Sunday, July 13, 2008


If I could only do one Oregon ride a year, McKenzie Pass would be it. No question, hands down, my favorite. So after hearing various stories and rumors regarding the status of the road this year, I decided to take the opportunity of having the woman out of town for the week to load up with a bike, cooler, and change of clothes, and do some exploring.

According to ODOT, 242 is closed to traffic during construction work between the snow gate at mile 11 or so, and the top of the pass. However, 'closed to traffic' and 'unrideable' are two different things. I had heard a rumor that it was passable on weekend when no road crews were hauling 40ft loads of gravel down the middle of the road, and no expecting rogue cyclists. I also heard that two bridges somewhere on the road and had been TNT'd and were being rebuilt, meaning that the road was completely shut unless you brought some hiking shoes and a machete (of which I own neither). So I figured that at the very least, the bottom half of the climb it a worthwhile trip in and of itself, and I would see how far I got.

As it turned out, I got exactly as far as the gate. And both rumors and reports were somewhat true, ironically. ODOT is in fact rebuilding two bridges, but there are temporary bridges up that they are using to drive trucks across. So the road is rideable, although presumably somewhat debris-littered. However, the road is completely closed, since in their wisdom either the county, state, or contractor has installed a live-in gate keeper, who we shall call 'Cleetus'. Cleetus is, in fact, the road closure.

Cleetus has two dogs, one trailer, one truck, and half a mouthful of teeth. He also has some tattoos. I believe that he owns exactly one pair of shoes, one pair of jeans, and two t-shirts. He also owns a gun. Or several, but one of which was on hand.

After 50min or so of rolling and sweating from the ranger station, I came up to the gate, where Cleetus was leaning against the rail on the other side.
G: "Hi."
C: "The road is closed. You're not going through."

OK... so who are you, exactly?

G: "Um, ok, where is the road closed?"
C: "Right here. Says road closed. You're not crossing this gate."
G: "But you're on that side of the gate"
C: "See that trailer over there? I'm living here. I'm the guy who keeps people out."

I see now. Some banter ensues. I ask about the details of the road project, where the hiking trails are closed, how open the road is from the sisters side, what the project timelines are, etc. He keeps coming back to the point of not letting anyone through, on foot or otherwise. Talks about some people getting belligerent.

C: "I won't lie to you. I'm not armed... except for that little .45 under the seat of my truck."

OK. Cleetus has a gun. Somehow I don't think it's in the truck like he says. He also hasn't moved in 10 minutes. He's looking at me sideways and facing slightly away from me. He is chewing something that I can't identify with his remaining teeth. I think he is chewing without molars. His dog is friendly enough but there is another dog in the trailer. At this point, I know I'm not going to check out the closure beyond this point because, no matter how rideable the road theoretically is, Cleetus is a reality. If I snuck by while he was dozing in the trailer I might get shot on my way back down. By a .45. That's OK, this morning I had figured there was a really good chance I wouldn't make it to the top, but thought it would be because of long stretches of missing roads, not a greying back-woods type sneering and vaguely threatening bodily hard if I made a move towards crossing the gate.

So I strike up some small talk.

G: "So how long are you here for?"
C: "I'm here until they're done. They are supposed to wrap this up by the end of August, and they've been busting their asses to get it done. I tell you what, they better hurry up 'cause I'm calling on a new job tomorrow mornin'."
G: "Oh yeah? Same sort? Where at?"
C: "Dunno. Didn't say. Said 'remote cabin' and had a phone number. Remote. I like remote."

Yeah, I bet you do. Don't look like the socializin' type.

Cleetus and I talked some more. I struck a chord when I shifted the topic to guns, and hunting. He says he doesn't hunt anymore, but said he wished he had his .410 with him up on that hill, there's so many rabbits around.

C: "Ain't no jacks, either. Fucking bunnyhoppers. Rabbit stew? Tasty."

He tells me he's from Oakridge. Shoots a lot of rabbits up there. If I want to kill some bunnies I should drive up a road around dusk, and make a mark of every rock on the road. Turn around at dark, drive back, and if I see a rock that wasn't there earlier, shoot the sum-na-bitch. He was back there last weekend, driving around with his brother. Shot a bunch of grouse in the road from the passenger side of his brother's truck. Of course, I don't mention that it's not grouse season, and shooting across roads is illegal, much less shooting at them. Cleetus is not the kind who cares. He probably doesn't have a license or registration for that truck, since I'm pretty sure those tags are expired. I doubt he pays taxes. That "little .45" he has tucked in there? Told me he cut up his old 29ft trailer to get the mice out ("Fucking mice had stored dogfood up in the insulation in the ceiling. Took a sawsall to it, fucking full of dogfood."), then traded the frame of the trailer for the .45. It was either that or a snowmobile, apparently, and he didn't really want a snowmobile.

At this point I wished him good luck with his new job tomorrow, and coasted the 20k on back down to the car. I enacted plan B and climbed up to Cougar reservoir and cruised the Aufterheide in the midday sun, keeping an eye for Cleetus' brother driving the otherway with a shottie out the drivers window looking for grouse.


K-Man said...


Please file a complaint with ODOT. That behavior is unacceptable- "I won't lie to you. I'm not armed... except for that little .45 under the seat of my truck." The state does not tolerate this kind of threat.

Stoked said...

Holy cow! Makes me glad my route from Blue River to Bend went via Oakridge and Willamette Pass. My ride was epic, but the biggest hazard was falling rocks (and the gamble of hitchhiking)!