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.

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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!

 

Reality

On Wednesday nights my sweet love and I have started getting a regular sitter to hang with the kiddos while we go on a date. We consider it cheap marriage therapy. Not long after we had our second kiddo, a friend gave me some great advice . She said that it’s important to have some “side-by-side time” before you have some “face-to-face time”. This epiphany occurred to her after she found herself going on post-kid dates with her hubby and sitting down to dinner, speechless. The pressure of the moment,  the desire to make adult conversation and not focus on the kids, was overwhelming. Instead of reviving their youthful love, they sat quietly across the table from each other, not quite able to get into the flow of their renewed, freedom. It freaked her out. Was their marriage failing? Doomed? Not meant to be? With a slight tweak of the night, going on a hike or bike or some sort of adventure together before dinner, they changed everything. That “side-by-side time” lubed the gears and got things moving by dinnertime.

Unfortunately, I just didn’t have the energy for that tonight. After hanging with my (amazing and energetic) kiddos today, I should want to hop on my bike to ride, but I felt exhausted and guilty that I wanted nothing else than a nap. I’m more of a morning exerciser. By 6pm I’ve got a pretty long list of reasons why I shouldn’t go sweat it out. So I talked us out of a ride (despite perfect weather and tacky trails) and instead we drank margaritas and beer, and ate Mexican food. Now I’m capping the night off with some Milk Duds and Sour Gummy Bears. Oh my.

That’s reality for us everyday folks. An imperfect commitment to our passions. I have a ride planned for tomorrow morning at 6:45 am. Gross. I will curse myself in the morning – and be so glad I did it when I’m done. So consider this a little long-distance-interweb show of support from one to another. Do what you can, and don’t worry about it when you can’t. Tomorrow is a new day. Whew. I’m off to bed.

UPDATE: I made the ride. We did it. 6:45 am came a bit too quickly, but thanks to the support of some good girlfriends I was pedaling away by 7:10 and breathing that crisp fall air. I was greeted with a steaming morning latte (thanks Jos!) and a tupperware container bursting with moist carrot muffins (you’re a dream KK!). It’s easy to forget feeling sorta crappy when you get to start your morning with folks like that.

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So if last night was ‘reality’ then this morning should be ‘rebirth’. Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but listen…when you’re draggin’, and wondering what the hell you’re doing, huffing up a hill on 2-wheels, and then you come around a corner and the morning sun trickles through the trees and lights your path just as your Endorphins (and that latte and muffin) finally kick in – you can’t help but feel that life is looking Pretty. Good. A simple, fresh start that gets things reset and ready so you can go after it again – whatever it is. Trust me on this one.

Learning to ride, no, really.

At a local trail, there is a curvy skinny made from a cut log. For 35 feet it winds around about 15 inches from top to ground. I had been riding for a year or so, but had never attempted to ride said skinny – that is, until a stinkin’ 8 year old (or so) rolled right up to it, zipped up on it, and rode it no problemo. I knew then and there I’d need to give it a try, bruised shins be damned, ego winning out…thank god I made it. And thank goodness for that darn kid.

I didn’t go on my first mountain bike ride until I was in my mid 20s. I didn’t even know the sport existed and the 2 rides I went on weren’t much fun. It took a re-introduction in my late-20s to make me fall in love with dirty singletrack. That’s why I’m particularly amazed to see our youngest, who’s just a wee past 1.5 years old, riding a strider bike, sans parent.

And then, to pull up to her tiny daycare (newborns to 4 year-olds), and see 3 other little bikes parked out front.

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I look forward to the day I can go on rides with my kiddos, and I wonder how long I have before they’ll be teaching me how to ride.

Falls Creek Falls

I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but if you’re feeling a bit blue, it’s probably because you haven’t ridden Falls Creek Falls in awhile. And I want you to know I understand. The Gorge is full of great rides or you’re coming from Portland and don’t want to cross the river. But look, it’s the end of August, and time to break out of your riding rut.

Last weekend I got to ride FCF. The 3 ways to do it are as a shuttle (not too shabby), an out-and-back (yuck), or a loop that starts with climbing the road up to the start of the trail(hmmm….)

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A lucky few will get to see an actual old man at Oldman Pass.

I’d only ridden it a couple times before, as a shuttle starting at Oldman Pass, but the gung-ho group I was with convinced me that riding up the road wasn’t-really-that-bad.  Plus, they argued, riding the road took just about as much time as shuttling so might as well earn our turns, right?

