Damage something? Watch this.
My name is Mitchell Trux and I am an athlete on the Portland Titanium Cycling Team a.k.a. PDX Ti. I have been riding bikes my whole life…I grew up mountain biking, in college I became a pretty serious roadie and when that got old, cyclocross took over as my target discipline.
On PDX Ti, I am fortunate to have a frame sponsor that makes a gravel bike–the REN Cycles, Waypoint–and as a newish resident of the Pacific Northwest I have been happy to begin exploring the world of gravel on routes championed by VeloDirt.
While traditionally a bikepacking route/event meant to take place over several days, the Oregon Outback appealed to me and as an interesting challenge in that it is possible to ride it straight through. This was successfully demonstrated by Portland local and well-known frame builder Ira Ryan last year when he completed the 364 mile route in 28 hours.
I have been a fan of long rides on the cyclocross bike for years. Dirt centuries on 700 x 32C tires have been staple training events for me. 3-1/2 centuries though, on remote high desert territories of Eastern Oregon…well, let’s just say that sounded insane and amazing to me. Obviously the makings of a cycling challenge that I could put in a category all its own. With that said, special considerations were in order. This is where bags from Revelate come into the equation.
I knew I would need to carry some stuff on my mission. I wanted to keep with the spirit of the event and go at it self-supported, and able to make it through the longer remote sections of the route with enough hydration and food necessary to keep the engines running. And if it came to it, I wanted to have enough warm clothing and a little bit of shelter (like an emergency blanket) to avoid some health threatening scenario.
From Revelate this meant the selection of a Pika Seat bag, A Tangle Frame Bag and for ease of access to ride essentials such as a small camera, the food I was currently munching on and uh…ibuprofen, I got the Gas Tank bag to sit on my top-tube.
My bike packed and ready for loading onto Amtrak for the ride down to Klamath Falls…
Okay, now for the story of my first Oregon Outback experience:Again, I’m sorry to say I didn’t complete the through-ride this time around. Also, it should be noted that I was aware of a few others attempting the same feat including a guy named Austin who I was informed was the World Champion of Gravel–didn’t know their was such a thing–and even he ended up ducking into hotel room in Prineville for some sleep before finishing his ride to the Columbia River.
Our Friday ride out of Klamath Falls, while scenic, included several hours of precipitation. For me, the rain wasn’t so bad that clothing became overly soaked and uncomfortable, though I was a little bit cold at times and I think this is where we all suffered a bit.
In my case, it was about 3 PM that afternoon when I was wearing nearly all of my clothing and I became chilled enough that I began to worry about the long night ahead..but we’ll get to that. In the meantime, I kept pedaling…
Now is the time to say, the Revelate Pika Seat Bag is amazing. For as much volume as it offers, if you pack it with more of your lighter-weight items it will remain snug and secure to your seat and seat post, and barely noticeable while pedaling, even while standing. Also it’s shape sort of curves around the back of your saddle and effectively blocks the majority of rear tire spray from reaching your backside and chamois. This says nothing about the clear attention to detail and quality of construction that make owning such a product an even more desirable experience.
The Tangle Frame Bag, is a power house. Put whatever way you want in there and it will store it neatly and efficiently within the main frame triangle, still leaving room for your water bottles below. Mine was loaded with heavy bars and drink powder-which I’ll have to cover more in a minute. I particularly dig how the Tangle’s zippers are easy to access and operate en route. I can store the things that I want to access on the bike in the front portions of the bag and fish them out really easily while on-the-go.And finally The Gas Tank bag, which did exactly what I needed. It was my quick access holder of things needed to keep me rolling.
Okay, now to some finer points about my Oregon Outback through-ride attempt. Even though a few email exchanges with Ira Ryan encouraged me to pack light, I was worried about being able to find the right kind of energy food in the remote towns along the course. For that reason, I ended up carrying quite a load of energy bars and drink mix out of K-Falls. I thought I could be more efficient if all I had to do was refill water along the way, and I was excited that as I ate and drank my way through the ride, my bike would get lighter. In hindsight, this strategy was my folly. Aside from the fact that I arrived at the various general stores and restaurants along the route starving for anything but the energy bars I had on-board, the extra weight slowed me down on the wet peanut butter roads that we ended up pedaling through this year.
Next time, I’ll plan a little more for calories found en route and carry less. And here’s why that changes everything…
In addition to having two bottles on my bike, I was carrying a Camelback with 2.5 L of hydration on my back. Here again, when my water stores were all topped up, my total rolling weight was rather significant. And here’s the rub…because I think an Oregon Outback rider needs every ounce of water I had in order to cover some of those longer stretches–especially if it’s a hot, sunny or dry year.
So next time, I’m putting just enough food calories into my Gas Tank Bag and Tangle Frame Bag to supplement planned en route calorie stops. And, I’m ditching my Camelback, but I’ll move its bladder into the space I free up inside the Tangle Frame Bag. I think these adjustments will keep my total rolling weight down and, I think critically importantly for a challenge such as this, it will take some weight off of my sit bones and landing pad–helping that area endure the full 364.
