First tracks on Washington Pass

The Washington Dept. of Transportation closes SR 20 over Washington Pass each winter. On Thursday, they announced a closure over the weekend, as a winter storm was expected.

I was quite grateful for this decision, as I was looking for a place to bike on Saturday! The weather forecast was for a lot of rain below 3000′ and several inches of snow up high. Even if that meant no views, I really wanted to go for a snow bikeride.

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Ross Dam to Washington Pass. Click for GPX.

The forecast for rain held true at the start. I dressed warm for the beginning as there are about 4 miles of downhill before the continuous climb to Rainy Pass starts.

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But, not an hour later it got warm and sunny. I wish I would have brought my sunglasses while I was staring into the wet, glaring road. Last year, it was warm along this section, as well, and I was riding in shorts and shirt, only. This time, it wasn’t quite so warm, but still very pleasant. Without snow, I decided to air up my tires and make them roll a bit faster. The rear tire started to develop a leak – drads. I had problems with the rear at home, but I thought it finally sealed. Half expecting to have to go home soon, I put the pump away and continued. The air was making a hissing sound escaping through the spoke nipples.

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But, the tire pressure seemed to hold when I checked it a mile up. I added some more air, and called it good. The problem is that it’s hard to tape a 100 mm -wide rim with a deep channel in the center. The center channel makes for easy tire mounting, but hard to tape the entire rim profile without wrinkles.

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Why did a bring a fatbike today? The answer was found just past 3000′ elevation, where the snow stuck to the road. Maybe an inch thick, only, but so pretty! And my studded tires stopped making that awful clawing noise. Just easy blissful riding on snow. First freshies of the season! A yelp may have escaped under my breath.

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And it’s not even a thick snowstorm as it was promised! Sun, clouds. What a day!  Only the headwind was a bit tough at times.

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Oooh.

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Last time the snow was deep and slick here, and I stopped for a lunch break. Today it’s easy and I eat bagels on-the-go.

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I liked this creek flowing over the broad granite table top.

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The last bit up to Rainy Pass went quickly. A look back at the track of my bike tires in ~3″ deep snow. Last time I had been postholing for an hour up to this point.

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2 pm, the rear tire is holding air, and the snow is easy.20161119_13430820161119_134340

Let’s check out Washington Pass. Past this point it’s a bit downhill, which deterred me last time. This time, I glide through the snow, bagel in one hand, and am on the lookout for the next photo.

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I am the sole goofball out here and count myself lucky to have the time, support and resources to do these backcountry explorations.

I try to stage a cool bike shot, but only capture a falling bike.

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It’s quite a headwind riding up the last mile or two, but still rideable. Not too cold.

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Plenty of traction, snow’s about 4″ deep, reaching maybe 6″ at the top – that’s since plowing stopped Thursday night.

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The top offers almost no views, and I bundle up and put in chemical toe warmers for the long way down (there’s only a bit of a climb up to Rainy Pass); 4000′ of downhill.

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The way back was uneventful and cloudy.

 

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Late Fall ride to Miller Peak and Stafford Creek

It was tough Friday night trying to figure out where to ride on Saturday. The weather forecast was best for southern Washington, where the Klickitat trail looked like a worthy ride – but the drive seemed a bit long. So, when I drove out of the fog past Cle Elum and saw beautiful Mt. Stuart behind me, I turned around to do Miller Peak and (finally) all of Stafford Creek.

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The colors were amazing driving along Hwy. 97, and I was eager to get on the bike. The beginning was frigid, 40 F, and the gradual ride up the forest service road was a welcome warm up. Motorcycles and hunters were also out, or getting ready in their own way. I knew it was hunting season, but seeing the grand tent-villas was a new sight.

A small group of motorcylces passed me on their way up, as I slowly inhaled their exhaust. My breath turned into white fog whenever motorcycles (or snowmachines) pass me. At first, I thought it was just an odd coincidence, but now I notice it every time.

I slowly climbed and came upon a couple hikers as they were out in the fall sunshine. Later that night, I would see them west of here at the campground / trailhead. They went up towards Miller Peak, but I do not know how far they went. Maybe they did all of it.

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About half-ways up, I passed a hunter who couldn’t get his motorcycle going. Then, some motorcycles quickly approached from behind, and stuck on my tail, buzzing like they were going to run me off the trail. But, there wasn’t a good spot to pull over for a few seconds. And then, they passed. One after another. Maybe 10 of them spread over a few minutes.

At least, they passed.

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Or so I thought.

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As they only made it a bit farther before taking a big break. For real?

