Sunday, March 21, 2010

Horse Ridge Trail & my new Mama (3.20.10)

Last Saturday, Emily and I decided to take a trip east of the Cascades to Bend, Oregon for some mountain biking. This trip was actually going to serve a couple of purposes: 1) enjoy some dry trails and sunny weather on the east side, and 2) pick up my new 29er full squish mountain bike frame. The latter was really the driving force behind the trip, but we thought we should get in a ride while we were over there.

Ya see, I've been eying Salsa's "Big Mama" since it came out in 2008, but since I had recently bought my Stumpjumper FSR, I couldn't rationalize adding another horse to the stable, especially since the two bikes would serve the same purpose (all mountain). Fast forward 2 years, and Salsa has decided to start blowing out the old model to make room for the new ones. This, along a few more years out of the Stumpy, helped make my decision, so I called in the order to WebCyclery. I also knew that since I was buying just the frame (and I didn't have the cash to build it up right away), I would get at least one more season out of my old steed. Salsa's discount was also what convinced me to purchase my El Mariachi singlespeed 29er frame a couple of years back, and I've been a fan of their product ever since.

At first, Emily and I were planning to make a weekend of it and camp out. However, due to cold nights and our new dog's surgery (she had just gotten spayed), we decided it would be best done as a day trip. We had prepacked the night before and planned to get out of town between 7 and 7:30am. Because of the daylight savings change the weekend before, it was still dark when the alarm went off. After crawling out of bed (literally) we quickly took the dogs for a walk and ate breakfast before packing our bikes, dogs, and ourselves in the Outback. We were now on our way.

We stopped quickly for coffee in Eugene, and then hit Hwy. 126 up the McKenzie River and over Santiam Pass. We drove through Sisters and into Bend, where we headed east on Hwy. 20 (~15 miles) to the Horse Ridge trailhead at the intersection of Hwy. 20 and Forest Road 2015. The first thing we noticed in the parking area was that there were no trees to provide shade for the dogs. Although the temps were only supposed to get into the high 60s, we knew the car would get much warmer, so we both agreed we would need to find another place to park. After reviewing our Tread Map, we discovered that there was also a trailhead on the southeast side of the ridge. Hoping it would have more shade, we drove a mile or so down a couple of dirt roads to the marked position. To our relief, there were plenty of trees to park under to keep the car cool. The other thing we discovered about this parking lot was how empty it was, in fact we were the only car! This is quite rare for a trailhead near Bend, especially on such a nice day as this one.

While Emily and I changed into our riding gear, we let the dogs out of the car to run free. After we were ready, and the dogs had tired themselves out chasing each other through the dirt, we corralled them to their confines and we were off on our ride.

Tracks and elevation profile of our ride
(yellow arrows indicate our out direction, and
white arrows indicate our back direction

After spending a couple of minutes trying to find the trailhead, we discovered on the side of the parking area with a trail marker labeled "30". As we began our climb to the top of the ridge, it became very apparent that it was going to be a tough slog through deep sand. I turned around to see Emily dismounting from her singlespeed and preparing to do a little pushing. At this point I was glad that I had brought my geared bike, but the feeling wouldn't last long. As I hit the first steep pitch, I also had to jump off my bike and join Emily in a hike-a-bike to the top. (you gotta love instant karma!) The one nice thing about the climb is that it was short, and soon we were at the top of the east ridge looking out over the high desert valley. Even though I'm relatively out of biking shape and Emily was on her singlespeed, this climb would be almost impossible to make it up all the way without walking at least a few stretches, due to the deep sand on an incline.

Emily says: " Riding uphill in sand sucks!"

After a short distance along the ridge, we found ourselves at the intersection of the main trail, "Has No Horse". We made a left turn onto the trail, and continued along the ridge to the west. This is where the trail started to get fun, and felt more reminiscent of the trail systems right out of Bend. (the Phil's network, etc...) I'm glad we had given the trail a chance, for there was a moment where I considered turning back since I thought the whole trail might be a sand pit, and I'm sure Emily was also feeling the same way!

Emily enjoying the first part of the ridge trail, "Has No Horse"

Although the trail did have a similar feel to the other trails around Bend, it was definitely more technical than most, I would actually compare it to the likes of C.O.D. or Voodoo. The trail pretty much takes you along Horse Ridge from east to west alternating between long, smooth, flowy stretches and short technical rock gardens; super fun stuff. As a bonus, you also get some great views of Mt. Jefferson, and even Mt. Hood in the far distance if you look hard enough.

