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


Update: Dec 3 with the final update from Andy Lightle and Mark De Ponzi

The Bend Conspiracy Round 2
Mark DePonzi

From 1977 up until this last trip with the Boys from MTBR, I have been going to Bend to visit my grandparents as many as 2-3 times a year, every year. So you might say I know a few things about Bend over the past 30 years. Well maybe not! In October, I hear that MTBR is headed back to Bend for Round 2. I put the word out to Francis, that I want in! A few weeks later I get an email that says I’m in. Oh yeah! It can’t get much better than a bike trip in Oregon. For me personally, there was a big difference between the 2011 trip and 2012 trip. This time I was with the group driving up and back and staying with them in the house in downtown Bend. We were a tight group. It ended up that we were one bedroom short, so I offered to stay with my family so every rider could have their own room. I was told that the group is staying together and we want you to stay here. For the 2011 Bend trip I rode the trails with the group, but stayed with my family. Why do I share all the above with you? What blew me away about this trip was not how great the trails are. Let me take that back the trails are incredible and maybe the best in the country. In the past 30 years of going to Bend I felt like this was my first true Bend vacation. Why? A big thanks to Cog Wild and the guides and volunteers for showing me what I been missing.

What I was realizing after every epic ride was an appreciation for the time Cog Wild was sharing with us OFF THE BIKE! I have been to a few nice restaurants in Bend but nothing like what Melanie Fisher put together for us. I was blown away! Ok, you get the picture I am not talking about bikes and incredible single track trails everywhere, I am talking awesome food, breweries, ice cream parlors and swanky river house markets that serve incredible beer, great burgers… where you can be a bit rowdy and feel like your home.

After those endless single track rides, there are chips, fresh salsa and Deschutes beer waiting for you at the end of the trail. I almost forgot to mention that lunch is provided and made by this bakery called Nancy P’s, these sandwiches are to die for! We had one day of good old Oregon weather it rained from the time we stepped out of the van until we got home. You could imagine how muddy you get on a day like this. We didn’t really notice the rain so much because the forest we rode through had the feeling like it was plugged into 220 volts of electricity and was like a Christmas tree of colors. I have never seen colors so vibrant in a forest. After hours of insane trails we end the ride and we our all standing there soaked with mud and its cold. I am thinking to myself, there is no way we can all load back in the van this muddy. What are we going to do? Melanie Fisher (co-owner of Cog) is the God of planning! We proceed to walk down this paved road to a Hot Springs where we were all able to take showers and soak in the springs and put our warm clothes on and drive home. This was one of the many highlights of the trip.

On a final note, the guides or volunteers that lead you, I never felt that they were guides, but instead it was more like they were just a part of our group, they fit in like one of us. Of course they know where to go and you never worry about being lost or finding the best trails. What I like about everyone of them was I felt like I was riding with one of my good friends at home and afterwards when it came time to eat and drink the guides joined us and I felt once again they were just one of us hanging out wanting to connect and have fun.

Cog Wild will show you the best trails in the area, no doubt about it. The curve ball for me was what Cog Wild knows and shares with you off the bike and how much fun they are to hang out with. My appreciation for the times off the bike is what I noticed was increasing over my trip and created a great experience. After 30 years of visiting Bend it was like a new city for me. Thanks Cog Wild and everyone who made this trip remarkable.

The Bend Experience
By Andy Lightle

While prep’ing for our trip, I had concerns; would four days of travel be worth four days of riding? What clothes should I bring? Do I have the right bike? I had several conversations with Melanie from Cog Wild She is co-owner and a master planner. Knowing of my 16 hour drive, Mel looked up low priced flights and sent them to me. She let me know this would allow me two additional days of riding. While I was extremely grateful, I declined the offer. Others might jump at the chance, but sometimes getting there is half the fun, and riding up with the MTBR crew is no exception. She let me know there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. I brought everything a SoCal guy has for bad weather. I brought board shorts, flip flops and a hoodie. Oh, I also brought the rain gear, extra gloves, shoe covers and beanies. 🙂 As far as the bike goes, I have the right bike! Niner’s Jet 9 Carbon. I couldn’t have asked for more!

Cog Wild has set the bar and raised it for any adventure tour company as far as I am concerned. If I were to fly in, I could have shipped my bike to a local bike shop and have them assemble it for me (suggested by Cog Wild.) Another option would be to use one of their many demo/rental bikes. There are too many to list but some of the major players include Santa Cruz, Ibis, Specialized and Rocky Mountain.

Lev and Mel (co-owners of Cog Wild) had planned out our four days of riding the fabulous trails of Bend. Not only that, they made suggestions for places to stay-provide a budget and they give you options. We stayed in a house close to town. It was a beautiful rental called the Alpenglow house, with four bedrooms that sleeps ten. It has a private front and backyard and is within walking distance to some of the downtown scene. We even left our bikes out at night. This is something I would never do back home. 🙂

What sets Cog Wild apart? We aren’t clients, we are family. Not only do they take us on amazing rides every day, they inform us about the Bend scene. Melanie was sure to let us know about must see sights. For this MTBR crew that included breweries, food and sights. We hit all the local lesser-known breweries; 10 Barrel, Crux and Boneyard to list a few. Hell, we even got hooked up! Finding out Wednesday’s are growler days at Boneyard was a H.U.G.E. plus! Riverside Market is a lesser known market/deli with local beers on tap! They have the best sweet potato tater tots around. Broken Top Bottle Shop is newer place with, not only great tasting food, but also copious amounts of locally bottled beers. We couldn’t have asked for more, but we got it anyway. While loading our bikes on the van for the shuttle ride on the McKenzie River Trail we were informed to bring our bathing suits. 🙂 After the ride, we were shown another unknown jewel-Belknap Hot Springs. This is a lovely hotel with an outdoor pool that is filled naturally with a local hot spring. After hours on the bike, in the rain, nothing was better. We paid a small fee for the pool and in we went. Heaven!

We were so grateful for everything Cog Wild did, we hosted dinner for them one night. We asked Lev and Melanie to get all the guides and their families and bring them over to the house. We were hosting dinner. Now how often do you hear about that happening? My job today is to inform you about Cog Wild. I’m to let you know about the good, the bad and the ugly. Its so easy to write about the good stuff, about the amazing sandwiches we were provided during the rides-monster thanks to Nancy P’s Bakery. Writing about the stoke we got during the rides and the stoke from the guides as we flowed through the aspens following the line of the rider in front of you. The smiles are almost as memorable as the foliage. It’s difficult to write about the bad. Maybe that the company vans were not limo’s? How about the fact that I had to unwrap my own sandwich when I wanted to eat? I know, how about having guides that never seem to be tired! What’s with that?! Can you please get that shit-eating grin off your faces and show some exhaustion?! I don’t know, just thinking about this trip brings a smile to my face. Now for the ugly, oh thats easy! There is no ugly in Bend. The views are amazing, the river beautiful, the breweries flowing, the people giving, the riding outrageous and Cog Wild was unbelievable. I know I will do my best to always stay in contact with Melanie and Lev. I have invited them to my hometown anytime they want. I don’t know why they would leave, but if they do, they have a place to stay.

The obvious question is, “Then why haven’t you moved there?” While I don’t have Hero Dirt, Pliny Killer or natural hot springs around my trails, I do have family. Can I leave it at that?

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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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