely. Though chilly, the climb was nice'n'gradual, with stately trees standing at attention on either side of the narrow winding road. I love riding on smooth, black-topped roads, adorned with perfectly bright'n'cheery yellow and white lines. It's like riding alongside endless colorful ribbons floating on a glossy sea.

Only from the seat of a saddle would one notice this
beautifully decorated mile marker on the climb up the pass.

Eventually, we made it to the top:

Me & Brian, atop the pass.

The top of the pass was really interesting. We had spent the night prior to our McKenzie summit with an Aussie couple, chatting around a campfire. The couple had driven over the pass earlier that day, and Brian had asked the couple what they thought of the drive. The gentleman had wondered why the top of the pass was being excavated.

Indeed, there was some funky business going on at the top of the pass. But it wasn't excavation work. Absent of big, yellow Caterpillar earth-moving machines, the mess of rocks and dirt was actually part of a 65-square mile lava flow. The volcanic debris had been there for many, many years.

This photo makes McKenzie Pass look like it is part of a model train set.
It looks as though the model maker glued piles of gravel on to the pass.

In the photo above, you'll notice a lookout tower, called the Dee Wright Observatory, on the right side of the road. Inside the Observatory were numerous windows looking out to the numerous peaks that surrounded the pass. Each of the windows was centered on a specific peak, and each window was labeled with the respective peak's name and height. What a clever way to explain the surrounding geography!

The view Mt. Washington,
as seen from the Dee Wright Observatory.

Atop the Observatory is a compass rose, which also indicates all of the surrounding peaks.

Here I am, studying the peaks surrounding McKenzie Pass.

After a thrilling descent from the pass, another ten miles of flat'n'easy riding delivered us into downtown Sisters. We stopped at the local Ray's grocery store to restock our food supply for the remaining days of our trip. As I shopped the aisles for food, Brian stayed outside to guard the bikes. While standing guard, Brian started up a conversation with one of the locals, George.

Brian & George.

By the time I finished my shopping and returned to the bikes, George and Brian had become good friends. They filled me in on the highlights of their conversation. For one, George and his wife will be biking the Carretera Austral in Chile next February. No kidding -- Brian will be meeting up with Craig and me when we bike the Carretera Austral next February, too! We'll keep our eyes out for George and his wife when we're pedaling in Chile next year! For two, George and Brian somehow steered their conversation towards Co-Motion bikes. George knew an insider at the company who had commented that the company was bummed that their painter had left. No kidding -- Brian painted frames for Co-Motion. He left the company in August! 'Tis a small, small world when you start talking with people.

Taking advantage of the cell reception that was available for the first time on the trip, we checked the forecast to see how the next few days panned out. We learned that a storm was brewing. And so Brian spent some time pouring over the maps and figuring out our options.

In light of the forecast,
Brian looks for alternative routes.

As the forecast predicted 100% rain and gusty winds, we decided to hunker down for one whole day in the tent.

As the rains fell from the sky,
Brian and I hunkered down in the tent for the day.
We managed to sneak out for quick walks in between the heavier bouts of rain.

In anticipation of the heavy rains and winds, we engineered a little alteration to the tent, one that would prevent a rain-soaked fly from saturating the walls of the tent.

Our make-shift tent stakes to pull the fly away from the tent.

As forecasted, the following day was precipitation-free, and so we were back on our bikes.

Me, enjoying the dirt roads and the precip-free sky.

I learned a lot about Oregonians on the trip. For example, I learned that there a lot of wealthy people who own homes in the Sisters/Bend area. Many of the homes are excessively massive -- quite a contrast from our simple tent home. To be honest, it was fun riding by these homes, proudly displaying our newly-cleaned-but-still-drying socks and underwear that were strapped to our back panniers. How bum-like of us!

We also heard a fair share of shotguns as we pedaled through Central Oregon. Yes, 'twas hunting season. I learned all about redneck hunters from Brian. These hunters are often too lazy to use their legs for their hunting ventures, and so it is not unusual to see them shoot directly from the windows of their pick-up trucks. Yikes!

I guess we weren't the only ones bothered by the hunting.

Our last campsite was the cherry on the already delicious cake. Regarding its location, all I'll say is that it was on a small lake, somewhere near Waldo Lake. We rode a little bit of trail to get back to our campsite on the lake. When we arrived, my jaw nearly fell off my face. It was friggin' ravishing! And we had the whole lake to ourselves! I couldn't believe that we had reached this location entirely on our bicycles.

