Oregon Outback round-up
The guys at VeloDirt put on one hell of a ride. The first running of the Oregon Outback left from Klamath Falls, OR on Friday May 23rd and went through the rolling hills and high desert of central Oregon, across the entire state following decommissioned rail beds, gravel roads, OHV trails, creek canyon roads, a bit of highway, and some of the most scenic areas the wild west has to offer.
The crew at Swift Industries offered their newest, lightweight pannier sets for some field prototyping (performed flawlessly, ample stowage, clean design. Couple of small tweaks till their available to you!) and Ibex outfitted our small crew with a smattering of their performance wool. My friends at Sugar Bakery culled a delicious and nutritious menu of ride fuel for the duration, because this ride was completely UNSUPPORTED. Which meant we’d have to carry our own provisions and have our own means to survive for however long we were out there.
My 2004 Surly Cross Check had been dialed in over the winter months with several ‘training’ rides. I fit the widest tires possible (Surly Knard 41c rear/WTB Nano 40c front), strapped on my Revelate Viscacha and Tangle bags to my frame, used the Jaand Low-Rider front rack to mount the Swift Industries lightweight panniers, and mounted a custom Swift Industries Rando handlebar bag to a Nitto M12 support.
Leading up the event, the Bicycle Times mentioned the event and proclaimed that this would be the most documented bike-packing trip ever. Check the ‘grams (my user name @fuzz_faced), check the FB, #Oregonoutback did not disappoint.
Riders converged on K Falls throughout Thursday and by nighttime, the buzz was LARGE. Some riders wowed the group with their extreme lightweight set-ups, clearly intending to race the event. Most others came ready for bush camping. I gotta say though, there was a cool/weird party/drug vibe by quite a few people who were intending on indulging their senses over the ensuing days. That would surely provide some comedy during the ride. By all impressions, it was an overwhelmingly positive and fun bunch of riders from across the industry- capable and confident. Everybody I met/rode with was on point and rad.
The goal for Day 1 was to go big. At 115 miles, the Cowboy Dinner Tree offers either a 30oz steak or a whole chicken, IF you made it (and you had to make a reservation). And it was brutal. The first 70 miles followed the OC&E rail line- a decommissioned rail bed sometimes grown over, at other times deep with fine, pulverized red pumice. The advancement of 100+ riders only made it more difficult, so getting out ahead of the mass was a strategic move. For some time, the miles were ticking off slowly and a common thing I heard from some Canadian riders was “what’s with the miles, man?? How far is 6.3 miles anyways?” That was part of the comic relief you get with such a diverse bunch. We made it to the Cowboy Dinner Tree about 30 minutes ahead of our reservation and sat, exhausted, for about 2 minutes before a feast of food appeared before us. I tried, but my thrashed body could only muster about 8 bites of steak. The rest was destined for my breakfast of Mountain House beef stroganoff. More jokes… The first night we camped in the Silver Lake town park with about 30 others who had achieved their goal for the day, 120 miles.
I was having a bit of a tough time from about mile 80 on. Looking back, I realize I didn’t take my food schedule seriously enough. Rather than eat every hour or hour and half, I was waiting 2 hours between substantial feeding, so I was getting bonky. A mental note was made.
Day 2 was a trek. After a slow roll out, we embarked on 100 miles from Silver Lake to Prineville. Across the high desert with an 80 mile stretch without any services or water. Though the gravel road conditions were a welcome change from the pea gravel, we could not have fully anticipated the “red sauce” that awaited us. Ugh. It was the worst. My rear end was squirrely at best and I fought to gain forward progress. Thankfully, we popped out of that mess and sailed along graded gravel roads… right into the headwinds. The scenery made it so worthwhile. Ranches, reservoirs, sun, and lots of eating later, we came upon our first epic descent of the trip, following the Prineville reservoir, snaking along the Crooked River, into headwinds. I don’t ever recall working so hard for 23 mph, downhill. But the promise of cold beer in Prineville was the carrot dangling on the stick. We found the local brewery, Solstice Brewing (great pale ale), and nearly collapsed at our table. A bit of food charged us up to get to the campsite and set up, where I drank a canned beer in my sleeping bag.
Day 3- 140 miles to go. Maybe we should blast through, we thought. Though I had brought enough food for 4 1/2 days, I was feeling pretty solid and I’d keep an open mind. Began the day climbing in the Ochoco Nat’l Forest. We passed a pile of vomit on the side of the road during the climb… pure comic relief. Unlike somebody else, I felt great during the climb and hit the descent ready for adventure. Being so far into an epic ride, I was taking corners a bit conservative to avoid cuts in my supple tires and pinch flats. And also to gawk at the luscious scenery. Just beyond the start of the climb out of Ochoco, we got lucky with a beer hand-up courtesy of Selwood Cycles in Portland. Thanks Jack!!! As the day grew, the wind picked up, the ridge lines gave us maximum exposure and views for miles in all directions. So good! A stretch of highway, and we were in Antelope for a lunch stop. Feeling great, so far. A long (and much Instagramed) climb to Shaniko, for more refueling. It was 6pm. We had 60 miles to go. Straight into the famous wind-swept rolling plains above the Columbia river. I felt amazing. Not sure where it came from. Much excite. The end was near, I guess and I wanted it. I heard those miles were hard, but I don’t recall. A beautiful sunset can make things like that melt away. We coasted in to camp at 11:30pm. 3 very full days after taking on this physical and mental challenge.
There’s a lot of reflection that goes on during a ride of this sort. I think I’m smarter than when I started. Probably not, but at least I feel that way. If I do it again next year (probably, duh), I might wanna hang back with the revelers and bark at the moon a bit. I think there’s something to be gained from that, too. The Outback affords an immense backdrop to lose track of the banalities that weigh us down. We become unhinged, closer to our truer selves, in good company, doing a whole lot of what we love. Get some adventure. Love the ride. And keep the rubber side down.
Strava it, or it didn’t happen.
Some of the Flickr set
Does the Oregon Outback rock? Yup.