Heather Rose on the Oregon Timber Trail
Heather Rose is the first person to bikepack the length of the Oregon Timber Trail. She rode solo (and unsupported) from Lakeview to the Columbia river in 18 days! We met up with her when she came through Portland to take the train back to retrieve her car in Klamath Falls to get her take on the OTT. We've all been inspired by her ride!
“I truly believe that bikepacking is available to everyone, regardless of athletic background.”
What is your cycling background and/or bikepacking? Are you a lifelong cyclist? (Maybe include what routes you’ve done)
Until my early 20s I had not been on a bike since I was a child. I put in several years on the road racing circuit and then slowly shifted more and more toward dirt, doing a handful of XC mountain bike races and a few years on the local cyclocross race circuit. I'd like to stress that all of this was with a mediocre level of success, I do not have a ton of natural athletic talent. I mention this only because I truly believe that bikepacking is available to everyone, regardless of athletic background.
I first started bikepacking in 2013 with the intention of “racing” The Tour Divide after being inspired by Jill Homer's book “Be Brave, Be Strong.” An injury during a shorter bikepacking race - Tour de Los Padres waylaid my Tour Divide plans and sidelined me for several years during which I did several slow tours such as a few routes on the east coast (Great Allegheny Passage, C&O Canal, and the Allegheny Mountains Loop) and a personal 1000 mile loop through British Columbia, some of these were solo and some with a partner. In 2016 I completed the challenging Colorado Trail Race, which played a huge role in being properly prepared to serve as a Pioneer for the Timber Trail!
What do you do for work? Does your work inform your cycling or is it an escape?
I am a full-time professor of Biology at Santa Barbara City College, summer teaching is optional, so...I mostly teach Human Anatomy and Physiology; I could say that while I am out there I am thinking about the details of oxygen consumption, CO2 build-up, and types of muscle fibers, but that would be a lie! It is 100% an escape from my working life, my mind just wanders aimlessly for hours on end. I really need the change to be ready to go back to the classroom in the fall.
How did you hear about the Oregon Timber Trail and what made you want to do it?
I was already planning to spend the summer exploring the PNW and I spend a lot of time on bikepacking websites, forums and FB pages, so somewhere in there it crossed my screen. I like routes that have a strong singletrack component and it seemed the like perfect way to really get to know Oregon. Also, the idea of being one of the first seemed fun!
Any tips for anyone else that wants to ride it solo?
Definitely do some shorter trips solo first to build your confidence in all aspects of navigation and gear, but more importantly to make sure you enjoy solo trips. Some people realize within a couple days they just aren't having any fun without a partner.
What edits/detours/route changes did you make and why did you make them?
In the Fremont, after the route crosses the 395, I just plain needed a mental break from all the bushwhacking and route finding challenges so I left the trail there and rode the highway to Paisley (quiet on a weekday morning) for my first resupply. From there I stuck with my original plan to ride the road toward Summer Lake Hot Springs (run by amazingly kind folks) and up the listed alternate route (NF 29/Government Harvey Pass) to Currier Spring on Winter Rim. I carried 6 liters (!) of water from there due to unknown trail conditions. The ~12 miles to the Fremont FS cabin/picnic table/outhouse were very slow, but clear of downed trees and was ultimately rewarding. However, after the cabin the trail deteriorated even more and many trees were across it so after a couple miles I backtracked to the cabin and took FS roads into Silver Lake. Leaving Silver Lake I discovered the track crossed private property and had to backtrack (this has been corrected on the website) and take the highway part way. Finally, from Tule Lake to Detroit I had to make two changes. One because I was informed of unsafe and unpleasant riding conditions and the other was due to the Whitewater fire closure. From there I followed to route quite closely, occasionally substituting a nearby road for a few miles of singletrack.
What is your overall impression of the route? Favorite section? Least favorite section?
Overall, I would say the route is still very rough in terms of required trail work and accuracy of the GPS track, but has the potential to be on par with well established routes such as the Arizona Trail and Colorado Trail. It has a lot of great singletrack and travels through remote and beautiful places. In terms of fun riding, my favorite parts were probably the Middle Fork of the Willamette into Oakridge and Surveyor's Ridge and the singletrack leading into it. Even though the southern portion needs the most work, I loved the scenic beauty of the Outback! That said, I would suggest *reasonable people* avoid that part until it is cleaned up a bit, or plan your possible road reroutes in advance from the comfort of your home computer! I also really enjoyed a few of the long gravel grind climbs, such as NF-29 and the road up to Bunchgrass. Sometimes it is just nice to turn off your brain and turn the pedals.
What tips do you have for anyone that wants to do the whole route?
