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
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
, Fred commented to me that he
would be competing in the Race
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
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
z-lite short sleeping pad
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
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
, 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
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
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,
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
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
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
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 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
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
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.