Outback day 3

“I’m here for a good time not a long time…I’m waaaaaay up. I feel blessed”

Brent’s got Big Sean’s “Blessings” on repeat. That’s our 5:30 wakeup call, apparently. Luckily he just had a cell phone. I love how music creeps into your experience on a trip like this. So far the theme had been strictly classic rock…Journey, BOC, Eagles…

Last night at Ochoco Creek Park was a breeze. This morning we have a picnic shelter to ourselves and we alternate packing up with making breakfast, while sunning our sleeping bags, bivvies, and tents and making trips across the creek to the toilets. We wave to morning dog walkers. They don’t seem fazed. Maybe they’re used to kids squatting their park.

Prineville was a turning point in our Outback. Mileage-wise we had completed 225 miles of the 363. Having completed two days was a huge boost in confidence. At this point, it felt like our bodies were adapting to the work and rhythm of bike by day camp by night. We started to get a feel for how much food we needed to pedal all day. While I gain confidence on a trip, I’m never cocky. I know we have some climbing to do, although I’m not studying the route as we go. I like to have some surprises. It’s enough for me to know how many miles we need to do. We end up rolling out around 8 am. I guess we did need a 5:30 wakeup call. I’m waaaaaay up. I feel blessed.

Speaking of waaaaaaay up, we had some climbing to do. Prineville is at mile 226 and the first summit is at mile 247 before it turns to gravel. I lead out of town for the first bit, but I soon decide not to be a hero and find my groove. Today, Mike is feeling strong and he was off the front all day long, starting with climb #1. Brent chased him on that first climb. The climb is paved and beautiful in the trees. It’s fairly gradual and never really kicks up too steeply. I love this part of Oregon. Now that I’m here, I remember camping in this area with an ex-girlfriend, but it’s been a long time.

Finally we reach the summit and take a snack break, sitting in the sun. Not much to say about the climb, other than it seems to keep going long after you think you should be at the top. Another couple riders join us while we wait for Steve and Tom. Turns out Tom had a flat. Pickups with ATV’s on trailers roll by and I’m surprised how much traffic is up here. After some wheat thins, trail mix, and jerky it’s time to pack it up and hit some dirt. I have no idea what this next section is like, but I imagine it’s the rowdy part of the route and there has to be at least four creek crossings. It turns out to be a ripping dirt descent. We get some good speed up and I’m taking optimal lines, which means inside corner, and it’s not long before WHOA! That’s a pickup headed uphill. I thought we were supposed to be all alone out here. I guess not. It dips and dives for miles and we hit the first crossing without stopping and I’m glad I’ve done these things before, since it’s pretty deep. Ease back off the saddle and feet up. It’s no use - I end up with one foot soaked. I want to blast this section and get max speed, but I keep thinking about the last creek crossing being the last chance to load up on water til we hit Antelope. The sun is making its presence known at this point. I imagine this afternoon could be a burner, so I take a little extra and camel up a bit. A butterfly lands on Brent’s orange shoes and stays long enough to pose for photos. Soon the fast doubletrack opens out into some of the most scenic vistas of the whole trip. It’s big puffy clouds and Ochoco majesty.

Next we hit the big wash out. I spoke to Tori on the phone last night and she told me about reports of mud and bikes getting torn up. I’m skeptical, but we found the section that was hit hard by rain that resulted in washed out roads just a day or so ago. Honestly, by the time we hit it, there is only one twenty foot section of mud that you could ride with the right line, but it’s awkward loaded, so there may have been some minor hike-a-bike. We’re joined by Jeff and Jeff from Trailhead. We know those guys from cross races. Suddenly we encounter a rancher jamming uphill towards us on his ATV. I’m taken off guard, since I’m still just trying to find the best line around corners and keep speed for rollers. Behind me one of the Jeffs is taken off guard too and he hits a rut in a weird way as he’s trying to stop and goes over the bars. He ends up fracturing his collarbone, but luckily Brent is there on the scene with K-tape. Brent tapes him up and Jeff rides himself out! Hard man status.

Shortly after the ATV rancher incident, we hit Ashwood with it’s rustic church, which seemed like the perfect lunch spot. We leaned our bikes on the weathered planks and found some shade. It was officially hot at this point. This was the Wheat Thins, salami, and cheese break spot. We replayed the last section in our minds and someone says I think there’s a big gravel climb coming up soon. I use the handy dandy outhouse and saddle up for the big climb. As soon as we’re pushing off, Joe and Krissy pedal up and they look hellbent on attacking that climb. Joe takes off like a rocket and it makes me laugh, because he dropped us so hard as to be demoralizing. I have to ask Krissy if he does that on every climb. She said it’s cool. He waits at the top, so clearly they have an agreement. It takes me five minutes to shake off Joe’s dust, but when I do I settle into a nice steady, hot climb that just…keeps…on…going. But you know what? it doesn’t hurt, it’s gorgeous and I remind myself that I actually love endless climbs like this. I just keep making little goals. Just make it to that tree. Just make it to that rise up there. At some point the pure climbing gives way to rolling terrain, so good-sized climbs alternate with healthy descents. Mike is way off the front, so I wait at an intersection where someone has made a huge rock arrow pointing to the left fork. It’s hard to miss, but I thought it would be easy to stay right, so I wait for Brent, Steve and Tom.

It’s a bit of a push to get to Antelope. Headwinds are strong and I’m ready to be done for the day. Tom and I take turns trying to punch through the warm air. Antelope is small but it does have some great old decrepit buildings and it does have a post office with a spigot. I rolled through town to see what I can see. A little research reveals that Antelope has its own website. Antelope was at its peak from 1870 through 1910 when cattle and sheep were a source of prosperity. Not surprisingly the Rajneeshees “invasion” was a huge deal in the area from 1981 to 1985. I had heard a bit about it, but I didn’t realize they took over Antelope and drove out the original residents. Read more on Antelope’s website.

Shaniko is only 8 (paved) miles from Antelope, but it’s a grind of a climb. Everyone is in good spirits, though and we climb slowly together until we get to the top and look back on the switchbacks we just climbed. We take photos and yell at (EverythingwillbeNoble) Brent. Steve and I push off and take turns jousting headwinds and giving one last big effort, knowing we’re close to our destination.

Oh Shaniko! I love Oregon's ghost towns and arriving for the first time by bike in Shaniko is a treat! Speaking of treats, Shaniko has ice cream…and a general store with cold beer. We celebrate…first with Ice Cream before the shop closes…and then with beer. We set up in the field next to the jail. There is a covered picnic area and fellow Outbackers are claiming spots and telling tales. It feels really good to be here and we’ve really done some riding and seen a good bit of the state. Shaniko is at mile 300, so that means only 63 miles to finish tomorrow. I know the route a bit from The Stampede, so I know it’s not easy, but compared to what we have done to get here, it will be pretty straightforward. There is a bit of a celebratory vibe in Shaniko. It’s neat to be able to set up behind the historic buildings and we have a nice view of the barn where the wool trading used to take place, with it’s blood red roof and all caps SHANIKO lettering. Someone said they filmed a Clint Eastwood film there in the 60’s. We kick back, drink beers and high five exhausted riders as they arrive. They all perk up when we tell them the general store is still open and they still have beer. After having our own private situation in Prineville it’s nice to get to hang out with some fellow riders and hear about their trips. I think we’re all feeling pretty lucky at this point and it’s unanimous that we’re doing something cool, something worthwhile. If I can bring it back to Big Sean for a second…we're feeling blessed.