All packed! Hope I'm not missing anything! Heading out, should hit the road by noon.


Everything, condensed


OREGON OUTBACK 2015 - Preface


Back at it again with my next (r)adventure! While I've done a lot of crazy stuff on a bike, this next trip, the Oregon Outback, will most likely take the cake. It's a barely-organized, unsupported, grueling gravel tour through 360+ miles of Central Oregon high desert / nothingness, basically from the California border to the Washington border... and I could not be more excited! I committed to doing this ride instantly after last year's photos hit the 'net and it's been on my mind since. Stats in brief:
Start: Klamath Falls, OR. Fri, May 22.
End: Deshutes River State Recreation Area near The Dalles, OR
Distance: 364 mi
Elevation gain: 14376 ft
Surface: 75% gravel, 25% paved
Time: 4 days? 5?


From the "organizers" at Velodirt:
"We're biased but we think this is the best bikepacking route in Oregon. Starting in Klamath Falls near the California border, you get to traverse the entire length of the state on lightly traveled roads including a slice of the route’s namesake area – the Oregon Outback – a dusty, remote portion of the state populated primarily by coyotes and rattlesnakes. Expect desolation, extremely limited water and services, and some of the most beautiful riding anywhere."
I've spent the last two weeks gearing up and modifying a bike - or rather, frankensteining two of them together - that will be best suited for the ride. Since my beloved Independent Fabrication touring frame cracked and I haven't had a chance to get it repaired, I decked out my cyclocross bike in "gravel tour mode". Coincidentally, this is the ride that, along with the desire to give 'cross a shot, inspired me to build up a gravel grinder. I wavered on it but eventually figured I'd go with the steel touring frame for a comfier ride (until it broke). So I was back to the original plan, but its carbon fork and comparatively meek 33c knobby tires wouldn't be enough for The Outback. I took the steel fork from my busted IF frame for resilience and to run a new Tubus low-rider front rack (major upgrade), beefed up the tires to new 700x37c Continental Travel Contacts, and swapped over my comfy Selle Anatomica leather saddle and a few other components from the IF. I'll be packing relatively light, running 2 Axiom front panniers, a new Revelate Viscacha seat pack, and possibly an Axiom handlebar bag if I need the space (the easy access to stuff would certainly be nice). No rear rack for handling and weight purposes. I want to stay as light as possible for this one, but still be equipped to carry enough supplies since there's a whooooole lot of nothing out there (including a 65 mile stretch with no water), stay warm during nights camping when temperatures drop into the 30s, and, in general, be prepared for whatever the hell this trip throws my way.

"Crankenstein", unloaded but looking almost ready! Apologies for the non-drive-side photo.

I'm riding this one with my Bikery friend, Wes, as featured in the last post - our disastrous weekend trip on the Iron Horse Trail. We're set to rent a car in Seattle, drive down to Klamath Falls on Thursday (9 hours ish), dump the rental car, ride 6 miles from the airport to a motel, sleep hard, and ride out at 7AM on Friday with the rest of the crew. There's really no way of knowing how many people will be on the ride, but last year's inaugural run was around 130, I believe. We're hoping to finish in 4 or 5 days - short enough to warrant waking up early and pushing hard for around 80 rough miles a day, but long enough to enjoy the scenery, take photos, and keep from dying in the middle of nowhere.

Stay tuned! I'm not sure how frequent my updates will be for this one since I'll be conserving battery at all costs and cell phone service might be extremely sparse. Also, I've spent plenty of time staring at a screen lately anyway and feel I now deserve to do so as little as possible. Either way, I've got multiple cameras and am prepared to bombard the internet with footage and a respectable write-up upon my return.

Gear list to follow.

Wish me luck!


Iron Horse Trail 4/24/15-4/25/15: The Most Disastrous Overnighter

A friend of mine from The Bikery (Wes) and I had been planning a trip out to a ghost town in the Cascades about 70mi SE of Seattle for upwards of a year. We finally locked down dates a few weeks ago, and despite some wavering due to the weekend's forecast of rain and snow in the mountains, we decided to just fucking do it anyway! I'd taken a day off of work. We'd already put it off long enough. Weather will suck. It will be cold. We'll deal with it. Just go.

The planned route involved a start from Rattlesnake Lake (about a 45 min drive E from Seattle), a steady climb up the Iron Horse Trail (a fantastic old rail trail), through the 2-mile-long pitch-black IHT/Snoqualmie/"Stampede" Tunnel, a steeeeep climb up and through Stampede Pass, and out the other end with a nice descent down to Lester, a town uninhabited since the 1980s/1990s when it was declared to be in Tacoma's protected watershed. I was really looking forward to exploring Lester, but we didn't quite make it.

The first crushing defeat came before the ride even started. I had spent 2 days converting my beloved touring bike from road-race-mode to gravel-eating machine, including setting up a new front rack, reinstalling fenders, swapping wheelsets, cassettes, and switching tires with my cyclocross bike for some wide, knobby goodness to eat the gravel of the Iron Horse Trail. I spent 2 nights (little to no sleep) getting everything ready and my panniers tediously packed. 10 seconds from leaving Wes's, bikes fully loaded up and tied down to the trunk rack, we had the worst possible realization: my frame was rusted and cracked through just above the bottom bracket on the downtube. Riding this with heavy bags on a rough offroad trail would have certainly resulted in my death one way or another. The repair will be around $500-1000. I was totally defeated.