 

And while I’d never state this publicly, I actually enjoyed the ride up the hill. Though it certainly helped to have an early start to beat the heat, and great conversation partners.

The singletrack itself is dreamy. An exercise in moderation. No epic climbs. Not too much technical. Just flowy, swooping singletrack through gorgeous forests (a great place to practice your turns!) And sure, there was some dust, it’s mid-August afterall, but there were also sections with a bit of tacky dirt AND huckleberries!

To top it all off, a new, sweet sweet section of singletrack has replaced a big-ol-chunk of gravel road riding on FCF. Have you ever built trail before? It’s friggin’ hard. So go give some of your money to the folks at the Northwest Trail Alliance.

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BB getting ready to check out the new section of trail!

They built the new section (along with fantastic volunteers and partners) and it’s incredible. Banked berms, kickers, rocks and boulders thoughtfully placed, views, benches even! So much more than just connecting A to B. As of August 2016, the trail’s still pretty fresh, which means some extra dust and bumps – even more reason to give it a ride, pack it down, and help it get ready for the glory days. When you’re done, hop in the water to cool off, then grab a beer at Backwoods Brewing. Now, aren’t we all feeling just a little bit better?

UPDATE: Since writing this post, I heard from Mr. Andy Crump over at the NW Trails Alliance. He knows a thing or three about the new section of trail and pointed me to a recent NWTA newsletter that describes this epic, 5 year project to create 3.5 new, awesome, trail miles!

 

 

I’m right. You’re wrong.

I usually ride clipless, but this morning I borrowed a bike with flats. It was horrible. I rode awful. I wanted to blame the pedals. I had to blame me. It’s a totally different experience. I’m used to being connected to my bike. This morning my feet were on their own – free to do what they please – which was to slip and slide all over. When I asked a fellow rider, who prefers flats, for some advice she said that first off, it’s important to get “good pedals”. When I pushed for a bit more info she said that the “little grippers” on the flats can really make a difference. When I pushed a little more info she said “if the little grippers on the pedals hit you in the leg by accident, it should look like a cougar attacked you. That’s how you know it’s a good pedal.” And since she is a scientist, I consider this information to be scientific. But I digress.

Decision-making. We do it a million times a day. What to wear? Who to invite? Where to go? What to eat? How long for this? How much for that? Person to marry? Kids to have? And…then you’re dead.

It’s amazing we get anything else done in life besides decide, decide, decide. That’s why I’m here to help with at least one of those decisions –

flats vs. clipless pedals?

It’s a mountain biking decision as old as the hills themselves. From cavemen riding stone-wheeled steeds, and now, perhaps, to you.

To start, let’s make sure we’ve all got the basics. Flat pedals are flat. Usually with little grippers on them that keep your foot from slipping all over the place.flats_Funn-Funndamental-Platform

You can wear whatever shoes you want with these pedals, but there are shoes made especially for flat pedals (stiffer, grippier etc.)flat shoes_OCDEPClipless pedals are different. First of all, their name is a lot more confusing than flats. You actually do clip into these pedals – the name comes from them not having a toe cage – or toe ‘clip’.

(Clip & Strap sounds like a hipster S&M bar.)

Toe clip with strap.

(Clip & Strap should be a hipster S&M bar.)

 

With clipless pedals, you wear special shoes with cleats on the bottom. These tiny chunks of metal actually click into the pedal so you’re attached to the bike – until you twist your heel outward and disconnect them. Click!

So maybe you’ve done your research, read other blogs, pored over gear reviews, talked to your friends…and now, you’ve arrived here, exhausted and grateful that someone is finally going to just tell you what to freakin’ do!…Well then, you’ve come to the wrong place.

I don’t know what you were thinking. If you wanted someone to tell you what to ride there are two-zillion-gabillion blogs/websites/opinions out there telling you what to do. They’re likely written by folks with a lot more experience, and time to research, than I have. And I can guarantee you that whatever you decide, you will absolutely be able to find whatever reassurance you need to support your decision.

But hey, I did say I was going to help you make this critical decision, so here’s my advice – just get out and ride. If you’re on flats now, spend a week on clipless. If you’re riding clipless, throw on some flats. Borrow a bike, borrow some pedals, whatever. Then you can add your 2 cents to the interweb of opinions and decide for yourself. Now, stop wasting your time reading this blog and go hit the trails!

 

It’s all in the hips.

