Shred Camp Day 2: North Fork to Flagline

Day one was supposed to have been the warm-up.  It was supposed to have been a mellow cruise to stretch our legs, acclimate to the high-desert trail conditions and build some confidence for a serious ride into the hills on day two.  Instead, we all rode about ten miles more than we wanted to and by the time Chris and I made it home from our after-hours caper down Phil's Whoops we had clocked over 50 miles in the saddle.  As we had already done a pretty good job of murdering our friends on one unnecessarily long and difficult day, we agreed to a slight scaling-back of the plan for day two of our Oregon Shred Camp.  The main objective still remained: scaling the daunting 4.5-mile climb from Tumalo Falls on the North Fork trail, then connect to the Metolius-Windigo and Flagline trails for a traverse through alpine meadows before a roaring descent on the South Fork trail.  This loop is a rare treat as a large section of the Flagline trail is closed until August 15 to protect fragile elk calving grounds.  The window of time between that date and the time the snow flies at 7,000 feet is short and we were compelled to seize the opportunity.  India and I might get a chance next year, but Chris and Laura may never get another shot if we didn't make it happen today.  It was going to hurt, but we were getting our asses out of town and into the boonies, physical torment be damned!  In the interest of fun over collecting maximum suffer points, we chose to load up the car and gas it out to the Skyliners trailhead rather than saddle up for the 20-or-so extra miles necessary to complete the ride from town.  This departure from our regular "we'll-just-ride-from-the-house-road-miles-don't-count-anyway" attitude felt a little unnatural, but was valuable practice at making smart riding decisions. 

India was happy to have fresh legs at the trailhead.

We pedaled our warm-up miles on the Tumalo Creek trail, heading westward towards the falls where we made use of the facilities, topped up our stores of water and prepared ourselves for the long climb out of the valley.  We headed up the gravelly trail to the overlook and paused to take in the scene. 

Laura reaches the Tumalo Falls overlook.

The View.  Sort of okay...

After soaking in all the natural beauty we could stomach, we pointed our machines westward and upward to continue the climb.  Our progress was slow, not because of our mediocre climbing abilities but because of all the damn waterfalls that kept popping up alongside the trail.  I'm not sure how we could be expected to descend fully into our respective pain caves when we're constantly being yanked out of the darkness to look at scenes of snowmelt cascading over basalt between the desert pines.  If you count the big-daddy of Tumalo Falls, we put our feet down to stare in oxygen-deprived wonder at something like seven different waterfalls.  Pretty frustrating, I'll say.  

Look guys, a waterfall!

Seriously, another waterfall?

Finally, the trail took a turn to the Southwest and we left the distractions of Tumalo Creek for a sparse pine forest and some quality time in the suffer zone.  The misery of climbing could really begin now that we had our sightseeing out of the way, or so we thought.  

India spins her way up through the forest.

Laura manages to fake a smile or I snuck up on her and scared it out of her.

Shit, is that another waterfall?  I can't go on like this.

We emerged from the tree-covered hillside trail into a marshy creek bed criss-crossed by a series of log bridges.  We practiced our bridge hopping and dropping skills, splashed the dust and sweat off our faces with icy creek water and proceeded onward.  We still had plenty of climbing yet to come before we reached the fabled calving grounds where we hoped to spot some elk still hanging around with their calves.

India demonstrates proper bridge riding form by looking ahead rather than at the natural beauty all around.  Look where you want to go.

We passed by a group of spandex-clad "fitness riders" standing around chatting as if they were sipping espresso outside of a cafe before the weekly club ride, took our left turn onto the Metolius-Windigo trail and continued the uphill grind into the sky.  

Chris managed the climb handily aboard his monster-truck 29er.

When we popped out of the forest into a broad expanse of alpine meadow, the scenic grandeur finally got the better of Chris.  He tossed his bike down in annoyance at the constant diversion from watching his heart rate zones and focusing on belly breathing.  We probably should have gone on a road ride...

India climbs above the meadow.

We traversed a few miles in this fashion, up and down between stands of pine and meadow floors, with a couple of creek crossings of various size.  

India gets hub-deep on this one.

We also found some snow.

With all of Mother Nature's distractions, we would have a snowball's-chance-in-August of enjoying the rest of this ride.  Turns out, that's a pretty good chance.

India and Laura traversing the meadowlands.  See any elk?

