Friday 18th August – Twenty Laps of Bend

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I’d dreamt all night about a bright red bike, so much so that when I woke I thought that the new Giant must be the bike for me. The smoke in the forest was thick now and the chairs we’d left outside were covered in a thin layer of ash. This was a lot worse than yesterday. Worried that the smoke haze would interrupt our planned eclipse location in Madras, I did some Googling but found that the smoke was isolated to Bend and we should be safe to head north for the big event.

Too excited to linger around camp long, we had cereal and drove off into the city. They were expecting me at Hutch’s and had the red bike almost ready to go for me. They kindly switched the brakes to moto-style and put the pedals on that I needed. Dan got himself a helmet from their oversized collection and after paying my $60, we were ready to roll. We stashed the fancy bike into my car and Dan followed me to a parking area back in the forest.

Since I was keen to test the new bike without doing tonnes of mileage so that both Dan and Cleo could join me, we planned to do a shuttle ride. It almost seemed stupid not to since we had both cars to make use of. At the bottom of the trail, Dan parked the Cabana up in the shade so that Cleo would be comfortable. Yes she’s a trail dog, but she’s a noob and needs to build up her stamina. Dan made the decision to leave her behind for this one so we could go full speed down the trail.

With Dan geared up and Cleo comfortable, we all squeezed into my car and drove 7 or so miles up the road to the top of the “Funner” trail. I parked, got the old Giant off the roof and we both set about getting our bikes set up. Dan took the SPD pedals off the white Giant to put flats on, checked the tyre pressures and adjusted the air in the fork and the shocks. Meanwhile, I fiddled with the brake levers and gear levers on the red Giant, putting them where I wanted them. Nothing left to do now but get riding!

I could immediately feel the difference on the red Giant as I wheeled it around the pump track by the car. The wider bars and slightly bigger wheels (27.5”) were a stark contrast to what I’d been riding the past five years. Dan followed suit doing a couple of laps on the track making sure he was comfortable. Ready to roll, I followed the map on my phone to take us to the trailhead. This was supposed to be one of the highlights of Bend so I was keen for the 8 mile run down “Funner” then “Storm King”.

The red bike leading the way, we started our ride down the mountain. I quickly adjusted to the 1×11 drivetrain and wowed out loud at the feeling of the bike through corners. The knobby tires and wide bars made me feel like I had so much control. I rode the sandy berms feeling really comfortable on the bike. Makes sense since it was the upgraded version of the white bike. When we got to some of the rocky sections, I became more critical of my temporary ride. The Rockshock suspension on the front and the back felt harsh and unforgiving. On each jump landing, I felt the shocks stiffen at high travel, not like what I’m used to with my Fox fork.

Optimistically, I carried on riding, trying a few different compression settings to see if I could change the feel but it was just a rough ride. Dan was keeping up with me and we only stopped a few times to check our heading and drink some water. Despite the cold night, the day had thoroughly warmed up and we were happy to be cruising downhill. On only his third or fourth ride, Dan was hitting most of what I was and nailing it too! He was looking more comfortable on the white bike every time he got on it.

By the end of the trail, I was disappointed in the red Giant. I’d been hoping for a love at first ride situation, which meant I wouldn’t have to do any more shopping, but clearly it wasn’t to be. We crossed the road to where Dan’s car was parked and shouted out like idiots to Cleo who was patiently waiting for us. Letting her out, she was excited to see us but the novelty soon wore off and she crept under the car for some shade.

We talked about the ride a bit and about how I’d liked the bike. The two dealbreakers were the harsh shocks and the fact that the back of my foot would sometimes hit the frame of the rear triangle as I was pedalling. I did a couple of back-to-back comparisons, just riding along the road, but while my position on the bike felt good, it wasn’t good enough.

Disheartened, we stashed the bikes into Dan’s car. Meanwhile, Cleo had made herself into a mechanic. She’d seen a squirrel run underneath a nearby car and so obviously chased after it. When it remained somewhere tucked into the undercarriage of the car, she would not relent. She got on her back, sniffed at the rear suspension, crawled under the body and snapped at the panels, crying out in frustration as she was doing so. It had both of us in fits of laughter.

We went back to the top of the trail, retrieved my car and drove back into town. Before having lunch at Drake Park where we’d been yesterday, I wanted to stop in at Hutch’s to see if there was anything I could do about the suspension. I spoke to a different guy and he explained I could adjust the rebound which made me feel really stupid. Having not seen a rebound adjustment at the top of the fork, I assumed it didn’t have that feature. Of course it did, it was just on the bottom of the fork. That was my only possibility though. Feeling a little better, I went back out to Dan and we carried on to Drake Park.