View of Mt. Jefferson from "Has No Horse"

Emily rides through one of the more
technical stretches on "Has No Horse"

The author rides through a small
ock garden on "Has No Horse"
(photo by Emily G. Pfeifer)

It should be noted that you do have to climb over two sections of barbed-wire fence along the way, since it goes right across the trail marking an environmental research area.

Emily on the other side of the fence that bisects the trail

After a little over 5 miles from the parking lot, we arrived at the lookout at the west side of the ridge. As promised, it delivered great views of the Cascade range, not only could you see Jefferson and Hood, you also got a shot of Bachelor, The Three Sisters, and other peaks in between.

View from the lookout, and our turnaround point.
Bachelor (left) and the Three Sisters (center-right)

are prominent in this picture.

From here, the trail does continue down the southern face to the valley below and up another ridge. However, one of the maps I had said the descent wasn't really worth it, and it's best to just do the trail as an out-and-back to this point. Actually, this worked better for us anyhow, as I was on a tight schedule to get back to Bend and pick up my new frame before 4pm, when the shop closed. We also wanted to try one of the descents off the north side, so after quickly taking in the view and eating a quick snack, we sped back down the trail we had just ridden up (still "Has No Horse").

On a side note, I did walk down the trail a bit, and it actually looked really good if you were up for a challenging technical descent.

A shot of the first rocky pitch of the trail that headed
down the south side of the ridge. (Looked like fun stuff!)

More fun stuff around the first switchback

While riding back, I was surprised with how much descending there was. I really didn't remember climbing that much, so it was a nice surprise. We also ran into the first people of the trip; actually we ran into two sets of 2 riders along the ridge who were going in the opposite direction. Even with seeing these other folks, it still felt like we had the whole area to ourselves, which is unlike any other Bend ride we've ever done.

Instead of heading all the way back on the trail we had come up on, we decided to take a little detour and head down a trail to the left called "Parkway". After riding along some flat terrain and a quick climb, we were faced once again with another fence to climb over. Once past this obstacle, we started down the north face of the ridge as the trail snaked its way back and forth over some pretty technical trail. This is some of my favorite type of terrain, so I was grinning ear to ear as I sped around the corners and over & through the rocks in my way. Once again, I was feeling glad that I was on my full squish, hoping I wouldn't jinx myself this time.

Emily gets some turns in on "Parkway"

Emily drops down a small set of rock stairs on "Parkway"

The author enjoying the ride down "Parkway"
(photo by Emily G. Pfeifer)

Although it was a fairly long downhill, it was over way too quickly, and only left us wanting more. There was an option to extend the downhill by way of a left turn at the intersection we were now stopped at. The map called the trail "Escape from Moscow" and it sounded appealing, however, we were on a race against time and we didn't feel like pushing our luck. With that, we chose to go right, down a dirt double-track, until we reached the old highway below (no longer in use). Although not nearly as nice as the trails we had just come down, I was glad to have some old cracked pavement to ride on instead of deep sand, which I had expected it to be. Our forward progress was also no longer going downhill, instead the road follows the edge of the ridge on a slight incline back to where we had started.

Before the road had a chance to reach the eastern edge of the ridge, we once again saw a trail off to the right marked "30". Knowing that it would probably connect back with the trail we had started on from the trailhead, we decided to take it as a shortcut crossing over the ridge instead of riding around it. Once again we were faced with an unridable sandy hill that we had to push our bikes to the top of. It was fairly short and within a couple of minutes we did rejoin the first trail at the top of the hill.

Emily once again gives the big
"thumbs down" to another sand climb

Luckily, this time we would be riding down the sandy trail we had previously hiked up. It was actually pretty fun in this direction, and as long as you kept your wheel straight and your momentum up, you could float right through the sand; it kind of felt a little like skiing.

Once we were back at the car, we let the dogs out for another run, and quickly changed and loaded up so we could make it to the bike shop in time. With the bike shop's location loaded into the GPS, we made it there with some time to spare, and after talking with one of the guys in the bike shop about components, I walked out the door with my new Mama! Next, we once again followed the directions from the robotic woman in my GPS, but this time she navigated us to Cascade Lakes Brewing Company, also in Bend. We each enjoyed a burger and beer before heading back to Eugene with the dogs.

Our final destination in Bend, Cascades Lakes Brewing Company

By the time we got home we were all pretty tired out. After going out for banana milkshakes and watching some T.V. we called it an early night, and all slept well (including the dogs).

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