Oregon Outback 2015 – Day 5


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Ghostly towns and grand vistas

The roosters brought us back to life after the long day before, and I got up and took some morning pics of Shaniko.  As we arrived in the dark, I didn’t get a good look at the surroundings until I got up.  It was a pretty amazing old west town that was fairly well preserved.







The wagon yard we camped under was like a central covered picnic area in the middle of an old west museum.


We got ourselves packed and watered up, and after the usual oatmeal breakfast, we were off. The initial 15 miles went fast as we blasted out along US97 on fast slightly downhill pavement. The tires really showed their zeal – Thunder Burts are fast. We did 20 mph in an easy pace line. That all changed when we reached the first dirt road, however…

– Our day ahead

– Always in view

Oregon Outback Complete!

The roads were slightly less worn on this final day, so there was a lot of loose gravel. Almost zero traffic, however. The terrain was heavily rolling – something lost on the elevation profile of our route which looked flat and dropping. There were many small hills, and the route was totally exposed.

We had planned to find a drop down to the Deschutes somewhere on the route, but I started out tentative towards this plan, and didn’t get more confident as the day wore on. Our lunch stop was not really in a memorable area – merely on the side of a farm road next to a site common to this midwesterner:

– Cow fodder

– Nary a tree in sight

As we approached the Columbia gorge, the land kept a rollin’, and the heat kept a heatin’ us. I found myself wondering how the racers felt doing this stretch after 30 hours of pedaling straight through. Seeing hill after dusty hill and knowing the finish was near must have been exhilarating and frustrating to no end.

– Trusty dusty steed

We started getting into some views of the Deschutes River valley that we had been paralleling for tens of miles, and the flowers came out. The scenery was notching up, again.


Gordon Ridge was the last obstacle in our path to the Columbia.

– We’ve gotta climb that??

It was an imposing beast that only rose 400ft above us, but with some 10% grades, it was arduous.


Once at the top we were treated to some great views north – lots of windmills, and volcanic peaks to the north and south east.

– Clean Power


The next section was thrilling and terrifying at times. The ridge road dropped away riding along the edge of the steep valley walls that fell away 2000 feet to the river below. Several 40 mph runs had us hooting like kids. I was sandblasted by a dust devil, and caught a nasty sidewind that hit me unexpectedly at a turn at the bottom of a fast run, blowing me several feet sideways in loose gravel (luckily I was in the middle of the road). I quickly reminded myself to ride loose and not clench as the loose gravel on these descents didn’t reward a controlling demeanor.

– The sacred Deschutes

At this point, we came to the turnoff we had planned to take down to the Deschutes.  It was marked “no trespassing”, and I felt pretty bagged.  We made the decision to continue on the normal route so we wouldn’t have to push our bikes up 2000 feet if the route got nasty.  I think another trip is in order to explore the area on fresher legs.

– Hidden volcano

By the time we hit OR 206, the final stretch of paved road to the river, I was beginning to feel elation and sadness that our trip was nearing its end. There were still some memorable views, and we fairly flew down the final thousand foot drop, albeit slowed to pedalling speed due to the relentless headwind rushing up the canyon to meet us.

– Almost there

Once at the river, we decided to forego the campground for a meal in nearby Biggs. As we pedaled east, John had the light come on. “They have hotels in Biggs! We can get food, a shower, and a good night’s sleep!” Genius! Our adventure had come to an end, but there will certainly be more of this!

Post Outback
– Post Outback Selfie

Route Map – Day 5 (final)

Oregon Outback 2015 – Day 4


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This was a day of big breakfasts, big climbs, big miles, and some of the best riding and views of the trip.  My favorite day hands-down.

20 miles out of Big Bend campground, Prineville was the only “large” town we went through in our five days. We were drawn to the first diner we came to on Main St. My eyes were only a bit larger than my stomach.

Prineville Breakfast - Oregon Outback
– Yes, had to have the buckwheat pancakes, too!

– Yummm!

– 4 days in and still happy!

After eating our fill, we stopped at the grocery, and realized we still had plenty of food for dinner and lunch. I think we picked up more gorp, string cheese, and some Tylenol. I was starting to get a good picture of how over-packed we were.

The local bike shop was closed, so we couldn’t stop in for the legendary beer we heard about from other riders. Sad face…

Onward. Approaching the first big climb of the day around mile-25, the scenery was really turning out well.

