It’s been a lot of years since I rode a mountain bike, but a few weeks ago one came in the mail.
Now, my husband’s a bike rep, so we get to act as foster parents to a lot of sample bikes – but this particular beauty is mine. For now.
I’ve been calling her Evita Bonita, on account of the girly paint job. She’s pretty, for sure, and has been a fantastic playmate over the last few weeks. I hardly feel like I’m qualified to write a mountain bike review (“The shocks skoosh appropriately, and the tires roll over things well?”), but I can say the Eva seems really stable, pleasantly aggressive, and up for any challenge I’m able to put her through.
The tires are 27.5″/650b, which is new for me. My last mountain bike was a 26″, and Evita seems way faster and more able to tackle roots and such. The hardtail was fine for me, although when we did a really rooty, rocky ride in Klamath Falls (read on, friends), I did get jostled around a lot.
I’ve been having a blast. Rob and I have taken several road trips to visit shops and hit the trails – I wrote up some of the most fun ones here.
Nisqually-Mashel State Park, Eatonville, WA
We’ve been to Nisqually-Mashel before for a mountain bike race (the Ronde Ohop), but neither of us rode – so when we found ourselves out near Eatonville, we knew just where to go.
We stopped in at Eatonville Outdoor to get a map of the area, and to talk to the owner about the trails. He printed us out a map, marked out a good route for us, and away we went.
To get to the trails, head out on Hwy 7 from Eatonville, and then turn south on Mashel Prairie Road.
There’s not much in the way of signage, but you’ll find a big clearing under some power lines where you can park. There might be a horse trailer there – the trails were mostly cut by horse riders, and can get a bit chewed up by them.
The route we followed on the Eatonville Outdoor map was horse-hoof free, for the most part. Some was single track, some was overgrown gravel roads. It was a great reintroduction to the mountain bike for me – a bit technical, a bit of a climb, mostly mellow, and lots of great wide places to pick up your speed going downhill.
Once we’d ridden the route, we decided to explore a couple side trails – all of which turned out to be really shitty. One was so chewed up by horse hooves that we had to walk our bikes most of the time, and several started out great, but then became so overgrown we could barely find the trail.
(If you come across one of those, just turn around. Don’t forge on like us. It doesn’t get better. We promise.)
Bushwhacking here isn’t the most fun, on account of the stinging nettles and blackberry brambles, and Rob had some sort of terrible reaction when he rubbed his eye after we were done. But stick to the regular trails and you’ll have a ton of fun.
Alsea Falls, Corvallis, OR
This trail just opened a few weeks ago (June 2014), and Rob had heard it was awesome. It’s just southwest of Corvallis, out some of that gorgeous forested wilderness/small town/farmland vibe that Oregon’s got going on all through the coastal range.
There’s an established recreational area around the falls (which are apparently quite pretty, though we didn’t go check them out), so a smartphone map should get you there. To get to the mountain biking trails, turn south on Fall Creek Access Road, and after a few hundred yards you’ll come to a parking area with great signage.
(There’s great signage throughout the trail system, and you’ll find several copies of the map posted around.)
We snapped a photo of the map, then headed out the trail. While we were getting ready, a youth corps crew that had been out working on the trail came by, and recommended Highballer as being super rad.
It’s a long climb up a fire road to get to the trailhead (about 3 miles, with an elevation gain of about 1000 feet), but going down makes the climb worth it. It’s really well groomed and super flowy, with high berms and steeply banked curves.
I totally didn’t do it justice, but I had a blast.
Once you make your way down Highballer, you connect in with Springboard, a more mellow trail that I really loved.
There are other trails out there, and more are planned. The terrain is hard-packed clay, which got a bit slippery since it had just rained, but there aren’t many roots and rocks, so it’s easy to flow.
The scenery is amazing, too. As you descend the terrain and vegetation changes subtly, and the trail cut through it changes from dusky brown, to rust red, to chalky pale.
Brown Mountain, Klamath Falls, OR
I’d never been to Klamath Falls before this trip, though I’d been warned by my uncle it was desolate and bare, “sort of like Yakima is.” Desolation’s never bothered me, and I kind of think Yakima is pretty, so I was excited to check out a new corner of my new state.
Outside Klamath Falls, it’s certainly desolate. Enormous, perfectly flat valleys are ringed by sawtoothed ridges. They’re filled with farmland and these incredibly vast, serene lakes that reflect back the blue sky.
The scene reminded me of the Peruvian Altiplano, particularly the windswept plateau around Lake Titicaca, fringed with pine trees instead of eucalyptus.
Downtown Klamath Falls looks like it’s seen more interesting days, but the pizza at Old Town is good, and there’s a great bike shop (Hutch’s Bicycles).
One of the guys at Hutch’s, Zach, took us out to the trails at Brown Mountain. His wife Lilian had just been cleared to ride after recovering from surgery, and the third woman in our group, Debby, had put 100 miles on her road bike yesterday. I was promised a mellow ride.
It was not.
The trails around Klamath Falls are all rocky and rooty, according to Zach and Lilian – and this one was no exception. It was all technical turns through sawed-up logs while avoiding pyramid-shaped rocks and fat twigs that leapt into your spokes.
I had fun – and Rob had lots of fun – but I was exhausted at the end of our 15 miles. My poor endurance, combined with the jostling I’d taken on the hardtail and my beginner’s mountain bike handling skills meant that I walked a lot. Particularly near the end, when I was too mentally and physically tired to navigate the rock gardens, and finally gave up trying to ride through them altogether.
Like Alsea Falls, I really look forward to when I have the technical skills and endurance to really enjoy these kinds of trails.
Disclaimer: my husband works for the company that owns Raleigh, Lapierre, and Redline – hence the shiny new bike I got to muddy up and write about.