A year ago, John Rahm stood on the edge of Peterson Ridge, where the trail came to a dead end. He imagined a path that continued along the rim, offering stunning Cascade Mountain views to the northwest.
Now, along with other mountain bikers in the Sisters area, Rahm is riding trails that a year ago were only a vision.
What last year was just 10 miles of bike trails is now nearly 30 miles, thanks to Rahm and other volunteers who have helped revamp the Peterson Ridge area south of Sisters into a legitimate mountain biking destination.
Rahm, the chairman of the Sisters Trail Committee, worked with the Sisters Ranger District, the Central Oregon Trail Alliance and the Student Conservation Association to get the trails built. The planning process for the extension began in 2002.
Rahm, who lives just a few hundred feet from the trailhead, designed nearly all the new trails himself.
“It’s a funny thing,” Rahm said. “I started thinking and dreaming about this 10 years ago. I’m pretty amazed when I go up there and see everything that’s out there. It happened one little piece at a time. It’s been my creative outlet.”
More than five miles of horse-riding trail has also been built in the last year by equestrian members of the Sisters Trails Committee. Two to three miles of mountain biking trail has yet to be constructed and is expected to be complete by August, Rahm said.
Last week, I accompanied Rahm and Sisters District Ranger Bill Anthony on a mountain bike ride on the new Peterson Ridge trails. The trailhead kiosk includes a large display map of the old trail system and temporary paper maps of the new system. Comparing the maps showed just how much work went into the project — many more squiggly lines that represent singletrack can be found on the new map.
“I’m amazed that we got as much done as we did,” Rahm said. “There’s been a huge response from the community, in terms of donations and volunteers.”
The new trails were designed in a stacked-loop system, patterned in line with International Mountain Biking Association trail-building standards, giving bikers a series of loop options that veer off the main trails. Rahm refers to the main trails at Peterson Ridge as the “east leg” and the “west leg.”
From the Peterson Ridge trailhead, located off Three Creeks Road just blocks south of Sisters, the trail is flat and smooth. After we crossed the first canal, I noticed the difference in the trail. Several technical lava rock sections challenged us as we continued the 600-foot climb to the top of Peterson Ridge.
“There’s some variation in the different sections,” Rahm said. “You want to change the rhythm so it’s interesting. We wanted to keep it from being boring.”
The old trail is fairly flat and straight, and riders can still ride it to the top of the ridge as an easier option.
“I wanted everybody to be able to ride from town to the upper overlook,” Rahm said.
Our plan was to ride the west leg up and the east leg back down to the trailhead, for a ride of about 18 miles. Rahm said this is the way he prefers to ride the system, because the east leg includes more grueling climbing when ridden uphill.
We cruised through the High Desert landscape, negotiating tight turns among lava rock and ponderosa pine trees. Before we knew it, we were at the top of the ridge, looking out at the Cascades, Black Butte, and a vast swath of forest green. This was where the old trail dead-ended.
Now, the trail continues along the north rim of Peterson Ridge, sending riders on their way back to the trailhead.
“That’s really a sweet piece of trail,” Rahm said. “I anticipated that would be the most interesting piece of trail, and I think it is.”
While the climb to the top is somewhat gradual, the ride down is still fast and furious, but with more tricky spots to negotiate than what the old trail offered.
Several viewpoints along the way offer glimpses of the Cascades.
We needed more than three hours to ride the 18 miles, but with the new connectors, the options are endless. Bikers can ride anywhere from two to 26 miles.
New junction posts, built by the Sisters Boy Scouts, correspond to junctions on the new map, so riders can find their way among all the trail connections.
What was once a two-hour, mostly out-and-back ride is now several days of mountain biking.
“People can come and can entertain themselves for a whole weekend,” Rahm said. “We hope it will attract people to town.”