Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

The older I get, the more fragile I become. You can only be young once, but you can be a child all your life. I must still be somewhat of a child, since I allowed my son Thor and daughter-in-law Sarah to talk me into going with them on a mountain biking vacation. They are neurotic mountain bike racers.

Each year we Tingeys, (and I'm now the oldest), have a family reunion at Judy and Grant's place on the shore of Lake Tahoe. Judy is the next oldest of our clan and the great organizer of the group. She also lives on a lake; a huge plus. So! I flew down to Portland where I joined Thor and Sarah, and together we would spend three days driving south to Tahoe while spending the days mountain biking and camping. They have a big truck, and the three of us and three bikes managed to fill the entire bed with gear.

After a 19-mile ride through the forests of Portland on Sunday, I thought I might be prepared for the week. Although an ominous fall in the parking lot at the end of the ride when I couldn't get my foot out of the pedal, portended more evil to come. Monday I bought food. Tuesday evening, we loaded the truck and grabbed dinner at "the Carts", a collection of little food carts tucked into a Portland neighborhood. Thor grabbed a burger at Lardo where they fry the potatoes in lard, of course. Check it out:
The "Lardo" food cart
A Lardo ham sandwich (courtesy of Lardo)

I had a lamb gyro from an adjacent cart; I couldn't eat the whole thing, but Thor and Sarah were kind enough to finish it for me. As the sky darkened we headed south to Oakridge, then up the Middle Fork of the Willamette river to "Secret Campground", a beautiful forest service site right on the river. Our tents sat on the bank of the stream which roared all night, drowned out all other sensations and thoughts, and lulled me to sleep. I was camping again.

In the morning Thor pulled out his three-burner professional propane stove, set up the breakfast bar with farm fresh eggs, bacon, and Gabriel's fried fresh chewy bagels. We were not roughing it.
Our forest camp on the bank of the Willamette

Chef Thorkild at the grill

Sarah a third of the way into 'Exodus'

After breakfast, we broke camp and drove up the Young's Canyon road to the top of the peaks, literally. A forest service fire lookout sits on the peak. We were dressed looking like bumble bees, at least I was. Then off along a single-track trail into the forest, my feet securely clipped into the pedals, so there was no chance of escaping my fate. It was a blast! Down and up, and I had little trouble keeping up; I think they were babying me.
Thor and Sarah head into the forest
After about a mile of riding, easy for them, harrowing for me, we came to an outcrop of rock with a view of the surrounding countryside. This is the cascade range, where most of the mountains are volcanoes, and most of the rock is volcanic. I was fascinated to look out in the distance and see how the landscape had been formed by such a huge amount of volcanic activity. Blue sky, few clouds, and smoke from a dozen forest fires in the distance.
Thor surveys his domain

Proof that I was actually there!

We climbed down from the peak and headed back a short distance to a junction where Thor and Sarah headed downhill on "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" to the bottom. Allowing my better judgement to rule, I volunteered to drive the truck to the bottom and pick them up. They beat me.

After a quick lunch, we headed across the river and down a narrow single-track bike trail that followed the river south. The forest was filled with huge Douglas fir trees, moss hanging from the lower branches. Ferns, poison oak, willows, and other ground vegetation slapped at our bare calves. I only fell off a few times, feet firmly affixed to the pedals. I'm tough; nothing broke.

The Middle Fork of the Willamette
I can see why they love the sport: we flew through the trees, around sharp corners, and down steep hills at high speed. The uphills were hard, and we walked a few of them, but even then it was a blast. The river raced along side us as we descended through the forest. Boulders, trees, and other obstacles kept me on my toes...literally.
At a bridge on the second leg of the day; along the river

At one point we saw a huge fir tree downed across the trail, but the forest service had sawed it into bite-sized chunks and cleared a path for the bikes. Looks like it would have been a fun job for a logger. I imagined the size chain saw they must have used and mused back to Norman MacLean's book, "A River Runs Through It" The first of three stories tells the tragedy of his younger brother, the great fly fisherman. However, there are two stories there about logging before chainsaws: "Logging and Pimping and 'Your Pal Jim'", and "USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky", both autobiographical of the days he worked as a logger in the Northwest. This little book has my 4-star recommendation for anyone who loves the outdoors.

The Forest Service cuts a path through a fallen giant Douglas fir

I was sad to see the end. Thor and Sarah were energized, but we had another couple of hours to drive to the next campsite on the Umpqua river. Up, up, up we went over the mountain range on a single-lane dirt road. The sky came closer it seemed. We saw only one other vehicle that evening. We got lost twice, but by six o'clock we arrived at Lomolo Lake. Chef Thor went into action; Sarah went into "Exodus", and I puttered as best a father can when his son and daughter-in-law are so competent.

I had brought Charles Darwin's "The Voyage of the Beagle", a book that kept me energized long after my bedtime. Tomorrow I would play shuttle driver. More to follow!
End of the ride as we cross the bridge onto the roadway


sbt said...

Great recap Ralph! I love reading your blog when you have new posts.

One edit - the ride we all did together in Oakridge is called 'Moon Point'. 'Mr. Toad's Wild Ride' is a trail in CA near Tahoe. =)

Ralph said...

I'm Mr. Toad, and I had a wild ride!!!