Monday, April 27, 2015

Sandy Ridge (OR)

Sandy Ridge is a very popular mountain biking trail network, at least for those that live in the Portland metropolitan area. Living in Eugene, it’s certainly not one of our “go-to” rides, in fact I had not ridden there until this trip. Of course I had heard plenty of good things about it and my lack of riding there was certainly not due to my interest level in doing so. I really just needed to have a good reason to drive the 2.5 hours north-east, and getting to meet up and ride with some old friends provided just the opportunity I was looking for.

Deciding to go north for the weekend, Roman and I left Eugene on Friday morning and planned to meet our buddy Chris at the trailhead, who would be coming from the Portland area. Chris had told us that the trailhead was pretty easy to find, at a large parking area off of Sleepy Hollow Drive. I must say, I was a bit taken back by the amount of bike laden vehicles parked shoulder to shoulder in the parking lot – obviously, a much bigger biking community than you’d find in the south Willamette Valley. The riding weather was perfect, at 70° and sunny, which was unseasonably warm and I’m guessing it helped contribute to the crowded parking lot.

Before long Chris pulled in. After some catching up, we changed into our riding gear and started the climb up Homestead Rd, the main route up the hill to the top of the trail network. As Chris explained, most of the trails (excluding a few of the top ones) are directional and only meant to be ridden downhill. The benefits are that it limits the possibility of a collision with another rider and also provides more solitude along the trails.

The road was paved and had a nice steady grade to it, and felt neither too steep nor too long. The ~3.5 mile climb gained 1,300’ of elevation and took me around 35 minutes to complete. At the top of the road climb we were greeted by a well-built kiosk, complete with a bike rack, seating and a large wall map of the trail system. It was now decision time, and since Chris was the only one who had ridden at Sandy before, he became our de facto trail guide. The plan was to ride up and down a rather short trail called “Rock Drop”, transition onto “Quid Pro Flow”, do an easy climb up “Three Thirty Eight”, and drop down “Two Turntables”, which would lead us back to Homestead Rd, about halfway up the climb. From there we would make a decision on how to continue our ride. With our agenda laid out, we saddled up and headed out.

A map of the Sandy Ridge trail network, which can be found here.

The kiosk, at the top of the road climb

The first half of Rock Drop had us ascending another 100 vertical feet up a fun bit of singletrack. After topping out rather quickly, we reached a small boulder drop, which I can only assume is what gives the trail its name. You can either take the small chute on the left, drop off the main part of the rock down the center, or completely sneak it on the right. I actually did two laps on it, going off the middle of the rock both times. Based on my second line, for which I didn’t get my front wheel up very well, I can say that it’s much more forgiving than it looks… mainly due to the nicely transitioned run out. Just below the rock drop, the trail turns into a flow trail with lots of rolling jumps and banked turns – really fun stuff!

Chris goes for the left line at Rock Drop

The author takes the rock line
(photo by Roman Androsov)

Roman drops down some fun rock stairs, near the start of Rock Drop 

Now on Quid Pro Flow, we had reached the goods – technical rock gardens, which is one of my favorite types of riding! At first, the trail traveled along a jagged rock pathway which did its best to draw out some dabs. Luckily I was able to keep my feet clipped into the pedals, as getting back on in the middle of it would have been rather tricky. After a short bit, the fragmented trail relented to larger and more defined boulder crawling, setting up some fun moves over & around them. Just as I was starting to get into a technical groove, QPF turned back into a flow trail, similar to Rock Drop but with some optional rock kickers to get a boost off of. Eventually, the zig-zaggy bermfest gave way to a rolly traverse, sending us back in an easterly direction.Once we hit the intersection with Three Thirty Eight, we made a right and did a short climb to the start of Two Turntables.

Rock crawling

After dropping over a small rock feature, Two Turntables starts its descent with typical flow trail character. The trail eventually straightened out and turned into a high-speed side-hill traverse. It was pretty easy to hit speeds on the edge of control and I had to force myself to slow down a bit, especially since there were a few sections with some loose dirt and rock. Unlike most of the mixed use trails that I typically ride, the switchbacks along the way were banked and could also be hit with generous speed. With a length of just over a mile long, the descent on Two Turntables ended way too soon, at a bridge that spans Little Joe Creek. Getting onto the bridge provided a fun final challenge, where the trail narrowed and dropped down some wet rock before making a sharp right turn onto the bridge.

Chris finds some flow on Two Turntables

Roman, somewhere on Two Turntables

A rare viewpoint at Sandy Ridge

Unfortunately, since I had jumped out in front to take photos, I didn’t see the spur trial up to the road that we had planned to take. Instead I inadvertently continued down the next trail that it transitioned into, Hide & Seek. After setting up for some photos at a nice little kicker, I waited for Chris and Roman to come through. As rider after rider passed by with no sign of them, I pulled out my map to make sure I hadn’t missed something. Realizing my error, I packed up my gear and started heading back up the trail to where the bridge crossed the creek. As I climbed up Hide & Seek, I definitely got a few “you’re going the wrong way” looks. Once I reached the bridge I found Chris and Roman relaxing at the start of the spur trail, both of whom seemed to enjoy the extra bit of riding I had to put in. Of course that wasn’t the end of it, as I realized I had forgotten my riding glasses, which forced me to make the back & forth detour one more time…

Now that we were finally back at the paved road, we settled back into a climb, headed toward the upper trails once again. This time, after passing the kiosk at the top of the road climb, we made a right onto Follow the Leader, where we continued to ascend. The climb on the dirt singletrack was very manageable, although my legs were definitely starting to feel all of the riding we had already done. At one point the trail crossed over Little Joe Creek (again), only this time without the benefit of a bridge. Luckily the creek wasn’t flowing too heavily and we were able to ride through it along the well armored section of trail.

