Day #56) August 7, 2011. Bend, OR to McKenzie Bridge, OR: 66 miles in 5:08 hrs.
This had to be the MOST wonderful, enjoyable, scenic ride of the trip. I’d gladly climb a pass each and every day if I could experience what I experienced today!
Ok, I got up at a very nice 5 am so I could be on the road at 7am. No more of this riding in the dark, headlamp, vest crap. I’m on the homestretch and there’s just no need now to start riding before the sun comes up. Sipped motel room coffee while I watched the Sunday morning local news, and then went down and got going on the continental breakfast. Had some yogurt, bagels and cream cheese, packed and was motoring at 6:50 am. The temp was a very comfortable 52 degrees and there was a slight headwind out of the northwest. Not a cloud in the sky, and it’s supposed to be this way for the rest of the week.
As I rode out of Bend I was overwhelmed by the wonderful, pungent aroma of pine in the cool morning air. That sore arse from a day ago had actually healed pretty good, especially with a new kit on now, so I was feeling quite comfortable. What’s more the dead, heavy legs from yesterday had perked up for today, so I felt confident in climbing another pass today. Turned out of town on Rt 20 and just headed for the Three Sisters Mts. This was a fairly flat 20-mile stretch of road to the town of Sisters. I mean right now I feel such a sense of accomplishment, so I was just stopping and shooting pics way more than the last several days. It was totally casual with respect to the pace. Hell, I just have three days to go, so no need to kill it anymore. Besides this part of the trip is just so amazingly beautiful, I want to soak up each and every mile of cycling out here. It’s a dream come true for a cyclist!
As I rode west those mts were just getting bigger and bigger in the picture frame. Around me was all this farm and ranchland with some really swanky ranch homes nestled right below those big, snow covered mts. Made it to Sisters in just over 1.5 hrs, and I was really riding pretty mellow. Stopped at a Subway and got a fountain coke, hoping that it would me across the McKenzie Pass. While I was there a ACA - Adventure Cycling Association – van was stopped at the gas station next door gassing up. I later found out for another cyclist that this is a group who is about to finish up a fully supported transam crossing as I am about to do.
Sisters is a cool little resort town nestled at the base of all these big mountains. And there, I turned onto Rt 242 to take me to the pass. Now I’d found out that this stretch of road – the scenic route - just recently opened for the summer, like 3 weeks ago. Prior to that the snow was too deep for vehicular traffic up at the top of the pass. Now they did allow bicycles to ride up as far as you wanted, but no autos. So I got going on Rt 242 and was just blown away by how cool this stretch of road was. I mean it was narrow, with no berm, but there was so little vehicle traffic on this road that you could just ride in the middle of the road more than half the time. The road in the beginning was just arching up at like 1-2%, so I could still ride in the big ring. I mean the road, the cloudless blue sky, the cool temp, the amazing towering pines at the side of the road, and those gorgeous mts off to my left and right side – it just couldn’ get any better.
So I was in this state of total cycling bliss. You live for rides like this one. So I was expecting this climb to the pass to be like 20+ miles, much in the same vain as was Cameron Pass in CO, but then like 3-4 miles in I saw a sign that read: McKenzie Pass 11 miles. And I was like, “damn, I can this thing is not going to be some kind of killer climb. It just might take me 2 hrs or less.” And right about then these two riders pull out of a trailhead parking lot right behind me, a guy and a gal. So they pulled up to me and asked where I was headed and where I came from. I went through my itinerary, and then introduced myself. Rob and Rema were both from Bend, and had driven out to Sisters to do the pass climb on both the front and back sides. So we just continued to jaw as we rode. And I told them a couple times that I didn’t want to hold them back, but they continued to hang with me and talk.
Now I’ll have to admit that if not for them I’d have ridding easier, but it was just so nice to have company that I bridged up to them every time I kind of fell off the back. And about 3 miles up the road the pitch really began to change such that I had to shift to the middle ring, and then into the little ring. But they just stayed back and softpedaled with me. Now there were a couple of times where they got about 200 meters ahead of me, and then I’d just drop down a gear or two and get out of the saddle and bridge back up. Now we talked and talked and talked. Turns out that Rob is an Olympic Snowboarding coach in Bend, and once we each found that we both coached, the jawing continued ad infinitum. They are both Canadians, but have live in Bend in the US for many, many years. They love it out here, and I see why. I even told Rob that I was envious of the outdooring opportunities thay have here. This is Boulder, CO without the pretentiousness. But out here, the ocean is just 200 miles from Bend!
