Wander Around Oregon

May  27th-29th, 2006

A Ride Report by Kent Peterson

Fred studies the map

Fred studies the map.

I learned long ago that the key to adventure is a lack of information. If you have everything perfectly planned out, if you know every detail of a trip at the outset, you will have a journey. But if you aren't quite sure where you are and you're not quite sure where you are going and you really only have the vaguest sense of what's between where you are and where you want to be, well then my friend, you will have an adventure.

On Memorial Day weekend of 2006, Fred Mulder and I had an adventure. We ensured our status as adventurers not by having a vague plan, but by having an almost impossibly ambitious plan and then going off-course early on. It started like this: after the Flèche NW, Fred commented to me that he would be competing in the Race Across Oregon in July and that he was thinking of doing a three-day tour to check out the course. The course is 538 miles and features over 40,000 feet of climbing. Racing that distance in 40 hours or less is one hell of a feat. Trying to tour it in 3 days pretty close to insane, even by the wacky rando-standards that Fred and I use to measure everything. Naturally, I told Fred to count me in.

I did my bit in preparing for the adventure by not doing much preparation. Sure, I rode my bike back and forth to work and yeah, I did set things up so Fred and I could stay at my buddy Michael Rasmussen's place in Portland Friday night, but in terms of plotting and scheming and pouring over maps I pretty much did nothing. After all, we had a detailed cue sheet of the course. And both Fred and I were somewhat seasoned rando-types. What could possibly go wrong?

Basically, nothing went wrong on Friday. I rode to work with my lightweight camp kit and after work I rode up to Fred's place on Capitol Hill. When Fred saw that I had a Thermarest z-lite short sleeping pad strapped to my Kogswell, he grabbed his own Thermarest and added it to his stash of gear. "I was going to skip the mattress pad, but if you've got one..." He didn't need to complete the thought. Our gear lists are always just one snapshot of a seesaw that teeters between the barest minimum needed for survival and those semi-luxurious items that somehow prove to be worth their weight. These equations get rerun every day on every climb and every night at every camp.

We load the bikes into the back of Fred's truck and drive to Portland. We manage to find Michael's house and Michael and Jennifer feed us good food including large wonderful chocolate chip cookies. Fred and I do a final assessment of gear. Fred and Michael are wide-eyed envious of my Montbell sleeping bag, a 1 lb 3 ounce wonder that packs to something the size of a small loaf of bread. Fred is traveling pretty light -- his Long Haul Trucker has a saddle bag and two small water-proof Ortlieb panniers. He also has a small Jandd frame pack for food. I'm traveling a bit lighter -- my bike is a fixed gear Kogswell Model G with a rear rack that holds a Rubbermaid tote that I use as a trunk. Like Fred, I also have one of the handy Jannd frame packs.

It was raining on Friday and it's still raining on Saturday when Fred and I leave Michael's place. Michael was a great host, making us salmon hash and coffee for breakfast and mapping us out a bike-friendly route from his house to the Portland Airport Holiday Inn. Map bike-friendly routes is fairly easy in Portland, the town has a huge number of streets with bike lanes and a strong local bike culture.

We stop at the Holiday Inn, take pictures of the bikes and then follow the RAO cue sheet out of town. Well, we try following the RAO cue sheet out of town, but we have problems. Part of the cue sheet is driving directions for race support vehicles and while that's detailed, the bike portion is a bit vague. Or maybe Fred and I are a bit dense. In any case, in the actual race the first section, from Portland to Troutdale is a controlled, stick together, non-racing start, so Fred and I piece together a route out of town by quizzing various local folks. We manage to find our way to Troutdale.

I should stress at this point that we are taking a casual approach to this trip. There is casual as in wear a t-shirt and jeans to work on Fridays and then there is casual as in show up half an hour late to a job interview wearing a bathrobe and slippers that look like a pair of mangy badgers. We are closer to that latter definition of casual, so our schedule and plan are rapidly diverging from reality.

In Troutdale, the separation is complete. We had failed to study the RAO cue sheet in any kind of detail, so when we encounter an instruction that looks like this:

12.2     X     TL (Stark St.) Continue straight, road narrows.

we completely misinterpret this simple and straight-forward instruction. In our defense, it is raining, we are looking at a dripping cue sheet and we think:

X must mean that this is an intersection.

TL must mean turn left.

So we turn left on Stark street and then continue straight as the road narrows.

In fact:

X means Cross

TL means there is a Traffic Light

and "Continue straight" means continue straight.

We pretty much don't follow directions. And once we figure out that we've probably gone wrong, we keep going. We go down a big hill, we cross a river. We ride through very pretty country. Eventually we wind up at the Columbia River. It's not even close to being the race course, but it's really pretty.

We ride in the rain. We stop and take pictures. At this big cool, round observation house we stop and get a map. We study the map. We make the trip up as we go.

We are not racing, we'd been clear on that from the start. We find neat little roads that parallel the bigger road. We find little trails in the parks. We take more pictures. Sometimes it is raining and sometimes it is not. We stop at little markets. At Hood River, we stop and have coffee.

