Summer is the perfect, and perfectly fleeting, time of year for outings.
Conditions are ripe: It's sunny and generally warm, or at least mild enough that you don't need a lot of gear to have a good time. You don't need several layers of wicking undershirts, polyester outer shells and long underwear, not necessarily in that order. Nor do you need polarized goggles, wool socks, waterproof gloves, ski masks, those beanies with pigtails, blah, blah, etc.
This time of year, shirt, shorts, shoes or sandals, sunglasses and sunscreen suffice. (Bug spray, too, but I didn't want to ruin an alliterative moment.)
You know what, though? It seems summer only just began, yet by my count, there are only nine weekends left before Labor Day. Loosely translated, that means if you're prone to procrastination and don't get off your keister soon, you're going to miss out.
Last week, I headed to the relatively new Lake Creek Trail, a splendid, 4½-mile stretch of former forest roads that connect Camp Sherman and Suttle Lake. The trail opened last year and parallels Lake Creek, which flows out of Suttle Lake and into the Metolius River.
Along for the ride was occasional outing enthusiast Map Guy, whose true identity is concealed for reasons I don't actually know but happily go along with, just as he happily goes along with me even though I don't know what I'm doing half the time.
We met up in Tumalo, loaded his mountain bike aside mine, and made haste to Camp Sherman. Shortly after passing the Camp Sherman Community Hall, we found the trailhead on the left, with just one other vehicle parked there.
The day was cloudy and unseasonably cool at first. Map Guy, as usual, was better prepared for the cool temperatures, riding his bike in jeans. I have a rule against wearing long pants while I ride a bike, so I opted for shorts and goose bumps, at least till the sun came out later in the day.
The beginning of the trail passes through old-growth pine forest, where we passed a family out for a hike. Being that it's constructed from old roads, much of the Lake Creek Trail is doubletrack, as in two side-by-side ruts. As you enter a two-mile stretch where horses are allowed, signs direct bicyclists to use one rut, horses the other. Since we were, for the most part, alone out there, Map Guy often opted to use the designated horse path.
The trail's middle section also passes through about a two-mile long portion of Metolius Preserve, a 1,240-acre Deschutes Land Trust Community Preserve in the forest west of Camp Sherman.
Says Carol Wall, a Sisters-based Land Trust volunteer who leads hikes on Lake Creek Trail, it's a great year-round destination, with cross-country skiing opportunities in the winter months, and colorful larch needles that are bright green in the spring and glow brilliantly yellow-orange in the fall. There are also wild strawberries and a rare plant called the Peck's penstemon, she says.
The last bit of the trail, heading west from Forest Road 12 west to Suttle Lake, is “a tremendously diverse area botanically, because it gets a lot of spillover from west of the mountains,” Wall says. These plants include oceanspray, which she describes as “big bushes with white flowers all over them.”
Wall will lead several informative hikes on the trail later this year: Sept. 13, Oct. 14 and 29. Mark your calendars, and visit the Land Trust website for more information (www .deschuteslandtrust.org)
“It's an easy hike, as you know from riding. There's nothing challenging about it,” Wall says of the Lake Creek Trail. (Tell that to Map Guy, who walked his bike up a couple of hills, and by “up a couple” I mean “up every hill we encountered.”)
Wall says the birding is pretty interesting along Lake Creek Trail, as well.
“It's an area that the pileated woodpecker uses as habitat, so you will occasionally hear this wild, loud drumming that comes only from the pileated. They will chunk things off of trees that are like pieces of kindling; they're 3 and 4 inches long. They're just amazing, there's just no question about it,” she says. Trail users may also see white-headed woodpeckers, she says.
Map Guy and I didn't see too many of our flying friends, but we did spy a pair of deer that crossed the trail as they headed south in the forest. And shortly before reaching Suttle Lake, we saw a raccoon ambling under U.S. Highway 20, under which the trail passes right alongside the creek. More technically proficient riders may be able to ride on this rock-strewn portion, but we opted to walk the bikes under the road.
Either way, watch your head here, as clearance is only about 5, 5½ feet. Much of the trail heading west to Suttle Lake has a slight incline, not enough to deter a ride or hike, but enough to make it a treat on the way back should you make it a round trip.
As a bonus, Map Guy and I decided to ride the Suttle Lake Loop Trail, adding another three miles to our ride. We went counter-clockwise around the lake, which we later agreed had been the right way to go: It's the less spectacular side of lake, very close to U.S. Highway 20 and its vehicular noises, and we were riding into the wind.
After a break for snacks (provided by Map Guy) at the far end of the rectangular lake, we then rode back toward Lake Creek along a path lined with vine maples, with the wind at our backs.
Though the elevation remains much the same around the lake, making for a fairly easy ride or hike, be aware of technical sections around exposed roots and large rocks.
Just before we reached Lake Creek Trail, a gentleman with a Scottish brogue stopped us to ask if we'd just arrived from the Camp Sherman end. Turned out he recognized us from a couple of hours earlier; he was with the family we'd passed early in our ride. His wife, child and a 90-year-old in the party had decided to make the hike to Suttle Lake, while he drove the SUV to the lake to meet them.
He was just shy of being worried about their party, as it had been 2½ hours since he'd left them on the trail. We offered to take his cellphone number and report back to him should we see them on our ride back to Camp Sherman, but he declined.
I'm happy to report that maybe a couple of hundred yards after we'd left the man, we found his group not far down the trail, just out from under U.S. Highway 20 and approaching the lake.
However, the 90-year-old had tripped at some point in their hike, and sported a nasty scrape on his arm, which he was happy to show us.
So be careful and watch your step. Even on an easy hike, rocks, roots and ruts can conspire to wreck your day — and maybe even your alliteration.