MTB in the PNW – An Oregon-Washington Road Trip

I’ve been a Sierra snob for a while now. And a California snob too. But Lynn has dutifully, gradually opened my eyes to the Pacific Northwest – a few quick family and friend trips to Seattle, Reardan and Bellingham, and an impromptu road trip to Bend in the middle of winter.

In July, we bit off a bigger chunk of the PNW, linking together Oakridge, Bellingham, Leavenworth, Reardan and Bend with a mountain bike theme over the course of a little more than a week. That’s a lot of miles, a lot of hours behind the wheel, but also a pretty incredible swath of country outside my usual roaming territory.

Seven-plus hours in my packed flying toaster (#toasterroadtrip) on the back roads of north-eastern California and Southern Oregon delivered us to Oakridge, a small, sleepy one-time logging town that’s been the topic of a lot of talk on the economic engine that is mountain bike tourism.

Sure enough, after setting up the tent and hammock in the lush green moss-veiled forest campground just up Salmon Creek from town, we found ourselves in the local brewpub (Brewers Union Local 180) among many other Northern Californians from the Bay Area, Nevada City and elsewhere.

 

Shuttle booked for the famed Alpine Trail, we hit the sleeping pad early in a mercifully quiet campground, and woke up early the next morning.

The Alpine Trail did not disappoint. The shuttle (Oregon Adventures) grunted and bounced us up a dirt road into the soil-soaking clouds – the driver stopping a couple times to explain trail crossings and intersections. Soft, black loamy dirt and a brisk first climb delivered us to a cool, foggy meadow with views to other wooded ridges decorated in wisps of mist.

Not a technical trail like, say, the Downieville Downhill, smooth, flowing singletrack with great berms and occasional steeps and tight switchbacks quickly had me counting this as one of my favorite rides. As we lost elevation, soil occasionally gave way to loose shale or dry dirt with a few sections of steep exposure off the side. And while the majority of the 14 miles were downhill, both Lynn and I were spent by the time we were done.

Another long drive through some Portland and Seattle area traffic landed us in Lynn’s college town of Bellingham, Washington. The last trip here in February sold Lynn on her Transition Smuggler, and she was eager to bring it back to its native habitat – Galbraith. This time our loop of SST was dryer and we were both a little quicker, but I did enjoy the tackier winter conditions of our first trip. Amazing trail building really keeps you on your toes – and while I love my Trance – I did kind of miss the Transition Patrol I demoed last time. Must resist.

The drive up Highway 2, over Stevens Pass, had this Sierra snob wide-eyed on our way to Leavenworth Washington, where we met up with Lynn’s parents and friends. One of her friends, Tommy, lead us on the Freund Trail. Starting off in quickly rising temperatures and a longer, steeper climb than we’d done in a while had me doubting, but once the trail turned downhill into an endless series of berms and whoops, I took it all back. Lynn said it was her favorite ride of the trip, and while it didn’t dethrone Alpine Trail for me, it was a blast.

On the Wenatchee River. #toasterroadtrip

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After a stop in Reardan, Washington near Spokane, where Lynn grew up, we pointed south, crossing into Oregon at The Dalles, and set up the tent in a familiar favorite – Smith Rock State Park, just north of Bend. While we brought a rope, harnesses, shoes and other climbing sundry, the crowds and heat dissuaded us from tackling Smith Rock’s amazing walls. Instead, we spent our days mostly in Bend, checking out breweries, hitting up some great restaurants, and sampling the Phil’s Trail Network.

Early morning at #smithrock #toasterroadtrip

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This area was decidedly XC compared to our previous destinations. Starting up the smooth and gradual Ben’s, we cut over on Voodoo into some chunky and awkward terrain before a seated pedal “downhill” on Phil’s. I’m betting this is a network that takes some time to suss out the best stashes and sequences.

A day after getting back to Truckee and I’m already poking around the internet, looking at videos of Ashland, Oregon and Issaquah, Washington, pondering the next trip. I think I might be willing to expand my territorial range in a northwesterly fashion.

The baby bear to the momma bear in my last post. #leavenworth #pnwonderland #toasterroadtrip #latergram

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Fall Trip Down the Eastern Sierra

A few weeks ago, Lynn had to go to Bishop for work, and we decided to make a weekend out of it. Snow had recently fallen, always a welcome addition to the Eastern Sierra, and we hadn’t been in months.

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As we went up Conway Summit, north of Mono Lake, a big bird of prey took off in parallel to the highway, and I pulled over just as it landed in a juniper. We debated golden eagle vs immature bald eagle (tough lot, being immature and bald) – and landed on the latter.

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Mono Lake with a long lens.

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We spent Sunday in the Happy Boulders, and while there were more cars than we’d ever seen there, all the people were clustered around two or three main boulders. This gal skated up this route after to ripped shirtless dudes were shut down by it. At the top, she asked where the down climb was – so it wasn’t evidently a well-practiced route for her.

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Lynn messes around on a fun boulder in the Buttermilks in her new approach shoes.

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Me goofing around on an overhanging problem on one of the big boulders.

