Getting Pumiced and Folked Up in Sisters + Sandy Ridge Bonus Ride

** Join Tracy, (a fantastic first Guest Contributor on Learning to Ride!) as she heads to Sisters, Oregon and then the Sandy Ridge Trail to celebrate
a couple o’ decades of sweet sweet love’. **

Hi! I’m Tracy, Sarah’s mom friend who she sees at Drop Off and Pick Up, and at Andy’s 40th Birthday Party. Sadly, those aren’t trail names, although Andy’s party was an epic ride. We know we’ll ride together soon, but til then, I’m “writing” with her on her bike blog about a little trip my husband and I took to Sisters and Sandy Ridge!

A little bit about me and mountain biking – I have been learning and re-learning to ride mountain bikes for 20 years. My aptitude for riding varies on any given day based on the length of time since having had a child (I have 2 kids, and no more on the way, so hopefully this aspect is waning), thoughts in my head, fire in my lungs, mercury’s position in the night sky, the amount of moisture in the dirt, the amount of steepness of the curve, the hurt I want to feel, or the chillaxin’ I need to do. In general, I ride today so I can ride tomorrow. I like to climb til my heart is beating in my ear drums and go down in a controlled and cautious manner, unless I’ve been practicing and the dirt is tacky. Then I’ll let ‘er ride.

Ten years is a long time to be married, and twenty years is a long time to be together. My husband Tyler and I reached these milestones last weekend and marked the occasion with 2 nights away from the kids.

We were handed this shiny gem of an opportunity only a few days before so didn’t have a solid game plan for what to do with our time. We wanted mountain biking and live music. I was trying to go see De La Soul or Ice Cube, both of whom I had just missed in Portland and Tyler is still mourning Wolfmother’s break up. So while we weren’t typing “nearest folk festival” into Google, we stumbled upon Sisters, OR which looked cute, has trails, camping and is home to the Sisters Folk Festival. As we’d never been, and we are into reconnaissance missions, and the live music in Portland looked terrible, we were in.

Rolling into Sisters, Siri decided to take us on the “washboardy” road route. Tyler was only mildly amused and I defended her with the fact that it was extremely scenic. We ended up camping on Suttle Lake at Blue Bay Campground. Spoiler alert: the lake has swimmer’s itch. Ew. But super pretty and worth checking out next summer. There is a gorgeous lodge that was recently restored by the guys who own the trendy Ace Hotel in Portland: Suttle Lake Lodge.

Our anniversary dinner was at The Open Door. Check it out! Sweet spot with a gallery and amazing patio. While we didn’t have tickets to the Folk Festival (over $100 each), one can totally wander the streets and listen in on the open air venues dotted all over town. The Village Green hosts the mainstage and there were many sisterfolk sitting around outside the tent taking in the concert. Vendors included Deschutes Brewing, Breedlove (I swoon!), Humm Kombucha, and other fun-to-browse tents. Even though there weren’t any 90’s hip hop acts, we had a great time.

Ok, so by now you’re probably saying to yourself “what the H*LL, Sarah’s friend??!? This isn’t a touchy feely blog about your anniversary trip to some podunk town in Oregon. It’s about riding things!!!”

AIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT… MY BAD. Here’s the riding part… 🙂

The obvious choice of what to ride near Sisters is the Mackenzie River Trail, Peterson Ridge or Kings-Castle Rock. We’ve ridden the McKenzie River and while it’s fun and all, I wanted to get out and see something new. So we chose something a little more off the beaten path; the Upper Metolius/Windigo Loop.

We weren’t expecting this to be the best ride of our lives, but picked it more for the general location and possibility of views and because Metolius is in the name, which is a super cool river that bubbles out of the ground at some points. The trail is on the Sisters and Redmond High Desert Trail Map. It’s rated as Moderate-Strenuous aerobically, and technically advanced. But it’s mellow at 11.1 miles and probably less than 2000’ elevation gain. It starts at Upper Three Creeks Lake Sno Park and climbs a double track road for about 5 miles before hitting a high point at Park Meadow Trailhead and descending on fun technical singletrack. The ride up on the road was really more like riding doubletrack, which I was fine with. Tyler, however was less intrigued and decided we should cross over to the trail and climb the single track instead. Twenty years into hanging out with Tyler I should have anticipated a curve ball like this. He always opts for the road/route less traveled.

Unless you’ve been training on the flanks of Mt St Helens or the beaches of Hawaii, you will find riding uphill in 6-8 inches of loose, powdery pumice to be hard, and annoying and tiring and you might say some untoward things to your life partner who opted for this route. Perhaps the trail just needs a little rain and it all evens out but our experience was that of spinning our tires at some points in the ride, making a small incline feel more like a Mt. Everest summit attempt. At 6,000-7,000’ you also got to feel the elevation a bit in your lungs. I had to dig deep and find my dust skills, and remember in deep dirt that you have to sort of skull your front tire to get a little traction and keep it from careening whichever way the deep dirt track takes you.

