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Text: Jeremy Dunn | Video & photography: Brian Vernor

Riders: Clint Culpepper, Prince Racster, Dan Penner, Greg Johnson, Eric Richter, Chris McNally & Tim Coghlan

My knee feels kind of like someone is holding on to it at all times.

Squeezing it really. “Kung Fu Grip” style. Although, at the bike shop we always said “Farmer Grip” because the people that ended up working there with farms always had the craziest hand grip. They would wrench stuck seat posts from rusty frames or peel a tire off those Trek Matrix rims like it was taffy or something. Too esoteric? Anyway, you get the point and I can feel it on my right knee all the time now.

The surgeon said that this would go away after a time, but to that statement friends have raised eyebrows and said things like “that’s what they always say” or “it’s been 15 years for me and I can still feel it” so I’m not holding my breath.

On May the 4th I had a knee surgery that involved cadaver femur, a couple screws in my shin, and now this persistent “knee gripping” feeling that maybe is or isn’t going away any time soon. I didn’t ride much of anything the ten months prior except for a few times on an indoor trainer. After the surgery it took a good two months to even start thinking about getting back on the bike, so at that point we’re at a solid year of no riding. However, it wasn’t much longer after that year point that the plotting, scheming, and piecing together of this route started happening.

What’s a better way to celebrate recovery than a trip through the woods on roads you’ve never seen? That’s actually a bit of a trick question, because I cannot imagine another way to do it. Plus, it gave me an actual goal to work towards.

Let’s ride from Portland-ish to Bend on gravel and Forest Service roads. There, I said it. Who’s in?

But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves because going from surgery to three back-to-back 60 mile days on bumpy gravel roads isn’t done overnight. In fact, as we got closer to our proposed date, which got pushed out even further than planned, I wasn’t actually certain I would be ready.

It was good that Dan and Prince and I were doing so much riding out to Occidental Brewing in St. Johns. I had found a route with minimal gains in the climbing department and maximal gains in the rehydration arena. Plus, the breaks that we took out there were perfect for plotting out this ride in the not-so-distant future.

Which is where Tim comes in. Tim and I used to work together back in the day and he’s pretty much everyone’s go-to guy when it comes to events and logistics. Especially ride logistics. In fact, he was maybe the only person who didn’t immediately dismiss me when I said we should ride out to Bend — but only on dirt roads. He went straight home and started looking at maps. The next couple days were a flurry of routes and roads and places to stop along the way.

Which is good. Maps are important, but on the canvas of life, maps are just one tool used to paint a picture.

Day One

We knew that we wanted to end at Brietenbush Hot Springs. They have the only clothing-optional hot springs soaking pools and vegetarian buffet in all of the National Forest. That we know of anyway. It was weird and wonderful at the same time. Except when they forgot to make our sack lunches (they’re included in the price of the rooms and were our planned food for the day!) We rolled in a little late through a gate that most of their employees didn’t know existed, but once we got that sorted and soaked ourselves in interesting smelling natural springs, we were ready for day two.

It was funny how quickly we could put that first day behind us. The long, long climb that took the entirety of the first day was quickly glossed over by the speedy smooth roads following it. Joyous.

Day Two

One wrong turn is all it takes. That should be our theme – or someone’s theme anyway – but once we sorted everything out we were on our way. Besides, we like climbing. Right guys? The dripping wet forest is big, unencumbered and beautiful out here. Plus, I learned via Tim that Forest Service roads mean that you can ride bikes on the logging routes, but cars are not allowed. How cool is that? There must be hundreds and hundreds of rideable roads out here.

Richter is over it as we head into one of the final stretches toward our destination for the evening — a motel in Camp Sherman — and his bike spins out in the loose sand and plops down with a bit of a crunch. We all make an unconscious decision to turn back to the road that we just crossed. The smooth one that goes straight down the hill to the Suttle Lodge and the beers there. It’s not officially our route if we can’t call audibles and switch it up.

Day three

The previous night, as we rolled into our motor-inn there were fires burning next to the road giving everything an ominous glow, smoke hanging like fog across the road. The “prescribed burn” that was in effect for the area gave everything an eerie feeling when we awoke and packed for the day. The ride out of Camp Sherman, doused in this smoke kept everyone quiet and curious for the first part of the ride.

We had planned on quickly and easily rolling into Bend at this point. The route, on paper, looked relatively flat and so it should be easy to tick off these last 30 odd miles toward our destination, right? Wrong.

It’s just when your legs are starting to get tired that the terrain throws another one at you. The dusty, sandy trail turned into a soft ankle deep silt. Which was funny at first, each of us taking turns riding through a plume of the stuff before crashing out into its soft underbelly. But, then we were just covered in dust with 20 some odd miles to go.

We took longer than you might expect at a gas station in Sisters, Oregon. Every snack we owned poured out of the back of our van and, surprise, beers showed up and just like that we were enjoying another strange 70 degree October afternoon in the sun.

And like clock-work telling us to get our asses in gear we received a text stating that we could use a hose in the back yard to cleanse ourselves and our steeds of three days of dust. It’s amazing how things come together, and we were off.

The beers were cold and the water from the hose even colder as we shivered and sprayed ourselves down in Cindy’s backyard. Thankful to just not be bumping along, unintentionally knocking each others handlebars and watching out for one another.

A smile came across my face surveying the scene. The bikes were being hosed down. Someone had demolished a bag of chips that were set on the table along with various helmets, sunglasses, cycling caps and a dusty water bottle or two. Why did we decide to do this anyway?

A good, rough ride has the ability to mold everyone on it into its own shape no matter how they started, or what they set out to do. The jostling clears the head and more often that not you forget why or how you got here in the first place.

Oh right, the knee. The right knee. Some unseen force still had a Farmers Grip on it, but all in all  I had been so focused on having a good time exploring rural Oregon with this crew that I had forgotten about it entirely. That seems like a good thing, right? Maybe I should do some stretching?