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Bikepacking Hijinks on the Oregon Outback

The buzzing on Jono’s bike started shortly after we rolled onto a tooth-rattling section of the OC&E rail trail. The culprit: his Crocs were dragging on the rear tire. “PHEW, glad I didn’t lose those,” he said.

“Hey, wait. Where’s my sleeping pad?”

Losing a sleeping pad a mere 13 miles into one’s first bikepacking trip might sound terrible. However, rarely do the Adventure Gods present such a prime opportunity for an entertaining story.

Me? I sat down to eat a taqueria burrito and watched my friend pedal toward the start in search of his wayward sleeping pad.

Day one of our bikepacking trip on the Oregon Outback was underway!

Jono’s and bike, sleeping pad in place on the OC&E rail trail. For now.

Blog Post Sections

Depending what you’re looking for, you may want to jump around this article. Here are a few links to aid that:

  1. What is the Oregon Outback?
  2. My experience bikepacking the Oregon Outback
    1. Day 1 – Klamath Falls to mile 68 on OC&E Woods Line Trail
    2. Day 2 – OC&E to Silver Creek camping
    3. Day 3 – Silver Creek to Sand Springs
    4. Day 4 – Sand Springs to Prineville
    5. Day 5 – Prineville to Antelope
    6. Day 6 – Antelope to the finish
  3. Parting thoughts (aka what to expect)
  4. Tips for riding the Outback
  5. Trip logistics: food, water, camping, navigation, etc

Don’t feel like reading? Watch the five-minute video that Jono put together! If I say so myself, he did a fine job.

The Oregon Outback

The Oregon Outback is a bikepacking route that travels south to north across the state of Oregon. Starting in downtown Klamath Falls near the California border, it follows gravel, dirt and pavement for 360 miles to the Columbia River. Overall, the route is 75% unpaved and 25% asphalt.

The Outback visits lesser-known parts of Oregon and is famous for big desert views, lack of water, and occasionally punishing riding surface conditions. Speaking of the latter, the route features The Red Sauce, a nickname for the loose red soil covering a solid chunk of the first 150 miles. 

A less painful section of The Sauce.

The Sauce absorbs pedal strokes like a fat suit in a punching match and makes you sweat like you’re wearing one. At least the colors are fantastic – evergreens line the red road and views through the thin forest are beautiful.

The Outback takes a rider through a few tiny communities (e.g. Ashwood, population 55), plus a pit-stop in Prineville at mile 230. Mostly, you’re on your own for food, water, and bike repair.

Oh, and sleeping pads.

Who needs sleeping pads when you’re living the good life at gas stations?

Onward on the Outback

My trip companion for the Outback, Jono, is the most enthusiastic, positive person I know. He speaks five languages, alpine climbs like a mountain goat, and is game for all manner of exploits.

For example, he bought a beater car in Spain and drove it for six weeks across eastern Europe and Russia to Mongolia. When it broke down in the Mongolian steppes, he traded the car for bus tickets to the Chinese border.

The overlanding, car-trading cyclist.

The Oregon Outback was his first multi-day bike trip and our first trip together, but I felt confident he’d overwhelm any newbie hijinks with his upbeat attitude. He’s slept in a climbing harness high up the wall on El Capitan, so he knows doing hard things is sometimes often the price of admission for outdoor hijinks.

Still, a man needs to sleep, so I grinned in relief when he pedaled back into sight carrying his wayward sleeping pad. Turns out Jono’s pad squirted off his bike a mere ¼ mile from where we noticed it’s departure. Unfortunately, a cyclist headed the other way picked it up and only Jono’s Herculean efforts to catch him reeled in the wayward pad.

Back on the road. Nice to get all the bad luck out of the way early, right? Riiiight.

No beer for me, but a couple burritos for dinner on night 1? Yes please.

My Experience Riding the Oregon Outback

Day 1: heat, cows and bike paths, Klamath Falls to middle of nowhere

Sleeping pad reunion complete, but parched from the heat after four hours of riding the gravel OC&E rail trail, we pedal into the gas station in tiny Sprague. The employee asks zero questions and clearly couldn’t care less what we are up to. A reminder that most things we personally find intriguing are boring – or insane – to other people.

I soak my head and shirt with the gas station’s garden hose, a sublime moment. Bike trips (and maybe life?) are all about the small moments of joy, the stark contrasts of hunger and food, heat and cold water.

