Adrenaline and Beauty in Madeira (If You Survive the Flight!)

The wind-swept eastern peninsula of Madeira. (Vereda da Ponta de Sao Lourenço)

Don’t let the flight into Madeira and the island’s treacherous roads scare you off. Once your knees stop shaking, you’re in for a magical time on this outdoor oasis off the coast of Portugal!

For a week, we hiked and mountain biked from Madeira’s mist-shrouded peaks to cliffs overlooking the ocean. It’s one of the coolest places I’ve traveled.

To keep it interesting, Madeira’s airport is Europe’s most dangerous and pilots need special training to land there. Picture intense crosswinds, a short runway, and mountains and ocean as constraints.

Our flight landed as gusting wind slapped our plane updownsideways like a malevolent hand of God. Terrified passengers shrieked, then clapped and cheered when the plane landed.

Next step: revving our tiny rental car on the twisty roads, jousting with the “laid back” locals who drive like their cars are engulfed in flames. Grades I wouldn’t even consider walking up (30+%!) are a feature on any drive into the mountains. I’ve never driven in 1st gear so much. (Make sure you can drive a manual if you rent a car.)

Ah, but those treacherous roads are worth it!

If you can handle that…

Oh. Yes. Madeira is sweet. A nugget of fun and beauty sparkling in the Atlantic. Coming from bike touring to the island was a shift from adventure to pure vacation. We embraced it!

I alternated days hiking with Chelsea and mountain biking, whereas she hiked every day. ​If our days apart were a video cutting between me and Chelsea:
.
BAMBAMBAM downhill rocky mega testosterone mtb madness
.
CUT to Chelsea: twittering birds, fields, flowers, smiling farmers, and pretty views
.
CUT jumps, fist bumps, roots, dust, woot wooting, high fives.
.
CUT quiet sugarcane fields, mama cat with nursing kittens, lizards, more flowers to smell…

Thus passed our magical days in Madeira. Simplicity and complexity need one another, right?

Chelsea disappearing into the looking glass during a lavada hike through laurel forest.
Don’t worry Mom, I wasn’t going (too) fast! #contrast

Mountain Biking in Madeira

Two days before our flight from Porto, I couldn’t have placed Madeira on a map. The island pinged my radar thanks to mountain biking.

Since our visit to Madeira was a trip pivot from bike touring, I needed to rent a mountain bike. Enter Freeride Madeira. This small local company has created a top-notch mountain bike destination that brought the Enduro World Series to the island twice. They offer well-priced guiding and shuttling services that make exploring the trail systems easy.

The trails aren’t ragged, overgrown hiking trails. Since a solid chunk of Freeride’s revenue goes to trail building, everything is custom-built for mountain biking. No need to wear a bell on your bike: hikers steer clear and the trails only point one way: DOWNHILL.

To prevent eye-rolling, I won’t go all BroDuro on you describing jumps, berms, and rocks. YAWN. I’ll skip the word shred and gnar too. (I for SURE won’t say braaap.)

Know that trails in Madeira vary widely, from flowy to steep roots and rocks, and that you’ll encounter all kinds of terrain. If you’re a mountain biker who likes enduro riding in beautiful places, you’ll dig Madeira!


Hiking in Madeira

Everything on Madeira is steep!

Don’t let wanna-be bros like me scare you off if you aren’t a mountain biker. The hiking in Madeira draws people from all over Europe as well. For good reason: it’s varied, beautiful, challenging, and easily accessible.

From the popular wind-swept peninsula at the eastern end of the island with falcons soaring above to peak to peak hiking above the clouds to lush, moody laurel forest to traversing irrigation canals through terraced fields, you can’t go wrong.

Speaking of fields, Madeira grows so.much.food and was almost entirely self-supporting for centuries. (It was discovered uninhabited only 600 years ago by Portugal.)

“Lavadas” or irrigation channels carry water in a network across the island and their access paths are the backbones for much of the hiking. We saw ox-strong old men hauling food and farming equipment just as their grandfathers did.

All you need to navigate ALL the hikes: the excellent WalkMe app. For $5, it guided our hiking efforts for our stay.

Hiking PR1: Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo

Misty mountains and me descending some stairs on the PR1 hike.

There are plenty of blogs talking about favorite hikes in Madeira, so I’ll only describe my favorite, PR1: hiking above the clouds between Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo, the two tallest peaks in Madeira. It’s a destination-worthy hike and one that attracts serious hikers kitted out in their finest gear with carbon trekking poles.

To get there, we drove straight up from sea level to 6,000’ on roads that felt like walls. Roaring along in 1st gear, our car felt like it might flip over backward if the road got any steeper. Chelsea gouged finger marks in the door panel she was so excited to get to the hike. (There’s a less-direct, well-graded option that we took on the way back.)

In the ten miles of hiking out-and-back, the trail features a dozen tunnels, thousands of stairs, and enough exposure to send people with vertigo into lockdown. To the north, a giant bank of clouds hovered below us; to the south, steep mountains dropped away to the ocean. A hike to remember.

A Destination Worth Visiting

In short, Madeira is SO COOL. The hiking. The mountain biking. The views of sunsets while sitting on a balcony overlooking the ocean. The stories about terrifying roads and plane landings… What else do you need for a magical trip?

View from the top of Pico Arieiro before heading back to Pico Ruivo. Such a cool hike!

Resources We Used:

My wise-and-awesome guide, Pedro. He’s taking a break from electrical engineering to guide awhile. Smart man!

This post ain’t sponsored, so the below is simply a reflection of the services we used:

  • Flying: Unless you’ve got a teleporter or a yacht (or can stomach a cruise ship), you’ve got to fly to Madeira. The landing is going to suck (I surveyed other tourists and 100% agreed), so steel yourself for that. There are lots of cheap flights from the European mainland.
  • Driving: We rented from Insular Car and they were awesome! Our car (a Clio) was billed as underpowered, but I found it to be a fun little rocketship. Second reminder: make sure you are SOLID at driving a manual transmission or driving will be a nightmare vs just entertaining. Lots of buses and shuttle services are available.
  • Lodging: Great deals abound. Lots of apartments in the $50-75/night range on Airbnb and tons of options on Booking.com.
  • Mountain bike guiding services: Look no further than Freeride Madeira. The guys are all cheery, friendly, helpful and excellent riders. Can’t go wrong with their services in my experience!
  • Finding Trails: Trailforks has many (but not all) of the mountain biking trails. The WalkMe app has all the hikes.

Once you get to Madeira, you’re in for a treat. HAVE FUN!

The coastline of Madeira seen while hiking Vereda da Ponta de Sao Lourenço.

My Favorite Lake Tahoe Mountain Biking Trails

Views of Lake Tahoe from Freel Peak trail.

TAHOOOOOE! The word is fun to yell and the mountain biking there is even better.

When a blog reader asked for recommendations of California mtb trails, I pointed him at a past blog post about coastal rides. However, I didn’t have anything written about Tahoe trip Chelsea and I did last summer. Now I do!

I’ve ridden all these, with the list drawing from various websites and local friends who recommended their favorite trails. I’m an advanced rider (stop chortling, mtb friends) and these trails are blue or black difficulty. I linked to many of the trails on Trailforks to make it easy.

I love multi-hour rides that cover lots of distance, plus enduro-style descending. If you’re looking for tame, flat (cough boring cough) trails, this isn’t your list!

Without further ado, my favorite Lake Tahoe mtb rides:

Rolling down the TRT above Spooner Lake.

Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) from Mt. Rose to Spooner to Van Sickle:
Starting at Mt. Rose, pedal the Tahoe Rim Trail up and down to the top of Van Sickle, then descend into the tourist loony bin that is the S. Lake Tahoe. Fantastic lake views, playful and engaging riding (ahhh, granite is so fun), remote riding, and a healthy dose of effort make this a must-do. The full shebang is 45 miles and took me about 5 hours, so plan for a full day of riding and bring a water filter.

Getting up there at High Meadows near Star Lake.

TRT from Kingsbury S to Star Lake, Freel Peak/Meadows, down Mr. Toads: A close second place for favorite ride around Tahoe! Starting from the Heavenly Resort (we stayed at Chelsea’s parent’s timeshare there), pedal south on the TRT Heavenly and High Meadows to a refreshing (cold!) dip at Star Lake and eat some lunch.

Keep pedaling on Freel Peak trail as views across Lake Tahoe open up, then one last push on Freel Meadows. Finish with a rollicking shred down Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (a fantastic ride by itself). There’s a huge day ride called Rose to Toad’s that combines these first two rides.

Monument Pass and Cold Creek – you’ve got to get up there somehow (I pedaled in from Kingsbury South trailhead on the TRT Heavenly), but once you’re there, it’s all fun downhill. Monument Pass is smoother terrain with lots of switchbacks up high; Cold Creek sports rocky sections with large boulders that are a) fun and b) dangerous when your front wheel disappears into a deep pit. #wreckingsucks

My sister-in-law on Sidewinder.

