Every group of friends has their “thing.” For some this is poker night. For others it’s potlucks, or morning workouts, or wild Saturday nights. For us, it’s arduous and asinine bike rides.
Three years ago we relay rode from San Francisco to Cabo non-stop in under four days. A year later we left SF and went north, spending eight days riding to Anchorage. Not to be outdone, we rode from the Pacific to the Atlantic last year, spending a total of 20 days in the saddle accumulating almost 9,000 miles in the process. But nearly all of this was smooth paved roads. Sure, we crossed a few mountain ranges, but at least it was smooth. Until this year.
The Oregon Outback Trail, popularized primarily by bikepackers, is a 360-mile meander across the entire state of Oregon, from south to north. It passes through a half dozen small towns, at least that many ecosystems, and massive swaths of empty country. And it’s almost all on dirt roads and trails. We opted to employ two Toyota 4Runners as our support vehicles, hauling tents, clothing, food, beer, and spare tubes and tires. They would enable us to ride unencumbered, bombing down steep descents and climbing faster up mountain passes – in short, to have more fun.
A month later, joined by five of my closest friends from the Bay Area, we loaded the trucks with gear and bikes, made a quick Costco run, and hit the road, headed to the starting point in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Stoke was high, plans were loose, and the weather called for rain … A lot of rain. But, even NOAA predicting baseball-sized hail wouldn’t have stopped us. We’ve ridden storms before – how hard would a few soggy nights, a couple wet layers, and a bunch of potholes be?
The answer to that question came quickly – this ride was going to be hard, maybe more mental than physical. Our first day we rode 80 miles along bumpy, slick, muddy, and overgrown trails, eventually finishing at dusk at a remote Forest Service campsite.
Many of these miles were a slog, with wheels spinning, handlebars shaking and the ground moving slowly beneath our feet. Once in camp we cooked pasta under the awning, with all of us squeezing in to stay dry. Maybe the next day or two would be easier?
Waking to the sound of rain on your tent is never a good omen. For the first half of the day we slogged our way up and down forest roads, eventually entering a new ecosystem – wide open savannah. And that’s when the wind found us. After another arduous 80 miles of pedaling, the sun finally came out and we made camp, only slightly earlier than the day previous. Nothing comes easy on the Outback.
Eventually the weather system passed, and spirits grew. If there is any group I can count on for some tomfoolery, it’s these guys. Every stop was an opportunity to climb a tree or a play a game. And with enough laughter, you can make anything fun. The trails and roads were still muddy and laden with potholes, but seemed to ride harder and make miles faster, but maybe that was just the beer talking.
After a dry night the rain came back on day four, but this time we were more accustomed to rain coats and wet toes. It took a few days but we had found our flow – riding for an hour or two, then finding a break with some rain cover to snack and reset. Much of the route on today’s 70-mile ride was paved, so we moved quickly, and somehow found a campsite by mid-afternoon.
All good things come to an end – and so do all rainy things. Our last few miles were all sunshine, sunburns, and a few stops to swim in the river.
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