Ze Aufderheide Aufderloop, Oregon

The Robert Aufderheide Memorial Drive is one of the most gorgeous roads I have ever had the privilege of driving. Well, let's back up a moment: I grew up in Michigan. Michigan is pretty, and I love my home state, but there are some really impressive places in Oregon. I'm fortunate that my work brings me to many remote spots that the general populace doesn't wander upon. Rainbow, Oregon, near Cougar Dam was one of the first places I went after moving here, and it remains a favorite ... but I'd never gone farther than the dam. Others who lived in the area extolled the wonders of this road, which is the Aufderheide.

The Aufderheide hugs the shoreline of Cougar's reservoir before breaking off and crisscrossing the South Fork of the McKenzie River back into the hills, then descending back toward the Middle Fork of the Willamette River (and another dam, Lookout Point). It's up up up, then down down down. There's nary a straight portion to be found, which is why my first experience was actually a motorcycle ride. While a great ride, it was over too quickly. I wanted more.

So, with Monday off for some weird holiday, conveniently close to my birthday, and a need to escape after a multitude of life events, I told my wife I was going to disappear for a few days. A coworker let me park my adventure van at his house, so all that was left was to set up a loop.

Lowell is a nice town. Tiny. Neat covered bridge at the entrance. I started in the "downtown" area and headed north toward Jasper, along the creatively named Jasper-Lowell Road. It was a beautiful afternoon with minimal traffic. The concern in this area is always logging trucks, but I encountered only locals who were courteous and gave plenty of space. Rolling hills and fall leaves. Just perfect.

I tried the handlebar-sleeping bag setup. Not bad, but kinda squirrely to strap down.

Jasper is less of a town than Lowell, so I rolled right through and continued north to Springfield. Yes, Springfield like on The Simpsons. Springfield is actually a big town, but luckily, the main road I needed to cut east on -- the McKenzie Highway -- includes a bike lane.

For a while, that is. Then it gets all Jekyll-and-Hyde on you and goes to negative shoulder at the exact time when things get hilly. Sweet. Now, instead of pleasant local traffic, you have Springfieldiens and Eugenians hell-bent on getting to/from Bend and other recreation areas. Not fun. I'm battle-hardened from thousands of yearly miles bike commuting, but I did not enjoy this highway for quite awhile.

I took some breaks for lunch, water, tree-watering, and whatnot, but I didn't really begin to enjoy the ride until Leaburg Reservoir. Neat place! I crossed the bridge to check it out and loitered for a bit before moving on.

Leaburg Dam. That spray is brisk!

Fall, or as near as fall can be in a mostly coniferous forest, was in full tilt; I really enjoyed the colors and the wane autumn light. I lucked out with a beautifully clear day. (Foreshadowing! *minor chord*)

Very pleasant weather!

Being that the highway was neither fun nor my objective, I kept up a pretty good pace on my way to the Aufderheide. I did, however, take a bypass into Blue River for some quality fuel for the hills.

Chocolate fuel.

See, I work in the hydropower industry, so I'm well aware that Cougar is a 519-foot-tall earth-fill dam with a brutal climb carved through the nearby cliffs to reach the crest. Powered by the quality calories that only peanut butter and chocolate combined can provide, I broke to the crest in one fell swoop to be greeted by a gorgeous early evening settling into the reservoir. Seriously, I just love this place.

Love love love this reservoir.

Next, I wandered my way along the reservoir, hugging the shoreline and hoping my hi-viz jacket and blinky light were making me visible in the dappled light on the serpentine Aufderheide Drive.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention: This was when the guv'mint was shut down because some old people couldn't pass a budget! So, all of the national forest campgrounds were closed. I considered civil disobedience, but ... decided I'd rather disperse camp. Unfortunately, dispersed camping was decreed off-limits for quite a ways back into the forest, thanks to all the hippies who had trashed the forest by making semi-permanent homes there (hot springs .... like moths to heated water).

The campsite I found -- score!

I mentioned earlier that life events had been overwhelming recently. I hadn't ridden very far in quite some time. At this point, I was about 60 miles-plus in, all uphill, and hurtin'. And it was getting dark. And cold.  If you've ever been to the Willamette Valley, you probably know that every non-established area is an impenetrable wall of poison oak, blackberries, moss, and evergreens. I was starting to get antsy.

