As most of you know, every summer Justine and I try to head down to Hood River to do some biking and enjoy the awesome atmosphere and warm weather in northern Oregon. It's one of our favourite places, and we always have a great time. Usually, our trips revolve around road riding, but this trip was a bit different, as we were going to do only mountain biking.
We had found out that our friend Graham was going to be down near Bend, and he was encouraging us to join him to ride the McKenzie River Trail. We love Bend too, so we thought we'd do the whole trip a bit further south. Sadly, we couldn't find any reasonable accommodations within a hundred miles of Bend, so we settled on staying in Hood River (about a 3 hour drive away), and only doing the one day in Bend with Graham.
We left Thursday night after work, taking off a little bit early to pack up, and head out. We hit the road around 5:30, with a long drive ahead of us. We actually managed the timing pretty well, but it was still 1:00 a.m. by the time we got to Tucker County Park, just outside Hood River. We set-up camp in the dark on a pretty nice site. It was way busier than we were expecting, and we were a bit surprised at how few sites were left. We slept in a bit Friday morning, and awoke to a bit of a cool and overcast day - unusual for Hood River!
Given that we were about to tackle up to a 30 mile mountain bike trail on Saturday, we figured we should get a bit of a ride in on Friday. There's a great mountain bike area just outside of Hood River called Post Canyon that we had ridden once before, so that seemed like the ideal choice. We headed in to town to pick up a trail map and a few other things that we needed. While it was a bit early, we thought we should have some food in us before the ride. So we stopped at the best brewery in town, Double Mountain for a beer and some food.
After lunch, we headed over to Post Canyon for a ride. We found a good route that looked like it would be fun and got on it. It ended up being perfect - a hard ride up, followed by a long descent. At about 45 minutes a lap, two laps was all we needed.
It was a really good ride. The uphill was manageable, and the downhill was controllable. A little too crazy in a lot of places for me, and I could hardly keep up with Justine on the way down. There was also a great skills park at the top, so we spent some time riding bridges and other technical features, which is good practice.
After the ride, we got cleaned up and headed back into town to grab some food for dinner. Along the way we made a stop at an orchard we like, and picked some cherries and raspberries. Everything was so fresh and tasty. They also have a little petting zoo, and there was a mamma pig that was due to give birth. She didn't look like she was having a lot of fun...
As we headed into town we noticed that the wind was picking up, and that there were a crazy number of kiteboarders and wind surfers out on the river. So we headed down to the waterfront to check out the action. At one point Justine counted over 75 people out on the water, all at once - insane.
Since we were down that way, we stopped at another of our favourite breweries, pFriem Brewery, for a snack and some tasty beverages. After wandering the waterfront for a bit, we headed back to the campsite. We grabbed some food for dinner and some wood for a fire, and made an early night of it. We had an early start to the day the next day, so the campfire was short.
Surprisingly, it rained on us during the night, but fortunately stopped before we had to get going. The weather was a bit odd all trip - much cooler than normal. Usually we're dealing with 40 degrees and all sun - this time it never got above about 27 or 28 degrees the whole trip.
The last time we were in Bend with Graham, he and his girlfriend spent an extra day, and rode the McKenzie River Trail, or at least about half of it. He raved about it after, and this trip we decided we should give it a try. Bike Magazine named the McKenzie River Trail its prized #1 spot for best trail in America a few years back, and the whole trail runs some 25 miles through lush 300 year-old, old growth forests and lava fields, alongside lakes so clean you can see over a100 feet to the bottom! What makes the McKenzie so great is the almost seamless flow of winding singletrack. You bob, duck and weave, hour after hour, along a perfectly buff ribbon of riverside singletrack. It’s just one constant blur of mossy, old growth forest.
We had organized a shuttle that took us about 2/3 of the way up the trail, and dropped us off for the (mostly) downhill trip back to our cars. There was a reservoir right near the start, and after an initial short climb, it was in to beautiful, downhill single track.
One of the more interesting aspects of the trail are all the narrow wooden bridges for crossing all the rivers. You had to walk your bike across them, as they were way to narrow to ride.
The first section of the trail that we rode was amazing. Nice and flowy, through the forest. It was exactly what I had hoped for, and we were having a really fun time. Eventually that caught up with us. Not too far into the day, the trail turned from soft and flowy to lava rock, as we came close to one of the signature features of the trail, Tomolich Pool. This is a crystal clear pool that almost glows bright blue in the sunshine. Pretty amazing, but super busy right in an area where the riding was ridiculously hard. We ended up hiking our bikes for the most part of about 2 miles.
Fortunately, after that the trail again turned back into it's more calm counterpart. The riding got much nicer, despite a few uphills that were technical, and few downhills along the edge of ridges that really meant you didn't want to look down at all!
Eventually we settled into a nice rhythm. The trail was so much fun, and once it was alongside the river, was just beautiful. But it was a long day. We ended up covering almost 35 kms, and it took us almost 5 hours. By the time we got to the trailhead where our cars were parked, we were all done.
