McKenzie River Trail & the Xen crew

On my fourth attempt to ride the McKenzie River trail, I was finally successful. With the car in the shop having its engine pulled out & apart, we had a loaner that actually got us more than eight miles out of Bend on Highway 20 north. For most of the hour drive to the trailhead I wasn’t overly keen on all the rain that was falling, but as we started to go down the other side of the range it eased off a bit.

Starting at a recently sealed parking lot, the new trail signs aren’t quite up yet, immediately I was over the first of many log bridges crossing various streams & the river on the ride. There was a mile or so of nice wide packed dirt singletrack under big trees before I crossed another bridge at the head of Clear Lake. The east side of the lake has a lot of lava flow to ride over & it’s easily the most technical & tricky part of the ride – quite slow as well. The sun wasn’t out, so the lake wasn’t as clear as it may usually be but beautiful all the same.

The tricky rock continued for a while & I passed many hikers before the trail suddenly became sealed in the middle of a big lava flow – some quite tight corners here. After the lake the trail alternated quickly between smooth trail & rocks. After crossing a forestry road & then the highway in quick succession it wasn’t long before I happened across the river plunging over Sahalie Falls. There were a few vantage points to get a look (& feel – a little spray, but nothing like Yosemite) at the water thundering over.

The river disappeared for a while underground & while I was cruising down through the damp, mossy trees I caught up to a group – actually a pair from Salt Lake & another from Portland. After a bit of chatting (it turns out we all had Giro Xen helmets of different colours) we were riding up to Blue Pool where the river comes back out of the ground. Strangely still, it was even clearer than Clear Lake. Looking down from above it was very difficult to gauge its depth, but it was plenty stunning. We all traded cameras a little, so I ended up with a few photos of myself for a change.

Switching the order around a bit as we continued down the fun trail through more trees, rocks & moss I somehow found myself at the front. I’m not sure that that is always a good idea as I kept stopping for pictures like the tourist I am.

Just before the halfway point Rob & Kevin had to leave & head back to Portland. Jeremy, Pam & I continued on our merry way. There were a few small climbs, but these weren’t much of a bother – helped to break up the monotony of sweet downhill riding. The descents weren’t particularly steep, just good fun weaving in & out of trees & dealing with the occasional rocky section.

At times the forest became quite enchanted as the moss was even more mossy, the light darkened & it all became a little etheral. I was wondering where the Faraway Tree was & Jeremy was concerned that some gnome was going to jump out from behind a rock, put a big stick through his wheels & steal all his stuff.

We continued our way down throughly enjoying the ride – Jeremy & I had a good pace going & I was happy with a few little rest stops. Especially as I’d hit climbs thinking they’d be short & they were always twice as long as I expected. For quite a bit of the ride beside the river we’d noticed a mist hanging around the yard or two above the river – it was a little spooky seeing it so much.

There was a bit of riding near the highway, but the traffic noise was generally blocked by all the trees. The trail-goodness just goes & on & on and after five hours we were within a mile of the cars when both Pam & I managed to stack it. I was having too much fun & rode around a corner to find a white-bearded, bare-footed hippy in the middle of the trail – he was surprised as I grabbed a handful of brake, washed out the front a bit & stopped & fell to the left very quickly. From all accounts, Pam did a commendable impression of someone wanting to introduce her helmet to a tree – not sure how that happened. A most excellent ride all up & great to have met good riding buddies along the way.

Valerie & I took the scenic route 242 back to Sisters. It climbed its tortuous path up to over 5000 feet through a lot more rain & big trees. Valerie was particularly pleased to see a black bear cub run across the road in front of us, I was pleased that this time I wasn’t on my bike a few metres down the trail. At the top of the pass it was all volcanic rock again & just dry enough to get out of the car. There is a cool old viewing platform at the top with small holes in walls to look out at the various peaks. Alas, it was too cloudy to see any.

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