Category Archives: Trails

A spectacular ride on the McKenzie River Trail. However…

The Wigley men, about to ride the McKenzie River TrailGriff Wigley, riding through the upper lava fields of the McKenzie River TrailMy three sons and I went mountain biking on the McKenzie River Trail last week while in the Eugene, OR area for a family reunion.  (We rented bikes from the McKenzie River Mountain Resort and used their shuttle service.)

The 26-mile trail is oft-mentioned as a top-ten mountain bike trail in the USA and it’s been written up by many.  All the reviews I read were 99% effusive in their descriptions of the trail (good example here). I found this write-up to be the best, as well as the most entertaining. Excerpts:

The majority of people do the 25 mile ride from top to bottom with a shuttle. Do not think that just because it is mostly downhill that you will be fresh as a daisy at the end…

If you have a spouse that holds you personally accountable for the outcome of all outdoor activities or there is an inverse correlation between perceived risk and perceived love, you might want to avoid the ride through the lava field on the east side of Clear Lake. You would however be missing some incredible views into the depths of Clear Lake (come back and hike the east side to earn romantic bonus points).

And after riding McKenzie, I have no big issue with the glowing reviews. It truly does provide spectacular scenery from top to bottom. The photos we took don’t begin to do it justice. (I only brought my  wide-angle lens so I wouldn’t be tempted to go crazy on the photos.) If I lived in the area, I could imagine myself riding McKenzie once or twice a year, just for its sheer beauty.

The trail is difficult in many spots, as the reviewers note.  Sharp lava rocks are not for the faint of heart.  But even if your skill level is up to the trail’s challenges, if your body isn’t in good shape, the sheer length of the trail will take its toll.  The bigger lava fields are not so much the problem—it’s the preponderance smaller rocky areas as well as the small rocks on the trail throughout. You don’t get much relief from the jarring riding, even on stretches of the trail that are ‘flowing’ single track through the woods.

Moreover, McKenzie is really as much a hiking trail as it is a mountain biking trail.  (Officially, it’s name is the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail, managed by the US Forest Service.) And that means that the exhilarating riding that I’ve come to enjoy at mountain bike parks here in Minnesota like the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail System (video here) and Lebanon Hills are not there: no berms, no smooth and fast down hills with roller coaster whoops, no options for technical obstacles like logs or rocks.  I’m not arguing that it should provide these, just that riders should know what to expect. 

See my album of 27 photos (large slideshow, recommended) or SLOW CLICK this small slideshow:

See this two-minute video clip:

Other benefits to mountain biking: wildlife

It’s pretty cool to have a such a large and fantastic mountain bike park, Lebanon Hills, in the middle of big Twin Cities suburb (Apple Valley), adjacent to the MN Zoo and just ten minutes from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America.

Also cool is the abundant wildlife in the park. Last week I heard owls hooting back and forth to each other very close to the trail.  Today, I came upon a white-tailed deer and two fawns just a few feet from the trail. They just stood and stared at me.  And a few minutes later, I spotted a clump of sulphur shelf mushrooms at the base of a tree on the trail. Into my pack it went, as it’s delicious—known as ‘chicken of the woods.’

white-tailed deer at Lebanon Hills sulphur shelf mushrooms at Lebanon Hills sulphur shelf mushrooms at Lebanon Hills

Update 08/29:  fried sulphur shelf mushrooms, ready to eat.

frying sulphur shelf mushrooms fried sulphur shelf mushrooms, ready to eat

Photo album: Technical areas on the trails at Lebanon Hills

One of the reasons I keep going back to Lebanon Hills to ride (other than it’s only 35 minutes from Northfield), is that the fabulous trails are supplemented with lots of optional technical areas.

In early August, I brought my camera with me and took photos of these technical areas, placing my bike in the photos to give some perspective to the obstacles. It was a sunny day so I used a flash with most photos—otherwise, the sunlight shining through the leaves confuses the camera lens.

The photos are pretty much in order as they appear on the trails.

On a subsequent loop a few days later , I took five more photos with my cell phone camera of areas I missed.  I’m not exactly sure I’ve placed these in the correct order with the others, however.