We also found more snow.  It required a serious class-4 snow scramble, but thanks to the superior vertical stiffness of my carbon-soled cycle-slippers I was able to manage it.

Shortly after we exited the meadowlands the hungers started to hit.  Even though we aren't so great at pre-ride planning, India and I are really good at bringing lots of food and a solid lunch on trail rides.  If we're carrying backpacks anyway, we might as well put something good to eat in there rather than subsisting on science food and trail dust all day long.  We found a sunny patch of grass, kicked off our shoes and settled in for a proper trailside meal.  

Mmm.  Turkey Sandwich.

We are also quite adept at murdering bags of chips.

After we had polished off our victuals and lounged in the sun a while longer, the group consciousness inevitably shifted towards thinking about beer.  Of course, none of us had the foresight to bring beer with us so we would have to continue our ride and descend back to the stocked cooler waiting in the car.  But that's why we came all the way up here, right?  Along with experiencing novel and more horrible forms of suffering on the 3,000-foot climb, we pedaled our asses out into the boonies for the indescribable ecstasy of ripping downhill through a high-desert forest on a foot-wide singletrack, pedaling not because you have to but because you can go faster, feeling the edge of traction drifting through corners as tree trunks zip past your handlebars while thought-vision blurs into a stream of gray, brown, blue and green where the only things that matter are the trail and the patch of rubber where your wheels meet it.  

I didn't take many pictures during the descent, but did take a break to document the ladies conquering a rocky drop-in.  

India demonstrates why you don't grab a fistful of front brake over the front of a drop.  Yikes!  The low-and-narrow bars of Fly - her twitchy XC racehorse - don't help either.  She managed to stay in control and rode away cleanly.  

Laura shows proper form, loose and relaxed with weight over the back wheel.  Georgia smooth.

After the rolling descent down the Flagline trail, the crew paused at the trail junction to discuss the finish of our ride.  After looking at the map, we elected to skip the South Fork descent and proceed West along Swede Ridge to end our adventure with a descent of the Whoops trail that Chris and I had ridden but not seen the evening prior.  Spirits were high, and a few more miles of extra riding (mostly downhill) sounded like a good idea.

Shred buddies at the Swede Ridge shelter.

Once again, I was too busy struggling to hold Chris's wheel on the descent of Upper and Lower Whoops to take any photos and plenty has been written about the radness of these trails.  We got rad, practiced our jump skills, and arrived at the bottom with stupid grins on our dusty faces.  

India doing her best Frida Kahlo impersonation.

India and I did some clip-hops over a pile of dirt, then set out to pedal the pavement back to Skyliners trailhead and collect the car and cooler while Chris and Laura enjoyed a well-deserved rest.  We returned with a trunkful of beverages, toasted our suffering ability and descending prowess, and loaded the car up for the windows-down cruise back to town for showers, beers and a brewpub dinner.  


Shred Camp Day 1: Bend

"These poor fools.  They have no idea what they're getting themselves into," I thought to myself as we rolled into the Portland airport Wednesday evening in our sagged-out sedan bristling with bicycles and stuffed with all manner of adventure supplies.  It was sometime after 10pm when we collected Chris and Laura from the terminal, tossed them into the backseat and headed east toward the dry side of the Cascades and the mountain bike megalopolis of Bend, Oregon.  Being a highly experienced trans-Cascadian midnight driver, India settled into the captain's chair and banged out the entire journey in one monster pull behind the wheel.  We arrived in Bend sometime after 2am, tossed bikes into the garage, knocked back a beverage or two and hit the sack for some well-deserved rest after a long day of traveling.  The beatings would commence promptly the next day.  

The plan was for a mellow, 15-20 mile cruise at Phil's Trails on the edge of town where we would explore the network of swoopy singletrack, get a feel for the dry, dusty summer conditions and loosen our legs up for a longer, more epic-er ride on the following day.  We suited up, adjusted tire pressure, installed smiles on our faces and rolled out.  

For those who haven't been to Phil's Trails, they are a winding spirograph of criss-crossing dirt where any ambitious rider could ride until exhaustion without being more than 10 miles from downtown Bend.  We headed in with no map, no plan and a full tank of excitement to ride some classic high-desert trails.  

I was looking sharp, as usual in my classic Loose Nuts jersey.

The ladies were feeling chummy and happy to be riding together again.  India and Laura have been shred buddies since they started riding off road way back in Athens, GA.

