This ended up being much longer than I originally intended so if you want the main points, here they are:
· All of central Oregon is stunningly beautiful.
· I loved the solitude of being alone in a remote area.
· Until you attempt the Outback route, you won’t understand how difficult it is.
On Friday, May 23rd, I met up with about 100 other cyclists to ride the Oregon Outback. The guys at Velodirt mapped a 363 mile route (about 75% of which is gravel) across Oregon from Klamath Falls to the Deschutes Recreation Area at the Columbia River. If you are interested in more details and the route itself, all the information is available on the velodirt.com web page.
Most people who gathered at the start were planning on riding the route between 3 and 5 days. That was the sensible plan. Camping under the central Oregon night sky would be incredible and waking up to the smell of sage, pine and juniper would be awesome. I definitely plan to do some bike packing and camping in the future but for this ride, I wanted to carry less.
This weekend I wanted to test myself and push hard to complete the gravel route across the state as quickly as I could. I knew it might take two days and a night of riding but the challenge of transporting myself across the state along a difficult route outweighed the thoughts of how hard it was going to be.
I suppose like all ultra endurance events, the mood at the start was a happy, nervous buzz. Everyone was instagraming (#oregonback) and talking about how many beers they were carrying or wondering if they had enough water or too much. I thought rolling out of town that it was impressive how many folks from different riding backgrounds had come together to travel across the state under their own power.
The first 70 miles were on the OC&E trail. A former railway, now it’s a trail for non-motorized use which means there are no vehicles to pack the gravel down. The surface ranged from bone jarring cow-hoof potholes to loose red volcanic rock while gradually climbing in elevation. It was a tough few hours and trying to go fast would have required way too much energy. I was very glad with my choice of riding my Kesho 29er mountain bike. It performed perfectly all weekend.
I rode with friends for the first hour or so since it was nice to chat and it was a good way to not get sucked into race mode. At about mile 39 and the first available store, I stopped to get a full load of water and do a full sun screen application. I knew the next stop would be near mile 120 if I didn’t want to pull water from a stream. I rode with a few other folks up to about mile 65 when I stopped to stand in a creek for a few minutes and snack. I love how the cold water rejuvenates my feet and lower legs on warm days. I’ve been doing it for almost 30 years – thanks Coach Yriarte! As I left the creek, I had about 300 miles to ride. That was a hard number to comprehend. I pressed on alone from this point. I knew there were a handful of guys in front of me but I was trying not to be concerned with anyone else’s pace.