MTBs near Bend, Oregon

Some volcanoes near Bend

Beyond Tumalo Falls

27 Jul 2010 (10 miles-ish) - the first time

Here's a ride that comes both unexpected (unplanned, anyway) and with unexpected consequences. In Bend to check out the town's scene as a potential place to live, I'm given some MTB suggestions from my bro-law M. He finds himself in town every couple of weeks or so; Fortunately he is an avid cyclist like me - and I'm game for any insider info I can get, of course.

Per his suggestion I find myself looking for "Phil's Trails", located just outside of town. This is purportedly a network which is both extensive and get-lost-proof (my newly coined word, soon to be copyrighted) - which sounds fantastic, since I'm quite capable of getting lost when mountain biking. Certainly this would be a great intro to Bend's MTB trail network... if I don't miss the turn for it, that is. But... oops. Where the hell is it?

I gamely plow on down the road, not exactly sure what I'm looking for any more. By the time the pavement ends perhaps 10 miles later, I safely acknowledge that I have missed my turn. Really? Really. Still, figuring I'll find something of interest regardless, I'm happy to be proven correct in short order. It turns out that Tumalo Falls lies at the end of the road where I now officially find myself. I know this is true because I'm in its parking lot and there's no more road available. Well... cool! I DO want to take a peek at that, too. So I gamely decide that this is all per the game plan - which I hurriedly invent.

From the trailhead, I decide to take the North Fork Trail from the two options given. This starts near the Falls, then gently continues up-up-up along the river. This is not a bad make-up ride at all, I find myself thinking. One view of a waterfall follows another, each generally found at the perches that make for nice overlooks. The ground is dry among the ponderosa pines, meanwhile, something which means I'm to be blessed with a nice track of pine needles with their characteristic scent. Double cool.

Around 2.5 miles up I cross the river, walking-not-daring-to-ride my bike over the slippery bridge. Then I continue on up to the junction toward Happy Valley. So far, so good, and all per The Plan - which I've hatched and re-hatched continuously.

Here things got interesting, though, when I choose to go in the direction away from Happy Valley. I soon encounter a sign mentioning that I'm entering Bend's Watershed. Hmmm - what does that imply to bikers, exactly? The adjacent map with its specific rules is gone for me to discern what the deal is ahead. So I can only scratch my head, trying to visualize the map I saw at the trailhead. How far am I allowed to continue?

Well - a ways, anyway, I suppose. It looks like a good downhill is starting up, too, if only it isn't for... the river. Hmmm - it kinda looks like the trail has just hit a spot near the waterway and died. What now? Perplexed, then following a couple of improvised options to cross it, I make my way across a reasonably narrow-yet-wide-enough log, bike in hand. This feels on the edge of sketchy, but I somehow manage to stay out of the drink.

On the other side of the river I pick up the trail again, now making up to a mile of downhill over nice track. I brush many a tree as the track narrows, yes, but views begin to open up over the (partially-burned) forest. Still - when will I hit that seasonal trail for elk I saw at the trailhead? I know that it's out there... somewhere. Except it isn't.

Instead I hit another sign warning me that I've entered the watershed. Bikes apparently aren't unwelcome, after all. Crap! This, of course, happens just around the time that I hear my first clap of thunder. Uh oh. Now in somewhat more open country with lower scrub, I belatedly discern a threatening sky in almost all directions. Which way will THIS wind blow?

C-rack! And thus I have my answer in minutes: DOWN. I think about continuing through the watershed, unsure of how long it would take to get back. Is there an uphill coming soon? Will there be more of that? How exposed will I be to lightning strikes? Finally I decide to make safety first: I resign myself to turning around. When in complete doubt, go with the known, I hazard to guess. I retrace my route to make my way toward either Tumalo Falls or Happy Valley.

I next begin to head uphill as first a rain and then a light hail begins to fall. The frozen stuff reminds me that Bend sits at 3600ft above sea level, plus I've only been ascending. How high up AM I, anyway? Well, there's no time to think about that: I have a river to cross. Now I'll be doing it over a wet log, too, although fortunately a wider one further upstream than the one I previously crossed.

This works, luckily. Now I make my way back to the original watershed sign, timed just as the hail picks up both in size and frequency. The GOOD news about hail (over rain) is that you get less wet. This I take as a consolation as things get a bit colder - which they are.