A great distraction from the dirt conditions was the near 90 degree sunny day and the almost constant view of the 3 sisters. I was hazy on the mythology behind the mountains and so could keep my mind busy trying to remember the folklore. Was the south sister mad at middle and north sister? Is that why there’s a gap between her and them? Was she having a love affair with Mt. Bachelor? Oh ya, and how come Jack has only 3 fingers, how does that story go? Read it here if you want to entertain your kids during long drives to Bend.

You cross Snow Creek a few times and at one point it’s deep enough to get wet. We stopped to soak our shirts and douse our heads.

The scenery on the way up is largely vast views of the Sisters through forest fire-burned trees. The black and silver monoliths are almost spooky at times.

The descent was good fun (of course). Channel your dirt demon and throw caution to the wind. You can wipe out pretty good in the deep volcanic slough, but choose to ride it like powder, because the landing is soft if you do wipe out.

Post ride, apologize to your honey for the uncouth things you said on the way up, because now it’s all endorphins and smiles. Enjoy a solid dirt tan and then head up the road 10 miles to Three Creek Lake. It’s perfect for washing the pumice away.

7 6** Sisters Dirtbag Tip: How to score a free shower **

Park on the edge of Creekside Campground in town. Walk across the footbridge into the campground. Duck into showers (pray for a door to be ajar, or be prepared to to try crack the door keycode or grab it as someone is coming out). If there is not a Folk Festival in town, this process is easier. Just find a shower at the coin op ones in the Village Green.

Refuel on nachos and up to 6 different kinds of margaritas at Rancho Viejo back in town on their sweet patio. The “Yellow Thunder” is about as close to the taste of Baja as I’ve found north of the border.


A few notable acts at the Folk Festival… Did you ever think you’d hear “Lullaby” the pop hit from the late 90’s live…? (“Ever-ry thing’s gonna be alriiiight, Rockaby…..Rockaby….”) Neither did we until Shawn Mullins, an otherwise perfectly respectable country/folk singer started belting out his grammy-winning hit on the mainstage. Much to Tyler’s horror, I wasn’t going to let the moment pass without singing along like no one was watching.  

The New Orleans Suspects brought the funk to the people and schooled us on the Creole culture by playing the classic cuts (Iko Iko) and original stuff that had strong danceable beats from “Mean” Willie Green who was the drummer for the Neville Brothers for over thirty years.  

The town’s energy on a clear moonlit night with live music wafting from every corner and converging in the Village Green was festive, fun, and perfectly civilized. As far as music festivals go, it was totally my speed as I consider myself a fairly crowd averse person. As soon as the same format pops up for hip hop acts, I’m there every year!

The clear night turned Gorge-like windy by about 10pm and Tyler and I barely got a wink of sleep with the wind howling through the trees and gusts hitting our tent at irregular intervals and directions. In the AM as we had to build a shelter for our camp stove to keep it lit for coffee, the camp host came by and told us that was super rare for that neck of the woods.

We hit the Sisters Bakery on our way out of town for sugary treats and a baguette for lunch and headed to Sandy Ridge. We figured we deserved a well known ride that we’d never done as a finale for the hot mess of a recon mission we had done the day before.

Thanks BLM, IMBA and all who helped build this little Disneyland for grown ups! Gorge-ites – this trail is not that far from home. You could make it a day trip easily. About 70 minutes there, 70 minutes back. And you might even make it home before 2pm pick up. It’s just past Government Camp, easy to find and so well signed that you don’t have to spend your first ride constantly referring to the map.

We started our ride at 11:30 and were home by 4:30. We rode the paved road up (about 40-60 minutes depending on your uphill frame of mind). We opted for the straight-forward Hide-and-Seek trail down.

Hide-and-Seek is divided into 2 parts. The upper part is more technical and rated a black diamond by the map. I would concur, in that there are roots and rocks and drops. Knee pads wouldn’t be a terrible idea. My style on a first descent of a trail like that is a lot of cautious dabbing. Tyler was annoyed as he said it was all within my riding ability. But me and mountain biking seem to have struck a deal; if I give her the space and respect she deserves, she lets me ride another day.

9The lower section is flowy and fun and more my kind of riding. Gorge riders, think Float On and Klee Way. The dirt is in perfect condition on all parts of the trail. A welcome change from our pumice-fest in Sisters. Go now!

Had we not had to pick the dog up from pet camp by 6 and retrieve our kids in time for dinner we would have ridden back up and done the lower section of Hide-and-Seek one more time, as the road intersects it right where it turns from technical to flowy.

All-in-all, our 10th anniversary celebration was a perfect opportunity to get back a glimmer of how our lives were 10 years ago. To play all day and ride to exhaustion. To only have yourself to worry about. Your schedule, your wants, your needs. Even though those days are done and dusted, the good news is, whether you do it in small chunks or big blocks, riding is still amazingly fun. It still connects you to nature and friends, and pushes you into good moods and bad (uphill in pumice). It pushes you to push yourself and when you’re doing that, it’s all good. Or as Shawn Mullins would say, “Ever-ry thing’s gonna be alriiiight, Rockaby…..Rockaby….” For anyone itching to go play in Sandy Ridge, hit me up! I’ll bring my autographed copy of Shawn Mullins’ CD and we can rock out!


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