Springtime Riding in Portland

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Springtime in Portland, Oregon can be a fickle time. The cloudiness, dampness and rain begin to take their toll and the novelty of another night drinking craft IPA’s wears thin. But, there are glimmers of hope when those first sunny days begin to appear in the 7-Day forecast, and your mind drifts and your pulse quickens as you dream of the list of excuses to give your boss as to why you’re missing another day of work to be outside doing something, doing anything. You yearn to be outside, free to feel the sun against your skin, the wind in your hair, and the dirt under your tires.

Other times, destiny smiles down on you and a warm sunny spell lands just when it’s needed...on the weekend. Oh, the blessed weekend, when the shackles of responsibility can be shrugged off and tossed in the corner of the garage as your grab your mountain bike and head to the trailhead. With hand on heart, destiny was shining down on us last weekend.

We had kept a keen eye on the sky and watched as the local weather forecast called for a warmer and drier weekend than we had seen in months. Trail conditions could be prime and a text message thread went out to the crew to prepare for a Sunday attack of Syncline, a trail network about an hour from Portland in White Salmon, Washington. The team was amped and ready to ride. As the workweek drew to a close and the weather forecast ebbed and flowed, we stayed steadfast in our plan to shred and confirmed a Sunday 8:30am departure from town.

The Syncline trail system sits in a pocket that makes it ideal for springtime riding. With trails rising up from the northern banks of the Columbia River, you’re still well below the snow level, while the lack of trees allows the trails to drain and dry quickly. By summer, the area is hot, arid, and littered with Poison Oak.

Sunday morning dawned and I ran through my mental check list of everything I needed as I flipped down my new MonoRail hitch rack on the Subaru and began to toss my gear in the back. It was a 50/50 shot that I had everything I needed as I ratcheted the load arm down against the front wheel of my Yeti and secured the rear wheel strap before heading to my buddy’s place to pick him up and hit the road. With my buddy’s Santa Cruz quickly and easily loaded up, we were on our way with the peace of mind that the bikes were safe and we were ready to rip.

Before even getting out of Portland, it began to rain. With dampened spirits, we remained diligent and decided to soldier on while wondering aloud if we were making a terrible decision. We persevered and by the time we arrived in Hood River, we were being met with spotty sunshine. At the trailhead, more sunshine and a prime parking place. Things were shaping up nicely as we quickly pulled the bikes from the hitch rack, changed into our riding gear, and put rubber to dirt hitting the trails.

The Syncline trails have a unique way of taking your breath away. As we switch-backed up the first several miles of the climb, we were rewarded with nearly 180˚ views of the Columbia River, mild temperatures, and sunshine alternating between our faces and our backs. Warm greetings from hikers and other mountain bikers confirmed the positive vibes of the day as we breached the top of the climb and began descending the flowing ribbon of dirt known as Upper Labyrinth back towards the banks for the Columbia. What followed was a blur of hoots and hollers, railed berms and near misses through rock gardens. We were all smiles and high fives as we rolled back into the trailhead lot and to the car. Springtime Syncline rides are hard to summarize in words. But, I’ll leave it at this; if you know, you know. Syncline never disappoints.

No good ride is complete without a celebratory beer. We loaded up the Monorail, ran the cable lock through the bikes and pointed the car towards Pfriem Brewing in Hood River where we bellied up to the bar, cheersed to a solid day on the trails, and starting checking next weekend’s forecast.

Words & Images by Benny Cruickshank

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