So, then they passed me again a few minutes later. Never mind going all the way up Miller Peak, it’s time to leave the motorized trail and head over to Stafford Creek.

Stafford Creek trail was quiet and friendly, even the hunters were not grouchy. And except for the two horse crews dragging out stuff, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and be respectful of other trail users.

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What a day – I just wanted to go out for a peaceful ride in the mountains. Which, luckily did come to pass. A mountain bikers told me that they had to push their bikes through snow at the meadow higher up. Snow? ! Yes!

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And then pushing began; what a fine way to spend the afternoon.

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The views were certainly worth it – and covering some new ground in absolute silence was very enjoyable. Fresh water flowing in the creeks to fill up with. The Enchantments across the valley seemed magical.

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Hopefully, the next trip will be on the fatbike. Can’t wait for winter to start!

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Earl Peak and fall scenery

Lately, epic rides seem more of a distant motivation, rather than the present type of riding I aim for. Just give me some quality tracks, lack of people and fantastic scenery, and I’ll be happy. The ride could take on many facets: climbing techy singletrack, snowbiking, or even road riding. But, it would certainly exclude medium-well traveled gravel roads, monotone forests, and mud.

I also wanted to take a peak at the fall colors and stay relatively nearby my car in case I had to cut the ride a bit short. The Teanaway has lot going for it, but it also has a really dusty gravel road section. The clever thing would have been to ride it down to spend as little time as possible on it, but I wanted to ride the Iron Peak trail UP, as last year’s ride down was pretty bumpy and annoying.

Just as I was to get on the Iron Peak trail, a couple equestrians were also saddling up. Do I sneak past, or try myself at staying behind them the entire time? As I slowly walked up, one rider yelled out “The horses are fine with bikes.” – with a smile on his face. Huh?  Turns out these were the most friendly horses, riders, and dogs I’ve met in a very long time. We traded places a couple times riding up (and then down the other side). 20161002_110949.jpg

The weather forecast wasn’t spectacular, but the cool and overcast conditions probably helped me ride a bit more than I would have on a hot sunny day. I was still sweating profusely, wearing next to nothing. It sure was nice to be out here.20161002_114138.jpg

At the top, a cold wind was blowing and after a quick chat with the equestrians about their planned route, I had to excuse myself and hide behind some bushes to get out of the wind. Nothing beats dry clothes to change into – and a wind jacket and a hat.20161002_122630.jpg20161002_123348.jpg

There are a few larches turning color in the picture above – but it certainly wasn’t the color show I was hoping for. A bit farther down, some blueberry bushes were brightening up the trail, however.20161002_12351920161002_124811

The sun started to come out and in a wind-protected spot in the valley, I downed some turkey jerky and bagels. They tasted good, but the jerky seemed to shut down my stomach for the next few hours as I slowly ran out of energy.

As I was descending the rocky portions of the Beverly trail, visions of 27.5+ tires and rear-suspension were being mulled-over in my head. How would a Trek Stache ride? Or a Salsa Spearfish? Or a Pivot Switchblade? And how would I like hauling these up the next hike-a-bike section? Compromises and decisions to be made in a few months.

For now, I was going down this:20161002_130531

and came from hither:20161002_130627

Nothing ever looks steep or rocky, in photos.

The Bean Creek trail was both, but not before stunning my eyes with heaps of red-berry bushes. If I only knew what that were!20161002_132827.jpg

I knew the Bean Creek trail was steep, and didn’t expect to ride much. Turns out that was correct. I may have ridden about 100 feet the entire way. But, it was a pleasant hike, and I am fine with that.20161002_142021.jpg

A little higher, and I see a second peak looming from behind the first golden-colored ridge. What could it be?20161002_145641.jpg

There is the big peak again – on the right. And larches on the left are lit up by the low sun.20161002_153204.jpg

From the top of Earl Peak, there is no doubt that this is Mount Stuart.20161002_155452.jpg

I studied that view for a while, after finding a spot out of earshot from three brutes. From my perch, it went down steeply on the right, revealing quite a color show!20161002_155041.jpg

The trail into the above valley goes along the backside of the ridge on the right. After some pushing that up a small pass, the trail down from the pass to Stafford Creek trail was eminently rideable, and a creek served to fill up my water on the way. Delicious. 20161002_170324.jpg

It was quite the color show on Stafford Creek. Yup, this is what I came for!20161002_174712.jpg

Unfortunately, riding the gravel rode back up the North Fork Teanaway was precisely not what I had come for – but 90% of the drivers were quite reasonable, which also means that 10% were not😦

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Oregon Rivers and Ridges Bikepack

A fall bikepacking trip was on the schedule, but where to go? At first, the Pyramid Mountain in the Entiat north of Leavenworth seemed appropriate, but Chip advised that last year’s fire damage made a loop impossible. Then, the Sunshine Coast was carefully explored on a map and bus transportation found. However, as time got closer to the Labor Day weekend, the weather did not look that great anywhere north of Oregon. Well, then how about Scott’s Hot Sisters Hot Springs loop in Oregon?