Armored crossing across Little Joe Creek

Not far after the creek crossing, the trail dropped steeply down the hillside with a couple of rock drops near the start. The first one was pretty straightforward and occurred just after a left-hand bend. The runout from this led directly into the next one, which was a bit more demanding. The line options consisted of 1) a tight / right side sneak line that threaded between a tree and a large boulder, or 2) going off said boulder, which became taller the further left you went. Chris opted for option one and greased it, while I opted for option 2 and didn’t fare so well… Although I don’t remember much from the crash, I do know that as my front wheel landed on the downhill side of the rock, I was pitched over the bars, hit a tree, and somersaulted, using my head as the pivot point. After coming to, I could feel a sharp pain in my neck and I felt a little dizzy. I took a few moments to regain my thoughts and hoped that I hadn’t done any serious damage.

The first drop on Follow the Leader

The author with a bad line on the second drop of Follow the Leader
(photo by Chris Arnold)

Payin' the price
(photo by Chris Arnold)

Once we confirmed that I hadn’t sustained any life-altering injuries, we saddled up and started down the trail once again. As it switchbacked steeply down the side of the hill, I found myself being overly cautious and not wanting to take another header. I will say that aside from the wreck, this section of trail was awesome and I’d love to get back on it with a fresh start.

The next major obstacle we came to was an extremely long and chunky rock field. I did my best to stay in the pedals but ended up having to dab about halfway through. Getting set back up proved more than a little difficult, and I soon found myself pushing my bike in hopes of finding a clear spot to get back on the bike. Once I was able to clip back in, I mashed my way through the rest of it, leaving behind both style & grace.

Roman, partway through the rock field on Follow the Leader

Rough terrain

Right after the rocky section, the trail threw in a couple of small rock jumps before transitioning into Flow Motion, which ended up being a narrow strip of flow trail that zig-zagged its way down the hillside, alternating between short straightaways and tight 180 degree turns. Although it was a fairly short trail at less than a mile long, it was super fun and also allowed me to get back in the groove a bit, after being a bit rattled by my wreck on Follow the Leader. Flow Motion eventually ended at the paved road, just across from the spur trail leading to the halfway point of Hide & Seek, which is the only trail leading back down to the parking lot, where we’d be heading.

Hide & Seek also ended up being another flow trail, although starting off a bit slow and tight before finally opening up into a high speed rollercoaster ride. The trail was built to withstand a lot of traffic, with well armored berms and seemingly good drainage. At one point, I came around a sweeping turn a little too hot and once again deflected off a tree. Luckily I had only shouldered checked it this time and didn’t sustain any injuries. I couldn’t believe it -- before coming to Sandy Ridge, I had never hit a tree while mountain biking, and now I had done it twice in one day! I figured it was probably due to a combination of leftover nerves and a bit of fatigue, so I decided that I really needed to dial it back for the remainder of the ride. Although we had slowed the pace a bit, the trail was still super fun and a great way to end the day. Eventually, the trail deposited us right back at the parking lot and our awaiting cars.

Chris digs into the turn on Hide & Seek 

Roman gives chase

More well armored terrain

Conclusion / First Impressions:
I must say, Sandy Ridge is a shining example of what a mountain bike specific ride area can (and should) be – it is simply fantastic. It has a nice variety of terrain, with trail options for both novice and experienced riders. Probably my favorite parts were the technical sections on both Quid Pro Flow and Follow the Leader, but it was nice to mix it up with the flow style trails as well. I would say that it’s the most well-rounded and complete mountain bike specific trail system in Oregon and I’m excited to see it grow even more. My hope is that cities like Eugene will take note and realize the benefits of such a great recreational opportunity like Sandy Ridge, and that maybe someday we’ll be able to enjoy the same, just outside our back door.

The tracks from our ride:


  1. Hey Nate! Holy shit, when we talked a few seven weeks back, you said that you went for that second rock at the top of Follow the Leader and had taken a header. But you NEVER mentioned that a MOST brilliant photo was captured of it. That is awesome. Mucho respect on committing to it. A wonderful wreck and concussion (I presume, as I've seen you since)...On a secondary wrote that you checked a tree down on lower Hide n Seek; yes, I've also had a second "never crashed before like that" wreck after a first, significant wreck. The way it goes for all of us. Interesting for sure. I love your detailed writing. It is insightful, interesting, but most is comes nearly close to spot-on for most places.

    1. Thanks for the kind words! Yeah, that rock was taller than it looked... =) I was able to clean the drop on a following trip, threading the right side, between the tree and the rock.

      Yeah, I'm glad Chis got the money shot, of me going over. Luckily, no serious damage was done, although I'm still dealing with some minor neck pains from it. It also convinced me to get the full face helmet.

    2. Hey Holmes, as I read your reply, I just caught the detail that you mentioned that you cleaned the drop via threading the right side...I would have to bust your proverbial balls and say that taking that line is NOT cleaning the drop. It skirts it...yes, I am an asshole, but now that we have ridden together, you know that I enjoy your energy. You are awesome and I can't wait to get you up riding more gnarly shit! I think that we may need to get you a Troy Lee or Fox full-face helmet with some chest armor and start sessioning some more gaps....