Sunday, October 19, 2014

Summer Flashback Part 4: The Icing on the Cake

Funds were running low.  The pending return to the arid climates was still hours of driving away though, and at this point I hadn't been on my bike in at least three premier western states.  Unacceptable.  I headed inland, bound for the finest singletrack known to man.  Oakridge, Oregon, here I come.  I arrived later than I had hoped for a proper ride, but did have the light so was not hindered by daylight running out.  I decided to self shuttle the Middle Fork of the Willamette Trail and abandon my car.  My friend and local sponsor Eugene offered up his place to stay in town as well as a ride (and a lift) the next day.  Tough offer to decline.  With a ride back to town approaching 40 miles of mostly singletrack, I was more than a little dismayed to discover the wrong turn and 20 mile detour I had taken in getting to the start.  So it goes.  I'll have to forego that break by the river I guess.  Pedal on from now till dark.  

Now I've had a bit of a hard time motivating to ride by myself of late, and with the late start was doubting my effort this day even in my surroundings of the best trails in the world.  I keep thinking that there are more productive things to do with my time, forgetting that the ride is what brings me to that spot in my head where ideas are born and visions become clear.  When I hit the first turn in that soft hemlock needle cast that grips your tires harder than you ever thought possible, my doubts instantly vanished into a grin ear to ear and a single thought on repeat in the space between:  "ITS SO GOOD!  ITS SO GOOD!  ITS SO GOOD!"  Perhaps I had forgotten.

In its upper reaches the Middle Fork Trail crosses the cold but humble beginnings of one of the most major waterways in Oregon.  The trail is steep and tight with pinning corners that berm in sideways in the ongoing decomposition, defying gravity as knees approach ground level and brakes are completely forgotten.  Trunks of monster firs and cedars and hemlocks block the reflecting green light of the ferns and undergrowth in a shadow that only the rocks can trump.  I feel small.  My bike feels right at home.  It was these trails that prompted his creation almost three years ago.  Now Shrek rides his second return here, and all the fun still remains.

Proceeding downstream the trail mellows out into the valley that by the end of the ride will have me riding around the first of a series of reservoirs.  The undulations of the higher contours diminish into a more pedally flow, but the downward trend remains.  I pass through a burn scar and the light that now passes through where once blocked by canopy provides an opportunity for a swim, or rather a warm up afterward.  I strip down in anticipation of enjoying one of the great pleasures of the Cascades.  I get in up to my knees, but can go no further.  That Willamette is COLD.  I turn back, content with a bird bath in late August.  Another opportunity to chicken out was provided with a nice wreck of a log bridge across one of the tributaries.  A flood had pushed a tree trunk down and slammed this bridge, shaking its very foundation and cracking its spine, but leaving its body intact making for quite the off camber obstacle.  You could plainly see the line where all the locals ride across, but on this day alone I was convinced to pay my respects and hoof it.  

With the increasing flatness of the valley came surprising microclimates more reminiscent of Arizona than of Oregon.  I was surprised to see grass and a meadow with large Ponderosa Pines at this elevation west of the Cascade Divide.  It was a refreshing taste of home between the recurring thought bought on by the 10 foot trees and the sea of green below:  ITS SO GOOD! 

The hours passed and the light began to dwindle.  I was finally spit out on the road for my long pedal back to town.  I picked up my stash of warm clothes just as dusk had filled the valley.  A parade of fire apparatus passed by in procession as the road curved on by.  Pretty glad not to be in one of those vehicles and instead on board my mountain bike out in the air as the smoke set into the valley.  I made my way to Eugene's for a late dinner and a night of bike geekery.  

We were set to meet up with Luther, the crazy one-eyed Native Canadian, for a ride in the high Cascades, but delayed trying to fabricate parts onto a roof rack for Eugene's Civic.  We finally arrived back at the spot where I had left the space cruiser and began our ride.  Today we climbed.  And climbed.  It was blustery and overcast which made the climbing, well, somewhat more comfortable.  The climbing here is steep, and the granny gear is definitely still in fashion.  I was wishing I had one.  Hell, I was wishing for any sort of relief, but on a road trip whose initial destination was Single Speed USA, well, its what you got.  Though suffering, I managed to ride more that I had imagined of this relentless mountain range.  

We quickly climbed into a vast expanse of fir, both white fir and grand fir, and would remain in this forest for most of the day, though the level would span several thousand vertical feet.  Ground cover was more indicative of snowy climates as the trees two to three feet in diameter had an almost uniform hook to the base, growing sideways out of the slope before turning upward.  It was as if the ground that held their roots would try to tumble off the mountain, leaving the trees to hang on for dear life.  

We climbed.  And just as it seemed that we might get a break and go down just for a minute, we climbed some more.  We climbed past all the trees.  We climbed up and over the whole Willamette forest and into the next one, the Umpqua.  We went down for a minute and the we climbed back.  The clouds were breaking up, but the air was still cool.  Now it was time for the reward.  6000 feet of unprecedented anywhere else heroic, steep, carving, roosting, vein popping, drop your seat cascade descending.  Oh yeah, then a little more climbing of course!

You see there are no pictures of the downhill because there is no stopping to be had on the downhill.  Its just one controlled fist pump of a slide all the way back down to the headwaters.  You couldn't stop if you wanted to, and if you wanted to you'd be a fool.  Its not like you'd be fast enough with that camera to catch your buddy in a roosting corner anyway, so why bother trying.  Just get back to that thought playing on and on between your ears and think of nothing else because there is nothing else to think.

We got to the first spot in the descent where it had leveled off enough to regroup.  To the right was climb to a lake which we opted to take.  It was worth it for a breath, though we were again chasing daylight, now seven hours into our ride.  Who ever minded an extension of the downhill anyway?  Spandex monkey-drunkey single speeders in Michigan, that's who.  Our final downhill and downhill extension brought us back into the wet forests of the river valley and the uppermost sections of the Middle Fork Trail which I had passed by the day before on the hunch that this might happen.  The steepness through the hemlocks and their thick gravity-defying decomposition below brought new levels of speed and demanded quickness through the bobsled run.  It was alot to ask of a tired soul grinning ear to ear after 30 more of the sweetest miles ever dreamt.  But ask the trail did, and response was given from goat souls within, without hesitation from glazed eyes or frozen faces. 

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