The annual Cascade Chainbreaker mountain bike race is perhaps best known for providing a passport to forbidden fruit: private land, almost 33,000 acres of it, riddled with single track. Like Willy Wonka opening the factory gates, the Chainbreaker has effectively served as the single track equivalent of the Golden Ticket, providing participants with access to fantastic and isolated trail.
What many people don't know is they can go there anytime they like, at least during spring, summer and fall. But they might want to bring a topographical map, a compass and a strong sense of direction. The Skyline Forest, as it's now referred to, encompasses almost 50 square miles of undeveloped land northwest of Bend. Historically known as the Bull Springs Tree Farm, this huge chunk of land is the prize in a slow-developing transaction between the Deschutes Land Trust and the property's owner, Cascade Timberlands, LLC.
While the two entities work toward a deal, which was sweetened by a 2009 state legislation that sets up the framework for Deschutes Land Trust to acquire the property within five years, the land owner is obligated to keep the land open and accessible to the public during that time, according to Brad Chalfant, the executive director of the Deschutes Land Trust. Although there are restrictions, primarily related to motorized vehicles, and a wintertime closure, it's otherwise open.
"There's really cool riding out there," says Kevin Gorman, who owns Web Cyclery and has served as the Chainbreaker's promoter for the last decade. "And if this goes through, COTA [Central Oregon Trail Alliance] will be able to go to town out there. There's single track all the way out to Sisters."
If the land is procured for public use, there are plans to connect Phil's Trails with the Peterson Ridge system in Sisters. Meanwhile, the Chainbreaker has been drawing mountain bikers of all levels to the Skyline Forest for 14 years to race on trails they otherwise would not have experienced without trespassing.
"We started with 70 people," says Marcel Russenberger, the original promoter of the race. "Every year we have more, and last year we had over 400 racers. It's a great event."
Russenberger, who still designs the race course every year, says people are excited about the 2011 edition of the Chainbreaker, and are clamoring for details about the race course, which had to be rerouted because of logging that took place over the winter. Although the course won't be marked until the day before the race, people can pre-ride it before then, but unless you know your way around, your best bet is to go with someone who does.
"I've been riding it for ten years and I still have to have Marcel with me," says Gorman.
Last year during a group pre-ride of the Chainbreaker course I got separated from my riding companions, and it took a fair amount of yelling back and forth to reconnect.
"It's easy to do," says Chalfant of losing your way. "I've spent hours and hours riding out there; you can ride forever out there, but it's a state of mind whether you're lost or not," he says with a laugh.
Russenberger prides himself on how well marked the course is, and guarantees no one will get lost while racing. "I mark it very well," he emphasizes.
Because of the course's cloverleaf design, racers pass through the start-finish area three times, making Chainbreaker one of the more spectator-friendly mountain bike races. Gorman says there are typically more than 150 people watching the race.
"It's always fun watching the good local pros to see who's in shape," says Gorman. In addition to the Pro race, there are also categories for beginners and everyone in between with varying distances based on ability. Also on tap: a $1,000 purse, post-race food and a race for kids ages nine and under.
Meanwhile, Chalfant says reports that the deal to obtain Skyline Forest has fizzled are not true; it's just been a slower process than anticipated.
"There's a lot of work that still has to be done," says an optimistic Chalfant. "And we're still in the process of negotiating with the land owner. We encourage the community to come out see this incredible resource."
For information on guided hikes and mountain biking in Skyline Forest, contact the Descutes Land Trust. To see a course map and to register for Chainbreaker, go to WebCyclery.com.
Bull Springs Tree Farm
10 a.m. Sunday, May 8 (Kid's race 1:30)
Spectators free. Adult registration $27 at webcyclery.com or $37 day of race.
Fee does not include OBRA license.