#Bikesploration: Riding the empty Detroit Lake

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A month or so ago I had an amazing time exploring the Oregon Dunes by fat bike, so when Donnie Kolb from VeloDirt invited me on another exploration ride, I agreed right away.

Oregon has no shortage of wild terrain, from the temperate rainforest of the Coastal Range, to the high desert east of the Cascades. Tucked in-between is Detroit Lake, a man-made reservoir that is immensely popular for boating and fishing in the summer. It is formed by the North Santiam and Breitenbush Rivers collecting behind the Detroit Dam.

Now, lakes and bikes don’t usually go together, but each fall the state drains much of the water from the lake to make room for rain and snowmelt—the surface level drops more than 100 feet. That leaves more than 3,000 acres of its surface exposed, including countless tree stumps left over from when the lake was created in 1953.

We weren’t sure what to expect, but as the water recedes each fall, it must carry all of the flotsam with it, as the surface is nearly entirely devoid of debris of any kind. The surface varies from stone to mossy to deep mud, depending on the elevation and proximity to the river currents. The half-dozen members of our group were all on fat bikes, but we did see some tire tracks of a more conventional diameter, you would just have to watch for soft spots.

We mostly explored the high and dry peninsula between the two rivers, which form a point at Piety Island. It rises several hundred feet above the lake and the hike to the top is well worth it for a great view of snow-capped Mt. Jefferson. You’re never more than a half-mile or so from town, so we weren’t surprised to see some hikers exploring the area by foot. I also created a Strava segment at the bottom of the lake, so it might be my only chance to hold onto a KOM for a while!

The Detroit area is no metropolis, but there are a few restaurants, motels and general stores. If you saddle up at the Korner Post Restaurant be sure to bring a Sharpie to add to the graffiti that covers nearly every inch of the walls. Detroit is also the eastern terminus of the Cascading Rivers Scenic Bikeway, which extends 70 miles west to Estacada, Oregon.

While we didn’t travel far that day—less than 10 miles altogether—it was a great way to enjoy a rare sunny day in Oregon on January, and a reminder that bikes can take you to amazing places.

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