Corral/Sidewinder – I linked Monument and Cold Creek (above) with this ride, but most people do them on their own. FUN trails!
Sidewinder is a natural granite playground into Corral’s flowy jump trail. Gotta ride it if you’re in the area. The climbing is on pavement so you can crank out laps if you want.

California Hangtown, baby! The climb to the top of Sidewinder.

Christmas Valley – a local Tahoe rider recommended this. Moderate-grade climbing that results in a low-flow descent with way more pedaling than I expected. Entertaining and the end makes it a worthwhile ride, but if you are only doing a couple rides in the area, I vote for skipping this one.

Chelsea’s bro enjoying the fruits of Tahoe.

Armstrong Pass – I linked this with Christmas Valley and it worked well. Similar riding to the rest of the Tahoe Rim Trail and it dumps you out right at the top of Corral/Sidewinder for more fun. A good way to get up to Star Lake if you want to ride Monument Pass and Cold Creek.

Hole in the Ground and Donner Lake Rim – Everyone loves Hole in the Ground…and I confess that I don’t know why! There’s a big climb up, lots of techy traversing (ok, that part is fun), and then it dumps you onto a FIRE ROAD for almost the entire 2,000’ descent.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t ride UP singletrack and DOWN fire roads without a lot of sadness… An out-and-back on Donner Lake Rim Trail was interesting purely for the tech-nasty bike handling required, but it’s mostly flat.

Sneaked a gratuitous van shot in after all!

Bonus Rides:

Flume Trail – Ok, so I didn’t ride ALL of these. Everyone rides Flume Trail near Tahoe, but I opted for the Tahoe Rim Trail from Mt. Rose right above it. However, 12.7mm tourists and Instagram posts can’t be wrong…right? If you want a green trail with views of the lake, I hear it’s great.

Downhill to Downieville!
Downieville fun on Gold Valley Rim.

Downieville – my mountain bike friends speak of Downieville like it’s hallowed ground, a shrine of trails not to be missed. I needed to go there, so on the way back from Tahoe we detoured a bit to explore.

You can pay to shuttle from Downieville to avoid the ~3k’ climb up from the highway. NAH. Just pedal it! The fire road is steep, but the views are great. I added a bit to my day and did the climb from Sierra City, then rode Gold Valley Rim, Pauley Creek, Butcher, 2nd, 1st divide, which is (mostly) the route that the Downieville Classic follows.

Note: I considered riding up the highway, but it’s narrow and people are going fast. Hitchhike or catch a shuttle if your awesome wife isn’t available to meet you at the end of the ride.

The less fun, but good-for-ya route to the top at Downieville. Shuttles are overrated.
Getting up high on Mt. Elwell near Graegle!

Graegle –  Say it like “Gray Eagle” and fly like… anyway.

This little town is COOL and geared toward mountain biking like Oakridge, Oregon. I did a double-whammy day of Mills Peak and Mt. Elwell, which is either a big ride or my legs were tired from all the Tahoe riding! Mills is the easier of the two, with climbing on the highway/fire road to the trailhead. From there, shred back toward town on well-built, varied trails.

As for Mt. Elwell… Pedal back up from town (or ride this on the second day if you’re wiser than me) and then huff and puff up the too-steep-to-ride trail to the top of Elwell. I knew it was steep when a guy on an electric bike couldn’t pedal it!

Why ride uphill when you can carry your bike?

From the top, buckle your shoes and don the pads cuz it’s game time. Rocks! More rocks! ROCKS. Be prepared for black diamond riding. Nothing is crazy and there aren’t any big gaps, but the riding is in your face and challenging. Disclaimer aside, it’s also suparad! At the bottom, jump in the reservoir and enjoy the laidback vibe in town.

Chelsea’s mom laying down a patch of rubber on the trail from Tahoe City.

Family Fun: we did two rides with C’s family on the paved trails along the lake. One starts west of S. Lake Tahoe and the other we started in Tahoe City on the north shore. Both were fun and bike rental shops abound.

The first is shorter (maybe 10 miles available), whereas the second one has ~30 miles out and back, which Chelsea’s parents crushed on their rental cruisers. Someday I’ll be that tough!

Fabulous lake views from the top of Ellis Peak.
Fabulous lake views from the top of Ellis Peak.

Hike Ellis Peak – need a rest day (well, from biking)? This six mile hike ends with a full-on amazing view of Lake Tahoe. Highly recommended!

In a funny small-world moment, we picked up two PCT hitchhikers on the drive back from Ellis Peak’s trailhead. Turns out one follows me on Instagram and is the personal trainer for Portland friends. Her girlfriend Carrot is a well-known thru-hiker whose excellent book we’d read. I love that kind of random stuff!

Small world!

That’s all I’ve got. If you have trails to recommend, fire away below in the comments. Happy pedaling!

Onward!
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.

 

One Hundred Miles On a Mountain Bike: Racing the High Cascades 100

Mile 57. I’m five hours into the High Cascades 100 mountain bike race and five miles up its longest climb. My stomach grumbles. Twists. I’ve heard that if things go wrong with the gut, it’s now.

NOT TODAY. While spinning uphill, I force down a Picky Bar and ShotBlocks, then chug electrolyte water.

My stomach stabilizes. I push on. At the top of the climb, I hit Farewell trail, a 3.5 mile descent that I grin through.

It’s game time.

Chelsea refueling me at an aid station.

WHY Would Anyone Ride a Mountain Bike 100 Miles?

Hoooold up. Surely one of you is thinking the above. Friends’ responses ranged from, “Wow, I could never do that” to “that sounds like my private hell” to “that’s on my bucket list.” To each their own!

For perspective on difficulty, High Cascades is 70 miles of singletrack, 14 miles of road (to/from the trailheads to break up the pack), and the rest on fire roads. Riders climb (and descend, wheee!) ~10,000 feet of elevation on the extensive trail system west of Bend, Oregon in the shadow of Mt. Bachelor.

Here’s the map of the entire race course if you’re interested! Mike at Mudslinger Events put on a well-organized, awesome event.

High Cascades 100 course map for 2017

A Dirty Century, as they’re called, is hard, FAR harder than 100 miles on a road bike. So much singletrack requires focus and a different kind of stamina – upper body, mental, plus legs. It’s intense, but as my buddy Aaron said, “For endurance competitions, it ain’t even fun until somebody quits.”

My goal wasn’t the joy of a day ride or the camaraderie of a group road ride. I raced High Cascades as a physical test, an endurance push past anything I’d done before. It took dedicated training, days where I didn’t want to ride, a shelving of other goals. I didn’t need a reason or prize money. Personal satisfaction was enough.

The Verdict

How did it go? It was radtastic! (It’s a word. Look it up.) The race environment was stimulating, my competition was friendly, and my overall experience was positive. Yes, I worked hard. Yup, there was dust and it hit 90 degrees. All part of the challenge!

Results: I finished in 9 hrs 17 min, handily beating my 10 hour goal and good for 64th out of ~400 people. I only stopped for ~2 minutes total at the aid stations and my body felt solid the entire time. Ok, ok, I could have used more chamois butter to ease the chafing from mile 70 on…

I finished with energy to spare and think I could have gone below 9 hours. Still, for my first-ever mountain bike race, I’m stoked with the results! Check out the ride details here on Strava.

A big thanks to my new racing team, sponsored by Therapeutic Associates of Bend and Pine Mountain Sports!

Done! Feeling good, if a bit dirty from all the dust…

Good Friends, Sage Advice

Let’s be clear: I didn’t race to stand on a podium. High Cascades is a popular race and attracts pro racers and badasses with sustained power output that makes my quads shiver in fear. For me, racing was simply a personal challenge.

My buddy Joe, a seasoned 24 hour MTB racer, gave me two pieces of advice for my first endurance race. 1) Don’t stop and 2) Ride to finish, not for a time. Competitive numbers guy that I am, I wanted to shoot for a time – 10 hours or bust! – and so advice like Joe’s was helpful.

My friend Julie, a fitness coach and endurance racer, shared a mantra that I adopted: “slow on the uphill, steady on the flats, free speed on the downhill.” For such a long ride, hard efforts early on can torch chances of success later. I stuck to Julie’s advice and am glad I did. Given the energy I had left at the end, next time I can toe the line a bit harder.

Since I’m a good descender on a mountain bike, I made up time ripping downhill. That said, High Cascades is more of a cross-country race, so the people who do well are stronger climbers than descenders. It’s no enduro race!

A training ride in the Ochoco Mountains.

Snippets From Race Day

Some pros, like the famous boxer Floyd Mayweather, are relaxed before fights. As he’s said, ‘I’ve done everything I’m going to do. Nothing I do in the next little bit is going to change anything, so ain’t no use getting worried about it.”

I knew I was ready, but I didn’t feel quite so laid back. Thanks to jangled nerves, I only slept a few hours the night before. (Our cat Oliver contributed, yowling all night because he gets worried when we appear to be packing for a trip.) Luckily, the training was done and only pedaling my bike remained.

