Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Newberry Caldera (OR)

It had been many years since I had ridden Newberry Caldera, and to be honest I didn't remember it being that great of a ride. Sure, the views and the fact that you were riding around the rim of a volcanic crater is pretty damn cool, but the actual trail itself didn't leave much of an impression. Even so, I'd recently had a growing desire to get back on it, in hopes that my feelings toward the ride were misguided. As it so happened, my wife Emily had also been wanting to ride it, and with an upcoming trip to Bend it seemed like the perfect time.

Along with Emily and me, our Bend trip also included Staci & Jason and Erin & Evan, with our Saturday adventure being the fantastic Bachelor to Bend ride. Since Erin and Evan had only come for the day, there would only be four of us heading to Newberry Caldera, on Sunday. When Sunday rolled around, we headed to Chow for some breakfast and Bloody Marys. Once we had fueled up, we headed south toward the town of La Pine and the turnoff for Newberry Caldera. From Highway 97, the road climbed ~2000 vertical feet to the southwest edge of Paulina Lake, where we'd be starting our ride.

Parking at the Paulina Lake Campground, which was closed for the season, we quickly geared up and started our climb up NF-500 toward Paulina Peak, the highest landmark in the area. The first part of the climb was paved but it soon turned to gravel, which was heavily washboarded. There was also a trailhead for the Crater Rim Trail, but unfortunately this segment, which led to the peak, was hiker only (no bikes). With no choice but to continue up the gravel road, we each settled into our own pace, regrouping from time to time as we made our way to the summit. Along with the washboarded surface, there was lots of vehicle traffic as well. Of course, we had no one else to blame but ourselves for doing our ride on such a beautiful weekend. The one silver lining to the climb was the amazing views that it provided, giving great panoramics toward the west and south.

Starting the climb

Jason reaches the gravel 

Lots of views (and washboarding) on the climb

Getting close

I knew we were getting close when the road steepened a bit and the switchbacks came in quick succession. As I rounded one of the last corners, the parking area came into view, which was a welcome sight indeed! From the top parking lot we took a bit of time to take in more spectacular views, this time to the north and east. It was so clear that you could see many of the Cascade's volcanic peaks, as they stretched north all the way into Washington State. We also had a nice view of the rim that we would soon be riding around, which looked pretty intimidating from our vantage point. At one point Staci (who had not done the ride before) asked, "Are we really going to ride all the way around that?!".


Great view of the Cascade Range, from Paulina Peak.

Looking onto Big Obsidian Flow

Another view of the flow and the ridge that we'd be riding along

Once we had gotten our fill of the views, we headed back down the road about a mile to where the trail peeled off on the south side of the road. The first section of the trail traversed eastward and was quite chunky in spots, with both loose dirt and rocks. Eventually the trail started to climb, passing by a few more view opportunities along the way. Luckily the climb was relatively short as it made its way up and over a small knoll. Once on the other side, the trail traversed the ridgeline through fields of pumice that was surprisingly grippy; although you did need to watch your speed around some of the tighter turns. Although the sightlines were very generous and allowed for some nice speed, the view of the Caldera was mostly obscured, at least from the confines of the trail.

The start of the trail, which can be easily missed.

Near the start of the singletrack

Settling in for another climb

More great views from the trail

Emily, enjoying one of the high-speed pumice sections.

The trail eventually tilted downward as it rounded a few switchbacks and led down to a crossing at Newberry Crater Rd. It should be noted that you’ll pass by a trail intersection on the descent, which you’ll want to turn right (east) on, asuming you want to continue on the rim trail – going left will send you into the Caldera along the Lost Lake Trail. On the other side of the road we followed the sign to continue on the Crater Rim Trail. The trail climbed upward for a short distance before hitting a wide double-track, which we assumed was also used by snowmobiles and XC skiers during the winter months. This part of the ride was fairly uneventful since there weren’t any views or trail challenges to break up the monotony. Eventually the trail ascended in earnest, as it worked its way up toward an amazing vista and a much deserved lunch break.

