Deschutes River Bikecamping Trip
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Gordon Smith
(swearingen) - MLife

Locale: Portland, Oregon
Deschutes River Bikepacking Trip on 05/01/2010 17:42:28 MDT Print View

The last weekend of April, 2010, I went for an awesome bikepacking trip with a small but great group of folks from the Portland Hiking Meetup Group. We spent three days leisurely exploring the lower Deschutes River area in central Oregon. Along the way we enjoyed the expansive views, relished the fine weather, and poked around some of the ancient farm buildings and railroad relics.

The route is a Rails to Trails project. It runs from the state park near Interstate-84, upstream to a place called Macks Canyon. It's about 24 miles one way, though we only did the rideable part which is the first 20. Our group was led by my pal Claudio, and included my friend David from Portlandhikers.org, a nice chap I'd not met before named Mark, and myself.

For three of us, this was our very first bikepacking adventure. Mark was the only one with bona fide, bike-camping chops. Claudio, David and myself are all experienced backpackers though, and I thought our first bikepacking trip went really well.

Here's Mark doing a few laps around the trailhead parking lot as Claudio snaps a few pics:

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We rode the single track that hugs the river's edge for the first two miles, then cut over to the actual railroad grade. This is Mark, David, and Claudio as we make a quick stop for pictures by the rock arch about 2 miles in:

Mark, David & Claudio


About 5 1/2 miles in, we encounter the first of two old railroad cars:

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Two miles later we stopped at the more dilapidated second car:

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April is really the perfect month for this trip as the weather is usually decent, the rafting season isn't yet under way, and the canyon is verdant and lush with spring grasses and other vegetation. Lots of gorgeous wildflowers too. In another month or two this place will be baking hot, brown, and crispy.

By late afternoon we were making camp at Fall Canyon Camp, also known as Operation Desert Snore:

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Fall Canyon is just one of the many campsites along the Deschutes that were set up primarily for rafters. We didn't see anyone rafting the river this weekend though.

Afterwards we struck out to explore the eerie, yet strangely beautiful Harris homestead a mile down the pike:

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Back in camp, Mark and David watch as a freight train rumbles by on the opposite shore:

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Saturday morning we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, then left our camp set up as we headed upstream for more explorations.

Getting our gear together for the day's ride:

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The view from camp that morning:

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Beyond the Harris homestead were more old buildings to explore:

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And then it was on to the old railroad water tower:

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Continuing upstream:

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A gorgeous butterfly along the way:

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Around mile 20 we came to the end of the official bike trail. The path continues for several miles to Macks Canyon but it gets very rugged. There's six side canyons on that stretch that were once spanned by trestles. The trestles are gone now and the only way through each canyon is on scrambly foot paths. Claudio and Mark forged ahead through the first canyon with their bikes to see how feasible it might be to continue. After some discussion we decided the remaining few miles likely weren't worth the considerable effort, so we opted to end our upriver explorations here and have some lunch:

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Mark and Claudio hefting their bikes back through the side canyon:

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Back on the rideable stuff:

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The skies had threatened to rain on us all day, but only managed to spit a little here or there. Then as we headed back toward camp the weather began to improve quite nicely:

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When we got back to the water tower, we decided to head up the nearby side canyon to see if we could find the remains of the old Mays homestead that had been mentioned in an old trip report on portlandhikers.org.

A look back at the water tower from the road up to Mays Canyon:

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Along the way, Mark and Claudio spotted some deer on a distant hillside:

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All we found at Mays Canyon were a few pieces of metal roofing and other bits of debris. Nothing resembling a cabin, or much evidence of the fire that was mentioned in the report either. It's all very lush, green, and overgrown now. The area was simply gorgeous though, so we scrambled up an adjacent hillside in search of some views:

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Heading back down:

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On the home stretch, Mark had a blowout about a mile from camp. Rather than fix it there, he opted to walk his bike back to camp so he could work on it in relative comfort:

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Actually, he ran with his bike and hardly broke a sweat. The guy's in amazing shape.

Nature's bike rack:

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Back at camp another freighter rolls by:

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The evening was quite breezy and chilly. Later on Claudio and Mark hunted up some firewood for a very welcome fire.