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While Lynn worked, I drove around with the camera, and made it up Highway 168 to snowline – around 7,500 or 8,000 feet.

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The view on the drive back north, from near Crowley Lake.

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While we were in town, we went to the Craggin Classic, saw a UFO missile launch, spent time at the fantastic Mountain Rambler Brewery and hung out with some of Lynn’s friends. Bishop is one of my favorites, and getting down their in cool fall weather reminded me why, once again.

Honda Element Love, aka #toasterlife

About six years ago I was two winters deep into living in snow country (remember when Truckee/Tahoe was snow country) in a 1991 2wd Toyota Camry – not ideal. I knew I needed something all wheel drive, and the vehicle du jour of Tahoe is the Subaru Outback.

But I had always had a soft-spot for the box-on-wheels that is the Honda Element. I found a used 2005 in a green I like to think evokes the fragrant sage of the high desert eastern Sierra, and it became my ultra-light minimalist motorhome. I loved it from the start.

Getting the coffee and tea ready in the morning, Bishop, Ca. Photo by Lynn Baumgartner.

Getting the coffee and tea ready in the morning, Bishop, Ca. Photo by Lynn Baumgartner.

I’ve driven it up to Portland Oregon and down to San Diego, all over the Sierra and California Coast. I’ve packed it with camping gear, climbing gear, bikes, skis and buddies – sometimes all at once. I’ve slept in it, read books while waiting out storms in it, and worked on my laptop in it.

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Eastern Sierra Breweries – Mountain Rambler & June Lakes Brewing

Lynn and I took a spontaneous trip down the Eastern Sierra to Bishop over the weekend, with loose plans of climbing, camping and mountain biking. We bouldered in the Happy’s and the Buttermilks, I screwed up mountain biking by forgetting my shoes – but two new breweries, one in Bishop and one in June Lakes, really stole the show.

We’ve always been big fans of Mammoth Brewing Company, and the 395 IPA has always been one of my favorite beers – the use of Eastern Sierra sage and juniper instantly transport me to the high desert below jagged granite peaks – no matter where I am.

At Mountain Rambler - Photo by Lynn Baumgartner (tahoefabulous.com)

At Mountain Rambler – Photo by Lynn Baumgartner (tahoefabulous.com)

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Smith Rock, Oregon

I unzipped the upper edge of the frosted door of my camping tent, looking out across widely spaced juniper trees and low green ground cover permanently stunted by high desert life, and Smith Rock jutted up before me.

It was cold, too cold to emerge from the down pile Lynn and I had collected in the tent, so I burrowed back down and waited for the sun to do a little more work. We listened to geese honks echo off the canyon walls.

We were here, just north of Bend, Oregon, on an impromptu trip put together in part by a few site visits Lynn had to make for work and some unexpected free time I found on my hands. We had swung through Sacramento, spent a warm weekend in Point Reyes, stayed in I-5 side motels under a tarnished silver overcast in the northern Central Valley, and finally popped out in Bend, where we hit the ground, and the breweries, pedaling.

Bend and Tahoe seem to get a lot of cross pollination, and spending time there, it’s easy to see why they attract similar people. Often the same people in fact, as it seems we’re always hearing about someone moving to Bend from Tahoe or meeting someone from Bend, newly arrived in Truckee, Kings Beach or South Lake Tahoe.

We grew impatient, packed up my rope, quick draws, our climbing shoes and harnesses and worked our way down into the canyon. Putting up my first sport lead in some time, we didn’t just take turns climbing – but also standing out in the sun, trying to regain sensation in our fingers and toes.

Driving to Bend each day from Smith Rock, we looked up at the volcanic Sisters and Mt. Bachelor, wishing for more snow, just as we did in Tahoe. We pedaled our mountain bikes on singletrack along the Deschutes River, ducked into local breweries (word to the wise, Crux Fermentation Project may be the best brewery in the world) and wandered around town.

Smith Rock, Oregon

The trip ended too early, and we pointed the flying green toaster south as the first drops of a storm began to fall. So many things left to do – backcountry skiing in The Sisters, swimming in the rivers … even more breweries to sample. I have no doubt we’ll be back again soon.

Fall in Yosemite

This fall Lynn and I went to Yosemite, where she runs the orientation for the Sierra Nevada AmeriCorps program each year. We stayed in the Yosemite Bug, which was fantastic, and got to spend the day in the park. A storm was parting that frosted the high peaks in new snow and re-started the valley’s waterfalls, without stripping the bright fall leaves off of the oaks and dogwoods. Here’s a few shots I managed to snap:

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A trip up California’s Northern Coast

It’s been easy to take every bit of time off and focus it on the Sierra – not just because I live here – but because it demands so much attention and holds so much of my affection. But recently, Lynn and I decided to take a trip into another spectacular part of our state, and into an area the awakened childhood memories and ineffable nostalgia in me – the northern coast.

After my sister’s incredible wedding at my parents’ beautiful Point Reyes property, The Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore, we pointed the flying green toaster north, with a week of winding Highway 1, 101 and dirt roads spooling out in front of us.

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