Logging Roads: The Why and the How

The first thing most people would notice…would be the fact that these hills have been logged all to hell-positively butchered. And they might then look no farther, but drive back down, shaking their heads in disgust, and head off to the parks and forests of the higher ranges…My inclination at first sight was the same. But out of sheer propinquity, I took to these hills again and again. My distaste for some of the logging practices to be found here never diminished, but my ability to edit them and see between the lines of clearcuts grew.” – Robert Michael Pyle, Wintergreen.

The Logging Road Cyclist is devoted to exploring the unimaginable miles of logging roads in Western Oregon. Why? Several obvious reasons come to mind. One can ride without fear of traffic, or indeed fear of seeing many people at all. The logging roads permeate the countryside like a muddy vascular system, feeding nearly every drainage, ridge, meadow and peak. If you want to see the country, really see the country, they provide the means. And endless fodder for the little projects TLRC loves so much. Like “figure out all the roads around Prairie Mountain”, or “find a way to the tower on Table Mountain”, or “is there a way to circumnavigate Laurel Mountain”, or “does the loop road around Sugarloaf Mountain go through”, etc, etc, etc. There are years worth of this kind of stuff out there, and each is its own little adventure the first time out. Or like a present that you open slowly if it turns out to take a number of rides to get it figured out.

Many of these rides provide their own kind of wilderness experience. It is uncommon for TLRC to run into anyone on most of his rides; indeed, he usually gets so excited upon actually encountering someone that he stops and chatters (probably to excess) for a while, especially if dogs are involved. Most of the time, though, you are out there on your own, and there can be quite a remote feeling. There is a kind of spooky loneliness to being 10 miles in beyond the locked gate, up behind Laurel Mountain in December.

It’s also not a bad way to see wildlife. TLRC has lost count of the black bears he has scared up, and the elk, and deer and grouse and coyotes and fox and owls, but remembers distinctly how many cats: 10 cougars in 3 sightings, 2 bobcats in 2; none prior to logging road riding.

But this is not wilderness. Almost all of the Coast Range and Cascades are an industrial landscape: logging roads were not put in for recreation. And riding logging roads means riding through logged-off lands. And away from the scenic byways, there are no buffers. Here you can see logging, clearcut logging, in its rawest, most stripped down form. There are entire drainage systems gone out in the Coast Range. Creeks have been logged up to steep headwaters that then start to erode and slide, choking the streambeds below with mud and silt. One of the eeriest experiences on these rides is to creep along through a fog in a clearcut landscape that apparently extends out to infinity.  Here is where TLRC starts laying sticks down in intersections to mark a possible return route: the terrain is monotonous, featureless, trackless. It’s better in clear weather. While stark, one can see that the abused landscape has some sort of an edge to it. At least locally.

How to deal with this? TLRC once ran into a cyclist in MacDonald Forest who was livid about all this cut, vociferous and profane about the pillage. He got so angry, so hopping mad, that it was all he could do to ride up McCulloch Peak. TLRC told him that to ride logging roads, one just had to, well, deal with it, and was subjected to a torrent of abuse, not personally directed so much, but TLRC felt condemned by this stranger, as if he, TLRC was somehow responsible by dealing with the situation as he found it.

TLRC has pondered this encounter. In truth, TLRC feels the same way at heart, but then, on the other hand, there is THEM what does the logging, and US that buys the wood. TLRC has a wooden house with a wooden garage in which are wooden beams and wooden boats. Without US, there would be no THEM. TLRC imagines that the hopping mad cyclist has used a stick or two of wood in his life too. Does this make it all OK? Of course not. TLRC has no idea if the amount of wood used in this country could be logged in a less catastrophic manner, or if that amount of wood could be reasonably reduced. He likes to imagine that both are true.

But isn’t this just a microcosm of all of the current environmental dilemma? There are too many of US, using too much of whatever it is that THEM produce. Don’t US=THEM? And isn’t it also the case that most of the time  the costs of being US are just hidden, unlike a clearcut, which is as about as in-your-face as the costs of doing business in these lives of ours can possibly be? Truth be told, over the years, TLRC’s anger about what has been done to the forests has subsided into a sense of guilt for what he and us all have wrought here.

So, when TLRC writes about what joy he can find in his travels out there, remember this. The joy is real, as Robert Michael Pyle noted a long time ago. There is stuff left lying around in the Coast Range that can both mystify and delight. But neither TLRC nor you, Reader, should  ignore what has really gone on out there on our behalf, and we need somehow to come to terms with it.