A Rugged Adventure Bikepacking in the Chilcotin Mountains

Call it mountain bike amnesia because I’m already forgetting the hard work necessary to bikepack in the Chilcotin Mountains. Sweaty hike-a-bikes up mountain passes drift away, replaced by stunning vistas and brake-melting descents, a goofy grin plastered across my face.

Our simple trip goals: pedal bikes laden with six days of food into the backcountry of British Columbia. Keep the plan flexible. Make decisions knowing that help won’t arrive for a looong time if we mess up.

Lastly, the most difficult and important goal: Don’t eat all the good snacks on day 1.

Loaded with six days of food and not out of snacks (yet!).

The verdict: WHOA. The Chilcotins are as beautiful and physically challenging as we’d heard. The terrain looks like a love child of Iceland and the Pacific NW, ranging from tree-lined lakes to icy creek crossings to alpine passes to scree traverses

This remote zone contains all the ingredients for a delightful bac kcountry adventure. All you need is food, maps, pedal power, and ear plugs to ignore the large bears chipmunks stomping around all night.

Map check on top of Windy Pass.

Wait, I’ve Never Heard of the Chilcotins!

To reach the South Chilcotin Mountains, drive north of Whistler, B.C. WAY north. There are two options: the tire-eating beast of a fire road called The Harvey, or via Lillooet, town motto Guaranteed Rugged.

Either way, it’s a 2+ hour drive heading north off the grid while wondering if you’ll end up in Alaska.

A moody evening in the Chilcotins with my trusty Why Cycles steed in the foreground.

Most people who visit the Chilcotins use a float plane from Tyax Adventures that ferries people and/or gear in and out. While enticing, parting with hundreds of dollars to avoid a little sweat seemed unnecessary at best and irresponsible at worst. We hauled all our stuff, including bear spray for encounters with the REAL locals, grizzly bears, then set up two different base camps for unloaded riding.

I wasn’t expecting an all-fun trip. (Excellent adventures never are, right?) Hard work sharpens enjoyment’s edge, which is why chocolate tastes so damn good on top of a mountain pass.

Honestly, it’s not too bad. Even with my bags stuffed with 11 freeze-dried meals and a jar of peanut butter, sweeping views were my appetizers and staring at mountains while eating pad thai was a double whammy dinner.

It ain’t a fancy restaurant, but I’ll take this view any day!

The Experience

Friends warned us about the Chilcotins push. Horse travel laid down the backbone for these mountain trails, so they are a) steep af and b) rugged. Many times pedaling simply didn’t make sense and we’d hike-a-bike, leaning into the bars.

Some sections are so steep that pushing a loaded bike isn’t possible: step, do a pushup with the bike, lock brakes, move feet, pushup, repeat. Isn’t bikepacking FUN?

Manson Col means “gawwwd my calves hurt” in British Columbian.

The upside to pushing: unlike with a headwind, there’s always fun to be had on the other side of a hard effort uphill. The reward is solitude on mountain passes and the adrenaline fairy dishing out large helpings of excitement on the downhills.

Another thing we quickly learned was the Chilcotins pace. By that, I mean SLOW: In an 8-hour day, we could cover about 20 miles. Creek crossings abounded, as did swampy/muddy sections, mountain passes, and rooty/rocky riding.

Every time we’d get cocky, we’d get smacked upside the head by reality. This was an experience, not simply a mountain bike ride.

Mid Tyaughton trail wasn’t silky smooth singletrack…
The reward for mud and hike-a-bikes!

It’s All Worth It

Yeah, there’s hard work in dem mountains. Whatever. That’s the price to entry for bikepacking the Chilcotins.

But that’s not the reason to go there. It’s possible to melt brakes riding downhill ALL day with zero work at Whistler Bike Park, after all.

Heading out on High Trail on our final day.

Beyond all the amazing riding, our time included camping by a quiet, beautiful lake. Sunsets over mountains. A burbling creek by a sub-alpine camp. Solitude in the alpine listening to marmots whistle. Starry skies to make our eyes sing. A sense of adventure tough to find on manicured, purpose-built trails.

Perhaps best of all, we didn’t have to use any bear spray.

Paul in sunset reverie on Spruce Lake.

Photo Gallery!

Logistics and Details for Bikepacking the Chilcotins

Looking to skip the float plane from Tyax Adventures and pedal in yourself? Here’s a few logistical tips:

  • Bring spare brake pads! Loaded touring + steep passes = toasted pads.
  • Buy a hardcopy map of the area or at least the Gaia one. Navigation via just Trailforks is possible, but hardcopy in case things go wrong is a good idea.
  • Go in the summer. Our mid-August trip featured perfect temps, few mosquitoes, and minimal rain.
  • Water is plentiful. This ain’t the desert: you’ll only need to carry one full water bottle except maybe over the passes.
  • Respect the Chilcotins Pace. We found that planning to go 20 miles in an 8 hour day out was a good estimate. (On a typical ride in most places, I move 3-4x faster.)
Flip flops were great for the many creek crossings (~20 total during our trip).
  • This is bear country. Bring bear spray! Spruce Lake and Lorna Lake have bear boxes to stash food in. You’ll need to hang food in trees if you camp elsewhere, so bring some rope for that.
  • There’s two ways to pedal in: a relatively easy route up Gun Creek Trail or a burly climb over Windy Pass. If you’re looking for alpine terrain like we were, take Windy Pass.
  • Basecamping treated us well as a way to explore on an unloaded bike for a few days. Our camps: two nights at Spruce Lake and two below Manson Col.
  • Layer up! The weather is fickle and moves in fast on mountain passes.
Surf’s up! Drifting scree up high.

Ride Stats

Here’s are each day’s details as recorded on Strava. I suspect moving times should be higher, but my GPS thought I wasn’t moving on some of the steeper uphill hike-a-bikes… Apparently “glacial pace” isn’t a Garmin option?

  • Day 1: Tyax Lodge to Spruce Lake via Windy Pass on Tyaughton Creek Trail. Relatively fast going and mostly rideable except Windy Pass. Stats: 20 miles, 4.5 hrs moving time, 5300′ climbing.
  • Day 2: Deer Pass loop (CCW) from Spruce Lake via Mid Tyaughton Creek Trail with return on TK name of trail Slow going on Mid-Ty Creek, almost 100% hike-a-bike over the pass, and rideable from there. Stats: 25 miles, 5.25 hrs moving, 5000′ climbing (unloaded)
Overgrown adventure riding on Little Paradise trail.
  • Day 3: Moving base camp to sub-alpine camp on Manson Creek, then unloaded riding/pushing up to Manson Col. *This is a lesser known, RAD zone. Stats: 17 miles, 4.5 hrs moving, 4300′ climbing
  • Day 4: A big CCW up Manson Col, Little Paradise, Little Graveyard, Big Creek, and Lorna Pass. Fair warning that Little Graveyard and Big Creek are muddy, frustratingly slow trails if it rained recently. Stats: 22 miles, 5.25 hrs moving, 4400′ climbing (unloaded)
  • Day 5: Up, over and out! Down Manson and Mid Tyaughton Creeks, up Windy Pass (get ready for barely doable hike a bike) and then back to Tyax Lodge via High Trail and Molly Dog and Pepper Dog trails. Stats: 30 miles, 5.75 hrs moving, 5000′ climbing
Me contemplating 2,000′ of face-punch uphill hike-a-bike on the way out over Windy Pass. Paul’s comment when he got to the top: 45 minute break, NOW!