At the junction again, I find out that Happy Valley is only .3 miles ahead. Sure - I'll give that a shot. Maybe it'll offer a way out of this fix. A relatively flat section gets me there in quick time, too, as puddles form and even more hail pelts my helmet and back. But I get a reward for all of this adversity: Happy Valley has a sign with a map! I'm no longer (as) lost.

Still. The upshot of such knowledge is that I'm screwed. It'll be a long way back if I continue making a loop of this thing as originally planned. And that's BEEN the plan, even if there's been no specific route. Meanwhile I consider the alternative: a return to Tumalo Falls would entail breaking the rule that stipulates that there is only uphill cycling from the Tumalo Falls trailhead. What to do... oh what to do? C-rack!

Lightning makes for an efficient answer, certainly. Call it expedience. Down I go, then, deciding that I'll dismount by the second or third person I bump into. That seems a reasonable compromise for the situation that should allow me to cover some distance in the process. It is four miles down; it'll be a long walk otherwise. So I barrel my way down, with both the amount of tree coverage and the amount of hail increasing in tandem. At least it can't get worse - or can it? Well, sort of, but that's easily weathered.

At the original river crossing I meet my first hikers, a local couple with their two kids. All smiles and how-do's, they don't seem in the least bit upset that I'm riding downhill. They even suggest that I could've poach the watershed - no big deal. Oh. Well, no, I won't do that NOW (not with a climb to get back there), but we do have a nice chat about Bend's trails, Kona bike frames, and the odds of the weather getting better or worse. It turns out that the guy in the couple knows my Oregon sis's boyfriend from 20 or so years prior. This is perhaps not too much a coincidence in Bend, a town of about 80,000 people, but still I rank it as a funny coinkidink.

From the river crossing I finish my rolling downhill, rapidly covering all of the ground in the last 2.5 miles to the trailhead. Fortunately I never meet anyone else the entire way, although surely I have only the increasing rain which is drenching me to thank for that. I happily keep my butt to the seat and feet to the pedals. I'm happy to flout the rules under such whacked conditions without being a nuisance to anyone, much as I have no issue in agreeing with the uphill-cycling mandate. It IS a good rule for a trail with so many hikers typically. (I have to admit that this is some s-weet downhill!. Maybe they should make that a seasonal rule - some folks were really missing out on this!)

Whatever. I make it back to the car in one piece, if quite a bit wet and muddy for the effort. I stuff my gear into the car, trying not to make too much more of a mess in its already-trashed interior. As if. This'll be the least of my worries from this point forward, anyway: The hail isn't done with me yet.

Indeed, it isn't done by a long shot, even if the ride story is. Faster hail becomes furious hail becomes marble-sized hail now in a matter of minutes. Wow! Will my car's windshield hold up under this? I seriously begin to wonder. And talk about l-oud! I don't know what damage might be incurred, but I'm decided to not find out, either. Like a number of other cars I shortly pull off of the road to finish waiting out the storm under a tree's branches. This does the trick sufficiently if not completely - the pelting still continues to one side of my vehicle. Twenty minutes later the slacking-up finally comes to allow me to make my way back to town on iced roads. Welcome to Bend in July!

DIRECTIONS: Take Galveston from near downtown to the west; it shortly becomes Skyliners. Follow Skyliners about 10 miles until the end of the road, including the couple of miles (say 2.5) past where the pavement ends. Park at Tumalo Falls parking lot (pay a fee).

Phil's Trails (~15 miles)

29 Jul 2010 - the first time

Okay, NOW I've made it to Phil's Trails, after I blaze out in Bend's 80F heat at 10 a.m., with a fantastic breakfast (again) at the Victorian Cafe quickly a memory. And it's not long after that I find good reason to mimic Mr. Phil in finding a new aspiration and perhaps immortality: I need to develop Trip's Trails!... if only because it sounds so much better. Anyway, I don't know Phil's story quite yet, but suffice it to say that I'm pretty sure he is the guy behind this extensive trail system I'm to be trying out.

Or maybe not exactly: From the parking lot, the first two signs I see are for Ben's Trails and Kent's Trails. Then I make out a number of joggers with dogs before a van pulls up shortly with a dozen kids and bikes. I quickly choose to go where they... won't. Ben's Trails it is, then, although it doesn't hurt that the sign next to it says "easiest".

