Dear Bend, I am obsessed with you.
For those of you not familiar with the little town of Bend, let me paint a picture for you: Imagine the beauty of the craftsman homes and mountain scenes from Everwood (am I incorrect in assuming everyone who reads this blog was once a huge fan of every single show on the WB?), along with the style and natural rugged beauty of everyone in a Patagonia catalog. And put all of that in the high desert, add a pretty river flowing through town, and think of 300+ days of sunshine every year. That’s Bend.
We’ve spent a bit of time around Bend in the past few years, whether we were camping at the base of the South Sister (either in a tent at Devil’s Lake or in our car in the parking lot), hiking to waterfalls, or visiting Smith Rock. But we hadn’t spent a ton of time in the actual town of Bend. We did float down the Deschutes River in the center of town last summer, which I think about all the time when I’m longing for sunshine and warmth, and we’ve traveled into town to dine at breweries while on camping trips. With this limited time spent in Bend, I was pretty certain I loved the town, but now I know it for sure.
Last weekend, Eric and I took to the precious mountain town to celebrate my birthday. Since we are in the midst of training for a half-ironman, we took our bikes with us to do some high desert cycling. We headed down on Saturday morning, taking a gorgeous 3-hour drive from Portland, past Mt. Hood (where it was snowing at the time), and into the high desert east of the Cascades. We got to Bend just in time for lunch, which we enjoyed at a cute little food cart block with a heated, covered, outdoor eating area.
And then we took to the bikes. There are a bunch of scenic bikeways in Oregon, and one of them happened to begin in the heart of Bend at Drake Park. In my research, I saw that the 36-mile Twin Bridges Scenic Bikeway was, and I quote, “primarily level, with a few climbs in and out of the Tumalo Creek and Deschutes River canyons.” False, false, false, false, false. As soon as we started the ride, we were climbing. And that climbing basically continued for 20 miles. This ride was hard. On one particularly challenging uphill, it was the most I could do to ride 5 miles per hour. And I was huffing and puffing. Luckily, we didn’t plan on riding the whole 36 miles, but the 20 miles we did ride were the most challenging of my short cycling career.
But it was beautiful. Unfortunately, it was snowing/raining in the mountains at the time, so we couldn’t actually see any peaks. But we got to ride past some beautiful homes in town before we entered ranch land (that’s what we call it here in the wild west), full of horses and deer and cows. But if you’d like to check out what the views would have looked like on a clear day, look at the pictures and video here. It’s incredible and will make you want to get a bike and move to Bend.
After the most difficult bike ride of my life, we went for a little run around Mirror Pond and through some neighborhoods (hello, adorable craftsman homes). Let me tell you, the houses around Mirror Pond are spectacular. It’s definitely worth a little walk or jog on the running path.
After getting cleaned up at our Airbnb rental, we walked the few blocks to downtown Bend to get dinner at Fire in Bend. We started off with a little bit of magic called cheesy-bacon dough bites. What?! Yes. This is essentially pizza dough stuffed with cheese, bacon, and garlic, served with some marinara sauce. It was so good. I mean, look at that cheese.
When we ordered, we asked for the appetizer, and then a summer pear pizza, which apparently comes in a lunch portion or a dinner portion. The waitress looked at us like we were crazy when we ordered the dinner portion, along with our cheesy-bacon dough bites. But we showed her when we ate the whole thing. I feel like we should have explained that we just biked our thighs off and then ran for 30 minutes, just to justify our extreme cheese binge. Judge us all you want.
After dinner, we drove up to the top of Pilot Butte Park in hopes of seeing a great sunset. Pilot Butte is an extinct volcano that towers above the rest of the city of Bend, offering incredible views of the surrounding mountains. You can hike the mile up to the top, but we opted to drive instead (remember, we broke our thighs on that bike ride). Unfortunately, it was a bit too cloudy to get much of a sunset, but I bet it would be spectacular on a clear summer day.
On Sunday morning, we were up bright and early, thanks to the elephant living above our rental (we cannot seem to escape thin floors and loud neighbors, which reminds me that everyone who has an upstairs neighbor should watch this hilarious video to see what’s really happening above you). But that set us up nicely to be the first diners of the day at Jackson’s Corner, a completely adorable little restaurant with a farmhouse feel and the friendliest hostess this side of the Cascades. That’s another completely glorious thing about Bend. Everyone is so nice. Having lived in Portland for the last 6 months, we’ve had our fair share of not-so-friendly servers, neighbors, and generally glaring folks on the street. But literally every single person we encountered in Bend was Disney-level nice. It’s probably because they are living in a vacation wonderland where everyone is beautiful, fit, and dressed for skiing or hiking. It was marvelous.
After a delicious breakfast, we drove back up to Pilot Butte Park to get a better view of the mountains, since the sky was completely clear. And my goodness, what a difference a day makes. Look at all those mountains. And then picture me proclaiming over and over, “I love it here! I love it here!” And turn your thermostat down to 26 degrees to get the full Pilot Butte experience. Brrr.
After breakfast, we may or may not have also driven to the outskirts of town where a celebrity from a little show called “Lost” happens to live, just to get a glimpse of his mansion. (Sidenote: We just watched the entire series on Netflix, and it was spectacular.) I kept hoping we would run into Matthew Fox in town, but it never happened. Rainn Wilson, who lives in nearby Sisters, also never showed up. Maybe next time.
On Sunday afternoon, we drove north of town to Madras, where we started our second, long, killer bike ride of the weekend. Luckily, the hills on the Madras Mountain Views Scenic Bikeway weren’t quite as intense at the ones on the Twin Bridges ride in Bend. And the sky was totally clear, so we got in 43 miles of mountain views! There were a few hard climbs, but most of the ride was pleasant and gentle. We only took along our cell phones for pictures, as I don’t feel like I am a good enough cyclist to have a real camera strapped to my back, so please excuse the poor quality of these shots. But if you want to see what it would have been like to have a professional photographer with a real camera following us along this ride, please look at the incredible photos and video here.
This ride was awesome because you only have to bike a few blocks through the tiny town of Madras before hitting the open roads of ranch land. We passed farms, cows, horses, and plenty of mountain views, along with a train. Eric is a bit faster on the bike, so at one point, he made it past the train, but I got stuck on the other side. My legs appreciated the rest.
The bikeway even goes through a state park, where you get unstoppable views of snow-capped peaks like the Three Sisters, Mount Jefferson, and Mount Hood. But the best part of the whole ride was the lack of traffic, with the few cars we did encounter giving us plenty of space as they passed us. Thank you, drivers of Central Oregon, for not filling me with fear.
We did the whole 30-mile Madras Mountain Views Scenic Bikeway, plus we doubled back to fit in some extra miles before heading home to Portland. We knocked out 43.5 miles, making this the longest ride we’ve ever done, and giving me hope that perhaps we can ride the 56-miles required in the half-ironman, which is creeping closer and closer. A little word of advice for anyone cycling in the high desert: wear sunscreen. I didn’t even think about sunscreen, especially since my body was almost completely covered by capris and long-sleeves. Unfortunately, I rolled my sleeves up on this incredibly sunny day, and I now have some killer quarter-arm tan lines, which pair nicely with my quarter-leg tan. My bad.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some mountain town house dreaming to do. I love you, Bend.