Favorite Trails

The downhill ones, DUH. Specifically Lorna Pass ridden south, Deer Pass ridden west, Windy Pass ridden either way, and Manson Col/Creek ridden with gravity on your side! You can’t go wrong. The traverse trails in the valley were muddy for us, but were still entertaining in their own right. (Except for the bogs of Little Graveyard, that is.)

Paul at Mach Fun down Deer Pass!

The Gear

Packing all the food and gear the night before. Except the van – that doesn’t fit in my bike bags.

I rode a Why Cycles Wayward hardtail with a standard bikepacking setup similar to my Oregon Timber Trail setup. Here’s the spreadsheet for my Chilcotins packing list for those who want to get in the weeds!

  • Max gear weight (bike, bags, food for entire trip, 64 oz of water, gear I wore): ~80 lbs. No wonder those passes were hard, that’s almost half my body weight!
  • Bike weight + unloaded bags: 37 lbs
  • Gear (sleeping, cooking, clothing, tech): 20 lbs
  • Max food weight: 14 lbs

Allow to me geek out… Weight matters, but adding a few pounds doesn’t change much. My reasoning: if my bike plus me weighs 250 lbs, even adding 5 lbs of weight is only 2% more overall. I could have doubled my food for only 5% extra weight. I doubt it would have slowed me down much

My takeaway: Unless you’re racing, that extra chocolate bar and warm layer is TOTALLY worth it!

Big country! Paul pushing his fully loaded bike up the long Windy Pass on the way in.

Trip Food

If you’re aiming to do a bikepacking trip like this, you probably know what your body needs. If it helps, here’s what I brought:

~20,000 calories, or about ~3,500/day. Enough to keep the fire hot! Dense calories is the name of the game, with a few luxuries.

Dinner, night one! Soy curls with homemade fajita mix plus a luxury avocado. Remember your hot sauce!

All the Grub (I’m vegan, so it’s all plant-based)

  • 11 freeze-dried meals. Backpacker’s Pantry pad thai is my favorite, with Kathmandu curry and other vegan options. One for dinner and another that I’d make in the morning and eat by noon each day…or 10 am, heh.
  • Dried soy curls pre-mixed with a custom fajita mix for delicious tacos night one. Pro tip: bring hot sauce.
  • Oatmeal. Two packets per morning
  • 10 tortillas
  • A (plastic) jar of peanut butter and jam that I pre-mixed for trail burritos or for adding to oatmeal
  • 2 bars per day. Picky Bars are my favorite. Pro Bars are a calorie-dense option as well.
  • Trail mix to eat/add to oatmeal and trail burritos
  • Pickles (carried sans juice in a plastic bag). Zero calories, heavy, and a divine gift from the gods at the top of a mountain pass. Totally worth it.
  • Olives (transferred to a plastic baggie). All part of my attempt to not ONLY have sweet treats. Great for adding to freeze-dried meals or eaten alone.
  • Gummies (Annie’s)
  • Dried fruit (pineapple, mango, dates)
  • 2 chocolate bars

That’s all I’ve got, folks. Drop a line in the comments or via email if you’re heading out to bikepack the Chilcotins and need more information. Happy pedaling…err pushing!

Thanks Chilcotins! Some of the coolest, most remote terrain I’ve ever had the pleasure of exploring on a bicycle!

Updating My Salsa Fargo Build, Bikepacking Style

Oh, the places you can go on a bicycle… Somewhere in Portugal!

I’ve ridden my Salsa Fargo 10,000 miles over hundreds of hours across the U.S. and Europe. I STILL love it. To make it even better for our April/May bike tour in Spain and Portugal, I added a few hacks from the bikepacking world.

Since over 3,000 people per month still read my post about the Salso Fargo, I figured a quick update will help some folks out. In that initial post, I talked about how comfortable the Salsa Fargo is. That hasn’t changed! The Fargo isn’t racy, but hot diggity is it a solid long-distance bike for gravel and pavement. I’d still buy a Fargo versus a Salsa Vaya for the versatility and riding position.

During our tour from Valencia, Spain to Porto, Portugal, we logged many miles on gravel and dirt roads. Other than a couple days where bigger tires or front suspension might have saved some wrist damage, the bike worked great!

Salsa Fargo ready to rip!

Things I Still Like About the Salsa Fargo:

  • Position on the bike – so comfortable for all-day pedaling
  • Mountain gearing (2×10, 24/42, 11-36) – I can charge (ok, grunt) up 16% grade farm roads.
  • Tons of braise-ons for racks, fenders, and water bottles
  • Steel is real! No worries about carbon breaking under a loaded bike.
  • Wide variety of tire sizes – Newer models accommodate even bigger tires and feature the Firestarter fork, which people rave about.
All the necessities: water and a smoothie from a grocery store. (Other water bottle moved temporarily to my handlebar snack bag.)

Recent Upgrades I’m Digging

Jones Bars with a view of the Atlantic.

New Handle Bars (Jones H-Loop Bars)
Call me a trend follower, but Jones Bars are HAWT in the bikepacking world. I hemmed and hawed and finally ordered some. So glad I did.

It took a little work in my garage and cost ($150) for new brakes, mtb shifters, and recabling. Whatever – I’m SO happy with the change. So nice when stuff works out. Now my Salsa Fargo looks like a REAL bikepacking bike!

I loved them so much that I bought a pair for Chelsea’s new Co-Motion Pangea too! (For both pairs, I bought the SG Loop bars vs lighter aluminum or carbon bars.)

One downside to wide bars… Oh well, just four flights of these stairs to navigate. See you next time sans bike, Lisbon!

Three Major Things I Like About Jones Bars:

Comfortable body position
Frequent mountain biking has heavily biased me against drop bars. Even relative to the Fargo’s relaxed Woodchipper bars, the Jones Bars are more comfortable and upright.

It’s not like a beach cruiser waddling along a boardwalk either. I can still put down power. The bars are swept back at 45 degrees and I mounted them at the recommended 17 degree tilt. The end result puts less pressure on my hands and feels natural.

MTB shifters and brakes
On bumpy terrain (or in general), I prefer my hands wrapped solidly around handlebars, not resting on STI/brifter hoods. I’m loving the trigger shifters coupled with my SRAM 2×10 setup: fast, easy to adjust, and cheap. Brifter is a dumb word anyway.

The Salsa wishing it were a real mountain bike.

More mounting space for gear
The bar design creates space for lights, GPS, a bell, a framed picture of my mom, and a diorama of my favorite Oregon wildlife. (Kidding. I don’t have pictures on my bike. Sorry, mom.)

New Saddle (Brooks Cambium)
For past tours, I used a Selle Anatomica. It worked fine, but I never looooved it. However, for commuting around Bend sans chamois, the slot in the saddle was uncomfortable (no further details).

To address that, I bought a Brooks Cambium saddle. Not only is it comfortable, it’s synthetic, i.e. no need to worry about rain and it aligns with my vegan values. BOOM.

Bikepacking Bags

Cheap real estate in rural Spain…

I added the following to my setup:

Frame Bag (Salsa EXP HT)
Designed for the Fargo’s geometry and perfect for infrequently used gear (spare tubes, bike repair kit, med kit, front light, and rain gear). As a bonus, I don’t have to haul it around when I take my panniers off the bike. A must have in my opinion!

Note: Since the frame bag covers the bottle mounts, I moved those to the front fork. I considered using the Salsa Anything Cages, but didn’t need the capacity for this trip.

