The West Coast (CA,NV,WA,OR), Trip Reports » Oregon Singletrack Tour – [3/3] (Mackenzie River)


No witches or warlocks attacked us during the night. The sweet lullaby of the Willamette River brought us restful sleep. We were feeling good, but sometimes that’s exactly why you build in some recovery time — so you can keep feeling good.

We got up leisurely, rode a tiny bit of singletrack, then 15 miles of easy spinning along the shores of Hills Creek Lake. I couldn’t have planned a better recovery day!

Day 7 – 18 miles

Back in Oakridge we hit Manning’s Cafe for power breakfast, the hardware store for fuel and the bike shop for a few items, including a new chain for Paula’s bike. Then it was nap time. Followed closely by pizza time! Ray’s grocery has some great items for bike/back packers. Since neither of us had any sign of poison oak rash we were growing less paranoid about it, but we still took advantage of the “town day” to do a batch of laundry. Hanging out in rain gear when it’s 90 outside is big fun!

I pedaled over to the park at some point and saw all the tents for Mountain Bike Oregon. A different deal, that.

I also hit up the guys in the shop for some trail beta. We’re quickly becoming singletrack sluts, and neither of us were very excited about all the pavement awaiting us on the Aufderheide.

Turns out our negative thoughts were unwarranted. We loved the Aufderheide.

But first we tried an alternate route to Westfir. Shorter, but full of insultingly steep climbing — at least first thing in the morning. I was OK with it, but Paula was expressing her displeasure as the road continued to climb towards High Prairie.

My brain values “new” and exploration so highly that I didn’t care how much it climbed. It was cool to see more of Oakridge and to find a route to the trails that avoided busy highway 58. But I commiserated with Paula.

After the red covered bridge we rolled onto the North Fork Trail. This trail is infamous for gifting urushiol rash to many a Cream Puff racer, my pathetic self included. But boy was it fun to ride.

A little overgrown in places, but just what we were looking for — singletrack perfect for loaded touring.

We followed it for about 7 miles, past FR 1910, to FR 1912. I could see the trail continued, but we had been warned that it wasn’t finished beyond. After washing with Technu we crossed the bridge and began chasing down two fellow cyclists.

Not really. A middle aged couple was doing a day ride on the Aufderheide, with hybrid bikes and orange safety vests. This was a good sign for what we were both hoping — that this was a good cycling route.

Sure enough, with no residences, no ranches, just campground and trails, the Aufderheide scenic byway was pretty empty. Maybe one car per half hour kind of empty. It felt like an extra wide bike path at times.

No cars meant we could ride safely next to each other and, gasp, talk! Can road riding be this good? We had some really great conversation, covering a wide range of topics. So much so that this became one of the best days on the trip. When you’ve been with someone for some time (and you both have a lot going on) it can sometimes be hard to find time to sit down and have long, involved conversations. Have I mentioned that I love bike touring? I also know how lucky I am to have someone to share awesome trips like these with. So many lucky stars that I stopped counting…

At 55-65 miles (depending on which road sign you believe) the Aufderheide is nothing to sneeze at, and there is a healthy climb in the middle. Time to switch river drainages from Willamette to Mackenzie!

We stopped in the middle and had a hot lunch – macaroni and oatmeal. Then more pedaling.

When we hit the dam on Cougar Reservoir I pulled out the phone to call my brother and Misty. They were en route to meet us at Belknap Hot Springs. My brother had just returned from several trips, and this was the first time he was around and able to meet up. We had a wonderful evening, eating tasty food, soaking in the springs and hanging out with Al and Misty.

We stayed down the road at Harbick’s Country Inn. Run by an enthusiastic mountain biker, they were very friendly to cyclists (the ACA northern tier route also goes right by their place).

Day 8 – 68 miles

My friend Mark Flint has called the Mackenzie River Trail the best trail in Federation Space. Though there may be something better in Romulan Space, that’s still a pretty strong statement. We were excited to test it.