Miles and miles of training, luckily some like this one of Mt. Hood that Paul is taking in.

Race Moments:

Breakfast at 4 am: I stuck with tried and true foods my stomach knew well. Green tea, a giant bowl of quinoa with fruit and nuts, plus a smoothie.

Starting line at 5:30 am: 400 athletes pent up and raring to go as the sun creeps over the horizon. The gun goes off and we surge off in a giant peloton on the road toward Mt. Bachelor. It’s 9 miles of road to split the group before we hit dirt, a necessity to avoid a terrible bottleneck at the start. People chat with buddies, vie for position.

Mile 9: The pack splinters as we hit the first fire road, the uphill part of Tyler’s Traverse. It’s 6.5 miles to the top and the dust clouds billow and swirl. Some racers (myself included) use a buff or bandanna to curb the dust. I’ll still feel a pinch in my lungs for a few days after the race. The hardest part on this climb is letting people pass when I know I can go harder…pace, Dakota, pace!

Riding with friends on Tylers. I didn’t even glance at this view during the race!

Mile 17: The first real downhill on Tiddlywinks, a rad jump trail. I tail a couple XC riders on their hardtail bikes, then bust a move on a jump line and pass them, grinning away. Riding bikes sure is fun…but are we really only 20% done?!

Mile 24: first aid station. Nice to see Chelsea cheering away! I zoom right past as planned. Legs are feeling good!

Mile 40: I share the suffering of a 3-mile steep, sandy fire road climb with a few other riders, then zip into the first aid station. Chelsea! Smiling friends! They pit stop me in 1 minute flat, NASCAR style, placing on a ice pack on my neck, stuffing new bars in my jersey, swapping water bottles and my hydration pack and pouring ice water on my arms to help cool me off. I stuff my face with homemade rice bars and hit the trail.

Best aid station team ever. Thanks for the help, Paul, Bayen, Emily and Chelsea!

Mile 52: Well THAT was a great 12 miles! Zippy singletrack, one of my favorite descents in Bend (Upper Whoops), and I passed about 15 people, including a single-speed racer looking dapper in cargo shorts and a plaid shirt. (Yes, people ride 100 miles on a single speed.) Now the hard work begins/continues with an eight-mile climb up Mrazek. Not much talking happening between racers as temps head toward 90 and the climb steepens.

Mile 60: Farewell to the climbing…for a few miles, followed by a steep, rooty effort up South Fork all the way back over to the other side. My legs and energy levels are staying high and I’m starting to turn it on and pass people.

Mile 75: 7 hours in, I hit Aid Station #2 after a 3-mile long, FAST sandy fire road descent. Chelsea hands me a refreshed hydration pack and a few more bars to finish the race. Ice water never tasted so good.

Mouth full of rice bars!

Miles 75-100: I start cranking harder, feeling good and knowing I’ll finish. No leg cramps, no stomach troubles! I’ve ridden these trails dozens of time and I’m still smiling, even after over 7 hours on my bike. I see a couple people hurting and taking a rest by the side of the trail and I’m thankful to have stayed out of the pain cave all day.

The Finish: The last five miles are flat on pavement. I tuck and crank hard, wind whistling as I sail along. There’s a final singletrack section at the finish line and I hit a jump, a few twisty turns, and then sprint for the finish with Chelsea rooting me on.

At long last, the finish line!

I’m DONE. I hug Chelsea. My friend Tucker claps me on the back so hard I almost fall over. I feel good…and then it hits me. I’m tired. It’s hot. I need to sit down in a cold bathtub and not move my legs. Get this boy home!

Annnnd adrenaline gone. TIRED. It hit me just like that.

Aftermath, a.k.a. Did I Hacksaw My Bike to Death

My bikes are all still intact! I still like mountain biking (strangely?) and the race didn’t take TOO much out of me. In fact, the next day I spun around the neighborhood and felt great! (My chafed undercarriage, on the other hand, was scorched.) All the training paid off, I guess.

ALL THE DETAILS: Training, Gear, and Fueling

Interested in details and/or looking to race 100 miles? Read on below for allll the dorky talk about my training, the gear I used, and what I ate/drank during the race.

Training for a 100 Mile Mountain Bike Race

Similar to marathon training, most people don’t ride a full 100 miles straight preparing for the race. In fact, my longest ride was only 7 hours, and my maximum distance was only 61 miles.

I focused more on volume, i.e. pedaling pedaling pedaling! Consecutive longer days (3+ hours) were the most important, since nothing emulates tired legs in a race like tired legs in a training ride. I’d crank out a 50 mile ride on Tuesday, then wake up the next day and do the last thing I wanted to do: go ride my bike a few hours.

To make sure my body could handle the physical duress of a long mtb race, I focused on mountain biking and didn’t touch a road bike the entire time. For my next longer XC race, I’ll likely add a day of harder tempo/threshold road riding efforts to focus on increasing my power so I can crank harder uphill.

Typical training weeks from late June.

My destroyer-endurance-racer friend Paul’s advice was to take rest days. Actual, sanctified days off – no going for a run or climbing super hard. This felt strange, as resting is NOT my natural state. After a big block of rides, I’d sometimes take even two days – with nothing more than a spin or walk around town – to let myself fully recuperate. My rock climbing took a hit, but it’s already coming back fast.

So how many hours/miles did I ride per week? Well, with all the snow this winter in Bend, I skied and rock climbed and didn’t touch my bike for months! Skate and backcountry skiing kept me fit, of course, but I wasn’t cranking on a trainer like some guys who roasted the trails at High Cascades.

As the snow (finally) melted in late April after a huge snow year, I started riding frequently and started logging consistent 10+ hour training weeks. Some people don’t do any hard efforts in their endurance training, but I love going fast and so intervals and all-out efforts were part of the package to keep me entertained. Overall, I find it amazing that two big months of riding prepped me for such an intense race.

That’s enough training. Ride your bike a lot and you can totally ride 100 miles! If you’re a data geek, check out all the stats on Strava.

Let’s talk about gear!

Gear for Race Day

Biking, while more complicated than running, is still basic. My gear list for High Cascades was straight-forward:

My noble steed: Santa Cruz Tallboy CC

Full-suspension 29er bike: Santa Cruz Tallboy CC. Set up with 120mm front suspension, 110mm rear, this bike is the perfect fast uphill, fast downhill bike. New to me in May, I love it! My poor Ibis HD3 sits sad and lonely in the garage…

Tires – for you bike geeks, I rolled a tubeless setup with a Schwalbe Rocket Ron 2.2” in the rear and a WTB Vigilante 2.3″ up front

Helmet and shades: Smith Forefront with MIPS and Smith sunglasses with the Pivlock tech.

Did I mention all those riders kicked up some dust? Clear shades with a little UV filter were key!

Shoes – Specialized 2FO Cliplites. I love the boa clasps on these for easily changing tension on the fly (literally while biking), not to mention they’re comfortable and grip rocks like crazy when needed. Warning: they are sized small and I wound up going to an 11.5 from my usual 10.5

Two 10L hydration packs – at aid stations, Chelsea and friends traded me an empty hydration pack for a full one, which made transitions fast and seamless.

Repair gear – last-minute, I bought a Salsa top-tube pack that wound up carrying a spare tube, CO2 canister, and all other repair tools for the race. This kept the weight off my back and removed the need to move stuff between packs (with the exception of my bike pump).

Clothing: Jersey, spandex shorts, socks, sun sleeves (my fav from bike touring) and gloves. RECOMMENDATION from experienced friends: make sure your gear is comfortable and you’ve used it all for many hours prior to a race. A weird seam in a new chamois or a pair of gloves can wreck a race.

All the gear!

What Did I Eat? Plants!

Most people who toe the line of a 100 can ride the distance. It’s the fueling and hydration that take out competitors. As I caught up to a guy 3 hours into the race who blew by me earlier, I learned he hadn’t eaten or drank anything yet. I’m no seasoned endurance racing expert, but I knew he was in trouble. (He didn’t pass me again.)

FUELING IS KEY. If there’s one thing to get right, learn how to eat and drink on the bike while moving. My goal (which I met) was to only stop at mile 40 and mile 75 for my rad wife and friends to help me swap out hydration packs and reload my food supplies. I multi-tasked and snuck in my lone pee break while walking up a steeeeep, sandy fireroad. Otherwise, I was on my bike the entire 9+ hour race.

Food Plan:

During Training:

Lots. Of. Food. I follow a vegan diet (#plantpower, woot!) and have for four years now. Probably related to that, a couple people asked me if I changed my diet during training. NOPE. The only thing I did was increase calories, eating huge varied salads, lots of burritos, big rice bowls with vegetables, and the occasional pizza.

Doofy smile time! After one ride, I ate two of those giant burritos…

For long rides, I’d go with a few bars and maybe a sandwich. My favorite, however, was to swing by my favorite food cart in Bend, eat half a giant burrito, and take the remainder with me to be eaten at a viewpoint hours later.

