Riding in Bend
When you live in the east, you pretty much only dream about riding in the west. Oh, sure we have awesome mountain biking here — some of the best in the world. But you always want what you don’t have and that would be the mountain biking in the Pacific northwest — which for most people in the east, is an expensive proposition. And then I was assigned a story in Bend, Oregon.
Bend, with it’s craft beer culture, its outdoor mojo and mountain bikes mounted on seemingly every other car. Ahhh.
And to make matters even better, my assignment was to go there and to do a TV story on all of it. More specifically to meet and interview the leadership team at Deschutes Brewery which is credited with creating — or certainly adding to Bend’s special personality. As you may know Deschutes recently announced it is setting up its east coast operation in Roanoke. The only way to find out the impact the company might have on the Star City, was to go to Bend and see what they accomplished there — to compare Bend and Roanoke. See the history, the culture and of course the mountain biking.
All of that is the long way of getting to the point where I was seated on a rented Santa Cruz carbon Tallboy and preparing to ride the Deschutes River Trail with Deschutes Brewery digital marketing manager Jason Randles.
We drove to Meadow Camp, a small day use area five miles west of Bend, and the starting point for our adventure. The Deschutes River is flat here, but the whitewater upstream has made this stretch more famous for kayaking than cycling.
That’s a shame because this is one of the most beautiful trails I’ve ridden.
Cycling the Deschutes Trail
Jason and I took off on the singletrack. It started with a short climb followed by some fairly serious rock gardens. The rock here is volcanic and it’s everywhere. Across the river there is a huge formation called Lava Island where the molten rock seeped out of the ground and hardened. I was repeatedly tempted to look across the river at the unusual sight but that urge was seriously tempered by the narrow trail and the possibility of a long, steep tumble into the river.
After a bit the trail leveled out, and aside from the significant dust, we rode basically buffed singletrack. That’s a nice treat for those of us accustomed to the rocks and roots of eastern riding. As we neared the turn around at Dillon Falls, we wound through some much larger boulders. At one point I balked and clicked out — sure the gap between two of the rocks was too narrow for my pedals to pass through. I may have annoyed Jason a bit here, as he is a regular on this trail and knew there were no issues. (In fact, on the return trip he was leading and barely slowed as he passed between the two hunks of lava. Oh well.) We encountered a couple of other very short hike-a-bike sections, but nothing serious.
If these rock gardens had been here in Roanoke, I might have tried them. But as Jason said, “Walk today, ride tomorrow.” Good advice. Plus the last thing I needed was to take a spill, where even a minor (by mountain bike standards) gash or bruise might make for a very uncomfortable 5 hour plane ride home.
The Santa Cruz Tallboy CC
I can’t let this opportunity pass without giving props to the Santa Cruz Tallboy CC. When I bought my Cannondale Trigger, I was in love with the aluminum Tallboy, but it was outside my price range. Imagine my delight when Jason showed up with this carbon version of the Tallboy with Shimano XT components. It was light and snappy and despite my jet-lagged legs, made me feel like a better rider than I was (am). There is nothing quite like Santa Cruz’ virtual pivot spot when it comes to floating over rocks and logs. I would have been in heaven riding this trail on a beach cruiser — but adding the plush and light Tallboy made it that much better. If you are going to heaven it is best to go on a $6,000 bike.
On the way out, we were headed upstream. That translates to up hill. Not in a significant way (529 feet of elevation gain over 11 miles) — but enough that I was breathing hard for a good part of it. I’ll give Jason credit for part of that too — since he’s in better shape than me. He said going back would be quicker and it was. I was surprised how much easier it was pedaling downstream.
It seemed like only minutes and we were back at the parking lot and my brief adventure in Oregon was over. I had seen beautiful rapids and rock formations. I achieved an overdue cardio workout I hadn’t anticipated, and I felt a little less guilty about the beer that we would consume later that evening.
Between the vibe, the craft beer culture and the trails, I would say that Bend is a cycling destination you should to add to your bucket list.