I’ve been working on doing this trans am race for a few years now and needed a big shakedown ride the year before. I chose to race by myself across the Oregon section Trans Am back in August. The following is an account of the event.
I mapped out the route from Portland to Astoria and then across the state to Brownlee dam in Hells Canyon. The whole route added up to 700 miles. I wanted to do it earlier in the year to coincide with the start of the Trans Am next year but life got in the way. Fortunately the weather worked in my favor. So anyway, on to the actual ride report.
The ride from Portland to Astoria was intended to be a prologue of 100 miles. I left around noon from Portland and was able to make it up to Astoria in about 10 hours. I elected to take an unknown route which ended up with some bushwacking and about 10 miles of gravel. The gravel was fun but the bushwacking got me covered in bugs and weeds before I even started racing. It was a bit of a bummer but it was an adventure and that’s what these things are really about anyway. So other than getting really itchy at times, it wasn’t a big deal. I managed to pinch flat on a rather nasty section of road, I managed to get pretty damn dirty and beat up for not even starting this “road” race of mine.
I made it into Astoria at about 10 PM, filled up my water bottles at a pizza shop on the edge of town. Then I climbed up to Shively Park and found a incredibly rad pavillion with picnic tables that I could stealth camp at. If there is anything I’ve learned from previous bikepacking experiences, it’s that a good pavillion and a picnic table is just one step away from a hotel if you ask me. You get coverage from rain, a bed off the ground, a ledge to set your junk, maybe even somewhere to dry out some other crap. It was a pretty cool little spot I had scoped out of google maps. It’s the best when you scope, plan, and wing it and it ends up working out perfectly, it was a good omen for my race.
Next morning was a start at 3AM on a saturday. This early start mirrors that of the official trans am bike race start next year of 5AM on Saturday which is only slightly more reasonable to some folks. So here’s the thinking behind the start. Riding on the Oregon coast is historically kind of sketchy. The trans am route isn’t that bad, but it’s not perfect. The early start on a weekend meant I could ride the 100 mile stretch of coastline by noon which means I’d avoid all the traffic coming from Portland and Salem. The theory worked out pretty well and I don’t recall any close calls. I did have a cop pull me over for no real reason other than boredom and he was confused seeing a cyclist riding so early. Either way, it was a pleasurable experience. The coastal hills aren’t too bad, nothing gets up over 700 feet. The elevation profile I got for the coast never seemed to calculate right so I was unsure how hard it would be. Long story short, the hills aren’t that bad, mostly pretty easy.
After leaving the coast I began my journey eastward. It’s about 30 miles to get from the coast to the Willamette Valley and I had a smoking tailwind the whole way. Could have knocked out the ride in a little over an hour except the patch I had put on my pinch flat from the day before decided to blow. Turns out the patches I got just kind of sucked, never will buy that brand again. After fixing the flat I made my way into the valley as a large thunderstorm was nearly finished passing over. I got pretty soaked but it was a warm run and it was pretty refreshing. This is Oregon so it would have actually be disappointing if I didn’t get raining on my ITT.
Heading south from Rickreall, OR is a 6 mile bike only path. This thing is ballin’ and is a welcome break from riding with traffic. The trans am racers will be equally stoked once they hit it next year. It was a good spot for me to bust out my phone and catch up on social media and look up somewhere for dinner. Corvallis sits out about mile 160 and is a big college town with a lot of restaraunts. I looked up some thai food as I figured they probably had something vegan. I found a nice little place about a mile off route and got an order of friend rice. I would have probably ordered 3 orders of fried rice but I walked in 5 minutes to close and didn’t want to be a total jerk. In 2014 I hope to get there an hour earlier and eat three times as much. Good vegan food is hard to find and it will probably be one of the last ones I can find until Silverthorne/Breckenridge next year.
I bailed from Corvallis around 9:30PM hell bent on knocking out a 200 mile day at Coburg. It’s 40 miles of pancake flat valley riding between the two cities. I’ve beaten these roads down for years and could ride them with my eyes closed. It was a good feeling to finally be racing on the trans am, albeit by myself, down roads I’ve trained on for years. It felt great to rage that shit, a 200 mile day was a pretty damn good start. A little before midnight I made it to Armitage County Park just outside of Coburg. I had stealth camped there just a couple weeks before so I already had it all planned out in my head. The back of the park has a few pavilions with picnic tables, even a sink! I set up camp, took a quick hobo shower, and reviled in an awesome start to my ITT before dozing off.
