Bikepacking the Oregon Timber Trail: Broken Bikes and Other Trials
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!