Andy Bike and I like going on adventures and we especially enjoy doing so under our own power. No matter what mode of transportation we choose, I insist that it provides an experience you can’t get any other way.
When planning our latest adventure, we were intrigued by the lack of paved roads and human habitations in the lava lands of Central Oregon. Bikes seemed like the ideal tool for a journey there since they are fast enough to cover many miles a day, yet are slow enough that you can still feel the landscape.
We decided on a winding, 50 mile route around the lava encrusted and pine studded perimeter of an ancient volcano at the heart of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. We would wrap up the trip near a colosseum-like geologic feature called Fort Rock and feast at a folksy restaurant nearby, called the Cowboy Dinner Tree.
Hauling two gallons of water, food for four days, camping, and emergency gear was surprisingly easy. Lifting our loaded bike was considerably more difficult.
While most tourists in this area stick to the main highway and the towns along it, we chose to ply the gravel roads that showed only as faint lines on our map. By exploring off the beaten path, we made our own lava lands discovery tour.
Central Oregon is a sort of humanized wilderness. You hardly see anyone, but signs of human influence are frequent. Still, there’s no cell phone service, no power lines, and only primitive roads. We camped in forest clearings, but we could just as easily slept on the road since we saw only about one car a day.
We were pretty confident and maybe even cocky that our bikes could take us anywhere, especially if we knew where we were going. And over four days of bumpy travel, those bikes took us far and wide.
One day we decided to take a side route up a hiking trail. It only looked to be a few miles to get to our destination. But once we got into the snow zone, we realized that we had the wrong tools for the job.
Andy was certain that if we pushed on just a little farther, we’d get to dry, rideable ground again. I disagreed and after a few hours of finding and losing the trail amid the drifts, I started to wonder if we’d get to reenact scenes familiar to the Donner Party.
The snow gave way to moon-like muddy areas. We couldn’t find the trail, but Andy’s sense of optimism reigned and we began to carry our bikes. Our feet got soaked and frozen. Although it was early June, snow started to fall.
The climb was exhausting, but the vastly different environments we crossed were breathtaking. Eventually, even Andy had to admit we’d have to turn back.
Getting away from the snow, also meant leaving any source of new water behind. Due to rough trails and roads, we traveled much more slowly than expected. With no way to know if we’d make it to our final destination on our remaining meager stores of water, we made the safe but dull decision to cut our bicycle ride a little short and rejoin civilization.
But as we rolled past lumbering RVs and overstuffed cars on the main road, we felt like real adventurers- not dull at all. And when we chose to use the car to get to Fort Rock and our celebratory dinner, we felt it, like our bikes, was the best tool for the job.