We were fortunate to have perfect weather and not a drop of rain for our 10-day tour of South-Central Oregon. We carried everything we needed to be self-sufficient: sleeping bags, tent, stove, fuel, and food. Our tandem was not light with the four pannier bags, and it took us a couple days to get used to the extra weight.
From Eugene we rode out Highway 58 to Oakridge, the starting point of the scenic Robert Aufderheide Memorial Drive. Aufderheide Drive was named after and dedicated to the memory of Robert Aufderheide, a Willamette National Forest Supervisor in the 1950’s who was instrumental in helping the Forest Service complete the transition from custodial management to professional intensive forest management under multiple-use principles. It would seem that despite these efforts by the Forest Service, Aufderheid’s memory has been forgotten amongt the locals, as we received strange looks whenever we referred to the road in this way. The most common reply we received in response to our inquires was, “You mean Highway 19?” The road itself is a pleasure to ride; smooth pavement and long windy climbs and descents.
Our next challenge after Aufderheide was the climb to the top of McKenzie Pass at 5,325 feet. This was the hardest climb that we had ever done together on the tandem, so we felt a rewarding sense of accomplishment as we finally emerged from the forest onto the summit plateau and were presented with an expansive view of volcanic rock and distant peaks.
The long descent from McKenzie Pass to the town of Sisters was exhilarating. Afterwards we spent the rest of the day walking around the town and enjoying fresh local peaches in peak season. From Sisters we travelled south to Bend and visited the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, where were able to walk the Lava River Cave, a one-mile long cave that at times is large enough to drive a truck through, and at other times so narrow that you have to crawl.
The next morning we decided to treat ourselves to a nice breakfast and stopped at the Red Rooster Café in the town of La Pine. It turns out that King Abdullah Hussein of Jordan himself had stopped there for a cinnamon role while on motorcycle tour of the Pacific Northwest on his brand new Harley Davidson.
From La Pine we headed west back into the mountains and enjoyed two glorious days of riding along the Cascade Lakes Highway before descending down to make camp near the translucent waters of Crescent Lake. The area southwest of Bend and just east of the cascade crest holds a large collection of alpine lakes. Crescent Lake is one of the most popular, and during summer the campgrounds and resorts are filled with vacationers. The next day we rode down to the slightly less popular Diamond Lake, which would be our camp for two days, and the launching pad for our long-awaited ride around Crater Lake.
As stunning as the many alpine lakes along the Cascade Lakes Highway were, they all paled in comparison with Crater Lake. I now understand why Crater Lake is considered one of Oregon’s premier scenic attractions. It is simply stunning. For a cyclist the lake holds additional appeal in that the road that circumnavigates the crater is ideal for cycling. After making the initial 2000 foot climb from Diamond Lake to reach the crater rim and the first view of the lake at 7025 feet (2142 meters), the road continues to climb and descend in dramatic fashion for 33 miles as it wraps around the crater rim. The whole day our cyclometer read speeds of either the low teens or the upper 50’s and very rarely in between. It was one of the most aesthetic and enjoyable rides that I have done in 20 years of cycling.
From Diamond Lake we headed west back over the cascade crest along scenic highway 138; a 40-mile descent to the town of Steamboat. This long descent was much appreciated after all the climbing around Crater Lake the previous day, and it was good that we were not too tired before facing the tough grind over Sharps Creek. Before the day was over we understood how Sharps Creek had earned its infamous reputation among cyclists in Eugene. Not once during our tour had we used the drag brake on a long descent. Down Sharps Creek I had it maxed out for nearly 15 minutes. The chip-seal surface and narrow tight corners inspired much caution.
The following day was our last and we reflected on time well spent as we travelled along familiar roads through Cottage Grove and Lorane on our way back to Eugene. We were fortunate to meet many nice people on our trip, and were surprised by the high quality of the roads and designated paths for cyclists even in relatively out-of-the-way areas. The beauty of travelling by bicycle is that you see every little bit of ground that you cover, rather than driving from destination to destination and missing everything in between. Sometimes this can mean enduring a bit of misery as you ride a congested highway section with no shoulder, or get soaked in a rain storm, but other times you find things you had not expected, like a quaint little town or an unofficial secluded camp spot on a gorgeous river. Being a relatively uncommon site, you also have the advantage of being strange enough that people are interested in talking with you. And best of all, at the end of the day you have a sense of accomplishment for the distance you’ve covered and the experiences you’ve earned entirely with your own volition and capacity. Bicycle touring is a beautiful thing!