Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Portland to Manzanita- bikepacking

As fun as it it to bikepack solo into the backcountry, it's much better with 9 of your best friends. I've never done an off-road camping trip with so many people before, and most of them haven't done anything this remote or extensive before.

Given the abundant choices of places to ride in the Pacific Northwest, we unanimously agreed to ride through the Coast Range from Portland to the Pacific Ocean. It would take us two full days to get there, plus an extra day to ride up Highway 101 to get back to the car stash and bus station.

GPS tracks here

Day 1

After the lightrail took us past the suburbs, it was an 18-mile stroll through farm country before we hit gravel.

Quite possibly the most convenient convenience store in the wold. It's located right at the heart of where civilization ends and dirt roads through the coast range begin. Whether you've been in the deep woods for a few days and can finally have that Snickers bar and corn dog you've been dreaming about, or whether it's your last stop for fried chicken and boxed wine before hitting dirt for a few days, it's always a highlight to see what people truly crave.

When the store owner came out to look at our bikes, she asked where we were going and on which roads we planned to take. Her reply went something like "oh honey, you'll never make it on those roads in these muddy conditions..." As she scoped out our equipment, the lone Surly Pugsley caught her eye and she continued "...except for maybe that one, that might make it"

The looks on some of our faces was priceless, and it emphasized that even locals know it'll be a tough trip. But I assured her that I mapped out the roads in advance and that we would, indeed, make it through. What I didn't tell her was that I secretly stashed 4 cases of beer and two bottles of whiskey at a campground that had dry firewood. If need be, I would use this booty to motivate the troops to get to this spot for the first night of camping.

Crossing the Hagg Lake dam

The first of only two flat tires for the whole trip

The beginning of gravel and the end of pavement for two days

We reached the coast range logging roads just as the loggers were done working for the weekend. While we got a later start than I hoped, it was pretty much perfect timing, as it's best to avoid riding through active logging areas.

Fresh smog. After 110 consecutive days of sunshine in Oregon this summer, the rain came last week and drenched everything. The logging trucks that we saw leaving had set fire to some of the logging debris and just left it to burn. We ran into a few of these spots and it felt nice and warm as we rode by.

If ingested by a predator, a rough-skinned newt contains a toxin that can cause paralyzation and death. Carry on little dude.

It was a long, slow, damp roll up the range to the top near Timbuktu. But the scenery was spectacular, the group stuck together and morale was still very high.

For the next several hours, we had reached the peak elevation for the day around 2,800 feet, missed a key turn, improvised on a new route, ran out of sunlight, ran out of dry spots on the body, backtracked several times, took votes on hiking down a steep slope versus backtracking some more, got a little crabby, took votes on camping where we were standing versus continuing on, dropped over 2,000 feet in the pitch dark fog with somewhat inadequate lights and finally popped out onto highway 6 along the Wilson river, just a mile from the campsite. While it may have been a low point for morale, I knew the group would someday reminisce about how awesome that descent was.

When we arrived at the campsite, everybody continued with survival mode. Take your pick- food, shelter or fire. Everybody was on task, a little quiet and confused, but happy to be off the bike for the night. The one leaky tarp ended up providing our drinking water, as we placed water bottles under the leaks. We gathered, chopped, slivered and stacked the dry firewood under the leaky tarp until we had enough to start it all. 

Once the fire was going, I went into the woods and pulled out the first half of the secret beer, cider and whiskey stash. It had been there for two days and was undisturbed, except for a few slugs.While a camera couldn't capture the looks on every bodies cold, wet faces, it was a priceless moment in which they all realized the 5,000 feet of vertical struggles from the day were about to pay off.

The massive fire got us mostly dry and we fed ourselves a proper camp dinner of whatever the first thing we pulled out of the drybag happened to be. While rain drops diminished, we looked up and noticed the stars had come out for the evening. As soon as we got down to the last few beers, I grabbed the second secret booze stash and surprised everybody again. It was officially a party.

Day 2

We all woke up and very slowly ate breakfast without worry about a schedule. No clocks, no cell phones, and only one agenda, to make it to the coast. We dried some things off in the sparse sunshine, packed it back on the bikes and eventually rolled out when the sun was fairly high.

Poop slug hanging out near the crapper


Finally rolling, we had a gentle climb for the first 4 miles before it steepened into a climb that was much steeper than the day before

While I warned everybody in advance we'd be pushing our bikes, I also said it was the last climb of the day. What I didn't tell them was that it was a steep 4-mile climb.

At the top was another low morale moment. The persistent rain had turned into huge wet snow flakes, and the group had spread out along the climb.

While a few riders wanted to keep going, we had to all stay together at this critical point because the road split up in 4 directions, and 3 of them got you lost. To stay warm, I made everybody do jumping jacks while we waited til everybody made it up to the top. The last few riders didn't say much, other than they were cold and hungry.

I knew from doing the recon rides that there was going to be a stellar downhill section with 800 feet drops on each side of the ridge. So we zipped up every bit of clothing we could possibly zip up and bombed down part way.

Super sketchy on a loaded bike

One last little climb along the ridge

One last group shot before the huge downhill

YEAH! We made it over the coast range without anybody killing me

A leisurely roll along pavement into the sun was making everybody feel better...until a mile before the destination of Manzanita, we hit a fluke storm with lightning, sleet and wind. While we tried to ride together, but it was every person for themselves to find a roof to hide under. 

Finally, we hid under a gas station roof and tried to figure out where we were going to sleep for the night. Luckily, there was a hotel with vacancy in their room for 10, and they were serving dinner for another hour. We all had full bellies, hot showers and managed to dry out all our clothes.

Day 3

It's amazing what dry clothes, hot food and a good night of sleep can do for you

We finally saw the ocean in Manzanita

We loaded up on beer and snacks for a long picnic at Shortsand Beach

Skateparks and loaded touring bikes- not the most exciting thing to watch

Bama is stoked his truck is still here

Our bikes went back to Portland in the truck, while the rest of us took the bus

Back in Portland in the same truck

Dude, I could go for a burger

Best fucking burgers in the city!

Thanks to all you jerks for traveling out here and trusting me with your well being. Based on these photos, I have proof you smiled and did some awesome shit. Let's do it again someday, when the sting has faded and all you remember was the good stuff.