We set out Saturday morning at 4:30a from Shevlin Park in Bend to pre-ride the Bend to Oakridge route. It was a great start – nice and cool riding up Mrazek in the dark – getting to the top of Mrazek as the sun came up. After Mrazek, we took Metolius-Windigo and after a short descent started climbing again to give us 4k’ of climbing just 20 miles into the ride. The climbing was gentle enough and it was nice to get that much climbing out of the way while it was still cool. The trails were in fantastic condition and 100% singletrack all the way past Lava Lake (38 miles). The roughest part of the trail was the 5 miles on either side of Todd Lake Horse Camp that was a bit chewed up, but we didn’t see any horses on the trail at that time.
We crossed Cascade Lakes Highway and then had about 13 miles of gravel road to Little Cultis Lake that was actually a welcome break. We hit the 50 mile mark at Little Cultus Lake right at 7 hours and refilled our water from the lake with some purification tablets. After Little Cultus, the trail started climbing again towards Lemish Lake. The 5 miles near Lemish Lake was definitely challenging – made more so by about a dozen trees down on the trail, but it cleared up again about half-way to Charlton Lake and then turned into sweet, sweet singletrack from Charlton to Waldo Lake, down the East shore of Waldo to Betty Lake and down to Gold Lake before starting the arduous 1500’ climb up Fuji Mountain.
Shawn Litson was right in his report about no mosquitoes at Waldo Lake. Up to this point we had very few insects on the trail at all. The trail up Mt Fuji was mostly rideable up to Betty Lake, but from Betty Lake to the “summit” (summit of the trail we were on – fortunately we didn’t have to go over the top), there was a lot of hike-a-bike and a lot of mosquitoes. After Mt Fuji it was a 3 mile gravel road descent followed by a 1 mile climb to the start of the Bunchgrass Trail. We got to the start of Bunchgrass at 5:00p – about 12.5 hours into our day knowing that the Bunchgrass was remote and very rugged and can take 4-6 hours when it’s clear, but to the best of our knowledge it hadn’t been cleared this year.
Unfortunately this is where I chose to pull my bone-headed move of the day and we made a wrong turn onto a foot trail that took us completely the wrong direction towards Waldo Lake. I thought I was on a connector trail that took us to Bunchgrass and we spent the next hour scrambling over trees and pushing our bikes up steep hills and probably only covered a half mile until Shari finally convinced me to turn around. I can only blame it on the fatigue that sets in after little sleep the night before and 12+ hours of being on the bike, but I’ve been in that state before so I should have realized what was happening. I was still convinced it was the Bunchgrass and that the route wasn’t going to be do-able as we turned back and dropped down 9 miles of gravel road and 15 miles on Hwy 58 to get us into Oakridge by 8:30p – 16 hours after we had started that morning.
It’s tough finding a shower and food in Oakridge at that time of night, but we managed to find a shower and since the Brewers Local Union Pub stops serving food at 9p, by the time we got cleaned up we had to settle for burgers at A&W, but they still tasted pretty good. The next morning we talked with Eugene and McKenzie at the Willamette Mountain Mercantile – a fantastic bike/outdoor shop for any location and definitely an oasis in the small town of Oakridge – to get the lowdown on the Bunchgrass trail. They let us know how rugged and raw the trail was and that it hadn’t been cleared this year. They had heard lots of talk of the Cascade Traverse, but wondered what the hell we were thinking. They also made it pretty clear that what we experienced yesterday wasn’t the Bunchgrass.
We had to catch our arranged ride back to Bend that afternoon to pick up our van, but made arrangements for a friend down for Mountain Bike Oregon to shuttle us back out to the start of the Bunchgrass on Monday morning. By 10:00a Monday morning we were back at the start of the Bunchgrass. The first 2.5 miles were fantastic – slightly downhill, fun singletrack, clear trail, and took us about 30 minutes. Then the trees started across the trail. The next 2.5 miles took an hour. Then we hit the bunchgrass – which also took an hour to go that 2.5 miles. Then we hit Kelsey Creek Canyon – which also took an hour to go 2.5 miles. It ended up taking 4 hours to go the first 11 miles on the bunchgrass. Things got better on the west end of Bunchgrass as we got closer to Heckletooth Mtn and it only took 3 hours to ride the final 15 miles.
Here’s a quick summary of the 2 days…
Saturday: 78 miles, 10,000’ climbing, 12.5 hours
Monday: 26 miles, 4,000’ climbing, 7 hours
Total: 104 miles, 14,000’ climbing, 19.5 hours
(plus 27 miles and 3.5 hours going off course and then getting to Oakridge on Saturday)
Special thanks to Eric, Clark, Eugene, Larry, McKenzie, and Pete for helping make this happen.