5 miles pavement brought us to the start of the trail. 5 seconds in I already liked it. Flat, smooth and swoopy. Repeat for mile after mile and you have yourself a good ride.

It was the weekend, so there was some traffic going the other direction (this trail is often shuttled). It was no big deal, except for the nose-to-nose encounter Paula had with a group of guys cookin’ it and pushing each other down the trail. Not a smart thing to be doing on a Saturday — not everyone shuttles the trail and there are hikers out there too! (To their credit, they apologized for going so fast and almost hitting her).

The miles floated by for me, but Paula was getting tired. I was feeling top; she was run down–the difference between a cyclist and runner after 300 miles of singletrack touring.

Near Trail Bridge Reservoir the trail gets a little bit technical and has some exposure. Paula didn’t trust herself to ride semi-dangerous stuff, saying she felt unsteady. Same with one of the shuttlers we ran into on this portion, who could only utter, “I’m hitting the wall, man!” as we passed. From then on, of course, at every little uphill either Paula or I would turn to each other and say “Oh, man I’m hitting the wall!”

As we had been riding I realized that the best plan was to just ride Mackenzie out and back. I had a route over the divide towards Bend. But we had already agreed that anything above 4500′ was out due to Mosquitoes. We could head that way but there was no way to get back without going by Waldo Lake or other Mosquito hell areas.

So I suggested we set up camp near the lake and Paula could take a rest while I rode the rest of Mackenzie. It sounded like a good plan. We found a secluded site, just far enough from the mayhem and noise of the car camping area, and once again next to a rushing stream.

I set off unloaded, with a box full of matches to burn. I had really been enjoying the mellow touring pace we had settled into. It’s nice to see that side of life. But I’ll always have an interest in riding hard and pushing myself.

With limited daylight and plenty of unknown miles yet to cover, this was the perfect opportunity.

I knew about the technical lava rock at the top. But the techy climbing before the blue pool (above) was a complete surprise. I ran into quite a few groups of MTBers thoroughly flustered and demoralized by this surprise section. I was just as surprised as they were, though pleasantly so.

Middle ring hammering brought some good heat to my body. And for some distance the river disappeared, which seemed quite strange. I had grown used to the constant companionship of whichever river we were following.

Not long after I began to hear water again, getting louder and louder. The temperature dropped, thankfully. I began to put it together. There must be a waterfall coming up, and from the sound of it, it’s huge!

Koosah falls, followed by Sahalie Falls. Both very impressive! I continued climbing steeply, reveling in the challenging trail.

When I came to Clear Lake my legs were getting pretty torched, so I took the easier direction (west side) first, for a little recovery. Whew, it was super easy! And views of the lake were awesome.

It was surprising how much the trail wandered around the north side, and I was getting anxious to start heading back to camp (suddenly I was without tent/bag and freedom to stop anywhere on the trail!). Soon enough I was battling it out in the lava rock and laughing each time I’d get jammed. It was disappointing when I came to the paved portion! Paved singletrack, with tight switchbacks! How funny.

I’ll never forget one particular moment on the way down. Yeah, I knew about the waterfalls this time, but nothing could prepare me for the sensation of swooping through the trees, paralleling the rushing river, only to have the river suddenly disappear in front of me, off the edge of the world. One switchback brought me right next to the falls, mid-air, followed by another affording a clear view of the entire drop. It felt like I was the waterfall.

Of course the trail was easier and faster on the way down. After the blue pool I ran into Paula, pushing her bike through the techy stuff. The blue pool sounded cool on the map, so she was riding out to check it out. I didn’t really recommend it, because of how technical it was, but we sat there a while and debated about it. Finally we realized there wasn’t much daylight, and sure enough even without going to the pool we barely made it back before dark.

Day 9 – 45 miles

We really enjoyed our last night camping. We ate like kings — double portions of pasta (dinner) and hot chocolate (morning). Since we were heading back there was no reason to conserve and no reason to get up early. Sleeping in until 9am is a true sign of a good night camping.