We struggled a little to find parking, but after slotting in to a shady spot, we made a quick light lunch and ate in the soft grass. I was in a pissy mood, sad that the red Giant hadn’t worked, knowing I would have to keep shopping around. I don’t like shopping at the best of times and shopping for the most expensive thing I have ever bought aside from my house didn’t make things any better.

After eating lunch, we left my car and drove upriver to Riverbend Park. We planned to do another ride in the afternoon so to kill time, we thought we’d go for a tube down the Deschutes River which runs right through the centre of town. It looked so tame that even Cleo would be able to join us. We saw hundreds of people floating down the water as we drove to the big carpark by the launching station. There were tonnes of rental tubes in the water, a real money maker I’m sure.

I blew up the tubes while Cleo rested and Dan took out the rubbish from his car. A short while later, we were ready to tube. We expected this to be our tamest tubing experience to date, but I still left my Tevas behind just in case. We joined many others at the launch ramp getting into their tubes and starting their float of the river. Along with many other spectators, we watched on as a man in his 60s couldn’t get himself into his tube. Even though the water was only shin deep and any current pretty much nonexistent, he managed to flip the tube and land himself in the water at least twice. Poor guy.

We had better luck. Dan got into his tube first, then I plopped Cleo into his lap. With them settled, I got in my tube and we floated off down the river tied together with our length of rope. When I say we “floated off”, really we hardly moved the current was so gentle. This was the actual definition of tubing, not what we did at Durango and not what we’d done through the Vortex. We people watched as we slowly made our way through town and Cleo even napped in Dan’s lap. We’d never seen her so relaxed near water. We were entertained by a guy lying on a surfboard in a full wetsuit who seemed determined to talk to anyone and everyone he floated past, including us. Keen to make friends obviously, he was having a great time.

Half an hour of slowly floating and we came to the rapids. Man-made falls, they sat just beyond a bridge so that spectators could enjoy seeing tourists navigate the rapids, either successfully or not. Dan readied himself to hold on to Cleo and I grabbed the handles of my tube. The rapids were only small drops, but we did get a little crossed up when after the first obstacle, Dan went left and I went right. It meant I stopped at a barrier but he kept going, with the rope still stretched between us. I managed to get around the barrier and conveniently we got stuck in an eddy off to the side of the rapids where I could untie the rope and just hold it in my hand. After two rounds in the eddy, we got into the rapids again, merging into the traffic as best we could. This time Dan hit the barrier so I let go of the rope and carried on down the rapids solo, finding an eddy to get myself stuck in while I waited for Dan and Cleo to make it down.

They had an eventful run, almost getting flipped forward thanks to an impact from someone behind him, but by holding on tightly to the tube and each other, they made it down. A couple of locals were on hand near the bottom of the rapids to collect Dan’s shoe that had fallen out of the tube. They retrieved it and threw it to him. When he missed catching it, I paddled fiercely towards it and saved it. Obviously one of us must temporarily lose a piece of footwear each time we tube.

Another twenty minutes or so of slowly floating, we were back at Drake Park. No napping for Cleo on this stint, she had been traumatised by the rapids and wouldn’t take calm water for granted. We got ourselves out and walked our tubes back to the Astro. We deflated and went back to Riverbend Park to get the Cabana. I’d tried to relax during the tubing, but I couldn’t get the bikes off my mind and knowing that more shopping was our next move, I was apprehensive.

My next plan of action was to go back to Webcyclery and talk to them some more about the Spark lineup and see what models they actually had available for me to ride. I also wanted to ride the Giant and the Scott side by side to see the difference. The guy I’d spoken to yesterday wasn’t around, so Shannon helped me out. When I asked if there was a Scott Spark model that was 1×11 but didn’t have plus-size tyres, he explained the only options were the 900 series models which were 29” wheels. When I’d made my new bike wishlist, 29” had not been a part of it, but Shannon made me realise that was a wish based on no information at all and so I let him show me the range they had on the floor. He started with the demo bike, the Spark 930 and he quickly set me up for a quick ride on it. Bouncing around on the suspension in the carpark, I could immediately feel the difference between it and the red Giant. It floated compared to the roughness of the red bike. I didn’t let myself get too excited though.

