Would anyone pay close to $300 dollars to spend three nights camping at a highway rest area?Twice a summer, for the last four years, more than 300 people from all over the country and as far away as Australia do just that; many of them consider it a bargain. They come for one reason: Mountain Bike Oregon(MBO), a three day festival in Oakridge featuring some of the best singletrack mountain biking in the nation.
"There are miles of amazing single track. It's right up there with places like Moab, Crested Butte and Park City," says Abbey Hippely of Santa Cruz Bicycles. Riders and industry reps agree - Oakridge has quietly developed a reputation as a premier mountain biking destination.
All tolled, some 500 customers, guides and industry reps flock to the sleepy former logging town surrounded by national forest to take part in each of the two weekend festivals in July and August. "It's like a mountain biker's Woodstock," says one rider.
Through an agreement with the town, the rest stop and community park is converted into a virtual tent city, complete with its own makeshift beer garden, serving some of Oregon's finest beers.
Festivities include three days of shuttle-served mountain biking on any number of trails surrounding the rest stop. The $300 cost includes all meals, camping, guided trail rides, transportation to trail heads and even free beer. Guests also get a chance to leave their bikes in camp to test ride demo bikes from different manufacturers. There's a virtual "pit row" of industry reps and demo bikes from a number of big name mountain biking companies set up in one end of the park.
Since its inception, Mountain Bike Oregon has exploded into a major event. "It started six years ago with 34 people," says MBO founder Randy Dreiling, and "twice as many guides as there were clients." Within a year, the crowd grew to 300. By the third year, the festival grew to two separate weekends, one in July and one in August. Dreiling primarily credits word of mouth for the rise in popularity.
MBO has become so popular that this year, both weekends sold out in May. Dreiling jokingly suggests that MBO makes a great Christmas gift. But if the increased popularity is any indication, his advice may not be that far off.
With a fleet of vans, rented school buses and Penske trucks, Dreiling has managed to spread out trips throughout the surrounding Willamette National Forest, which keeps crowds to a minimum. There are also options to ride from the campsite.
Trail diversity is another big draw to Oakridge and MBO. "It caters to all levels of mountain bikers," says Kate Weck, a guide for all six years of the festival. Trails range from advanced technical downhill to intermediate/beginner rides along Salmon Creek. Rides are split into guided groups for different speeds and abilities. MBO also offers a popular women's ride that works on skill development.
A former race organizer, Dreiling decided to put on the non-competitive events in order to showcase all of the trails Oakridge has to offer. He hopes his efforts will help the push to revitalize Oakridge and promote it as a destination for outdoor recreation.
With the increased popularity of the festival and growing national recognition, Oakridge may be a town on the verge of a renaissance. Now decades removed from its heyday as a logging and railroad boomtown, many area residents seem to be embracing Oakridge's potential as an outdoor recreation destination.
While it may not look like much from the highway and the downtown still has its share of vacant storefronts, you can sense the beginning of something here. In the last two years, Oakridge has seen the opening of an English pub, a hostel-style hotel and an increased number of bike travelers leaving Highway 58 to visit the old logging town's main street.
Though it may be too late to partake in August's Mountain Bike Oregon, consider arranging your own weekend excursion. The miles of single track shaded by thick canopies of Douglas fir are just an hour-and-a-half drive from Bend, and offer a nice alternative to the hot sun and dusty trails on this side of the Cascades. The hundreds of miles of trail offer much more than can be tackled in a weekend. Stop in at Willamette Mountain Mercantile bike shop, right off of Highway 58, for tips on where to ride; or pick up one of the new waterproof Oakridge trail maps and decide for yourself. The full color topo map includes suggested rides and trail descriptors. Most of the trails are forest service road accessible and Dreiling also offers year-round private shuttles and group tours through Oregon Adventures.
After your ride, be sure to nurse your cuts and bruises with a pint of cask-conditioned beer at The Brewers Union Local 180 pub in downtown Oakridge. The pub features an authentic English pub atmosphere complete with fish and chips, bangers and mash and English style beer brewed on site.