As it turns out, "easy" will be the appropriate term for the day. Not that there is anything wrong with that in the slightest, since that's a great way to get some reps and speed in if not any technical twisting about. And I NEED reps, especially if I'm going to be potentially schooled on god-knows-what ahead in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, by my bro-law M shortly. We haven't paired up yet on an MTB ride, but that could prove interesting since he's more the athlete than I am.

Ben's Trails, meanwhile, are straightforward. They're pretty flat, though ever so slowly rising. In the flattest flats the track is at times pretty loose and dusty, but a few nicely-cut logs keep things interesting - until I run into the two women with the three dogs I think I've avoided earlier.

No biggie. With me in a surveying mentality, I tell them to keep going - I'll turn around and try the next trail. Hopefully it's one without loping dogs to get in the way. That trail, apparently, is Kent's. It's also marked easy. I'm guessing Phil must be the hard ass by cold deduction. Whatever - Kent's Trails send me out on the flats near Ben's to start, before slowly gaining a wee bit more. And then I run into the very women again. Hmmm. I guess bro-law M is right - you really CALDN'T get lost here. Or lose anyone else, for that matter.

It's not that the women are anything less than friendly: They give me a few suggestions on where to climb ahead to a plateau. This sounds good - and it is. I follow the suggested rise, which leads to a steeper rise, which leads to more of the same, which all seem to plateau... except they don't. It doesn't matter. I'm able to keep my speed going rather well, ascending sometimes when I feel like I'm descending and vice versa. Wherever there is a junction, there's also a marker. Each of those always sports a sign that indicates how to get back to the parking lot. Easy sleazy does it.

And on it goes, with seemingly more descents than ascents as nearly two hours roll by. A guy at one junction gives me some more suggestions; I give a couple a try. All are uniformly good calls; I revel in the numerous banked turns proffered wherever possible. This is quite often, fortunately.

Another enjoyable aspect of the ride - outside of not getting lost - is the collection of sculptures I run into along the way. I have noticed copious numbers of similar such metalworks on the roundabout islands about town already; Apparently the same thinking is at work here, too. It gives a welcome and creative edge to the day's expedition.

Of course such niceties come at a cost. They ALWAYS do in TripWorld, evidently. This comes when I decide to prop my bike up for a photo under the American Chicken sculpture... only to have the bike fall. Then my camera pops out of my hands as I try to save the bike. Yup: Goodbye, camera! I knew ye well if not for long. Indeed, I just bought the thing as a replacement a couple months prior - for the one I wa relieved of at gunpoint in Colombia two months before THAT. Ah, memories.

Anyway, that's about it for this run of Phil's Thrills of Hills. All that remains is to meet an interesting proponent of Bike Fridays (a folding brand of bike) in the parking lot. We soon engage in a very pleasant conversation about all things bike and bike touring, seemingly covering the beginning of the industry to about only 10 years after that. Yeah, we're old school... to the end! Until next time, Phil's Trails.

DIRECTIONS: Take Galveston from near downtown to the west; it shortly becomes Skyliners. Follow Skyliners about 2 miles or so, past the school on the right. Take a left onto road 4604, preceded briefly by a brown sign with a bike on it and a left arrow. Park at the lot a minute later.

The encores...

31 Aug 2010 (20 miles-ish? Let's say 2 hours) - For a second round of Phil's Trails I have better weather... and a harder ride. That's due to riding harder, which makes sense. In all I spin away like a madman for two hours straight, always wondering if the rain will start... and it never does. This nevertheless leads to a sense of urgency as I otherwise feel great to be back in Bend. This time around I'm able to use some experience from the last time to make for a better ride. I make it a point to blast through each junction without much thought, with all emphasis placed on staying in motion instead. In this regard, Phil's Trails shows its mettle: you (still) can't get lost! So I fly on and on, enduring some random climbs, but nothing extended. I also enjoy some swooping, groomed downhills of low-but-speedy grade for 2-3 miles at a whack. All good.

Indeed, all good. To be fair, there isn't much more to say about Phil's Trails. In many ways it is the perfect network to do just burn away calories and excess energy. It's convenient enough from town to allow riding out to it while also allowing for a quick bailout at almost any time. So it's with that that I finish my plug for Phil's Trails. Hail Phil! [I'll meet the legend himself two rides and four days later when I go for a ride with him and the Mrazek bikes crew at Newberry Crater.]

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