Ever heard of the Aufderheide National Scenic Byway?

Ever heard of the Aufderheide National Scenic Byway?

Neither had I until I cycled it in July with five bike-touring, sag-driving, wine-tasting friends.

The Aufderheide, just off Highway 126 an hour out of Springfield, is an undulating ribbon of blacktop winding through the lush undergrowth of the Willamette National Forest and along the scenic banks of the South Fork of the McKenzie and North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette rivers. The Aufderheide isn't stunning in the way that Crater Lake is, or breathtaking like the Oregon Coast. It's just your average achingly beautiful Oregon scenery, and as such warrants only a trickle of traffic even in July.

That's what's so good about backyard, down-home bike trips. You could bike the Oregon Coast or Crater Lake, but why? Might as well head for less-famed attractions and share them with locals rather than the masses. Thus we found ourselves on the Aufderheide, at Hills Creek Reservoir near Oakridge, at Dorena Lake outside Cottage Grove and in the Lane County wine country. Hic.

My pals and I had discussed for years how cool it would be to do our own bike tours, but with just a handful of people and at a fraction of the cost of Cycle Oregon, which now charges $825 per person. Our six-day trip was budget travel at just over $100 each, including gas.

Our biking philosophy is pleasure without pain. We are not among cycling enthusiasts who routinely grind out 70 miles a day. Instead, our brisk rides range between 30 and 50 miles, distances that we calculate are sufficient to justify excessive caloric intake and leave ample time for happy hour and epicurean camp meals. We also throw in a layover day or two for hiking, or for enjoying more than one cycling route out of the same camp. We take turns driving a sag wagon, and are accompanied by a saint who loves to drive his vintage VW van and carry our gear.

After two days on the Aufderheide, we cycled 50 miles to Packard Creek campground on the Hill Creek Reservoir near Oakridge, departing the next morning for Dorena Lake near Cottage Grove. We took the Oakridge-Cottage Grove route, which is one of 11 routes profiled on the Lane County Bicycle Map. (The Aufderheide is another.)

We cruised downhill from camp for four miles to turn onto a Forest Service road that is unrelentingly vertical for about 15 miles. The sag wagon scraped us up one by one as our tongues hit the pavement. See? We're not proud. After lunch, we were back in the saddle for a delightful ride to camp that included the Row River Multi-use Trail, a rails-to-trails gem that made us forget our earlier challenges.

The trip divided neatly into two distinct experiences; wilderness-skirting backcountry and bucolic wine country I scoffed at the idea of cycling and wine tasting, but after careful testing, I know it can be done. We did most of a day's ride to reach the Lorane Valley wine region east of Cottage Grove. First up was the elegant King Estate Winery, where we tasted six wines and enjoyed a foodie's lunch. Two hours later we were spinning along to Sweet Cheeks Winery, and then across the road to Silvan Ridge Winery. Six complimentary tastes at each winery later, we were back in the sag wagon headed for camp.

We're already planning our 2009 bike tour. I'm not sure where or when, but I'm confident our route will take us through some gorgeous country with lots of surprises — and that we'll be less than a full tank of gas from home.

Mary Korbulic lives in Gold Hill.