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Roads Less Traveled 

When it comes to adventure that respects the Earth, almost nothing comes close to cruising around on a bicycle

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth...."

Two years have gone by since the beginning of the Covid pandemic—500+ days of canceled events and closures, mandates and restrictions. During the initial lockdown many adventurous people looked closer to home for ways to escape. Although "stay-cations" are nothing new, there remain hidden gems and long-forgotten-about areas to explore, sometimes only an hour or two away from home base in Central Oregon. Now that the price of petrol has skyrocketed, it's prime time to rethink our time off, and lean in a bit heavier on alternative ways to explore.

click to enlarge Whether solo or with a group, a self-propelled, two-wheeled journey can take a rider to some of Central Oregon's most beautiful spots. - CREDIT DAVID SWORD
  • Credit David Sword
  • Whether solo or with a group, a self-propelled, two-wheeled journey can take a rider to some of Central Oregon's most beautiful spots.

Bend is a bicycle town, and with 500 miles of singletrack (plus seemingly unending dirt and accessible gravel roads), adventure opportunities await, literally out the front door. Most know the beloved Phil's Trail network, but have you ever thought about or attempted an overnight route? Who doesn't like camping out under the stars? Head out east, west, north or south for a multitude of loops, out-and-backs, shuttle, solo or supported endeavors. With late season snowstorms stacking up, many higher elevations routes are still closed, so plan accordingly.

There are dozens of routes to explore on a myriad of online platforms, many of them starting within an hour of Bend. Short routes are great for the day and can also be combined with others for a longer outing or possible overnighters. GPX files are available to download to your GPS computer or phone, making route planning a much easier task than plowing through paper maps. Check out Dirty Freehub and to get started.

Want to go bigger? Many regard the six to seven days of the Oregon Outback route one of the finest in the Pacific Northwest. Starting in Klamath Falls and heading toward the northern border, the route takes riders to some amazing places. It's not for the faint of heart, however.

Oregon Outback contributor Donnie Kolb says, "The Oregon Outback route links up a handful of must-see, but rarely visited parts of the state. Expect desolation, extremely limited water and services, and some of the most beautiful riding in Oregon."

click to enlarge CREDIT DAVID SWORD
  • Credit David Sword

Meanwhile, inspired by the famed Pacific Crest Trail, the Oregon Timber Trail is a massive undertaking. Most riders take smaller bites out of the route, but the 669 miles of the OTT is enough to keep one busy for much of the summer and/or for years to come. Designed around a mountain bike experience, the route is broken into four distinct tiers, with most riders allowing 20-30 days to complete the entire system. The Deschutes Tier, starting at Waldo Lake, covers 113 miles and is manageable in three to six days.

For those with plenty of time and needing a bit of a road trip, both the Ochoco and Strawberry Mountains, areas, more known for four-wheeling and hunting, have a growing number of biking routes. One could easily design weeks' worth of exploration on the endless double and growing single track routes throughout. Search the U.S. Forest Service website under MOUNTAIN BIKE, for a list of options. Hint: Check out the zones around Prairie City, the North Fork Malheur and North Fork John Day; they are wonderfully beautiful areas, with ample camp and bike options, that see far less traffic.

General notes: Bike rides don't have to be races, epically physical or mind-bendingly difficult. Take the slow lane, stop for pictures and find the perfect spot for a camp. Take a Tenkara fly rod and flip flops. Snack. Often. Always remember that riding a bicycle should be fun...mostly. Hardtail mountain or drop-bar gravel bikes are the norm for bike packing and adventure riding. Fatter tires give better grip and keep your ride plush, while adding bags gives you room for food, clothing and overnight gear. E-bikes are increasingly popular but are not allowed on every trail. Understand the regulations for each and every trail you intend to ride before setting out. Practice Leave No Trace principles. Explore. Be nice. Make friends.

Check out these sites to find routes that let you roll out right from your doorstep:

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