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Highway Rajneeshpuram Revisited

Team River City/Bike Law Ride Report

By Harrison Harb

May 2017

Two years ago—almost to the day—Colin Gibson and I headed east of the Cascades to a little town called Maupin. The plan was to get two epic days of training in before Colin became a father two weeks later. We only had vague ideas of what was in store for us on that trip: pounding cross winds, a painful hailstorm, rain, even some sun—but some of the best new roads we’d ever ridden. We vowed to make Maupin a regular training destination in the coming years. And it was on that trip that Colin and I started to toss ideas around for how we’d eventually come to race together, on what would become River City/Bike Law Cycling team. It was also on that trip that we rode through a little town called Antelope, and learned about its short lived name change in the 1980’s to Rajneeshpuram, which in 2018 would end up the center of a 6-part Netflix documentary.

May 2019

Day 1: 87 miles

It’s already close to 90 degrees by the time we leave our campsite on the Deschutes River, just across from its confluence with the White. Luckily some clouds begin to drift into the peripheries. The day starts with a mellow 90-minute climb out of Maupin to where the road joins up with Route 97 heading toward Madras.

Headed Toward Rajneeshpuram

Harrison Harb riding toward “Rajneeshpuram” (Antelope).

But we take the hard-left turn onto 293 toward Antelope. From that turn, through Antelope, and up to Shaniko, it’s remote: a pickup truck every few miles, a trickling river, canyon walls, cow pastures, hill vistas–the sky incomprehensibly massive.

Antelope e1560164848306

Colin Gibson arrives in Antelope.

Rolling through Antelope there’s nothing left as a reminder of the hundreds of red-robed Rajneeshees who once flocked to that valley in hopes of a transcendent life. One would imagine maybe one of the ninety-some odd Rolls-Royces owned by the Bhagwan might have been left behind some way or another, but no. Antelope is nearly a ghost town. The grass camouflages the playground in front of the old schoolhouse (“Hitchcockian,” as Colin would describe it) and one guy is working on his John Deer in the front yard. He waves. We wave back. We think about stopping at the questionably open Café, but decide to push on to Shaniko.

Once there, we’re thanked at the General Store for not paying with hundred-dollar bills like the Christian kids do on their way to camp at the defunct Rajneeshpuram campus. Colin eats some canned pears while I opt for a couple spicy V8s.

General Store e1560164970812

Colin Gibson refueling at the Shaniko General Store.

From Shaniko back to Maupin it’s about 28 miles on Bakeoven Road. People think the name comes from the east-facing hillside the road snakes its way up, baking in the afternoon sun, but there was indeed a real bake oven out there where people would stop on their way between towns for fresh bread. Bakeoven Rd descends about 2,500ft from Shaniko to Maupin, and Colin never stops pedaling.

Back at the campsite about four miles north of town the heat is oppressive. We take turns dunking in the Deschutes. I find the water shockingly cold while Colin seems to be lounging so blasé.

Day 2: 99 miles

Headed Up Toward Wamic

Harrison Harb riding up from the Tygh Valley towards Wamic on the Old Barlow Road.

I’m not sure how long it would’ve taken Colin, baking in the morning sun in the tent, to wake up on his own, but I wasn’t going to test it either. Back on the bikes around 9:30, this time we head west through Tygh Valley and Wamic on Rte 48, the old Barlow Road which was the last segment of the Oregon Trail.

At first Mt. Hood is just a little white cone on the horizon, growing slightly larger each hour. West from Maupin is a completely difference landscape than the day before. We climb into a dense coniferous forest for about four hours before we’re deposited on Highway 35 on the slopes of Hood by the White River.

Mount Hood

Mt. Hood looms ahead.

Today we stop only once, at a gas station near Timothy Lake. Colin again goes for the canned pears and Pay Day bar, while I have an ice cream and a V8. For some reason pedaling feels easier today, more fluid and natural. The final 40 miles back down to Maupin takes about 90 minutes. We’re flying into a wall of heat and the only thing on our minds is plunging into that river, which of course, we do.

Our second trip to Maupin confirmed what we’d learned two years ago, that this is one of the best places, probably in the world, to road ride. The roads are low-traffic, smooth, and go on forever in an abundantly beautiful landscape. On behalf of the ghosts of the Rajneeshees: until next year! 

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