David played his harmonica as we sat around the campfire:

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With David's harmonica, the roaring campfire, and the rumbling freight trains, the evening took on a sort of folky - hobo - Woody Guthrie kind of atmosphere that was really fun. OK, granted, Woody didn't have lycra shorts or titanium cookware, but it's still fun to think about. As we reflected on the day's adventure we realized we hadn't seen any other people all day. And only a few the day before. Amazing considering how beautiful this area is.

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny. The nice weather made it all the harder to pack up and head back to the big city, but return we must.

My little corner of the campground, ready to pack up:

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I started the trip with about 11 pounds in the day pack, including food, and 8 pounds in the trunk pack. Plus my Tarptent strapped to the handlebars. I think the main thing I want to change for next time is to switch to a hydration bladder.

My rig, all packed up and ready to roll:

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Our four aluminum steeds, ready to roll:

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Yours truly, ready to roll:

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On the road again, headed north:

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The remains of an old trestle caught our attention:

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The day was young with plenty of time left to explore, so we headed up the side road called Rattlesnake Grade for some views. Claudio and Mark motored up on their bikes. I didn't have the legs for that long, steep climb, so I hoofed it about halfway up. Got some nice views nonetheless:

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Back on the main trail:

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Near the end of our journey is a short, wet, paved section of roadbed with a "Caution Wet Floor" cone, the kind you see in the supermarket.

Yeah, I'm not making that up:

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Lots more pictures here..

Great group and an awesome trip! Thanks guys, I can't wait to go back!

Gordon

Edited by swearingen on 05/01/2010 18:12:25 MDT.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: bikin' on 05/01/2010 18:30:19 MDT Print View

Awesome trip!

Jay Well
(jwell) - F

Locale: Willamette Valley
Deschutes River Bikcamping Trip on 05/03/2010 09:54:16 MDT Print View

I have rafted the lower section of the Deschutes many times and always thought about riding the old railroad bed, but just never have. This report was some motivation. Maybe a ride up and a packraft trip down? Great report thanks for sharing.

Great pictures by the way, what type of camera did you use.

Edited by jwell on 05/03/2010 09:54:50 MDT.

Gordon Smith
(swearingen) - MLife

Locale: Portland, Oregon
Re: Deschutes River Bikcamping Trip on 05/03/2010 12:54:05 MDT Print View

Hey fellas, thanks for the nice comments on the report! It was a great trip, can't wait to get out on another bike adventure.

Jay, the camera I used is one of the new micro 4/3 format digital cameras that are near DSLR in image quality but smaller because they removed the mirror. This one is a Panasonic DMC-GH1, but Olympus and Panasonic both make even smaller ones. I used a 7-14mm wide zoom and the GH1's 14-140mm kit lens. Combined, that gave me a 20x zoom range, equivalent to 14-280mm in 35mm, in a very compact kit. The camera was small enough I could ride with it hanging from my neck in a padded case, which you can see in the photo of me. I had the other lens always at the ready in a small lens case attached to my shoulder strap. I could not have done this with my Nikon D80, or at least not this easily. Here's a photo off the internet comparing the GH1 w/7-14mm to a more standard size DSLR.

Gordon

Edited by swearingen on 05/03/2010 16:23:33 MDT.

Michael Mathisen
(mathix)

Locale: Oregon
Re: Deschutes River Bikepacking Trip on 05/03/2010 13:55:34 MDT Print View

Sweet TR! Loved the Pics

Jay Well
(jwell) - F

Locale: Willamette Valley
Deschutes River Bikecamping Trip on 05/03/2010 18:25:16 MDT Print View

Gordon, thanks for the info about your camera set up. I am really interested in the micro 4/3 format. I am pretty well convinced to give it a go, now I just have to wrangle up the cash.

Gordon Smith
(swearingen) - MLife

Locale: Portland, Oregon
Re: Micro 4/3 cameras on 05/03/2010 19:33:00 MDT Print View

You're welcome Jay. Yeah, micro 4/3's aren't particularly cheap, even by DSLR standards. That will probably change over time. I should mention that so far I've not been that happy with JPEGs straight out of the camera. It could be I just haven't found the right combo of settings yet. I'm still learning. On this trip I shot everyting in RAW format and did post proccessing with Adobe Camera Raw for white balance, etc. Overall I was quite pleased with the results I got with the GH1 shooting RAW, though I think my Nikon might have done better in some of the harsher lighting conditions.

Gordon

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Deschutes River Bikecamping Trip" on 05/22/2010 15:50:51 MDT Print View

Sweet! How did I miss this one!? Excellent photographs.