Finally, 70 miles in, I found a superb dispersed campsite. I quickly put up my hammock and cracked open the 22-ounce craft beer I'd brought ... which was in an aluminum bottle! Tasty. Made some dinner, then passed out in the hammock for the evening with the usual, "Oh, crap, I'm in the middle of the woods, nobody knows I'm here, and it's dark and there's all manner of terrible things in woods and, and ..."

Base Camp brewing -- a great IPA in a great setting!

I woke up before sunrise feeling COLD. Very cold. My feet were entering the painfully numb arena. No amount of rubbing seemed to do any good, so I got up to make breakfast. It was in the low thirties. Remember that clear sky earlier? Yeah, it let all the heat out. Plus, the moist air above the snowmelt-fed river was not helping matters. I was actually a touch worried about my toes at this point, when I was struck with a brilliant idea:  I'll cook 'em!

I turned my stove on and started to warm my feet above the white-gas-fed flames. It worked great, except for one thing -- my SmartWool socks did not fare so well. Woops!

The sun finally started to filter in through the Cascade foothills and mountains around me. The light through the trees was spectacular.

One could probably drink this water straight, but I still filtered it. It was AWESOME. Best tasting water ever.

I finally packed everything up and started the climb to the crest. The next three hours were ... surreal. I did not see a single car in either direction. Sublime. This beautiful, moss-encrusted road all to myself in the crisp fall air of a clear morning. Literally hundreds of stream crossings and babbling brooks to provide the soundtrack of background music for my morning. This ... this is why I needed to do this.

I crested the pass a bit later and ate my Butterfinger before the descent. Some yokels were yelling nearby where they had camped ... peace shattered. But hey, I had candy!

The descent was wicked fast for a good fifteen minutes or so. Actually, wow ... I'm writing this six months later; zooming in on the GPS data I realize I hit 48.5 mph! For nearly two miles, I kept a ~40 mph pace. Zoom!

Honestly, the whole section after this was great -- slightly downhill, with the sun quickly warming the day. Still pretty quiet, maybe one car per hour.

I eventually rolled into Westfir, an old logging town. Some very cool historical readerboards near this area, and they also have a well-restored covered bridge. I rested a bit there for lunch, now 42 miles into day two.

Lunch stop in Westfir.

I'd decided on a route that was not Highway 58, which is mostly logging traffic -- ick. Instead, I took a dirt track around the north side of Lookout Point Reservoir.

The dirt road from Westfir.

Only a few cars ... it was bumpy, dusty, and steep, but I enjoyed watching traffic on the other side of the reservoir from my perch on the opposing side. The lake level was very low, and I could actually see the old logging access roads they graded to clear the valley prior to flooding it. It was lush with grasses at the time. (In talking with an operator when I was working at the powerhouse a few months later, he noted that there are even bridges down there -- dang! Might have to go back with the fat bike sometime.)

I pretty much put my head down and hammered my way back into Lowell. There I hopped in the adventure van and burned some highway miles back to Portland. I then basked in the joy of an adventure well-executed, the soreness of accomplishment, and the natural beauty Oregon so readily provides.

Get more information about bike overnights.

Tip for this adventure: Go in the shoulder season of fall or spring. This is a popular route during the summer, but traffic drops off precipitously between Labor Day and Memorial Day.

Favorite local bike shop: Universal Cycles in Portland. I wrench everything myself and am a notorious fiddler and tinkerer, but they've always been helpful in selecting parts. They also have great prices and access to an expansive parts warehouse.

4 responses so far ↓

kristen campbell - Oct 3, 2014 at 11:28 AM

what handlebars are you running? thanks for a great article

joey w/ BCBC - Oct 8, 2014 at 4:08 PM

sounds like a great ride, brandon-- and nice rig! thanks for taking some of our IPL along with you-- good on ya for supporting craft beer.

Brandon - Oct 19, 2014 at 10:36 AM

Kristen - soma eagle's nest. I have a review of it on Universal cycles website. I was jonesin' for a Jones loop or h, but I'm cheap :-)

Joey - you should distribute to Michigan where i just moved!

Greg - Jul 26, 2017 at 9:35 PM

I see a Ride with GPS photo - is this ride available to download?

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