Oregon mountain biking trip


This is a mountain biking/camping trip I did in Summer 2018 from the Palouse through Central and Eastern Oregon. I did several mountain bike rides on my bucket list, and also did some great hikes.

Ochoco National Forest

Round mountain trailhead

The drive from the Palouse to Ochoco National Forest is scenic. After getting off I-84 onto highway 19 in Central Oregon the pace slows, and driving through the Oregon high desert is relaxing. I arrive at the Round Mountain trailhead and scope out a car camping spot just down the road from the trailhead.

The trail climb is challenging but the scenery is spectacular. The pine forests open up to meadows that are drying up at the end of summer. The climb is unrelenting but not too technical. It’s midweek in July and I don’t see anyone on the trail up or down. At the top there are great views of Central Oregon.

Heading up, the climb just gets steeper and steeper
View on the way up
Great view of Central Oregon from the Top. The ride down is fast and fun.

Bend, Oregon

The next day I pack up and make the drive to Bend Oregon. There are many rides near Bend and on this trip I decide to do the highly rated Funner-Tiddlywinks. It is a hot day and there are groups of people including kids riding the trail downhill as I ride up, a very different experience than Ochoco NF. It’s also hot on the way up and I drink a lot of water. On the way back about 1 mile from the trailhead a thunderstorm erupts and I get drenched. The main challenge is getting all the mud off my clothes. The reward is a Bachelor Bitter at the Deschutes Brewery afterwards.

Elkhorn Crest

The next day I head off for Eastern Oregon. I have mapped out the trailhead and have the coordinates in the GPS. As I turn off the highway onto the forest road, I am thinking I haven’t even put the new 4runner in 4wd yet. That’s about to change. The road gets gnarly and I am glad I have a high clearance SUV. Once I get to the top of the pass the views are spectacular. I meet a couple who drove up from Baker City for the sunset and they say the road down into Baker city is rough but I should be Ok in a 4runner. I camp overnight and at night I hear mountain goats outside the vehicle. I manage to get one pic out of about 20 tries that captures the goat. The next morning I head off while it’s cool. Again the views are spectacular and I can see both west and east from different places on the ridge. The trail is very rocky and with a hardtail mountain bike I find the going a bit too rough for my liking. If I come back I will either hike it or have a full suspension 29er bike.

View from Elkhorn trailhead, great spot to SURV camp

I camp overnight and at night I hear mountain goats outside the vehicle. I manage to get one pic out of about 20 tries that captures the goat.

The next morning I head off while it’s cool. Again the views are spectacular and I can see both west and east from different places on the ridge. The trail is very rocky and with a hardtail mountain bike I find the going a bit too rough for my liking. If I come back I will either hike it or have a full suspension 29er bike.

Heading out

Into Baker City

After the ride I drive North from the pass, down into Baker city. The road is in great shape at the top, and I think this will be much easier than on my way up from the South. However, the road gets progressively worse and by the time I get near the bottom the ‘road’ seems more like a dried out creek bed to me than a road. Again I am glad I have the high clearance 4runner. If I had it over I would go back the way I came up from the South. After three nights of camping I am ready for a hotel and have booked one in Baker City using Chase credit card UR points.

Elkhorn North

The next day I head up to the Northwest end of the Elkhorn trail. I decide to just hike it. On the trail I am glad I decided to hike as there are some technical sections and I see several hikers, but no mountain bikers. It’s another beautiful July day in Eastern Oregon and midweek not many people are on the trail.

Hiking the Elkhorn trail
Great views from the Ridge

Umatilla Rim trail

I arrive at the trailhead and scope out a campsite. The next morning I head out on the trail. I am not sure what to expect and am thinking it may be remote with the potential for cougars on the trail, so I have a can of bear spray with me. I actually see two other mountain bikers and two groups of horses on the trail.

Umatilla Rim trail

The views look down into the valley and there are several places to stop. The trail is not too technical and very enjoyable, I plan to do it again.

Heading home

After the ride I clean up and head down into Walla Walla. It’s a perfect opportunity to stop at my favorite winery, Zerba, and pick up some Wild Z Red along with some Wild Pink for the misses. Then the drive back into the Palouse. The mountain biking was great, and the first road trip in our new 4runner fitted out as a SURV was a success.

