The Dream Vacation

by Zach August 12, 2013

Somewhere between Eugene and Bend, one of the focal destinations for our July calendar was the town of Oakridge to participate in the area’s best-known summer draw: Mountain Bike Oregon. Billed as a “three-day mountain biker’s dream vacation,” and named to Outside Magazine’s list of “Best Mountain Bike Festivals of 2013,” we took to the highway in hopes we weren’t following a trail of Internet hyperbole. But long before Central Oregon would turn into the lush, deciduous and evergreen paradise befitting of even a remotely decent two-wheeled dream, there were many hundreds of miles of rolling farmlands and arid desert to traverse.

Many hours later, we finally rolled into sleepy Oakridge — a fairly innocuous hillside settlement deep in the Willamette National Forest. Much of the town’s storied logging history is now just that — history. Granted, there was a time when Oakridge was the bustling epicenter of a lumber harvest that led the nation in output, but that was before the last mill closed in 1978. Logging has long since moved on, taking with it the population boom from the early sixties along with much of the town’s very identity. But all that could change, if Mountain Bike Oregon has any say in the matter. For nearly a decade, MBO has been quietly introducing a growing number of mountain bikers to the area’s incredible network of high-alpine trails, and lending greater reason to justify pilgrimages of greater distance to Oakridge. Good riding is certainly contagious, but consistently good stories about good riding creates a contagion that is impossible to ignore, and that is how MBO continues to thrive: by creating a community for its participants and giving them enough stories to last until the next MBO. Sound familiar yet?

Held twice per summer (one weekend in July and another in August to mitigate traffic on the trails), Mountain Bike Oregon is essentially three solid days of shuttled, guided rides always followed by good food, good beer, and great stories. It immediately felt like a YMCA summer camp for grown-ups (save for the mountain bikes and copious amounts of barley soda) — held on the banks of the North Fork of the Willamette River in a small park where riders and vendors make camp for the weekend. But it would be high up on the surrounding mountains where friendships would be forged, and stories worth repeating made.

The crux of the event is obviously riding, and it’s meant to be enjoyed on the bike of your choosing — thanks to vendors like Ibis, Niner, and Felt who were sending out demos of their latest and greatest singletrack machines. We were also on hand to give riders a chance to try the amazing fit of our signature Soft Shell A/M Shorts on some of the finest trails that the Northwest has to offer.

Even though much of Oakridge’s logging industry has moved on, those with invaluable forestry skills and a wealth of knowledge of the defunct logging trails, and maze of US Forest Service connecting roads, have stayed close to the town, and close to the places mountain bikes are inclined to roam. Much of this talent is now largely spread across the two generations that comprise membership for the Greater Oakridge Area Trail Stewardship (better known as the GOATS) — the area’s IMBA chapter and undisputed authority on trail access, maintenance, and building.

The expertly managed GOATS are equipped with the tools and manpower necessary for ensuring the trails stay fresh, thanks to some pretty amazing support from the riding community — including the excellent Willamette Mountain Mercantile local bike shop and from companies like Ibis. With everyone chipping in, the GOATS have amassed a deep support network of guides and trail maintenance crews while earning the blessing of local landowners, all of which ultimately enables events like MBO to grow and thrive.

If you’d rather eschew the weekend’s shuttled options and earn your descents, a decent map will equip you with the information you’ll need to ride to the drop-off points. But remember to pace yourself, because it’s a long weekend and there’s a lot of great riding to be had — you’d be doing yourself a disservice to miss even a moment of it on account of exhaustion. And don’t mind the smelly bus, it’s all part of the experience.

Many of the trails that make up the shuttled MBO rides have names spoken with a certain air of reverence, and then always with a shared story, or a slot on one’s personal “top ten” list of best rides. And rightfully so. Be it Alpine, Tire Mountain, or the legendary McKenzie River Trail, what can be found in Oakridge is truly as good as it possibly gets, without requiring a passport and a bike box bound for Europe or South America. You can go from lush alpine meadows to screaming along a protected saddle, brushing ferns at 30 miles an hour before the trail bursts into the sunshine at 4000 feet, overlooking the valley and instilling competing senses of awe and dread, because one mistake up here and you’re still a long helicopter ride to the nearest ER. Thankfully you’re never too far from the frivolities though, which include a huge raffle along with MBO’s own olympiad complete with pixie bike races and the “chuck-a-huffy” competition.

In lending further credence to the event being likened to a YMCA outdoors shut-in, every ride ends back at base camp where the river’s frigid eddies await — a painfully refreshing rite of passage for every MBO participant. You might have the heart for the leg-busting ascent to the top of Heckletooth, but can it stand 40 seconds in the Willamette without going into hypothermic shock? Highly unlikely.

If hero dirt, spectacular vistas, and achieving zen on a perfectly screaming descent aboard the bike of your dreams is your idea of the perfect getaway, Oakridge might just have everything you’re looking for. Thankfully there’s an exceptionally well-executed event that ties it all together. And rumor has it that there are still a few slots open for the imminent August version of MBO. You can find additional details and registration information here. [zp]

Remember that you can continue to follow the story by liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter. We’ve also uploaded a few of the extra photographs from MBO to our Flickr page — peruse those snaps here.

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