I’ve ridden the Alpine Trail in Oakridge probably more times than I can count, but this time was different, for it was the first time I got to lay down some tread with Jon, my brother in-law!
Jon had come up from Flagstaff to spend some much needed time with Emily and me. As some of you may know, Flagstaff is my hometown and where I first learned to mountain bike more than 15 years ago. I still consider the Schultz Creek/Elden trail system one of my favorite riding areas, and it is where I cut my teeth. I often catch myself longing for the more technical style trails that I used to ride with my buddies in Flag. Jon’s plane flew into Eugene on Saturday evening and we would waste no time getting him on the trails of the Pacific Northwest. The first ride, and only one I attended (due to work), was Alpine, which was scheduled for Sunday.
After cooking up our normal Sunday pancake feast, we headed southeast towards one of Oregon’s mountain biking meccas, Oakridge. We were also joined by one of my most reliable kayaking buddies, Roman, who I drove up with in his car so we could shuttle. I usually feel a little guilty about shuttling, but this trip was all about showing Jon what Oakridge was all about: long, fast, and swoopy downhills. Alpine is considered the crown jewel of the area, and a must for anyone who has come to visit. Even though it’s a shuttle, it is worth noting that there is a fair bit of climbing involved, so bringing a big-hit bike might be a bad decision depending on your fitness level and will to climb.
After dropping Roman’s car off at the red covered bridge in Westfir, we drove uphill towards our trailhead, Kate’s Cut-in. The first bit of the ride consists of a climb up to Sourgrass Meadow, and includes a mile or so on the gravel road before you reach the actual trail. We all made good time up the hill with both Jon and Roman mashin’ up on singlespeeds. Once at the meadow, we paused to take in the view which was partially obstructed by some low clouds. From here it’s a screaming downhill for a couple of miles down which ends abruptly at FR1912, the same gravel road you drive on to get to Kate’s Cut-in.
From here it’s another grunt up to the top of the Jedi section, one of the most beloved stretches of the trail. The name is pretty fitting as you feel like you’re riding a speeder bike through the forests of Endor, swooping in and out of massive trees at warp speed. This section also ends abruptly, this time at the gravel intersection of Windy Pass. I was glad to see a big smile on Jon’s face, signifying his approval of what our state had to offer him.
After a short ride on the gravel road, we once again ducked onto the trail and attacked the third climb of the ride. This one keeps a nice sustained pitch all the way up to a spectacular panoramic view from the cliffs that open up to the south. From this viewpoint, if you look to the east you can see the Three Sisters and Mount Bachelor, and to the southeast, Diamond Peak. With such a backdrop we decided that this was a great place to relax and grab a bite to eat, some good ol' PB&Js which Jon had prepared for us.
Once past the overlook, it's pretty much all downhill which lasts for many miles; there are a couple of small pitches but nothing too significant. A lot of the riding from here is a straight trail along a ridge, and this allows the opportunity to reach breakneck speeds which border on exhilarating and frightening at the same time. If you’re not used to this style of riding you’re probably gonna heat up your rotors and have sore brake hands by the time you reach the bottom. That said, not all of the riding consists of straight shots, for there are also some great switchbacks and other obstacles to practice on. We all took turns leading and changing the order up a bit, and staying in a tight formation at times. I was really impressed with Jon's endurance and speed, he obviously keeps in riding condition, probably using the same trails that I used to call my own. All too soon, we came to the last part of the trail, which gives some good views of Oakridge as you ride east back to the car. Make sure to keep your eyes on the trail however, since poison oak abounds on this stretch and a crash could have lingering effects of the oozy kind.
Luckily we were all able to keep it on the trail, and once back at the car we celebrated with some beers at the covered picnic tables. After we had cooled down a bit, Roman and I drove back up to grab the other car, which always seems to take longer than I remembered. Once we had retrieved the vehicle, we headed to the Trailhead Cafe in Oakridge, one of my favorite places to grab a sandwich and a beer. It was great getting to ride with Jon, and I only wish I could have joined them for the rest of the week's rides, which were said to be just as enjoyable.
Until the next visit…