Another random ride in an elevator with a bike…

Handlebar bag (Surly Personal Affects)
Instead of the cavernous Ortlieb I’ve used before, I picked up this sweet number. It mounts neatly in the loop of the Jones Bars and holds a small camera, snacks and other assorted stuff. The elastic webbing on top is perfect for holding a light jacket in on/off weather.

Note: Jones makes a bag specific for the bars. It screams JONES in bright white lettering, costs 1.5x more, and lacks the jacket-holding webbing, so I opted for the Surly bag.

Back roads and byways on the Fargo. Bikepacking bags are so less rattly than my old Ortlieb handlebar bag!

Bedrock Feed Bags (the Tapeats)
Mounted on either side of the stem and perfect for for carrying quick-access snacks, a small charger pack for my phone, a bottle of OJ or coconut water, or stashing any small item of gear.

Top-Tube Bag (Dakota Tank)
Perfect for frequently accessed stuff like sunscreen, chamois butter, wallet, and so on. Easy access! Plus it’s named the Dakota Tank, so, yeah, had to have it.

Rear view fully loaded. The Dakota Tank is the red/black bag on the top tube.

Panniers (Ortlieb Backrollers)
Faded and dirty, these babies were with us for both big tours we’ve done. For the U.S., I had two rear and two smaller front panniers; for Europe in 2015, I only had the two rear. Panniers are great, but on bumpy dirt roads, they flap around like pissed off seagulls.

Setting up my Fargo bikepacking-style makes sense and I considered using just a seatpost bag. Buuuut I work remotely on these trips and need a bag big enough for a laptop and so I rocked panniers again, though not as loaded down. As a plus, I can fit a solid chunk of Chelsea’s gear to even out our pace a bit when we’re riding. I can still take her on the hills 🙂

Sometimes we let the bikes sleep inside, but not here.

Small duffel bag (16L Matador duffel)
We love this hack. Rather than loading up panniers with food, which creates an unbalanced load (and probably scoliosis), we put food in a duffel bag on top of the rear rack. When we hit a lunch spot or grocery store for a refill, we grab the duffel and presto, we’ve got all our food. The Matador is light and waterproof, but not super durable.

Bigger Tires (50mm Schwalbe Marathons)
I’ve run a variety of tire sizes on the Fargo. I considered going with some 2.2” mtb tires, but decided on on 50mm (2”) Schwalbe Marathons (with tubes). Yeah yeah, they’re heavy, but changing flats sucks and we aren’t throwing down intervals on loaded bikes! Rotational inertia just makes you stronger, ya weight weenie. ZERO flats during this last trip and we rode some rough terrain. Booyah.

Portugal, you wily creature. Gonna need bigger tires for this terrain!

iPhone Mount on Bike (Quadlock Kit)
I’ve mastered the dangerous art of looking at phone maps while riding my bike. It’s easy on quiet roads and rather stupid in cities. As a (small) sign that I’m maturing, I bought a Quadlock case for my iPhone plus a mounting bracket for my bike stem.

The phone mounts in both portrait and landscape mode and the release sleeve on the bracket is bomber and ingenious. The matching case is slim, so I can leave it on the phone long-term. SO easy to navigate using Komoot with both hands on the bars. Highly recommended/mandatory!

View from the driver’s seat. Top to bottom: Surly bag in the bar loop (perfect for camera), two Bedrock bags for snacks, my phone with Quadlock case, and the Bedrock “Dakota Tank” bag at the bottom.

There you have it. I think this iteration of my gravel/road touring setup is more comfortable for long days, robust on rough roads, better balanced, and provides a safer, easily accessed front cockpit relative to my past approach. I loved it for this recent tour!

Want to read about our trip? Here’s the first ten days from Valencia to Granada and then tales from Granada to Porto.

Always give your bike a nice view on the ferry.
One more shot… Side view fully loaded.

Bikepacking the Oregon Timber Trail: Broken Bikes and Other Trials

In front of Mt. Hood on the Oregon Timber Trail

We’d bikepacked a week on the Oregon Timber Trail (OTT) while it hurled curveballs. This latest one seemed insurmountable: Brady’s old aluminum bike sat next to us, top tube fully snapped off. Clearly, his trip was over.

Or was it? Tipsy on margaritas, Zach eyed the bike and declared, “We’re fixing that frame. You’re not quitting this trip.” Suuuure…

Seven days earlier, JT, Brady, Zach and I converged at the starting point on the Oregon/California border. The OTT marked our first trip together. Gear was dialed, spirits were high. A local we joked with brandished a large pistol and yelled BANG to cue our departure. Welcome to rural America!

Stoked, we pedaled off. Two miles in, a stick kicked up and destroyed Brady’s derailleur. Seriously?! He headed back to catch Chelsea (our ride to the trailhead) before she headed home.

A auspicious start, to be sure. Two miles down; only 702 to go!

Will pedal for singletrack descents… Photo credit: Brady Lawrence

Kicking Things Off

Every day on the Timber Trail left me thinking, “All that happened today?” or “We started there?” I’ve road toured thousands of miles, but riding trails on a loaded mountain bike is far more physical and committing. There were few resupplies and lots more potential for things to go awry. (It’s difficult to hitchhike off a singletrack trail.)

As the OTT guide says, the first four days and 200 miles (the Fremont Tier) are the toughest. After Brady broke his derailleur on day 1, Zach, JT and I pedaled onward on the remote Fremont National Scenic trail.

Reflecting at Lava Lake after a day on the OTT.

An expected water source was merely a trickle. Zach, Experienced Bikepacker, brought a syringe, which we used to summon water and fill our bottles.

We eventually popped out to HEY, MY CAMPER VAN. (Brady rendezvoused with Chelsea, fixed his bike in Lakeview, and rejoined us.) The dehydrated meals stay packed, and we get to eat like kings. Fajitas, watermelon, lemonade, ice cream… Brady should break his bike every day.

Dinnertime – thanks Chelsea!

Days on the Trail

All days will unfold in a similar fashion. (Minus Chelsea, who packs up the van and abandons us to the Oregon wild.) Wake up, eat breakfast, stuff sleeping bag and gear in my handlebar bag, smear chamois cream on riding shorts…

It’s a ritual – simple, easy. Bikepacking is straightforward: eat, pedal, drink, eat, look at view, crack jokes, eat, pedal, sleep. Repeat.

Brady waking up on the trail.

We see zero other riders for the first four days, though a couple cars materialize way back on fire roads. (Are you lost?) Maybe we’re just a few hours drive from Bend, but it feels like another state.

Day 2: Some of my favorite riding of the trip from Mills Creek to the Chewaucan River. Ridge trails with big views of the Summer Valley, no downed trees, and a feeling of spaciousness and exploration on new terrain. Brady enjoys a good day and only snaps his chain twice. (We carry Quick Links for an easy fix.) Zach’s suspension pivot bolt is loose, so he fashions a shim from a plastic fuel canister cap. We’re making it happen.

Brady hard at work fixing his chain.

Day 3: Smack down on Winter Rim. Cairns mark our path as babyhead-size rocks punish bike, body and spirit. Thoughts of bailing to ride smooth fire road to Fremont Point arise, but we push through. Are we trail-blazing pioneers or martyrs? Hours into the punishment, it’s not clear…

I wait at a cattle fence. Brady pedals up: “Dude, I just peed blood.” A bicycle seat shot to his nether regions… Luckily, we have a cell signal at Fremont Point. With a stunning view behind us, the internet informs us that Brady will soon hallucinate, bleed out of his ears and eyes, and die. Hmmm. A call to a couple doctors leads Brady to decide to simply monitor the situation. (Stupid internets.)

