This week's "Grant's Getaway" discovers that mountain bike riding is king of the outdoor recreation scene in one corner of Polk County.
Grant McOmie has discovered a paradise for mountain bike riders who seek the challenge of steep forested trails and the thrill of thirty foot jumps in mid-air at a unique destination called Black Rock Mountain.
Some say it's the speed, others say it's the jumps, while few argue that there are risks, all agree that mountain biking can offer a true adrenalin rush.
And why wouldn't it? Speeding down a narrow forested trail - weaving left and right so to stay on the right track, but with jarring bumps and jumps that shake, rattle and roll you along.
Suddenly, a five foot tall dirt berm appears out of nowhere and tests your agility as you fly airborne high above the ground.
It's the rush of speed and the test of stamina that mountain bike riders find when they travel to one of the hottest locales in Oregon.
It's called "Free Riding" and it's on a little piece of cycling heaven where riders catch "big air" across 500 acres of Oregon State Forest at Black Rock Mountain in Polk County.
The volunteer organization that makes it all work is called the Black Rock Mountain Bike Association or "BRMBA" for short.
Rich Bontrager, the association president, told me that the group is now seven years old and fifteen hundred members strong.
He noted that it all started with a simple dream: "I think we all need to help get people off the couch and out in the forest ... to see that there's other stuff out here than the city pavement or a computer game - it's that sort of thing that draws folks - something new and different and exciting."
It all begins with designing the features that riders seek at Black Rock; features that include ramps, jumps and berms - that are approved by the Oregon Department of Forestry under the "Adopt A Trail" program and then built by the club members.
The trail designers can also name the varied projects and include such imaginative names like "Sunday Stroll," "Grannie's Kitchen" and "Bonzai Downhill."
BRMBA members are at Black Rock each day to care for the site and make certain that it's not abused.
Bontrager noted that the concept of a mountain bike destination play area is a first on the Oregon State Forest: "Forest managers take a look at our proposals and make sure the ideas won't create an environmental hazard or be too close to a watershed."
BRMBA member, Todd Glascow, a longtime rider, said that "feature" ideas are really born of the experiences that riders have as they take on trails across the United States.
"Oh yes - we ride other areas, see other things and incorporate them into our own ideas and then take a spin on it. While some material is bought and some donated, a good majority of the wood that we use is fallen timber found in the forest."
Bontrager agreed and added, "If we do move some dirt we try to cover it back up a little bit so that it can re-naturalize or re-forest itself and look natural again. Once we're done with these structures, we'll actually lay them back out so they decompose in the forest."
Some of the runs are so steep that riders can reach speeds of 40 mile per hour, so each rider covers up from head to toe with plastic and neoprene rubber protection that they call "armor."
The bikes that they ride are specially designed to take punishing workouts across the forest - aluminum framed bikes with heavy-duty front and rear air shocks and disc brakes are common and the bikes can reach $5,000 or more.
Wade Youngblood said that beginners can get started for far less: "The used market is good way to break into the sport - a good used bike goes for about a thousand dollars. If you buy new, you're looking at four to six thousand for a top of the line bike."
Wade's father, Owen Youngblood, said that the affordability of the sport drew him to share the outdoor experience with his son - plus, there's been a bonus: he's lost twenty pounds since he started riding at Black Rock two years ago.
"It's always fun to ride with someone who's better than you are because that will push you to the next step...and that's why I enjoy riding with my son - he's typically in the lead and I do my best to catch him."
Whether catching big air or enjoying the freedom that comes from speeding down a forest trail on two wheels, the riders agree that there's something for every level of experience at Black Rock Mountain.
"You're out here in the trees and you're away from everything else," noted Glascow. "You're far away from the daily grind. You can have a stressful day or stressful week and you come out here and ride a bike - it's all gone!"
Other Trails to Explore:
Adventure of a different sort waits for bike riders who visit Stub Stewart State Park in Washington County.
In fact, new construction on "free ride" trails with features similar to those you will find at Black Rock are currently under construction at Stewart - in addition to the 17 miles of hiking and biking trails that already exist. Look for the opening of the initial "mountain bike only" trails later this Fall.
Don't forget to check out Ride Oregon either! It's a wonderful resource - a bike riding clearing house of sorts - that can put you on the right track to other mountain bike trails across the state.
You might consider a mountain bike adventure at "Black Rock Mountain" a part of your entry in a unique travel contest. It's called the Oregon 150 Challenge and it offers a unique dream vacation as a grand prize.