white river Wildlife area
May 8-9, 2015
With just one week until our first adventure, none of us had bikes. Lucky for us, we were working with the pros at Sugar Wheels Works and Breadwinner Cycles who, through a truly phenomenal measure of cooperation and a couple late nights, had our wheelsets built and our bikes assembled in time for the team to pick up our rigs by 8 PM on Thursday. That night, we gathered in Ira Ryan's shop and were all smiles as we dialed in our new rides - adjusting saddles and installing pedals and our Revelate Design bags. Stoke was up to level 11. We popped open beers and a bottle of champagne to cheers to a successful first trip - one that would start in less than 24 hours!
The next afternoon, we gathered at PDW HQ to load up and roll out to the starting point of our first adventure. We drove out through the Columbia River Gorge, made a right hand turn onto State Highway 197 and continued southbound into the scenic rolling hills of the Cascade Plateau. Along the way, we watched Mt. Hood's eastern flanks slowly shade to dark as the sunset colored the western skies behind it. Natural light was extinguished as we pulled into the Wasco County Fairgrounds. We donned headlights and went about setting up tents and hammocks for the night while Sharon prepared a fancy camp feast of steak and salmon filets. Well fed, whiskey-ed, and excited for our maiden voyage, we bedded down to coyote lullabies.
The next morning, we lazily took our time making breakfast (leftover steak with eggs!) and packed up. We chatted with the campground host, who confirmed that it would be just fine to leave our cars in the Fairgrounds so long as we moved them to the far corner to make room for the vintage car show later that day. After a bit of goofing off in the rodeo arena, we threw around a bunch of high fives then pedaled out into adventure.
Our route for the weekend was a 40ish mile loop through the Tygh Valley, into the Mt. Hood National Forest and through the White River Wildlife Area. A few of us were already familiar with some of these roads having enjoyed them while riding VeloDirt's Oregon Stampede route. The Limberlost guys provided us with some valuable beta on N. South Road which climbs through the Mt. Hood National Forest. Using that knowledge as foundation, we rounded out the loop with a bit of wildcard in Upper Fifteenmile Road. The route offered an exciting mix of wide gravel roads, rough doubletrack, a handful of creek crossings and lots of cattle guards.
We began climbing the graveled and gently graded Badger Creek Road which delivered us quickly into the White River Wildlife Area. We rode around the boundary gate and relished in the narrowing path and lush springtime vegetation reaching up and out toward the sunshine. At times, we rode close together, chatting and cracking jokes. Other times, we found ourselves in a personal bubble, alone and quiet. The usual central Oregon perfume of Ponderosa Pine and Sagebrush sweetened the warm air. We stopped frequently to admire the wildflowers - showy pockets of yellow Balsamroot, purple Penstemon, and a few early red Indian Paintbrushes.
As Saturday afternoon waned on, the road got a bit rougher. A few technical rocky descents and one really punchy climb challenged us, but we all agreed on how freaking awesome our bikes felt despite the tricky terrain. We crossed a few creeks - a nice chance to splash off in cool water. We were also surprised to see a truck right in the middle of nowhere with a weathered looking fellow and his grandson packing up gear after a day of turkey hunting. We chatted them up and learned that they hadn't any luck seeing turkeys, but that they had seen a large cougar creeping into their camp that morning. That cougar was never far from the back of our minds for the rest of the trip.
We rolled into camp dusty and were pleased to discover the bush camping option we had hoped would serve us well was indeed a lovely oasis along Fifteenmile Creek. We promptly poured ourselves a pint of beer, all thanks to Hazel for having hauled in a growler! We got a fire going, made dinner, then second dinner. It was a dark and still night and the running river alongside camp was a lovely soundtrack. And we didn't see or hear any cougars.
The next morning as we repacked our bikes, we were surprised to see an ATV appear seemingly out of nowhere from the direction opposite of how we accessed camp. He introduced himself as a local farmer who helps maintain a nearby irrigation channel. We chatted about our plan for the day and he warned that Upper Fifteen Mile road was going to require us to "carry our bikes" some. Despite the unspecific warning, we took off that way and were glad to discover that not only was the road rideable - it was super fun and totally gorgeous, hugging the river through a narrow canyon. We encountered only one easy hike-a-bike section over a short rockslide.
Eventually we reached our turn out of the canyon and climbed up and away from the river. The views started getting really good as the group pedaled our way south toward Friend and we kept our cameras busy clicking shots.
We lunched in the shade of the Old Friend Schoolhouse then turned our bikes onto Clark Mill Road and climbed back into the White River Wildlife Area. Definitely one of the more scenic sections of our ride, we marveled at the expansive views of Mt. Hood, got rowdy on descents through babyhead rocks and deep gravel, found a secret waterfall and had an almost-too-close encounter with a rattlesnake. Good times!
All in all, the trip was an overwhelming success. No mechanicals, no time spent lost and just three minor boo-boos. We celebrated with some beers back at the cars before heading into Hood River to refresh ourselves on pizza and more beer.
The route is highly recommended, although it's important to note that it's fairly remote - we passed only a very few houses and no public services - but water was plentiful. Cell phone reception was severely limited. Keep an eye out for rattlers.
Post by Jocelyn Gaudi.
Some individual thoughts from the Komorebi team riders:
For weeks we have been planning, building our set up and waiting for the chance to finally ride our adventure mobiles. The weekend finally came and i never imagined it could have panned out any better. So many smiles, the right amount of challenge and, for me, the perfect crash scenario. Wound is healing, rotor replaced (thank you Ira!!) and i'm still in that dreamy giddy fog state of reliving the experience with vivid memories and pictures!! Yaaay Bikes!! Yaaay fantastic teammates!! - Sharon
Having only been mountain biking a grand total of two times, the terrain we covered over two days on our inaugural trip was initially totally terrifying. I'm not sure what it was I was expecting, but there was no turning back once we rolled out of camp that first morning. And look at that, I made it out alive. The encouragement from my amazing teammates, trust in our incredible equipment, and the confidence I gained as I bombed descent after descent made for one of the most memorable and stoke-instilling weekends in a long time. I can't wait to do it all over again. - Caitlin
I think the biggest surprise for me was how the bike hardly felt loaded at all. I'm so used to panniers and having a wobbly rear end (the bike, not me!), that the sturdiness of the frame bags, the fork mounted cages, and the bike itself, was just a total shock--and of course, way more fun to ride! The more technical parts of the route were definitely my favorite, and it was fun to see people new to mountain biking get their feet wet, literally. Before the trip, I didn't really think of what we were doing as "mountain biking" since in my mind, that equates to single track. But of course, we were still going over rock gardens and logs, and I think that also came to a surprise to some of the folks newer to it. But they rode it all, and fully loaded no less. - Kristin
What a great trip to kickoff a summer of adventures. That was by far the most off road climbing I have ever done which was challenging but I was amazed at how well my bike handled it. It was fun to get dorky with everyone about camp cookware and snacks. It was also great to realize that our group comes from such varied backgrounds, professions and interests but equals out to a great crew! The biggest thing I learned was to really check out your medical kit, mine was brand new but lacked some things I would consider essential. - Hazel