Bikepacking the Oregon Outback Trail
364 miles, 14k feet of elevation gain, dirt, rain, gravel, good times, film photography, and more
Kodak Portra 400, Ektar 100
A few months back I received an email reply from a friend in Oregon. No, he wouldn’t be visiting New York anytime soon. But, he and some pals were planning to ride the Oregon Outback Trail in mid June and I was invited—and Bend, Oregon-based Hydro Flask would make sure it went off without a hitch. Knowing nothing of the trail, i wavered for a bit, then agreed, without doing my research. Weeks ahead of departure I was already in over my head. This would become a theme for the 6 day, 364 mile journey.
On 9 June I found myself aboard a southbound Amtrak speeding towards Klamath Falls, dang near the California border, knowing in hours I'd be turning right around and riding north with sights set on Washington State. The crew consisted of myself, one old friend, and two new. None of us had ever really bikepacked before, but the concept was growing in popularity by the day, and we were curious (now is a good time to remember what curiosity did to the cat). Nevertheless, we were fit (or something close to it) and young (ish) and all eager to see just what the great state of Oregon had to offer.
"Now is a good time to remember what curiosity did to the cat"
Turns out, Oregon has a lot to offer. We knew we’d see lots of elevation gain and loss, incredibly lush forests, high desert plains, stunning geological formations, volcanic landscapes, and a hundred different colors of soil. What we didn’t know was we’d encounter a rare weather pattern that would replace the expect upper 80s temps with low 40s and high 30s, and rain, and sleet, and wind, and wind, and more rain. As a result, a lot of Type II fun was had.
The Oregon Outback Trail is a true test of will, endurance, and strength. While my lungs never left me huffing or puffing, my mind experienced rifts of doubt unlike I’d ever known before, and legs were totally shot by day three. Nevertheless, we persisted. Because that’s what you do when you’re with an encouraging crew led by posi vibes and stronger riders—and when you’re quite literally in the middle of nowhere with no exit available, and when you have a 30oz steak waiting for you at the end of the day.
Despite the difficulty, it was the people we met along the way, and the incredible kindness of total strangers that made our trip truly memorable. Stumbling across a community fundraiser with local folk musicians and brisket piled high only hours from the trailhead; pitching tents in a barn to stay out of the cold just minutes after meeting the owner at a bike shop that served beer; sharing a warm beer and many laughs with an 8th generation Oregonian on land his great grandfather had homesteaded well over a century ago; getting crucial touring advice from an aging hippy with a homemade bicycle who’s hadn’t owned a car since the 70s ; talking late into the night with holdover Sanyasins still inspired of the dream of Rajneeshpuram. These are the memories that shine so much brighter than the time I laid in the rain, totally exhausted, wishing the hills would end.
Remember kids, spin, don’t push.