High on Winter Rim overlooking Summer Lake.

What I Ate (Plant-Powered!)

I followed a vegan diet (as always) for the OTT and found it quite easy!

Breakfast:
-Oatmeal with PB, nuts, and dried fruit
-In towns, I asked cafe chefs to whip up a hashbrown, veggies and veggie burger combo. Delicious!

Snacks:
Picky Bars (Bend local company, so good!), Pro Bars, Lara Bars, Kind Bars (3-4/day)
Primal Vegan Jerky (mesquite lime is my favorite)
-Gummies (Annie’s), Sour Patch Kids: plenty of vegan (non-gelatin) options exist at any convenience store. Next trip, I’ll buy less sugary snacks and go with savory as much as possible
-Chex Mix, Trail Mix
-Dark Chocolate
-Pickles!
-Fruit (grapes, cherries) – worth carrying an extra pound.

Zach winning at the snacking game mid-ride. Photo credit: Brady Lawrence

Lunch:
-Snacks from above
-PBJ burritos with nuts and whatever other calories (dried fruit) I could find

Dinner:
-Backpacker’s Pantry freeze-dried dinners (Pad thai and Kathmandu curry are both vegan); many other brands have vegan options as well.
-Tasty Bites dinner pouches
-Big meals in Chemult, Oakridge, Sisters, and Breitenbush. Fuel up!

Other Items:
-Nuun electrolyte tablets in water (1-2 per day) – available in Oakridge and Sisters

-Hammer enduralyte pills (2 a day) – light and small, easy to keep in a small plastic baggy

Campfire vibes.

A Day to Test the Spirit

We kick day 4 off by pushing our bikes uphill through overgrown brush. It’s an omen to come for the hardest day (for me) of the entire trip.

Miles of uphill to the top of Yamsay Mountain follow. This is a new, uncleared addition to the Timber Trail; big downed trees frequent the trail. Summing it up, a joker carved WHY in giant letters on one.

We push/carry/curse our way over ~1,783 trees (who’s counting?). A scifi audiobook entertains me, but JT and Zach push on, cheery and accepting our circumstances. I’m a positive person but I HATE THIS CLIMB.

Usually the up is worth the down… Photo credit: Brady Lawrence

After eight hours and 20 miles (I can crawl faster…), plus gallons of sweat, we summit Yamsay Mountain. The valley unfolds below us and I post “time for the DOWNHILL” on Instagram.

Nope. Sorry, suckers. Miles of downed trees await us on the other side of the mountain, followed by 25 miles of sandy, tire/soul-sucking fire roads. This is a Sisyphean day, a grind to test our will.

Onward. Loree’s Chalet in Chemult rewards our 8:45 pm arrival with hot food. Delicious vegan burgers in a highway diner whaaat? We celebrate by sharing a $59 motel room. It’s cozy.

Reeeeeal cozy.

The wonderful Loree’s Chalet in Chemult. Photo credit: Brady Lawrence

The Price of Admission

I’m not complaining. Really. We expected tough days – it’s the price of adventure, the entry cost to go somewhere most people won’t. I can wax poetic about finding our edge, pushing our spirits, blah blah blah, and (maybe?) some of that is true. However, it’s easy to rationalize difficult physical trials with promise of future toughness, so I guess I’ll continue!

Who knows. Too much time to think on trips like this. I need more audiobooks.

Into the (Mostly) Type-1 Fun Zone

From Chemult, we start the Willamette Tier and lakes and streams appear. Swimming! At first, we’re mildly shy (except for JT, the Nudist). Soon, we’re stripping down with aplomb and racing to the water.

Racing for the water! Photo credit: Brady Lawrence

These are long days, 6-8 hours of pedaling, but there’s plenty of time for cooling off and even kicking back. With temps hitting 95 degrees, a cold shock to the system is a magic reset. As a bonus, soaking our shirts makes us (slightly) less stinky.

Ferocious insects descend at picturesque Timpanogas Lake. Mosquitoes, camper’s bane! A sprint to don full rain gear ramps into building a smoky fire to ward them off. The thought of spending 10 similar days haunts our dreams, but the bike gods smile on us and the rest of the trip is free of bugs.

I’m rolling out the next morning (dodging mosquitos) when Brady shows me a small problem: his top tube is totally snapped at the weld to the seatpost. He skips the huge trees of Middle Fork trail and takes the fire road to Oakridge. His trip is over, or so it seems…

Regrouping on the Metolius-Windigo. Photo credit: Brady Lawrence

Trail Repair 101

Operation Rescue Brady is engaged. Chelsea arrives to scoop him up, but Zach gets a harebrained idea and rolls up his sleeves… We stand back – always respect mad scientists, especially ones wearing underwear covered in cartoon turtles.

TA-DA. Ski straps and duct tape victory. We stand around discussing the situation; Brady is skeptical. I throw a log on ground: “Ride over that to make sure.” (Least effective test ever.)

Peer pressure works: Brady rejoins us and we set off around Waldo Lake. His seat post flexes dramatically and the frame is toast, but he’s a gamer. Magically, held together by enthusiasm, high fives and ski straps, his bike will survive another 350 miles of punishment.

A professional bike fix.

Hitting a Routine

The second week is more straightforward. There’s hard work, lots of it, and we’re tired with sore bodies, but it’s also strangely easy to push on. Having a group of four means if someone is down/tired/slow, they drop back and take it easy, eat some food, then rejoin the team.

After a big 9,000’ day of climbing in the Old Cascades Crest zone, we roll into the the Promised Land: Breitenbush Hot Springs! We descend upon three incredible unguarded buffet meals, returning for 2nds, 3rds… We stuff ourselves and lounge like anacondas after a feeding, napping in the library.

Earning those big meals at Breitenbush on the Old Cascades Crest, Mt. Hood tier. Photo credit: Brady Lawrence

A woman at Breitenbush is impressed with our trip and gushes, “You guys are like a dog pack! Wait, I mean…” Puppy Pack, I quip? The name sticks: we are the Puppy Pack. (Far too goofy to be a wolf pack.)

The Final Push

The last three days are clean and easy, except for the parts that aren’t. Dagnabbit, no day is a cakewalk on this trip! The toughest break is Zach wrecking hard and getting banged up. (After the trip, he discovers cracked ribs and bike frame.)

There’s a fantastic camp spot on Timothy Lake watching the sunset over Mt. Hood. The sky rocks deep purples and oranges and we talk about friendship, adventure, and relationships.

Miles later, the Puppy Pack makes it! A triumphant feeling washes over us as we lay our bikes down by the Columbia in Hood River and jump in. Truly, completing this ride is an accomplishment. We celebrate in style by stealth camping on the beach, dirt bags forever.

End of the Oregon Timber Trail! Just ignore the two ladies behind us…

The Aftermath

Thinking back a month out, I’m left with a “wow, that was fleeting” feeling. Two weeks of regular day-to-day life can feel so humdrum, whereas the OTT condensed a few months of bike rides, hikes, and socializing into an intense stew of awesome.

The Oregon Timber Trail is my most-difficult physical challenge (for now!). To mountain bike for 15 straight days and explore my home state from bottom to top feels good, a feather in my adventure cap. Rather than exhaustion I’m stoked about future bikepacking adventures – this certainly won’t be the last trip.

P.S. A huge shout out to the Oregon Timber Trail crew for their hard work envisioning and executing on this fantastic linkup. I think the OTT will become a destination experience for riders from all over the world.

Racing a thunderstorm (we lost) on the Metolius-Windigo trail. Photo credit: Brady Lawrence

All the Numbers: Trip Totals

15 days, 704 miles, 90 hours pedaling, and 70k of climbing. 47 miles/day average.

Day 1: Cave Lake Campground to Mill Creek TH, 49 miles and 7,000’ climbing.
Day 2: Mill Creek to Chewaucan River, 46 miles and 6,300’.
Day 3: Chewaucan River up to Winter Rim and finishing at Silver Creek: 55 miles and 4,000’
Day 4: Silver Creek over (tree-strewn) Yamsay Mountain down to Chemult: 59 miles and 5,400’.
Day 5: Chemult to Timpanogas Lake (mosquito hell): 48 miles and 3,900’
Day 6: Timpanogas down Middle Fork to Oakridge: 54 miles and 1,800’
Day 7: Oakridge up up up Bunchgrass to Gold Lake: 31 miles and 7,250’
Day 8: Lake city! Gold Lake to Lava Lake with so much swimming. 52 miles and 3,500’
Day 9: Lava Lake to Sisters via Metolius-Windigo Trail: 49.5 miles and 4,070’
Day 10: Sisters to Clear Lake on the Old Santiam Wagon Trail: 46 miles and 2,700’
Day 11: Huge, awesome day! Clear Lake up down up down through Old Cascades Crest to Santiam River: 51 miles and 9,000’
Day 12: Easy day from Santiam River to Breitenbush Hot Springs (so much food is eaten): 18 miles and 3200’ climbing
Day 13: Breitenbush to Timothy Lake. Get ready for rocky terrain on Lodgepole Trail near Olallie Lake: 45 miles and 4,850’
Day 14: Timothy Lake to Gunsight Ridge: 46 miles and 6,000’
Day 15: Gunsight down Surveyor’s Ridge to Parkdale, finishing the OTT with Post Canyon: 55 miles and 5,500’

Got beta on the trail or questions? Fire away in the comments below to help out future riders or sort out your trip. Happy pedaling!

Gunsight Ridge OTT

Packing List and Lessons Learned from Bikepacking the Oregon Timber Trail

Launching on the OTT

JT, Zach, Brady and I heading out!

Ten days ago, we stripped down to our oh-so-dirty riding shorts and entertained three tipsy ladies by diving into the Columbia River. Zach, Brady, JT and I had pedaled across the entire state and reached the end of the Oregon Timber Trail! It was a rowdy 15 days and 700 miles, and a hell of a fine time (<–full story).

Since then, I’ve luxuriated in my comfy bed, taken powerful naps as my body jumped into repair mode, ate (occasionally uncomfortable) quantities of food, and generally relaxed. (Well, Brady and I have mountain biked and ran a half dozen times since…can’t be TOO lazy.)

I’ve fielded many questions about the Oregon Timber Trail (OTT). Since it’s new as of 2017, I want to share the gear and lessons learned that worked well in the hope of making the journey smoother for future riders.

Gunsight Ridge OTT

Me and Zach on Gunsight Ridge near Mt. Hood. (Photo: Brady Lawrence)

Overall Approach to Gear

There’s only two ways to carry your gear on a bike trip: on your back or on your bike. The lighter, the better. This was my first bikepacking trip, so I stayed conservative with my gear and aimed for being prepared vs. going ultralight. That said, my total weight (bike/gear/water/food) was far less than what I carry on road tours. It was also WAY more fun rolling light.

I jumped into the Oregon Timber Trail with no experience bikepacking other than a single overnight shakeout trip. That said, I have 7,000 miles of road touring experience in the U.S. and around Europe, plus hundreds of hours of mountain biking under my belt. I scoured the internet for gear lists and felt prepared for tackling such a difficult trail. In the back of my mind, I also knew that if a trip-ending bike mechanical or injury occurred, that was part of the risk.

My full setup with 3 days worth of food for miles 100-200 on the trip. (We wound up doing it in two days.)

If you aren’t sure how your gear will work, test test test! Go on day rides with your gear; sleep in your backyard and see how cold you get. Play around with your GPS, know how to use your maps, and be well-versed with your technical gear. (JT used CalTopo maps and Zach/Brady/I downloaded the Ride with GPS track for our Garmin eTrex.)

Learn some basic bike maintenance. We met one dude 200 miles in who couldn’t tune up his bike’s shifting, which is awkward (at best) when you’re pedaling a remote trail for 700 miles and only can use three gears.

Bare minimum, dial in your bike before you leave – I stripped mine down and replaced the entire drivetrain, put on new tires + sealant, bled the brakes and replaced pads, greased my bottom bracket and all my suspension pivots, trued wheels, and generally tried to anticipate headaches. It worked: I had zero mechanicals the entire trip (part luck, part preparation, I’m sure).

Most of all, don’t overthink it! People have done crazy adventures on old bikes with makeshift gear and had an awesome time. Get out there and have a kickass trip.

General Thoughts and Lessons Learned:

Weight matters more on a mountain bike. While road touring, ten extra pounds isn’t a big deal. Laptop? Extra shoes? Surrrre, throw it in! Not the case for bikepacking, where you’re pedaling steep trails, not to mention lifting bikes over downed trees (one day featured 200+ of them) and intensity is generally higher than on a road tour. Both up and down, a light kit will make your trip considerably more fun. I’ll aim to shave weight next time.

The more you carry, the harder the (already difficult) section can be! We kicked off day 4 with this brushtastic start from Silver Creek. JT was still smiling.

For trips with multiple people, split/share gear. Leathermans, camp stoves, tents, water filters, and so on are all great candidates.

You don’t need fancy bikes or bags. Any mountain bike will work on the Oregon Timber Trail. Dry bags lashed to your bike can carry gear.

Our bike choices varied from fully rigid/no suspension (JT) to hardtail (Brady) to me and Zach on full-suspension bikes. Most important was a tight and well-balanced gear setup. You can have fun out there on a steel Karate Monkey or a carbon shredder, but if your gear is loose and banging around, it’s gonna suck. (My recommendation is to at least have front suspension, but I’m not as tough as JT.)

Limited clothing is the name of the game, with layering absolutely key. Think riding gear and (maybe) a couple alternate items for camp. I went with a lightweight sleeping quilt and wore my jacket to sleep. In general, items that can cross over (e.g. rain pants for bad weather AND as a replacement for thermal bottoms) is a great way to cut back.

Go light on water whenever possible. Know where water sources are, how consistent they tend to be (spring vs. fall varies a lot) and how much water you drink. Chug water at water sources (camel up!) and motor through to the next refill. Other than the first 200 miles, water was plentiful on the OTT, but be ready for 20-40 mile sections with no refills on the Fremont Tier.

Zach’s ultralight setup with some views of Mt. Jefferson and Black Butte on Trail 99 (south of Sisters)

Contrary to the above, more food is better than no food! A pound of food (maybe a spare dehydrated meal or two) won’t wreck your riding experience, but can make you feel reaaaaal good at night.

Be prepared, but not TOO prepared. You can’t plan for everything! See Point #1: you don’t want to have a crazy amount of safety equipment and bike repair gear if it is so heavy that it slows you down. You can always push your bike to a highway and hitchhike if things go totally awry.