India rode some rocks...

then critiqued Chris's form over the chunky stuff.  Clearly, he's doing it wrong.

Laura got rad, then got a little too rad and stuffed it in a dusty corner.  High desert moon dust is good for the complexion.

We navigated with caprice and intuition, hoping to wander around for a while before finding our way to the top of Phil's legendary Whoops trail, a rollicking downhill joyride of jumps, bumps and berms that would be a perfect finish to our first day on the trails.  We didn't think we could manage to get ourselves lost in a  However, the trail gods were feeling mischievous and sent us down a track to the southern end of the network, far from the the Whoops trail and even farther from food and beverages.  We managed to have some fun along the way, but the going got rough somewhere close to mile 30 when supplies of water and food dwindled or ran out entirely.  The ladies were getting hangry, Chris and I were sharing the last drops of water in my hydration bladder and everyone agreed that we needed to get the heck out of there and to a brewpub in a hurry, Whoops be damned.  Just in time to salvage the last drops of morale and pedaling impetus from our dusty and bedraggled crew we found our way to somewhere that looked familiar, got the heck out of the woods and pounded the pavement back to our abode for a quick cleanup of bikes and bodies before the zombie trudge to 10-Barrel's fabulous brewhouse where delicious combinations of meat, starch, hops and malt were consumed with zest.  Chris and I made plans to return to the trails later that afternoon to get our dose of whoopiness, but returned to the house with full bellies and tired legs.  Siesta time called out to us and we were powerless to resist. 

When Chris rousted me from my slumber sometime around 5:30, I looked up at the sun-filled heavens and begged for a few more minutes of bliss in my laid-back lawn chair before our trip back to the trails.  When I finally got my ass in gear and into baggies, the sky had turned dusky and India reminded me to take lights.  "We won't be out long enough to need these, but I'll take them to make her feel better," I thought.  I had forgotten to consider the fact that the sun sets rapidly in the desert and the top of Phil's Whoops was 10 uphill miles away.  Chris and I kept the pace hot, racing the last bits of daylight until the morning's ride caught up with us and we were forced to slow it down or risk blowing up altogether.  Then came the 3-mile slog up a powdery fire road to the top of the trail.  If you've ever ridden mountain bikes with Mr. Chris Tavel you probably know that he hates climbing, especially on fire roads.  I'm sure there have been some terrible ascents in Chris's past but that evening's climb must have been among his least favorite of all time.  Ask him about it sometime.

When we finally reached the top in the last minutes of twilight and looked down the trail that twisted into the darkness between the trees, we knew we'd be descending in the dark.  Sweet.  We had left a warm house full of food, beer and pretty ladies, thrashed ourselves until we could hardly pedal anymore, dragged our asses up a double-track covered in 3 inches of chalky dust to the top of a ripping descent that we won't even be able to see.  Nice work, dumbass.  The temperature of the parched air was dropping rapidly and the forest wasn't getting any lighter, so we dropped in and used our zen master skills to navigate the swooping berms and invisible tabletops of the shapeless gray path through the black forest.  Whoops, indeed.  Somehow, we made it to the bottom unscathed.  I pulled the little 3-LED headlight out of my jersey pocket, affixed it to the handlebars thinking, "I'm sure glad India made me bring this thing," and we set about picking our way out of the woods.  After cussing our way down rocks and roots banging our shins, toes and knees on Ben's trail for who knows how far we came to a fire road, took a left and arrived at the pavement that would take us downhill and back to town.  Despite the warmth of our relief and the heat still radiating from the asphalt, the chill in the air bit through our short-sleeve jerseys as we mashed our big rings towards home, taking turns at the front like breakaway companions.  

We retured to a couple of mildly worried ladies with our tale of foolishness and pointless suffering, enjoyed a couple of beverages to take the edge off and made ready to hit the sack.  We had been in Bend less than 24 hours and already had over 50 miles in our legs.  So much for starting off easy with a mellow leg-stretcher on the first day...  We were all feeling pretty beat up and the prospect of a truly "epic" ride tomorrow had everyone a little worried.  To avoid repeating the mistakes of today, we opened the map, agreed on a solid plan and tucked the trail map safely into a hydration pack for trailside reference.  I assured our sturdy crew that the trails would be radder, the views grander and the whole ride generally awesome-er than anything that we had ridden today and went to sleep dreaming of elk in alpine meadows.