5 hours later the first sliver of daylight crept into the valley. After 15 mintues or so of packing and stretching I got on the road. The previous day I had started worrying that I didn’t have enough chain lube or enough tubes. I only had one good spare and the lube bottle was really low. I meant to top it off before leaving but it slipped my mind. I started looking up when the bike shop in Sisters closed, it was about 90 miles away and I had 11 hours to make it there. The only thing standing in my way was the gargantuan 5,233 foot pass the climbs up from sea level. I’ve ridden this pass a couple times so I knew there was a chance I could hit the bike shop in sisters by close. I made my way up the pass pretty quickly, there was a tail wind once again as that’s generally the way it blows in the mornings that time of year. Can’t complain abut a tail wind climbing so I was in damn good spirits. I stopped at the pass just quick enough to snap a photo. It’s mindbogglingly beautiful up there, I urge next years racers to at least pause at the pass for a few minutes. It’s probably one of the most beatiful mountain passes on either the Trans Am or the Great Divide Mountain Bike route. I made it to the summit by 3, that gave me an hour to pedal the 20 some miles into Sisters. It was too close of a window and I gave up. I figured I could probably make it on patches and maybe finding lube from a department store or something if I really needed it.
I rolled down into Sisters at 4PM and immediately went to Ray’s Food Place. Ray’s is the largest grocery store in Sisters, it’s not an organic vegan palace but it’s got a reasonable selection. I bought some juice and snacks and got back on the road with my sites set on Ochoco Divide. The ride from Sisters to Redmond is awesome, it’s got a great should and the road is beautiful. It’s premium central Oregon pavement. I stopped in Redmond for more juice, snacks, and fluids, there’s another big grocery on route here so it was another easy town to get in and out of. Redmond to Prineville isn’t quite as pretty and the shoulder isn’t as nice either. It wasn’t a bad ride, but it was great either, sure it kind of depends on time of day. Prineville sits on the edge of the Ochoco Mountains. The descent into the city is top notch, especially in the evening with the lights and the mountains, it’s pretty chill for being a really crappy little town in central Oregon. Once again I performed a stop at the grocery, juice, snacks, some bagels for the morning, and of course fluids.
Once you leave Prineville, you start to get really “out there”. It’s a good 60 miles to the next “town” and unfortunately it has no real grocery, just a small mercantile. I pedaled out past Ochoco reservoir as the sun set and the traffic died down. It was the time of day and the right place where things started feeling amazing, that whole “this is why I’m doing this” feeling you get when everything around you is serene and it’s just you and the bike. It felt good to exit the hustle and bustle of the central Oregon valley. It’s not as busy as the Willamette Valley, but it’s still got people driving everywhere for this or that. Once you head up Ochoco Divide, things change considerably. I made it to the pass of the mountains around midnight before deciding to bivy. I scoped long and hard for a picnic table or pavillion but had no luck. The best I could find was a national forest pit toilet building. It was covered and seldom used. It wasn’t perfect but it actually worked out pretty well. It was the only night on the route that I actually slept out in wilderness so it was certainly memorable in that way. It dipped down to just above freezing, pretty nippy for August but I carried a 32 degree bag so I was pretty toasty anyway.
The next morning came and I piled on all my gear to head down the hill to Mitchell, I think it was about 30 miles to get into town. There was a coffee cart on the edge of town so first thing I was rewarded with a quad shot latte to get my day going. After a quick stop at the Mitchell mercantile I was on the road climbing up and over the big hill to get into the John Day River Valley. I don’t remember the climb too well other than the fact that it got hot pretty damn quick. I was overjoyed to finally descend into the valley. This meant a 40 mile flat ride to the Blue Mountains. I was bestowed with yet another killer tailwind that pushed through tiny town after tiny town until I reached Prairie City. This one has a little grocery, nothing too special but WAY better than your standard mercantile or gas station. It’s a good place to fill up the tanks. I noticed I had a slow leak as I rolled into town. I stopped and put my last good tube in and crossed my fingers, I was only about 160 miles from the end so I hoped I wouldn’t get any more flats. I started pedaling up the pass before I got to a historical marker for the Oregon Trail. It’s a giant covered wagon that sits by the side of the highway. It’s the perfect spot to stop, eat, take some photos, and just generally soak up the surround scenery of mountains and the valley.
After a 30 minute stop I heard some thunder in the distance and realized I needed to get off my butt and get the pedals turning. There are 3 passes between Prairie City and Baker City, the first being the longest. I made it up the first pass with ease, no storm. As I got over the second one I was became engulfed in thunder and lightning and feared for the worst. I kept pedaling, finally nearing the third pass all hell let loose and the skies began dumping freezing cold rain while I was still a good 30 miles from Baker city. I would have rather not got soaked before the big descent, but such is life. I made it into Baker City just before midnight. Once again I began the hunt for a pavillion and picnic table, after about 5 minutes I ran smack into one and set up camp and knocked out. It was a little rougher than the first couple days but all in all a pretty decent success. I was 90 miles out from the end. I could have just pedaled it through into the night but my ride out of Hells Canyon was due to arrive at noon the next day so I figured no one else will probably ever take the time to do an ITT of the Oregon Trans Am. I wasn’t really too concerned with what my overall time I was, I just wanted to go fast and have some fun. It wasn’t the most serious ITT ever, wasn’t really intended to be anyway.
The next morning I was at it by 7, actually slept in. I made my way over to the Safeway for the essentials and got on the road. There is a small climb out of Baker City, but it’s pretty easy. From there it’s was an easy jaunt to Richland. Once again I was getting the hookup from the tailwind gods. I can’t believe how many tailwinds I had on this ride, not sure if it was the time of year or just dumb luck, either way it was incredibly rad. I made it to Richland by about 10 AM. It’s a picturesque little town with a sparsely stocked mercantile on the end of town. It was more than I needed to make it to Hells Canyon. I bought some water and some snacks and got back on the road. There is a GINORMOUS climb leaving Richland, it’s not like Mckenzie Pass or anything but it’s got quite the grade. It’s only like 1700 feet of climbing but the slope hits 21% and the heat was really bad as well. It was my first real climb that morning and I was near the end though so it was actually relatively easy. It could be quite killer if timed improperly. I couldn’t really remember this one on the elevation profile so it was a bit of a surprise when I hit it. I bombed down the descent on the other side, it was actually where my GPS registered my fastest overall speed just shy of 50mph, it’s got a long steep straight away right at the end that is fast as shit and I was particularly stoked to blast down it knowing I was only 30 miles from the end of my ITT. At the bottom I bypassed the town of Richland which sits about a mile off route.
Massive mountains loomed ahead, I had hoped they were the ones that formed Hells Canyon and not just more to climb. Pretty soon I was slowly descending along the Powder river. I forgot the profile, but I knew once I hit the river that the only place I was going to go was down until it merged with the Snake River. Sure enough, about a mile from the Canyon sits Scotty’s mercantile. Another little shop that doesn’t even sell full size bottles of gatorade! WTF, it’s Hells Canyon, people need to hydrate! The lady at the store informed me it was flat to the Idaho border, this got me pretty excited and ready to nail the next 12 miles. I headed down the hill only to begin climbing up a 10% grade that looked like it wasn’t going to end as it went around the bend. Turns out it was only a few hundred feet of climbing, not exactly the flatness that was advertised, but quite a relief as I’d been kind of pushing it into the red all morning. I was hoping to time my arrival with that of my girlfriend with the car. She had left from Portland the day before and was going to extract me from the heat of the canyon. I pedaled furiously along the Snake River constantly checking over my should to see if she was rolling up behind me. After about a half hour of this it turned out I had beaten here to the Idaho border. How lazy of her, I rode my bike across the whole state and she could even beat me with a car! Seriously joking here FYI! I pulled up to the sign welcoming me to Idaho and snapped some quick victory shots. After about a minute of personal celebration I realized I was just standing in Hells Canyon in the 100 degree heat in the midst of the day for no real reason and proceeded to head back down the way I came to find some shade. Just a soon as I got on the bridge to cross back into Oregon my awesome GF showed with the car. We threw the rack on, pulled the packs off the bike and the GTFO of Hells Canyon, 700 miles in 4 and a half days. The actually ITT was 80 hours for the 600 miles from Astoria to Brownlee Dam. I figure not bad, hope to go faster next year!
Overall it was an AMAZING ride. I’ve ridden across a few other states and I’ve got to say that Oregon is both hospitable and beautiful, maybe not better than the other states, but certainly not worse. There can be some rough parts but the climate can be pretty forgiving in the summer. Overall there were 3 big service gaps. McKenzie pass is pretty remote, you’ll have to bring all your food. Ochoco Divide is pretty remote as well. Finally Prairie City to Baker City has one little convenience store in between but it’s not a guarantee so there’s a gap there. None of these gaps are huge but I certainly wouldn’t want to ride into them unprepared. It’s not like the great basin of Wyoming or anything. But you’d best be sure you have nutrition and hydration on lockdown.