Guest Post: Riding the Oregon Timber Trail by Karey Miles
I recently had the opportunity to ride the Oregon Timber Trail (OTT), which is a newly developed network of over 650 miles of singletrack, gravel and paved roads that spans the entirety of the state of Oregon from south to north. While this rugged, no-joke trail through the backwoods of Oregon will test you, it also gives back to you with breathtaking views, alpine lakes, crystal clear creeks, and a whole lot of character building experiences.
Why did I pick the OTT?
I live in Oregon and am always on the lookout for my next adventure in my own backyard. I have taken quite a few bikepacking adventures at this point, mostly pretty short 1-3 day trips, but my heart truly lies in being able to make my home in the great outdoors for an extended period of time. I recently finished grad school, so my last extended trip was in 2016 when I rode the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from Banff, AB to Steamboat Springs, CO. I have been craving an epic Type-2-Fun adventure ever since, so this seemed like the best option.
What did I pack and what should I have left at home?
I pretty much pack the same thing for all bikepacking adventures. That said, there were definitely things that I packed for this trip that I didn’t need, and things that I wish I would have had. One item I always pack are rain pants. Yes, you should even pack them if you are out in high desert terrain and it’s supposed to be 80+ degrees the entire time. Rain pants serve multiple functions including wind, rain, and mosquito guard as well as an extra layer just in case it gets super cold at night.
For the OTT, because of the hot weather and the long days on the bike, I opted for the Showers Pass Apex Merino Tech Tee and the Cross Country shorts, which was one of the best decisions of the trip. I have worn many other things on bike packing trips, some of which are comfy and some which are not. Some clothing just falls apart after long days on the bike. Both of these pieces of clothing withstood all of the wear and tear on the trip including sweat, dirt, mud, rain, wind, and even a couple tumbles. Because of the merino fabric in the tech tee, I also didn’t get very stinky (well, at least not that I noticed anyway)! I would highly recommend both of these items for your long bike excursions!
For this trip specifically, I also made sure to pack extra water capacity. Mine was in the form of a 4L bag that I could fill when I needed to carry a lot of extra water for dry camping. I would suggest having the capacity to fill up at least six litres, if not more. We were out in the middle of July and many of the creek beds are dry and it was hot! The first day out on the trail, we had planned to go about 27 miles. That might not seem like so much, but when you are on a fully loaded bike with a full supply of food and water, going uphill right from the start, things take a while. We ended up on an exposed hillside in the heat of the day with no water in sight. I was began experiencing signs of heat exhaustion and had to sit in the shade of a bush while the crew figured out what to do. Eventually, I was able to make my way up the rest of the hill and we eventually found a tiny spring at the top of the climb. Lesson learned, it never hurts to carry too much water...well, it might hurt a little because it’s rough to carry it up the hill, but believe me, it’s worth it!
As far as things I could do without, my tiny Therm-a-Rest NeoAir sleeping pad inflator could be left at home. I don’t actually need this tool for my survival, but having to blow up my sleeping pad every night, especially at 8,000 ft elevation when I’m feeling a lack of oxygen anyway, makes me appreciate having my inflator. I could have left my Sea to Summit X-Pot at home. It is large and takes up some space, but I in the end, I enjoyed my hashbrown, ham and cheese breakfast after 5 days of grits, so I think it was worth it. It might take a couple of trips to figure out what you really need or can do without, but once you get a system, own it!
You can check out more of the little things that I always pack at my website at www.bikeithikeit.com.
What were some obstacles both on and off the trail?
As a woman who has travelled solo, it has been an eye-opener to realize that I am a minority out there on the trail. On the Great Divide in 2016 my friend Heather and I did not see any other solo women or women only groups the entire time. That’s not to say that they aren’t out there, but it was a rare thing to see. This said, I think that as long as any person, no matter their gender, gains the strength, knowledge, and confidence to adventure they should get out there and do it! When people ask me what are the obstacles for a woman going on an extended adventure like the OTT, I usually just say that our obstacles, physically, are just like anyone else’s obstacles. Bikes break for everyone, thunderstorms roll through for everyone, soft gravel sucks bike wheels for everyone, bears don’t discriminate. But societal norms and humans are unpredictable and much of the backcountry that we travel in take us in places where it might not be the “safest” environment for a woman or group of women alone. Though I am sure there are people out there who have had unfortunate experiences, in my experience, being out in the wilderness on the bike tends to bring you together with like-minded people and those people who are generous and kind, even in the least expected places. So I would say to any women who are considering an adventure like this to get out there and do it! Be prepared, be aware, be kind, be safe, just like everyone else. And just get out there!
What were the highlights of the trail?
Really, I could write a novel about all of the amazing things that the OTT has to offer. But I’ll keep it pretty simple.
The views: I live for mountain views where it feels like you can see for forever. When I have to really work for that view, that makes it all the better. The views along Winter Rim, Fremont Point, Moss Pass, Morgan Butte, and any of the other lookouts for that matter were unbeatable. Expect to work hard for it though, and you won’t be disappointed.
