Well that was fun albeit slightly disappointing. I really think I’m more sore from sitting on the train for 16 hours than from actually riding but oh well. I’ll do my best to recap what went wrong and what went right out there. For those reading this who aren’t really sure what’s going on, read this and this. For those trying to glean lots of details on the Outback route here, you are probably going to be disappointed. I got a little bit of dirt on it but nothing earth shattering. That said, I had a pretty amazing experience my one day out and about the route so I’ll give lots of deets there.
I made it on to the train by the skin of my teeth. I was prepared to take off my pedals and remove my bars to box my bike. However I was not prepared to remove ALL of my frame bags as instructed by the folks at Amtrak. They made me remove every single thing attached to the bike even though the bags fit neatly on the bike inside of the box. This pretty much pissed me off entirely as these bags are not necessarily easy to put on and take off on a moments notice, especially when fully packed. The bike box was $25 bucks, I thought it was $15 mistakenly, a giant rip off for a piece of card board. Oh and guess what, my bike didn’t even fit in the freaking box and stuck out like two inches and they managed to tweak my front wheel in transit. Amtrak’s ability to serve cyclists out of Portland (anywhere?) is CRAP and a JOKE. I know I’m not the first to say this and won’t be the last. To any bikepackers who have to get on the train, I suggest you stand your ground and just tell them the packs don’t come off of your bike or tell them you don’t know how to take them off or feign some sort of ignorance. There is no rule that says this is the case, they are just curmudgeons at baggage check and could care less about inconveniencing cyclists. When they talk about taking bags off, this makes sense when it’s panniers because the bike won’t fit in the box, it makes no sense to strip a bike of it’s framebags to put it in a box. They made me purchase a separate box to put all of my removed bags in, what a joke!
I got over the negative experience in Portland pretty quick, the train made it to K Falls a little early and I managed to make it to the Safeway just before they closed at 10. It was about 40 degrees and clear so I set out into the night hoping to make it at least reasonably close to Beatty. I hopped on the paved stretch of the OC&E trail and it was pretty rad. A good tail wind pushed me out of town in no time, by 11 or so I hit the unpaved section. From there my pace was pretty slow, it was wet and really soft, but not muddy, just incredibly soft. I rode about 4 miles on it before I got sick of looking at smooth pavement right next to me and bailed. I’m not sure how long the smushy stuff continued but I wasn’t eager to dawdle. I don’t mind crawling up hills, but I can’t stand to crawl on the flats. Part of this had to do with the excessive weight I was carrying in my backpack. The Pugsley handled the soft terrain like a champ, I just didn’t have the gas to get any momentum on it. I think this is probably the most notable tidbit from my ride. Heavily loaded riders are probably going to suffer on this stretch no matter what their pace, I’m not sure if it firms up much when it’s dry either, certainly didn’t look like it would.
So I basically had a kitchen sink strategy for this ride. I loaded up nearly everything I thought I could possibly need in my backpack and while some may think it’s still a pretty light setup. The backpack alone had 25 pounds worth of stuff. All of it pretty darn essential but still just too much weight. I really hate wearing backpacks, I’ve given up on them altogether since 2011 and have only used once since once for a winter overnighter on Larch Mountain. It was either that or panniers and I gave up on those in 2010! So it was a pick your poison sort of situation and I’m not going to complain all day about the backpack, it was a pain, but a necessary pain for the winter riding. The cool thing is in the summer time I won’t need the extra 25 pounds of weight on the bike and neither should most riders. So whatever, enough about the stupid backpack.
Once I hopped on the pavement I was sailing again and had a pretty good tailwind and the riding was mostly effortless. I have to say I’ve gotten used to fat tires on pavement, it’s not really that bad. It’s really comfortable, I advise anyone who ever thinks a narrower is faster strategy is the way to go to strongly reconsider. Narrower is faster if you are lightweight or a total hardass and I’m neither so there!
