Adventures Close to Home

Barlow Road route (3 days door to door)


Every day we’re inundated with images from around the globe – in an instant – directly to our phones! The best campsites! The best day ever! The best road! We’re knocking ourselves out to outdo each other. The hardest route. The best crew and on and on…basta! It’s all too much. I’ve travelled to some great places around the world. Yes, it’s amazing. I never want to stop exploring, but how much have you explored your own back yard? Right now, for me the best rides are the ones you can do from home, without jumping in your car. 

We talked about doing the JWPT and had full intentions of doing it, but it just seemed like a lot to coordinate and I guess busy lives prevailed, so we went with Oregon Bikepacking’s Barlow Trail Route. Our little tweak was to do it from Portland, instead of driving a car to Dufur and back. We did it car-free. It wasn’t some grand idea. When Mike said – “we can start in Zig Zag.” I just thought – hey it’s not a huge ride to get to Zig Zag, so let’s just ride from home and skip the car. I haven’t been able to do a whole lot of multi-day rides this year. Both Tori and I have had some family health things to deal with and work lives - having two freelance people under one roof can be a lot just to survive day to day. So, yeah… I was due for a good challenging 3-day ride. With some juggling and some help from friends and neighbors on the home front, we made it work.

The thing that was appealing about the Barlow route is that it incorporated so many rides that I’ve done in the past, but tied them together into one 3-day ride. My first multiday mountain bike trip was probably the Mt. Hood Cascade Huts trip. I’ve only done the Hood circumnavigation (counter-clockwise) once on a road bike. The Mosier Mayhem ride took us up Surveyors and down gravel roads to The Dalles. The 2012 Rapha Mt. Hood Gentleman’s race took us up Lolo Pass and up Still Creek Rd. Dirty Sellwood took us up Surveyors, down Still Creek and then up Lolo - that was a weather scratch though. All of these were one-day rides, but the point being, between all of these rides I’ve covered a lot of the roads around Mt. Hood. The missing piece for me was the namesake of the ride: Barlow Road.

Day 1- Thursday Sept. 8

Steve and Mike met at my place for oatmeal and coffee. Our other two ride buddies bailed – Tom had work obligations and Brent had dental work to get done and was healing a bad back. Sorry dudes! We rolled out a bit before 9. I had recently ridden the first 30 miles, so no real surprises there. I knew we had just less than 90 miles and 8000+ feet of climbing to do, so that sits not too far back in your mind. Not a huge deal for a road bike with two bottles, but for loaded bikepacking rigs, it’s a healthy day. We found fresh asphalt being put down at Dodge Park. The flagger seemed to have a story that he was having a shit day because he was being forced to stand on a “suicide bridge” over the Sandy River. All I could say was – well at least you don’t have to work indoors and it’s a nice day. Hmmm – carry on. Eventually we got our escort. The woman driving asked if we could keep up. I asked how fast do you go? She said 5-10MPH. I say we’d do our best. Well…Mike kept up pretty well. When she flipped it, she yelled – “I’m impressed” I’m always charmed when anyone in a pickup makes an effort to be nice to cyclists. Thank you escort lady! We enjoyed the buttery new surface and rolled on towards Zig Zag.

Once you hit Shipley it’s like a portal to a larger world. It’s like adventure awaits beyond mile 30. We muscle our loaded rigs up walls of rollers and greet the grazing horses. We roll past Sandy Ridge and I think about taking a hot lap down Communication Breakdown. Nope. Not today. We swoop downhill and round the bend past a farm into Little Switzerland where we get our first view of Hood and marvel at the beauty of where we live. We get a little shock when we see a “road closed” sign at the end of Barlow Trail Rd. We are NOT going back to ride 26. Luckily it’s just a road washout with plenty of room to scoot under the arm of a resting loader and no workers to negotiate with.

