Saturday, May 21, 2011

McKenzie River Trail

Well it's not like we haven't had any adventures in a while.  I just haven't been writing about them.  But yesterday I had an adventure worth writing about, and since it's a rainy Saturday in Eugene, and since I can barely walk, I figured I'd write about it.

Yesterday I rode the lower half of the McKenzie River Trail.  I got the brilliant idea to ride the trail because I was bored riding the Ridgeline trail in Eugene, which is a perfectly serviceable trail, accessible by bike from my house.  By east coast standards it's a damn fine trail.  But I have ridden it a few times and wanted something longer and harder, and since we've had a few days of beautiful weather I wanted to get out and about.  So I googled "Mountain Bike Trails near Eugene" and discovered, to my great excitement, that Bike Magazine's #1 Mountain Bike Trail was just fifty miles into the mountains from my front door.  Further research uncovered a shuttle service which would cart the paying rider up the mountain.  I called.  I booked a spot in the shuttle, did some work on the old Kona, and went to bed with visions of single-track bobbing like sugar plums in my head.

Yesterday morning I got up earlyish, ate a bunch of eggs and then drove through Springfield, out the McKenzie River Highway, passing towns like Waltersville, Leaburg, Vida, and Nimrod (my favorite).  I met up with two other riders and Rod, our shuttle driver, at a lodge in Blue River.  The two riders were quick to point out that they were training for races and that they had both done this trail many times.  Then they started asking questions about the age of my bicycle (1998) and seemed amused by my responses.  I chuckled inwardly when Rod lifted it up to put it in on the rack and said that it was lighter than both of their bikes.  My inner gear weeny was pleased.

We caravaned up to the trail head at McKenzie Bridge, and then we waited a few minutes for two Canadians to arrive.  We loaded into the van, and Rod drove us up the mountain.  Listening to their banter, to their shared Mountain Bike jargon, I realized that they all had considerably more recent mountain biking experience than I did.  I used to ride a lot, particularly in college, but that was over a decade ago.  Then Rod started talking about how the top section of the trail might still have snow on it and that two riders he carried up last week had taken eight hours to get down, which prompted mocking commentary from some of my fellow passengers, and that was the point at which I decided to get out half way up, right uphill two miles to the blue pools, and then ride down 15 miles or so to my car.  That seemed like enough for me.  I will go back when my back stops pounding and do the whole 26 mile run.  My shuttle mates expressed some half-hearted surprise that I wasn't going all the way up.  But I didn't really want to ride with them anyway.  I wanted some good old fashion natury solitude.

Rod dropped me off at the half way point and I rode uphill, gradually for a while, and then through a series of incredibly rocky, tight, narrow passages.  For much of this uphill jaunt I was basically hiking with a bike underneath me, though from time to time there were some beautiful stretches of easy-ish trail.

Nothing like this on the east coast.  So much of what I saw reminded me of the forest moon of Endor from Return of the Jedi, which Rebecca and I recently watched.

There was a group of 3rd and 4th graders on the trail, probably 70 of them, with their teachers, hiking up to the blue pools.  I got ahead of them going up, but I knew I would have to go through them coming back down.

 This is the McKenzie River from just below the blue pools.

And this is the blue pools.  Pretty obviously named.  It took me forty five minutes to hike/walk/ride the two miles up from the trail head.  I ate a snickers bar, drank some water, and descended.  I was pretty amazed at how much easier it was to descend through the extremely technical, lava rack and root choked sections of the trail.  I actually rode down most of it without walking and without crashing.  And I was lucky enough to be able stop every few minutes to catch my breath and greet the swarms of children coming up the trail with their teachers.  A few of them were quite gregarious and stopped to ask me a whole bunch of questions about what I was doing and why my shin was bleeding and how hard it must be to ride a bike in the woods.  A couple of the teachers apologized for clogging the trail with their children, which just struck me as hilarious.  At one point I came around a bend and there was a small pigtailed child sitting on a stump with a little steno notebook drawing a picture of the trail.  We said nothing to each other.  I rode by and she kept on drawing.

Once I got past the kids I was basically alone on the trail for the next three hours.  And below the trailhead where Rod dropped me off the hairy, lava rock technical sections of the trail disappeared and I had endless meandering single track through the forest.  It was the finest mountain bike trail I'd ever been on.  There were quite a few creek crossings and more than a few steep climbs through the forest, and I kept expecting it to end, but it didn't.  It went on and on and on.  I stopped for lunch after another hour of riding.

 Trusty steed on the one-armed bridge.  There were many of these.
 View of the sky from the little clearing where I had lunch.
 View from the sky of me in the little clearing where I had lunch.

And then I rode on.  For another two hours.  Up and down and up and down.  And my ass started to hurt (I hadn't spent that much time in the saddle in a long time).  And my back started to hurt (I began to question my belief in hard-tail bicycles).  And my hands started to hurt.  And then my ass started to hurt more.  And my back started to throb and ache.  And my hands started to burn more.  And my focus began to drift from each of the various pain centers in my body to the extraodinary beauty around me.  And then I crashed.  And it wasn't a serious crash, because I had slowed down to go around a tree, and then there was a precipitous drop over a root into a muddy turn and I washed out and banged my elbow and cursed the gods and simultaneously thanked whatever higher power had told me to get off half way up the mountain, because I knew that if I had gone all the way up I would never have made it down.  I dusted myself off, got back on the bike and kept going.

At some point the two riders I had ridden in the shuttle with caught up with me.  And that bothered me.  I knew they were mountain bike racers.  And that they were in better shape than I was and knew the trail and etc., but I don't like to be passed.  So when they sat down to eat their lunch of PBJ I took off, telling them that they would probably see me down the trail when they caught up with me, and then I proceeded to hammer even harder for the last 90 minutes.

 I stopped to take this picture at the point where I almost gave up.  Kept going.  Got to the end.
 Muddy bike at the end of a long, long day.
The look on my face pretty much sums it up.  I made it down.  It was the most amazing mountain bike ride of my life.  I was in agony when I reached my car.  And just as soon as I got the bike up on the roof, the faster of the two riders pulled up.  He hadn't passed me.  A little part of my heart fluttered with joy.  And then he asked me: "Did you bail out and take the highway?"

"No, I said."

"You must have been hauling ass.  I sort of thought I'd catch up with you."

"That's why I was hauling ass.  I didn't want you to."

And he sort of smiled.  "See you out there," he said.

"Yeah.  See you out there."

No comments:

Post a Comment