Meandering down a leafy street on a still, sunny Saturday afternoon in Bend, Ore., my four-year-old and I were making our way to the park when a pub rolled by.
That’s right, a pub.
Music blaring, beer flowing and legs pumping to the beat, 12 laughing thirtysomethings sat around an oval-shaped counter on little bar stools rigged up to bike pedals, merrily drinking and trundling their way around town.
It made me laugh aloud to see two of this city’s greatest passions, biking and beer, wedded in a strange but blissful matrimony of sport and leisure (otherwise known as the Cycle Pub), and I don’t know that I could ever find a more fitting or suitable image to capture the spirit of Bend.
I lived in Bend for 10 years before finding my way back to Canada, and in that time I developed deep connections to the community and landscape. Something about the soft sweet smell of sage after a rain and the sociable locals keeps it front of mind when planning an escape from home, and we find ourselves back in Bend year after year.
Located about 280 kilometres southeast of Portland and perched on the Central Oregon high-desert plateau, Bend is flanked by the volcanic peaks of the Cascade mountain range, divided by the Deschutes River and blessed with a temperate climate of long, hot summer days and mild winters flush with heavy snowfall.
With spectacular views on all sides and out-your-back-door access to a crazy catalogue of recreational opportunities (skiing, biking, hiking, climbing, fishing, golfing, rafting, to name a few), Bend deserves its reputation as one of North America’s premier outdoor playgrounds. The weather, terrain and seriously sporty vibe have drawn athletes here for ages and, yes, that could very well be an Olympic skier or professional cyclist you just sat down next to at the coffee shop.
Which isn’t to say there is nothing to do if fresh air and Spandex aren’t your thing. Downtown Bend and some of the outlying neighbourhoods are a shopper’s Shangri-la, with hip clothing stores, galleries, amazing restaurants and artisan-coffee cafés. Sprinkle in some live-music venues, wine bars, spas and yoga studios (we are in Oregon, after all) and you’ve got all the urban fixings of a small city with groove.
Decisions about what to do in a day, or, more likely, how to fit it all in, can be the hardest part about visiting Bend. For my money, your two best bets here in this high-desert destination are biking and beer – not necessarily in that order.
Bend is a bike lover’s utopia with its seemingly endless options of road-riding routes and mountain-bike trails, and the locals take their two-wheeled transport seriously. On any given day, small armies of Lycra-clad hordes jostling for position and charging up hills can be spotted on virtually every scenic secondary road and route around town. Equally as impressive is the passion for mountain biking and the range of terrain for all ages, stages and abilities. A spidery single track winding its way through old-growth ponderosa pines, high-desert scrub grass and lumpy lava outcrops awaits the eager mountain-bike enthusiast.
If you have arrived without your bike, pop in to a west-side bike shop for a rental, map and chat with any one of the local shopkeepers or bike mechanics. The good folks are unfailingly helpful and bike-obsessed.
Worked up a thirst and looking for something to rinse the dust out of your choppers after a hard, sweaty ride? Here’s where Bend gets really fun. “Beervana,” as it is locally known, is home to 10 microbreweries and boasts the biggest selection of craft beer on the West Coast – fast becoming better known for brews than bikes.
The proliferation of brewpubs that have popped up since the founding of the original Deschutes Brewery in 1988 has largely kept the town’s economy afloat in the sea of real-estate recession that washed over the state in 2008. Nearly one in seven Oregon jobs is with the booming brewing industry now. So if rehydrating after a hard workout doesn’t make you feel better about frequenting the town’s watering holes, supporting the local economy should.
Most of the pubs are within walking or biking (of course!) distance of each other, and there’s even a Bend Ale Trail passport activity, complete with map to locate and get a stamp for all the breweries you’ve visited, ensuring none get missed.
As the Cycle Pub passed us by that sunny Saturday afternoon, and rolled slowly forward, my son and I resumed our walk. I noted that it was the “GoodLife” brewpub sponsoring that tour, passing pitchers and serving rounds.
“How appropriate for this place,” I smiled to myself. “It’s a good life indeed.”
A perfect day in Bend
8 a.m.: Get your motor running with a coffee from Thump or Backporch. No-nonsense pro-star baristas and fresh toasty beans guarantee a cup of pure bliss every time. Make it a double. You’ve got a lot to pack in and the extra caffeine will come in handy. For food, make your way to Sparrow Baking Co. and try one of the famous Ocean Rolls (a sweet buttery sensation sprinkled with cardamon), breakfast sandwiches or amazing bagels. The food will warm your stomach; brick-lined walls, soft jazz and a cozy Old World feel will warm your soul.
10 a.m.: Hit Sunnyside Sports bike shop to get a rental, trail map and some local knowledge. If you’re into mountain biking, chances are they’ll send you to Phil’s Trailhead. From this parking lot, just a few kilometres west of the city, the mountain biking trails fan out in all directions for all levels and abilities. If you’re experienced and like surprises, plus a bit of air now and then, the self-explanatory Whoops trail is a must.
12 p.m.: The gourmet street-cart food scene in Bend exploded a few years ago and offers phenomenal choices, making for a great midday meal. For fresh original fusion and good hipster viewing, my favourite is Spork (Galveston Avenue). There’s also the creative, delicious and organically based Real Food (Columbia Avenue), as well as the wittily named Codfather (NW Colorado Avenue) serving up great fish and chips out of an old double-decker bus.
2 p.m.: Time to get outside again! This time, rent a road bike and hit some of the secondary roads around Bend or make your way up to Mount Bachelor (Bend’s alpine and cross-country ski resort) on Century Drive. If you’re still feeling the love (or caffeine), carry on and follow Century Drive all the way around to one of the many scenic Cascade Lakes and some of the prettiest views in Central Oregon.
5 p.m.: After parking your bike and cleaning up, it’s time to hit the town and embark on a new kind of athletic endeavour, the Bend Ale Trail. Pull out your passport and map, plot your course and start sampling some of the best microbrews and craft beers in the western United States. Visitors can learn about brewing techniques, meet the brewers and, best of all, taste the cool, malty beverages each brewery proffers. All the breweries are close to each other. Base camp for the night should be the one that started it all, Deschutes Brewery, and from there, let your penchant for passport stamps and your taste buds be your guide. There’s good pub grub to be had at most of the breweries, but if you want to veer from your route a little and taste some of Bend’s best restaurants, try 5 Fusion and Sushi Bar, crowned by locals as the 2012 Restaurant of the Year.
10 p.m.: Time to wind it down and warm up with a last brew around the outdoor fire pit at 10-Barrel Brewing. Sidle up to a friendly face at the outdoor bar or alongside a bench around the fire. Mention you rode Phil’s Trail or the Whoops, and let the conversation begin. With a beer in hand and bike story to tell, you’ll fit right in.
Special to The Globe and Mail