photo by Stephen Mathras

photo by Stephen Mathras

When we get to our anticipated lunch spot that is Zig Zag Mountain Café, we find a closed due to family emergency sign on the door. Ugh! No fruit cobbler today. We head across the street for a mediocre lunch of BLTs, nachos, chili and milkshakes. I wonder about these rustic cabin places with not great food and wonder who frequents these places. I’m reminded of the place we ate by Detroit Lake recently. Same deal. We overdid it a bit, but we need calories and we know the hard part of the day lies ahead. We try to set a good tempo – you know – where you ride slightly harder than feels right, trying to break through the inertia of that too-long lunch break. I soon realize the difference between Lolo Pass Rd, which is our route today, and 1828, which is the more switchbacky climb up in the trees. I’m not sure if there is a “normal” way to do Lolo, but in the past we’ve climbed 1828 and either descended Lolo Pass Rd or continued on to Hood River via NF-1810. Those are the kind of surprises I get with this route. Without really studying the route up close, my mind defaults to the way I’ve done Lolo in the past. So instead today we are in the open under the power lines and able to stare at the Western flanks of Hood and Steve and Mike are able to wonder about other hikes and rock climbing on this side of Hood. I’m just grateful we’re not climbing 1828, since this feels way more direct and maybe more of a gradual grade. Maybe.

We run across a few pickups. I wonder who spends a Thursday on Lolo Pass Road – besides us, of course. You can’t help be reminded of Cascade Locks with those power lines overhead. How many rides have I done under those power lines?– Bull Run, Sandy Ridge, Larch Mt. etc. But I digress – this is the kind of daydreaming I can do on these long climbs. We sweat, we chat, we push each other towards the summit. Looking back at Strava, I can see it’s only an hour of climbing to the top before it turns to gravel and we rip down NF-Development Rd. 18. It’s not chunky gravel, but I’m glad to be on a 29er hardtail with 2.1 tires. More awesome views of Hood. More power lines. Then we head back into the trees a bit before the switchbacks of 16. Now I remember doing this part in the reverse direction on the Reach around Hood with the Butlers. Mentally I know how it connects to Parkdale and I know we have some good climbing left to do. But I know it’s a good alternative to the roads that take you to Hood River.

The road on 16 is only wide enough for a single car, but it’s in amazing shape. But we see absolutely no one. Eventually we’ll come across a guy clearing roadside brush and one moto, but that’s it! This is the part of the day where you can fade pretty well. You have to push through and push through we do. We stop and pee, snack and take photos. Anything for a little break. The summit is elusive here, but eventually we get views of Adams and the switchbacks yield to fast descents and minor climbs before a proper ripping descent into Parkdale. As soon as you start seeing orchards and farms and feel the warm glow of a small farming town that is decidedly not Hood River. We’re thankful for that. It’s not crowded and, aside from the couple skaters goofing on main street, we’re the only sporty types.


We hit the grocery for drinks before pondering out next move. When we come back to life, we decide our next move is to Solera Brewery for a celebratory pint. Solera has a dirt lot with picnic tables and perfect views of Hood, so we settle in and join the locals enjoying after work beers. It feels like the perfect place to be and we’re glad that it’s chill and not overly crowded like so many Hood River joints. After a pint, Steve goes inside to ask the bartender if we can camp out on their wooden deck. No go, but he gives a tip on stealth camping down by the river near Tollbridge. It becomes evident that food sooner than later is a good idea, so we ride our rigs across the street to Apple Valley BBQ. We order a huge plate of ribs, pulled pork, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese and another beer. If we were lacking calories before, we’re good after this meal. The mood is relaxed and we enjoy eating outside as the clouds gradually turn pink and orange. The skaters continue goofing and their buddy yells “I bet you can’t do a handstand!” We pay up and make our way towards Tollbridge. We poke around in the dark looking for Solera guy’s stealth tip. Luckily I borrowed an Exposure Diablo light  (damn that thing is bright!) and I can see what I’m doing. But we don’t find anything suitable for camping, so we just roll over to the campground, pay our $20 and find a nice site next to the creek. We just need something easy at this point. We lay out bivvies and sleeping bags, hang up riding clothes to dry, drink some tea and whisky and head off for an early bedtime. It feels like a day well spent. Day one done and dusted. I’m always amazed how much ground you can cover if you ride all day! If you're up for a 2-day, I highly recommend this route to Parkdale. Eat some ribs, catch some shut-eye and ride back home…or keep going… (Day 2 and 3 of our ride will follow shortly)

photo by Stephen Mathras

photo by Stephen Mathras