One of the many gates on the OC&E rail trail. Small price to pay for no cars!

A punishing traverse of cow pasture hell pushes us out off the rail trail and onto smooth pavement. There’s no glory in arbitrary suffering, people: if it’s not a race or an FKT attempt and you have a better option, take it!

 A tooth-rattling final section on The Red Sauce – mitigated by The Queen’s Gambit audiobook – gets us to the campsite, 68 miles in. Sure, there’s an argument for staying present, but I don’t need to pedal every second of an 8-hour day with angry thoughts pinging around in my head.

A quick rinse in the creek, dinner, cowboy camping under the stars. Day 1, check.

The OC&E Hilton.

Day 2: middle of nowhere to Silver Creek

We warm up by batting large rocks around with our tires on the initial climb. Bike Tennis! We talk about bear attacks as we pedal, a relaxing topic for a camping trip.

The OC&E rail trail ends and I tearfully bid The Red Sauce goodbye (for now). Pavement is delightful sometimes, especially when there’s only a car every hour. We cruise through the Fremont National Forest as the midday heat builds. 

When energy levels lag, we take a quick mid-afternoon break…which turns into an hour sitting in the shade and chatting about business ideas. As I tell Jono, we can sit here or we can sit in camp later – what’s the difference? We aren’t racing, let’s enjoy it

Burritos by the side of the road. Jono, a super genius, suggested bringing lightweight camp chairs and they were AWESOME.

Like every day on the Oregon Outback, we are tired by the end of the ride. Algae-filled shallow Silver Creek isn’t particularly enticing, but beats sleeping coated in dust and sweat from a day of pedaling. 

Freeze-dried pad thai + soy curls all stuffed in a burrito = dinner. Bikepacker hunger is already setting in! Eight hours of biking will do that to a person.

My biggest takeaway of the day is Jono’s wise advice for outdoor trips: always eat your best food, because then you’re always eating your best food. Simple and brilliant. To hell with delayed gratification! Don’t save the cookie or your best freeze-dried meal for the end of the trip. Eat your best food, now.

Getting rowdy during a creek crossing.

Day 3: Silver Creek to OHV Sand Springs

If I squint extra hard, bike trips are a compressed version of life. Uphill battles, too-short moments coasting downhill, shattered expectations (e.g crushing headwinds on a flat day of pedaling)…and unexpected surprises.

SURPRISE: Jono breaks his rear shifter 20 miles in on day 3, leaving him unable to change gears. Somehow, he remains imperturbably positive and rolls with it. My positive contribution is a nickname, Single-Speed Jono. I’m such a helpful trip companion.

A cool crew of bikepackers from Corvallis. (Jono is fixing a flat tire in the background. Or drinking a beer, it appears.)

On the bright side, a road grader tamed the washboard gravel out of Silver Lake. You better believe we waved at the driver!

A good moment to point something out: when you’re traveling on a bike, be an ambassador. Stop and talk with people. Wave at ranchers and farmers when they slow down to pass. Be courteous and curious. Ask questions about towns, how many other cyclists they see. Pave a smooth path for the next exhausted, dehydrated cyclist.

Case in point: the Silver Lake convenience store has PopTarts (yesss), but no tap water. After some amiable chatting with the proprietor, he lets us refill at his house next door. The same thing happens at the Ft. Rock greasy spoon. However, the waitress tells me cyclists keep using the outside water without asking or buying anything, so they’re closing off those hoses. Be an ambassador, people!

The wall of the general store in Silver Lake.

We pedal on. It’s hot. Windy. Deep red gravel sucks energy from our tired legs. DAMN YOU, RED SAUCE. Spirits crash. These things happen while pedaling 6-8 hours a day and spending all day outside in the elements. 

Oh, right, I’m hungry. When my attitude shifts into negative gear, it’s (almost) always food. A few olives and a PopTart revives my spirits. 

Our campsite that night is the aptly-named Sand Springs. No water, but we carried enough from Ft. Rock to handle the 100+ water-free miles. Plus, it’s COLD, so who needs water anyway? 

Jono warms up by gathering pine needles to pile under his leaky air mattress, which is clearly punishing him for losing it earlier in the trip. He’s a survivor! We both zonk out by 9 p.m. 

Pine needles, the original Thermarest.