Have a positive attitude and be flexible, remember that you are out there to have fun and are not obligated to stick to the exact route! Also, I have always found that it works better for me to set time goals instead of distance goals each day, that way I don't feel like I failed if the terrain is tough and I do not make expected mileage.
Do you have any specific highlights or problems you had with the route that you can share with aspiring riders?
Some of the GPS track itself is still a bit more of a guideline to the general location of the trail, rather than an exact representation of the trail on the ground, especially in the southern section, but also some later spots, so make sure to keep an eye on the bigger picture and look for the best option instead of blindly following the exact track.
Give us a rundown of your bike and gear. What things were essential? What could you have done without?
stock 27.5 Kona Hei Hei, full suspension, size small
1x11 set-up (28 front ring, wish I had a 26 for the second half of the route)
Maxxis Tomahawk 2.35 tires - set up tubeless
Shimano SPD pedals (be sure you can hike in whatever shoes you choose, gaiters would have been great in the first tier)
IN MY ROGUE PANDA RIPSEY SADDLEBAG
Repair kit - One tube (I strongly suggest two if doing the Fremont Tier), a couple chain links/quick links, derailleur cable, patch kit, fishing line and needle for sidewall tears, one extra bottle of sealant, assorted boots, spare cleat, thin wire, duct tape, safety pin, fire-starter, FiberFix spoke, spare derailleur hanger, assorted bolts, spare brake pads
2-3 days worth of dinner (couscous or mac n' cheese with tuna and freeze dried veggies) and breakfast (high protein instant oatmeal)
IN MY FRAME BAG (HOMEMADE BY A FRIEND)
chain lube, brush, rag, emergency 5 hour energy, tiny cable lock, as many snacks as I can stuff in there, mini-shock pump
IN MY THREE REVELATE FEED BAGS, GAS TANK, JERRY CAN
More snacks, one liter Nalgene, regular water bottle usually for electrolyte mixes, Deet, suncreen, multi-tool, Leatherman Squirt, chemical hand-warmer, headlamp, spork, water treatment tablets (various kinds, as available), snacks
ATTACHED TO BIKE
Garmin eTrex20, Lezyne tire pump (love this pump!), 1.5L Smartwater bottle on downtube
IN MY OSPREY 18 BACKPACK
Clothing - lightweight long underwear and top, fleece hat and wool buff, running shorts (for nighttime wear, not running!), lightweight tank top, dry socks, ultralight down jacket, rain jacket and water/wind resistant pants
Toiletries - child's toothbrush, small toothpaste, wipes, TP, Alleve, Orajel (topical anesthetic for your bum), a few small bandages, allergy pills, antidiarrheal, K-tape (for possible flare-up of past Achilles problems)
Misc - occasional food for longer stretches if it would not fit on the bike, mosquito head net (never used), one piece of paper and sharpie, phone and wallet, handkerchief, ipod shuffle, SPOT tracker in case of an emergency
Due to my short stature (5'3") it is VERY difficult for me to carry everything on a full suspension rig, so I am very minimalist. I think the mosquito head net (2oz) is the only thing I did not use, I could have lived without the running shorts, but again ultralight and something to wear while washing other clothes. I don't even use the Neo air pillow for my head, but to put under my knees to relieve back strain while sleeping; I put my extra clothes in a stuff sack as a pillow. Given the heat wave and lack of storms I could have done without the chemical handwarmer! Experience is really the only way to figure out what things you personally require out there, I find that most people want to be a bit more comfortable than me.
At one point (from Currier Springs) I carried six liters of water: 1.5 L smartwater bottle in a cage ziptied to my downtube, 1 L Nalgene in the newer feedbag, 0.5L cycling bottle in a feedbag, up to 2.5L in my Osprey bladder (usually kept this between 0.5 -1L for comfort), and a 1L Gatorade from the last resupply (Paisley).
You are the first person to bikepack the entire route! What does it feel like to be a pioneer?
It is super exciting to be the first! And to be honest, all the attention is a bit overwhelming, especially now that I am back at work and trying balance all the great questions and curiosity about the route with my school year life. Mostly I am so incredibly grateful for all the kindness extended to me, from the amazing folks who opened their homes to me, to the kind business owners along the route, and all the online encouragement from everyone so excited about the route! I really like challenges and I LOVE adventure so the exploratory nature of it all was really rewarding. Without having done some more free-form travel by bike (the BC trip) and a tough very specific route such as the Colorado Trail, I do not think I would have been prepared for this experience. I have to admit, volunteering to pioneer some of the other upcoming routes is definitely tempting!
As has been stated by the organizers, this is not a great choice for a first bikepacking trip, but doing some of the segments on the weekends or the more northern portion of the course over a week is a great way to get started! Thank you to everyone that has helped make the trail a reality, especially Sam and Kim for helping scout the route last summer!