Race Day Food:

My takeaway from research was that eating 350-450 calories an hour during racing is a good target. (This Training Peaks article has more detail.) I came in somewhere in that range, but my primary goal was consistent fueling during the race. Here’s what I ate:

Bars: Picky and Lara bars, ~1 per hour. ~200 calories each.

ShotBlocks: 2 blocks/hr, 100 calories/package. Stuck to this schedule entire race.

Hammer Endurolyte pillsI popped 1-2 of these per hour and experienced zero cramping.

Medjool Dates: 1 date/hr until they turned into a mush paste at an aid station. Whoops!

Secret Weapon: this recipe for blueberry and chocolate coconut rice cakes. Clean, easily digestible calories, plus the bars are moist thanks to the blueberries and coconut milk. I STUFFED my face with these at aid stations (always good for a laugh) and mainlined 200-400 calories. Also could be wrapped up and kept in a jersey pocket for snacks on the go as well.

Easy on the stomach, quick to digest, and full of water, these are GREAT!

Hydration Plan:

After kicking around ideas, I decided to a) maximize water access and b) minimize transition times. To accomplish this, I had two hydration packs that Chelsea cycled out and handed to me at the aid stations, refilled and ready to rumble. I also had a water bottle on my bike with water, salt, and some lemon water.

I used 70 oz. of water in each pack plus three Nuun electrolyte tablets. The secret weapon: per my buddy Eric’s idea, I made Nuun ice cubes and put those in the water on race day. Cold water was so, so, so good when temps tipped into the 90s in the afternoon.

My goal was simply to drink water, and lots of it. For a race with so much singletrack, the hydration packs made it possible for me to drink basically whenever, as opposed to only on smooth trails or fireroad. My approach worked well and I’d recommend it!

Final Thoughts on Racing 100 Miles

The only thing I have left to add is this: you can do it! Put in the time for training, steel your muscles and your mind, get a game plan in order, and get after it. I hope the experience I’ve shared helps you realize it’s doable even if you’re someone like me who has never raced off-road before.

Want to race the High Cascades 100? Here’s the link.

Ride on!

My first big ride after the race took me here…how can we not love mountain biking?!

Fun at the High Cascades 100 (Video)

The dust has settled and the High Cascades 100 race is fading into the rear view mirror. Don’t worry, 100 miles and 9+ hours of pedaling didn’t beat the love of mountain biking out of me – I’ve already ridden again!

I’ve got a blog post brewing with details of the race (spoiler: it was awesome), which I’ll post soon. For now, here’s a 1-min video cut showcasing pre-race preparation. I hope you dig it.

Onward!

A 100 Mile Challenge in the High Cascades

 

At 5:30 tomorrow morning, I’ll pedal off on my mountain bike (along with 350 other lunatics) to race 100 miles. The event, High Cascades 100, traverses some of the best trails around Bend and climbs about 10,000 feet in the process.

It’s the culmination of months of hard training. I’ve put in the time and am confident, but feel excited, a bit nervous, and ready to ride!

I’ve never raced mountain bikes before, so starting small with a mere 10 hours of pedaling is just the ticket. HA. At least I’m consistent, since that’s the same way I jumped into bike touring – “hey, let’s ride across the US!” or started a business – “I’ll leave engineering for finance and fake it ‘til I make it!”

Registering for High Cascades was partially a reaction to landing last fall after three years on the road. Both Chelsea and I were tired of constantly saying goodbye to friends and wanted to park it in a cool outdoorsy town, but that glitzy sparkle of long-term travel was hard to shelve. A goal months down the road was just the ticket, so I woke up Thanksgiving Day and signed up for the race, ran a 10k event, then ate myself silly.

Nearing the end of a long, hard ride with my MTB crusher friend Paul.

If I’m honest with myself, I’ve coasted a bit the last three years. With my business running nearly on auto-pilot and the open road in front of us, it was easy to live in the moment and enjoy myself. Sure, we did some big bike tours, volunteered at Farm Sanctuary, saw stunning places, and I blogged frequently – but that’s for fun. I wasn’t elbow-deep in any projects with a long view.

For five years prior to 2013, I’d focused on chasing greenbacks. I worked like a tornado, spinning in one place until I realized I needed to think about something – anything – other than work/business/making money. Thanks to my supportive and adventurous wife, that led to travel and a focus on creative projects. Blogging, photography, video: all were intentional projects with no revenue model in mind. I’m no expert in any of them, but can now produce work that I’m proud of.

Still, I’m not the type to sit around and relax. After the dust from High Cascades settles (and my legs stop hurting), I’ll need a project to set my sights on. This time around, it won’t be a purely physical one. I’m feeling the desire to make something, be it a business, a creative work, or a service for others. (Don’t get me wrong – my bucket list continues to grow. The 670 mile Oregon Timber Trail, yessss!)

Camped out after a great day in the mountains.

I’m currently intrigued by the intersection of the athletic/plant-based movement, which is gaining more steam every day. The desire to create a documentary still lights up my ambition circuits. All it takes is commitment and daily effort. Waiiiit a second…just like getting up with tired legs and heading out for a training ride when I’d rather sit at home and read a book.

If I can train for a race by riding a bike like it’s a part-time job, why can’t I apply the same long-term, sustained effort to a project? The possibility of failure is no excuse, since racing and creative/business efforts are fraught with peril. Time to buckle down.

These ambitions will swim in my thoughts tonight, though I’ll dream mostly of singletrack and logistics for the race. Speaking of that, where is that spare water bottle? I should probably snap this laptop shut and go tune up my bike. Tomorrow’s 4 a.m. alarm is chiming soon, so au revoir and wish me luck!

A beautiful day in the Ochoco Mountains NE of Bend.

Favorite Mountain Bike and Hiking Trails in the Canadian Rockies

black-rock-mountain-dh-mtb

After two summers of bike touring, we carved out September for a Canada mountain biking van trip. A glance at the Trailforks app whet my appetite: British Columbia has 7,182 mountain biking trails and Alberta chimes in with 1,329.

This was a lifetime of pedaling, and there just weren’t enough sunny fall days to explore it all. My ambitious goals to explore more of British Columbia and Vancouver Island ran aground the shoals of realistic time constraints, so a return trip is already brewing!

Not all biking - the Rockies have some awesome hikes too! Here's Chelsea heading down toward Waterton on the Carthew-Alderson.

Not all biking – the Rockies have some awesome hikes too! Here’s Chelsea heading down toward Waterton on the Carthew-Alderson.

Still, in 25 days, I managed to squeeze in 20 bike rides, plus four excellent hikes. The only thing that accumulated faster than the lactic acid in my legs was my appreciation for the beauty and fun of Canada. I also learned that solo rides make all tree stumps closely resemble large grizzly bears…

Here are some of my favorite locations and rides (plus hikes) from the Canadian Rockies and eastern B.C. It’s not even close to comprehensive, but hey, it’s a start. We didn’t make it west of Nelson/Revelstoke, so please cease irate trolling if you think I missed something in another area.

Hiking above Lake Agnes in Banff.

Hiking above Lake Agnes in Banff.

Lake-side break in Waterton.

Lake-side break in Waterton.

Note: Chelsea joined me for a few rides, but mostly stuck to hiking and running because the trails in Canada are, shall we say, a bit gnarly and not her style. Her sense of self-preservation is more acutely developed than mine!

1,000 miles of views and good times!

1,000 miles of views and outdoor fun!

Favorite Mountain Biking Town: Fernie, B.C.

Bikes perch on every car in Fernie, B.C. If you’re looking for a place to park and just RIDE without driving all over, this is it.

Known as a ski town in the past, strong investment in bike infrastructure makes this a MTB destination. The signage is fantastic and there are dozens of trails accessed directly from town.

Cranking up Hyperventilation in Fernie.

Nathan cranking up Hyperventilation in Fernie.

Stay downtown, or camp at Fernie Provincial Park, which has big, private camp spots, hot showers, and feeder trails leaving right from the campground.

Trails of note:
Stovepipe/Brokeback: rooty, rocky chaos after a lung-popping effort to the top via the aptly-named Lactic Ridge
Hyperventilation/Hyperextension: switchback climbing to test your skills, then a fast descent back to town. Try Broken Hip as a kicker finish – it has a corkscrew section you won’t forget.
Lazy Lizard: machine-built trail that is fun for beginners or at Mach 7.

Hot tip: make sure to get a huge smoothie downtown at Lunchbox. The Solara was my favorite.

Hiking a couple hours north of Fernie in Banff.

Hiking a couple hours north of Fernie in Banff.

Bright Blue Rivers and Wildlife Viewing: Jasper, Alberta

Jasper is renowned for its beauty, not to mention the stunning drive up the Icefields Parkway. It’s a laid-back town 1/10th as crazy as Banff, with equally impressive sights. The wildlife is also very present: giant elk stopped traffic on the highway and mountain goats/sheep gazed down as I rode by.

Overlander Trail north of Jasper.

Overlander Trail north of Jasper.

mountain-sheep-jasper

Trails of note:
Valley of Five Lakes: rooty, rocking riding through pretty forest, along lakes like blue gems, all with views of snow-capped mountains. Hard work, but so worth it.
Overlander: similar to #1, but less rooty and with bigger views. A good point-to-point ending right in Jasper.

Hot tip: Try the pizza downtown at Famosa Pizzeria; do your laundry at the most-excellent Coin Clean Laundry.

A fine day on the Valley of Five Lakes trail.

A fine day on the Valley of Five Lakes trail.

Crazy Alpine Adventures: Black Rock Mountain near Canmore, Alberta

I’d never heard of alpine hike-a-bike until Instagram showed me a dude drifting steep, rocky mountain slopes. His buddy Jake was kind enough to invite me on an alpine MTB adventure at Black Rock Mountain. What followed was a day of riding unlike any I’d done before.

If you’re an experienced rider looking for an adventure, try bagging some alpine peaks in the Rockies while you’re there! Make sure to bring a full-face helmet.

Good times on Black Rock Mountain.

Good times on Black Rock Mountain.

Best Flow Trail: Nelson and Revelstoke, B.C.

Two options here, both awesome. Nelson is famous for tough, steep trails; Revelstoke has stuff equally as fun.

Turnstiles and Lefty (Nelson): For huge, perfect berms, head up to Nelson’s magnificent jump trail, newly built in 2016.
Flowdown (Revelstoke): grand fun easily accessed with a pedal up from the highway. Four miles of quintessential Canada fun.

Sean pretending it's not snowing on Keystone Standard near Revelstoke.

Sean pretending it’s not snowing on Keystone Standard near Revelstoke.

South of the Border Bonus: Continental Divide NST #337 (Helena, Montana)

A varied, challenging, and FUN trail. If you ride uphill through the rock gardens without dabbing a foot a few times, I’ll buy you lunch!

Best done as a shuttle from MacDonald Pass, about 30 min west of Helena on Highway 12. Rowdy, tough rock gardens the first few miles, then FAST downhill from there on the Switchback Ridge Trail.

A fine day on the Continental Divide!

A fine day on the Continental Divide!

Favorite Day Hikes:

Since my focus this trip was riding, we stuck to accessible, well-known hikes for rest days. They were all scenic and worth doing!

Hiking Helen Lake in Banff.

Hiking Helen Lake in Banff.

Waterton National Park: Alderson-Carthew

Everyone goes to Glacier National Park, but just north across the Canadian border is Waterton. This scenic park shares the border with Glacier and gets 1/10th the traffic.

We checked out the excellent Alderson-Carthew hike, a 15 mile point-to-point journey. There’s a free shuttle from town that runs until mid-September. Sign up online or at Tamarack Outfitters on the way into town.

Chelsea takes in the view on the Carthew-Alderson.

Chelsea takes in the view on the Carthew-Alderson.

Banff/Lake Louise: Devil’s Thumb

Fear the crowds of Lake Louise! They are REAL, and they will engulf you like the flames of Mordor.

As usual, if you hike a couple miles up, you’ll escape the crowds and find the real fun. A local photographer showed us Devil’s Thumb, a scramble up steep scree to a viewpoint of Lake Agnes and Lake Louise.

For my money, you won’t a much prettier view than those two with the snowy mountains as a backdrop. Throw in yellow larches and the scrum of selfie-snapping tourists around the lake is a small, small price to pay.

View of Lake Agnes and Lake Louise from Devil's Thumb.

View of Lake Agnes and Lake Louise from Devil’s Thumb.

Yoho National Park: Iceline hike

Just the name of this park makes it worth a visit, and a trek up Iceline is another reward. For the full shebang, do the 17-mile loop; for a more sedate hike, just head to the toe of glaciers, eat lunch with a stunning view, and head back.

Lunch break below the glacier on Iceline.

Lunch break below the glacier on Iceline.

Iceline hike looking north.

Iceline hike looking north.

Banff Honorable Mention: Helen Lake

This hike is a steep climb through forest until you break into the scenic valley. Freezing sleet and snow dampened our enthusiasm for scaling snowy peaks around the lake, but apparently the views are stunning from up there.

Winding trails toward Helen Lake.

Winding trails toward Helen Lake.

The high alpine season tapering off...

And that’s all she wrote!

An Alpine Adventure in the Canadian Rockies

alpine-mtb-in-the-rockies

The text message read, “You interested in an alpine adventure?” Having no idea what that meant, I (of course) said yes.

My guide was Jake, a local from Canmore I met through Instagram who offered to show me around. Our destination was Black Rock Mountain, a peak in the Canadian Rockies near Canmore, Alberta.

A bit of exposure on the way down...

A bit of exposure on the way down…

Biiiig cliff, tiny little biker.

Biiiig cliff, tiny little biker.

Jake’s truck easily bombed through gnarly 4×4 roads and river crossings to the bottom of the mountain. We were ready to rumble.

Well, almost: For the first time in my life, I forgot my cycling shoes, making a great impression on my new friend. Nothing like downhill mountain biking on SPD pedals while wearing thin, flexible barefoot shoes. Sigh. I’m sure he wondered whether this total noob was going to survive the day.

We pushed and carried our bikes 3,000 feet up steep rock chutes, scree slopes, and other “holy crap, this is unrideable terrain” and finally arrived at a fire lookout. Peering down the 45 degree slope, I admit to having a questioning moment. However, I sure as hell wasn’t going to carry my bike back DOWN the mountain.

Nothing but downhill and views!

Nothing but downhill and views!

Jake leads the way down a narrow ridge line.

Jake leads the way down a narrow ridge line.

Up next was one of the gnarliest, scenic, fast, and exhilarating mountain bike rides of my life. Words don’t do it justice, so check out the video I made and Jake’s incredible pics of our descent (see below).

For reference, he’s in the orange jacket, I’m in yellow. Follow him on Instagram for more amazing alpine shots. Unlike me, he does this all the time!

Enjoy.

P.S. Don’t worry, mom, this isn’t my typical kind of ride! There were no wrecks and I only used up one of my nine lives (and one carbon rim).

Me dropping through a steep rocky chute.

Me dropping through a steep rocky chute.

River crossing on the way in, Black Rock Mtn in the background.

River crossing on the way in, Black Rock Mtn in the background.

Top of Black Rock at the decommissioned fire lookout.

Top of Black Rock at the decommissioned fire lookout.

black-rock-mountain-biking-drop

Dropping down a narrow ridge near the top of Black Rock Mtn

Dropping down a narrow ridge near the top of Black Rock Mtn

black-rock-mountain-biking-downhill-on-ridge

Running from the thunder clouds.

Running from the thunder clouds.

black-rock-mountain-biking-cliff-edge

Mountain Biking on Singletrack Gnar in Iceland

Pro style MTB play video

I had to try mountain biking in Iceland. How often can I pedal on a volcano and soak in a hot springs in the middle of a ride?

(Want to see live action? Here’s the video, or click the ridiculous photo above!)

With only two days between our camper van trip and our trek in the highlands, I opted for two MTB day trips out of Reykyavik. I chose Icebike Adventures because their reviews were good, they were the first company to start running mountain bike tours in Iceland, and their website was slick. Chelsea opted to rest up in Reykyavik and hang with her folks, so it was just me and other mountain bikers from Italy, Belgium, and Virginia.

Views south to the ocean on the Steamer Trail.

Views south to the ocean on the Steamer Trail.

My cheery guide, Magne (badass Viking name!), picked me up in a lifted Land Rover Defender with big tires and an even bigger sense of style. Many of the Super Jeeps in Iceland cost $100k-$250k and live on pavement. Not so with the Defender.

Trailhead start MTB Iceland

We roared out of town, past a huge geothermal plant that provides all of Reykyavik’s hot water. Soon we were in the volcanic hills east of town.

Skipping the road, Magne blasted through 30 river crossings in the Defender, blowing walls of water into the air. The little boy in me giggled; the adult hooted in appreciation.

MTB approach Iceland

The Trips

I rode with Icebike for two separate trips, the Steamer trail and the Edge trail. These can be combined into one day if you’re feeling up for it. I’d recommend the Edge first so you can relax in the hot pools later in the day.

My take: If you don’t have much time in Iceland and want a cool experience with bubbling mud pools and a soak in a hot springs, go for the Steamer. If you want to ride XC singletrack through lava fields and log more distance, go for the Edge trail.

Rip-roarin' fun on the Edge Trail.

Rip-roarin’ fun on the Edge Trail.

Ride #1: Steamer Trail

This 14k (8 mile) ride starts across a crushed lava field, then climbs up to a viewpoint. There are bubbling mud pots (a cameraman boiled his foot there a couple years back) and a few curious sheep might say hi.

Then there’s some fun, mildly-rowdy singletrack down to the halfway point in Reykyadalur, the “foggy valley.” A bubbling hot stream sprouts from the hills; don’t jump in the top or you’ll be a boiled tourist. Halfway down, the water cools enough to enjoy. You’ll have to share with other tourists, but hey, aren’t hot pools and mountain biking enough?

Fun fun fun on the Steamer Trail.

Fun fun fun on the Steamer Trail.

From there, traverse through a steamy section of trail, then blast downhill on double and single track. You’ll have the option to finish with 15 minutes zipping through grassland singletrack at the bottom.

Crack a beer, say skál (cheers!) to your fellow riders, and head for town.

Dropping into the Steamer Trail.

Singletrack on the Steamer Trail.

Now that's a snack break location. (Steamer Trail)

Now that’s a snack break location. (Steamer Trail)

Ride #2: Edge Trail

Looking for more riding and less soaking? Hit the Edge trail. It’s 23k (14 miles) of rip-roaring fun through a quintessential Icelandic landscape.

Riding the Edge Trail.

Riding through ancient moss-covered lava on the Edge Trail.

According to Magne, there are only about 100 serious mountain bikers in Iceland. This means trails are empty and running into another car at a trailhead is a weird occurrence. Given how fun the terrain is, I expect that to increase dramatically in the coming years, though apparently trail maintenance is a pain with the harsh winters.  I wouldn’t be out there doing trail work in freezing spring sleet, that’s for sure.

Edge Trail starts at a trailhead on the shoulder of an extinct volcano. You’ll pedal past moss-covered lava or down rough, chunky trails that will test your technical skills. Finish up through grassy plains and fields of flowers, over rough bridges, and right into the eastern edge of Reykyavik. Edge was my favorite ride of the two that I did.

As our guide quipped, "busy day at the trailhead!" Iceland's MTB scene is still developing.

AARGH, congested trails are the WORST.

Cranking along the Edge Trail.

Cranking along the Edge Trail.

The Bikes

I ride a nice mountain bike back home and have higher expectations than most. Rental bikes, as a rule, tend to SUCK. Tourists destroy them and many times it seems they are maintained with a rusty hacksaw by a hiker who hates mountain bikes.

Icebike impressed me with their well-maintained, quality Scott full-suspension bikes. The bikes easily handled any of the terrain we encountered (or was that my wannabe-pro skills?). Size-wise, get a large bike if you’re my height (5’10”). A medium is for someone shorter than 5’9”.

Magne putting out the sign vibe.

Magne putting out the sign vibe.

More Options

Both trails were great and I’d recommend either. Steamer is fairly short, but the hot pools halfway are a cool experience. It’s a better trip for a beginner. Edge is rowdier (and more fun) and you’ll work harder, but hey, that’s all part of the fun!

If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t get to experience the heli-biking that Icebike also offers. After all, what’s cooler than landing in a heli on top of a volcano and biking straight off the side? I’ll just have to come back for that, and also for some multi-day trips in the Iceland highlands. SO MUCH TO DO.

Thanks for showing me around, Icebike!

Valley view mid-ride on the Steamer trail.

Valley view mid-ride on the Steamer trail.

Investing in Your Body’s 401(k)

Surveyors Ridge Oregon

This post is inspired by a podcast interview I did with The Consummate Athlete. Check it out here! Topics ranged from my daily habits to navigating van life to benchmarks for my personal fitness to why I love ping pong as much as shredding rocky trails on my mountain bike.
—–

I didn’t “exercise” as a kid. Like most people my age, I simply played. Exercise was climbing trees and running around. There wasn’t a routine or plan – it was simply part of my daily lifestyle.

Then came the years of sitting at desks at school and lifting weights so I could smack a baseball over a fence. (And impress the ladies). I could bench 285, but I couldn’t touch my toes without my eyes bugging out.

Zip forward three decades and here I am, recently 34 years old. I’m still very active, but the range of motion in my hips, shoulders, and other joints are closer to a rusty Tin Man than my younger self.

As I head toward the Land of Middle Age, my goal is to stay active in many sports. To achieve this, I’ve realized a haphazard approach to fitness and flexibility won’t suffice. It’s going to take more of a concerted effort.

Exploring Oneonta Gorge in Oregon.

Exploring the Oneonta Gorge in Oregon…with icy toes.

What Are Your Fitness Benchmarks?

The esteemed mountaineer Conrad Anker does two things every year to encourage staying in shape – run a marathon and climb El Capitan in Yosemite. This got me thinking about what my personal fitness barometers might be. I encourage you to do the same.

Rather than a couple big goals, I opted for specific items along the lines of the Presidential Fitness test we did as kids, with some other sports mixed in. My baseline goals – ones I want to be able to do anytime, anywhere – are:

  • 50 pushups
  • 15 pullups (no kipping!)
  • 15 dips
  • Hold a plank for 2 minutes without shaking like a rabid rattlesnake
  • Touch my toes with straight legs
  • Run ten miles
  • Ride a century on a road bike OR 35 miles of gnarly, physical terrain on my mountain bike
  • Swim a mile straight (in a pool)
  • Lead 5.11 climbing routes
  • Beat my friend Jaysun at ping pong (I love the outdoors and adrenaline sports, but for some reason also find a ton of joy in the focused fun of this sport)

While we’ve been landed in Portland, it’s been easy to maintain these. Most can be done while traveling, though it depends. Some will atrophy during long, single-activity trips like bike touring, backpacking, or eating large servings of carrot cake for three months. Others are a starting point – if I’m planning a long climbing trip, I’ll get after it and hopefully be cranking on 5.12s by go time.

I’ve also enjoyed benchmark Crossfit workouts as an excellent way to test overall fitness, not to mention a damn fine workout when I’ve only got time for a short workout. I’m not a Crossfitter and have never been to their gyms, but my favorite test is one called Cindy. It’s 20 minutes to complete as many sets as possible of 5 pullups, 10 pushups, and 15 air squats. If don’t splat on your back in a puddle of sweat afterward, you are a cyborg.

All that’s nice, but what about staying limber? That’s where mobility work comes into play.

Oneonta Tunnel Oregon

.Exploring an old tunnel in Oregon.

Mobility Training (Ok, Stretching)

Lately I’ve also incorporated a mobility practice into my life. I don’t want tight hips, shoulders, ankles, and forearms limiting my performance in the activities I enjoy, and this is the ticket for that.

We all know we need to stretch more, warm up better, blah blah blah. Well, it still matters. Paraphrasing an Olympic strength coach: “If world-class power lifters are using their limited training time to stretch EVEN THOUGH their focus is strength, why aren’t you?” Fine.

I’m not the best at regular stretching, but have found that triggers work best for me. (I do one thing, then immediately do the desired activity afterward. e.g. Eat breakfast, brush teeth.) To accomplish this, I integrated a mobility practice into something I already do frequently: reading.

A number of books inspired this, most recently Ready to RunI also drew on an interview with an Olympic gymnastics coach and incorporated his fundamentals program. There’s no magic pill though – it still takes work. Most of us, including me, have so much body memory in the wrong positions that it’s going to take consistent, focused effort to repair the damage.

A great day on the trails of the Columbia Gorge. Photo: Scott Rokis.

Working on tight hamstrings in the Columbia Gorge. Photo: Scott Rokis.

The good news is that many mobility exercises provide entertainment for your partner. Chelsea routinely has laughing fits when I’m struggling through an ape or crab walk. Even with her antics, my mobility is improving after just a month of 10-20 minutes per day and I can actually picture the day when doing the splits won’t put me in the hospital.

If you’re like me and have tight hamstrings, hip flexors, and shoulders from biking/running/hunching over a device, these are my favorite exercises. You may dig them too:

  • Couch stretch – no, it’s not reeeeaching for the T.V. remote from the couch. Do a lunge with your rear knee on the ground, then reach back and lift your foot until it touches your butt. Shriek loudly, then relax until your eyes stop watering. Two-four minutes each side a couple times each day will change your hip flexors from twangy to the envy of all the ballerinas you know.
  • Deep squats – my ankles and hips are both tight. Until a week ago, sitting in a squat with heels on the ground resulted in me toppling over backward. My goal is a full squat with feet flat on the ground, and two minutes a few times a day is moving me forward.
  • Table top/crab pose – great for shoulder flexibility to stretch the pec minor muscle, the one in our chest that is constantly constricting as we hover over our glowing devices. Lots of variations on this – just Google “pec minor stretch”
  • Jefferson Curls – I’d never even heard of this exercise, but it’s the #1 recommendation from Gymnastic Bodies. It’s basically a weighted standing forward curl to bring back curvature and flexibility in your spine. My hamstrings and spine are in love with this stretch.

Do those four exercises consistently and I bet you’ll see great progress. I choose 2-3 each day and do them while I read books or blog posts, prior to a climbing session, or after a bike ride or run.

Mt Hood agrees that June alpine rides are the best. (Surveyors Ridge)

Taking a break during a ride near Mt Hood. June alpine rides are the best.