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I’ve been taking things too slow. Cornering, to be specific. Talk to someone who’s good at cornering and then do the opposite of what they tell you and that’s how I approach bends in the trail. I brake as I enter. I put my weight back. I go slow. Painfully slow. A snowboarding friend once told me to just “whip” the corners – I thought that sounded like so much fun and I imagined myself zipping in and using the centrifugal force to whip me out. Another friend said she’s been told boobs to bar (balls to bar for you gentlemen). But I’m not there yet. I’ve had the bike slide out from under me more than once and I’m a little gun-shy.

But I’ve been asking for advice – from friends, other riders, strangers (you?). How can I get better at high(er)-speed cornering? I wanna make it fun! My latest hope lies in 2 videos. I know, I know, but bear with me, I too, never imagined I’d watch videos about biking technique. But a guy in my office claimed that one of them CHANGED.HIS.LIFE (okay, maybe he just said “changed his riding”…but whatever) I was all ears.

So we’re working away in the office when the topic of biking comes up. Soon we’re talking about cornering, and the next thing I know, this guy is out of his chair, riding an imaginary bike! Okay, not like pretending to pedal it (though, that would have been awesome), but showing us how he’d learned to move his hips when hitting a turn. I loved it. This was the inspiration I’d been looking for! Unfortunately, I didn’t follow a lot of what he said, because I got caught up in trying the hip-shift myself and then it turned into a dance move… But boy did I made sure he sent me the video so I could focus on it at a later time.

Well, after many rides down Spaghetti Factory, cursing myself each time for taking the corners so damn slow, I finally watched the life-changing video.

Spoiler – my life hasn’t changed – yet. But I did learn a thing or two (hey, that’s what this is all about, right?) There’s something to this idea of the bike shifting and us shifting our hips to counterweight. I haven’t tried it much yet, but I’m hopeful.

And, in the process of watching the first video I also came across this one, which is nice because it shows guys actually on bikes, putting the move into action (plus there’s music and some British accents, which we can all agree makes things more interesting). Maybe one of these videos will change your life, or at least your riding. Let me know if they do, I’ll take all the help I can get.

Now, the only problem is my hips. I need to do some stretching.

Notorious R.B.G.

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I recently got to go on what I think is my biggest mountain bike ride ever – 36 miles. I got to do it with a group of amazing gals, which got me to thinking, we should probably talk about badass chicks.

The Gorge is full of them. I’d never met women like this before. Now I know girls that do things like go on 50 mile runs (disgusting!) or talk about twin-tip skis (seriously, I had no idea what they were either.) I have a friend who was an Olympic athlete, another was a National Team kayaker. I know a fellow mom who can rip-roar a snowmobile through the backcountry then hike for miles like a goddamn mountain goat. And just a couple months ago, a chick buzzed by me on a trail, going uphill – and she was only 14 years old!

So while we’re talking about badass chicks, let’s talk about Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

I’ve not met her personally, but I think she’s about 4 foot 3, 200 years old, and one seriously tough gal. She sure laid into Donald Trump, but we all know it takes more than a few saucy phrases to make you truly badass.

Did you know that she was only the 2nd female to be appointed to the Supreme Court? And that wasn’t until 1993! Holy smokes, ladies. And, she fought her way through Harvard Law School with just 8 other women, in a class of 500, becoming the 1st female member of the prestigious Harvard Law Review – all while the school’s Dean kept telling them they were taking the place of more qualified males. Boooo.

And if that wasn’t enough, while Ruth was going to law school she was also raising a child! And when her husband got cancer (he was also attending Harvard Law), she took care of their daughter, went to law school, AND took notes for her ailing husband, who went on to beat his cancer, and get a lawyer gig in New York City. Take that Dean-ie!

Still not convinced? Well how about the fact that she was tough enough to be friends with the late Justice Scalia – her ideological opposite? How many of us are friends with someone who’d make most of our other ‘normal’ friends want to vomit? Worried her advanced age has made her weak? Check out her workout program – it includes planks and 20 pushups. I haven’t done those since…

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So I’m officially adding the Notorious R.B.G. to my list of badass chicks (tangent: I find it hopeful that there’s a large enough cross-section of the general public who know both The Notorious B.I.G. and Justice Ginsburg to have had that meme take off). And, it’s because of her tenacity that we chose Ruth as the unofficial totem of our inaugural Epic Chicks Weekend Ride here in the Gorge (thanks ladies!…more to come on that).
See, I told you this blog was about mountain biking.