Get some medical training. Both Zach and I are Wilderness First Responders, and knowing how to use a first aid kit is always a good move. All of us had some injury on the trip ranging from bruises and scratches to more serious (Brady peed blood after a minor accident; Zach finished the trip with a couple cracked ribs). None required evacuation, but easily could have. Check out a Wilderness First Aid weekend course at the bare minimum.

Deep scratches (healing well) on my arm from a protruding branch on a trail. Brady found me bleeding, cursing, and yelling as I destroyed the offending branch.

Things I Considered Bringing But Left Behind:

Solar panel – These are fairly heavy and we were in/out of shade most of the time without many extended rest breaks for charging. Glad I left it at home.

Folding saw – potentially handy, but most of the trees blocking our way were too big to cut. Past mile 200 (Chemult), there weren’t many downed trees anyway. I’d leave it at home for the OTT.

Big camera/large tripod: My Sony RX100 worked great and is 1/2 the weight of my DSLR camera. A mid-size crop sensor camera like the Sony A6000 series would work great. Leave the giant tripod at home unless you are road touring, Ansel!

Paddleboard break on Big Lake with a view of Mt. Washington! Yep, left the SUPs behind too…

Weight Carried:

For all you people who loooove numbers, I put together a spreadsheet with a full breakdown of my gear weight. Totals for each section are also below for your reading enjoyment. The weight adds up fast.

Gear weight on bike: 24.76 pounds

Gear on body (clothing, backpack): 5.96 pounds (similar to any day ride that I do)

Bike weight with bags: 31 pounds (27 bike, 4 bags/empty water bottles/cages)

Water: varied! My maximum was on the Winter Rim without many water sources where I carried 2.5L (~5.5 pounds), but most of the time it was closer to 1.5L and we’d filter at the frequent streams/lakes.

Food: 2-5 pounds unless I said the hell with it and bought fruit (cherries/grapes) and carried them. The reward vs. extra work ratio in the heat was worth it for me some days. We also ate huge meals every 2-3 days when we’d hit civilization (diners, resort restaurants, and the buffet at Breitenbush Hot Springs yesssss).

Final grocery stop

Final grocery stop (in Parkdale) on our final day.

Detailed Gear Breakdown

Bike: Santa Cruz Tallboy CC (2017)

Tires: 29” Maxxis Minion DHF EXO 2.3” front, Ikon EXO 2.35” rear, both set up tubeless. Experienced bikepacking friends swear by these and they worked great! The EXO sidewall is a protective weave to help avoid tearing your tire apart. I had zero flats or any issues with tires the entire trip.

Gearing: 30T front chainring, 11-46 rear. This was spot on – when it was steep enough to warrant more climbing range, pushing my bike was a welcome respite to stretch my legs and calm my hammering heart.

Carrying Water: Two fork-mounted water bottles with cages attached using hose clamps, a liter strapped to the downtube and a 2.5L water bladder (rarely filled) in my riding pack. My plastic side-mount bottle cages did NOT work well (I resorted to ski-strapping the bottles on after losing two). Some bikepackers don’t like the change to suspension that happens with fork-mounted water bottles, but I thought it was fine.

An excellent camp spot at Silver Creek on the Fremont Tier.

Bags: Bedrock Bags from Durango, Colorado.

The core of any bikepacking setup is a set of bags to carry gear. Rather than heavy metal racks with chunky panniers like I’ve used on past road tours, soft, lightweight bags are the way to go when riding singletrack (or anything!).

The bags I bought from Bedrock Bags, a small company in Durango, are fantastic. Customer service was incredible, the construction is solid (both zippers and material) and they stayed in place remarkably well the entire trip. I was pleasantly surprised that the rocky, technical terrain we rode was still fun, even with bags on.

If you have any questions about bags, email Bedrock directly. The company has tons of online tutorials and a staff who knows bikepacking and outfits many Colorado Trail racers. They helped me dial in my kit and I’m sure they will do the same for you!

Glad to have dialed bags on the rocky Winter Rim! (Photo: Brady Lawrence)

Handlebar bag: the Entrada. Some bikepackers use a simple dry bag for a handlebar bag, but those can flop around when the riding gets rough. The Entrada, in contrast, has multiple attachment points on the bars, straps to cinch it down, and doesn’t move at ALL.

Even descending chunky, rocky trails, my sleeping kit stayed lashed to the bike like it was part of the frame. There’s also a spacious front pouch as part of the attachment where I stored extra food or quick-access light items.

Top tube bag: The Dakota Tank.
My namesake bag (not) sure is handy! For easy-access snacks, phone, camera or whatever, this nifty number is perfect. It has three attachment points and doesn’t slip sideways off the frame, unlike other top tube bags I’ve used in the past. A must-have.

Me and all my stuff on a cold morning just before Surveyor’s Ridge! (Photo JT Lehman)

Water bottle/Feed bags: Tapeats
Don’t bikepack without these! They are easy to open with one hand while riding, hold a ton of snacks or a big water bottle, and don’t bounce around. Mine were stuffed with bars most of the time. So, so handy.

Custom frame bag:
A downside to doing this trip on a full-suspension bike is that I lose frame space. Ohhh well – worth it for the fun! Bedrock has templates for various bikes, but mine was a newer model.

No problem: I just laid a measuring tape on the bike, snapped a couple pictures, and POOF, two weeks later my custom frame bag showed up. This sweet little number held my repair kit, tech gear, and medkit. I like it so much that I’m leaving it on my bike for day rides as a permanent fixture.

Sinbad Stash Pack:
Strapped to the bottom tube, this handy item is stable is light, stable and holds a full Nalgene water bottle size item. My 29” tires initially rubbed on the bottle when I hit big drops, but that was fairly infrequent and relocating the bag lower on the frame fixed this. Make sure to measure things though!

Dropper Seat Post: the Black Dragon
This is a magic device. I’ve heard/read complaints about swaying, crappy seatpost bags that make riding annoying. Thanks to a dual-pronged metal seat attachment (the RailWing), the bag has zero sway. There’s also a “valais” that clamps onto the seatpost and prevents any chafing on the dropper post. The result is a seat post bag that held all my clothing for the trip and balanced the bike and gear weight.

One thing to consider: if you have a 150mm dropper post, your rear tire will most likely rub on the bag when hitting big jumps or drops. An extra 10-15 psi in the rear shock helped this for me, though I still can’t drop it all the way without rubbing.

Onward to the rest of the STUFF. I’ve linked to the bigger, specific items; some are affiliate links (meaning Amazon kicks me a commission if you buy through it), and some aren’t.

Sleeping: 4.8 pounds

Light is the name of the game! Lots of options out there for 1-person tents, bivy sacks or tarp shelters. Sleeping pads just keep getting lighter (and less durable, curses).

A fine evening cowboy camping on Timothy Lake. One of our best overnight spots for sure.

Tent: Big Agnes Fly Creek 1 or 2 person. This tiny, light tent is easy to set up and use. Brady and I shared the Fly Creek 2, and a bivy or tarp tent works until there are mosquitoes. We cowboy camped under the stars all nights but two, but were glad to have a tent at Timpanogas “Mosquito Den” Lake.

Sleeping bag: EE Revelation Apex 40 degree quilt. This quilt loses the zipper and simply lies over the top of the sleeping pad with straps to secure it. It seems everyone in the outdoors is going to using quilts and I can see why! Sleeping socks were key on cooler nights where it dropped below 40 degrees.