I made it about 22 miles before a little storm came raging from the west and started dropping snow. Just as it started to open up I rolled up to large well lit church with a good overhang and shelter from the wind. I was in a pretty good crosswind at that point and felt like I’d made a good stab at the first chunk. I was about halfway to Beatty and was starting to feel sleepy, it was a perfect spot to stop. It snowed a quarter inch or so over the next few hours, nothing too much. Temperature dropped down to the low twenties and I shivered in my bag for a couple hours before waking up around 345. The wind had resumed blowing from the south and if there’s anything I’ve learned in all my years of bikepacking, DON’T EVER SLEEP WHEN THERE’S A TAIL WIND. Stop to eat, or drink, but don’t stop to sleep, what a waste of a perfectly good tail wind!
I spent the next bit brewing some tea to get myself warmed up. This was one of the best things I’ve ever experienced. I probably would not have gotten out of the bag if it weren’t for that. I am seriously considering bringing a stove on the trans am now, at least for the west, just so I can have a quick warm up in the morning. Shit is rad! The model I got was an Optimus Crux, I recommend it for those who want a small profile. I got on the road by 5 and it was still snowing. I started warming up way too fast struggled to not overheat. The backpack definitely does not help with temperature control, as a matter of fact it makes regulating your body temperature a nearly impossible feat, especially when it’s so loaded. So this was a real issue while I was out there, so many times over the next day I busted out in little micro-sweats. Nothing that was dangerous, but still I was over-exerting myself and was going to pay the price by less energy for the long haul. It was at this point this next morning I started feeling the chinks in the armor but I still soldered on. It was a good 1,000 foot climb and by the time I got to the summit I was not exactly soaked, but pretty darned moist. I probably should have stopped at the summit and done anything like eaten or balanced out my temperature but it was still sub freezing out and I knew a store or someplace warm loomed in the distance. I blasted down the mountain and promptly froze my beard, it was a little chilly and I’m surprised I didn’t end up sick from it.
It was too damn cold to take photos at this point, I was pretty much on life support those 25 miles to get in to Beatty, hadn’t eaten anything either. I was well aware of my condition, I was pushing myself into the negative to try and make ground and I was okay with that. Sometimes it’s just the gamble you have to take, and if you know when to do it it generally works out. Unfortunately I didn’t quite nail it. When I rolled into Beatty the store was shut and the sign said they didn’t even open on Sundays. I was mentally prepared for this fact, I had plenty of food and fuel for my stove, so I just needed to find a spot to warm up. There was a church behind the store that had a handicapped ramp that was covered and stayed thawed, it was a little wet, but I threw a yoga mat down and started looking for water. There was a faucet that fortunately wasn’t frozen and it ran brown when I first turned it on but then quickly cleared up. I called it “good enough” and got to making some more tea and oatmeal as I hopped back into my sleeping bag to warm up.
I was just starting to mellow out and “get back to normal” as someone came to open up the church for service. I didn’t catch the guy’s name as I was too focused on getting my shit together to get down the road all the while prodding him on route conditions and possible alternatives. I told him which way I was going and he’s like “Oh yeah I don’t think you’re gonna do that.” I looked back at him and told him to look at my tires and he still shook his head and told me I couldn’t do it. At this point I was determined to tell if he was just underestimating my resolve or if he really knew how much snow was back there. He said he hadn’t been back there so he wasn’t speaking from eyes on experience, just past knowledge. So I started prodding him on alternatives. He said there’s a road that goes near my route that is the way most people drive from Beatty to Silver Lake. I figured if people drove it then there should at least be some decent two track to try and ride along. I mapped it out on my GPS, it was about the same distance as the Outback route. I was frustrated to take yet another alternate, I really wanted to actually ride the dang route! Not just “cheat” and take the road around. I got over the frustration pretty quickly though as the real goal was just to get back to Portland by whatever means possible.