– Green Ranches

This climb was paved, but rose about 2200 feet over 17 miles.  Not too taxing – still early in the day, and at the top we rested with a few riders and compared tires and notes.

– The beginning of FUN

The next 10 miles were amazing.  We were doing 25+ mph gravel switchbacks down Little McKay Rd.  Loads of fun – edge of control with loaded touring bikes.  At Trout Creek Rd, the route degraded to jeep road, more or less, and we ran into the creek crossing the road at least 5 times – sometimes 5-10″ deep, but at most 10-15 yds across.  The first time was a circus with a large group of 5-10 folks hanging out taking pics and refilling water bottles.  We did the same.  I did a quick song and dance for Sprockets Podcast (one of the riders had a mic and was doing impromptu interviews of OO riders).

– Made it!

One of the riders in the crew was doing it on a Yuba carrying a hibachi grill. Awesome!

– Long tail bike madness

The next crossing was deeper, and we hit it faster. My panniers managed to put up a blanket of water spray that soaked me thoroughly. In darker news, the rocks managed to kill my cameraman’s front Thunder Burt with enough of a pinch flat cut that the Stan’s sealant was of no use. Tube time.

– Spray!

– Made it!

The next guy through – a solo rider from Seattle – managed to double flat. This was after a single flat in the last crossing. We spent the next 45 minutes putting a tube in John’s front wheel, and helping the other rider out.

– 3 flats in 3 minutes

Needless to say, we were more careful on the last few crossings, walking several. Hey – the shoes were already wet…

– Care must be taken

The rest of the descent was uneventful, if not a bit roller-coastery. I later mused that this was my absolute favorite part of the ride. Remote and scenic.




Nearing the bottom of the valley, we approached Ashwood through Fools Hollow and Slaughterhouse Gulch, (yes – look it up), what looked like a small town turned out to be about 5 houses, a short few hundred yards of pavement, and then a wall of a climb out of the valley on a gravel road just outside of “town”. Gosner road was a 500 foot climb with 8-12% grades, and it was fairly brutal after all that nice downhill progress. At some point, I tried hopping off and walking, but I quickly found that harder with a fully loaded bike than just sucking it up and pedaling in the easy gear.

– John breaches the first rise out of Ashwood

Thus began our quest to get over the latter two 1000-foot climbs of today’s route. I kept thinking we must have done it, but we would just come to another rise. I started to view climbs in a different light. I found myself hoping that the next corner would just reveal more climbing instead of relief, as I wanted to get the vertical I knew we had coming. It turned almost meditative with me concentrating on nose breathing, and just pushing on. Really kind of peaceful.

– Roads to somewhere

Again we rolled through some amazing western scenery. I think we saw 2 cars this whole stretch, and fewer riders. The terrain was continuously rolling and slightly brutal after the long day’s riding, but so pretty that it kept things interesting. We were constantly looking for trees now as it was our normal camp time, but alas, we were not finding much to hang a hammock on that was on the right side of the fences.





As we broke through the long descent into Antelope, I looked longingly at the city park with its big cottonwoods (slightly too big to put a hammock on). We only saw a herd of deer – we could hear music playing in one of the local homes, but no people were out.

– Nobody home?

– More citizens

With about 10 miles to go before our Shaniko camping destination, we at last hit the final 1000-foot climb. It was paved at least, but just as steep as the hills before. We rolled into Shaniko after a final paceline drive into the darkening sky. The kind folks who got there before us had saved some community food donated by a women from the local post office. I had some wheat thins and Spam, and John had a PB&J. We tied our hammocks to the posts sheltered by an old “wagon house” structure, and slept soundly. At nearly 100 miles and 7300 feet of climbing, it was our toughest, but most rewarding day.

Route Map – Day 4


Oregon Outback 2015 – Day 3


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Day 3 started out with the epic straight flat road common in areas wealthy in sheer space. We rode into the tiny town of Fort Rock realizing we had missed our chance at a party the night before. Lots of bikers were camped out behind the bar and in the patio. We filled our water reservoirs and bottles, and carried on past the Tuff Ring that is Fort Rock. This was formed 50-100 thousand years ago when a 150-foot-deep lake filled the basin and an upswell of magma hit the mud and water of the lake bottom. The area looked a lot like what I would imagine of a drained sea, with the scrub brush like a floor of coral and seaweed. It reminded me of areas of southern New Mexico – vast concave landform.

