Scouting Trails above Bend, Oregon
Exploring Central Oregon with Jared Fisher, America’s Premier Mountain Bike Scout
Mountain Bike Action, January 2001, pp. 74-78, Story and photos by Will Hangen
As Jared Fisher, mountain bike scout par excellence, and I prepare to scout 30 miles of singletrack above Bend, Oregon, nearby Mount Bachelor subtly unveils some of its crazy layer-cake weather system. The layer-cake effect starts at Bend’s outskirts and continues for 25 miles up Cascade Lakes Highway culminating at 7000-foot Todd Lake. Earlier we’d driven through separate layers of bright sun, then mist and are now in light rain.With the two of us standing side-by-side, staring down at the gray ridges arrayed below, delicate snowflakes begin to materialize out of the sky. They fall gently and slow-dance in our cloudy breath, a clear harbinger of winter, just a tad early. Both Jared and I are lost in thought when he turns to me and says, “This is the best part of my job. I live for these moments.”
SHAKE AND BAKE
My stomach also feels somewhat like a homemade layer-cake; unfortunately, it is still in the mixing-bowl stage. On the warm hood of his truck, Jared has just detailed our route and it is littered with single and double black diamonds. Even a non-skier like myself knows what that means. Most of our proposed route, kindly provided by the Deschutes National Forest Service, will follow the drainage of the Tomalo Creek, crossing remote areas of Oregon’s Eastern Cascade Mountains. There’s no quiet introduction. The trail immediately blasts your senses with the sound and fury of six major waterfalls. It’s certainly one of America’s most profoundly stunning trails--flat out, no question, no argument.
Our support crew consists of Jared’s wife, Heather, who is temporarily serving as shuttle driver, plus their two sons, baby Dakota and two-year old Orion. Our goal is clear: pre-scout the aforementioned trail from Mt. Bachelor to Shevlin Park Bend for Potential mountain bike tours. I knew it was going to be tough, but as Heather, the company president, says, “Escape Adventures always offers guests something unique and memorable for their money.” For nine years they’ve run Escape Adventures (aka Escape the City Streets, 800-596-2953) based out of the Las Vegas area. They are a leader among the various western mountain bike tour companies, but even with 16 employees, they still scout all their own trails. Annually, the National Forest Service offers only a few commercial touring permits. Merely for consideration, the Fishers have to have a near-perfect record. Jared says diplomacy is Heather’s area of expertise.
Departing from Todd Lake trailhead, my last impression is of two-year-old Orion, wearing his dad’s old gray sweatshirt, which reaches his toes. He’s looking a little worried as he stands on the truck’s tailgate, waving goodbye to us in the misty haze. Initially, Jared and I climb one mile of moderate fireroad, then spot narrow Metolius singletrack on our right, descending a wet ravine. Jared rapidly negotiates two steep switchbacks and crosses a sopping 15-foot single log bridge with no railings. He does it so expertly that I’m compelled to follow his lead. With the water glittering below, I get a little squirrelly in the middle, but keep my eyes up and power-stroke, just like Jared did. He inspires confidence in oneself. This is the first of about eight log bridges this day, plus an untold score of narrow plank bridges. In this rugged territory it’s too difficult for trail workers to haul building materials. They merely saw a dead tree across a creek, ramp it up with several hewn steps or logs and finally use a chainsaw to flatten it on top a little bit. It’s as simple as that.
For several miles we ride along pretty North Fork singletrack, and other than a few high log bridges, which I portage across, there’s nothing too complicated for the average rider. Jared is fond of doing 180-degree nosewheelies on the bridges, but I give his youthful antics a pass. We experience one green meadow after another, all bordered with tall lodgepole pines and cloud-scraping peaks. The air is so deeply perfumed with pine sap and wet grass that it almost makes me swoon. Happily I note that the rain and snow have backed off.Usually, when I carry my heavy camera backpack, I palm the water-carrying duties off on my fellow riders, but when we eventually stop for a drink, Jared flops on his belly and drinks straight from a running creek, just like his heroes Lewis and Clark did in 1805. He claims ten years of creekwater has done him no harm. Meanwhile, I fill my bottle with creekwater, but when he’s not looking, drop in two iodine tablets just to be on the safe side. Jared is an iconoclast in other ways. We aren’t carrying a GPS unit, a cell phone or even a compass. His only concession is a local map, plus a small backpack with tools and a medical kit. I suspect modern devices interfere with his natural instincts, and as I get to know him better, I realize that his outdoor savvy is almost unerring. Not that we don’t get lost a few times, but we just apply brainpower and, most importantly, keep a cool head. Oh, did I mention the sandals? He only rides flat pedals with regular sandals. He likes to feel the wind in his toes.
THE HONKING GREEN ALLIGATOR MAKES HIS PRESENCE KNOWN
Descending some root sections next to a series of raging waterfalls, I suddenly hear a loud honking sound. It comes from Jared’s ancient battle-scarred Gary Fisher Joshua. Stopped in a glen, Jared points out a green rubber alligator which he has tie-wrapped to his double-crown fork. He’s rigged it so when he jumps it honks automatically. He tells me his family can hear it miles away. Sure enough, at the first 10-mile cutout point, as we ride into the parking lot, there is our support crew waving gaily and obviously expecting us.
For the second ten-mile leg of our exploration, we cross Cascade Lakes Highway and pick up Phil’s trail system. We climb fireroad #310, then start our eastern descent on lower Whoop-tee-doo Trail, maybe the best jump trail anywhere. Every thirty feet or so we find various sized moguls: singles, doubles, banked corner-jumps. You name it, ‘Whoopties’ has got it! Getting a little cocky, I start to use the weight of my camera backpack to provide vertical boost on the big jumps. I hit the last big mogul way too fast and don’t see that it’s been built on a downhill and dug out on the far side. Six feet in the air, I frantically look down and say a silent prayer. Realizing there is nothing to do, I instantly relax and let my beat-up old Specialized FSR soak up the whonking big landing.The last ten miles of singletrack are just a sweet ramble along lower Phil’s and Shevlin River trails. We pedal downhill beside rust-colored manzanita and juniper, scaring white-tailed deer which bound into the nearby trees, their ends flashing in the sun. Almost exclusively on riparian benchlands, the Shevlin Trail soon opens up to reveal the town of Bend and the Deschutes River glittering in the distance. Looking back, I can still see Mt. Bachelor brooding under its gray blanket of misty cloud. Down we plunge on the last few switchbacks to Shevlin Park, with the green alligator honking wildly all the way. Eventually I spot Orion standing on the tailgate of the truck, happily waving us into his 2-year-old world. He looks relieved that his dad has safely returned. Heather does too.I sit on a log in the hot afternoon sun and drink a third gallon of tooth-numbing ice-chest milk, all the while smiling that stupid-happy smile that I usually get after riding six hours of essentially continuous singletrack. I don’t care. I’ve just completed one of the best rides of my life and have it securely captured in my mind and on film.