When I hear about older athletes who are still crushing it, consistency is the dominant theme. By staying on top of mobility and regularly exercising, they avoid injuries that sideline many athletes for big chunks of time and require starting over. Day in, day out, they take a few minutes to bang out some pushups or pullups, stand instead of sit at a desk (standing desks are magic for better posture), or choose stretching on the floor while watching a movie versus sinking into the couch. The small things add up over tie!

I write about this as both an accountability statement for myself and a reminder that it is TOTALLY possible to stay flexible, strong, and active as we age. I see it as an investment similar to saving for retirement. With a few minutes per day sunk into a Body 401(k), hopefully I’ll be pulling out returns for many years.

Zipping along perfect trails at Post Canyon.

Zipping along perfect trails at Post Canyon. Here’s to more of this for a long time!

Forget Logging, Let’s Pedal – Oakridge, A Mountain Biking Paradise

Heckletooth Mountain descent

I recently spent four days mountain biking in the outdoor playground of Oakridge, Oregon. All I can say is: Visit. This. Place.

Riders out there, bring your mountain bike. If you or your family are into other sports, there’s fun to be had in a kayak, with a bird spotting scope, and by lacing up hiking shoes. It’s time to play outside.

Oakridge is a small town on the west side of the Cascade Mountains. Founded as a rough and tumble logging town with more taverns than churches, it wasn’t always a place that attracted adrenaline-loving yuppies like me.

Old habits meet new activities on a connector fire road.

Old habits meet new activities on a connector fire road.

These days, it’s different. You’re as likely to see a cycling jersey as a plaid work shirt.

With a vision many rural communities in the west can learn from, Oakridge is leveraging its natural assets via tourism. It now hosts big events like Mountain Bike Oregon, races like Trans-Cascadia, or great fun for groups of friends coming in to ride. It’s not a one-stop solution, but the town is definitely attracting cash to revitalize the local economy.

The climb to Heckletooth Mountain might just pop an artery, but what a place for lunch.

The climb to Heckletooth Mountain might just pop an artery, but what a place for lunch.

Access is a key component – Oakridge lies at the center of five major trailheads with enticing ridges rising in all directions. The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) just labeled it a Gold-Level mountain biking destination, just one of six in the country. The town is the hub in a spoke system radiating outward with hundreds of miles of trails.

These trails saunter along alpine ridges speckled with wildflowers, slip through old-growth forest and wind along green, moss-lined green river trails. Pedal from a cheap rental in town or camp at the dozens of great National Forest Service campgrounds; either way, life is good. Five friends and I rode until we dropped and barely dinged the shiny surface of this pedaling paradise.

Gabe enjoying wildflowers (and fast downhill, of course) on Alpine Trails.

Gabe enjoying wildflowers (and fast downhill) on Alpine Trail.

The badass trails are the major draw. What also impressed me is the vision and creativity the people of Oakridge are employing to make it a destination, not just a place Oregonians ride. They aren’t just order takers like a cotton candy vendor at a busy fair. It’s a place where you can tell they appreciate having you around.

Take the Mercantile, for instance. This cool bike shop rents and sells fancy downhill bikes, but also stocks plaid workshirts. There’s a huge trail map on the wall and the employees happily pointed out which trails were clear of snow and which had tons of downed trees.

You know there's some fun about to happen when the rigs are loaded and lined up like this!

You know there’s some fun about to happen when the rigs are loaded and lined up like this!

Then there’s the We Speak pins that people around town wear, touting their local-only knowledge. “I Speak Camping,” says Heather’s pin, and another guy knows wildflowers. Instead of grouchy order takers, the town seems to exude hey, we’re glad you’re here!

Oakridge isn’t a secret. We met multiple parties from out of town, including one down from British Columbia (a destination itself). Still, with so many trails dedicated to non-motorized vehicles, there’s lots of room to play!

If you’re planning a summer or fall mountain biking trip, put Oakridge on your list. Forget the crowds in Moab and the lifts of Whistler and head to this Oregon gem. I’m definitely going back soon.

Climbing a fire road to a trailhead with views over the trees.

Greg takes a moment to enjoy the views over Larison Creek.

Resources for your trip

For general info, check out this solid Travel Oregon video  or visit OakridgeChamber.com.

Trails to Ride

In our four days in town, we explored five different trail systems. The only thing more tired than my legs was my jaw from all the grinning!

Based on my experience and beta from friends who know the area well, I can recommend the following trails for anyone heading to Oakridge. Ride Oregon Ride has good info too.

Updated fall 2017: After additional time in Oakridge, I added other favorite rides. The town only continues to grow the riding in the area, so it’s even better now!

Alpine – the famous (for good reason) shredfest. Get ready for alpine wildflowers with views of the valley followed by fast single track snaking through forest.

Evan topping out on a big climb to the stellar views on Alpine Trail.

Evan topping out on a big climb to the stellar views on Alpine Trail.

ATCA (Alpine-Tire Mountain-Cloverpatch-Alpine) – even shuttling this, you’ll pedal 5,000′ of elevation in less than 30 miles. IT’S WORTH IT! The huge trees on Tire and fine, fine descending on Tire will make that climb out of Cloverpatch totally worth it.

Larison Rock – fast fast fasssst rip right into Oakridge. Watch out on the marble-slick corners on this one – it’s easy to overcook those and launch off your bike.

Little Bunchgrass into Heckletooth Mountain – you’ll weave through huge trees high on a ridge, test your skills on some steep rocky sections, and then climb (and climb some more) to the top of Heckletooth. The descent is a steep, furious ripper on switchbacks that’ll test your skills. Enough said – this is my favorite ride of the trip. (I might have said that after every ride…)

Dead Mountain – great views of the valley plus machine-built jumping and radness up top into a fast single track. Easy to pedal right back into town too, which is always nice.

Jason from Bermstyle.com takes in the valley view from Dead Mountain.

Eula or Hardesty – accessed via the same fire road, these two are SO good. Eula is so-steep-there’s-no-stopping in places and you’ll drop 3k’ in a few grin-inducing miles. Hardesty is a favorite of mine and is zippy, twisty fun through cut logs and over roots. Don’t miss it!

Lawler – an Oakridge classic that was rebuilt recently. Classic Oakridge singletrack up top followed by the new part down low – machine-built, ripping fun.

Middle Fork Willamette River – this one has echoes of the McKenzie River Trail, a famous destination in Oregon for biking. I’d ride the West Fork any day for the remoteness and lack of hikers gaping at the oncoming bikes. Beautiful riding.

Jim splashes through a creek on the Middle Fork trail.

Jim splashes through a creek on the Middle Fork trail.

Larison Creek – a 10 mile fire road climb followed by some of the most beautiful, mossy, technical creekside riding I’ve done.

Gabe zips through the emerald palace of Larison Creek.

Gabe zips through the emerald palace of Larison Creek.

Salmon Creek Falls Trail – accessed right from town, it’s a smooth beginner trail on the north side, classic technical river trail on the south. The climb out of the south will test any rider’s fitness!

Gabe on Salmon Creek Trail.

Gabe on Salmon Creek Trail.

Places to Check Out

  1. The Willamette Valley Mercantile – bike shop and all-around knowledge center for anything you need.
  2. Local 180 Brew Pub – a top nanobrewery and watering hole for mountain bikers. Live music and friendly staff.
  3. Oregon Adventures – don’t feel like pedaling to the top or need a local guide? We didn’t need their services, but multiple friends have recommended this company for those looking to shuttle Oakridge or not get lost in the wilderness arguing with your map about which direction is west. They arrange a 17k in a Day shuttle with close to 20,000’ of descending on the best trails in Oakridge.

Local Mountain Biking Events and Races

  1. Mountain Bike Oregon – this event put Oakridge on the map. Join hundreds of mountain bikers for food, riding, and tales of valor after three days shredding the best trails in Oakridge.
  2. Trans-Cascadia – friends of mine created this enduro race series. Test your mettle against some amazing riders.

Ricky wisely chooses to walk, not ride, mossy logs on Larison Creek

Ricky wisely chooses to walk, not ride, mossy logs on Larison Creek.

Creativity and Fear, My Road Trip Companions

Kite boarding in Resia, Italy

The winds over the Cascade Mountains in Washington always punch airplanes around. As I sat in a 20-seat propeller aircraft during a recent trip, the metal creaked, the engines roared, and the pilot fought winds so strong the flight attendants stayed seated the entire time. (Never a good sign.) Luckily, I happened to be reading a book chapter about fear.

But I’m not talking about that kind of fear.

I’m talking about creative fear. The kind that stops you in your tracks and makes you say no, to shelve an idea, curb a project and stay safe. As Aristotle said, “to avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

Liz Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic, describes how she pictures any creative endeavor as a road trip with twins named Creativity and Fear. They’re always there, but she sets ground rules before the trip: Fear gets no radio station control, and definitely doesn’t get to drive.

Creativity, meanwhile, rides shotgun and picks the music, points out restaurants, and picks fun side diversions along the way, loving the ride. Yet through it all, Fear sits in the backseat with arms crossed and points out how stupid it was to take the road trip, that everything is going wrong, and whines about taking a pee break.

