Mountain Biking the Umpqua River – 2005

July 3rd, 2005

  • This series shows some of the trickier parts, where the trail was more of a stream on the side of a hill.

We took a 5 day mountain biking trip with Western Spirit Cycling Adventures. The trip was along the North Umpqua River in Oregon. Nearly the whole trip was single track. What is “single track”? When the path isn’t wide enough for you to stand next to your bike, that is single track. It takes a lot of skill and concentration to ride intermediate and advance level trails. This is especially true when, like us, you have limited experience on this sort of trail. A couple of the other riders, and the guides, have much better skills than we do. Veronica and I skipped a couple of afternoon sections because by the end of the day you can be so tired and banged up from little falls, that you are just asking to get hurt. By the end of the trip some riders were sporting a great collection of bruises and scraped shins.

We traveled a good part of the North Umpqua River Trail in Oregon. Most bikes were fully suspended, but there were a couple of hard tails (including ours) and a couple of riders using platform pedals. Camping every day, with the van hauling the gear and the guides doing the cooking. Menus included things like salmon for dinner, tiramisu for desert, antipasto plate for snacks. Camping with mom and dad was never like this. Highly recommended. BYOB for the cooler.

I got to share in part of the platform pedal experience when I lost a bolt in one of my SPD cleats early on day 3. Had to take the cleat out and ride 10 miles of intermediate single track clipped in only on one side. It made me very glad that I never got around to switching to eggbeaters. That would have been ugly. As it was, I just paid a little more attention to my position on the bike and was glad that it didn’t happen the day before when the trail was really technical and wet in places.

URT runs through along the river, some times at river level, but often 100+ feet above it. The section called “Dread and Terror” (that is what it says on the map) was very technical and at times offered the chance to fall/slide to your death or serious injury if you were not paying attention. Very exciting. One rider was so intent on the trail that he didn’t notice the 60-foot waterfall he went by. That is what I call “Focus”, Grasshopper.

Of the 11 people on the trip, I think all but 2 crashed at least a couple of times. Some of the crashes were quite dramatic, including a couple of endos, riding off little wooden bridges into streams and slips down the slope at blown switchbacks. I had my share of run offs and a couple of near-endos. Happily, there were no injuries, just lots of bruises and scratches from the ferns. One woman had a perfect set of bruises just above here knees where she hit her handlebars as she went over. Tube socks and Tecnu provided a defense against poison oak.

I had broken my arm 5 weeks before the trip (mountain biking). When I asked the doctor if it was OK to ride, his advice was, “Don’t crash and you should be fine.” Thanks Doc, I’ll make a note of that. As it was I had seriously reduced grip strength for the first couple of days of the ride. Not good when it is your left arm and you can’t use your front brakes much. I walked down a few sections that I wasn’t sure I could negotiate with limited brakes. Heck, I walked up a few sections that I just couldn’t climb.

As it was, we skipped a couple of the afternoon sections because we were a bit drained or my arm hurt. Being tired made it more likely that we would make a mistake and take a nasty fall. Every day ended at a campground with an option to swim in a lake or the river. At Horseshoe Bend we had a view of the water out the foot of our tent and the sound of the rapids to lull us to sleep.

The trip was a blast. The guides were very accommodating and the food was fine.

Day 1 – 2 hour van ride from Medford to Lemolo Lake. 13 miles of single track and jeep trails. Difficulty: 2 1/2 stars. Swim in the lake. Salmon for dinner.
Day 2- Dread and Terror – 14 miles of tough technical single track. Lots of water crossings, with and without bridges. Usually riding on a hillside, with steep slopes to the river. Difficulty: 5 stars. Skipped about 4 miles after lunch because my arm was sore and we were tired. Camped at Toketee Lake. Swam in the river. When asked if the water was cold, I replied, “It was really cold until my legs went numb”.
Day 3 – 10 miles of moderate single track, 10 miles on the road. Several of us skipped a very tough section after lunch because we figured that last few miles would have been brutal. Difficulty: 4 stars for what were rode. Watched the salmon swimming up stream from a viewpoint 100 feet above the river. Camped at Horeshoe Bend. River water seemed warmer. Cold watermelon for a snack, then antipasto plates and chicken fettucine alfredo with freshly baked brownies.
Day 4 – Got something in my eye while packing the tent. Took the van to the next campground. My eye cleared up just after arriving, so I jumped on my bike and rode back along the trail to meet the group. I got in 10 miles of double and single track. Everyone else did 14 miles of single and double track, 4 miles of road. Difficulty: 4 1/2 stars for single-track sections. Swam in the river. Took photos of the impromptu belly flop contest. Rained for 2 hours at night.
Day 5 – Several of us skipped a 12-mile very tough section before lunch. Rode in the van to the end and then went back on the trail to meet the advanced riders. Our section was 10 miles of lush, gorgeous, mostly smooth relatively wide trails. Difficulty: 3 stars. This was the only day we saw anyone else on the trail, because we ended at the Swiftwater pull out, near civilization. No other riders, just some hikers. Swam in the river, loaded in the van and drove to Medford.


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