The album photos all have unique URL’s, so if you want to reference a photo of a specific obstacle, eg, Tedman’s Curve, you can link to it.

See the album of 73 photos, the large slideshow (recommended), or this small slideshow:

Cuyuna confusion on the web

DNR Cuyuna header

There are two web-based problems with the mountain bike trail system in the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area that have become apparent the more I’ve blogged about it.

Problem #1: The variety of names for it.

Online and offline among the mountain bike crowd, the shorthand ‘Cuyuna’ is widely used, eg. "Hey, when are you heading to Cuyuna again? I didn’t get to ride Yawkey last time I was up there."  I see no problem with this in casual conversation, comment threads, forum posts, tweets, Facebook Wall posts, etc.

But when it comes to web sites, there’s a wide variety of phrases in use:

DNR

Chamber/City

MORC/IMBA

  • MORC refers to it in the forums as simply the Cuyuna Trail with the tag line "Discussions relating to the new Cuyuna trail system." Same with the MORC Wiki listing for Cuyuna Trail.
  • IMBA uses Cuyuna Lakes Ride Center
  • IMBA’s Midwest Regional Director Hansi Johnson also uses Cuyuna Lakes Ride Center in his blog posts here and here but sometimes drops ‘lakes’ from the phrase or refers to it as the Cuyuna Mountain Bike Trail system.

Other

My preference: Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails (CLMBT).  Including the word ‘lakes’ is preferable because lakes are part of the area’s identity.  ‘Country’ is a lesser used word that’s more marketing oriented. ‘Trails’ is better than ‘trail’ because there are many trails, not just one. ‘Trails’ also implies ‘system’ which is more of technical/engineering term and not really needed.

Problem #2: The lack of a website dedicated to it.

The variety of names and phrases for the trail system wouldn’t be a problem if there was one major website dedicated to it that everyone linked to and that the search engines (primarily Google and Bing) would list first in a search. 

But right now, there’s no such site and therefore, it’s difficult for the average person to easily get information about the trail system that’s complete and up-to-date. Some important web pages are out-of-date (Chamber here) or incomplete (MORC’s trail guide and Wiki).

If someone asked you, "Where do I go on the web to get all the info about Cuyuna?," what would you say?

New trail at Lebanon Hills: Beginners and intermediates? Yes. Fun for experts? You bet.

new beginner loop map at Lebanon HillsI spend the afternoon on Saturday at Lebanon Hills, much of it on the new riding area that opened a week ago.

It’s considered a beginner loop, though some folks in the MORC forum trail discussion are referring to it as a beginner + loop. Trail designer Tim Wegner wrote:

I believe that we felt there was a bit too much of a gap between the old beginner trail and the intermediate trail as far as features and skill required to ride. The new beginner addendum trail kinda fills that gap. It is a bit more difficult than the old beginner trail but not as much hard climbing as the intermediate trail. I think this new segment of trail will really fill the bill as far as helping to enhance rider skill development. Perhaps this segment should be labeled advanced beginner????

Ryan Lieske on the upper open area of the beginner loop at Lebanon Hills Lower open area of the beginner loop at Lebanon Hills Upper open area of the beginner loop at Lebanon Hills
I had the good fortune to meet current MORC Chair Ryan Lieske on the new loop and took a bunch of photos of him riding the five big berms in the upper open area and the smaller berms in the lower open area. Looking good, Ryan!

I also took several photos of beginners riding these features, including the 21 whoops and the 6 larger jumps in the lower area.  The father and son in the center photo above repeatedly rode those, whooping and hollering for joy every time they went down.  And true beginners can get through the area without actually having to ride the ‘obstacles’ as evidenced by the photo of the woman on the right, who, when she noticed me taking her photo, shouted "I’m scared to death!"  No wonder: her mountain biking outfit consisted of short-shorts, a tank top and a baseball cap. Oy. But she got through it.

I spent an hour practicing the lower berms of the open area. I probably rode them 20 times, which was easy to do since it only takes a minute or two to get back to the top of them. I then went back and rode the 5 big berms of the upper area (which only takes 5-10 minutes to get to the top of those). My skill and confidence had increased dramatically. Thank you, Tim!

See my album of 33 photos, the large slideshow (recommended), or this small slideshow: