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Exploring eastern Oregon by bike (and bus) with Treo Bike Tours

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

The descent into Cottonwood Canyon State Park.
(Photos by Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

What’s better than riding the dreamy roads of eastern Oregon with a handful of good friends? How about door-to-door support for you and your entire group on board on air-conditioned shuttle bus that’s stocked with yummy drinks and snacks? Fortunately, as I found this past weekend, that’s no longer just a dream.

Treo Bike Tours owner Phil Carlson
has redefined the “SAG wagon.”

The new service is the latest in the impressive bike tourism arsenal of Phil Carlson, owner of Treo Bike Tours. His ranch is situated 16 miles southwest of downtown Heppner, Oregon (pop. 1,200) and about 200 miles east of Portland. My assignment was to be the embedded photographer as Carlson and his crew supported a group of seven friends on a four-day, three-night bicycling vacation full of riding, relaxation, and exploration. (I tried, of course, to only partake in as much of it as was necessary in order to accurately report this story.)

This was the second time I ventured east to explore the farms, valleys, and rivers of ‘Oregon’s dry side’ as a guest of Treo. Last August I went on one of Treo’s first trips. At that time, Carlson was still fine-tuning his offerings but it was obvious that he had something very special to share: a combination of hospitality and access to amazing rides that I haven’t experienced anywhere else in Oregon.

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Fast-forward almost a year later and I’m happy to report that Treo is breaking exciting new ground. His purchase of a shuttle bus means he now offers not only pick-up (and drop-off) at your front door in Portland (!), but an unparallelled level of support when you’re out on the road putting in the miles. Treo has redefined the role of the “SAG wagon.”

Over the next four days, I’ll share photos and brief notes from each of our daily adventures…

Day One: Wasco to Condon via Cottonwood Canyon State Park

Boarding the Treo bus in northeast Portland in front of the home of Jenn Dederich, who organized the trip (that’s her dog “Buddy” in the photo). (Note: The bus pulls a large cargo trailer that can fit a dozen or so bikes, all the luggage, and other supplies.)
Beats driving huh? Courtney Martin and Carl Steinke enjoy themselves as the Columbia River Gorge blurs by in the background.
The bus is stocked with fresh fruit and cold drinks.
Instead of staying on the bus all the way to the Treo ranch, Phil dropped us off in Wasco so the group could pedal about 40 miles east into Condon.
These windmills were a constant source of conversation during the trip. Phil told us each blade is about 100 feet long.
The best part of being out there is being out there.
Oh those roads! At times it felt like we had them all to ourselves.
At the end of a long and fun descent we rolled into Oregon’s newest state park, Cottonwood Canyon.
Our first sighting of the John Day River just inside the state park entrance.
A perfect spot for lunch.
The old bones of the wild west surround you in these parts.
Sharrows! Inside a state park! In Wasco!
The climb out of the state park was beautiful…
… but the brutal heat took its toll on the group. Luckily Phil was waiting at the top with cold, wet towels which were a welcome relief.
Mt. Adams looms over Mike Bernard. On a clear day, five peaks (Hood, Helens, Adams, Jefferson and Rainier) are visible from the Wasco-Heppner Hwy. On Friday we could see four of them.
Jered and Carl gut out the final climb.
We saw this fellow while re-fueling the bus in Condon. Seemed like a fitting juxtaposition.
Once the group got to the ranch it was time for dinner, relaxing, and planning for the adventures ahead.

That first day would set a tone for what the group had in store for the rest of the weekend. Stay tuned tomorrow as I share more photos and notes from the group’s ride into the John Day River valley where they peeked into Oregon’s prehistoric past and traded spandex for swimming trunks.