Day 4: A snowy, windy day from Sand Springs to Prineville 

It’s late May, yet we wake up to snow flurries at Sand Springs. It’s cooold. We don all our layers and roll out early with Prineville’s bike shop as the destination. (Single-Speed Jono needs more gears!) How he’s pedaled these rolling hills in sucking gravel without popping a knee or an emotional gasket is beyond me.

Snow may sound miserable, but I’d rather ride in the cold any day vs. scorching heat. Plus, Jono spots some sunscreen on road, which means we are ready for temps over freezing. 

A midday break in the middle of nowhere.

A cool highlight: running into Lael Wilcox, a badass Alaskan woman who has won the Trans-American bike race and is well-known in the ultra-endurance cycling community. She’s scoping out the Outback in preparation for a time trial on it.

Her advice for the road ahead is that there’s water in a cow trough 20 miles up. When we pass it, in NO way do I feel like filtering water from it. Besides iron backsides and the ability to pedal forever on zero sleep, ultra-endurance riders like Lael also possess the ability to rough it to an extreme degree. I enjoy some adversity, but draw the line at cow trough water.

Prineville Reservoir is behind me, but this view off the damn dam is prettier.

This day reminds me why I prefer bikepacking on trails to open roads: headwind hell. We push north toward Prineville reservoir through snow flakes and/or furious wind, earning a reprieve with the long, fantastic descent to the reservoir. A nice lunch by the river is followed by brain-scorching wind in the face all the way to Prineville. I put my head down and descend into audiobook land.

Good Bike Co. can’t fix Jono’s shifter. Instead, the mechanic clamps the shifter cable to the chainstay. The shifter is useless, but by twisting the barrel adjuster, Jono can access three gears. We are good to go! 

Bike trip hunger sets in. We eat burritos, but they don’t even register as calories. “You still hungry?” Yup. We order two more and head to the Best Western. It’s our lone night sleeping inside on the trip and we take advantage of it, washing out soiled clothing and hitting the hay early.

The shifter fix allowed three gears via the barrel adjuster. Notice that the shifting cable doesn’t go to a shifter?

Day 5: Big climbs and sweet views from Prineville to Antelope

Into the Ochocos! Jono is dragging (for the first time ever?) as we crest the first climb out of town as temps dip toward 30. A snowstorm blows through behind us, but our bike karma is good and we dodge it.

The splendid long descent north of Prineville is steep enough for grinning and freezing enough to warrant using the handwarmers and all the layers we have. We blast through creek crossings and enjoy the area’s remoteness.

In tiny Ashwood, an oasis appears: Frankie’s Pit Stop. Frankie’s is an honor-based fridge with snacks provided by a generous guy. Ahh, the magic of small kindnesses during bike traveling. Far more impactful than typical travel because you’re so exposed on a bike and a $1.00 bag of Fritos can transform a day. Or power the steep climb out of town.

Thanks Frankie!

We burn all the calories from Frankie’s in the next few hours, traversing a rolling ridge with great views. No cars, just wind, distant mountains, and a great afternoon of riding. Weather threatens, retreats. Life is good.

Our day’s destination is tiny Antelope, a town documented in Wild Wild Country about the Rajneeshees. We don’t wear red, but I’ve arranged a free lawn to sleep on. When it starts to pour that night, our cowboy camp shifts to underneath the RV stored on the lawn. Dreamy.

The under-RV Hilton. Dry and cozy as the rain comes down.

Day 6: a rainy, windy push to the finish 

Rain, ugh. I curl up in my sleeping bag under the RV, avoiding the inevitable. Jono woke up hours ago, as usual, journaling away in the dim morning light.

Luckily, the rain lets up as we climb out of Antelope. A big truck pulling a boat stops in the middle of the road and a grinning guy in a WSU Cougars hat sticks his head out into the drizzle: “You all are awesome!”  

The tiny town of Shaniko is quiet and abandoned. Wherrrre is the water we expected? We bail – 2 bottles on a cold day is enough for 70 miles, right? (Spoiler alert: no, it’s not.) We stuff food in our faces and pull onto highway 97, heading north.

Nothing like semis to make you pine for riding through the, er, pines.

Ah, highway touring. We lurch along with semis buffeting us toward the ditch. Just 13 miles… A reminder: avoid road touring, Dakota! We turn onto gravel with a sigh of relief. The end is in sight.

We plop down by a farmer’s field for an excellent lunch of Tasty Bite chana masala. A guy in a farm truck stops and says we can stay, but don’t leave trash anywhere. Do people do that?! Be an ambassador, folks. 