Hiking Hells Canyon

Hiking Hells Canyon – Kirkwood Ranch, May 2018

My first backpacking trip in over ten years. Hauling out the old gear it seems in OK condition except for the camp stove. The old reliable Coleman stove is just too heavy, so I pick up an Etekcity Ultralight Backpacking Camping Stove and fuel. I also order a led headlamp. I prepare a list of gear and prep it all for the trip. The hike is a Meetup event and I’ll be meeting the others at the trailhead.

Driving into Hells Canyon

Idaho backpacking
This is what a picnic site in Idaho looks like

It’s about a 3h15min drive from the Palouse down to Pittsburgh landing in Hells Canyon. I leave around 11 am and get to the trailhead around 2:15. The drive in is spectacular. Some rain in the forecast has reduced the number of hikers but we end up having great weather. On the drive in the clouds are thick but the overlook into Hells Canyon is awe inspiring. I am excited to get on the trail.

Hiking into Kirkwood Ranch

Snake river kirkwood ranch Idaho
Hiking along the Snake river

The trail is known to have poison ivy so I hike with pants, but the trail is in good condition. Walking along the powerful Snake I find the scenery awesome. Three of us head out and we see only one other hiker on the way in. The hike is not easy and is just over 6 miles with some elevation. With a pack it’s just about right for my current fitness level. The ranch has a large open field with several picnic tables and even though it’s a Friday there are several left. We set up and have dinner. As the light fades two latecomers from our Meetup group come into our camp.

Hiking into Suicide point

Suicide point Hells canyon Idaho
Suicide point

The next day we do an out and back hike to Suicide Point without the packs. The view is spectacular and the weather could not be better. On the return trip we hear a rattlesnake next to the trail. Several were spotted on the trip. As we hike tourist jetboats go up and down the river with roaring engines which does reduce the feel of the remoteness of the area, but it’s still a great outdoor experience.

Second night and hiking out

Kirkwood Ranch Idaho
Campsite at Kirkwood Ranch

Two more join the group while we are hiking to Suicide Point bringing the meetup group to 7. It’s a diverse group with ages from about 30 to over 60. Hiking in with packs serves as a common experience and we talk about gear. It’s a good group and I enjoy meeting some new people who share in enjoying the outdoors. The next morning everyone packs up fairly quickly and we head out. Again the weather is great, just a few sprinkles overnight and perfect temperatures for hiking.

sunset hells canyon kirkwood ranch backpacking
Sunset at Kirkwood Ranch

Overall Impression

I really enjoy the trail and hiking next to the Snake River. The meetup group went well and I hope to hike with some of the people I met in the future. I will definitely do this hike again.

Trip to Sedona, Arizona

Palatki Heritage Site
Palatki Ruins


This is a 5 night trip trip to Sedona, Arizona. We used credit card points to cover the flights (Spokane to Phonenix) and the hotel. I used the Chase Sapphire Reserve $300 travel credit for most of the the Silvercar rental. Sedona has great vistas and we enjoyed the warm weather.

Planning the flights

We booked direct flights and used 12,500 AAdvantage points per person from a Citi American Airlines mastercard to fly there, and Southwest airlines Rapids Rewards points from a Chase Southwest card for the return flight. We booked about 10 months in advance and the AA flight changed, but it was still convenient. For the Southwest flight I checked prices and when they went down I re-booked the same flight with fewer points twice. The original price was originally 16,599 Rapid Rewards points/person and the final was 13,771 per person.

Booking the rental car with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card

For the car I like to use Chase UR points via the CSR card to take advantage of the primary insurance that comes with it. The pricing using UR points was relatively high due to a high volume when we booked, so I decided to try Silvercar which had a 30% discount from the Chase CSR (2 day minimum). I still used the Chase CSR and used up my $300 travel credit. The total cost was $433.76 for 5 days (2 weekend days).

Booking a place to stay using Chase UR points

I wanted to use Chase UR points with our CSR in order to get the 1.5X value. We found an inexpensive but highly rated hotel, the Greentree Inn centrally located to restaurants in West Sedona. Since the price was quite good we splurged and got a suite, the total cost for 5 nights was 38,899 Chase UR points including breakfasts.

Getting to Sedona in Style

The American airlines flight left on time and when we arrived I logged into my Silvercar app on my android phone and messaged we had arrived once I was on the shuttle. They said they had high volume and they would meet me at the designated spot and I might have to wait up to 5 minutes. I was skeptical, but sure enough someone picked us up within 5 minutes. This was a vastly improved experience from our last trip to Sedona when we had to wait in the garage for over 20 minutes from a different rental car company. It took awhile to familiarize myself with the tech in the Audi A4, and I eventually gave up on the navigation system and just used a Garmin plugged into the cigarette lighter and we took off for Sedona. The car comes with wifi so the DW was able to watch a final four b-ball game on the laptop while we drove. The Audi was smooth and even at 75 mph it felt like going 40 mph in our older vehicles.

Palatki Heritage Site

Sinaguan ruins
Palatki Heritage Site

Our first day we didn’t feel like hiking so we we took a 31 minute drive to Palatki Heritage Site. There is a short trail from the parking lot to a visitor center. You have to wait for a guide, you can’t just walk the site on your own. We found out we were supposed to reserve a spot, but there was a no show so we got to head out right away. A volunteer told us about the ruins and then sent us to the grotto where there were petroglyphs (carved) and pictographs (painted). A second guide told us about the various peoples who had used the area. A worthwhile trip and nice to be in 75F weather for the first time in 2018.

Lunch at Nicks Westside

Nicks Westside restaurant was right across the street from our hotel and we walked over. The staff was very friendly and they have all day breakfast. I got the prime rib and eggs with hashbrowns and DW got the huevos rancheros. Both were excellent.

Happy hour and dinner

We went to Oak Creek brewing for happy hour and had their Snake Charmer IPA and the Oak Creek Amber. They have a nice backyard outdoor seating area and both beers were good. For dinner we went to Creekside American Bistro and had crab cakes and sat on the deck. Again no reservations so we weren’t able to get the best seat, but we still had a nice view of the red rocks while eating.

Boynton Canyon Trail

Boynton Canyon morning light

The next day after having Sedonuts (yes they’re good) for breakfast we hiked the Boynton Canyon trail. It was cool in the morning and warmed up as we hiked. The trail starts out by a resort area but then heads up intoa  Canyon. The climb was gradual except for the very end and a very enjoyable hike. The lighting in the canyon was spectacular. Unfortunately I forgot my good camera on this trip so all I has was my android camera.

It’s all about the red rocks

Happy Hour at Vino Di Sedona

We walked to Vino Di Sedona for happy hour (3-6 pm). They had a special where if you ask for it you can have tastings for two for $12 (Sun to Thurs), a killer deal. DW and I each got six tastes of wine. The choices were great and we both found new wines we liked. DWs favorite was Peachy Keen from Arizona and mine was a Malbec.

Devil’s Bridge Hike

The next day we did Devil’s Bridge form the Mescal trailhead. A lot of people were out on this popular trail. It was a nice hike and the arch was large but the viewpoint was only from the top.

Devil’s Bridge

Dinner at the Sundowner

I was intrigued by a self-proclaimed dive bar rated 4.6 on Google reviews. The Sundowner did not disappoint. The clientele were friendly, and the the service and food were excellent. The salad with breaded chicken on top and thousand island dressing was fresh.

Hiking Chimney Rock from thunder Mountain Trailhead

The next morning we did a hike that left from a trailhead in town. The views from the Little Sugarloaf summit were spectacular and we were the only ones on the top.

Smoke from prescribed burns

Secret Trail

The hike I enjoyed most in Sedona was Secret Slickrock rail. It’s a short walk to a red rock overlook that has a spectacular view of Cathedral Rock. We only saw one pair of mountain bikers in the middle of the afternoon, while the Crescent Moon day use area below us was busy.