– Yours Truly

We gradually climbed out of the Fort Rock Valley ascending into the Deschutes National Forest. Trees were still sparse, but we were getting back into the pines. The smell – if they only bottled it! This was the first sunny day, so it was a warm ride. It would require most of our water on this stretch – I don’t recall a refill until we reached our destination.

– Looking Thirsty

The third day is supposed to be tough, and I felt it. After the dry forestland, we meandered across more sparse brushy vistas. At mile-57, we started an amazing descent down into Sage Hollow. For the next 10 miles we followed Bear Creek and speeds were in the 20+ mph range.  Not many photos on this day – too much good riding to do.

At the bottom was a beautiful, green ranch with a paved road, but there was one wicked climb up around Taylor Butte. This was in the heat of the afternoon, and no cooling wind was helping us out – it felt like we were pedaling in an oven. We only went up 800 ft in 2.5 miles, but it was brutal granny-gear crawling with the loaded bikes. We felt our destination nearing as we reached the top, and after a nice descent, we reached the Prineville Reservoir.

– Water

– Crooked River Cliffs

After a short hop across the dam, we made good time down the paved road along the Crooked River, and arrived at our favorite campsite of the trip: Big Bend. I had a nice rinse in the cold water of the river, and washed a few items. Lots of folks were fly fishing up and downstream.  This was the height of the Memorial Day weekend, but there were still plenty of campsites open. Remote areas don’t get much business even in these heady dayz.

Our water had lasted around 70 miles – one of the longer dry stretches. That said, there were several places we could have begged water along the way if things were worse.

– Camp. Picnic!

Knowing more about the correct level for my hammock, and after a 78-mile day, I retired around 7:30pm and the birds sang me to a deep, restful sleep.

– Just the stars to look at tonight!

Route Map – Day 3


Oregon Outback 2015 – Day 2


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Waking up to rain is not a great start, so when it happens, I generally go back to sleep.  It worked this time!  The rain stopped, we got up, ate, broke camp and were on the bikes on a nice paved section by 9:30am.  The first part of the ride was a welcome relief from the day before on the bumpy OC&E, but we knew it wouldn’t last long.

Our first surprise came when we surprised a badger who had made a den right on the side of the road.  With some trepidation, I went back for the photo opp as we were cruising when he popped out.

Say “meat!”

He seemed curious, but we stayed well away.  He looked to be about the size of my dog (40 lbs) but likely much more fierce.  Onward then.  Lots of washboard road this day.  It helped that dozens of folks had already been through on bikes.  We had a nice, packed trail to follow most of the time.

We had filtered 2 liters from Fivemile Creek at the beginning of the day.  The only town we would pass through was Silver Lake at the 50-mile point, and we didn’t know the state of the rivers, though with the recent rain, we probably ended up carrying too much water most of the time.  We stopped around 11am at a picturesque bridge with a ton of swallow nests to refill for the haul up to town.



Shortly after 11:15am, John’s rear tire sprung a leak.  Similar story to the day before.  Rear tire (of course), but with some careful pumping and spinning, we got it to hold air.  Tubeless – 2, flats – 0.


This was another partly cloudy, forested day.  The scenic level was high as we meandered past the Sycan Marsh area and stopped on a flat spot for our lunch.  The first couple days we generally had an oatmeal and hot chocolate breakfast, and salami and cheese for lunch.  We also snacked throughout the ride on various healthy snacks including gorp, seaweed chips, coconut bars and plenty of filtered water.


We managed to stay dry, and at 1:30pm, we came upon our second badger of the day.  This one was seen scampering across the road in the distance, and we didn’t really know what it was until we rolled up nearby and saw the den.  He was smaller, but just as photogenic!


We started to get into the red pumice part of the ride.  The roads were pretty packed from the moisture, so riding was not a problem here. Pretty road – no traffic whatsoever.



The fabled Cowboy Dinner Tree was in this section, and we rolled in around 3:30pm. No reservations, so I took some photos, and we pedaled on.



We rolled into Silver Lake in time to catch a couple guys on tall bikes. They had left a few days earlier, and were making pretty good time.  My bud Colin from last year’s Entmoot ride was there with his solar-power-charging-stationed Cycle Truck, which made a great tall bike kickstand.  It’s amazing who you meet in the middle of nowhere.


