Thursday, May 24, 2007

Oakridge Day Trip

Not every “Roadtrip” has to take up weeks and involve sleeping in the back of a car in random gravel pits. A common theme this winter for me has been the “One-Day.” Shockingly, this involves one day of traveling with someone, or yourself, to do something, hopefully worthwhile. Now, some of you may be thinking that this sounds strikingly familiar to the old “day trip”. It might be, but for the sake of feeling like we’re talking about something exciting and new, not another trip to aunties for a reunion, we’ll stick with the one-day moniker. Maybe we’ll even think of a clever acronym….

Living in Bend, Oregon, there are infinite opportunites for one -day trips. The reasons for the one-day are accentuated by the situation I have in Bend. A vagabond at heart turned professional athlete, I’ve been kind of forced to settle down somewhere so I can be, or at least seem, grounded between month-long trips around the universe racing bikes. I was tricked into hanging out in Bend by an old buddy from Maine, Tim Jones, and my esteemed Giant teammate, Carl Decker. Turns out I like it here and have settled down as much as I’m able to… Great people, recreating, sleeping, it’s got it all for this kid. Unfortunately, I still get bored once a week or so, not bored enough to embark on a proper road-trip in the precious off-season, just enough to want to get out of town for about ten hours. Usually this ten hours is split between driving, some type of outdoor activity (kayaking, skiing, singletrack), eating, logistics, etc… The business model for the one-day requires at least a 1/1 ratio of driving to activating. Preferable is a 2/1 or better ratio. Neither of these ratios are especially carbon neutral though… I try to offset this by using the driving time to hone my line selection and visualization skills by traveling at an aggressive rate of speed through any remotely interesting stretch of road along the route. Fortunately, there are lots of interesting roads in the Pacific Northwest. Gravel or tarmac, the combination of rivers, mountains and logging interest have created hundreds of miles of epic driving. Fortunately, my Subaru WRX wagon was already totaled once when I purchased and dodgily repaired it, so I feel pretty good about flogging it within inches of it’s life, and the good line, on a regular basis. Good thing Michelin keeps me in sticky tires (both summer and winter) so I don’t hit anything… the only problem with this approach to the hallowed carbon neutrality is that I’m always the obvious volunteer to drive. Dang it. Carting your sleeping, hungover, drooling friends on an adventure every single time gets old, and hilarious after a while…

On that note, let’s get to the story of the day. We’ll start with a place name and a person’s name, both of which are very important in the cacophony of the universe as we all (should) know it. Timmy Evans. Oakridge, Oregon. Combine these two and you’ll have a great day, guaranteed. If you’re fortunate enough to toss in the rest of the neighborhood MTB crew compiled of a writer, a surgeon, an IT guy, a Canadian and everyone’s retirement hero, there’s no way you can go wrong. Ok, you probably still will go wrong, and it will probably be Timmy’s fault, or at least a result of his presence…

With seven folks and no cargo van, we were even less carbon neutral, but got to set up a fun hare n’ hound scenario for the hour and a half drive from Chardonnay Lane in Bend to the Trail Head Café in Oakridge. You see; the doctor-racer (Jon Finnoff) and the IT-racer (Ben Thompson) were able to conspire to rally the perpetually late Canadian (Chris Sheppard) to an on-time departure of 9am. The writer-racer (James Williams) and I were counting on at least fifteen extra minutes of bike loading/sandwich making/bathroom time on account of the Canadian’s reliable tardiness. No such luck. When a cowardly text from the (surprisingly punctual) Timmy came through with “still drunk, I’m not a rock star, no ride for me”, the hare ‘n hound plan was proposed. Canadian-Doctor-IT car would leave stat. Retired, Racer-Writer car would finish up in the bathroom, loading and sandwich construction departments, blaze across town to kick Timmy out of bed, roll him into the car, get gas, then catch the lead group before they finished their first (glorious) muffin at the Trailhead Café in Oakridge.