I took about two hours in Beatty doing the “reboot” thing. It was much needed and by the time I got back on the road I was in a pretty good mood. I headed out on the road to the east of town aided by another awesome tail wind. The snow on the road was thawing and there was some pretty good splatter but I was just happy it was warming up. Finally about 8 miles east of town I started heading north on Ivory Pine road. At this point I had a mix of cross and headwind but it was warm and I was climbing so I started having fun and busted out the camera.
I shot a video, it’s funny because you can hear me doubting the guy back in town telling me I couldn’t make it. While I may seem cocky, the point is more to keep positive and not allow the negative thoughts to creep in. “What if it is snowed in? What I am doing out here? etc.”
I was having so much fun it was ridiculous, had the pavement stayed at around 5,000 feet I would have been made in the shade. You can hear my exuberance in the vid below.
I got about 7 miles back and it got DEEP. The two track was still sorta there but it was now a full on mountain biking experience. Whatever trouble I had overheating on pavement was going to be compounded by riding on such mixed surface. I can say this for the fat bike, it got me about 4 miles further than a typical MTB would have, and it could have taken me all the way through. But I was unsure of what lie ahead of me.
“How much higher do I have to go?” “Is this stuff going to thaw and turn into a quagmire?” “Where the hell is Paisley anyway?” These were just some of the questions that started running through my head. At this point I was loaded with uncertainty and pictured myself trudging through snow on into the night. I had no real idea what lay ahead of me, it could have been the smoothest descent ever into Silver Lake for all I knew but my gut told me that it probably wasn’t going to be easy moving forward in any sense of the word.
I shot a video of myself, resigned to defeat.
I thought about it for like 10 seconds and shot another video.
Basically, I was super worried I was going to end up having to walk through this stuff after I got too tired to ride up hills. If I had to walk that would mean my feet would get wet and wet feet would basically be an endgame. Sure I could stop and bust out the stove and maybe warm myself up, but my shoes would have most likely been riddled with moisture for the rest of the trip, or at least till Prineville a good 150 miles away. I went with my gut and decided it was a lost cause to continue, I felt kind of bad as I didn’t know for sure at the time whether my decision was correct or not. Was I just “too afraid” or was I using proper judgement. I was pretty sure I was just being smart, I really wanted to do this ride, it’s not like I just hopped on the train to K Falls to just say hello and bail, but that’s sure what it felt like I did. I learned upon getting back that there was no way I’d made it through either way I took. Worse yet, the way I was going would have sent me up another 1,000 feet elevation. I would have been FUBAR fo sho. So I headed back at a little more relaxed pace, at least initially until I got destroyed by a massive headwind all the way back to Beatty where I then hitched back to K Falls as I was “over it”. I got some more video and pics on the way back though.
I saw some water making some trippy visuals under the ice and just had to get a video, pretty cool.
I hitched a ride out of Beatty with some dudes heading to Klamath Falls. Their mom owned a trailer park there and dude let me sleep in his RV trailer also in the park. It was a great way to get out of the elements. I was super duper mega hella appreciative of them helping me and they wouldn’t even let me repay them with cash or beer.
I got my butt up and got down to the Amtrak to get my bike boxed up and such, it was a cold ass morning again, brrr.
The guy in Klamath Falls was super cool and let me box up my bike with the packs STILL ON. Turns out rural folk aren’t as obnoxiously dogmatic as city folk, WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT? The two people running the station down there were SUPER nice, complete opposite of my experience in PDX where even the guy checking tickets was a jerk to me, refusing to give me a boarding pass until my bike was boxed up. He didn’t believe I could do it in 10 minutes. Heck I could have done it in 5 if I didn’t have to take off my freaking packs. Ugh, anyway, enough griping about Amtrak!
Here’s a dump of my photos from the train ride back.
All in all it was an experience worth having. It was a shame to abort, but I learned a lot, saw some cool shit, and lived another day. What’s next? I don’t know, I might try it again but might just wait until May for the Grand Depart. Thanks for reading and happy trails.