Jason starts the first sustained descent

Staci, giving chase.

Starting off the double-track

Somewhere along the double-track

This viewpoint rests on the northeast edge of the crater’s rim and is basically a clearing, absent of both trees and shrubs. The sun felt good and took some of the bite out of the cool temps, making it hard to get back on our bikes for the remainder of the ride. Although we had completed a majority of the trail and the climbing, we still had ~300’ of elevation gain to reach the highpoint and 8 miles to reach our car.

Amazing view from our lunch spot!

Not a bad way to relax

From the viewpoint the trail made a couple quick up and downs before settling into a longish singletrack climb. Even though it was an ascent it was much nicer than the previous doubletrack section – it actually reminded me a lot of the trails found in the Waldo Lake zone. It was also at this point in the ride where our group started to spread out a bit as each of us settled into a comfortable pace. Along with our own group, we had been leapfrogging with a couple of riders from the Portland area, who were on a similar general pace as us.

Emily, back at it.

The trail eventually reached the high point, at ~7600’, however there were no markers or landmarks to celebrate the accomplishment! Just after the high point the trail passed through another cider field, opening up to some beautiful views to the south and west. We did stop here for a bit to allow our crew to regather, as well as to chat with the other group we’d been trading the lead with. Of course the majority of the conversation covered biking related topics (gear, trails, etc.,).

Emily, just below the high point.

More great views and trail!

The remaining 4 miles of trail was all downhill and would have been fantastic if not for the overabundance of obnoxious waterbars. Some of them formed fun little jumps but there were many more that seemed to be better at trying to buck you off your bike. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a fun descent...it just could have done with a few less speedbumps along the way. All too soon, the trail flattened out and eventually transitioned back into doubletrack. Not long after this we reached the road bridge over Paulina Creek, which we crossed over and soon reconnected with our awaiting vehicles, finishing up our day's adventure.

Jason gets a lift on one of the many waterbars 

Plenty of fast sections as well

Staci, enjoying the descent.

The dirt road

Crossing over Paulina Creek

Finishing up the ride

I’m glad I decided to give Newberry Caldara a second chance, as I really enjoyed it this time around! Although the trail itself does not offer amazing terrain it’s still pretty fun, especially the high speed pumice sections found on the first quarter of the trail. The views, although sparse from the trail, are pretty sweet and worth the effort alone. On that note, I highly recommend taking the short detour up to Paulina Peak, which provides one of the best views in the area, if not the state.

Regarding the road, it climbs at a fairly consistent and manageable grade and also provides some amazing views. However, and as previously mentioned, it is heavily washboarded and had quite a bit of vehicle traffic. Of course we were there on a weekend and this is obviously a very popular spot. Therefore, if you can pull it off, it’s probably a much better road to climb during the week. However, once we were on the trail, the only people we saw were the two other mountain bikers, which is pretty amazing for how long the trail is!

The tracks from our ride:

A view of our track, in Google Earth:

Other rides in the area:
Trail 99
Smith Rock / Gray Butte
Cline Butte
Horse Ridge
Bachelor to Bend

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Bachelor to Bend (OR)

Some of my favorite rides east of the Cascades have started from Mount Bachelor and ended near the town of Bend, via a very straightforward shuttle along the Cascade Lakes Highway. Therefore, I was pretty excited when my buddy Joe (from Salt Lake City) said he was going to be in Bend and was keen to ride. With that, a couple of our mutual friends, Roman and Scott, made plans to meet him and Liz over there for a Sunday shredfest. From Eugene it took us about 2 1/2 hours to get to the meeting spot at Pine Mountain Sports. After grabbing a bite to eat, we caravanned to where we'd be ending our ride, at the bottom of the COD trail. Once we had changed into our riding gear and loaded all of the bikes onto my car, we drove the ~15 miles up the highway to the Dutchman Sno-Park, where we'd be starting the ride.

