Circumnavigating Mt. Hood by Mountain Bike

A report from Jun:

As we bulleted through a rainstorm on our 12 hour drive to Oregon, the bikes were washed clean of the dust, parasites, and spores from our familiar NorCal rides. No non-native species introduced by us! We may have had some concern about whether or not we’d have weather or not, but for the next 4 days, my mind would be likewise swept clean of most preconceptions about what this trip would be like. Too many roads? Too little singletrack? Way too much climbing with big packs on our backs? Backcountry haunts in hillbilly mountain glens, and us in goofy spandex? Would we get lost like others before us, lamenting their missed turns and botched directions in articles? Pure chance encounter reintroduced us to young Blaise Hamel, young MTB phenom, formerly of Santa Cruz, with his new girlfriend in a brewhouse near the Oregon border. Nothing to make me feel older than that young face looking at me sadly as he took his measure of our intent. Rolling into Portland at 1:30 AM, we drowned the last of our doubts in good local draft beers and a fine selection from Matt’s (San Luis Obispo expat and friend of Dylan’s) extremely impressive computerized wine vault, falling asleep to the last frames of a freeride video from SLO. rising and the requisite coffee-mongering at one of a bazillion cafes in Portland got us to the tiny town of Hood River past noon. Hasty map purchasing and burrito purchases got us rolling within the hour, almost 27 miles and 6000 feet ahead of us before the sunset. 2.5 miles in, I thought we’d lost Dylan. As we buzzed along a paved historic trail closed to vehicular traffic, he invented an alternate route behind a white fence --there probably to prevent people from accidentally falling down the cliff behind it – caught his handlebar and went over the bars, almost disappearing down the slope. He was up and riding again in no time and we were all appropriately cowed by the experience. views all along the historic bike path and into the next town were gorgeous – literally, the Columbia River Gorge is where kitesurfing was born – and we were grateful to shift into granny gears for the first, brutal, endless climb into the foothills towards Mt. Hood. Brief burrito breaks later, we were at the option to take singletrack in to the hut, rather than continue on roads and we took it. Or rather, it took us. Descents were short, when faced with extremely technical climbing sections over and over again. At the end of our day, this roller coaster of tight singletrack, rock gardens, and nose-of-the-saddle climbs was punishing, to say the least. Dave needed more burrito power, so stopped just short of the Surveyor’s Ridge Hut to feast and recoup energy. Our first views of Mt. Hood were rewarding and reminded us, as we looked out over the grand view, that we had a lot of terrain to cover in the next 4 days to get all the way around that beast! first night in the huts, we were rewarded with a cooler full of beer, wine, and food by the armload in the cabinets. We figured out the routine we’d use all three nights in the identical huts, cooked, drank, belched, and collapsed into deep sleep. got really cold, with all of us layering up multiple sleeping bags from the empty bunks (eight per cabin, with only us three inside). Come morning, none of us wanted to get up and make the pancakes, but strong coffee (“it IS the pacific northwest” the literature said) and Dylan’s secret oatmeal hotcakes recipe got us on the move again. time, the ride began with long stretches of singletrack along the previous day’s Surveyor’s Ridge, then connected with Gunsight Ridge. At times, it was flowy, at times rough and rocky, and always challenging and fun. It was almost like getting two singletrack rides in during the morning (10-13 miles each) having a lunch break, then finishing up with a gentler double track ride along the historic Oregon Trail. time we got out of the trees along the ridgeline, we were rewarded with stunning views of Mt. Hood, always with the implicit challenge of a vista that included our entire route around it. By day’s end, we’d done about 4500 feet of climbing, 5300 feet of descent, and 36 miles of distance before beating the sun just barely to the Barlow Hut.’s crank brothers pedal (candy) self-destructed just before we got to the Barlow Hut (his third pair, what crap!), so we skipped a singletrack option in the morning to ride to the small mountain town of Government Camp and track down a replacement pedal. After doing laps back and forth around the small town, looking for an open bike shop, we rolled out without a pedal – despite looking through a glass window at exactly what Dylan needed with no one to unlock and sell. We certainly did not come away empty-handed, as we had lots of good will from the townsfolk, warmth from their fireplace, and hot pastrami and lattes in our stomachs. our way, we were flying down some tight singletrack when I saw the beams of a wooden trestle-like construction ahead. “Sweet! Feature coming up!” I shouted as I accelerated a little towards it, only to find that it was actually a collapsed trail bridge. Too late, rode down it – said many quiet thanks to whomever put a little boulder in the middle of the break – and kept barely enough momentum to ride up the other side. Dave followed closely and we exchanged VERY nervous/relieved laughs on the other side. That could have gone very differently. still had 5000 feet of climbing to do (after our 4700 feet of descent) and 26 of our day’s 43 miles to ride. People we’d talked to in Government Camp were very polite to not laugh when we told them where we were headed that night (Lolo Pass), and kind enough to relate stories of the many dead on Mt. Hood each season from the radically changing weather conditions. aspect was soon forgotten as we hooked up another historic trail section (Pioneer Bridle Path) to the old Oregon Trail again, via smooth, flowy singletrack snaking along contour through green moss-covered forest hillside. Flavors of El Chupacabra, mixed with 420 lingered on the palate as we carved along. broke the flow to look down an historic mine shaft and instant karma got me as I managed to step off my bike funny and turn my ankle. No biggie, barely even felt it. Wouldn’t have meant anything at all had I not 7 million more pedal revolutions before we stopped riding. And 7 million more the next day. Whoops. Well, isn’t that why we were carrying whiskey and ibuprofen all that way? The riding continued to be really good, lots of well-maintained singletrack, with logging crews clearing falls across the trails for us, even stopping their sawyering for a moment as we rode by. and Dylan, on their big travel bikes with 2.5 inch tires, badgered me for my constant flicking of my old Blur on high-speed descents. I argued that I was merely trying to avoid pinch flats in my tiny tires from my 210 lb rider weight + pack by dodging big or sharp rocks that were in otherwise clean lines. Yeah, it probably looked pretty dodgy alright, I’ll admit, but on whose tire was I patching up a pinch flat after a particularly nasty rock garden a few miles later? Not mine! (errr, that’s a good thing too, as I forgot the majority of my flat fix kit in the car when I had to remove it to fit Dave’s rack…. eheh.) we finished out our contour singletrack romp along the valley, we began needing to more frequently confront the damage we were doing. Dave’s knee was going bad, my ankle was catching up to me, and Dylan still had hand pain from his first day’s adventure. All three bikes were having consistent pressure loss in the rear shocks, not to mention crying out for lube on drivetrains. Good thing we brought a shock pump and lube, but Dave’s Enduro was left with only a quarter inch of travel for the rest of the trip. The ride was definitely taking a toll on bikes and bodies, quite unlike that taken by the historic toll gate we crossed through at the end of the singletrack for the day. final climb to Lolo Pass lead us higher and higher towards the snow line. Layers went on over layers as we climbed up some unmerciful ascents towards our last hut. Snow was patchy at first, then everywhere and it was fun to leave knobbie prints in it as we rolled on, ever upwards. gardens and ridgeline singletrack became less of a treat as we neared exhaustion – our perspective about roads had definitely been changing as a result – but we still enjoyed the luscious views of our constant companion, Mt. Hood. rolled up to the final hut and took in the amazing 360 degree view around it with mouthfuls of cold beer and, later that night, (surprisingly nice quality) tequila found in the supply cupboard. last day, we decided to forgo the extra 20+ miles of singletrack option to get a head start on our drive back to the Bay Area. We enjoyed our 5300 foot descent over 34 miles, taking in the sights and tucking into our high speed descents. But the scant 1900 foot climb used up the last of my ankle and Dave’s knee. As we got farther out of the mountains and closer to the Columbia River, we entered a valley full of orchards, ripe fruits spilling from their branches and into the road ditches. stopped to sample at a roadside stand and were treated to such delicious apples, we brought some home for loved ones. The gal who sold them to us was an endurance mountain bike racer who regaled Dave and Dylan with her own experiences at 24 Hours of Moab, which they also raced. We rolled into Hood River at last, eating the best damn burgers and beer on the deck of a local establishment, looking out over the river. Perfect end to a great trip. much goes unrelated here, the fall colors exploding out of the lush green overexposure of deep forest like fireworks, the waterfalls everywhere, the late night strategy sessions with headlamps pouring over map details, the velvet happiness of brandy in our hot chocolate every night, the little jumps and features found like candy on the trail, and so much more. Would I do it again? You bet -- maybe some modifications to add singletrack here, less snow there -- but without hesitation. If you’re reading this, you should go!

There's a few more pictures in Dave's Album.