I slept pretty well on the sand. Again, I was never too hot or too cold and had no condensation in my bivy. A few trucks and/or motos came by through the night. We all noticed. Steve asked if we realized that they stopped for awhile before moving on. His tone suggested concern. I guess the question is who drives through these dirt roads in the middle of the night? Kindly farmers are probably tucked in bed getting valuable sleep time before getting up to do work. Who knows. I only half woke up and went back to bed.
We filter water from White River for coffee and oatmeal and slowly pack up camp, pulling yesterdays ride clothes that were hung to dry on our bikes and handlebars. I don’t mind a 2-day old chamois. It’s not like we got soaked or really muddy yesterday. For the third day in a row we roll out of camp just before 9:00. We didn’t really set alarms or put ourselves on a schedule, we just know we have a big day of riding, so we should get to it. The sun is already peeking over the rim of the canyon and we take in the view as we climb out. The road is fairly steep, so we pedal as easily as we can and chat. As soon as we’re out of the canyon we fan out and ride our own paces. It’s pretty farmland and the gates, new barns and signage suggest these farms are doing pretty well.
Pretty soon, we leave the farms and enter the trees and instantly the road degrades to embedded rocks, washouts and basically lumpy road. Right away my eyes spot something in the trail. Holy shit! It’s a gun in a holster- just lying there in the trail. Someone dropped their Glock. We gather around and just stare at it. Obviously none of us are gun people. We debate for a minute about whether to pick it up, but I have no desire to do this big climb on a rough road with a random gun in my frame bag. So, I take a couple photos. Steve drops a pin on his phone and we roll on. Was it another bikepacker? Was it a dual-sport moto guy? Who uses Barlow road anyway?
After the gun, I start to have concerns about the road. Is it going to be this rough all the way up? In my mind it’s mile 30 of 90+ when we reach 35 on top. I haven’t a clue how long it will take and I don’t seem to have a method to even guess, not knowing the terrain, so I just push back the nervous thoughts and keep on the pedals. Keep making progress. The road improves slightly, but the grade never really eases up. There are some grunty little climbs. I have to admit, this is the part of the trip that I was stressed about. Based on a limited number of stories and photos, I know it’s a bit rough but not crazy. Nobody is injured and Mike’s pedal is holding up. Everyone is still looking pretty good on the bike and I’m amazed how positive and determined my riding companions are. I’m not sure if we chose each other or we just lucked out, but these guys are solid. No complaints, ever.
There’s nothing really to worry about. This part feels remote, but there are enough bail-outs and crossing more established gravel roads. Eventually the trail meets up with Barlow Crossing and Barlow Creek campgrounds. It’s weird to feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere and then all of a sudden be riding along White River while weekenders camp next to their pickups and SUVs. A couple of times on trail we ran across random guys in pickups. They weren’t necessarily friendly, either, as if they came out to the woods to be alone and encountering 3 sweaty guys on bikes wasn’t exactly what they were looking for. I want to enjoy this part of the trail, but honestly there’s not that much to get into – you don’t get to a killer viewpoint, you just keep moving onward and upward in the trees, enjoying the less steep parts, looking for better lines, muscling up the punchy climbs. In the end, it amounts to 3 hours and 40 minutes of climbing before we finish the climb and find ourselves at the Barlow Snow Park and on pavement again. It’s a quick blast downhill before we hit the highway. 35 is a rude welcome back to civilization with weekend traffic in full effect – Pickups and RVs and trucks – ugh! Luckily it’s a really short pedal on 35 before we arrive at Trillium Sno Park. Last time I was here we made our way down the slick snow-covered hill to get to the point where we can cross country ski. Today, it’s a fast blast and a right turn at the bottom of the hill. It’s fun seeing our familiar ski route free of snow…
We rally a couple turns – E Perry Vickers Road and E Chimney Rock Drive - and we’re on Still Creek already. (I was glad to have a track to follow for that part - it would be very easy to take Kimzel Lake Rd. or Trillium Lake Rd. and end up at the lake.) I’ve climbed Still Creek numerous times, but never descended the whole road. Man! Talk about an endless descent. It’s full 13 miles of full tilt boogie through the trees. You can really turn it loose on the hardtail 29er – no traction issues at all. It’s a sweet reward for the long climb we just did. In no time at all we pop out on Highway 26 for a brief stretch and then we’re back at Zig Zag Mountain Café. This time around it’s open and we plunk ourselves down and order afternoon breakfast. I’m stoked to order eggs benedict and coffee. We all go for the chocolate milk as well. This is a nice break and a turning point in the ride. We know it’s just under 50 miles home, which depending on how you look at it, is only a fraction of the total miles and probably 4 hours from being done. So, depending how how deep you went in the past two and a half days, it can be a stroll back to town or a time to dig deep and see what’s left in the tank.