The Final Push

Onward. We grunt up steep gravel rolling hills reminiscent of my hometown in the Palouse. A big rattlesnake in the road sends my heart skittering, but he merely watches me huff by. 

We’ve pedaled 345 miles and the end is in our sights. From ebullient energy out of Klamath Falls to lost sleeping pads to sunset burritos by the side of the road to cow pastures, through Red Sauce and broken shifters and snow, it feels like a hell of a trip. And yet we’ve only spent six days out here. Time compression, an indicator of a fine excursion!

But we aren’t there yet. A final cliff-steep hill, straining at the limit into a headwind on bumpy gravel to a crest overlooking the Gorge, Mt Hood and Mt. Adams. We’ve got 15 miles of descending as our reward…straight into a furious headwind that owns us, wind turbines merrily celebrating our imminent demise.

Not audible: the sound of Jono’s jersey flapping wildly in the wind. Or my desperately straining quads.

We grind. Grind grind grind. I stop pedaling – on a steep downhill – and the wind blows me practically to a stop. Not much talking. Survival mode. A fitting conclusion to a bike trip, in many ways. I tell Jono the good news: he’s now seen headwinds as bad as any I’ve seen in 10,000 miles of touring.

And then we’re done, Jono’s mom waving as we pedal up. She hands us cold water and I chug a liter, then another. Yup – two bottles for a 70 mile day is not enough. Chelsea meets us in The Dalles with piles of fruit and kombucha and I down blueberries by the handful.

Parting Thoughts on The Outback

Another one in the books. Headwinds aside, the Oregon Outback is a fabulous route!

Compared to road touring, the Outback is more remote and presents more logistics with water and food. However, those added items and ocassionally bumpy roads are more than offset by essentially traffic-free riding the entire time. I think it’s a great bikepacking trip for someone looking to dive into multi-day gravel riding.

I found the Outback to be more physically draining than expected. We rode 6-8 hours every day and no day felt easy. The vertical gain is fairly low, but the headwinds, bumpy terrain, and Red Sauce proved challenging. Don’t take it lightly: there’s hard work in them hills! (FWIW, I’ve toured 10,000 miles on road and trails.)

Beyond that, Jono proved himself a marvelous trip companion, positive and cheery no matter what the Bikepacking Gods threw at him. We’re better friends thanks to conversations about bear attacks and business, love and travel, language learning and the future. By that measure alone, the trip is a success.

Matching outfits and still friends at the end!

It felt good to tick the Outback off my bucket list. I wasn’t left wishing I could pedal more; I was excited to return home to playing piano and other creative projects. The Oregon Outback filled my adventure cup – with an extra pour for Jono – and served up a solid helping of laughs, beautiful views, hard work, self-sufficiency, and teamwork.

I also suspect Jono will enjoy returning to a bed that doesn’t fall off his bike, leak, or crackle like pine needles.

The. End.

Tips and Suggestions for Riding the Oregon Outback

For reference, here’s my full Ride with GPS recording from the trip. It follows the official route from Bikepacking.com.

Day 1: Klamath Falls to creek camping on the OC&E Woods Line Trail. (68 miles.) 

Mostly cruisy except for occasionally bumpy terrain. Overall, running lower tire pressure will save your wrists, butt and soul a lot of pain. We didn’t go low enough day 1! 30-40 psi on my 29er/2″ tire setup felt good.

If you continue another ½ mile past the gate where the creek appears (roughly mile 68.5 from downtown Klamath Falls), there’s a fantastic camping spot on the west side of the trail with a swimming hole.

NOTE (please heed): unless you enjoy beating your body and bike to death, skip the OC&E trail from Sprague to Beatty. We disregarded a previous rider’s instructions and the result was brutally rocky cow pasture hell. After a few miles, we cut through a field and hopped on siiilky smooth pavement to Beatty. One of the better decisions of our trip!

Day 2: OC&E to Silver Creek (52 miles)

It’s an easy roll on pavement down into the town of Silver Lake, but we wanted to camp in solitude versus a city park, so we opted to stop earlier and enjoy the evening at Silver Creek. There is good camping near the creek. 

NOTE: We read there wasn’t any water all day, but plenty of swamps and creeks presented themselves in the first half of the day. We didn’t need any of it, but maybe not necessary to carry a full day’s water out of the gate.

