The Logging Road Cyclist was a serious kayaker for most of his adult life. The first or second winter of his boating career saw the establishment of a long lived tradition: the solo Christmas Day paddling trip. The first one was a trip down the now drowned Warm Springs Creek near his Sonoma County home. Between then and the demise of paddling for TLRC, whenever he was near a flowing stream, off he would go on his lonely observance of the Baby Jesus’ birthday. For the last few years of his paddling life, Quartzville Cr. usually filled the bill.
Absent paddling, TLRC keeps the tradition alive with a Christmas Day ride. Getting somewhere does’t really matter, it’s getting out in the cold when no one else is that feeds the TLRC soul. This year, he tried to do a loop encompassing the SW part of the Laurel Mtn Massif: from the Valsetz Rd. up Sand Cr. to Fanno Ridge, thence to the S-Line (the 8-8-12), past Sugarloaf and back along the N and S Forks of the Siltetz to the car.
Two legs of this were unknown. The climb up to Fanno Ridge looked straightforward. TLRC had been out to Surgarloaf a couple of times, and there were a few miles beyond on an unknown part of the S-Line down to the N Siletz.
He got an early start, and headed into the Valsetz Triangle via Falls City, for the views. Even on Xmas morning there were a couple of loners out wandering about. It didn’t take long for TLRC to get on the wrong (but very main-roadish) path, which cost him nearly a thousand feet of steep climbing and a wasted hour. Finally on track, he got up to Fanno Ridge, and on known ground (cf. Finally Fanno Ridge) he made it to the major Fanno-S-Line junction, where he took stock.
It was very cold, and to the west, beyond Surgarloaf, the weather looked to be deteriorating. He was late by at least an hour, probably more. Ahead lay 5 or so miles of road he had seen a couple of times followed by about the same amount of unknown road that dropped steeply into the Siletz. That concerned him the most. A mistake out there would leave him retreating all the way back over Fanno late on a winters day, cold, with his energy flagging. TLRC knew himself well enough to foresee the angst that would nip at his heals as he dropped deeper into the large canyon. Without remorse or self-recrimination, he bagged it.
Happily retreating, he pondered his hobby, and his earlier loves, climbing and kayaking. It occurred to him that in all three, in serious circumstances, when one set out into the mountains, up a big cliff or down a remote canyon, several clocks started to tick. The one for daylight. The one for warmth, and the ones for energy, strength and focus. He realized that he and his partners always moved with all deliberate speed through uncertain or dangerous territory. There was a cushion of time that it was comfortable to have just in case. Beyond that was the satisfaction of simply being able to do it, to move fast and strong and gracefully, at ease, but aware that one was trespassing and it was as well to keep that in mind. On this Christmas, TLRC felt more like fun than boldness, and wanted a lot of time left on all the clocks when he got back to his truck.
Ten days later, he had at it again. Now that the Fanno end of things was sewn up, he parked at Valsetz and headed off down the South Fork, planning to reverse the loop and climb up the unknown part of the S-Line in the time-honored tradition of Not Exploring Downhill.
This was classic Coast Range riding. Rain. 40 degrees, remnant ice from last week’s freezeout slouching down road cuts and cliffs, surfacing puddles.
The Siletz forks were, as usual, stunning and served to distract from the destruction wreaked on the slopes above. The low clouds helped that too. Reaching the S-Line, TLRC doffed his wet outer layers and started to climb. Being a very major road, the gradient is not bad, and TLRC seldom got into his lowest gears. The road follows a scenic small creek, and, he imagined, must have some stunning views into the large canyon of Boulder Cr. on a good day. There was no useful visibility, nor road signs, and TLRC checked himself at a section marker once before he reached known ground. “Known” is a relative term. He hadn’t been here for two years and while things looked “familiar” he was still happy to find himself at the big signed junction he had reached on Christmas.
As usual, bad weather down low meant real Winter up on the plateau, and even though he had covered the Fanno Rd very recently, TLRC, now pretty wet, was acutely aware of both how easy and how devastating a wrong turn in the dismal conditions would be. Again, Coast Range riding at its finest.
Back at the truck earlier than he had hoped, TLRC was well satisfied. New ground on the SW part of the Massif, a couple of good connections from the Triangle thither, and the ground laid for a full (and long-planned) Falls City- NF Siletz traverse to be done on a longer and warmer day. A good ride.