  • Weather: check
  • Singletrack: check
  • Rideable singletrack: check again!
  • Low-traffic connector roads: check

The loop carries with it 42k ft. elevation gain according to Scott, but the GPX track shows up as 52k ft. in Garmin Basecamp. In either case, a shortcut is needed. The shortest drive was to Oakridge, so then it was either the northern or southern portion with the Bunchgrass (“Eugene to Crest”) trail in the middle. The southern half looked a bit more appealing and shorter, so I stayed Friday night at the Oakridge Motel and started after a hearty breakfast at 9 am. Here’s a quick slideshow of the three days:

 

Click the map for the GPX track on RideWithGPS.

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Scroll down if you want the narrative:20160903_091525.jpg

I decided to ride counter-clockwise by going past Hills Creek Lake. The road is indeed fairly low traffic as promised, only about 1 car/minute passed me. Beautiful cool weather made this an easy section.20160903_095835.jpg

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Soon, the far reaches of the Middle Fork Williamette singletrack adds some twisty turns, while paralleling the road.20160903_104141.jpg

Instead of following the Middle Fork Williamette to the end, the route goes up and over a gravel road towards the Steamboat Inn. It’s so good to be out on a bike ride without people yelling “on your left”, or ringing their bells at me. Noone here, except one crazed 4-wheeling idiot who almost runs me over, and the driver of a car who wouldn’t pull over. Wheew.

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Coming down onto the pavement, the riding along Steamboat Creek is easy. Consistently downhill and very light traffic. I steal a few glances into the low-running water.20160903_130740.jpg

Suddenly, a fancy Airstream trailer catches my eye. Odd. Then I realize, that Scott had left a waypoint here about a Fishwatcher. Must check it out. Note the Oregon State Police is part of the sponsorship.20160903_134833.jpg

A super cute dog greets me as I round the corner behind the trailer.20160903_132812.jpg

And fishes! 2 feet long salmon everywhere!20160903_13282320160903_134214

The reason for the Fishwatcher is that about ten years ago, someone dynamited the pool to catch all the fish. Which is crazy in and of itself, but also for the fact that salmon are waiting here before the rains come and make it possible for them to swim farther upstream for spawning.

I arrive at the Steamboat Inn a bit after lunch time, and treated myself to a milk shake and veggie burger. It feels like an odd mix of anniversary-celebrating, wine drinking couples, and me. But, they have food, so that’s a plus.

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It’s good to get out and back on the trail: the North Fork Umpqua. It starts out with a techy bit around some rocks, before undulating heavily up and down. Not an easy river trail, but I knew that from the elevation profile which only goes up 3000 ft over 40 miles, while gaining over 8000 ft. elevation in total.

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The ~5 mile sections had different character and were explained with trail signs. After the hardpacked section above, came loose granite. Wheew, tough climbing on a hardtail!20160903_16402720160903_164750

I was definitely pushing at this point:20160903_172348

I met a couple backpackers with huge backpacks who had only gone 4 miles and seemed lost. Not sure what was going on there. Otherwise, the trail was mine. I rode very cautiously the first day, as it seemed like there should be more people out on this beautiful trail- but there weren’t and wouldn’t be the rest of the trip, except for very near the Umpqua Hot Springs and Lemolo Falls.

Lots of climbing, descending and techy riding brought me to a short interlude of dirt road near the small Soda Spring hydropower plant and the amazing basalt columns.20160903_19182320160903_192109

The section of trail afterwards was very scenic as it wound its way up along the Soda Springs reservoir. It was getting dark and late, and I was starting to look for water and a flat spot to camp. Nothing obvious came for a quite a while as the trail was climbing away from the water. A creek was eventually found, and afterwards in the dim light of my red taillight, I pushed my bike up for another hour looking for a good spot to camp. Around 9:30pm, or 2 hours after sunset I had enough, and just plopped down right in the middle of trail.

I only brought the tent-body as a sort-of-bivy sack. It worked quite well, though I had hoped to tie off the top on a branch for some more breathing room. After a some bagels for dinner, I was asleep within minutes.

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After a great night’s sleep, the trail didn’t look nearly as intimidating as it had the night before. Not many birds were tweeting at 6.30 am, so I got up without a concert. Some coffee and oats were had and a slow warm-up hike-a-bike brought me to a bit of fast & twisty downhill. Nothing like sweet singletrack riding at 7 am!

The riding really improved past Toketee Dam, as the grade become more consistently rideable. 20160904_083721.jpg

There was a bridge out and I had to wade through a cold creek. This would be one of two wet creek crossings the entire trip. Not bad!20160904_091352.jpg

The route became a lot wetter past Umpqua Hot Springs. There was a water fall coming out of the ground, and another waterfall disappearing into the ground. 20160904_09332620160904_093509

And quite a few wet spots.20160904_094025.jpg

Forward progress was made only slowly, and I kept recalculating how long this loop might take me. After stepping in a mud puddle and getting my shoe soaked, it felt like I needed to slow down and enjoy myself more. Time for a snack by the river.

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There were some punchy climbs, some boggy sections, and some sweet singletrack. All mixed together, until it finally went consistently up and away from the river. Some amazing amount of trailwork had just been completed near Warm Spring Creek by a large group of the Youth Conservation Corps volunteers whom I passed during their lunch break. Thanks guys and gals! Near Lemolo Falls, I met the first biker: all clad in downhill gear he announced that this was an amazingly scenic trail. I replied that it’s a pretty tough trail. Maybe riding uphill with camping gear is a bit different, though.

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Quite a few hikers passed me on the short section to the falls. I must be near the trailhead! And so it was. Exiting there, one runs across a really cool concrete canal with fast running water. Seems like one should jump in with a big inner tube (but there are signs saying that that is illegal😦 .

At the Lemolo Lake Resort, the little grocery store/hut, had cans of pasta with meatballs and ice cream. A bikepacker’s dreamfeast. A Mountain Dew Diet chased all this a few miles down the road. At this point, I did not get back on the North Umpqua trail, as it just looked like a lot of useless elevation and rocky stuff, and I wanted to make up some time. The paved road north of the Lemolo lake was quiet and fast, then a bit of red-dirt road brought me to the Windigo Pass trail. Singletrack?! Yes. But, it was thick moondust, beaten to power by hundred of hoofs and slowed me to a crawl. Yikes, so much for easy, fast progress on this trip.20160904_153850.jpg

In all, the Windigo Pass trail was a slogfest. Not that steep, but annoyingly bumpy and soft all at the same time. I was quite happy when I reached the top, running right into the Pacific Crest trail. Oops. Check the map… right, ride a bit of road and then take the Oldenburg trail. Which was amazing. Here, I met what looked to be a couple PCT through-hikers. There were quite a few trees down, but the trail was in primo A+ condition with no horse-destruction in sight. What joy! I was elated. Rideable singletrack as promised by Scott!20160904_17561820160904_181556

The sun was getting low, it was getting cooler, and the Oldenburg trail was mostly downhill and completely rideable. Unbelievable for a bikepacking trip.20160904_183525.jpg

Near Crescent Lake, the Metolius-Windigo trail was completely destroyed by horses and I couldn’t wait to get off and ride some asphalt. There was hardly any traffic in my direction along the lake, and I quickly made it to the SnoPark parking lot. The winter trail system appears to be quite extensive here!20160904_194425.jpg

For some reason I missed the Lake Crescent Lodge waypoint from Scott, and instead focused on reaching the Lake Odell Lodge. Though their kitchen was already closed at 8 pm, they sold me some snacks and sodas, and I hung out in the dining room while the super friendly staff cleaned up. It was so warm inside, and my feet were finally warming up. I asked about the cost of a room, but I was not ready to give up $80 when I had brought all my camping gear. In any case, the riding ahead along the railroad tracks looked like it might be boring, so I figured it best to get it out of the way. It was actually quite pleasant in the still of the night, but soon I was getting tired and threw my tent on the ground in the middle of a dirt road.

It got quite cold in the night, the forecast was for 33 F. As an extra layer to my summer-weight down quilt, I had brought a SOL emergency bivy. While that increased the warmth, it also kept a lot of condensation near me. But, for the last night out, it didn’t matter if my bag got a bit damp.

The next morning, I awoke to find blueberries all around me. Breakfast!

