There's really nothing going on in Oakridge... except for mountain biking.
"You're just... visiting? Who comes to Oakridge just to visit?" asked Stewart.
"Well, I'm here to ride mountain bikes," I replied.
"Oh, ok. My name's Stewart. Robert Stewart. Have you heard of Stewart's Drive-in down on 58? Yeah, my family started that," Stewart told me and dozens of other people as we watched his brother tear up the electric guitar on a small outdoor stage on Halloween night.
Even the long time locals can't imagine why anyone would want to visit Oakridge. Stewart himself had spent most of his life in Texas and only just returned to Oakridge recently. But if you ask most any mountain biker in the western USA, they've at least heard of Oakridge, if not ridden there themselves.
This small Oregon logging town halfway between Eugene and Bend has literally almost nothing going for it. Sure, Stewart's serves a mean burger and milkshake, and you'll also find a small brewpub in downtown... but that's about it for decent restaurants. A few hole-in-the-wall spots sling high quality eats one or two nights a week, and there's also a small distillery where I found the aforementioned outdoor stage. But beyond that, all Oakridge offers is a few locals-only dives and a small grocery store.
That, and mountain biking.
Hidden in the deep forests of the Cascade Mountains is a massive network of loamy singletrack trails descending thousands of feet off the tops of the nearby mountains. Dark black dirt reigns supreme, with root webs and rock gardens punctuating the high-speed descents. Occasionally, you'll break out of the forest onto a rocky mountain peak or into a wide-open meadow and be awed by the expansive long-range views of the Cascades. The mountain ridges and pine forests spread out in an endless sea, giving the impression that the entire world is covered in trees.
While the core of the trail network consists of historic national forest singletrack, local mountain bikers have been hard at work maintaining and improving the existing trails, while simultaneously building new and better trails specifically for mountain biking. Even though Oakridge is downright tiny and completely nondescript, especially when you compare it to its nearby neighbor of Bend, it's now home to one of the best mountain bike trail systems in the Pacific Northwest. The quality of the trails here has even earned Oakridge a gold-level ride center designation from IMBA.
While the rest of the infrastructure might be lacking, the mountain bike infrastructure is well-developed. Willamette Mountain Mercantile is the OG bike shop and shuttle company in Oakridge, but shuttle demand is so high that Cog Wild, based in nearby Bend, has successfully established a dedicated arm of the company here. Trans Cascadia has created a groundbreaking race format, and is also based here in Oakridge. Mountain Bike Oregon has brought the bike testing festival format to Oregon and is based in, you guessed it, Oakridge. And above and beyond these organizations, a wide swath of different races have stops or make their homes in this small town.
No, there's really nothing going on in Oakridge... except for mountain biking. And that's kind of magical.