- Day 1: Skipped last 5 miles because it was getting dark; took the road instead
- Day 2: Last 8 miles may be a bit off; my GPS battery died and I had to piece the last bit together with a USGS Scan
Want the GPX version of the map or just more detail? Click here.
The North Umpqua Trail is one of the more challenging physical endeavors I’ve completed for quite some time. I think that as Andrew and I set out on this little two-day adventure, we assumed that 35+ miles a day was quite doable, especially since we were riding the trail from east to west, meaning we would drop more in elevation than we would gain. This theory was quickly disproved. Although the total feet of descent was greater than the total feet of ascent, the first day we climbed over 6,500 feet, and the second day around 5,400 feet… that’s a lot, in case you were wondering. Plus, the upper section of the North Umpqua was littered with downed trees and mudslides, which made progress both tedious and labor-intensive.
The result was an incredibly slow first day, where we averaged less than 5 miles per hour and were absolutely exhausted by the time we finished our 40 mile ride from Kelsay Valley Horse Camp to Eagle Rock Campground. Those measly 40 miles took us almost 9 hours, starting at 10:45am and limping into Eagle Rock around 7:30pm. The demanding terrain and forced hike-a-bikes due to landslides and downed trees took their toll on us, but that doesn’t mean that the ride was not enjoyable. The upper North Umpqua Trail is a must-ride for any mountain bike enthusiast, with varying terrain, including dense networks of forest, breathtaking canyons, and rather disconcerting side slopes with 100+ foot drop-offs that are best kept in your peripheral vision.
As tough as that first day of riding was, Andrew and I both woke up feeling surprisingly chipper and energetic; ready to tackle the lower trail’s 35 miles. The lower North Umpqua Trail was in much better condition than the upper trail, with only occasional downed trees and landslides.
What made this section unique to the upper trail were the mass amounts of poison oak, and a section of trail in the Calf portion that was littered with ticks. If it were a cash crop, farmers could make a killing harvesting poison oak off the lower portion of the trail; it was clearly flourishing in this lush section and was impossible to avoid contact with, often pushing into the trail on both sides. The ticks were nearly as abundant as the poison oak in one isolated section of the ride. Andrew and I both picked off close to 10 ticks within about a 3 miles span, but after that, they mysteriously disappeared, leaving only the occasional shiver of disgust as we checked our legs and bodies numerous times over the course of the next hour.
Unfortunately, it was also in the lower section of the trail that Andrew’s mechanical woes reared their ugly head once again. His chain broke the first time only a few miles into our ride. After taking out one of the links and being forced to only use a handful of gears on his bike, we were both slowed down considerably. Then about twenty miles into the ride, right at the start of the last section, the Tioga section, Andrew’s chain broke again, and he decided it was a sign that pushing through the last 15 miles was a bad idea.
So while he walked his bike back to the highway and proceeded to hitchhike his way back to the car up at the top of the North Umpqua Trail, I proceeded to ride the last 15 miles solo. While I did see a handful of people at some of the access points to the trail, overall, the ride was a solitary experience, which was altogether different from riding with Andrew always on my tail. For one, I didn’t take the same risks I would with someone following close behind, which was probably a good thing. I also found myself observing my surroundings more, but lacking the camaraderie of someone else to appreciate the beauty of such observations, which was not a good thing. Finally and perhaps most debilitating, though, was that I was completely in my own head, and the Tioga section definitely gets in your head. Two major climbs, in particular, challenged my mental toughness. Incredibly steep grades mixed with technical rock hopping and loose pebbly top soil made for many hike-a-bike sections along these two climbs.
Needless to say, after the final climb, aptly named Bob’s Switchbacks, I was sweating buckets and ready to coast my way down the last five miles to the car; it didn’t help that I ran out of water half-way up Bob’s interminable switchbacks. With only a few gentle climbs interspersed through these last five miles, I took it pretty easy after roaring down the initial descent of this final climb. After pulling into Swiftwater Park, receiving a bottled water from some enthusiastic college kids just getting ready to start their adventure on the North Umpqua, and talking through some of the finer details of the ride with them since they had no guide book to follow [gulp… good luck guys], Andrew pulled up with the other car, almost perfect timing. We both exchanged our very different adventure stories and then hopped in the cars and headed north in search of a greasy burger.
As we both drove separately north and watched the miles tick away, the realities of home and nagging responsibilities careened back into our minds, hitting us harder than any monster hike-a-bike ever could and reminding us of the precious and revitalizing power of such weekend getaways.