Thursday, October 6, 2016

Guest Post: Three Sisters Three Rivers

Stuckylife affiliate Rory O'Connell doesn't mess around when it comes to getting rad shit done and perpetually making everyone jealous. This summer was no different. Rory went "along for the ride" on the newly created 3 Sisters 3 Rivers bikepacking route. While he's not crushing on the saddle he's also a master behind the lense so some stellar imagery accompanies his epic trip report after the jump...

And this is how it starts. Under-experienced and over-excited. The best way to convince friends to commit to a 9 day bike ride. 

Usually I'm the culprit who initiates the original trip idea, but with an educator friend who I hadn't seen in a while that was keen to fill her summer with adventures I got to just "go along for the ride". There was of course some trip planning to be done, but as it turns out we didn't really have a whole lot to plan out: figure out tents vs bivies, group vs individual cooking, and of course vehicle logistics. The rest was all laid out for gpx from and follow in Gabe’s footsteps ( #InGabeWeTrust

Last minute nonsense included: 
getting bikepacking bags 2 weeks prior to departure and doing zero trips in preparation 
trip partner realizing passport has expired and getting declined for a quick renewal in Whitehorse because of a coffee stain 

With the international component to the trip this last one nearly derailed us. Luckily 24hrs prior to our departure we got this all sorted. Surrey CBSA ftw!

Chromag Rootdown – perhaps a little overkill, but oh so much fun…
On Wednesday night we all gathered in Vancouver and did a dry run packing and unpacking everything to be sure we were ready. A visit to Portland Craft for some beverages prior to our departure for 'Merica seemed appropriate.

Setting up the vehicle shuttle took the entire first day. Between a border crossing at too early o'clock am, getting lost in Seattle rush-hour, lunch time entertainment at Chang’s Mongolia Grill, and finding a place to park a vehicle in Idleyld, OR we rolled into Bend as the sun was setting.

Although the plan had been to roll out first thing the next morning and beat the heat - we managed to get going at the crack of 11am. While loading everything and adjusting fork and tire pressures Simon got the first flat of the trip as we were rolling away from the coffee shop (the first time around). Lessons learned #1: when running tubeless tires remember that you probably have holes in your tires that will not appreciate higher tire pressures.

Team shot before departure: clearly we have yet to discover Simoni’s flat
Finally on our way we departed the beer-infused beauty of Bend, with our route quickly taking us out of town and straight to the singletrack goods at Shevlin Park. A hot, dry, dusty day of riding took us up, up, and up into the wilds of the Three Sisters Wilderness. By this point Simon's new tire had failed to seal properly and he had already flatted all of his spare tubes in an effort to get rolling again. The trails were beautiful, especially riding through some of the burn areas, but progress was slow. With half of the group out of water we popped onto a dirt road and regrouped. We heard a truck on its way up and who hops out of the cab, but none other than Gabe himself! With our group having drastically underestimated the day and at near desiccation we gladly accepted the generous offer to fill water bottles.

We pushed on with newfound enthusiasm and decided that Gabe's recommended camping spot at Little Three Creeks Lake would be worth the extra effort. After a big day in the heat it was nice to camp in the cool alpine air and enjoy a chilly swim before sitting down for dinner.

Little Three Creek Lake – alpine lake swimming at its finest
Day 2  included a super fun run down a part of the Metolius Windigo with ridge views of the Sisters well worth writing home about, bumping into another rider on the way into Sisters and then spending the afternoon with him and others at the food trucks/bike store hiding from the sun.

Erika barely containing her excitement at getting to descend.

Our Trivial Pursuit skills weren’t good enough to keep from taking advantage of cell reception
(to be fair, Simoni is actually checking route options here)
We eventually pushed out of town and cruised our way up to Suttle Lake where the long weekend crowds forced a bit of stealth camping along the lake edge. More lake swimming ensued.

Sunset at Suttle Lake
Day 3 was one we had been worrying about all along. The kitty-litter hike a bike to start the day did not inspire much confidence, nor the Salsa rider we bumped into who talked of a 6 mile hike-a-bike. But we continued on and although we found some sandy sections the worst of it was downhill with a gradient that rewarded those who stayed off the brakes and kept the weight on the back wheel. This upper section of the Santiam Wagon Road also connected to the lower historic section that is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and turned out to be one of my favourite sections of singletrack that we rode.

