Santiam Wagon Road

Sunday, September 6, 2015
Disc Trucker
Robert, Nelson

Got up early and headed out by car to meet the Linn Shuttle which picked us up at Mountain House and took us to Clear Lake. It was a bright sunrise and it was totally clear over the mountains, but it soon clouded over and was cool all day untill late in the afternoon. I didn't know anything about this ride. Since it followed the old Santiam Wagon Road I expected mostly double track following an easy grade. There was some of that, but there was also a lot of full blown single track with steep grades, rocks, roots, and creek crossings. In other words mountain biking. Of course I don't have a mountain bike, but I'm happy to say the the old Mountain Trucker did just fine.

We started the day with some easy trails around Clear Lake. Robert had some idea of riding a few miles of the McKenzie River Trail to check out Sahalie Falls. I talked him out of it knowing that we had a long day ahead of us. We followed the trail to FIsh Lake which is the start of the Santiam Wagon Road. This was a main depot and they have preserved a lot of old buildings and have a tourist attraction with a lot of history of the pioneer days. Here it was indeed a road that started climbing right away. We knew we had a long climb to Tombstone Pass. Robert thought is was 1,000 feet, Nelson thought it was 1,900 feet and it turned out to be 2,300 hundred feet. It was spread out over 10 miles so it never got too steep. For these 10 miles it remained double track although there were pleanty of places where it was rough, washed out, or narrowed to single track. We had met a guy at Clear Lake who told us there were a lot of down trees and creek washouts. At this point the creeks were all dry so that wasn't a problem. We climbed over a couple of down tress and were thinking it wasn't so bad until we came to one section that was completley unpassable. I was behind and could see the other's tracks heading off into a tangled mess. I tried to follow but soon gave up. Fortunatley we were very close to the highway so I back tracked to where I coud get on the highway. About a quarter of a mile up the road and Nelson pops out of the woods with Robert close behind. They had a hard bushwack just to get back to the highway.

A short way up the road we were able to get back on the trail, and from here to the top of Tombstone Pass it was much easier going. The road is not maintained and there are tress growing up on it. In some places you couldn't see much ahead as we crashed trough the saplings that were crowding out the trail. This too ended as we joined a more recent logging road the rest of the way up to Tombstone Pass. From here, we were told, we would loose 3,500 feet over the next 12 miles back to Mountain House. We were looking forward to a nice road through the woods. What we got was single track. Some really nice, some really gnarley, and not all down hill. The first section makes no claim to even follow the wagon road. We guessed they built highway 20 on top of it. It starts of steep but smooth downhill with a few hairpins, and then it settled into a pattern we would follow pretty much the rest of the day. Some nice level sections followed by some steep, sometimes rocky and narrow sections down to a creek bed, and then a steep climb back up the other side. We must have crossed dozens of creeks this way, only a few of which were ridable. Most were dry, but still required a dismount, scramble over the rocks, and then push up the other side since we had lost all momentum. There were at least two wider creeks that were flowing and required some fancy footwork over mossy rocks while carrying your bike.

While the creek crossings wore me out, the woods were spectacular. The western Cascades at it's finest. Fir, Hemlock, Cedar, Maple, and Alder. At the higher elevations I saw some Noble Fir which has a distinctive blue tinge almost like a Blue Spruce. Eventually the single track did join the wagon road again, but there was very little double track and still lots of creek crossings. There were also plenty of nice swooping downhill to make it very enjoyable. There were actually mile markers along the trail so we knew how far we had to go. All I can say is a mile is much longer on a mountain bike trail than it is on the road. Eventually we reached the trail head and were back at the car.

This was the hardest ride I've done in a long time. Much harder than the 107 mile ride I had just 3 days ago. It was good that it was a cool day also. It would not have been much fun in the heat of summer.

I was very impressed with the Mountain Trucker. At first I was getting bounced around quite a bit. But after I lowered my seat and let some air out of the tires the whole experienced changed. While my goal for this bike is not mountain bilking, but rather off road touring or bike packing, it is nice to know that it can handle single track and get trough some pretty rough stuff.

Another Great Ride