Dutchman Sno-Park -- Obviously a popular spot

From the parking lot of Dutchman Sno-Park we climbed around the west side of Tumalo Mountain, along the Flagline access trail. The trail climbed at a reasonable grade, but there were a few steeper sections that certainly worked my legs and lungs, especially at 6500’ above sea level. Eventually we tee’d into the Flagline Trail, where we turned right (east) and continued climbing for another mile and a half to the start of the Flagline descent. After 3 ½ miles and ~700’ of climbing, I was ready for some downhill – Hey, this was a shuttle ride after all!

Roman is all smiles during the climb around Tumalo Mountain

Joe reaches the intersection with the Flagline Trail

Some nice alpine meadows up top
Once everyone in our crew was ready, we dropped into one of the best descents in Oregon. Flagline provided plenty of smiles on the way down – from the swoopy/flowy stuff up top to the more technical stuff near the bottom. There are also lots of small jumps and Easter eggs to spice things up a bit, so keep your eyes peeled or you might fly past without even noticing some of them. About halfway down Flagline, Roman ended up getting a flat, which took a bit of time to get fixed before we were on our way again. While we were waiting, many small groups flew past, indicating just how popular this stretch of trail really is.

Once Roman was back in action we continued down the trail in haste, only stopping at a few of the trail intersections to regroup. It was at one of these where we turned right (south) and made our way toward the Swampy Lakes parking area, along Cascade Lakes Highway. Although this connector trail wasn’t nearly as fun as Flagline, it did have a few entertaining bits mixed in with the low grade climbing. Once we reached the parking area we needed to decide the best way to get to Wanoga Sno-Park, where we’d be starting the next leg of our journey. Although we probably could have gotten there using either dirt roads and/or Nordic trails, we decided the easiest way was just to ride the highway, especially since it had a nice wide shoulder.

Roman finds a fun Easter egg along the way

There are a few sweet rock gardens like this on Flagline

The author rides a small rock spine, about halfway down Flagline.
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

Scott rides through another meadow stretch

Joe gets a boost on one of the many small kickers along the Flagline Trail

Liz drops into a short rocky pitch, heading over to the Swampy Lakes parking area

Kickin' up dust

Joe and Liz, givin' chase.

A typical section between Flagline and the Swampy Lakes parking area 

The highway portion of the ride only lasted for a little over a mile and went by very quickly, since it’s mostly downhill. Now at Wanoga, we had a few choices as to how to continue our descent. Before doing so, we played around on the sweet little pump-track that is situated smack dab in the middle of the parking lot. Although it was a little dry and dusty, it still provided plenty of enjoyment and jump practice. After studying the map and giving the group some input about the trail options, we opted to ride down Funner first and then climb back up to ride Tiddlywinks, assuming we had saved enough energy.

Funner, which starts directly from the parking area, sent us in an easterly direction, where we soon reached a fun little skinny to play on. At one point in my riding career I was pretty good at these fun little challenges, but since I hadn’t practiced them in some time I was a bit rusty and it took me a few times to get all the way across it.


The author gets some skinny practice
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

Aside from a few skinnies and small dirt jumps, the first part of Funner is pretty uneventful – well, except for the hunter that we crossed paths with… He apparently believed that we were fools for riding in “the woods” during hunting season and that there was a good chance we’d get shot, which he communicated through an impassioned speech. Well, it’s good to know that some hunters have a hard time distinguishing between a mountain biker and a deer… After this encounter, Funner dropped into the goods, with plenty of rock features to boost off of or navigate over and around. Toward the end of our run down Funner was a log skinny that terminated with a mandatory stepdown onto a nice dirt transition. The log itself started off plenty wide (near the root) but gradually narrowed to ~6” at its tip, where it dropped off. I was pretty happy that I was able to clean it on the first attempt, since bailing toward the end could have been painful.

