Solitude in the Elkhorn and Wallowa Mountains

Coming off two weeks working on my parents property right before the 2020 election drama, I craved time alone in nature. En route to home, I swung through the Wallowa and Elkhorn Mountain ranges for some true solitude. Below is a photo essay from my time there.

The summary:

  • No phone signal for days.
  • Two total other people encountered on the trail. My favorite was the ebullient Pastor Dave, who “moved to the area 17 years and 75 pounds ago, found hiking, and have been to all 76 lakes in the Wallowas!”
  • Lots of time on foot and pedaling in the mountains.

A big shout out to Chelsea for graciously supporting my extra time away. It made me appreciate her even more and brought to mind this Rainer Maria Rilke quote:

I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other. For, if it lies in the nature of indifference and of the crowd to recognize no solitude, then love and friendship are there for the purpose of continually providing the opportunity for solitude. And only those are the true sharings which rhythmically interrupt periods of deep isolation.

Photos from the Elkhorn and Wallowa Mountains!

A clearing storm on the Palouse en route to the Wallowas. It made me think of the potential in the election…
Taking in the Matterhorn view on Hurricane Creek Trail in the Wallowas. No wonder they call them The Little Alps! (Also, props to apps with 30 second camera timers…see how relaxed I look? Didn’t even have to sprint.)
The sign read “Bridge Out,” but clearly it was fine.
Firing larches and a perfect fall day on the S. Fork of the Imnaha.
Rather than destroying the van on a rough fire road, I opted to bike in. The snow/ice had other ideas. I’ll be back, Bonny Lake!
Strange bedfellows on this trip: my keyboard, a bronze sculpture by my dad that I picked up at a foundry, and a maple 4×4 that we’re going to grow mushrooms on! All less cuddly than Chelsea, but they don’t toss and turn at night…
‘Tis the season for magic larch colors! The air was adrift with floating golden needles.
Sunset on the stunning Elkhorn Crest Trail on Oregon’s highest singletrack trail! Looking west, you see this…
And looking east, you see the desert near Baker City.
van camping wallowas
The U.S. ain’t perfect by any stretch, but I sure love the huge swaths of public land for recreating and van camping with a view!
larch needles mtb
Fallen larch needles.
Dutch Flat mtb trail
Tired but alive at the top of Dutch Flat trail in the Elkhorns. This trail is incredible, a combo of views, gold larches, and grin-inducing rocks, speed and… anyway. #mountainbikedorkalert
piano keyboard van
Sing us a sooooong, in the piano van! (Thanks to my friend Eric for getting THAT ditty stuck in my head for a week.)
elkhorn crest mtb
Sunset on the sublime Elkhorn Crest trail. Deep in the zone in my happy place.

And that’s a wrap! Sing us a song la da deee da da… Ciao for now, folks.

Mountain view!

Launching a Bikepacking Trip on the Oregon Timber Trail

Mountain view!

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

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

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

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

Intense. And so, so rad.

View from the cockpit

What is the Oregon Timber Trail?

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

60 miles of fun on the Oregon Timber Trail

670 miles of fun on the Oregon Timber Trail

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

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

Lakes, lakes and more lakes

Lakes, lakes and more lakes

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

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

Still snow above 6k'!

Still snow in the mountains!

Why Bother? That Sounds Haaaard

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

Wading a frosty-cold stream on the shakeout ride.

Wading a frosty-cold stream on the shakeout ride.

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

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

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

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

No cell signal, just mountain views.

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

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

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

Cozy camp on Lava Lake

Cozy camp on Lava Lake.

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

Bikepacking dinner prep

10:30 pm dinner prep. Pad thai!

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

The sexy bikepacking setup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to Follow Along?

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

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

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

Mountains, here I come!

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.

Spring Shenanigans in Bend

Whoa, how did two months pass since I last posted? Whoops… For all you new subscribers, howdy! Don’t worry, there’s not usually this much radio silence.

Not that I’ve laid around in traction or anything! Far from it.

Climbing in the Marsupials above Smith Rock.

It’s merely that Bend is the ultimate distraction. Turns out that 1) the city and surrounding area are an outdoor playground with too many potential sports and 2) everyone visits if you move here. Since January, athletic fun and constant guests conspired to leave minimal time for blogging.

Hosting vegan cookbook club in Bend.

My friend Eric skins up Tumalo Mountain on a backcountry ski outing in the Cascades.

Rather than writing, my creative outlet shifted to shooting and editing videos for Instagram on my phone with the Cameo app. My rule: a limit of 15 minutes for editing, which helped me avoid perfectionist tendencies that find me editing for untold hours. During March, I cranked out 10 of them.

It was easy to find material for quick, fun cuts thanks to 30 days of skiing this year (for my first season, I almost don’t suck!), plus rock climbing and mountain biking. Throw in a Portland road trip and a few days in Palm Springs for a wedding and where DOES the time go?

South Sister through the looking glass on a bluebird day.

Check out our recent shenanigans! Here are my favorite Instagram videos (all less than 60 seconds) from the last couple months, all edited on my iPhone using Cameo. Pick a few that sound interesting and crank the sound up!

Gotta go up to go down…

Da Videos:

Powder skiing excellence (on March 30th!) at Mt Bachelor

-A great day volunteering at Harmony Farm Sanctuary near Bend. (Clearly I chose to shoot video instead of actually working…)

Antics in the Palm Springs sun for a friend’s wedding – pool and diving board exploits, trail running, biking around town on a clunker Airbnb loaner bike, and other festivities!

-Pretending I can backcountry ski (Tumalo Mountain west of Bend)

-Double-whammy #BendFit adventure day full of climbing and mountain biking

-A glimpse of Chelsea shredding some turns at Bachelor

-A pivot to other sports after weather shut down a backcountry ski up/down Mt. St. Helens

On top of Tumalo Mtn – hard work done, time for the fun!