Lounging by a lake in Italy

Lounging by a lake in Italy

I fight fear every time I hit publish on a blog post or video. Blogging is easier these days since I’ve published 120 of them (how did that happen?!) without anyone shipping me off to the gulag for dissent. However, I’m a neophyte with video, so each completed work is a large percentage of my lifetime efforts. It’s a new arena where I’m equipped with a fork and spoon as I wish for a trident and lion-emblazoned shield.

Luckily, there are no other gladiators, and my life isn’t at stake. Just my self-confidence.

But hey! Learning with no expectations is good for me; video taps a different part of my brain versus writing or photography. Chelsea loses me for hours as I disappear into editing or drift off thinking about a fun angle for a shot. I know a well-done video when I see one – I think we all do – so efforts at this new endeavor frustrate me sometimes. But while these little video compilations don’t meet my vision for desired quality, they’re training, a method to figuring things out.

Ira Glass from This American Life said it well: “For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good… A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this…And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.”

Every time I “finish” a creative project, a part of me still cringes because I know it’s not perfect. Making something feels like physical effort akin to scaling a castle wall, and publishing is tossing the work off a turret into the commons for all to see. Yet there, open and exposed, is where a project teaches me something. Readers email with support or (hopefully constructive) feedback, and I also ask for input from people whose skills I respect. (Brady, you wily film maker, you’re right – moving text and cross-fades are lame.)

If I don’t do that, there’s no improvement – I’d send text shooting across the screen and execute bad transitions forever. Instead, progress. Or at least it feels that way.

Wandering the castle grounds in Prague.

Wandering the castle grounds in Prague.

Just like this blog, which has expanded beyond what I expected when I started tapping keys two years ago, I have no idea how video will add to my life. Maybe it’s just a fun side project, a good outlet for my curiosity. Or maybe I can leverage those skills, our travel experiences, and my writing to tell stories about issues that needs attention. I felt too awkward to film the Syrian refugee situation when we were in Salzburg, but that is a perfect example of a story that needs to be shared.

Footage from our cycling trip in Europe is my current video medium. I’m parsing my way through it to learn new skills like decoupling video and audio for voiceovers, layering audio tracks, plus discovering free creative commons music sources. And while Fear sullenly plays Solitaire and Creativity babbles on about all the adventures around the bend, I’m enjoying the heck out of this road trip.

Check out my latest video – it’s a quick 1:20 and, I dare say, my cleanest one yet. Please let me know what you think!

I Like Big Tires and I Cannot Lie (An MTB Video)

Downhill mountain biking Petzen Austria

Two months ago, my friend Michael told me about the Petzen downhill mountain bike area in SE Austria. Since it is hunkered in the Carpathian Mountains near Slovenia and 1,500 miles from where we were in England, I figured that would never happen. Nevertheless, I added it to Evernote just in case.

Sometimes, these things work out. As we pedaled through Slovenia, I mapped out a route to Petzen. As luck would have it, we found a vegan hotel/restaurant on Lake Klopein, the perfect location for a few days off after our tour through Hungary. Petzen happened to be just a few pedal strokes (ok, 15 miles) away. A perfect day trip.

The warm-up ride to the park was worth it: the stellar downhill and views of the valley make Petzen was the best flow trail I’ve ever ridden. It was so flowy that my first six-mile run through the berms actually made me slightly motion sick! The trail, which won IMBA’s 2014 Flow Trail of the Year award, is fantastic.

Enough said. Other than visiting it, the best way to experience Petzen is through a video. Here it is.

Five Rad Mountain Bike Rides in Southern Utah

Porcupine Rim above Moab

The spring pilgrimage to Utah is a common trek for avid mountain bikers. They flock to the southern part of the state in search of dry trails and to avoid nasty east coast weather or the rainy Northwest. Moab is the well-known Mecca of Fat Tired Fun, but there are two-wheeled adventures splashed from there all the way to Las Vegas.

In April, I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks romping around on the splendid singletrack in southern Utah. Under blue skies, my tires crunched and whirred over miles of red rock until my legs burned from climbing and my neck creaked from rocky descents. Some days I rode solo, hours in the middle of nowhere where I could stop on a bluff and enjoy a solitary lunch. I also met up with friends from Oregon, Colorado, and California to form biker gangs bandying about enough acronyms to make a newbie rider’s brain bulge.

Group ride on Magnificent 7 in Moab

We rode singletrack, not fire roads… This is a connector section on the Mag 7 trail.

Here are the trails I’ll ride again when I return to Utah…which I certainly plan on doing! Even if you’re on a family trip or are cruising with a partner who doesn’t ride, I suggest that any mountain biker driving through the five national parks of Utah should bring a (full-suspension) bike with them to fully enjoy the fun.

  1.  Porcupine Rim (Moab, UT) – first up, any mountain biker visiting Moab needs to shred down Porcupine. It’s one of the most famous trails in the U.S. (world?), and for good reason. The trail is miles of downhill fun that, depending on snow levels, starts as high as 11,000’ elevation and finishes at 4,000’ at the Colorado River. Along the way, the action heats up from silky singletrack into rockier terrain, finishing with riding to test the best riders. All the while, you’ll be craning your neck to catch views of the red rock valleys that make Utah famous.A tip: don’t be a Roadie Punk – pay $25 for a shuttle from one of the bros in town (Porcupine Shuttle is great, as is Coyote Shuttle) and let them drive your lazy butt to the bottom of the snowline. You’re going to have 20+ miles of downhill; save the vertical gain for your commute and weekly ride back home! You came to Moab to shred the GNAR, bro.
  1. JEM/Goulds Loop (Hurricane, UT) – sick of rocky drops and full-face helmets, and simply want to grin your face off? If JEM were a song, it would be a Green Day jam cranked to full volume. Pedal as hard as you can on this IMBA Epic and live it up! The trailhead is right outside Zion National Park, an easy hop free of tourist throngs in the park. Add Goulds/Hurricane Rim to the mix if you want a big (and very fun) day on the bike.

    Hurricane Rim

  1. Thunder Mountain (Bryce Canyon NP) – hoodoo rock spires, backcountry riding, and solitude are the name of the game on Thunder Mountain. Just a few minutes from the entrance to Bryce Canyon, this ride is a remote ride to a lunch spot overlooking the valley. If you see another person on the trail, I’d be surprised.

    Hoodoos! Please excuse the poor quality iPhone shot...

    Hoodoos! 

  1. Gooseberry Mesa (Hurricane, UT) – bikers rave about Slickrock Trail in Moab, but I’d rather ride the mesas around Zion National Park any day of the week. Why? Gooseberry is the same style of riding (up and down on grippy, rolling rock), but is more technical and fun, especially the South Rim trail. The mesa is accessed via a rough road that results in empty trails and solitude any hermit worth his bushy beard would enjoy, plus free camping. Did I mention sweeping views of the valley outside of Zion National Park? Gooseberry is the well-known mesa, but there are others, such as Guacamole Mesa, that are good fun as well.

    Gooseberry Mesa

  1. Magnificent 7 to Portal Trail (Moab, UT) – there’s a sign near a cliff edge on the Portal Trail that intones, “Walk your bike. People have died here. People like you. GET OFF YOUR BIKE.” Signs leading to Portal encourage turning around while you still can, shrilly proclaiming that you are approaching trails best ridden by <25 year old males with GoPros strapped to their heads. Don’t listen to them – Mag 7 through Portal is one of the most fun, physical and view-laced trails you’ll ever ride. Use your brain and walk the cliffs marked by warning signs, bring plenty of grub and water, and make this a must-do if you’re an advanced rider looking for an adventure around Moab. Shuttling to the top of Mag 7 (as they call it)  and riding all the way out is a 20+ mile, all-day adventure through the rocky terrain around Moab that you won’t forget.

    Portal Trail Moab

  2. Durango, CO trail systems. I enjoyed a week of exploring this high-altitude mountain biking destination while local riders I met showed my lungs who was boss. All the trails are accessed right from downtown; this is another IMBA Epic that anyone who enjoys biking will dig. Phil’s World, right across from Mesa Verde National Park (about 40 miles west of Durango), is another stellar area developed by local trail builders.

    Telegraph Trails in Durango

For trail guides, I recommend picking up maps at any of the bike shops in Moab. For the other rides, the Singletracks.com or Maplets app are great resources. Even without a map, you’ll figure it out…and if you don’t, then you’ll get to do a longer (if unplanned) ride! Bonus miles are the best. Take a picture of the trail head map and head out.

Here’s to two-wheeled fun in the wilds of Utah. Snag a spring break from the cold and wet; head to the red rock! Ride on, amigos.

My buddy John B. riding a ridge on Amasa Back in Moab.

My buddy John riding a ridge on Amasa Back in Moab.

Cards Against Humanity game night in Moab

A post-ride session of Cards Against Humanity. John, you know I deserved the win on this round!