Distance: 29-mile loop
Elevation gain: 2670 ft
This ride may not be for everyone. It’s a rough and tough little loop with one hard climb, pavement that is consistently poor (not broken—just rough), a descent so steep you have to brake constantly, and 15 miles of shoulder riding. It’s more work than the elevation numbers suggest, because most of the 2670 ft of gain is in one 4-mile climb, and the lone descent is so jarring that it beats you up. Still, it has its merits. The back road half is often beautifully wooded, the isolation is remarkable (3 vehicles in 15 miles), and even the shoulder riding is through lovely scenery. At points the road is so narrow and the solitude so extreme that you’re as close to trail hiking as you can get on a road bike. So it’s a ride where it’s less about the riding and more about being in this extraordinary place.
I wouldn’t do this ride without at least some sunshine. The primary reward here is the magical woods, and you need light coming through the trees to get the full effect.
Navigation is in one sense easy, because there are few ways to go wrong, but in another sense challenging because there’s no cell service (so no Googlemaps) and several completely unmarked forks, and many of the roads are unnamed or confusingly named on maps. So I’m going to be particularly specific about directions. I’d carry a map, not because you’re going to get lost, but because it’s comforting when you’re alone for mile after mile.
See note about OHV traffic in Afterthoughts below.
Park in the small village of Marcola, your one and only place to provision on the ride. This gives you about 5 miles of nearly flat riding before the road turns up. There is almost nowhere to park between Marcola and Shotgun Creek Rd. because Marcola Rd. is on a levee, so there’s a drop-off on both sides. You can park at the Shotgun Creek Rd. turn-off.
Ride north on Marcola Rd., a manicured and fairly busy two-lane road with a good shoulder and typically charming Oregon farm-country scenery—what I always think of as PPO (Perfectly Pleasant Oregon) riding. Check out the Earnest covered bridge, on your immediate R on wonderfully named Paschelke Rd (the bridge is misspelled and mislocated on the Lane County Bicycle Map).
In 3 miles, turn L on clearly marked Shotgun Creek Rd. That’s the last road sign you will see on the ride until Brush Creek Rd, so let’s run through the route. You are going to meet three forks. Keep R at all of them. The first fork is in 1 mile in, at Mile 4.1 on the route, and is unnamed. The second and third come almost together around Mile 6. The first of these is Crooked Creek Rd; the second is usually unnamed (the Lane County Bicycle Map calls it Blagen Mill Rd). This last (third) fork is tricky, because the L branch is clearly the dominant road and is marked with a seductive white arrow painted on the road inviting you to take it. Don’t. Once you make that R, your options are over—just stay on the only pavement until it deadends at Brush Creek Rd. at Mile 16. Somewhere around Mile 7 maps show a fork, with Shotgun Creek Rd. going R and Seely Creek Rd. going L, but Shotgun must become dirt because I’ve never seen that fork, so forget about it. If you manage to find it, go L.
Back to the turn off Marcola Rd: Shotgun Creek Rd. is at first flat, then a very easy pitch along Shotgun Creek. Enjoy these riparian miles—they’re the second-best part of the ride. The woods are lovely, draped in magnificent moss.
The pitch continues to steepen until an obvious spot where it gets serious. Prepare to work—the next four miles are steep (8-15%). The scenery here isn’t particularly swell, since you’re riding through old clear-cut and most of what you see is roadside shrub. When you pass the gravel pit on the L, the hard stuff is over, though it’s still nearly 2 miles to the summit. Right after the pit, watch for a couple of oh-so-brief glimpses of the vista on your right through the brush that’s blocking your view.
The road continues to get narrower and narrower until it’s little more than a track. Climb at a pitch that wouldn’t be hard if you weren’t so tired, up to the summit through ordinary conifer forest, then drop 4 miles down to W. Brush Creek Rd. This descent, as mentioned, is steep, jarring, and typically wet, so it’s something I survive rather than enjoy. There are no cracks or potholes, but the pavement is just cheap, and it beats you up. At first there is little to look at of interest, but after a mile or so the ecology gets wetter (there’s a strip of flourishing moss running down the center of the road) and the forest around you turns to magic. This is why you’ve come, why you did that climb. It’s Fanghorn—huge, ancient trees dripping with moss. The silence and solitude add to the atmo. I love it. There are other Bestrides rides with wonderful Oregonian woods, but none where the road is so minimal, where you’re so engulfed. Don’t hurry through these miles. You might even (heaven forbid!) stop, walk fifty feet into the woods, and sit there for a minute or two.
At around Mile 14 the descent bottoms out, you see a couple of houses, and the road swings L and onto W. Brush Creek Rd., which feels like a freeway after Seely Creek Rd: two lanes, shoulders, center-line, road signs. WBCR dead-ends at Brush Creek Rd., an even bigger and more manicured two-lane that is surprisingly trafficky given that it goes from Springfield to Crawfordsville.
Turn R on Brush Creek Rd and ride 15 miles of shoulder back to Marcola. It’s about as good as shoulder riding gets. The shoulder itself is wide enough and glassy, and the scenery is mostly dense, pretty woods, with little sign of human habitation except dirt driveways. You begin with a 4-mile climb that begins around 3% and gradually intensifies to 5%, then a similar descent down the back side. Somewhere in there (probably at the summit/county line), the road changes its name to Marcola Rd. It’s all downhill back to your car. Just before you pass the Shotgun Creek Rd. turn-off you pass through the community of Mabel, which seems to be nothing more than a road sign. As you approach Marcola, you can give yourself a sweet respite from Marcola Rd. by going L on Paschelke, through the Earnest covered bridge, then R on Wendling, which ends in Marcola. I didn’t map it that way, but I recommend it.
Afterthoughts: The Shotgun Creek area is a hotbed of OHV recreation. You’ll see signs and staging areas from the beginning of Shotgun Creek Rd. all the way to the Seely Creek Rd. summit, including signs reading “Watch for OHV traffic on the road.” I have done this ride twice and never seen an OHV, perhaps because the area is closed to OHV’s during times of high fire danger. If you’re doing this ride any time but mid-summer, I’d find out if the OHV’s are active first.
Shortening the route: I wouldn’t. Riding the first 6 or so miles of the route (until the first climb) as an out-and-back would be a pleasant, easy jaunt, but you’d miss a lot.
Adding miles: Shotgun Creek Rd. is in the midst of almost limitless PPO riding. You can ride Brush Creek Rd. north to Crawfordsville, take Courtney Creek Rd. west to Brownsville, then take Northern Dr. back to Crawfordsville. Every back road near Marcola is worth riding: Paschelke, Wendling, Old Mohawk, Sunderman, Hill (only slightly hilly despite the name), McKenzie View, and Camp Creek Rd. Any of it could be in Bestrides if it wasn’t in Oregon, where there’s just too much of this sweet stuff.