Sunday, October 24, 2010

McKenzie River Trail (Bend, OR)

A blog about biking in and around Sandpoint, Idaho you say?  Still in Bend, Oregon.  On to the granddaddy and the highlight of my trip...the McKenzie River Trail.  McKenzie has been referred to as the best mountain biking trail in Oregon (and I just read it was voted best in the West).  Now these are pretty strong statements and I'm not going to get into debating whether it is or isn't.  But I think it is safe to say that McKenzie is great ride and hugely popular.  It is located in the Willamette National Forest, in between Bend and Eugene.  The 24.5 mile ride features only 900 feet of climbing and is a shuttle ride.  Listed as aerobically moderate and technically advanced (4+ for a good majority and 3 for the remainder).  Although this ride features 1,600' net elevation drop, it is an ass kicker!

I was intending to take Friday off as a rest day before tackling McKenzie Saturday.  I had my shuttle set up with Cog Wild, but weather stepped in.  The weather had been great all week, but a storm was predicted for the weekend.  Banking on the local weather man (never a good idea), I took the odds of 30% of rain on Friday over the 70% on Saturday.  I skipped rest day and headed out.  When I got the trailhead it was raining and had been for several hours.  However, it was time for work.  I suited up and started down the trail.  Less then a mile in, I was soaked but determined to complete the ride.  You see, this trail has been on my bucket list for a long time and nothing was gonna get in my way.

The first 3 miles are great singletrack that leads you along the banks of Clear Lake.  Clear Lake is, well very clear.  It is phenomenal.  A person could take pics at every vantage around the lake and they'd all be perfect.  The clearness and blue/green colors made it look tropical.  I saw a guy fishing out in a boat and imagined that he could actually see the fish swimming around.

Clear Lake

Trail directions indicated there was a trail along both sides of the lake.  The East side trail being full of lava rock and not recommended for biking and the West side being the recommended route.  I took the West side, but do to some lack of signage on the South end of the lake I ended up riding back up the East side.  I got half way up the other side before I realized this.  Too late, I decided to got for extra credit and ride around the whole lake.  As stated, the East side was not very rideable.  Several lava rock fields to cross.  Steep mounds with little run up, at least now I know. 

some sections around Clear Lake had "paved paths" through the lava

pavement didn't last long
My ride was not starting off too good.  I was wet and had done triple the anticipated miles by the time I got to the South end of Clear lake.  No worries though, I was feeling good and marched on. 

After Clear Lake the trail gets much more difficult (4+ time).  Rock and roots galour.  I passed a couple more waterfalls.  Waterfalls are great and all, but they were all starting to look the same.

Koosah Falls
Lava rock has a very interesting quality, even though it was very wet it was not slick.  It had lots of traction and my tires clung.  Not the roots though, same as anywhere else they were slick as hell.  Weird dicotamy. 

One other amazing natural feature along the trail was the "Blue Pool."  For 2 miles leading up to the pool, the creek beds were dry.  The river just disappears and goes underground.  It travels underground and then reappears at the Blue Pool.

For a few miles leading up to and then after the Blue Pool, lava rock was the only tread and the only thing you rode. The trail went through, over and around mounds and mounds of lava.  I would say this section around the Blue Pool was fun, but I'd be lying. The lava rock is very sharp and abrasive, so falling was not an option. I was byself and had to make it to the end of the trail for my shuttle. It was a great challenge.

At the 10 mile mark of the trail (I had 17 miles, damn detours), the lava rock began to subside.  I sat and had lunch to regroup.  I had been riding for 3 1/2 hours, and I was less than half way through the trail.  I told my "shuttle bunnies" that I would be done and at the end in 4 hours total.  The detours certainly didn't help, but I obviously miscalculated my ride time.  At this pace I would be lucky to be done by dark.  I needed to pick up the pace.

Now let me make a little side note here. I've been giving Oregon a lot of love lately. No doubt there are great riding opportunities and some amazing trails. BUT their signage sucks! McKenzie is not the first time I've run into issues with signage. Many trails lack signage all together. Others, the map names do not match the names on trail signs. And yet others, are just missing arrows or indicators at key points in the at freaking trail intersections around lakes. Anyway, enough said.

Lucky for me, the trail took a major turn after the Blue Pool and all the lava rock.  Sweet single track was all that was between me and the finish line.  I put her in the middle ring and was flying.  The trail snakes like a serpent as you parallel the McKenzie River.  There were several short climbs that took you up to some exposed ledges, and then you were rolling back down to the flats of the river again.  It was up and down and back and forth for pretty much the final 16.5 miles.  I was in the zone and had no idea how much time had passed between me stopping for lunch and the end of the trail.  I didn't stop for pics, my only focus was the trail ahead.
looking over the edge of the trail at one of the exposures

bridge builders were super busy on this trail, at least a dozen like this
 I ended the day with 32.5 miles and a finish time of 5 1/2 hours.  And my shuttle waited, thanks Jane and Shadow.  The weather and my detours made the ride less than ideal, but I still had a blast!  I would have gotten up and done it again the next morning if I could.  Mckenzie River offers some unique riding and is very diverse.  Later that night, I checked it off my list and started planning for the next big one...

1 comment:

alan said...

I rode the top half of McKenzie when I was moving to Idaho. Planned on riding the whole thing, but bailed halfway because I was so worked. Great Ride!!