The proprietor of the local store said the guys that were racing had been through the night before looking hypothermic in not much more than lycra.  They had gone through a couple thunderstorms with hail, and were looking worse for wear.  She had been worried about their health, but they managed to continue on.  Alas – no coconut helado bars, but we filled up our snack bags. and were soon on our way.  The remainder of the day was a fairly long flat slog for about 8 miles on Pitcher Road.


We saw a few vehicles on this stretch, and I just tucked in behind John “leg of ox” Halunen after taking a feeble attempt at leading.  We found the “last of the trees” for our hammocks on a small rise before Fort Rock, and made camp in a small turnoff.


It was here that I learned that having my head too low was not a workable sleep situation (see pic above).  I ended up sleeping pretty poorly that night. Perhaps the bones and the sounds of coyotes exacerbated the blood rushing to my head?  That or the last of the bourbon? There were several types of animal remains in the immediate area. This really added to the western outback feel.




– Dubbed – Camp of Bones

Route and Map – Day 2


Oregon Outback 2015 – Day 1


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I have a lot of photos from a recent adventure, so I’m going to break up this post into riding days.  At the end, I’ll try to sum up several things that worked really well, and what it took to get ready for an offroad tour.  Onward!

I haven’t been as excited for a trip in years.  The Oregon Outback travels through a lot of area I’ve never seen.  For good reason – there aren’t many roads that bisect it.  I had an inkling of the terrain, but what it would really require or be like was still unknown.

With lingering doubts about knee pain, soft shoes with flat pedals, and lightweight tubeless tires, I set out for adventure. These sort of epic trips generally come with solid learning experiences.  The first one happened when we arrived at the train station in Seattle with nicely packed bike boxes, carrying our bike baggage.

Boxed and ready

After we checked the bikes, we noticed there were four or five bikes that were being wheeled around the lobby with everything put together and be-bagged. Wow. I wanted to go back and un-check our boxes.  That would have saved us an hour up front packing the bikes.  Not to mention the re-build at the end of the journey…

The train ride out of Seattle was nice, going mostly alongside the Puget Sound and the Columbia River before moving more inland at Portland.

Bridge view

The Coast Starlight!

When we reached Klamath Falls, OR, we waited as 100+ ready-to-go bikes were handed down to their owners to be immediately ridden away. After carefully putting on the front rack, bags, and straightening the bars and stem in the dark railroad yard at 10pm, we rode over to the Olympic Inn for a short rest before the 7am start.


Surly Style

In the morning we double-checked our packing job, and then ate a good breakfast that included oatmeal, biscuits and gravy, and eggs.  At a bit after 7am, we were off.  The forecast was for rain and scattered thunderstorms.

Rain ahead

The OC&E is a great trail.  Nice and flat, but with a fair amount of cow deposits and cattle gates, the going was flat, messy, and interrupted.  At this point in the ride, we  were still seeing a fair amount of riders, but as the day wore on, we quickly spread out and found ourselves with lots of quiet time to think.

One of the many – open/close

At one of the 40+ cattle gates, I noticed my rear tire was losing air.  I stopped and pumped it up.  The hole was obvious, losing some of the sealant (Stan’s), but it didn’t seem too bad, so I spun the tire, put the hole at the bottom, and pumped it up again.  We rode on a few more gates, and it started holding air.  After bringing it back up to 40psi, I never had to gas it again.  Now that’s what I’m talkin’ bout!

One of the food highlights of the first day during a rare warm sun break was a brief stop in Beatty, about a mile off the trail.  We had coconut helado ice bars.  I was looking for them at every stop for the rest of the trip.

Coconut Helado, I love thee!

The OC&E steadily turned more remote, and less groomed.  The trail was great, but more grass was on the trail as we got further north/east.  After a good climb up an old railway switchback, we stopped for the view and some water.  It was misting at this point.

Misty low pass

We were entering ranch country.  No towns were bigger than a few houses, and perhaps a post office.  It was never-ending ranch lands with few roads or access.  This is the real west!


Lost tracks

We lasted about 7 hrs of moving time for about 72 miles.  We both felt pretty good and set up camp in between showers right where we were hopping off the trail.  There was a river nearby, so we knew we had water for the next part of the journey.

Up off the wet ground – Hammocks for the win!

John said it poured on us at 2am, but I heard nothing.  I never knew sleeping in the woods could be so comfortable.  To be continued…

Ride With GPS Route Info – Day 1


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