Friday, July 14, 2017

The Oregon Out-n-Back, with Team U-Turn

photo credit: Paula Funatake
What had once been a terrifying, epic adventure of a ride has morphed into a fun and almost easy vacation tour with friends. Changing the route to an out and back helped, although it made for a challenging day five and day six, as the OC&E trail is pretty dang bumpy.  Knowing what to expect as far as stores and distance really helped.  Having drinks at the Fort Rock Tavern not once, but twice, was terrific fun.

Thorn flats plagued us in the first several miles, but we won out.  While I fixed one, Linda stopped to rest with me.  She was feverish and seeing spots and had to make the tough decision to turn back to Klamath Falls, leaving eight riders.
When we rolled into Sprague River, a lady in front of the deli called us over.  "We're closed now but we have cold drinks for you!"  She mentioned her husband's legendary reuben sandwiches and reminded us they close at 2pm.

As expected, we encountered gates and more gates, and bumpy red stony gravel.  We encountered several cows to be cooed at and coaxed ahead so we wouldn't collide.  Finally sunset and a steep hillside hike to camp by the Sprague River, so named for the way it snakes across the land.  Sprague is a native word meaning snake, which describes the river perfectly.
photo credit: Paula Funatake
I spilled a beer in my tent that night but was so tired I just flipped my pillow over and went to sleep.  But, not to worry, the mess was still waiting for me when I woke up.  I sprayed everything down, packed up and climbed up out of the ravine to the red pathway.

It started heating up quickly and we stopped in the shade to stretch.  More gates and finally that fateful left turn that I missed three years ago.  I'm determined no one shall ever miss that turn again.  Most of us rolled by the Thompson Reservoir, but one smart rider stopped for a swim.
From there, we forked off on a rutted doubletrack dirt road that seemed unfamiliar to me.  Soon it degraded to nothing more than rocks, and a big bulldozed pile of earth.  We forged ahead, carrying our bikes over fallen trees for about forty minutes.  It was as if my friends invited me to go on a mountain bike ride on the way to dinner, and I one-upped them by suggesting we swing by the gym too.

The Cowboy Dinner Tree lived up to its reputation once again.  We enjoyed amazing food and service, along with that special intimate feeling of indulging in a well-earned feast together.  Stomachs distended, we slowly dragged ourselves to camp just a mile south. Matt took off early the next day, his sights set on reaching the Crooked River by nightfall. 
The five remaining riders rode through Silver Lake the next day, stopping at the beloved Mercantile.  The proprietor asked if we were "Outback riders" and told us we are always welcome in Silver Lake.  He said the scuttlebut about litter or bad behavior was simply not true and that he enjoyed seeing us pass through.  He pointed us to a spigot to refill our water, and to the cutest port-a-potty on the planet.
Arriving at the Fort Rock Tavern, the barmaid informed us we each had a shot awaiting us, courtesy of an earlier rider.  It was still early, but we didn't have far to go, so we sidled up to the bar and took our time.  A local lady came in to offer the owner fresh rhubarb.  I grew up eating fresh rhubarb, the farmer kids' version of super sour candy, and my mouth watered.
I followed the lady outside with the hopes we'd strike up a conversation and maybe I'd have the nerve to ask her for some rhubarb.  Instead, I walked outside and she turned around and said "Want some rhubarb?".  The folks out in this part of the state are downright generous.  I took her up on it and now I have a new favorite riding snack.  They're tangy and sweet, moist and full of electrolytes, and she gave me enough to last for the rest of the trip.
We dragged ourselves the two hot unsheltered miles from the tavern to the Fort Rock itself, and holed up in the shade for the rest of the day.  We flew kites, swapped stories, and continued having fun until almost dinner time.  Then we continued north to Cabin Lake, which has neither a cabin, nor a lake.  Luckily some nice ATVers offered to share their large supply of water with us.
The next morning we said our goodbyes as two riders continued north, and the remaining three of us did our U-turn to get back to Klamath Falls in time for the train.  Every out and back ride feels like a spool unwound and rewound, giving you a new perspective on where you've come from and where you're going.

We headed for the tavern again, then several dusty miles before stocking up at Silver Lake.  We made it to the Thompson Reservoir again, taking advice from the rider who swam there days before.  It was idyllic and empty of campers.  We chose a site, set up camp, and made our dinners.  It was a bit buggy, so we sprayed ourselves.  The golden hour was approaching, so we headed down to the dock to photograph the lake.

There was a loud whining noise coming from somewhere, and I guessed it was a chainsaw up on the ridge.  Except that we were in the middle of nowhere and there weren't any humans anywhere nearby.  I was halfway out onto the dock, and my friend was at the very end.  As I turned to look at him, I noticed a dark cloud between us.  Mosquitoes, hundreds of them!  "RUN!!!!"  We ran full speed back to our site and slid into our tents like sliding into home.  The rest of the evening was spent stranded in tents, but by morning the bugs, and their drone, were gone.
The three of us slowly picked our way through the cowpies and sage bushes littering the OC&E trail.  We rolled into a sweet camp spot on the Sprague River early enough to take a nap before dinner.  It was barely buggy compared to the previous evening.

The next morning, our loads light, we headed south for our last day of riding.  We couldn't wait to get to the Sprague River deli and its now famous reuben sandwiches.  It was the best reuben I'd ever had in my life, and that's not just the miles talking.  While we waited for the ruebens, we scarfed a couple of homemade apple turnovers that have forever ruined any other apple turnovers for me.

We experimented with some parallel paved roads with names like "Bliss".  We fantasized about organizing an "Outback light" that could be done on road bikes with minimal kit.  On the trail in between, we met a couple of genuine cowboys on horses.  They urged us to close the gates behind us, as they'd be driving cattle through soon.

Arriving back in Klamath Falls, we stopped on the bike path to wait for a traffic light, and I noticed I'd lost a rack bolt.  I felt lucky it didn't cause a crash and quickly replaced the bolt.  We reunited with Chris and Paula, who we hadn't seen since day one, and drank our fill of beer.  Much later, we stumbled to the neighboring Maverick Hotel.  After showering, I realized I'd left my cap behind at the bar.  There were police and ambulances swarming the place, but I managed to slink in and out unnoticed.