Well it’s the dead of winter in most parts of the US right now. Oregon, which usually escapes severe cold, is expected to be largely subfreezing this week. Here in Portland we’ve already had some snowflakes amidst the chunky hail. It’s a perfect opportunity to get out around PDX and see if I can handle the colder temps without having to trek all the way up to the mountain. So this week I’ll be sleeping outside a few hours a night just to see if everything is dialed. If everything proves successful then that will give me the green light for my “big dumb winter ride”. Some folks may remember I decided to see if I could do a triple century in one sitting in January 2013. It ended up being on one of the coldest days of the year, with temperatures starting out at 23 degrees, and only breaking freezing for an hour before plunging back into the mid 20′s. It was a good ride that I’m glad to have behind me. Well here we are and I need to get out and do something big and epic involving the bicycle and pedaling a lot.
Enter the Oregon Outback, my Surly Pugsley fat bike, and February in Central Oregon. I wanted to ride this last October on my MTB but instead decided to quit my job and open a bike shop Ride Yr Bike. In the time since I have started a small obsession with fat bikes. Concurrently, I need an excuse to get bikepacking miles in ahead of the Trans Am. So as delusional an quixotic as it may seem to go back there in the dead of winter, I have my reasons.
The Oregon Outback - For those unfamiliar with the Outback, it’s the first real deal gravel bikepacking route across the state of Oregon, albeit south to north. Dreamt up and scouted by Donnie Kolb along with Velodirt comrades, it’s going to be Oregon’s premier off road bikepacking event in 2014. The route begins in Klamath Falls and snakes it’s way through “nowhere” Oregon before finally hitting Prineville which surprisingly earns itself the distinction of “somewhere”. For anyone familiar with Oregon, the fact that Prineville is the only major city of significance says something. This route goes pretty far out there right down the gut of the state. I think it could only be more “out there” if it were somehow if it started somewhere out by Steens but this is plenty fine by me! For the time being, this looks to be the bestest damn bikepacking route in the state of Oregon and myself and others can’t wait to get out there for the mass start this May.
The Fat Bike - I could probably spend some money on some lighter gear and knock this out on a 29er and be able to move a little faster but I don’t have the cash to dump to lighten up my kit and deal with sub freezing temperatures for at least 3 days straight. So I’m going with the fat bike due to the extra hauling capacity. I’m bringing two yoga mats as sleeping pads and an extra layer for inside my sleeping bag. I’ll have the traditional frame bag, gas tanks, and saddle bag. Additionally I’m installing a pannier rack to carry a trunk bag and may well have one or both panniers or I might just carry a backpack. Either way I’m going to be pretty loaded! I feel the fat bike is going to be rad on the chunkier sections of route. It may well just be the perfect bike for the route all around and I may decide to race the Pugsley instead of my Karate Monkey this May when the formal Outback event takes place. I’m a larger guy and the 3.8 tires are like magic on degraded rail trails and gravel, my voyage to the coast just a few weeks ago proved that to be entirely true. So I’m kind of setting out to prove that bigger is better for this route, at least when it comes to tires. Oh yeah, and I have to plug the fact that I rent fat bikes through Ride Yr Bike and this ride will serve to prove out the awesomeness of these multi-functional bicycles first hand.
February - It’s freaking cold out in Central Oregon in February. Temps can drop below 0F during a cold snap. Average temps this time of year are lows in the 20′s and high’s barely cracking 40. These sorts of temperatures are a bit outside of the norm for us folks who live in Portland. It seldom gets below freezing in town. 40 degree temps are “no big deal” but anything subfreezing can be a challenge when facing prolonged exposure. Three days in those sorts of conditions is something I’ve never experienced before and there is a bit of trepidation on my part. I’ve somewhat grown soft, I worked in a 37 degree cooler for years, but I don’t have a pile of conditioning with colder temperatures. There was a few month stint where I worked in a -20 and -30 freezer at an Albertson’s distribution center as an order picker and forklift driver. So I can say with reasonable confidence that I know what I’m getting myself into. As always I reserve the right to pull the plug and bag it if it just gets too sketchy, there are lots of other rides I can do on way nicer days. It would not make sense to put myself into any sort of high risk situation on the trail for the sake of personal bravado so if conditions are too rough, I may just bag it at Silver Lake or Prineville. Normally for a summer ride I can say I’m in it to finish and not look back. However, these cold temperatures are straight up nothing to mess with and I hope my preparation works in my favor.
Logistics - I’m hoping for a four day trip. Day one, take the train to Klamath Falls and hotel. Day two, ride to the Silver Lake/Fort Rock area and camp. Day three, make it to Prineville early enough to hang out in a restaurant and warm up for a few hours before heading up towards the pass in the Ochoco Mountains to camp. Day four, climb the rest of the pass and subsequent rollers to make it to the end of the route. I inevitably have to mention the fact that I’m vegan and food options aren’t an abundance out there. Prineville is the only real place where I plan to purchase any food, otherwise I’ll be packing everything with me. I’m hoping to carry two bladders and and two bottles and I will take advantage of the few services near the route to keep them full where needed. We’ll see if I can keep them from freezing! As for getting back to town, my lovely partner Peri may pick me up or I just may hitch a ride on the Greyhound out of The Dalles, hopefully the former as I am going to be TOAST.
Look forward to a follow up in a few days with my full gear list and finer itinerary details.