Mountain bike riders fording creek

Explore writer Emmy Andrews and friend Melissa Byrd crossing Pyramid Creek on the Chimney Peak Trail, located west of Sisters.

One. Tiny. Slip. Of the hand, and I watched my water bottle sail down the bubbling creek.

My friend and I were bikepacking in the summer heat, and I needed that water bottle. But the bank was too thick with vegetation to run after it and, besides, it was gone in seconds.

As I looked fondly after my friend the water bottle, I reflected on my other favorite adventures in creek crossings.

The first was just a few weeks ago, north of the Ochoco National Forest. My friend and I were bikepacking (again).

We woke up at dawn and began riding up a dirt road. The temperature was right at freezing and frost glittered on the plants and frozen dirt. Although we’d never ridden this road before, we anticipated smooth sailing.

Imagine our surprise when we rolled up to a creek crossing. It was a relatively short crossing and only calf deep. It might have been possible to ride through it in the summer, but given the cold, one step into that water would leave us with wet and frozen feet all morning, and we weren’t risking it.

I knew what I had to do. I took off my shoes and socks. I waded in, pushing my bike alongside, making little shocked noises as the water froze my feet. When I got to the other side, I threw my bike on the ground, sat down, and grabbed my frozen feet with both hands to try to warm them up.

While I sat trying to bring my frozen feet back to life, my friend decided to throw her shoes across with her socks tucked inside. As they sailed across, one sock worked its way loose and floated down onto the surface of the water, landing gently just out of my reach. We both watched it slowly get soaked while she waded across.

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We had to ford two more creeks, but by afternoon, the sun was shining, and our frozen feet were a funny memory.

My other favorite creek crossing was on the Old Cascade Crest trails west of Sisters. We were bikepacking (again) when we ran into a group of riders. One of them mentioned that a certain creek was running high. We didn’t know the area well and didn’t know what creek he was referring to, and in any case, we weren’t going to turn around now, so we said thanks for the information and rode on.

We rode for a long time, and I was beginning to think we must be taking a different route and bypassing the creek when, there it was, no mistaking it. It was 100 feet across, rather deep, full of large boulders, and it was indeed raging!

We took off our shoes and socks and went across one at a time.

I initially positioned my bike perpendicular to the water flow, but quickly realized that exposed more surface area to the rushing water, pulling the bike away from me and threatening to pull me off balance. I reoriented the bike so it would slice like a knife through the water, which was above the knee in some places.

It was tricky to keep my balance and keep a grip on my bike. I would slowly feel for somewhere stable to put my right foot, inch my bike forward, slowly move my left foot, and repeat. Reminder to never underestimate water crossings!

The sound of the crashing water and the potential to fall and get completely soaked kept the drama factor high, but eventually we all managed to cross without incident and continue on our way, exhilarated from our mini adventure.

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Emmy Andrews is the Central Oregon Trail Alliance executive director.

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