For years I’ve heard rumors of mystical singletrack that exists in Oakridge, Oregon, but not much has been written about the place. Troubled by years of economic collapse, this old logging town somewhere between Eugene and Bend has been a dormant community that’s hardly worth a stop along the old Willamette Highway. Although these rumors of Oregon’s finest dirt have been confirmed by close friends, finding beta on the best place for a decent cup of coffee is as difficult as finding directions to any trailhead. Which is to say, near impossible without the help of local insight.
Long descents through lush forests funnel down into the small town of Oakridge.
I came here on my own, in the middle of July. A girl, her bike and her trusted Subaru on an indefinite road trip to whatever singletrack mecca she comes across along the West Coast. Some by chance, others by plan. But, inevitably, always with an insatiable hunger for dirt. Smooth. Dusty. Rocky. Muddy. Craggy. Difficult. Easy. It doesn’t really matter. I just want to ride it. This time, by dumb luck, I came upon a place that had it all during an annual event that showcased it all.
A rolling wheel gathers no moss through the dense overgrowth in the Willamette National Forest.
Mountain Bike Oregon (MBO) is an annual festival that brings together a few hundred weekend warriors to Oakridge who share a common love for fat tires. This three-day fest is so popular, in fact, that there are two separate events each summer, in July and August, to accommodate the growing demand for this adult version of summer bike camp. For the last nine years, MBO attendees have given the town a much needed boost by setting up a fortified compound of well-traveled RVs, pimped-out Sprinter vans and humble REI tents in the middle of a city park, known – at least temporarily – as basecamp. It’s here, where veteran and rookie attendees share living quarters, that people come to celebrate the lifestyle of mountain biking and all that encompasses it. (Namely, the unlimited kegs of free microbrews and kombucha. This is Oregon, after all.)
Tent City brings together all greatest the dirtbags in one spot.
Where the beer flows like fermented kombucha.
It’s a mellow schedule of events by comparison to any big bike festival. No pros. No big air contests. No headlining concerts. Just a bunch of recreational riders who like to pedal to the best of their ability. Rim brakes and clunker hardtails hold as much clout on the trail as dropper posts and adjustable shocks. And, much like the quirky Oregonian attitudes, no one cares what you ride or how you ride it – even if it’s just for laughs on a 14-inch kids’ bike. Just as long as you’re having fun.
Ti Cycles from Portland, Oregon was on hand to display and demo their hand-built titanium cycles, like this full suspension fat bike with a lefty fork. Like riding a pair of Moon Shoes.
A rider breaks away from the peloton during the annual Beer Garden crit.
A packed weekend of scheduled rides require thorough planning if you want to ride it all.
All weekend, shuttle runs were offered by the busload, transporting groups of riders and guides to the start of Oakridge’s inconspicuous trailheads that all seemed to be accessed only by a set of top-secret turns through twisty forest service roads. Once underneath the emerald canopy of giant old growth trees and golden beams of sun, everything began to look familiar. Not that I had ridden these trails before, but the smell of fresh dirt and fuzzy moss and the cool humidity of rivers and waterfalls parallel to the trails reminded me of growing up in the soggy PNW forests, when I once believed in a secret world of imaginary fairies and gnomes living among furry woodland creatures. Floating through the root-y ribbons of singletrack only fueled my make-believe paradise. Unfortunately, no amount of pixie dust could help when I found myself airborne, flying over the bars, and impaled by the sudden landing -- which rendered me totally useless and unable to ride any of Oakridge's classic trails like Alpine, known for its hairpin switchbacks and high-speed descents, or Larison Rock, a short-n-sweet exposed ridgeline ride with phenomenal views of the Cascade Mountains below, or Heckletooth, a rugged and steep 15-miler that punishes even the best rider if you're not careful.
OTB and out of the game for the next 3 weeks.
Shuttling in style on Flat Creek trail.
Erin, one of the many volunteer guides at MBO, pops through the shadows on Larison Creek trail.
Larison Rock trail. Don't miss this ride like I did.
At the risk of sounding cheesy, MBO is as much about making new friends as it is about riding with said new friends. For many attendees, this ain’t their first rodeo. Familiar faces return year after year, some for as long as the nine-year anniversary of the festival itself. But seniority doesn’t mean much. Others, like myself and Grace, an 18-month old rockstar who has yet to own a bike but is easily MBO’s youngest fanatic, were only just discovering the friendly community of riders who keep Oakridge’s bike scene alive and thriving. We may have been newcomers, but it's easy to bond when you share something in common – like tales of nasty mid-ride injuries or the simple pleasure of pedaling a bike – in the middle of a mystical singletrack paradise.
Someone get this girl a bike! Unbeknownst to her, Grace will be the proud owner of her first push bike when she turns two years old in December.
Paul, a Bend, Oregon, resident, takes biking very seriously.
Cruisin' in style.
Mountain Bike Oregon returns to Oakridge for two sessions next year: July 18-20, 2014 and August 15-17, 2014. Early-bird registration is $360 per person and includes camping, three meals a day, unlimited beverages, all-you-can-shred shuttle rides, bike demos, mechanical support, women’s-only rides, yoga sessions and entry into the MBO beer garden crit. For more info or to register, visit mtboregon.com
. Additional trail info can be found by visiting the Greater Oakridge Area Trail Stewards (GOATS)
or the Disciples of Dirt
You and everyone else.