Once again I find myself waking up to the sound of the Hood River next to our camp, only this time I'm joined by Emily and our two dogs. I'm also a bit more tired, as I hadn't slept as well, and we'd had a long day on Panther Creek/Lower Wind the day before. This mood would soon be fixed with the help from some of Eric and Amanda's weapons grade coffee. Trust me, the stuff has some kick! Now awake, we all broke camp while Dan, Amanda, and Eric made breakfast, and a good one at that. Once everything was loaded, we said our goodbyes to Dan and Kristin, (who were headed to the Middle White Salmon to boat) and headed to Syncline for a day of mountain biking.
Syncline is a trail network that is located just across the the Columbia River from Hood River, and to the east about 5 miles. (~3 miles east of Bingen) Since the trails are unsanctioned, maps and trail guides are hard to find. I was able to piece one together by using tracks I had acquired with my GPS, as well as by searching for info online.
The trail system rides along ~500' shear basalt cliffs, down sloping grass fields full of wildflowers, and through oak savanna littered with poison oak. The views of Mount Hood from the top are nothing short of spectacular, and side streams with waterfalls only help complete this amazing place. The riding here is also top notch, everything from fast & flowy to tight & technical; in fact it contains some of the most technical stuff I've ridden in the Pacific Northwest.
On this day we did decide to cheat a little, and took advantage of Amanda's willingness to shuttle us. I must admit I was certainly feeling guilty, but at the same time I was really looking forward to knocking out a bunch of trail, especially on a day like we had in front of us (70 degrees and sunny).
Lap one - Coyote Canyon:
From the lower parking lot (intersection of Courtney Road and Hwy 14) we drove to the upper lot via Courtney Road, which is about 80% paved. Once at the top, we took in the view of Mount Hood and changed into our riding gear. Eric had gotten some beta from some other riders who suggested we do Coyote Canyon first, so without hesitation that's where Emily, Eric, Evan, and I headed.
The trail for Coyote actually starts right across the road from the parking lot and heads west. You ride on the trail through a grass field and a gate which can be seen from the parking area. Be sure to close the gate after passing through. Once past the gate, we continued west for awhile longer as the trail changed from a grassy field to more of a forest setting. Soon the trail cuts back to the east and starts its descent. The trail continued along with a pretty good flow as it gradually got more technical. By about the halfway point, I found myself grinning ear to ear as the rocky section really started to take form. I also had a feeling of nostalgia as this is the type of terrain I had learned to ride on back in Flagstaff. The one thing that should be noted about this trail is the price of failure to stay on your bike will almost certainly result with a roll in the poison oak; this particular trail is littered with it. In fact, I still have poison oak sores a week and a half later, and this was from a very minor spill. Even with the pesky foliage at the bottom, I told the others that Coyote Canyon might have been the best trail I've ridden in the PNW, and dare I say ever...
Lap two - Crybaby / Little Moab / Little Maui:
Once again, we all loaded into Eric's truck as Amanda graciously shuttled us back up to the top to the same parking lot we started the last ride from. This time however, we rode our bikes further up the road (taking rights at two junctions) until it turned to the Crybaby Trail. The first part of Crybaby is in a forest setting and is straight and wide which allows you to build quite a bit of speed--super fun stuff. This continues for about a mile before the trail makes a sharp turn to the right. This turn can be easy to miss especially with the speed you'll be carrying, so be on the lookout. If you do happen to miss it, don't worry, you have another opportunity--just stay right.
After the turn, the trail continues through the forest for a short time before it opens up and starts descending down grassy fields, and along the edge of the 500ft sheer Coyote Cliffs; this is what Syncline is known for. The view from here is simply amazing. Since we had clear sunny skies, Mount Hood was in full view completely capped with snow. The grass fields were bright green and and an abundance of wild flowers dotted them with an array of colors. Another thing the fields were full of was hikers who had made the journey up to admire the same views as us. It was good to see different user groups out and enjoying a place like this.
Since the trail does cut through wide open fields, you could still open it up without fear of running a hiker off the trail, or the cliff for that matter. This kept encounters pleasant, and we wished each other a good day as we passed by. There are also a couple of trails that head down, but we stayed on the one to the right along the cliffs. There were definitely a couple of spots on this section that induced vertigo, so I was riding pretty cautiously, especially with the breeze in the air. At one point we passed a plaque, which I believe marked the spot where a mountain biker tumbled to his death after falling off the cliffs some years back.
Eventually, the trail merges with a jeep trail marking the end of Crybaby. I was now in familiar territory; last year a group of us rode up to this point from the bottom and did a lap or two on the bottom trails of Little Moab and Little Maui. Since I had done them before, I was able to quickly navigate our group over to Little Moab, which like Crybaby descends along the edge of the Coyote wall. The distinct difference between this trail and the others is implied in its name, for it is essentially a series of rock stairs and drops for its entire length. Although it does ride along the cliff as mentioned above, it is a little further away than on Crybaby, and I never really noticed it; this may be due in part to the full concentration required for the highly technical lines. I love this style of riding, and once again found myself with a big grin at the bottom.
From here, instead of riding down to the old highway road, we decided to make the quick 3/4 mile climb back up and to the top of Little Maui. Yes, believe it or not, we did do a little climbing...
Little Maui is not nearly as technical as Moab, but it does have a few tricky spots. It also has a cool little stream that runs beside a portion of it, and it is one of the more beautiful trails in the network. Essentially, Maui runs all the way down to the old highway with a nice technical series of rock slabs right near the bottom, where there were a couple of different line options. Eric opted for the black diamond line. I quickly hiked down to setup for a shot, and soon after Eric come down. cleaning the line without issue. After taking the shot, I headed back up to my bike and ran the blue line, which was still good fun.
Once at the old highway, it's a short (~1 mile) ride back to the parking lot where Eric's truck was waiting for another round. The nice part about the old road is that a landslide has blocked the road and it is no longer maintained, so you don't have to worry about cars.
Lap Three - Crybaby / Little Moab:
Another drive to the top, only this time once we were there we broke out the cooler and made some sandwiches for lunch. Evan decided he was done for the day, so after lunch he drove one of the cars down while Eric, Emily and I did a repeat of the previous lap, excluding Little Maui. Not much more to tell here, everyone made it down without any incidences. Oh yeah, Eric also told me I wasn't allowed to take anymore photos...
Lap Four - Crybaby / Hidden Valley:
Like the previous two laps, we descended down the Crybaby Trail, only this time, soon after reaching the open grassy area, we broke left (east) over toward Hidden Valley. To be honest I didn't know what to expect from this trail since I hadn't heard that much about it. To my surprise, it may actually be my favorite trail of the whole network that I've ridden. The reason for this is that it's the whole package -- super techie stuff, flowy sections, cascading streams, wildflowers, you name it, it's there. My favorite part was when Eric stopped, turned to me, and said, "Dude, where's your camera?" The nerve of that guy...
Since I didn't have my camera, you'll need to experience it yourself, which should be done as soon as possible...it's that good. Like Little Maui, it drops down and ends at the old highway, just a little further east.
Once again we rode back to the lower parking lot, for good this time. After changing back into our street clothes, we headed to White Salmon and Everybody's Brewing. This place has great food and beer, and is highly recommended after a day on the water or the trail. After eating, each party headed back to their respected abodes, and another week of the rat race.