Fortunately, Wes and I both have bike infestations. He offered for me to ride his Surly Cross Check, reliable indestructible and already set up for this type of riding - wide tires, fenders, wide gear ratio, rack. It was very small (by about 5cm) for me and the opposite of my geometry but way better than not going! My only other bike good for this type of stuff would be the cyclocross bike I built last fall but it needs a lot of work right now. We swapped saddles and pedals with my dead bike and finally set off, now around 2:00pm.

Wes's awesome Elephant "Natural Forest Explorer" and my borrowed (his) Surly Cross Check at the trail head.
The ride started out alright, although a bit wet! Definitely a lot of rain and temperatures were falling fast as it got later in the day and elevation increased. We had awesome views of the mountains and lakes, though. The tunnel itself was a blast - totally dark and made it worthwhile to bring headlights.

Tunnel video snapshot #1
Tunnel video snapshot #2 - emerging
A few miles on the other side of the tunnel, we saw a black bear! It was young, so we faced a tough decision of "it's young and afraid of us" vs "it's young so there is probably a protective mom nearby". We stood back around 60yds away and I grabbed a few photos at max zoom before we proceeded with caution and, ultimately, our lives. You'll have to click to zoom on these:

We stopped in Hyak (on the other side of the tunnel), had a snack, and stood in the bathrooms warming/drying all of our clothes and shoes with the hand dryers for about 15 minutes. Very key stop.

Hyak. "Trail bacon", fig newtons, PB
More ascent:

 Going up the steep part to the pass, shit got very bad around 7pm. Temps fell HARD (low 30s), freezing rain turned to snow abruptly, huge flakes, and was accumulating.

More potholes than road?


At this point, we decided our options were:
A) Push on through the pass (another mile further until the peak), continue to Lester (10mi?), and hope that conditions would be better at a lower elevation. Hoping to camp and set up a fire. This would be cold.
B) Turn it around and book it 30-ish miles back to the car. It was already late, dark, and cold, but at least the return would be all downhill and we'd be sleeping inside for sure.
C) Turn around back to the IHT where the ascent to the pass split off and book it to Easton, the closest town, hoping to find a hotel / anything inside.

We were frozen and camping was out at this point since it was in the 30s, all of our gear was wet, and I'm not sure how my tent and new (e.g. "not yet Mike-tested") sleeping bag would fare in snow.

We opted for C.

The descent was miserably cold and windy. The good part about the uphill had been keeping warm from body heat! Downhill was not the same - hands and feet were numb to the point that it was difficult to use brakes and impossible to use shifters. Just ride the brake hoods and swerve around potholes. Fun stuff!

We made it to Easton around 9pm and talked to a sheriff who was posted right off of the trail looking for speeders (not bikes, cars). He said there was "maybe one place to stay - sometimes they're open, sometimes not!" and went to check it out for us. It was a motel, currently out of business waiting to be sold. The owner's brother, Lance, was staying there for a few days "to look after the place" but it was not quite operational. Lance was really great and let us stay the night, very hands-off, and we agreed to just settle up with the cleaning staff in the morning since he clearly didn't really care if we were or weren't there. Great guy, though! And a life saver. We got the heat running in the room, warmed up, and hit the only tavern in town (across the street) for well-earned recover beers and burgers. Our total mileage was around 47 miles.

DAY 2:

Waking up in a warm hotel room was the greatest feeling after the previous day's defeat and emergency exit. We hit the road in partially sunny, sporadically rainy weather in the low 50s. Much better than the day before. We opted to skip Lester again in fear of a repeat from the day before, and not feeling much like a 5000 ft climb. "We'll come back and do it in the summer." Still up for adventure, we extended the route along the side of Lake Kachess, which resulted in some excellent views and higher-elevation sunshine into mid-afternoon.
Waking up warm, dry, inside!

Yesterday's aftermath

Yesterday's aftermath

STORE across the street. Not open.

Motel where we stayed

Cross check ready to go!


Getting back to the trail
 Stop at the highest point we hit along Lake Kachess:
One of countless moments where I can tell Wes is thinking/about to say "oh my god I love it so much here."

The ridge in the back between these two mountains is where we rode the day before - exactly at the point of photos from Day 1 that are under power lines.

Stop at  Lake Easton

Another very cool part of the descent / trip back - we saw 4 elk! Or the same two twice but it's hard to say.
ELK! Zoom in.
Elk 2
Of course, nice weather did not last. It hailed miserably and was pretty windy as we made our way back along Keechelus Lake. You'll have to take my word for it since it's a little difficult to take photos while riding a bike in wind and hail, but it sucked... still sucked in a challenging way, though! And plus, we were mostly on flats/downhill and headed for the car, so the only thing to do was to push on. We stopped in Hyak to use their awesome heated bathrooms again. For the second half of this day, I proudly displayed my "best $1 ever spent" purchase - an Ikea poncho that conveniently fits over my entire body, keeping my arms inside while allowing them to reach the handlebars, thus shielding my whole torso and thighs from the elements. Score!

Hyak stop

Last awesome "goodbye views" from the Iron Horse Trail to the parking lot at Rattlesnake:


We booked it back to the car HARD, changed to dry clothes, I crushed the reminder of a beer that had punctured and half-emptied in my bag, and we headed straight out in search of victory burritos.

Total mileage from day 2: 57mi. The weather was temperamental and unpredictable in its demonstration of "rapid change between micro-climates". Elevation and weather patterns flowing through the mountains here seem to make for drastic differences in just a few miles or a few hundred feet. Madness! Despite busted gear, gear that didn't fit, cold, rain, snow, hail, ditching on plans / taking the "emergency exit", and the other numerous speed bumps along the way, this was still an awesome trip. Thanks to Wes for his supreme navigation, route planning, and general expert-level knowledge of the area! More to follow in the coming weeks on frame repair and next journeys...