McKenzie Pass

Okay, I’ll admit it. I like Instagram. I like following people and seeing their lives in pictures and videos. I like sharing my own that way too. And while I have exactly zero interest in Instagram influencers, I do follow a number of strangers who do cool outdoor things.

Instagram is how Paul and I discovered McKenzie Pass was unofficially open for the season. McKenzie Pass is down near Bend, OR and is closed in the winter for snow. Each spring it officially reopens to cyclists for about three weeks while crews finish final repairs to open it to cars. THIS Guide entry does a nice job of summing up the wonder that is this ride. Go look at it. It’s a magical ride.

Deciding we could use a mini trip out of town, we tossed bikes and camping gear into the car and rolled out mid-afternoon on Friday. The goal? A 100mi ride with about 10K of elevation via McKenzie Pass. Our original plan was to cook dinner at our Cold Springs campsite, but it was pretty darn windy. Feeling chilly and wimpy, we bailed on our pasta plan and headed into town.

This pizza place was kind of sad and played no music, but the pizza was SO good.

Much better.

That night while looking at Instagram we had a realization we probably should have had earlier. While we’d seen a small handful of posts showing the plowed road from Sisters to the summit, we hadn’t seen any posts showing the road heading down the west. This gave us pause, but nothing we could do about it now except head up in the morning and see what we could see.

Saturday we woke up fairly early with the intention to cycle from camp up and over to the west side gate, then back over to Sisters for lunch, and then repeat the whole journey.

The day started sunny but quite chilly. With temps around freezing we both opted to add our shoe covers at the last minute, and Paul stayed in his long underwear.

But the views were spectacular, and it was relatively quiet on the roads. The previous two times we’ve done the ride in June, so riding with snow still on the side of the road was particularly fun.

Our legs felt strong as we cruised up the last 500ft through snowbanks far taller than us.

At the top we quickly added some layers to protect against the wind, and walked around a bit to stretch our legs. The path up to the Dee Wright Observatory was blocked by snow, but it was early enough that we both hopped onto the snow banks and walked/climbed up to the top.

From there, the views were gorgeous:

We celebrated our ride by taking some goofy selfies, and decided to head down to the west side.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get very far. Turns out there were no pictures of the west half of the road because it’s still blocked by snow…

Oh well.

Change of plans. We decided the best way to still get our mileage was to do 4-5 laps from Sisters to the summit and back again. As I’ve mentioned, I’m getting kind of tired of laps. BUT, if we were going to do laps, this was pretty much the best place to do them.

We had a delightful ride back down to our campsite, where we paused for a couple minutes to eat a bar and stretch.

Then, back up again. Upon heading out again, we immediately noticed the wind had picked up quite a bit. It was a touch warmer, but we didn’t ditch any layers (aside from the windbreakers we wore for the descent). As we climbed the wind continued to pick up blowing around dust, dirt, and heading straight down the pass towards us. Basically a constant headwind the whole way up.

But we made it up again, and celebrated with the classic “Reach the Beach” pose:

It took me more than one try to get my bike above my head (thanks wind) but I got it there. Thankfully, this downhill brought us all the way into Sisters and lunchtime!!

Unfortunately, the wind had really picked up, and even though I was still in all my layers and sitting in full sun, I couldn’t get warm. After a couple minutes a gust was so strong it blew my backpack (with my bike tools, jacket, food, and first aid kit) off the table.

Thankfully, the other side of the building offered some protection, and we could sit and eat with our gloves and hats off.

Feeling a little discouraged by the wind but recharged by the food, we hopped back on our bikes a little after 1:00 PM for lap 3. We were immediately greeted by the headwind, and the first several flat miles back to the pass were super slow.

As we started heading up, things didn’t get any better. Despite warmer afternoon temperatures, we were colder than on our previous laps. By the time we hit Windy Point a few hundred feet below the summit, the wind was absurd.

It was so strong that when Paul, who was in front of me, turned his bike wheel a gust caught him. That forced him to continue turning a full 180 so he ended facing me (instead of just turning a bit to the left). There were times I found it super challenging to control my own front wheel as we headed up, making this lap far less enjoyable.

When we hit the top, we were DONE. Like, really done.

Not posed. Paul really did just lie down at the top, totally spent.

We didn’t linger long, just enough to grab a bite and add a layer. The ride down was wild with the tail wind. I was actively braking a lot more than usual, just trying to stay in control.

When we hit the campground, we knew we weren’t up for lap 4. We weren’t totally spent, but the idea of biking back into the wind was just not worth it. We changed into clean(er) clothes, and headed into town for a cuppa at Sisters Coffee instead.

Much better.

All told, we still ended up with 75 miles and 6,200ft. Not quite the century we’d hoped for, but still a solid day. We enjoyed a delicious dinner in town, and then tucked in for the night. Definitely a worthwhile trip.

Author: cartwheelsandcake

Cyclist, climber, hiker, trail runner, back country skier, dabbling mountaineer Lover of cake, chocolate, brownies, and sweets. Excellent napper.

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