The people: I have found that whenever I am bikepacking, people, most people are thoughtful and kind. The OTT route winds through the backwoods of Oregon and you never know who or what you are going to find out there! We had the pleasure of meeting Cam and Christine at the Squirrelville Cabins outside of Lakeview. Not only were they very welcoming, but they also offered us a hose, a beer and some clean towels when we arrived. We met some guys that worked in the forest service that were out for a hike outside of Mill Flat who drove up the scorching climb and offered us ice water out of our car. We were greeted with smiles by the folks at the Pioneer Saloon in Paisley when we went in to dodge a huge thunderstorm. We were also offered a ride from Dwayne at the Summer Lake Hot Springs who saved us from having to ride an extra six miles in the thunderstorm. And then there were the folks at the Oakridge bike shop who were able to fix my bike on the fly so I could go back out the next day. Marcello even offered me a cold drink while I waited. There is definitely some sort of trail magic that happens when you are out there on the trail and I never cease to be amazed and grateful for the people I encountered along the way.
My riding buddies: For this particular trip, we had a group of five of us who have been friends for quite a long time. We have seen each other in the worst of conditions, whether that be in life, racing our bikes, long training rides, or adventures like this. During adventures like this each person tends to suffer in different ways at different times. There were safety factors to take into consideration as well, so we implemented a buddy system and tried to keep at least one of us insight of each other at all times. Recognizing when someone is in a deep, dark place while in the heat of the day on that final climb is important as well as recognizing when people need their alone time. Recognizing when someone needs help lifting their bike over a hug log or crossing a stream or pushing up a ravine is important, even if they don’t ask for help. I felt more appreciative of my riding buddies at the end of this excursion more than I had ever before. This type of experience can make or break the tightest of friendships, but I truly believe that communicating and checking your ego at the door is the key to bringing you closer together to be able to share this awesome experience together!
What were the not-so-highlights of the trail?
This trail is an intermediate to advanced bikepacking trail. There are parts of it that would be great small sections for a beginner bikepacker, but you need to be prepared and physically able for this trail. Everything takes longer than you would think, the trails are not all in impeccable condition (at least not at this point). Things that I struggled with:
Elevation (no joke): The trail starts at around 6k ft elevation and goes immediately up from there, topping out at 8300 ft. in the first 10 miles. Coming from sea level here in Portland, OR, I suffered...a lot. Give yourself time to adjust and respect and understand what is going on with your body and muscles when they have a lack of oxygen. If you aren’t racing trail, plan shorter mileage on the first couple of days to allow for acclamation.
Fitness: I took this adventure on after two years of grad school, which meant that I hadn’t really trained for this ride. I figured I would be okay because I have a lot of miles in my legs from years of riding, but I suffered. My tip for prepping is that you not only try to get on your bike consistently before your trip but to also work on upper body strength and hike a bunch. Even for the most skilled rider, there are sections of trail that require you to push and lift your loaded bike. It is never fun when your arms give out before your lungs do.
My equipment: I won’t go into much detail about this, but somewhere along the 30 mile long rock garden called Winter Rim, I managed to mess up my rear derailleur. You have to know how to deal with the unexpected. I highly recommend either taking a Field Guide to Bike Repair or learn how to fix the basics on your bike including adjusting your derailleur, replacing a spoke and your cables. Also carry duct-tape - a lot of it. Even though I was able to adjust my derailleur to a “rideable” condition, I was without the many of my gears (both big and small) for the majority of the ride until I got to Oakridge. I did carry an emergency derailleur hanger and could have fixed it on the fly, but I made it work because I knew I had a bike shop coming up. Make sure you know your bike and carry the appropriate tools.
How was my Overall Experience on the OTT?
This was, by far, one of the most challenging and most rewarding adventures I have ever done and from what I’ve heard even from the most physically able is that it is just a challenging trail. Don’t let this deter you from attempting all or parts of this route though. The alpine lakes, beautiful meadows, amazing people, mountain views, hot springs, creek baths and delicious diner food provide a well-deserved reward for your work. The trail, as it stands, is rugged. It is new. It is raw. And this is one of the privileges that I had as one of the first to attempt this trail. I expect that some of it will become more tame with time but I also know that this gem of Oregon will remain challenging and will entice those who want to rise to the occasion.
What are your tips for the OTT rider?
If you are interested in riding this trail, DO IT! It is a much more rugged trail than most other routes I have ridden on a loaded bike on a multi-day trip, so be prepared. I would try to do it as early in the year as you can, barring snowmelt, in order to have a more ample supply of water. I would also bring all the bike maintenance supplies that you would need out there on the trail and know how to fix things on the fly.
Unless you are looking for 12-14 hour days in the saddle, I would plan shorter mileage per day than you think you can to do. You can always go a little further if you need, but chances are, you’ll be glad you opted for the shorter distance. Take the time to enjoy your rewards. Stop and take in the views of the valleys below you and of the towering old growth trees and caterpillar-filled manzanita bushes. It will make the trip more worth it than you ever imagined.
One of the perks about this trail system is that it is divided up into tiers that are visible on the map, which allows riders to take on portions of the trail or make shorter looped routes without having to do the entire thing. The terrain diversifies with each tier, so definitely try to get out an experience them all. And my biggest tip, as it is with all adventures, is to respect the beautiful countryside that you are adventuring in and meet the people in the towns that you are rolling through. The OTT is a new trail and many people have yet to hear about it. The more you can be an ambassador for the sport, you will promote a more enjoyable experience for those who come after you, making this a better trail and community for years to come! Happy adventuring!
Join Karey and her trail buddies for a night of storytelling and film Saturday Nov. 17th at Evolution Fitness 905 SE Ankeny at 5pm.