Simon ripping down the lower section of the Santiam Wagon Road.
We powered through and started onto the Mackenzie River Trail, a little bummed that the Blue Pool section was closed due to fire, but still excited about the quality of singletrack. We also found our own "blue pool" at Great Springs. And can confirm it is NOT a hot spring but the other type of spring.

Rapid cooling at Great Spring 
We were sad to leave the flow of the MRT after a too short 20km on Day 4, but drowned our sorrows in a bacon breakfast Mackenzie Bridge before tackling the next big climb. We pushed (yes sometimes even getting off the bike and pushing) up the notorious Indian Ridge climb to the top of the Aufderheide, but not before a stop in to check out the rafts at Hidden Lake.

Rafting at Hidden Lake
During our afternoon at Hidden Lake we also met Naked Dave and chatted about all of the rafts and the history of raft-making at Hidden Lake.  Some of the rafts Dave had built well over 10 years ago!  We also watched as he stood buck naked in waist deep water with an electric drill removing over 100 screws that someone had used to dodgily make a floating trampoline raft - with no apparent concerns for electrical conductivity.

The Indian Ridge climb was proper tough. We didn't have a good plan for camping since we knew we wouldn't be able to get to the shelter on Alpine Trail in time, and we knew that there would likely be no water at the pass. We cooked and ate at Hidden Lake and then brought enough water for the night with us up to the pass. As it turns out it was probably the best evening of the trip as we watched the sunset light everything up.

Top of the Aufderheide Pass

Final rays

Waking up in the am is a little easier with views like this
One of the things about a long trip like this is that everyone in the group has bad days, no matter how strong a rider they are. I knew from previous trips hiking trips that eventually if you keep doing something for long enough your body will adjust and start to feel better about pushing hard every day. What I didn't realize was that this time it would take me 5 days before my legs started to feel any better. With big days climbing, carrying more food than necessary, and dealing with the heat the continuous days of riding were starting to add up and day 5 was definitely my low point. A 40km gravel ride to get to the start of Alpine Trail should have been relaxing but only served to further tenderize my rear.  I crawled along the short climby bits of singletrack before finally getting to rip along this piece of epic singletrack into Oakridge. 
Through the bunchgrass along Alpine Trail
As amazing as the descent was I just did not have the energy to fully enjoy it. Once popping out into the stifling heat in Westfir all I wanted was to go for a swim in the river, but the rest of the group was craving burgers and beer at Brewer's Union Local 180 only a short 5 miles away in Oakridge. For some crazy reason I decided to lead the charge and wasted my legs on this short section of pavement into Oakridge. Not knowing that we had lost someone off the back and they they missed a turn I also ended up going back to find them. Lessons learned #2: in groups more than 2 make sure everyone has a copy of the route and some way of navigating.

We rolled into Oakridge and I nearly passed out with food still in my mouth, while the others did productive things like get beta from Randy Dreiling ( including finding us showers, suggesting an alternative to the "Stairway to Hell" climb to Timpanogas Lake, and finding out that Lemolo Lake does in fact have a store. We were beat that day, and despite Randy's suggestions for free guerrilla camping the $85 motel room split 4 ways sounded pretty good - not to mention the on-site laundry.

Guillaume pulled through with a surprise beer/ice cream run while the rest of us soaked up the comforts of the motel a/c, and after a proper rest we were ready to tackle another day. Randy had given us some tips on getting up to Summit Lake and suggested that we absolutely should not try to attempt climbing the Middle Fork trail past Indigo Springs. We rolled along and thoroughly enjoyed the Middle Fork singletrack, regularly stopping to comment on how we couldn't believe that we were actually gaining. My legs were actually enjoying the trail - and the swoopy singletrack meant that I could stand up and give the 'ol bum a bit of a rest from time to time. Day 6 was another cooker and by the time lunch rolled around it was smokin’ hot. We decided to chill and relax at a picnic spot along the Middle Fork. We forged on after the heat had somewhat abated but opted for a shorter day and to stay at Indigo Springs. There was some discussion about pushing on to Summit Lake but conservativism prevailed and we enjoyed an early evening.

