Once a week this winter, gobs of multicolored lights have bobbed and bounced in the waning evening light along the Deschutes River Trail. Like luminescent superheros, the members of the Bend Area Running Fraternity, who often wear headlamps and glow-in-the-dark bracelets, hustled through the last stretch of their 3.5 mile run, which they finish off with drinks at Atlas Cider Company.
Runners, horseback riders and rock climbers have had a milder-than-usual winter to play on Central Oregon trails and rock faces. For some, the return of cold temperatures and recent snowfall have put a small snag in those activities. For the die-hard outdoorsy types, it’s grin and deal with it.
Some runners, for example, never stop running.
Lisa MacLellan, 38, leads the Bend Area Running Fraternity, which she modeled after a running club she participated in when she lived in Portland. She wanted the free-to-join club to have strong social tendencies — assisted by hard cider. She’d played with the name “Puke & Rally,” she said between snickers, because the sight of strangers vomiting was not uncommon during her runs in Portland. In Bend, her husband helped her tame the name to Bend Area Running Fraternity, or BARF (“He’s good at these kinds of things,” she said), which is a by-product of excessive drinking — and running.
While one member sometimes hydrates with a cider — or two — before the run, no one has upchucked on a run since MacLellan founded it in November 2016.
While it’s fun to play up the group run’s party vibe, the Monday evening 3.5-miler is actually a recovery day for MacLellan, who, when training for races such as the Portland Marathon, often runs 20 miles on Saturdays.
Typically, 15 to 20 regular runners show up to the Atlas Cider Company’s taproom, where Bend Area Running Fraternity members receive a $1 discount and fill up punch cards for complimentary drinks.
Running paces vary, MacLellan said, anywhere from punchy 6-minute miles to the easy 9 minute, 30 second mile to the 10 minute mile that she maintains.
Dogs are welcome both on fraternity runs and inside Atlas. The route begins and ends at Atlas and traces some of the Deschutes River Trail south toward the Bill Healy Memorial Bridge, where it loops back. Some runners opt to run farther.
Bend running shop FootZone also hosts a group run — virtually every day of the week. The most well-known is professional runner Max King’s Tuesday Performance Group, which meets at various locations around Bend at 5:30 p.m. and is free to attend. TPG, as the workout group is known, is interval-based, which is an ideal way for runners to incorporate structured speed work into their regimens, King said.
All running courses are loops, which keeps participants together.
“People come out, get through it for the first couple months, and they start racing,” he said. “Then they begin posting pretty good personal records. (The workout) works for a general mix of races.”
King began the group in September 2008, soon after he moved to Bend from Eugene, where he trained with the renowned Oregon Track Club and organized a similar workout for a local running shop.
Last winter, King had to cancel several groups due to icy conditions. This winter, King has not had to cancel any practices, which he will continue hosting at Farewell Bend Park until daylight saving time on March 11. He emails participants about upcoming locations.
“We have a really vibrant running community in Bend,” said King, who volunteers his time to direct the Tuesday Performance Group.
He attributes the plethora of group runs organized by FootZone and the Central Oregon Running Klub — a nonprofit of which he’s a board member — for fostering a fun and inclusive running community.
“(Group runs) make Bend a great place to be a runner and make friends,” King said.
Crit Conrad was on his way to Smith Rock State Park one recent morning to rock climb, something he has done eight times in the first half of February alone. He can think of only one other winter that provided such ideal climbing conditions since he began climbing at Smith Rock in 2011.
“Recent conditions for trying harder rock climbs have been really good,” Conrad said. “There are people there all the time. It could be a high of 35 degrees; the sun is out, and it feels amazing out there.”
Once a chilly inversion loosened its grip on Smith Rock in early January, about 40 climbers began climbing its famous walls each day, Conrad said.
Other times, he has arrived to find virtually no climbers at all. In the height of summer, Conrad, who’s a gear maker at Bend-based Metolius Climbing, often counts more than 100 climbers.
Challenging routes are more tolerable at cooler temperatures; the extra exertion warms the body that much more.
Forty degrees, which Conrad said hits his sweet spot, is common in late winter, early spring, when “a nice breeze through the canyon helps cool you off.”
By contrast, last winter was so frigid, a cold snap provided a several-day window for ambitious climbers to scale the ice walls at Paulina Falls, southeast of Bend. Conrad and his friends were among them. That session on the ice seems a long way off, however.
“I mean, we were climbing the other day and it was 60 degrees,” Conrad said. “That’s odd.”
Kim McCarrel has spent a lot of time in the saddle this winter.
“Equestrians are relishing the nicer weather,” said McCarrel, who chairs the nonprofit Oregon Equestrian Trails’ Central Oregon chapter. At a recent chapter meeting, virtually all members said they had been riding.
“It’s always more fun to trail ride when you’ve got nice warm weather and sunny skies,” McCarrel said.
“It’s safe to say that equestrians are out on the trails in force.”
Popular riding destinations include Cline Butte Trail, which is “riding fabulous.” Horse Butte Trail, the Oregon Badlands Wilderness all have excellent footing, McCarrel said.
Locations near Sisters, such as Peterson Ridge Trail, will soon be sufficiently dried out.
Maston Trailhead, a popular trail network northeast of Bend, is already becoming dusty from hoofed-animal use, McCarrel said.
“It’s pretty bizarre. I was riding at Skull Hallow, and there were sections of the trail that were already getting dusty, too. Isn’t that funny, in February?”
This time last year, McCarrel and other equestrians had hunkered down for months without riding outdoors. Historic snowfall prevented riders from safely hauling horse trailers on the road, and the trails were icy.
“Horses can walk around fine in the snow, but it’s a whole ’nother thing to carry somebody or do anything at speed,” McCarrel said. “Most people didn’t do any kind of riding this time last year.”
Gradually rising temperatures will help the variety of work parties the chapter is organizing this spring and summer.
Projects include replacing log corrals with steel ones at Quinn Meadow Horse Camp, a campground near Mount Bachelor. The group will also clear 50 miles of the Metolius-Windigo Trail and build some new trails at Cline Butte, near Redmond.
McCarrel recently attended a U.S. Forest Service user meeting for the Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District. People from the snowmobile, nordic skiing and snowshoeing communities were grumbling about paltry snowfall.
“‘We can’t go anywhere’ — they were lamenting how terrible it was. But I confess: It was actually all my fault,” McCarrel said. “I bought a snowblower, so I feel single-handedly responsible for the lovely weather we’ve had this winter.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7816, email@example.com