The author drops into a fun rocky bit
(photo by Roman Androsov)

The author hits a rock drop partway down Funner
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

More fun jumps!
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

Roman threads the needle

The author exits the skinny drop
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

Although Funner continued for a little ways more, we actually decided to climb back up a dirt road (NF-4613) to bang out a lap on Tiddlywinks as well. The climb up the road and (part of Tiddlywinks) gained about 700 vertical feet in 2 ½” miles at a fairly manageable grade. Even so, I was definitely feeling the 16 miles we had already ridden and had to drop into my lower gears as I grunted my way up. Once at the top of Tiddlywinks, I padded up and got in a quick rest before dropping into the goods.

Climbing back up for more

Tiddlywinks started off with a quick traverse and a couple of rock drops before settling into its flow around a multitude of banked turns and dirt features that could either be rolled, or used for some air time. There is one particular section that is loaded with large bermed corners as well as a few tabletops and gap jumps. It was so much fun that I had to climb back up for a few more sessions. The trail continued its flowy charm as it continued down the hill, where we soon came to another fun feature that was worth sessioning – this time in the form of a tricky gap jump, where the lip of the takeoff sat lower than the landing zone. It took me about a half dozen tries, but eventually I was able to clear it (just barely). I was certainly happy to be on my 6” travel bike for this part, as it really saved my bacon while coming up short on my first few attempts. Before long the trail flattened out and then started to climb, which luckily was only for a short bit. Now back to the descent, we picked off the various trail features, depending on our comfort zone. As I had alluded to before, everything is rollable, so it’s a great trail for a variety of skill levels.

Scott, leading the charge down Tiddlywinks 

Jason Snook, partway through the goods, on Tiddlywinks
(taken the following week) 

Liz lines up for another roller

The author takes flight
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

The author,  gappin' on Tiddlywinks.
(photo by Joe Bushyhead)

By the end of Tiddlywinks we were about 23 miles into the ride and still had a ways to go. The plan was to hop across the highway and connect with COD – one of the better trails in the lower trail network. Like most trails in the Phil’s network, COD has lots of smooth flowy singletrack that seems to go on forever, sometimes for too long; however, it also has comparatively more technical rock features to help break up the monotony. Toward the end there are actually a few short climbs that are quite challenging, being both steep and technical. At the very end of COD, the trail drops down from the cliffs over a few rock drops that made for a great way to finish up our day’s ride. From here, a quick dash down the remainder of trail and back across the highway put us back at our car and drinking some much deserved beer!

Jumping onto Storm King

Scott navigates through a fun technical section

Joe reaching the mellower stuff

Typical scenery of  the low elevation trails around Bend  

Joe and Liz put down some miles quickly in this stretch

One of a few rock gardens along COD

Joe finds some more rocks

A fun rock drop to spice things up

Joe, opening it up a bit.

A bit of climbing on COD as well

Beautiful desert scenery!

Roman, near the end of COD.

Scott, close behind. 

Roman starts the final pitch.

Crossing the finish line!

With the sun now starting to set, we had finished our ride with little time to spare. We still had to run shuttle, but luckily it was fairly straightforward – only about 15 miles each way on a paved highway. In fact, I must say, it’s probably the best bang-for-your-buck shuttle ride around. Now with all of our cars, we headed into Bend for more beers and some food, before starting the long drive back to Eugene. By the time I got home and into bed it was 11:30pm, finishing up yet another unrelaxing weekend…

Setting sun, during the shuttle

Parting thoughts:
Bend riding always leaves me with mixed feelings – there are lots of very enjoyable sections but they are usually separated by long stretches of mind numbing singletrack that requires little concentration or skill level. Even so, the Bachelor to Bend ride is one of my favorites, especially when utilizing the Funner and/or Tiddlywinks trails. This area certainly has its share of mountain biking trails and deserves to be called a mountain biking destination; however, it does takes a little time to get between the really good sections/areas, depending on the type of riding you like to do.

The tracks from our ride:

Other rides in the area:
Trail 99
Smith Rock / Gray Butte
Cline Butte
Horse Ridge