Then we climb up Mount Hood. At the Mount Hood General Store I call my wife and tell her that I miss her but we are having a wonderful time and we are nowhere near being on course or on time. We snack and then continue to climb.

As we near Bennett Pass (elevation 4647') it is raining and cold. It's only about 5:00 PM but we've already ridden about 110 miles. Fred points out a handy shed at the Snowpark. "We can camp here," he says. "I don't think so..." I reply, not thinking about being hassled by the man, but rather thinking that it was far too early to stop. "No," Fred continues, "we should camp here. We've ridden enough, my brain isn't working very well right now and if anybody hassles us, we stopped here because we were hypothermic." Fred makes a good case. We camp in the entryway of the shed. We get into our warm sleeping bags, trade food and talk for a few hours until nightfall. We have enough time to cover the basic history of each other's lives and we also learn that if you trade a Slim Jim for a Peanut Butter Cup both people will feel they got the best part of the deal.

"Maybe it won't be raining in the morning," I say before falling asleep.

I should never have a job as a navigator or a weatherman.

 It is raining in the morning and we climb the remaining bit to Bennett Pass. The pass marker gives us a solid anchor on the world, a polestar by which to orient our map. Once we've fixed our place in the world, we backtrack down the mountain and turn on Forest Road 44. This is a wonderful road and the rain has stopped now. The road climbs for miles and then descends into the tiny town of Dufur. It's Sunday morning and the only thing open in Dufur is the bar/restaurant at the south edge of town. We feast on the ham & cheese omelette breakfast special and coffee while half a dozen large stuffed elk heads stare at us with lifeless glass eyes.

The weather cleared while we were eating and we head south and up towards Tygh Ridge. The plan for the day is another hundred mile loop, one that will return us to Mount Hood. We'd assessed our goals and the conditions and figured this was a good plan, although upon hearing of our route one of the locals in Dufur had said "is that road open? You know they were still getting snow on some of the passes..." No, we didn't know.

After Tygh Ridge is the Tygh Valley and at the Valley General Store it's warm and sunny enough for Fred to put on sun-block. The general store also has glassy-eyed elk heads but also a strong anti-war vibe with signs reading "Support Our Troops, Bring Them Home" and little postcards of George Bush looking like Alfred E. Newman sporting a button saying "Worry."

We ride south for five more miles and then head east on Route 216. Now it's a long slog into the wind. Fred pulls off at a farmhouse to get water but we reconnect down the road at a gas station. After the small town of Pine Grove the road climbs into the trees and out of the wind. As we climb and 216 joins 26, the skies get grayer, the temperature drops and it begins to rain.

There is snow in the woods along the roadside but the road is clear and all that is coming down is rain. We cross Blue Box (4024') and Wapinitia (3950') passes and then stop at a warm Chevron station. We eye the roofed info kiosk near the roadside but it's too open and too noisy. Fred thinks about buying a big tarp at the station but they don't have anything suitable and I assure him we will find a good shelter for our bivouac.

A few miles closer to Government Camp we find the Snow Bunny Snow Park. There are no snow bunnies here and the sheds are locked up tight and lack any handy overhangs. We could string our small tarps but we see a big tractor trailer with no tractor attached. Obviously, this trailer is not going anywhere. It's a bit after 7:00 PM now and we've ridden 102 miles today. We camp under the trailer. I make no predictions about the weather.

The next morning it is actually not raining. We ride the short distance to the Chevron at Government Camp and wait about ten minutes for it to open up. When the Chevron opens I have a brief Twilight Zone moment when I realize that the clerk at this Chevron looks exactly like the clerk at last night's Chevron. She quizzes us about where we camped last night and then explains that she works shifts at both stations. One of the great features of these stations is a machine that makes caramel coffee and I have one of these and a microwaved steak sandwich for breakfast.

After breakfast I explain to Fred that he should feel free to do the five mile climb up to Timberline Lodge, the point that marks the finish of the Race Across Oregon. I'll be happy to wait at the Chevron. Fred assures me that he doesn't need to do the climb today and that we should just ride back to Portland.

We ride back to Portland. It's a lot of downhill. With his coasty bike and heavier load, Fred builds up a good lead but he stops at a bakery in Sandy and we have still more coffee and snacks. We find our way back to Portland, do an extra scenic tour on some of Portland's fine bike infrastructure and at 1:20 PM we're back at Michael's place. Michael and Jennifer fill us with still more food while we tell them about our trip.

We rode 276 miles over the course of the three day weekend, considerably less than the 538 miles of the full course. But we saw a lot of nice country and we climbed some good climbs. All in all, a fine ramble. Fred wants to get a better sleeping bag and on some of those long descents I was thinking about a 1963 Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub I have built into a 700c wheel.

We ride to test ourselves and to test our gear. To see places we haven't seen and to learn what's over the next ridge. There are many more miles of roads waiting to be ridden. Fred will be riding 538 of them in July. I think I'm mostly cured of the racing bug and I won't be joining him on that trip. But we'll be back to wander, not on these exact roads, but some roads, somewhere.

We'll be back.

A gallery of pictures from our Wander Around Oregon trip can be viewed at: