February is the Cruelest Month
I’m not quite sure what T.S. Eliot was thinking when he started his poem, “The Wasteland,” with the well-known line: April is the cruelest month. Clearly he never had to endure an Oregon January. And looking ahead in the forecast, it appears that Oregon’s February will be no better, with the next 50 days forecast for interminably dreary rain (citation: me and my unwavering self-pity). It doesn’t help that I’m currently in a particularly challenging graduate school term with most weekends spent cramming for the next test or researching for the next paper rather than dreaming up bikepacking getaways.
Pity-party aside, due to horrible PNW weather and demanding graduate studies, I haven’t been able to get out on the MTB trails for close to a month and have grown a bit stir crazy with the monotonous routine of gym workouts and running. So, in January I resolved that – even if only for a day, and even if the forecast predicted horrible weather conditions, and even if stuck riding solo – I would make a ride happen come the first weekend in February. Fortunately, one of my ever-faithful riding partners was also available, so plans were roughly sketched out and we met up Friday in the hopes of finding some beautiful crunchy powder to float our plus-sized tires on for an entire day.
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry
When I say that plans were ‘roughly sketched out,’ I mean that our texting correspondences leading up to Friday evening could be roughly summarized as “Hey… let’s drive out to Mount Hood and park at some Snow Park, set up camp, and then ride some trails for the day.” This is not my normal biking cameo. I’m the guy that makes the detailed route, downloads the route onto at least one GPS, sends out a detailed description of the ride to all parties involved, buys a map with the route, downloads a map of the route onto his phone, and then spends several hours the night before meticulously packing, repacking, deliberating, repacking again, checking the bike, rechecking the bike, making a list of items to grab in the morning, repacking after analyzing my own pre-made packlist one more time… you get the idea.
This time around I pulled out my 3 ‘Bikepacking Drawers’ in which I keep all my gear, through them in the back of my car, strapped my bike on the car Friday morning, and then headed to work for the day, trying not to think too hard about my normal packlist in fear that I would forget something major, like a pair of shoes to ride in or a pair of gloves to deal with the 20 degree weather (Fortunately I remembered both!).
After meeting up and heading to a bar and grill to catch up on life, Dan and I began looking for accessible snow parks past Government Camp. After striking out with both entrances to Skyline Sno Park, we backtracked to Frog Lake Sno Park and set up camp for the evening. There was a steady snowfall the entire night, but that didn’t deter us at all from hanging out, having a few beers, and falling into the somewhat normalized gear talk nerdery that is almost second nature at this point in our bike camping routine.
The errr…. ‘Route’
Because our route was in no way circuitous or, for that matter, worth posting at all, I’ll instead include a map of the Frog Lake trail network.
We had the best intentions as far as a nicely packaged loop ride goes, because loops always feel so much more satisfying and complete than an out and back. In fact, we were so set on completing a loop ride, that after riding about 5 miles – the last mile being a slushy, soft disaster for bikes – we began an off-trail GPS sludge towards what appeared to be a road that would make for a nice, neat loop, and the hike turned out to be a nice little mini adventure in itself.
This mini adventure came complete with a couple exciting snow-cornice creek crossings, one of which Dan was the unfortunate recipient of a wet boot after an ill-fated step ended in him sinking down 4 feet into the cold creek-bottom. The walk was a success if you consider finding the road we were looking for the end goal. The walk was a failure if you consider said road being rideable the end goal, as the road itself had not been traveled on and was just a big strip of 5-foot deep mushy powder. Thus, we headed back the way we came, successfully recrossed the creek without a complimentary 40 degree foot bath, and attempted to self-talk our unsettled minds into submission after the realization that a nicely packaged loop was not going to be the reality of this trip.
Meanwhile, the occasional snow flurries of the morning had long since settled into light rain showers, but that didn’t really matter. Dan and I are so accustomed to mentally steeling ourselves for the discomfort of a Saturday night campsite in the middle of nowhere that, despite our soaked bodies, we were both perfectly content with the knowledge that in a couple hours we would be toasty warm within the comforts of a heated car, leisurely looking for a hole-in-the-wall diner to stop at for a late lunch.
Once back at the car, we loaded up and did just that: the final destination being a restaurant called The Shack, whose dark and dreary interior belied their deceptively delicious food and excellent beer selection, not to mention the enjoyable local banter and well-known female bartender who everyone seemed to be best friends with in the bar. We should have known the place was going to be quality. I mean, when 4 of the 8 beers on tap are IPAs you know you’re in for a pleasant surprise.
Overall, the trip got us both out on the bikes for half a day, got us out camping in the woods for a night, and pulled us out of our mind-numbing work/school slog #adultproblems (Dan is also studying for some demanding Architect certification exams, so we were able to commiserate on multiple planes this trip). While I hope I’m not cooped up with gym workouts and quick 40 minutes runs for the next month, at least this weekend allowed me some time out in the woods to ease my restless soul. And if the weather and school work don’t let up, I may just have to force my way into another shoddily planned and executed trip similar to this one. That wouldn’t be so bad.