We set up camp and then rode a few more miles to explore Waldo Lake, the second largest lake in Oregon. While there, we found some great mustaches.

Me, with my mustache.

Brian, sporting his stache.

We also spent some time walking along the shore. We paused for a while along Islet Point for a bit of meditation and yoga before heading back to our own private lake for dinner.

My yoga pose, at Waldo Lake.

As we shoveled the last few spoonfuls of our Noodles for Poodles dinner into our mouths, we glanced behind us and noticed the most pristine moon. It was hanging low in the sky, just above the vee in the trees.

Goodnight moon.

And then, in that same sky, the following morning we saw that gorgeous, gorgeous sunrise.

Oh my! What gorgeousness!

Higher than 5,500 ft, the temps were below freezing as we stood there watching the beautiful palatte of colors shift in the morning sky. It was so cold that all of our night-time breathing had condensed into little icicles on the vestibule of the tent. But my mind was thinking nothing of my goosebumped legs or my shivering hands. Nope, my mind was basking in the warm colors of the morning sun.

As I basked in the beauty of the sky, I acknowledged my gratitude. I was thankful to have witnessed such a breathtaking sunrise. I was thankful to have ridden my bike through the wilds of Central Oregon. And I was thankful to have been coupled with such a wonderful riding buddy.

Brian was an awesome riding buddy. We thoroughly enjoyed each other's company. We enjoyed sharing tasks at each campsite -- Brian doing the cooking and me setting up the tent and hanging the critter bags from the trees. We enjoyed lots of meaningful conversations. And we shared lots of smiles and deep, belly laughs. Thank you for a great ride, Brian. I look forward to more!

Me & Brian.

Meanwhile, I'm just going to keep staring at that beautiful morning sky, which is forever emblazoned in my memory of my mostest favoritest bike trip.

Emblazoning the sunrise into my memory.

(Oh, and just so credit is given were due...all of the awesome photos -- including the sunrises -- were taken by Brian. All the lesser quality photos were taken by me.)


  1. Wow! Beautiful and thanks for sharing! I have toured the roads in that area but never on dirt.....what a treat! Tom Strause

    1. Thanks for your note, Tom. Of all the riders I know, I would have expected *you* to have ridden the backroads of Oregon. You must do it sometime -- you'll love it! :)

  2. All I can say is WOW!!! That was one helluva ride, amazing views and overall awesomeness! For you name something the Favoritest of all times, it HAS to special!

    Love the smiles, and the fact our mechanic buddy can grow an instant mustache!! That is a superpower to remember. And might I add you and shirley both are quite sexy in your big girl panties!

    Love that you like candy corn! I have a candy corn pixie at work who stashes some all over my desk when I am gone. Pretty sure I know who it is but havent caught her yet!

    Welcome back lady and thanks for sharing!!

    1. Thanks, Tony! Indeed, it was a very special ride -- mustaches, big-girl panties, and all! :)

      How lucky of you to have a Candy Corn Pixie! I have a friend, Doug, who is my Candy Corn Pixie. While I love when he performs his pixie magic, I'm always surprised at how quickly the candy corn disappears! :)

  3. Ho man! Great photos and (as always) writing - This area will be added to my list. Immediately.

    1. Ho, back atcha, man! :) Yes, add this to your list -- IMMEDIATELY! Although your retirement may be moving up a few months, early spring may be a bit too early to ride this route. :) But you should definitely check it out sometime next summer. There are plenty of great rivers along the route in which you can fly fish!

  4. looks like fun & it is a very awesome sunrise pic! cheers

  5. I've enjoyed catching up on all of your posts, Sarah! Great writing and beautiful pics, as always!

    1. Thanks, MaryJo! I'm so glad to have you reading my blog. :)

  6. Thank you for taking the time to write your blog. It's beautiful!! And what a wonderful trip. What route did you take? Did you document the route? Was it a loop? Where did vehicles remain while you cycled?

    1. Thanks for the thanks, Kelly. :)

      We parked the car at Brian's friend's house just to the east of Eugene, and did a loop route from there. We did not document the route in a public forum, as we decided it best not to draw too much attention to the route. After all, the solitude of the route that was one of the things that made it so enjoyable. I have neither the maps nor the exact roads we followed, but I'm sure Brian would be happy to share them with you. You know how to reach him! :)


I would love to hear your comments on this post!