After we got our bikes cleaned, changed and had a well-deserved beer, we headed back to Bend with Graham. He was staying right downtown, and we ended up at a cool restaurant/bar for dinner. Sadly, we couldn't stay too late as we still had a 3 hour drive back to the campsite. While it was a long day, it was super fun, and that trail is amazing!
We slept in a bit on Sunday morning - well earned - but there's only so much time you can spend in a tent once the sun comes up. We were planning a bit of a relaxing day, without too much directly planned. We decided to go for a bit of a walk in the morning, and decided to head out along the historic highway for a little bit. This is usually one of our road rides, and we had never walked it before. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and we ended up doing a little more than 5 km before calling it quits. Our legs were still pretty sore from the previous day.
Sunday was also the Euro 2016 finals, and I wanted to watch the game. So around lunch time we headed back into Hood River, to the Full Sail brewpub to have some lunch and watch the game. We didn't have the best view, but we got to see it, while also watching the kiteboarders on the river. Graham was on his way up to Vancouver WA, and joined us for lunch. We got talking about Post Canyon, and Graham decided he wanted to give it a ride. He wanted someone to guide him and I drew the short straw. Rather than riding up, since we had 2 cars, we were able to shuttle to the top, and did one lap of the route from Saturday down. My legs were pretty wrecked, making it a tough ride down.
We parted ways at that point, and Justine and I headed back towards the campground. We stopped at the orchard, and sure enough, piglets! There was also a baby goat that we hadn't seen, and all were very cute.
Our next stop was out at Solera, another brewery that we really liked when we visited last year. This one has probably the nicest patio in the area, with amazing views out to Mount Hood. We really liked the beer last time, but sadly this time it wasn't as good. Still, the view is amazing!
After that stop, it was time to head back to the campground. We had a leisurely evening planned, with lots of firewood to get through and a good dinner over the BBQ. There might have also been some wine. We spent the evening making dinner, playing cards and chatting with our neighbors over a pretty great fire. It was a really nice evening, if a bit on the cool side.
We had to be back in Vancouver Sunday, and had a long drive ahead of us. That said, we wanted to make the most of things. We decided to try and sneak in a hike, before heading back. We picked a relatively short hike that we hadn't done before, to two-level waterfall called Latourell Falls.
The hike was from a parking lot of the Historical Highway, and as we were a little bit late getting started after packing up camp, it was already busy. The hike started at the parking lot, and quickly climbed to a lookout of the lower falls. As the guidebook suggested, most people turned around at that point, so we had a pretty quiet trail up to the top, despite how busy it was.
The lower falls drop something like 250 feet, so they're pretty impressive. From the lookout. the trail climbed up through some nice old forest. Not sure it was true old growth, but there were lots of big trees to see. The climb up to the upper falls didn't take that long.
The upper falls were actually more interesting than the lower, despite the significant size difference. You could actually climb up and get behind the waterfall, which was kind of fun.
After spending some time around the waterfall, we started the trip back, as the path made it way back along the other side of the river, back towards the parking lot. In a couple of places, the trail end up on top of lookouts over the Columbia River, with pretty amazing views down the river.
After the lookouts, the trail made its way back through the forest, and actually descended all the way past the highway, before looping back up and under one of the amazing original highway bridges, for a slightly different view of the lower falls. Not surprisingly, this part of the trail was really busy.
After our little hike, we were going to drive the Historic Highway for a bit, but quickly ran into ridiculous traffic near Multnomah Falls. I guess we shouldn't have been surprised. So we turned around and headed back the way we came.
Our last planned stop in the Gorge was at what might be our favourite all-round brewery - good beer, amazing scenery, decent food - Thunder Island Brewery in Cascade Locks. It's a bit out of the way, but has such an amazing patio, it's totally worth the visit.
We had some lunch and some beer samples, then had a decision to make about getting home. As it was early afternoon, heading back via the I5 was likely to have us in Seattle rush hour traffic for the whole way home. So rather than deal with that, we opted for the much longer and more scenic interior route.
That had us back-track all the way past Hood River and out to the Dalles, before crossing over the river and heading north. Once you get that far east in Washington State, you're on the edge of the desert region. It gets much drier, and is a totally different landscape. I love it personally, and we had such a beautiful day that it was worth the extra drive time.
After that, it was a pretty steady drive north. We worked our way up the 97 until we intersected with the #2. At that point, we headed back west, across and over the Cascade Mountain range. It's a spectacular drive, up and down the mountains. It was a great drive, very scenic and I think the better way to get home. Even if it did take longer.
The trip was, as always way too short. But it was so much fun. We got to hang out with Graham, spend some time in both Bend and Hood River, sample some great beer and do some amazing mountain biking. And even snuck in a little hike. A little too much driving, but worth it for all the fun things we got to do!