Day 3: Silver Creek to Sand Springs OHV (56 rather hard miles)

A surprisingly tough day, mostly due to road surfaces and a burly headwind. Since camping is limited past Sand Springs, we opted to dry camp there. Leaving Ft. Rock with six liters gave us plenty of water for the day, dinner, and pedaling to Prineville Reservoir the next day to refill.

Save some energy for the soul-sucking Red Sauce and punchy hills north of Ft. Rock! 

Day 4: Sand Springs to Prineville (62 miles)

A cruisy, trending-downhill day. Other than waking up in snow and a cold morning of pedaling, all good! 

Day 5: Prineville to Antelope (70 miles…and I should mention the 5,500’ climbing)

My favorite day of the trip for the views, remoteness, and variety of terrain. The four creek crossings were no big deal – we rode three and forded one. The descent after the climb out of Prineville is long and the perfect grade. If you’re continuing past Ashwood (and the fantastic honor-system Frankie’s Pit Stop), prepare yourself for a steep climb out of town and about 2.5k more total vert to Antelope.

For camping in Antelope, there’s a 5th wheel trailer on the east side of the road as you pedal into town. Nailed to the tree is a laminated note with Rodney Shank’s phone number. Give him a ring/text and let him know you’re staying and you’ve got a spot for the night! 

High on the ridge about to head down to Antelope.

Day 6: Antelope to the finish (70 miles and another 4,000′ of climbing)

A nice warm up out of Antelope, then highway traffic on 97 (blergh) before hitting the gravel again for rolling hills. May the wind be at your back and not blasting you to death the way we experienced. Stunning views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams abound as you descend into the Columbia Gorge.

Note: this day would be RAD if it rolled through Maupin and down the Deschutes River Rail trail to the finish. However, there’s currently a couple miles of chunky rock scrambling that would suck on a loaded gravel bike. Hopefully the trail is eventually clear from the Columbia to Maupin!

Logistics for the Oregon Outback

Getting to/from start/finish

We caught a ride with a southbound friend from Bend to Klamath Falls. There’s a train from Portland to Klamath Falls, which seems like a great option.

From The Dalles, there’s a bus (the Columbia Area Transit, CAT) back to Portland. My lovely wife, ever supportive, picked me up at the end.

Time of year

We rode this from May 16-21, 2021. Temps ranged from 85 one day to freezing and snowy another, but I’ll take cold ANY day versus baking heat in the desert. My vote is for riding in the late spring.

Navigation

Navigation felt easy on the Oregon Outback. I simply downloaded the suggested route from bikepacking.com and used Ride with GPS to navigate. The app is easy to use and only costs $6 per month.

My preferred method to save battery is to keep my phone on airplane mode with the volume turned up loud enough to hear the DING when a turn is approaching. There’s also another tone when you miss a turn, which quickly corrects any missteps.

On route with a view of a snowstorm that barely missed us. #winning

Food

As usual, I rolled on a plant-based diet for this trip. Jono joined in and went veg as well.

We brought enough freeze-dried meals to get us through the entire trip, but left Klamath Falls with a few big burritos for dinner the first night. Two big dinners in Prineville got us fueled up quite nicely as well and convenience store stops in Sprague and Silver Lake kept us in PopTarts and other unhealthy-yet-delicious snacks.

Riding on a vegan diet and curious what you can find in convenience stores? Traipsing About reader, badass cyclist and fitness coach Lauren Costantini put together a list of foods for all you plant-based folks.

Food for a week! To be fair, I drained the water from the pickles and olives and put them in a plastic bag. Nothing better on a hot day.

Water

Nooot much water on the Oregon Outback, but there was plenty for us. Except when there wasn’t. All of the water sources we filtered from seemed strong and not at risk of running dry in the summer or fall, but I have no idea if that’s the case.

Follow the advice of the writeup on bikepacking.com and you’ll (likely) be fine. Worst case, just haul 6L of water – the terrain is mostly flat and there is zero hike a bike or downed trees to navigate, so who cares about an extra few pounds?

We both used the Katadyn BeFree filters and they worked great. Skratch Labs electrolyte powder in one bottle and pure water in the other is the ticket.

Sleeping

We brought a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 bikepacking tent and split carrying duties between poles and fabric. However, we never used it and just cowboy camped for free every night except the one we spent in a hotel in Prineville. There’s lots of public land for doing so, plus spots in places like Ashwood and Antelope. (See previous note about Antelope camping.) Zero mosquitoes, woot! A silver lining to no lakes for swimming

Cell signal

With the exception of north of Prineville, there was a Verizon signal almost the entire ride.

Gear

My Salsa Fargo loaded with six days of food.

I rode my 2013 Salsa Fargo set up very similarly to how I rode it in Spain/Portugal with Jones bars and panniers plus a Salsa frame bag. This time around, I added a Revelate front roll bag for sleeping gear. It worked great and felt super stable even on bumpy and fast gravel descents. My tires are Schwalbe Marathon 50mm’s and worked great. I don’t run tubeless and have literally never had a flat with those bad boys.

I don’t use panniers for trail bikepacking, but they were totally fine for the terrain on the Outback. There’s zero hike a bike and the route is fairly flat (relative to routes like the Oregon Timber Trail, at least!), so going super light doesn’t matter as much. Hence the camp chairs, my new favorite road/gravel touring kit addition since there often is nowhere to sit when you’re riding wide-open terrain.

Feel free to comment below if you’ve got questions about an upcoming trips. You’ve got this! Have fun, be an ambassador, and enjoy those big skies.

What gravel bikepacking is all about.

Bikepacking the Oregon Timber Trail: Broken Bikes and Other Trials

In front of Mt. Hood on the Oregon Timber Trail

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

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

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

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

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

Will pedal for singletrack descents… Photo credit: Brady Lawrence

Kicking Things Off

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

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

Reflecting at Lava Lake after a day on the OTT.

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

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

Dinnertime – thanks Chelsea!

Days on the Trail

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

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

Brady waking up on the trail.

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

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

Brady hard at work fixing his chain.

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

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

High on Winter Rim overlooking Summer Lake.

What I Ate (Plant-Powered!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Campfire vibes.

A Day to Test the Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reeeeeal cozy.

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

The Price of Admission

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

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

Into the (Mostly) Type-1 Fun Zone

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

Racing for the water! Photo credit: Brady Lawrence

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

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

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

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

Trail Repair 101

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

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

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

A professional bike fix.

Hitting a Routine

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

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

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

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

The Final Push

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

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

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

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

The Aftermath

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

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

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

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

All the Numbers: Trip Totals

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

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

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

Gunsight Ridge OTT

Packing List and Lessons Learned from Bikepacking the Oregon Timber Trail

Launching on the OTT

JT, Zach, Brady and I heading out!

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

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

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

Gunsight Ridge OTT

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

Overall Approach to Gear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Thoughts and Lessons Learned:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things I Considered Bringing But Left Behind:

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

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

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

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

Weight Carried:

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

Gear weight on bike: 24.76 pounds

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

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

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

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

Final grocery stop

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

Detailed Gear Breakdown

Bike: Santa Cruz Tallboy CC (2017)

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

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

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

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

Bags: Bedrock Bags from Durango, Colorado.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sleeping: 4.8 pounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooking equipment: 2.25 pounds

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

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

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

Clothing worn: 5.96 pounds (including shoes and backpack)

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

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

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

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

Spare/Warm Clothing: 4.41 pounds

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

 

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

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

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

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

Electronics: 2.89 pounds

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

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

Tripod – small Gorilla pod

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

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

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

Headlamp: Black Diamond Revolt + spare batteries

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

Charging/USB cables

Tool, repair and emergency kit: 1.16 pounds

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

brake pad bikepacking replacement

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

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

Misc: 1.32 pounds

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

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

Medical kit: .32 pounds

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

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

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

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

Personal Items: 0.28 pounds

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

Any Questions?

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

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

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

 

Mountain view!

Launching a Bikepacking Trip on the Oregon Timber Trail

Mountain view!

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

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

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

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

Intense. And so, so rad.

View from the cockpit

What is the Oregon Timber Trail?

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

60 miles of fun on the Oregon Timber Trail

670 miles of fun on the Oregon Timber Trail

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

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

Lakes, lakes and more lakes

Lakes, lakes and more lakes

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

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

Still snow above 6k'!

Still snow in the mountains!

Why Bother? That Sounds Haaaard

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

Wading a frosty-cold stream on the shakeout ride.

Wading a frosty-cold stream on the shakeout ride.

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

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

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

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

No cell signal, just mountain views.

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

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

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

Cozy camp on Lava Lake

Cozy camp on Lava Lake.

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

Bikepacking dinner prep

10:30 pm dinner prep. Pad thai!

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

The sexy bikepacking setup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to Follow Along?

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

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

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

Mountains, here I come!