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Circumnavigation

For ten years we've looked out our living room window at the modest range of mountains that separates the Gooseneck drainage from the Mill Creek drainage. I spend most of my riding time up there on a variety of dirt roads. I can get to the top of Dorn Peak and home in a couple hours and know I've done a couple thousand feet of hard climbing. For years it hasn't been much more than a suffer-fest. I never thought there was much to look at except my front tire. It's basically plantation ecosystems in various states of harvest or restoration. Pretty to look at from a distance but the charm seems to fall off fast when you're up there.

When you go on a hike, you almost certainly follow a trail. That trail exists to take you someplace lovely. When you take a mountain bike on a trail established for riding, you get to go fast through challenging terrain that provides a different but in many ways equally rewarding experience defined as much by movement as scenery. When you ride a bike on old logging roads, you are traveling to places where they cut trees down. What views there are tend to reveal whole mountain sides scarred with clear cuts. I understand the need for wood but on balance, I'd just as soon pretend I wasn't riding around in a huge farm.

Still, there are a few advantages to being here. You can clock miles and miles almost entirely alone. This summer I figured out the roads to go completely around Dorn Peak and drop in to the top of the Mill Creek drainage, following the creek about nine or ten miles back to Hwy 22.  The whole loop from the barn door is about 32 miles. Unlike my evening dashes up the ridge, this trip crossed enough gates to leave me quite on my own with lots of time to look and think.

As I climbed the road around Dorn I could have been riding on Leif Erickson Drive through Forest Park in Portland. Most of the trees were deciduous. It was cool and shady. The grade was gentle. The only hint that you were on the side of a steep mountain were the occasional huge rocks in the road that had tumbled down from above. As I got close to the top of the climb, a salamander with an electric blue tail darted across the road in front of me. I had never been here before. I had never seen such a thing. The flowers were still in full bloom up here. The mountains around me were a patchwork of clear cuts but nevertheless,  it was beautiful.

As I started to drop down into Mill Creek, I thought about how this year has unfolded. I thought about losing Gil. I thought about risk. Was it stupid of me to be riding out so far away from help. I thought about the logger who died this winter when his rig toppled off the bridge I was, at that moment,  riding over. I saw a heron take flight out of the creek that ran under that same bridge. I wondered if his soul took flight the same way. Do we fly? Does death work that way? Is it even fair to drape such clich├ęs on our inevitable conclusion?

I was rolling fast down the last few miles. I passed massive logging equipment coming out of a recent cut. I passed the road coming down on my left that I use to connect to Mill Creek when I drop down from the ridge. I was back on familiar ground. Another mile and I'm at the big white gate that marks the beginning of the Weyerhaeuser property I had been riding down. The dirt road turned to asphalt. Mill Creek road intersected with 22 and I pedaled along the shoulder the few hundred yards to Gooseneck Road, looking at the casino buses headed back to Salem to drop of the recently fleeced and pick up a fresh batch to enrich the coffers of the tribes of the Grande Ronde.  Three miles up the road and I'm back where I started except that my mountains are beautiful to me in a whole new way.

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