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Trail Blazing: Early spring conditions abound on area trails 

Conditions of the trails surrounding Central Oregon are continuously changing in the spring weather.

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They go from town. Pedaling down the shoulder, they ride side-by-side because traffic is minimal and the cars that do pass have bikes on top. The woman is local, but the two men are from out of town. She takes a left toward the trailhead and they follow, passing a parking lot half filled with dirty Subarus and Toyota pickups. A 1984 VW Westfalia the color of burnt toast sits off in one corner with the sliding door open, giving the riders a quick glimpse of goose-bumped skin as someone shimmies out of their shorts.

On the trail there are still patches of snow. Rather than avoid them, the woman climbs out of her saddle and goes through them, keeping the single track single. A mile down the trail, she hears laughter from behind and knows what's coming.

"What is that? A flaming chicken?"

Welcome home to Phil's Complex, a central tenet of Central Oregon's mountain bike and running trails.

Regionally there are more than 500 miles of off-road trails suitable for mountain biking and running, and trails continue to be built and expanded every year, according to the Central Oregon Trail Alliance (COTA). Phil's Complex may be the best known of these trails, but it is hardly the penultimate for central Oregon's biking and running communities.

Soft Conditions Require Care

Trail conditions are varying day-to-day with the spring weather, says COTA's chairman, Woody Starr. There are a number of trails that will be snow covered until mid-June, and even more that, because of wet conditions, run the risk of becoming severely rutted if ridden regularly.

That doesn't mean people shouldn't be getting out and riding, says Starr, it just means good trail selection can do wonders for the protection and maintenance of single track.

"If it's soft enough that you're leaving ruts when you ride down the trail, it's too soft to be riding and it's time to choose another trail," he adds.

Possible good options for riding in the coming weeks, include Horse Ridge southeast of Bend, the Maston area off the old Cline Butte Highway and some of the trails surrounding Smith Rock and Gray Butte.

"We're all getting excited for spring," says Starr. "While we wait for the majority of the trails to melt and dry out, it's important to remember to share the trails that are currently rideable. Smiling and being courteous are some of the biggest things we can do to maintain the character of our trails and the Central Oregon outdoor experience."

COTA, which has been involved in trail building in the region, for more than 15-years, suggests that riders work together with other trail users to maintain trail integrity by yielding and putting a foot down, rather than trying to pass and in doing so widening the single track.

Riders, especially fast moving downhill riders, should always anticipate the presence of other riders, dogs, horses and, most likely, trail runners, says Starr.

Spring Trail Race Primer

In the last 10 years, Bend, and surrounding areas, has garnered national attention for the quality and quantity of relatively accessible trail runs. Now, it's becoming a hotspot for trail racing, as well.

Next week, the racing season really kicks off the Horse Butte 10-miler, says local race director and owner of Superfit Productions, Dave Thomason. The week after that is the Peterson Ridge Rumble, then the Dirty Half, Haulin' Aspen, Flagline, the new High Alpine Half and the Down and Dirty Half, round out the spring and summer.

There's a lot of excitement surrounding trail running in our area, says Thomason. We have a few weeks before some of the more popular runs are snow-free, but with all the options around Central Oregon, it's possible to run trails year-round.

"Horse Butte is looking like it's going to be in great shape for race day," says Thomason. "The Badlands, and most of the trails to the east and north are almost always in runnable shape."

Lend a Hand

COTA has several trail building and work parties on the horizon, including an April 7, 2012 build day at the East Redmond Trail Complex, aka the Radlands. The Radlands are Central Oregon's newest trail complex, and once complete will include trails of varying lengths and difficulties, many of which will be rideable year round.

A Trail Crew Leader training will be held on April 12, with a field day on April 14. Trail stewards are also currently being sought to participate in COTA's popular Adopt-A-Trail program. For more information about volunteer opportunities, or updates on trail conditions, visit, http://cotamtb.com/

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