View of Cathedral Rock from Secret Slickrock Trail

Wine tasting at Page Spring Cellars and dinner at Up the Creek Bistro

After a 15 minute drive from Sedona to Page Spring cellars we had a nice afternoon tasting of red wines and sweet white wines. Our server was fun and knowledgeable and the wines were also great. The deck was busy and we were only able to get a seat in the sun. After awhile we moved to the front of the bistro and found a set in the shade. Just up the road is Up the Creek Bistro where we had our final dinner. The view of the creek and watching the humming birds was a nice ending to our trip to Sedona.


It was nice to have some 75F weather in early April and the red rocks are always stunning. We tasted some great wines and thanks to Citi and Chase for helping with the flights and the lodging. Having banks help pay for vacations is one way to get FI faster.

Dynamic pricing

Amazon pricing
AAA battery prices on Amazon from camelcamelcamel

How much? How much you got?

As online sales increase and retailers get more proficient at data collection it seems like they are continually trying to sort customers into two groups; one that is price insensitive, and one that is price sensitive. The Safeway club card reduces prices significantly. I could not bring myself to buy more than a 3$ single item without it. Amazon has dynamic pricing. Do you want to pay $26.12 or $7.82 for AAA batteries?

Variable pricing for insurance, willing to be inconvenienced?

It would be great if the insurance companies valued me as a long term customer and lowered my rates, but they keep going up. It’s a pain to switch insurance companies and to get quotes and do an apples to apples comparison.

What about airlines? How bad do you want that flight?

It’s been reported that airlines provide different pricing depending on how many times you search. Search a lot and the price goes up. Open a new ‘incognito’ window and you get a better price.

What to do?

For purchases I have started tracking the price of repeat items in a spreadsheet. We buy often from amazon and there are two major ways to save at amazon. For groceries we shop at Walmart for most items and then use the Savings catcher app to see if we got the best price. You quickly scan the receipt using your cell phone and the Walmart app when you get home. So far we are up almost 5$ since we started in December. Here is why we don’t shop at Costco. For airlines you can open an incognito window, or even better use points from a credit card bonus. For insurance I now plan to get at least one additional quote each year. With each variable pricing model, you may need a new approach to combat it.

Walmart savings catcher results

Final thoughts

The good news is the savings can really add up if you want to be in the price sensitive group. The bad news is you have to be pro-active to get the low price. I plan to keep educating myself on these dynamic pricing models and searching out ways to exploit them. But I don’t like that these kinds of strategies are likely to affect the elderly negatively. How is grandma supposed to know to use incognito mode on the browser?

Frugal snacks; popcorn and choosing a brand

Hot air popcorn

Popcorn is a frugal snack and doesn’t take much effort if you have a hot air popper. We have been buying Walmart’s Great Value Yellow Popcorn for $1.66 in-store. For that price we get at least 16 servings, or about 10 cents a serving plus the cost of butter so let’s say 25 cents a serving max. Much cheaper than buying it pre-made, or buying potato chips. We were enjoying it until Walmart was out of Great Value and instead we bought Jolly Time Pop Corn White for $1.94 in store.  The Jolly time was way better, much softer when cooked in the hot air popper. This got me thinking, how many brands do we use, where we are happy with it, but a much better option exists? How would we know?

Popcorn forensics

I’m a big fan of doing research before buying almost anything. Why not get the best value? We buy a lot of our goods online from Amazon where we have instant access to many reviews. I can find out quickly what the best rated product in a category is, and I usually read enough reviews to understand what the strengths and weaknesses of a product are. But what about groceries? DW shops in-store, so the reviews aren’t in view when buying. We have brands we have used for years. But what if there is a product we would enjoy much more, even if it costs a bit more? So I looked at Walmart’s rating for the popcorn after the fact.

Walmart ratings

For the Great Value Yellow Popcorn there were 90 reviews on the Walmart site as of 1-15-2018. The rating was 4.0. For the Jolly Time there were 40 ratings and the average was 4.2. Pretty close. But the ratio of 4 stars to 5 stars was different. For Great Value the ratio was 51/15 = 3.4. For Jiffy it was 26/5 = 5.2. I am not saying this is scientific, but in the future I am going to look at this ratio.

Final thoughts

DW and I both greatly prefer the Jolly time when popped in our hot air popper. This makes me wonder how many other grocery items we buy regularly, where there is a different brand we would greatly prefer. I will be comparing some brands we use a lot to see, stay tuned.