After a nice sit down and some awesome food, we saddle up for the last push. We’re glad to see the road construction is again a non-issue as we glide under the arm of a sleeping excavator. These are easy, rolling miles – you realize how the ride out was a false flat, because today its slightly downhill -until just after little Switzerland and the climb out begins. I’m not close to being popped, but I don’t have much desire to race home. I choose a nice mid-tempo and settle in. I won’t take the bait, I won’t chase. After a handful of huff-and-puff climbs we find ourselves again at the portal that is Shipley road. I don’t know how to explain how it’s a portal, but in my mind it’s a transition to more familiar roads – once you reach SE Bull Run Road, it’s basically a local 25 mile ride. We’re back in home territory. Another marker is the new pavement near Dodge Park. Being escorted through the road construction on Friday feels like a week ago. It’s a funny time warp I feel when doing long days and covering lots of miles. I always look down to the Sandy River to see who’s lounging or angling. I think about how I wish I knew how to chill out and just be still – but I don’t really. I love being in motion. I love discovering new roads. I love these bike tours. Maybe when I’m older I’ll be an angler and a chiller. Maybe.
At this point, I hardly remember Marine Drive. I’m pretty sure I put my head down and tried some heroic pull for the group. Well, maybe for half of it. I’ve done the Marine Drive ITT so many times now, it’s like being done, but not quite done. We roll into NEPO 42 for celebratory pints. It feels extremely awkward trying to find a seat in the crowded patio. It’s only half NEPO 42’s fault. I feel awkward in my bike clothes and alien spit back into a crowd of cheery/tipsy city folks. We perch ourselves on the periphery of the patio – on some railing and raise our glasses. The allure of touring, of being in constant motion is the simplicity of just pedaling, of existing without conflict. For the most part you just struggle against the route, the climb, the weather, your own mind. I feel free “out there” I suppose that's why we go. I'm filled with mixed emotions coming back into town…satisfaction for a ride well done, accomplishment for doing something hard, the camaraderie of the group, but then it's done and we have only memories, images, the feeling in our legs, but I don't feel empty. I feel filled up by it…re-created, made new…we emptied the tank on the road, so the beer is twice as nice having been hard earned. Again I’m reminded and feel lucky to have riding partners that are so positive and keep charging despite failing equipment and challenging routes. Well done Mike and Steve. That will be one to remember…
I rode my hardtail Seven Sola SL 29er with Schwalbe Thunder Burt 2.1 (rear) and Racing Ralph 2.1 (front) I feel like this bike was absolutely the right choice for me. Mike and Steve rode cross bikes with 40c tires, but they’re younger and can handle the abuse. The larger volume tires were a huge advantage on Barlow Road and descending Still Creek Road. This ride has a good deal of pavement, especially if you ride from town like we did.
Revelate custom framebag, Revelate Ermine seatpack, Revelate Mountain feedbag x2, Apidura Front Roll
Shimano XC90 shoes, Oakley Jawbreaker eyewear, Giro Synthe MIPS helmet
7Mesh MK1 bibshorts, Kitsbow AM Adjustable shorts, 7Mesh Highline Jersey (coming spring 2017) Assos arm protectors, Teko hiking socks, 7Mesh Revelation jacket, Montbell EX Light Down Anorak, Ibex Woolies 1 long underwear
Thermarest NeoAir XLite sleeping pad, Mountain Hardwear Phantom 32 sleeping bag, Montbell Breeze Dry-Tec U.L. Sleeping bag cover. This was only my second trip without a tent
SnowPeak Trek700 Pot, Snow Peak Ti 450 cup, Trangia alcohol stove, LED Lenser SEO 7R headlamp, Steri Pen Pure +, Sawyer Mini water filter
Garmin Etrex20 for navigation, Garmin 500 to track ride/mileage, IPhone 6 with Gaia app as backup, Powergen Mobile power pack 5200
DAY 3 ROUTE
DAY 2 ROUTE
DAY 1 ROUTE
and finally, the pièce de résistance…Steve Mathras's video. (He shoots these without you even knowing he's shooting) Crack a beer and enjoy his handiwork. Great work Steve!