- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

BEND, Ore. (AP) — “Dude, it was epic!”

How many times have you heard that in a local brewpub, or maybe just walking down a street in Bend?

A search of www.urbandictionary.com gives a few synonyms for the word “epic,” including “awesome” and “incredible.”

But the website also offers this about epic: “the most overused word ever.” And this: “An overly used word that’s getting totally out of hand.” Other - stronger - opinions on the word cannot be printed here.

So I hesitate to call the 21-mile North Fork-Flagline singletrack loop the quintessential Central Oregon “epic” mountain bike ride.

But it does seem to have all the characteristics of such a ride. It is long, strenuous, scenic and rewarding all at once. It pushes a rider - at least this rider - to his or her limit, and then pushes some more. By the end, riders’ legs are fried from the climbing and arms sore from the descending.

Webster’s Dictionary offers several definitions of the word epic, but these are probably the best to use when referring to a mountain bike ride: “grand, majestic, imposing.”

This is from Adventure Maps on the North Fork-Flagline ride: “Bring a camera, food and extra water for this epic loop.”

Totally, dude.

The Flagline Trail opens every Aug. 15, as it is closed until then to protect elk calving grounds. I note this date every year because its arrival means it is time to start thinking about the, uh, “awesome” loop ride that includes Flagline.

But this year it got to be late September before I made the trip to Tumalo Falls to ride the North Fork-Flagline route. That big sign on Skyliners Road west of Bend advising drivers to expect 30-minute delays 3 miles ahead kept deterring me from driving to Skyliner Sno-park or Tumalo Falls. Construction on the controversial $24 million Bridge Creek water project has been causing the delays Mondays through Fridays. I finally decided to make the drive and risk the delay so I could access the North Fork Trail.

The flagger at the start of the construction zone told me the wait was usually only 10 to 15 minutes. Then a school bus pulled up behind me, and the flagman told me, “You’re in luck. We try to let school buses right through.”

The wait ended up lasting five minutes, and I was on my way to Tumalo Falls.

From the falls, the North Fork Trail (an uphill-only route for bikes) climbs steeply along the North Fork of Tumalo Creek, passing seven waterfalls of varying size and grandeur over the first few miles.

When I reached the west end of the North Fork Trail at an area called Happy Valley, the trail flattened out into an open meadow, and it seemed the climbing was over.

But it was only just beginning.

The climb up the Metolius-Windigo Trail was even steeper and more challenging than the North Fork section. Just when I thought it was over, the trail continued up, up and up through the Deschutes National Forest to near the boundary of the Three Sisters Wilderness. I arrived in a high alpine meadow from where I could see Broken Top to the northwest, its jagged edges shrouded in clouds.

The singletrack changed from sandy to more tacky dirt covered in pine needles as I turned from Metolius-Windigo onto Flagline. The climb from Tumalo Falls to the west end of the Flagline Trail is about 2,000 feet total.

But the climbing only continued along the northern base of Tumalo Mountain, where I finally topped out at near 7,000 feet in elevation.

The descent along Flagline featured fast, twisty, rooty, singletrack that was blown out, with sand in many spots. The recent rainfall has likely helped improve the trail conditions by firming up the dirt since my ride last week.

The Flagline Trail took me to the Swampy Lakes area, where I made a left turn onto the South Fork Trail. I picked up speed along the trail, which includes numerous switchbacks but still has a decent flow to it. South Fork seemed smoother and less dusty than Flagline.

The trail took me down to the South Fork of Tumalo Creek, a small, trickling brook that is easy to miss when speeding past on a mountain bike. Shortly thereafter, I made a left turn onto the Tumalo Creek Trail and arrived back at Tumalo Falls about four hours after I had started.

On the way home along Skyliners Road, there was no wait in the construction zone at about 3 p.m. I didn’t even have to stop.

Now that’s epic.

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If you go …

North Fork-Flagline Loop

Directions: Follow Skyliners Road west of Bend until it turns into Forest Road 4603 (a gravel road) and crosses Tumalo Creek. Continue another 3 miles to Tumalo Falls and park there. (Typically about 20 minutes from Bend, but construction on the Bridge Creek water project can cause delays Mondays through Fridays.)

Features: Lots of climbing followed by descending, and plenty of scenery, including numerous waterfalls, high alpine meadows and views of Broken Top. (This loop is at high elevation, so bikers should ride it before snow accumulates this fall.)

Distance: About 21 miles.

Rating: Aerobically strenuous and technically intermediate to advanced.

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The original story can be found on The Bulletin’s website: https://bit.ly/1nbPHrg

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Information from: The Bulletin, https://www.bendbulletin.com

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