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.  

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