FIRE IN THE HOLE

Mark Friis

JULY 2015

The year 2015 was my first attempt at two tours in one year. With the first Oregon trip having a complete reroute I was happy that I didn't have this on this one, or so I thought too soon. This tour would also be an evaluation of how to do tours better.and most of all to take a personal look at what I need to be to continue doing these.
The route started in Bend and the highlight was to be Crater Lake on the second day. The vans left separately to gather folks from the airports. Once we got to Bend the group quickly gelled and this would prove to be a great asset for me and it confirmed my suspicion that tours with more diverse (and people that didn't know each other) makes for a far better experience. We headed out on Sunday to Odell Lake with fantastic roads that passed Mt. Bachelor and spectacular mountains lakes. As we rolled out we could smell the distant odor of nearby forest burning. The haze got thicker at times but we understood it to be much further south. By the time we enter the campground rumors spread that the flames were making it way towards Crater Lake. Soon confirmation had arrived that the road to Crater was closed and we would have to change course. With barely any signal I came up with an alternative route but could not guarantee what type of situation we were in for. The main road, if open, would cause us to have to ride 110+ miles and with the smoke increasing I didn't think it was a good idea. So we took a path that lead us further from the fires.
With everyone getting the lowdown on what we were in for, possible dirt and gravel, we headed out with me at the helm. It was soon apparent that the vans would not be able to follow, so we sent them to meet us on the other side. I was thoroughly impressed at how many wanted to forego the comfortable van ride to chance the unknown challenge ahead. And a challenge it was. Many had to dig deep to keep their wits about them to make it to the top of the rutted, dirt climb. Without cell reception, it was hard to know where the vehicle relief might come. The downhill was worse, a deep gravel fire road that felt like you were riding in molasses at times. Not what you want on a skinny tire bike. Eventually I would soon see the cavalry and urged them to high tail it quickly to get them off this hellish road. Now mind you, I love this stuff. There is saying among that know me well, "It wouldn't be a Mark ride if there wasn't some gnarly dirt to overcome." And so it was and would be again. The fire did have one benefit for those riding, Hwy 138 was void of vehicle traffic. And this is one of those roads you dream of riding without sharing. Great views of the Umpqua River and vistas. It was good that most of those that hitched to 138 jumped out to ride the downhill miles to camp. Soon they somewhat forgot their prior ordeal and relished the beautiful scenery. Lucky for me as I was prepared for a pig roast, me being the main course. The campground would be our respite for a few days as we hoped the fires would not effect our sanctuary along the river. The river proved to be the elixir to wash away much of the grime and bad blood for some. As we settled in, the group grew tighter and the laughter never seem to end. We took late night expeditions to far off hot springs to bath with naked hippies tripping on meteor showers. Hikes and rides filled the next few days while I evaluated the final route options. 
As the group grew tighter, I was struggling inside and outside (spousal differences). I always encouraged my wife to come along on these trips but due to me have depression bouts and personality conflicts with my wife, it bubbled to the surface at times. It was such a rollercoaster of happiness and sadness that never seemed to get a handle on unless I was riding. The rides were hard and inspiring for someone like myself. Our next obstacle was a closed bridge that lead to a dirt climb that eventually would drop us along the Row River. Most riders opted for the vans to take them around the mountain to a paved road to ride around the lake we would be camping at. Seven of us chose the brutal route and many a breakdowns occurred. As we came upon the descent our thoughts were of relief after the endless and relentless climb but that was a false sense. It was deep gravel that would not forgive any mistake. It was a steep, white knuckle experience that miraculously lead to only one crash. There was a reward though. As the pavement made it's welcomed appearance, the thoughts of fatigue, change to that of awe. This is a cycling fantasy of stunning beauty. Words, pictures and video due it no justice. 
I assumed all was well at camp and enjoyed the final miles. As I got into camp it was soon apparent that all wasn't well. One of the vans was missing. The driver got off course trying to find the seven that headed on their own. After a few hours, the spousal tension and the missing van had me at my worse. I probably said things I shouldn't have. The van eventually arrived and I quickly got dinner going. All the food was in this van and there wasn't any place to get some in this remote area. A few beers and things got better for the time being. With all the craziness of the prior day, I decided to drive and take the lead to keep an eye on things. It took longer to load that morning and some impatience arose. The grumblings led me to put a flat out "NO, NOT GOING WITHOUT THE VAN." They were confident they could navigate on their own. At the first turn they blew right by it with me standing right there. Oh Hell. Got them to turn around and from here things would be fine.

Despite my personal failures and setbacks this tour was amazingly fun and memorable for most of the participants. I also would need to change a few things before I'd do any more. For starters, the second driver's competency would need to deeply increase. Also, having a rider that is not directionally challenged that can lead when I'm not in the group. And the big one, not letting others get in the way of my procedure and plans, including those closest to me. Tis tour for all its personal setbacks led to me getting my shit together and becoming a better leader and host.

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