The Bend Conspiracy: Riding the best trails of Oregon with Cog Wild and Sonya Looney


That evening, we opted to venture out and try a local establishment, 10 Barrel Brewery. Ten Barrel is blessed with a great location, an outdoor fire pit and beer garden. I decided I’d try their double IPA,aptly named Dub and served in a tulip glass. At 10%, this beer did not disappoint. While the consensus on the 10 Barrel line up would be met with mixed reviews for the remainder of the night, I was convinced that I’d made the right choice. After two of these, I was ready to call it a night and prepare for another day of riding.

“There are no bad days in Oregon. Only bad gear choice.” Melanie’s simple statement rattled around in my head, three hours into our soggy ride along the McKenzie River Trail. I’m glad I heeded her subtle warning and went out the week prior to the trip to pick up some rain booties, and a better pair of winter-centric bib knickers. These two articles of riding gear, along with a good winter riding jacket, would prove to be the difference between soaking wet, and soaking wet and miserable. I’ve ridden quite a bit in wet weather, but this was October in Oregon and anything can happen. As they say, if you don’t like the weather here, wait 15 minutes. Today, we’d need to wait much, much longer. The storm forecast for the day had come in wetter than anticipated and covered the entire central Oregon landscape with a significant cloud cover that promised a full day of wet riding. But that didn’t put the damper on the day. The call was made by the Cog Wild crew to send the ride west, into the Willamette Forest and onto the famous river trail, knowing that it would be drier by the simple fact that we’d be under a heavy canopy of trees. This is the level of knowledge that comes into every ride…a keen awareness of the weather conditions, the terrain, and the factors that make for a great day, or lousy one. (They care, they’re riding, too.) The kicker: this diversion of plans meant that our 20-ish mile ride would end at the luxurious Belknap Hot Springs, a resort and lodge centered around an Olympic-sized swimming pool, filled with Oregon’s finest mineral water at a muscle-relaxing 104º. If that wasn’t enough to keep the pedals turning, I’m not sure that anything would.

We were joined by Patrick, Ryan, Matt, and Melanie of Cog Wild. Since the area we were in was state forest, where guide companies are forbidden to run services, they were simply there for the ride. Which says a lot about the trail. Even though they had to option to sit this one out, they were up for the sloshfest. These guys just love to ride. We made our way through lush groves of intense fall foliage, over jagged lava beds, between old-growth cedars a thousand years of age, and along a river that plummeted over several majestic waterfalls before suddenly disappearing for a few miles. It’s not noticeable when it happens, but there’s a creeping sense that it has become much quieter in the forest. That’s when the true, zen moment of the ride kicked in. I was no longer fighting the elements. I was immersed in them, and vice versa. As Patrick stated so eloquently, “This is the real world. Everything else is manufactured.” Fewer words could be truer at this moment.

The sound of rushing water snapped me back into my senses as I approached the Blue Pool, a mind-boggingly pure-blue chasm that marks the river’s flow onto the surface again. We regrouped at this spot for a quick lunch and then stepped up the pace since we had another 10 miles before we reached our destination. The trail was a river of water, but it didn’t slow down the group. We railed every turn like it was a summer day, hammering out every climb and powering through the rolling terrain. We were motivated to finish this ride. During one regroup, we laughed at how incredibly mud-spattered our faces had become. You could wipe away the mud, but the smiles were permanent.

The conditions and the cold were beginning to take a toll on the group, when Ryan mentioned that we had just a few miles remaining. At that point, it was game on to get to the Cog Wild van. Less for the dry clothing, and more for the cooler of beer waiting inside! What can we say, we’re mountain bikers. The first half of the group made it back and we celebrated with a round of Chainbreaker IPAs. Soon though, with our core temperatures beginning to drop, we decided to make a beeline to the resort, just a short walk down the road. Muddy and dripping wet, seven shivering mountain bikers walked into the clean lobby and each handed $7 to the smiling receptionist who cheerfully directly us toward the locker room. In what can only be described as forced ingenuity, seven mountain bikers walked straight into the showers, fully clothed, and proceeded to rinse 20 miles of McKenzie River Trail down the drain. I can’t say it was the most environmental act of the trip, but we came out clean and ready for a hot soak in the pool.

Bliss doesn’t quite capture it, but it comes close. Leaning my sore body against the side of the pool wall, I reveled in the hot water, watching the rising steam meet the light falling rain. Looking around, I was amazed by the caliber of riders that had gathered for such an adventure. Sonya from Boulder, Andy and Drew from Orange County, the Bend crew, and the rest of us from the Bay Area. Despite such diverse backgrounds, the group was singularly united by one common thread: challenging our limits and enjoying the company of others who do the same. At the end of the day, it wasn’t about the bike, the miles ridden, or the elevation climbed, but about the experience shared with others. It was about being in the present, at the most tangible level. There would be other rides, other trips, other distractions to put our thoughts in those faraway places, but right now, this was it. Just being here and taking it all in.

On the ride back to Bend through a steady rain, the collective contentment in the van was palpable. It was like a giant, unspoken high-five. I flashed back a brief memory of that initial email that went out, the question of whether we could really pull it off again, the speculative date planning, then the growing excitement as we counted down the days to the trip. I thought about how easy it was, once we all set our minds to it, to create the window of opportunity to make a trip like this happen. Once the wheels were set in motion, all the pieces just fell into place. The truth was that we owed it to ourselves to dream big, to step outside our circles of familiarity and get out there, where new experiences can happen. Where rides can turn into adventures that create lasting memories and lifelong friends. For us, it was in Bend.

About this trip report:
The Bend Experiment

What would happen if you took seven of the most stoked members of mtbr on a bike and beer adventure in Bend, Oregon – one vehicle, one house, one schedule. Would there be fun to be had? Would they still talk to each other after the trip?

Mtbr sent a few emails and within a few days, the trip was set. Members were selected not only for their riding skills and beer tasting ability but mostly for their enthusiasm for riding and life in general. And our Colorado sister, Sonya Looney heard about our adventure and joined in on the festivities. On the roster were:

  • Kyle Maxwell – San Jose, Graphic Designer, Downieville Gathering organizer
  • Andy Lightle – Corona, CA, Bike Ambassador, Downieville Gathering organizer
  • Steve Potwin – San Jose, Skater, Photographer
  • Peter Tsang – SF, Custom bike nerd, Beer Expert
  • Mark De Ponzi – San Jose, Endurance Rider, Hot springs expert
  • Andrew Lazenby – Orange County, Engineer, Fast dude but slow drinker
  • Sonya Looney – Beer taster.

Commissioned for our activities were Cog Wild Tours for all rides, Alpenglow Vacation Rentals for housing, Toyota Lexus for the test vehicle and Boneyard Beer for IPA. All services were provided to us for free.

Road trips are a big part of the mountain bike lifestyle. Day trips or week-long trips define us and our appreciation for life and our sport. Read on and share in our adventures called the Bend Experiment.

We’ll publish three articles on this adventure. The lodging and city of Bend, Cog Wild and the riding, COTA and the trail building efforts. Enjoy!


Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

About the author: Francis Cebedo

The founder of mtbr and roadbikereview, Francis Cebedo believes that every cyclist has a lot to teach and a lot to learn. "Our websites are communal hubs for sharing cycling experiences, trading adventure stories, and passing along product information and opinions." Francis' favorite bike is the last bike he rode, whether it's a dirt jumper, singlespeed, trail bike, lugged commuter or ultralight carbon road steed. Indeed, Francis loves cycling in all its forms and is happiest when infecting others with that same passion. Francis also believes that IPA will save America.

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