After Shannon ran me through the range of models, I decided to take the demo bike for a ride tomorrow and he booked it in for me. Back to Dan waiting patiently in the car, we head back to the forest for our afternoon ride. We’d pretty much filled the whole day so it was past 5pm when we got to the Lava Piles day use area. Since I was too lazy to do another shuttle run, I planned out a 10 mile loop going first along the Deschutes River trail, then back along a downhill trail called “Catch and Release”. This one Cleo could accompany us on.

Once we were parked up, it didn’t take us long to get our shit organised and ride away. Cleo was keen as mustard from the get go and had a drink in the river before we set off. The trail ran right by the river and it was wide and raging with rapids in places. The trail was in no way technical, it was more of a hiking trail, but I considered this a good test of the bike’s frame and my position sitting on it, making sure I was comfortable to be in the saddle for a while.

The river trail follows the Deschutes for 13 miles but I’d just picked a short section and I think I nailed it. We stopped to admire the flowing waters plenty of times and marvelled at how the landscape was so different across the river. On our side of the river we were riding through dry but healthy forest whereas the opposite bank was covered in piles of volcanic rock.

We passed a boat ramp where a tour group were preparing for a white water rafting trip but the real rapids were a short way upstream. These looked too fierce even for a kayak, let alone a tube. After viewing them from above, we managed to get a good look at them from up close and the power of the water was impressive.

Shortly after the impressive waterfall of rapids, we came to a boat ramp that a few people were using to launch paddleboards. Suitably, there was a huge sign that said “Dangerous Rapids. Upstream travel only.” Made sense. A guy coming in to land on a paddleboard was smitten with Cleo and asked if he could take a photo. Sure! Since he had to wait for his friend to unlock the car, we hung around chatting awkwardly for a while before he finally got his photo and we rode off again.

We left the forest behind for a beautiful open valley. With the sun starting its setting procedure in front of us, the buds of the dry wheat that covered the ground were flashing gold in the slight breeze. We both had our mouths open in awe, this was gorgeous! I saw the biggest dandelion I’d ever seen and sent its little flowers into the wind wishing I’d find the bike of my dreams soon.

We were back in the forest again and next to the river or another mile or so when we climbed up a short pinch that tested the red Giant’s uphill characteristics before we arrived at our turnaround point. This was the last chance for water so Cleo made the most of it before we rode along the road to get onto our next trail. After crossing the highway, we found “Catch and Release” and got straight on it. I went in front while Dan stayed with Cleo behind, but I wasn’t testing the Giant anymore, I knew it wasn’t for me. We strolled our way downhill through the forest, enjoying the red sun shining through the gaps in the dense trees.

The ride had been longer than I thought, but everyone was happy with it. Cleo had almost slowed to a walk as we made our way along the last section of road back to our cars. We’ll make a proper trail dog out of her yet, she just needs to build up her stamina. It was nearly 8pm now and we felt thoroughly pleased with ourselves for making the most of our day.

Earlier, Dan had bought a case of beer with a bag of ice so we got straight into some ice cold ones before driving back to yesterday’s camp. We had planned on sussing out a new spot, but thanks to the late hour, we didn’t mind going back to what we knew. Dan followed me as I used my GPS coordinated from my SPOT to get back to camp. Thinking we were going on the same road we’d used yesterday, I was a little confused as I turned onto a logging road, but I had confidence in my nav so continued following the road. It was sandy and I started having a lot of fun. I didn’t have a hope of seeing Dan behind me thanks to the huge plumes of dust I was kicking up, so much so that I didn’t wait for him at some turn offs because I knew he would be able to follow my dust. Turns out he lost it towards the end and had to ask a couple of campers that I passed if they’d seen a blue van, but he made it.

The sun was already going down as Dan started cooking up a traditional American dinner of Sloppy Joes. He’d tried to explain the delicacy to me before but couldn’t make me understand so the only way was to experience it. Sort of like a burger, the sloppy mince mix was flavoursome and delicious, especially on the pretzel buns he served it on. As he cooked, I blogged and took a break from bike research to keep my mind fresh for tomorrow.

With no fire, we ate and sat around the back of my van using the light from the kitchen. It didn’t quite have the same effect as sitting around a campfire, but it did just well enough. I was happy to see stars in the sky again after the smoke haze kept them hidden for so long. When we crawled into the Cabana, we intended to watch an episode of TV but we never got there, we were both too tired so we fell asleep with the doors open to the forest.

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