We stopped at a really nice observation point and Rob and Rema pointed out all the peaks, and even took some pics of me standing and riding. So the area out here is volcanic, and all along the sides of the road once we got half way into the climb, is made up of volcanic piles of rubble, this the result of an eruption that only dated back 1700 yrs. I mean surrounding all these mts was nothing but vast fields of volcanic lava flows that were bulldozed into this big rubble fields. It was otherworldly looking for sure. The higher we climbed the more intense these fields became, until finally, up near the top by the pass, you were completely surrounded by lava fields. The road just narrowed to this little pathway that cut through the lava, with the lava cliffs being some 20-50 feet above the roadway.
Topped out and I was just really elated to have experienced such an amazing ride, and to have ridden with these two great folks for the whole darned thing. I mean they could easily have just motored on their own, but they held back and rode me up the mt. Dismounted at the top and climbed up to this observation tower where the views were fabulous. Just couldn’t get any better! So I bid farewell to Rob and Rema and then got it rolling on the back side to descend for about a half hour and then climb back up on the west side. I got going and stopped a few more times for more pics, and then the fun began. I mean this was a technical, but totally exhilarating descent. You know when the speed limit is 15 mph that the switchbacks are wicked and the pitch downward is steep. And it was indeed. I felt like Casey Jones driving his train down the mountain what with that trailer lending extra weight to my descending speed so that when I leaned into a switchback I could really feel the weight of the whole rig just driving me forward and downward. It was actually pretty much of an adrenaline rush.
I mean there were a couple section where on this really narrow road with zero berm, it was pretty much of a rush to be zipping through some of those corners with the yak at 20-30 mph. Only one time did I kind of poop my drawers when some idiot went left of center on a switchback and was coming right at me. I yelled like crazy at the dude who apparently was NOT paying attention. Me on the other hand, I was like in a trance working through the switchbacks and negotiating around the occasional patch of loose gravel that had made it’s way onto the road. But damn, every like 8-10 min or so there’d be a sign telling you your elevation, and I was like loosing 1000 feet within that span every time. This just continued for miles. The climb on the west side was 100x harder than what we had climbed on the east side.
Down about 8 to 10 miles Rob and Rema were parked in a pull-off carbing up on some energy bars. I stopped and said a final goodbye and then continued the break neck descent, just watching the mile markers and the elevation drop drop drop. I caught a cross country guy, Matt, just before the jcn with Rt 126. Rob is riding from Yorktown, VA, and has been on the road for 70-some days. So we rode for a bit and talked. Rob is shooting for Eugene today, so with me stopping in Mckenzie Bridge, he just continued down the road. I probably could have put in another 2.5 hrs to Eugene, but I was good with making it a shorter day and getting some work done this afternoon. So again, another brief encounter and I was on my own.
Got to this little mountain motel in like 5 hrs of riding. Nice little place just across the street from a nice café. Did the shower and kit wash thing and then ambled over to the café. Got a nice little table outside on the patio and got a scrumptious burger, salad bar…and these totally killer micro brew oatmeal stouts made by the Ninkasi Brewing Co. of Eugene, OR. These beers were the topper to a perfect cycling day! I just lounged out on the patio after finishing the burger and salad and enjoyed the sun, the mts, that fresh mt air, and the GREAT stouts! I’m back there for their homemade pizza for sure this eve. Even went to the little grocery store next to the café and got a big 24 oz bottle of the Ninkasi stout for later this evening.
That’s about it. It’s nearly 5 pm now and I’m starting to feel that belly gremlin again demanding more food! I’ll work a bit more and then capitulate to the growling stomach. Two more days and the ocean is at hand. All the best to everyone, from the beautiful Cascade Range of Oregon, I’m out………Pete