Two hours and a bunch of snacks, coffee (gross), storytelling, laughing, sleeping, drooling and good music found us in Oakridge just as the Canadian took his first muffin bite. Perfect. Oh, and it was a beautiful day, even more perfect. Leaving perpetually sunny and dry Bend to drive west over the Cascade crest and into the rain forest in march is risky to say the least. We hit the nail on the head, overnight rain had hopefully melted a bit more snow up high and tacked up the already perfect dirt in the valleys. Those of us who’d ridden in Oakridge before knew it was going to be mint and the two virgins could tell from our smiles that their cherries were about to be popped. There wasn’t even really a question of where to go for the first timers. River Trail to Alpine Trail. Just enough downhill, then uphill singletrack to whet your appetite before spending the next hour and a half climbing perfect grade fireroad to earn the Alpine reward.

A couple muffins later and we were on our way down the Willamette River under warm sun and on moist dirt. The boys fell into the first singletrack and things progressed from there. After half an hour of pumping short downhills and root slide-hopping the climbs along the North Fork Middle Fork Trail we were sufficiently warmed up for the next road slog. The racer boys immediately fell into their prescribed workouts for the day while I cruised with Johnny and talked about 29ers, privately scolding the boys up the road for integrating heart-rate monitors and stopwatches into our Sunday adventure. I lasted about ten minutes on my high horse before realizing I’d better do some fast riding of my own (which I wanted to do on the perfect big-ring logging road anyway), so I could catch up and make sure they didn’t miss any turns… Wouldn’t want them going too high and getting into north-facing snow banks after all… (turns out we decided to go high anyway, and go snowed out). After making the catch and purveying some information in the form of scratched-dirt directions, I turned around to cruise back down and finish the climb with the Candian-Doctor-Retired group. My timing couldn’t have been more perfect, just as I almost plowed into the Canadian, who was rounding a blind corner which I happened to be flattracking around, a bit out of control, he projectile vomited, almost right on me. Awesome. Semi-functional stomach viruses are great entertainment for casual onlookers. More puking commenced just after we got shut down by a couple feet of snow and were coasting back to a cutoff road. This time Timmy was fortunate enough to be within view, he was very impressed that someone else was vomiting all over the pure white snow with one foot unclipped at about 25mph…

Now, to the good part. You see, I really look forward to riding fast on unfamiliar trail with a couple guys who are also down for reckless pinning it. Chris and Timmy are the perfect partners in crime, and we had about 4,000 vertical feet of perfect Alpine Trail singletrack below us (after some chocolate eating and wilderness latrine techniques).

About one minute in we were already riding like dicks, laughing and hanging it out as we blasted through a winter’s worth of fallen twigs, branches and pinecones covering the velvety trail when I heard the telltale metallic grinding of someone getting the proverbial stick in the spokes. Not surprisingly, it was Timmy, and, in the interest of fun and aggression, instead of stopping pedaling, he went ahead and tore his rear derailleur off. Sweet. Great, now our favorite loose downhillin’ companion was riding a chainless coaster bike. But wait, he still could keep up, since the trail didn’t really require any pedaling anyway. We continued to rip it like there was no tomorrow, pausing only once to take in the (pretty spectacular) scenery and let Timmy push his bike up a short climb.

At the end of the trail, back on the valley floor, adrenalin subsiding, the reality of how were were going to get Timmy the four flat miles to the Trailhead occurred to us. How were we going to do that? First idea was to send racer guys back to get the car. As they rolled off in that direction, the Canadian and I decided we could just push Timmy home. Great idea, partner with the puker to push the hungover guy home. I ended up pushing the whole way, which is about as hard as it looks, that being pretty hard…

Back at the café, our ride time was only at 3.5 hours, factoring in the driving around time we needed at least another half hour, preferable an hour, of riding to make our trip responsible… Timmy and the Puker sat out for obvious reasons and the rest of us set out on the quintessential Oakridge quickie, Salmon Creek Trail. A half hour of cruisy singletrack up and a half hour of rooty, rocky slickness on the way back down the other side of the creek left us feeling like we had a solidly worthwhile day.

Back at the café once again, we had some more muffins, peeled off muddy clothes, recounted the day’s events, loaded up, high-fived and were home in time for a cruiser bike ride downtown to get Margaritas and Enchiladas at our favorite Sunday night watering hole and catch up with all the other Sunday one-day’ers in town. Not too bad.

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