I have to admit that all the swoopy smooth trail was getting just a tiny bit tedious by the end of yesterday’s out and back ride. I was happy that we were camping midway on the trail. By the time morning rolled around again I was super psyched to ride as much singletrack as was left.

At some point I stopped to fiddle with something and Paula got a ways ahead of me. She came upon two guys riding with their dog. Not particularly riding fast, she passed one and crept up on the second. At the top of the next hill he turned around and saw her coming.

At that point the race was on. Head down, pedaling for all he’s worth. Buddy and dog in tow, trying to keep pace. After a few minutes the guy behind starts yelling, “Dude! Slow down! You’re killing him [the dog], he can’t keep up!”.

Sometimes you can’t be 100% sure if someone is racing you out on the trail, but there was little doubt here.

He lets her go at the next bridge, stopping to tend to the dog. The second guy then takes the chase position, again doing everything he can to not let Paula out of sight. I rolled up on them at this point and had to hold back the laughter as I watched this guy trying to chase Paula down.

The rest of the trail was less eventful. Pleasant encounters with many a cyclist, including many riding up the trail. We popped out at the Ranger Station to check the bus schedule. There’s only one bus, and it’s at 6pm, so we had some time to kill.

Back to Takoda’s for another huge meal, I started scheming to ride a trail the Inn’s proprietor had raved about: King Castle. He said he shuttled a group of women from CA the other day and they proclaimed it to be one of the best downhills ever.

I’d never heard of it, and couldn’t really tell which trail it was on the map, so I went back to talk to the super enthusiastic innkeeper. Cool guy — he gave me solid info and even offered to shuttle me up the trail. After riding the three major river trails in Oregon without a shuttle you’d think I might take him up on the offer. But I hadn’t shuttled yet, so why start now?

The climb was no big deal, if a little on the hot side. I turned left and climbed the singletrack a little further, to ensure an honest 2000′ climb. From what I saw on the singletrack on the way up, the way down was going to be a blast.

No question, it was. I found it about twice as fun as Alpine trail, though circumstances may have had something to do with that.

I rode back to Paula, napping by the river, and we picked up our belongings for one more ice cream gorging before waiting for the bus.

Yes, it’s true, the city of Eugene runs a regular old city bus all the way out to the Mackenzie Ranger station — some 50 miles away from town. Guess what the fare is? $1.50. This is such an awesome service that we could hardly say no to it.

A purist might have ridden back to my brother’s house, completing the loop, and I had a rough route in mind. But that route had a lot of pavement on it, and only a few miles of trail (Fall Creek). That combined with the Paula still being tired and our limited time to spend with Al and Misty and it was a no brainer.

the lev on the bus

I thought it was a very unique way to end the trip. I installed my headphones into my ears and let the tunes roll as I played through all the good memories of the trip while someone else took care of the driving, and petrol took care of the horsepower rather than my legs. The air conditioning was blasting, and the big windows gave ample viewing opportunities. Quite a few people use this bus, such that the bike racks were both full when the bus picked us up, and many people got on at later stops. What a novel concept — not using the personal automobile as the enabler for recreation.

The bus dropped us off in downtown Eugene. A few miles ride through town brought us back to my brother’s house and the completion of the “loop.”

Day 10 – 38 miles

Total stats:

410 miles
40,000 feet of climbing
8mph average speed (!)
>60% singletrack

Comments (3)

SeanAugust 6th, 2008 at 5:15 pm

It’s funny, your comments about the tech on the MRT takes me back. I rode there a year ago and ran into the same sort of comments about the difficulty from other riders. Personally I didn’t find it all that bad. I’m pretty convinced that two years of living in Phoenix gave me a new datum for measuring trail difficulty.

scottAugust 10th, 2008 at 2:07 pm

Yep, living in AZ severely changed my standards, too.

DuaneAugust 20th, 2008 at 11:03 am

I really enjoyed this story. Gives me the inspiration I need to give it a go but I’m still in the where do I begin mode and what do I take. Your journey sounded truly epic.

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