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I cracked open chemical toewarmers, only to find that they didn’t work. I didn’t have feeling in my toes and had to stop a couple times to try to warm up. It was a chilly morning.20160905_075254.jpg

The Fuji Mountain trail was a grandios climb as the sun was warming my back. Couldn’t have asked for a better route on a cold morning. 20160905_07565820160905_081108

A lot of climbing brought me to a few small lakes where I should have filled up with water. But, I didn’t, as I had been near creeks the last 2 days and thought there would be more and better water sources coming soon.20160905_090815.jpg

Near the top, I realized that the other side was down on a gravel road. Oh no! All that work for nothing. Should have ridden the loop in the clockwise direction. But, it was a very pleasant and fast way to go, and I felt better about being able to finish the planned route today.20160905_101708.jpg

The beginning of the “Eugene to Crest” or Bunchgrass trail was amazing. Everything logged out: sweet riding. Looking off to the side, there were some views to the Sisters.20160905_10301920160905_104818

Then, it became more obvious that I was going to ride up on this ridge for the rest of the route, and that there wouldn’t be any water anymore. Not wanting to face the obvious of riding down to the road and calling it quits, I kept on going. I mean, I could always quit later, right?

As luck would have it, I met a group of hikers who were coming back from searching for a mountain biker who got lost up here the night before – but apparently had been rescued by a different team in the early morning hours. I bummed some water off of them (Thanks!!), and was on my merry way. The trail had a few steepys, but overall was quite rideable through the undergrowth. Slow, technical riding, but riding nevertheless. I was taking a few chances on technical section and won by not having to get off and push my bike through thick vegetation.

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Various bushes and grasses covered the trail, but usually something could be ridden for the first 3 miles of this section. And then the views opened up – finally!20160905_11462920160905_115524

Though this trail was getting harder by the minute, it was also getting more and more scenic. I actually quite enjoyed the push up Bunchgrass Ridge.

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Yes, there’s a trail through the grasses in the picture above! Near the top, the Pepsi came out, still chilled from the night before.20160905_12102620160905_121746

After this, the Bunchgrass trail was really living up to its name. The grasses were hard and thick and I pushed most of the way to the top. Pretty, though.20160905_12301620160905_124522

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Right at the top of the ridge, I smelled a campfire and found the remains of a couple Mountain House dinners. This must have been from the lost mountain biker just this morning. Oh boy, it must have been a chilly outing. I wonder what persuaded the biker not to turn around?  I was about to find out.20160905_130211.jpg

This picture shows the ridge line that I would be traversing next.20160905_130449.jpg

The initial downhill was too steep to ride, and after a bit of rideable track, it soon became terribly overgrown.20160905_13211620160905_132705

A little bit was rideable, but mostly it was pushing for next 2 hours? It seemed like a long time. I also came across a backpack that must have been left behind by the rescue team, as it contained only a knife, a GPS, and some batteries. I didn’t know if I should take it or leave it. In retrospect, since it was more ‘equipment’ rather than personal belongings, I think I should have brought it with me to Oakridge. But, by the time I thought about that, I was long past the backpack.20160905_134353.jpg

Finally, the trail opened up and tended downhill. And we still have views. This is getting better all the time.20160905_14202520160905_14204020160905_143009

Here, I met the second mountain biker, out for a bikepacking trip to Bend, Sisters, and back. Seemed like he was riding the Northern portion of Scott’s route? No, he said he cooked it up himself and didn’t know Scott. Have a good trip!20160905_145530.jpg

The way down from the ridge was on some übersteep and sketchy trail. I walked – which also seemed sketchy. Nothing ever looks steep in pictures.20160905_151117.jpg

I thought about following the Bunchgrass trail afterwards, but the trail was tough. More like a really fun hiking trail. I went down to the gravel road and took a short cut, instead. 20160905_152806_001.jpg

Luckily, there was a turn-on from the road back onto the trail right where I needed it. And oddly, the other direction of the Bunchgrass trail was ‘closed off’ with a wooden sign across the trail. Maybe I did the right thing by riding the road to this point.20160905_165538.jpg

After a bit of pushing, the trail descends steeply off Heckletooth Mountain. Oh boy, time for a bit more walking! 20160905_170639.jpg

Soon, the trail mellowed and it was sublime downhill riding for this cross-country bikepacker!20160905_171747.jpg

A bit of downfall had to be navigated20160905_172923.jpg

And then it was down, down, down. My brakes overheated a few times, but it was still manageable. 20160905_17345220160905_17485420160905_175637

In the picture above, a heard of elk were crossing the trail but it was hard to capture them with the camera. There is one standing in the distance in the middle of the trail if you look closely. After those 5 miles of downhill, a few more miles down on the road back into Oakridge right after 6:10 pm. Just enough time left to get some food and drive back home.

 

 

 

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