Day 9: Sisters, OR to Deschutes National Forest - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

September 4, 2014

Day 9: Sisters, OR to Deschutes National Forest

Our willingness to get up, grab the world by the tail, pull it down, and put it in our pocket is moderated by the fact that when we wake up it's thirty fucking degrees. We have the gear to deal with this sort of thing. Mentally we're not there yet. We wait until the sun rises and starts to shine down on the tent to finally get vertical. By then it's all of thirty-three.

Even though it's cold, the riding is beautiful, with snow-topped mountains looking down on wheat fields, stands of pine and juniper trees, and dozens of small ranches. We also see many livestock pastures, but because it's so dry in this part of the state, the only reason they're able to exist is the presence of giant wheeled sprinklers and irrigation systems, every one of which seems to be active this morning.

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On the way to Bend we take a side road that leads us into a large chunk of public land, where we ride slower on gravel roads among the junipers, and where the silence is broken only by the crunch of our tires and the rabbits and squirrels that dart in front of us before diving into the blankets of sagebrush and bitterbrush. It makes us dream of riding the Great Divide off-road route between Alberta and the border with Mexico and spending every night in the open country in places like this.

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With the Three Sisters in our rear view mirrors we travel through countryside on rolling hills before dropping down to the Deschutes River. From there it's a long series of ups and downs, on roads as well as on trails of dirt and sand, that lead south along the curves of the river toward Bend.

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By the time we hit downtown we're running on fumes, but that's no problem because we stop in front of an Indian restaurant. I'm almost certain the place doesn't make a profit from either of us, because we go through plate after plate after plate of curry and chicken and chutney and naan. Our water disappears as soon as the glasses can be refilled. In part we load up because the permanent bicycle touring hunger is starting to kick in, but also because Bend is the last large city we'll see for at least a week. It's all hamburgers and chicken strips and canned beans until then.

On the ride to REI to exchange some gear, we head past the library. Out front stands a middle-aged guy in a dark green University of Oregon shirt.

"Livin' the dream," he says quietly to himself as we roll by.

"Yep," Kristen says back to him.

Surprised, he looks at us as we pedal away, the gears in his head turning.

And then we hear him shout out, "I respect that!"

Bend, where it would seem that grown men take their elderly mothers shopping at Victoria's Secret.
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Things I hate about Bend: sprawling outdoor shopping malls; SUV exhaust; roads that never run straight, so it's easy to get lost; the giant REI that has only half of the things we need; realizing how poorly my front derailleur was adjusted before we left; kids setting off fireworks near the woods, even though every tree and patch of grass that isn't a lawn is starved for rain; subdivisions lining the road out of town, with names like Mountain Pines, Shady Pines, and I think eight other variations like that; and the wide streets with bicycle lanes that have no houses anywhere around them, which signal the impending arrival of many other Pine-based developments now that the bust of 2008 is behind us.

Things I love about Bend: the Indian food buffet and leaving Bend.

Although even leaving Bend doesn't work out so well. Between Bend and Sunriver there exists not a single road, paved or otherwise, besides U.S. Highway 97. Google Maps shows one or two in places, but in the real world they dead end or no longer exist. That forces us to head south with the howl of tires and the screaming of engines as a replacement for the backwoods quiet we've gotten used to over the past few days. Along the way we make sure to follow the directions of the white road signs and do not pass any snow plows on the right.

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When we reach Sunriver it's as if we've entered an alternate world. It's a massive planned community where every house and condo is painted is one of six shades of brown and each street has some kind of quaint outdoor name like Beaver or Sundance. A huge network of bicycle paths exists throughout the place, which on its face seems wonderful, but they aren't just a courtesy, they're a requirement. It's against the law to ride a bike or walk on just about any road in Sunriver, which turns out to be a problem if you're headed to the library and not just the pool or the store.

Also gross.
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The roads and paths are lined with homes — hundreds and hundreds of them, all of which have the curtains and flags and patio furniture that suggest they're inhabited — but we see maybe half a dozen people outside in half an hour. When we notice this, and think about how the place is so neat and ordered and Caucasian, we become more and more creeped out.

"It's too perfect," Kristen says to me as we ride only where we're told to ride. "I wonder if this is one of those places where you move in and they're like, 'Hey, welcome.' And then two weeks later they're like, 'Hey, come check out the community center,' and then when you go there they kill you and turn you into food, like Soylent Green."

Gross but content, and not yet turned into food.
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Outside the library in the early evening we talk about today and agree that we felt rushed for most of it, first pounding into Bend to get lunch and then cranking to Sunriver to reach the library before it closed. We decide to slow things down by grabbing some beers and terrible food at the gas station across the street and then riding out into the woods with no destination in mind.

And that's exactly what we do.

After about five miles we cross back over the highway and head down a Forest Service road of reddish-brown dirt, then cut down a narrow side track, and finally drag our bikes off into the brush and set up camp on a tent-sized patch of needles in between a bunch of skinny ponderosa pines. There we sit on a log, drinking craft beers and eating honey roasted peanuts and listening to First Aid Kit — a kind of forest happy hour — with the noise of cars and semi-trucks a dull drone in the background, and the sunlight hitting only the tops of the tallest trees.

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In the span of just an hour the rush of the day, the madness of Bend, the nasty highway riding, and the Hitchcock movie vibe of Sunriver have faded away. In their place we're left feeling great about the day that's winding down, excited about the prospect of riding through isolated forest lands in the days to come, and pleased that we're experiencing every part of this grand adventure together.

Today's ride: 52 miles (84 km)
Total: 349 miles (562 km)

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