Sleeping pad: Big Agnes Q-Core SL regular. A bit bigger than a Nalgene and 3″ thick. Comfortable, and also bigger than the new Thermarests. It also takes enough air to blow up that I start feeling like I’m hallucinating! I’d get a ¾ length Thermarest Neoair (JT used one and likes it)

Pillow: Sea to Summit inflatable. Yeah yeah, a jacket works…and this is tiny and works BETTER. Hey, a guy needs a little luxury.

Cooking equipment: 2.25 pounds

We split camp stoves and fuel between the four of us. Small stoves worked great for dehydrated food dinners and instant oatmeal for breakfast. Other than the pot, the only other items I brought was a tin cup and a titanium spork. Zach used a compressible 1.4L Sea to Summit X-Pot that I plan on getting.

For water filters, I shared with the team. For time efficiency, next time I plan on bringing the excellent, light filter that JT had, the Katadyn BeFree. Zach carried a syringe to pull water out of shallow or swampy sources and then filter, which was key a few times.

Filtering water from a trough on the Fremont Tier. (Photo: Brady Lawrence)

Clothing worn: 5.96 pounds (including shoes and backpack)

Bike shorts: Dakine Boundary. I love the stretch and fit on these shorts and have ridden in them for years.
Chamois: Pearl Izumi, four years old and threadbare but still kickin! Yep, only one for the entire trip – rinse out at night (sometimes) or jump in streams/lakes during the day. Look mom, I’m (almost) clean!
Short-sleeve jersey/shirt: Patagonia collared nylon. Since I’m vegan and don’t buy wool, I initially considered a synthetic polypropylene shirt. However, they STINK for day after day use. I picked up this shirt at the local used gear shop the day before the trip and it worked great!

The shirt rinsed out easily, was light and cool, and (the best part) JT had the exact same shirt style. Twinsies! As a bonus, it makes you look slightly less backwoods when you wander into a town or lake resort restaurant to eat all the food.

Convenience store food refill in Chemult, no collared shirt required…

Gloves: lightweight Giro
Socks: quick-dry synthetic.
Shoes: Specialized 2FO. These are da bomb. Easy adjustment, comfortable, wide(ish) toebox, and lots of protection for banging toes while riding)
Helmet: Smith Forefront (Love this helmet for comfort and the custom sunglasses integration on top)
Sunglasses: Smith Attack
Backpack: Osprey 10L w 2.5L bladder. I rarely filled the bladder with more than .5-1L at a time except for a couple days where water was tough to come by for 6+ hours.

Spare/Warm Clothing: 4.41 pounds

For future trips, I may skip the thermal bottoms and just use rainpants like Zach (Bikepacking Mentor). The thermal top wasn’t necessary, but it was nice to change out of my riding shirt every day. Otherwise, this list worked well.

 

Brady hiding from a thunderstorm under a tree. Bring your rain gear, even if it’s summer!

Thermal Jacket: Patagonia Nano-Air
Rain Jacket: Outdoor Research
Rain Pants: Marmot Precip
Thermal bottom: Patagonia longjohns
Thermal top: Smartwool (I don’t buy new wool items, but this old top keeps on kicking; no reason to throw it away)
Waterproof gloves: Black Diamond
Beanie
Sunsleeves – fantastic for riding in the sun without needing sunscreen

Me haaaangry and tired after a long day on the trail, banged up and yet fajitas soon made everything better! (Photo: Brady Lawrence)

Arm warmers – I never used these, but they’d be handy on chilly mornings, especially at higher elevation.
Knee warmers – I used these once and don’t plan on bringing them for future trips. Rain paints will suffice for cold mornings.
Extra socks for sleeping or if socks are wet in the morning (I wore the same pair to ride in, though I started with them damp a few days)
Underwear: Exofficio quick-dry.
Towel – mine was tiny (5”x5”) and next time I’ll go bigger. It was hot enough to air dry most of the time (silver lining for the heat?)
Stuff sack – good for clothes and/or extra food to strap to bars
Camp shoes: Xero sandals. A cheap pair of light flipflops is so worth having so you don’t need to wear bike shoes for your ENTIRE trip.
Mosquito Net

Electronics: 2.89 pounds

Ah, camaraderie on the trail! Isn’t technology great?

Camera: Sony RX100V with 2 spare batteries and charger. Sweet little camera with SO much power for the size. Next time, I may leave the spare batteries/charger behind and charge via USB off the external battery pack

Tripod – small Gorilla pod

iPhone 5SE and headphones – I listened to a few audiobooks on the trip, mostly during long hike-a-bike sections or steep fire road climbs. I’ve suffered enough bike touring to feel ok about distracting myself!

External battery: Anker Powercore 13,000 (it’ll charge my phone 6 times). I prefer this over others because it has two charging cable slots vs just one. Fundamental rule for staying topped up is Zach’s ABC: Always Be Charging. Gas stations, restaurants, motels…fill ‘er up!

Satellite messenger for emergencies: SPOT Gen3 tracker. This is only 1-way communication and you can’t do a monthly-only plan, so I may get Garmin InReach Mini for future trips.

Headlamp: Black Diamond Revolt + spare batteries

GPS: eTrex 30x w/lithium ion batteries – Thanks for loaning me this, Paul! The user interface is weak, but it sips batteries relative to other GPS units so most bikepackers seem to use it. Someone please invent a better one!

Charging/USB cables

Tool, repair and emergency kit: 1.16 pounds

My goal was to have everything I needed for most field repairs for my bike or gear. As it turned out, I didn’t need any of this gear, but I’d carry the same kit next time!

brake pad bikepacking replacement

Mid-trip brake pad replacement. Brady’s bike experienced other fun that I’ll talk about later!

-2 Voile ski straps – excellent for many applications ranging from holding bottles on a cage to fixing a broken bike frame
-Multitool
-Patch box w/2 tubes of glue, 9 small patches, 1 large patch, and 2 speed patches
-Spare derailleur hanger
-Spare derailleur cable
-Spare brake pads (2 sets)
-Spare SPD cleats/bolts
-2 chain links
-Quicklink x 3
-4 cable ends in baggy
-FiberFix spoke replacement
-Chain lube in micro dropper bottle (one bottle was good for the entire 15 days)
-6”x10” T-shirt rag for cassette flossing
-Old toothbrush w/cut handle for cleaning drivetrain
-2 plastic tire levers
-4 large zip ties
-4 small zip ties
-4 safety pins
-1” roll of Gorilla Tape
-GoreTex repair tape
-Kleartape universal repair tape
-Sleeping pad repair kit w/one Hot Bond adhesive and 5 patches
-Mini compass
All above in a Ziploc bag (a more durable bag could make sense for a longer trip)

Misc: 1.32 pounds

Spare 29er tubes (2) – not a single flat for any of us on the entire trip, but gotta have these! For flat protection, fill the tubes beforehand with Stan’s sealant.
Leatherman -must-have for any trip

Water break in the midst of big trees on Middle Fork near Oakridge.

Medical kit: .32 pounds

Taking the Wilderness First Responder class upped my game dramatically for wilderness first aid. The below is similar to what I carry on any day ride. NOLS sells well-equipped medkits.

A fabulous day in the Old Cascades Crest zone on the Mt. Hood tier. (Photo: Brady Lawrence)

-3 2”x 3” non-stick dressings
-4 Band Aid Tough Strips
-10 wound closure strips
-Irrigation syringe (for cleaning out cuts/scrapes)
-Tegaderm in big sheets – can be trimmed to fit smaller scrapes/burns
-4 Neosporin applications
-5-Q tips
-2 tincture of Benzoin applications
-10 Advil, 10 Ibuprofen & 4 Benedryl in flip top container

Laundry! It’s (almost) clean… (Photo: Brady Lawrence)

Personal Items: 0.28 pounds

-Toothbrush/toothpaste and travel-sized Glide floss
-1” camp roll toilet paper and small bottle of hand sanitizer (most people get giardia from dirty hands, not water!)
-Dr. Bronner’s soap in micro dropper bottle
-SPF 30 stick sunscreen
-SPF 15 lip balm
-Chamois Butter – skip the individual wipes and just fill a small container from a big chamois butter like this
-100% DEET insect repellent wipes

Any Questions?

That’s a wrap! Drop me a line with any clarifications, feedback or (constructive) thoughts. Commenting is great because it helps out future readers of this post.

Have fun out there! By no stretch of the imagination is the Oregon Timber Trail easy, but it’s a hell of an adventure and one I won’t forget soon.

Brady descending off Surveyor’s Ridge with Mt. Hood cheering him on.

 

Mountain view!

Launching a Bikepacking Trip on the Oregon Timber Trail

Mountain view!

Border to border, the Oregon Timber Trail traverses the state from California to Washington. On Saturday, three friends and I start pedaling all 670 miles of it. (Update: here’s the full trip story!)

Starting down south, Brady, JT, Zach and I will crank north over 16 15 days through terrain ranging from high desert plateaus to dense old growth forest to volcanic lava. For maximum fun/quad punishment, the route wanders back and forth across the Cascade Mountain range.

The terrain ranges wildly: smooth trail, chunky rocks, sandy fire road, trails so steep pushing is the order of the day. At some point, we’ll probably hoist our bikes over downed trees for a few hours.

I fully expect this trip to secure Hardest Physical Accomplishment status for me. Our plan aims at 45 miles and 8 hours per day for two weeks straight on trails. On loaded bikes and riding so much singletrack, that’s far more difficult than my past road tours. With 67,000’ of climbing in total, we’ll be riding uphill over 4,000’ each day on average. (That’s 2.3 sea-to-summit ascents of Everest, for comparison.)

Intense. And so, so rad.

View from the cockpit

What is the Oregon Timber Trail?

The OTT is a scenic combination of singletrack and fire road. Apparently it sports the highest percentage of singletrack (60%+) for a long-distance bikepacking route in the United States. The full linkup blossomed into fruition in 2017 with trail work, initial riders testing the route, and plenty of publicity.

60 miles of fun on the Oregon Timber Trail

670 miles of fun on the Oregon Timber Trail

The full trail splits into four distinct sections: Fremont, Willamette, Deschutes, and Hood. It traverses the rock-strewn Fremont National Forest, slips through old-growth to Oakridge on the Middle Fork Trail, sneaks around Mount Bachelor near Bend, and finishes on the east side of Mount Hood on scenic Surveyor’s Ridge before rolling downhill into Hood River.

In short, some of my favorite Oregon riding, linked together with a variety of dirt roads, historic thoroughfares like the Old Santiam Wagon road, and remote forest and lake regions I’ve never visited.

Lakes, lakes and more lakes

Lakes, lakes and more lakes

The OTT’s excellent website says this: “The Oregon Timber Trail is an iconic backcountry mountain bike route spanning Oregon’s diverse landscapes from California to the Columbia River Gorge. It is a world-class bikepacking destination and North America’s premiere long-distance mountain bike route. It runs south to north and travels through a variety of landscapes, communities, ecosystems, terrain, and, most importantly—mountain bike trails.”

The trail linkup is laid out for people who want to ride it on two wheels. This isn’t a hiking trail like the Pacific Crest Trail or one used by hikers and bikers like the Colorado Trail. Only a handful pedaled the full trail last year. It’s a raw, adventurous linkup with route finding, few restock points, and lots of potential hard work. And fun! Did I mention fun?

Still snow above 6k'!

Still snow in the mountains!

Why Bother? That Sounds Haaaard

There’s magic in a traverse of an entire state. Immersed in nature, this is a chance to disconnect, disappear, and live in the moment.

Wading a frosty-cold stream on the shakeout ride.

Wading a frosty-cold stream on the shakeout ride.

I recognize the privilege inherent in the freedom to hop on bikes and go explore for two weeks. I’m grateful for that opportunity.

This adventure trades easy living to strip life to the basics and go adventure. Some Type 2 fun may rear its fanged head, but that  makes life at home all the sweeter in contrast when the trip lives on in memory lane.

The simplicity of the experience appeals to me, combining two of my favorite activities (mountain biking and traveling) with a preferred method of exploring the world (bike touring). In the two big road tours Chelsea and I enjoyed across the U.S. and Europe, we sunk into a rhythm: wake, eat, bike, eat, bike, sleep, repeat.

This time I’m checking out of work for the entire two weeks for the first time in 10 years. YES. No calendar appointments, no conference calls…

No cell signal, just mountain views.

The Logistics: Gear, Sleeping, Eating, WILL YOU EVEN SHOWER?!

I’ve mountain biked a ton. Bike toured plenty. Traveled often. Camped enough to know how a sleeping pad works. Linking it all together with a light kit (who needs multiple pairs of riding shorts anyway?) is another story.

I’m planning an entire gear post to share what I’m carrying for my trip. I’ll also talk about doing the trip as a vegan. I’m excited that Brady is game to join me for 100% plant-powered fueling the entire way. Props, man!

Cozy camp on Lava Lake

Cozy camp on Lava Lake.

Quick logistics summary: we booked zero lodging and our plan is to sleep in the dirt the entire trip. (Unless we can convince Mountain Man JT otherwise.) Lakes shall be our showers; restocking in random small towns along the way our sustenance, though hopefully we can cross paths with Chelsea and a van full of treats at a highway crossing or two.

Bikepacking dinner prep

10:30 pm dinner prep. Pad thai!

Quick gear summary: I’m taking a full-suspension mountain bike (a Santa Cruz Tallboy) with shiny new Bedrock bikepacking bags as the base kit. Here’s a shot of the general setup.

The sexy bikepacking setup.

The sexy bikepacking setup. It amazes me that this carries everything I need for the trip!

I dig launching into adventures, and this bikepacking trip is no exception. Our itinerary is loose, though that’s easy when each night’s sleeping arrangements revolve around, “Hey, this lake/creek/mountain looks sweet.”

I haven’t done specific training other than my usual pedaling. For my lone gear test, I pedaled out 30-odd miles, descended a gnarly lava trail (in the dark), and solo camped (in the rain, yeahhh). The return trip of 40 miles around Mt. Bachelor left me grinning with excitement for this upcoming trip. As I love to say to Chelsea (as she shakes her head), it’ll be fiiiiine.

Maybe I didn’t specifically train, but my bike is ready. I basically rebuilt the entire thing preparing for this trip. Great practice for my bike maintenance!

New rear cassette (11-46, if you're curious) and bigger brake rotors (180mm).

New rear cassette (11-46, if you’re curious) and bigger brake rotors (180mm).

Want to Follow Along?

When we have a signal, I’ll be posting to Instagram here and Brady is @bradylawrencephoto. This marks my return to IG after three blissful months off. Gotta spread the word about Oregon’s awesome new trail!

Post-trip, I’ll blog about the experience and do a breakdown of how gear and plans (the few we have) work out. We’re aiming to make a short film of our time on the trail with Brady’s skills and JT/Zach’s dashing good looks. I’ll provide comic relief.

Without further adieu, onward we go! Catch you on the other side.

Mountains, here I come!