Easy cruising up the Middle Fork
Day 7 started with a slog up the pavement/gravel direct to Summit Lake. Although this was still quite the grind, it saved us the brutality of the "Stairway to Hell". Considering the relaxed grade, and the lack of vehicles I could almost be convinced that it was a fun road ride (had we slicks and no bags of course). Summit Lake was beautiful and we were again delighted to find a minimum of downed trees on the singletrack crossing over the Oregon Cascades Rec Area. It was another scorcher and Simon made sure to take full advantage of each and every one of the Windy Lakes along the way. In my heat induced delirium I also managed to stick my arm with a stick which provided a good excuse for the others to get off the bikes and take a break while I fished out some bandaging. Once over the hump we ripped down the gravel hootin’ and hollerin’ all the way to the pavement into Lemolo. 
Post-dip singletrack ripping
Upon arrival at Lemolo and finding out that the store was still open the first task was to find icecream. After that we contemplated camping options. Part of the decision to stay at Lemolo was due to the awesome view from the waterfront campsite and the fact that we were pretty pooped from the heat. Part of the decision may also have been our way of politely trying to shut-up the dude running the store from continuing to spout his pro-Trump ramblings.
Camp at Lemolo 
The next morning we ravaged the Lemolo store and purchased almost all of their instant meals. Knowing this was the last food stop for the trip had to be balanced off by the fact that we were only 2 days from the finish. Looking back at it I seriously wonder what I was doing carrying 5 days worth of food with me when starting in Bend with resupply points at least once a day for the first 5 days! Lessons learned #3: don't carry too much food - it's heavy!

Leaving Lemolo we started into the final river trail - the North Umpqua Trail - along the Dread and Terror section. Here again we were uncertain what to expect having come across others who warned about deadfall in the top sections and poison oak ALL OVER the lower sections (one guy showed us the scarring from a spring attempt he made), but luck was with us and we seemed to time it just right. The annual trail run up the NUT had included quite a big volunteer effort to clear out the major deadfall in the spring. Although a large tree had fallen on one of the bridges high in the Dread and Terror section resulting in the Forest Service declaring the bridge unsafe, we were able to cross without issue. As expected the NUT was indeed amazing. The diversity between technical rock and cruise-y flow kept you on your toes, and although this is a river trail there is PLENTY of climbing. After an early start from Lemolo we were starting to spread out quite a bit by the time we hit Umpqua Hot Springs and the heat was again proving to be a challenge. We decided to take a break, enjoy a soak, and put a dent in our recently restocked food supplies. On the trail again we pushed as far as we could and ended up just short of the highway 138 crossing at Eagle Rock.

The next morning Simon suggested we stash our bags in the woods for our final ride. Readjusting to an unloaded bike took a couple minutes and led to some near-misses as we blasted down the trail with abandon.

Wrapping up the final day on the NUT and enjoying the freedom of singletrack without bags
The final day was a huge one - even without bags. 50km and 1600m, and the first thought on our mind when we rolled into the parking lot at the end of the NUT was swimming. The second thought was "where's the bike rack?". Turns out our plans to stash vehicles didn't quite go according to plan. Someone had come in with a grinder and cut the bolts off to steal our (borrowed!) bike rack. Lessons learned #4: vehicles left in quiet parks for days on end are good targets. The gas station in Idlelyd probably wouldn't have been a great option either, but at least it would have been out in the open rather than tucked off the side of the highway out of sight.

We licked our wounds and found more ice cream at the gas station, this time along with burritos. Somehow we managed to cram 4 bikes, bags, and humans into Simon's VW station wagon. 

A quick stop at Crater Lake to gawk at the view along with the other tourists (and an opportunity to ruin someone's selfie by thoroughly disgusting them with my flatulence) and then back to Bend. Luckily we found Guillaume's truck with bike rack and fancy lights all intact.  We had one last evening in Bend and made sure to visit Bend Brewing Company and had rounds two and three of burritos for the day. Our server may have been a little taken aback by the amount of food consumed, but we assured ourselves that it was not unhealthy. And besides - 'Merica.

Trip stats:
#flats - 4
#flats by Simoni - 4
#lake swims - avg 1/day
Km ridden – 500ish
Elevation - 9800m. Kapow!
#times someone rode off a cliff into the river - once
Scoops of icecream consumed - difficult to quantify because of the icecream bars and litre in Oakville. Easily 30.
Lost items along the trail - Simon's sunglasses. Simon's shoes (!). Erika's hat

GPS Tracks

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