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


The Bend Conspiracy
Written by Kyle Maxwell

Electric yellow. That’s the only way to describe it. It happened so quickly. A few swooping turns, riding along the west edge of the lake, through ancient lava flows in a light mist of rain. We broke into the forest of deep green cedar and moss. Moss everywhere. The dirt was wet, but the tires were still clean. Evidence of a loamy, forest trail. As we rounded the corner, we lifted our eyes and found ourselves in the most amazing display of fall foliage I’ve ever seen. Intensely illuminated yellow leaves contrasting starkly with the rich, vibrant greens of the lush McKenzie River Trail, unfurled before us. It was eye candy overload. A cathedral of color, bursting at its seams. I looked back just in time to see Sonya’s face, frozen in the same OMG expression as my own. We were awestruck. The forest was revealing its magic.

Let’s rewind a bit. It’s September and the summer riding season in the Bay Area is slowly fading. An email is sent out, half-jokingly discussing another fall trip to Bend, Oregon. The plan: to hook up with Cog Wild Tours and ride the extensive Central Oregon trail system for 4 days, while eating and drinking our way across the vast beer-centric culinary landscape. It didn’t take long to get serious and settle on a date. Bright and early on October 17, seven MTBR members would depart San Jose, CA for a 9-hour haul up to Oregon’s outdoor playground. We’d be given the keys to a 4-bedroom vacation home in the trendy NW neighborhood, just a few blocks from the picturesque Deschutes River and downtown Bend. What’s more, we’d be joined by Sonya Looney, an ultra-endurance pro racer, riding for Team Topeak-Ergon. To top it off, my good friend a photog phenom, Steve Potwin would join us with an arsenal of lights and lenses to capture it in all its high-res beauty.

The morning of the trip found us in my driveway at 6am, working to get the huge Packasport cargo box bolted down to the racks on the 2012 Lexus SUV. After 45 minutes of wrenching and bag tossing, the behemoth SUV and the trailing Prius were loaded and ready to roll. The plan was to get into Bend early enough to meet with Lev Stryker of Cog Wild and hit the trail for an easy afternoon ride. As we approached Oregon though, another alternate plan was carving its way into the day…a visit to Boneyard Brewery. Boneyard is one of the newest members of Bend’s beer family, but has quickly risen to the ranks of cult-like status, with their famous Pliny killer, the High RPM IPA. It didn’t take long to convince the group to the change of plans.

After a healthy array of samplers and a few growler fills, we settled in to the charming craftsman-style home and within minutes, Lev showed up at the front door with a warm welcome. After quick introductions, we got right to business: discussing ride plans. Tomorrow’s ride would begin sharply at 8am. We’d drive over an hour out of Bend to the Ochocos National Forest, a remote and under-utilized riding area. After a few beers, we turned in for the night, eager for a great day of riding.

Bright and early, the house was buzzing with ride prepping. I had the task of brewing up cups of americanos on the espresso machine, since the coffee maker decided to go on the fritz. Halfway through a solid pour, a neatly dressed brunette walked into the kitchen, greeting us with a glowing grin. “Are you serving coffee?” she asked. “Of course. You want one?”, I replied. I was into my fourth pull at this point and had it down to a science. I handed her a cup and introduced myself. At 29, Sonya’s accomplishments are pretty impressive. Originally a solar designer, Sonya dove into the world of competitive cycling in 2006, riding for Cannondale, then switched over to Topeak Ergon in 2009. Since then, she was selected to the USA Marathon World Championships team for both 2010 and 2011 and represented the US in Germany in 2010. Not to mention, two wins at the Breck Epic and 3rd in the coed duo category with teammate, Jeff Kerkove, in the Brasil Stage Race.

Let’s just say, we were in good company.

We were picked up promptly at 8am. Lev pulled up in front of the house in the 15-passenger Cog Wild van. Within 20 minutes, they had a dozen bikes loaded on the roof. We piled in and we were off. To our delight, the first stop would be at the ever-popular Nancy P’s bakery for pastries, coffee, and a big bag of trail sandwiches. (These life-sustaining morsels are a mainstay with the Cog Wild rides. I look forward to lunch whenever they’re involved.) Fueled up, we made the 90-minute drive through rural ranch land to Lookout Mountain, deep in the Ochocos Forest. In typical Cog Wild fashion, there’s always a lead trail guide and a sweep. Lev made his way to the back several time to make sure everyone was okay. After a strenuous 10-mile climb, we reached the peak, a treeless, windblown ridgetop that afforded expansive views of Mt. Bachelor, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Adams, and a handful of other Presidents. At 7,000 feet, we were ready for the 4,000 foot descent through lava beds, over rolling hills with sweeping views, and finally into sinewy trails through some of the most amazingly smooth singletrack I have ever ridden. All the while, Sonya was out in front and hard to catch. And believe me, I tried. This girl has some serious horsepower. I finally caught her wheel on the final descent to the road. She was railing her Canyon hardtail 29er, fully kitted out in Ergon black and green, and looking strong. We hooted and hollered our way down the screaming descent, leaving it all out on the trail. A quick regroup on the roadside and it was a swift, 2-mile pedal back to the van. Within a few minutes a cooler emerged and ice-cold bottles of Deschutes beers were being shared. High fives were passed around as we recalled an amazing ride.

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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