The second morning in Bend started with a quick bike ride up Pilot Butte. I thought it was going to be a good way to get a view of the city and surrounding area – plus, the spiraling road looked cool on Google Maps.

I shouldn’t have been, but was a little surprised to see the collection of mountains to the west of town, some still with patches of snow – and with the heat in town, this was even more surprising. 

The town was tiny, with only a few multi-story buildings poking their way above the sprawl of pine trees. It overwhelmingly felt green.

While cycling in San Francisco isn’t perfect, cycling in Bend made me realise how good SF has it. There are bike lanes in Bend, but they definitely felt less common. The traffic also felt ‘bigger’, in a sense that instead of a stream of Prius and Tesla, it was now much larger trucks.

After the quick morning recon, the major activity for the day was kayaking up the Deschutes River. The navigable section of the river was quite short (at least at our skill level, and without wanting to pull the kayaks out and walk around obstacles). The river was flowing lazily, so paddling upstream wasn’t particularly difficult. Even though it was a weekday, there was a steady, and growing, stream of people floating their way downstream. It was hot, the water was cool, so I could absolutely understand the appeal.

Eventually there was a very small set of rapids, and despite how gentle it looked, the river seemed to be flowing significantly faster here. And, while I didn’t give it my all, it seemed a difficult enough barrier to be a good point to turn around and return.

The rest of the day was spent walking around town, and seeing what was up. It was also a good opportunity to get a haircut, since the barbers here were open for business, unlike San Francisco.

The other thing that was open were bars, albeit outdoors only, but it was nice to sit out in the warm air and have a Negroni. Actually, just sitting outdoors, in the shade, and not reaching for a down jacket was amazing.

There was much, much more walking around town. I was starting to feel a little conscious of the fact that there was almost no one else out walking. Still, it was nice to be walking through clean, green streets. There was no rubbish, no graffiti, no tents, and no discarded scooters. It felt like a vision of Suburbia, and I wasn’t hating it.

The slow trickle of people we’d seen tubing the river earlier had now turned into a reasonable flow. It must be a popular post-work social (or anti-social) activity. And why not, the weather was gorgeous.

Bend has a reputation for being an ‘Outdoorsy’ city. Just one more piece of evidence confirming that were the standing waves that were created to allow people to surf in the middle of the river! There was a queue of people with their surfboards, standing in on a platform in the middle of a river, hundreds of kms from the coast, taking their turns to jump in and ride the wave for as long as they could. It was mesmerising.

Crux Brewery looked a good place to enjoy the sunset, and it proved to be true, with the distant peaks around Mount Bachelor turning into darkened silhouettes in a multi-hued sunset glow. I didn’t bring my camera, and the photos from the phone were rubbish, so use your imagination.

Lava Butte

Day three in Bend was a day for proper riding, taking the gravel bikes out along the Deschutes, past the lava planes, and up the cinder cone at Lava Butte.

The trails initially started out as a bit of a mess, interspersed with hiking trails that were unrideable (for my skill level, and on a gravel bike), with frequent bursts of carrying bikes up rocks. There was a maze of trails, and it’s entirely possible that my terrible navigation skills meant we’d ended up on an actual hiking trail, rather than one for cyclists. At least the scenery was sublime, so the interrupted ride was tolerable.

The trails did mellow, and progress improved, though it was now inside a forest, and there was less to see. Maybe not looking around all the time also helped progress.

Interspersed with the trees was the remnants of a lava field, with a river of black rocks flowing from the now visible peak of Lava Butte. I say ‘peak’, but it’s barely a pimple of a hill. 

Just like yesterday, it was a fun circular climb to the summit of Lava Butte, with the trail a series of decreasing concentric circles to reach the summit. The views from the top were fantastic, truly getting a sense of the lava flows, where the forest was unable to spread and take root.

The return route was far more fun, with nice sections of singletrack through the forest, that started out as smooth and flat, and eventually transitioned into something much more fast and flowy.

We’d checked out of the hotel, so there was a little pressure to get back into the truck and to continue the journey north and find a campsite for the evening. Thankfully there was plenty of BLM (again, not that BLM) space to make use of in this part of Oregon, and without too much effort found a nice little opening in a grove outside of Sisters.

Sisters, Mt Hood, and Columbia River Gorge

The sunny weather that had blessed the trip so far had come to an end, replaced with cool grey skies. The elevation made the evenings quite cool, but the camper so far remained warm enough of an evening.

I didn’t have a very solid plan for the day, other than driving north, and checking out Mt. Hood.

But first, coffee! You can tell a lot about a town (and its community) based on the coffee that is available. On the way to Sisters Coffee Company, we saw a queue for pastries at the equally creatively named Sisters Bakery, and couldn’t not get pastries to go with the coffee. Happy to report that both were fantastic, and the morning was off to a good start.

For the most part, Mt. Hood was shrouded in the clouds, but did get a few long distance glimpses of the snow-capped cone. I could only imagine the sight on a clear morning, rising proud, would stop you in your tracks.

The drive continued north until reaching the Columbia River, where we branched off the main highway, and onto the Historic Columbia River Highway – an older road that was built for pleasure, rather than speed. It was designed back in the early dawn of automobiles to be a tourist attraction itself, twisting and winding through scenic locations and providing some stunning views – and I would say it succeeded on that goal.

While most of the early route remains, thankfully the surface has been refreshed with buttery smooth black tarmac. And, then, like it was on all the mountain passes in Europe with Gunter (the motorhome), I’d wished I was in a small sports car (or a bike). 

Eventually the Historic Highway merged back into the regular highway, and continued westwards. There were plenty of other sights along the way to stop and check out, including the beautiful Bridge of the Gods – and, amazingly I actually remembered it from Wild (the end of her epic hike along the Pacific Crest Trail).

And, being in the rainy part of Oregon, there were waterfalls galore. So many waterfalls. It almost got to the point where it wasn’t worth stopping at each waterfall we were driving past.

Rather than head into Portland (it was early August 2020, and things were still a little spicy with protests and riots), I managed to find what seemed like a good camping spot up in the foothills of Mt. Hood. It was a bonus that it gave me the chance to go on a small hike to get a better view of what had been a very shy mountain. There were also distant glimpses of the other peaks of the area – Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainier.

Also, seeing an airplane flying overhead had seemed like such a novelty, after what had felt like months of empty skies.