There are a maze of gravel roads and old logging roads around La Grande. We let our mountain bikes rest a day and rode our gravel bikes on a remote loop. Our loop ride was 27.9 miles with 2716′ of climbing topping out at 5097′.
We started from downtown Union, OR in the city park and headed down a couple town roads to work our way to the edge. High Valley Road, our rode out, was FRESHLY fog sealed. I had to look that one up because I’ve only ever heard of chip sealing. According to the internet, a fog seal is an application of a specially formulated asphalt emulsion (a thin liquid oil) to an existing asphalt pavement surface. A “rejuvenator” is an asphalt additive which when applied to the existing pavement will slightly soften the pavement it is applied to creating a better bond.
This road passes farmland and then parallels Little Creek for a twisty jaunt up towards our first climb. We turned right on the gravel Bates Road and tackled a series of punchy climbs. The gravel is a bit thick in spots so getting the right balance when sitting and trying to climb the steeper parts is key. The farms ended but we kept going.
After a few miles we entered Little Catherine Creek Travel Management Area. This part was a surprise because the next 12-13 miles of forest was closed to cars. The gate across the road had a bullet damaged sign stating Non-motorized vehicles were allowed, so off we went. The gravel/dirt “road through here is pretty rugged in spots but still fairly decent quality overall. We climbed up into the trees and then just kept climbing. It gets steep in a few spots and even chilly with all the shade! In all, the climb on this ride is about 9.6 miles long and rolls through a little of everything. The road is rocky, dirt, gravel, loose, damp, compact….everything.
Good news, after all this, the rest of the ride is primarily downhill! The descent is a little rough since the road is underused. There are some chunky spots but mostly it’s good gravel, rocks, or dirt. Honestly, it’s steep in sections with the grade in the teens for portions. Derek got a flat somewhere at the start of the downhill but was able to seal it up using a tire plug. The days of us pulling out the inner tube and applying a patch kit have come and gone. We both have tubeless tires (like a car), but they have sealant inside that ideally seals any small holes you might get. This was too big a hole for the sealant to fix, so Derek used a plug. The plug is a little strip of magic material (butyl rubber) that you push into the hole while leaving some of the ends out. Presto magic, it’s sealed.
Down down down we went. It’s dark in some of these deep pockets of forests! After crossing Catherine Creek, the rest of the ride follows along above. Just when I was done with all the descending, we had a short climb followed by a rugged plunge to the road. This last part was washed out a bit when we rode it so be careful. We hung a right on Highway 203 which is a little used road that got us back into town in 8 miles. It’s a beautiful stretch of fields, barns, farms, and good pavement. We stopped to take a few pics of the creek, and blasted down into Union to complete our loop.