This time, my pace was slower than planned. I got to Silver Lake (mile 119) mid afternoon. Then, because of more cold and rain and wind, the ride from Silver Lake to Fort Rock (mile 136) was pretty miserable. So when I ducked into Fort Rock’s local “Watering Hole” (I think that’s it’s name) for a bowl of hot clam chowder, and I had the chance to compose myself, I was forced to make a rational decision.
I like to say that I’m stubborn…but not stupid. I was willing to take on this challenge but going into it, I did not want to be at it for more than 30 hours. At this point it was certain I’d go over that time and my desire to carry-on was compromised. From Fort Rock, it would be 80+ miles to Prineville where I thought I should duck into a room for a shower and a little bit of rest before carrying on. Thinking about that, I estimated I would arrive there around 3 AM. It might be difficult to get checked into a room at that hour. This was feeling like a bad plan.
I thought for a moment, then looked at the map. Bend, Oregon–a town I was very familiar with–was much closer as the crow flies, and it looked as if I could navigate an off-highway gravel route there. This was starting to sound like a good plan, and while it was tough to admit I was ready to bail, I needed to do what was sensible. I was worried about the rain and cold and the long distance to Prineville through a remote section of Eastern Oregon, and while the stubborn side of me was ready to suffer through it, the rational side of me offered the reminder that I have a wife and 1 1/2 year old son at home who I had promised I’d spend the rest of the holiday weekend with. So, Bend it was. If I hustled I’d get there at a reasonable hour and get a warm shower before I got myself sick.As it turned out, my 67 mile ride from Fort Rock to Bend was about the most enjoyable riding of my adventure. The route took me around Fort Rock (the geographical rock formation) and through a number of cattle ranches. The terrain there was Sandy but thankfully the rain had packed it well enough for me to ride through with only a little bit of extra effort. The desert sloped gently westward and as I crawled up towards the pine forests the sun set through the thunder clouds overhead. The scenery at this point was stunning. The skies to the east were more clear and beautifully colored as the sun passed through the “Golden Hour.”
Without taking too much time for sight seeing, I pedaled on, and fortunately so. The last few sections of navigation before entering the pine forests were very challenging and if I didn’t have the last bit of remaining light in the sky, I don’t think I would’ve found the correct fire road (they were hardly roads in this section) into the forest and onto the more discernible national forest service roads.Fortunately I did though, and entering the forests it became dark. I rolled on and enjoyed some intense quiet and the fact that I would be the only one adventuring on this route that night. Eventually I got close to Bend and civilization crept back in when I passed some campsites. It was so tempting to pull in and share those campfires, but reality told me I would just be the weirdo/stranger that showed up in a muddy bike outfit.Eventually, I was up on a ridge with Bend’s city lights glowing on the horizon. The gravel stopped and pavement resumed about 6 miles east of town and The Days Inn where my wife had secured me a room. After 207 miles of mostly gravel travel, I was checked into a warm room by 1 AM. I showered, slept and caught a ride to Salem the next day where I re-united with my family.
I was stoked on my adventure. The ridding felt great and knowing what I know now about preparing for this particular ride, I am excited and eager to give it another go. My trio of Revelate bags and I will certainly find other adventures between now and Oregon Outback next year, when hopefully, I check this challenge off the bucket list.
Damage something? Watch this.
We had a chance to catch up with Husband and wife duo of John Lackey and Kara Oney to find out a little more about their experience during the Iditarod Trail Invitational this year.
John won and obliterated the course record with a blistering pace of under 2 days, Kara placed 3rd in the womens and was the first women’s rookie to finish.
We had a uniquie chance to “spectate” the race this year, starting a tour in McGrath at the race finish and heading southbound along the trail. We got to encounter racers passing us head on (if we werent’ sleeping in the case of John!).
Plied with cookies we got a bit of depth about the race in this interview!
Eric: So how’s your recovery going?
John: I’ve done two races since [the ITI]: the Talkeetna Trio and then the Homer Epic. Did fine in both of them.
Kara: I was still exhausted in the Trio; only did one lap. It was cold and my fingers still had nerve damage and were numb, so I was concerned that I was going to get frostbike since I couldn’t feel my fingers.
John: With all the tussocks and the pounding [the ITI] just beats the crap out of you, especially when you’re trying to go fast. It was brutal. My hands are pretty good now, but I still have one finger that’s numb. It was worse for me two years ago; two fingers on each of my hands were dead for more than two weeks and it was hard to get any work done. We both got sick from being run down and pushing hard and not sleeping.
Eric: Kara, as a rookie what part of the race were you most concerned or nervous about?
Kara: I was really nervous about Rainy pass, nervous about going over by myself or with people I didn’t know, and I was afraid of getting dropped and being lost. I’d heard horror stories about the trail blowing in or nasty weather [when] you can’t even see the trail. I had a GPS but [the trail] changes year to year. I felt like if I missed something I’d be in thigh deep snow breaking trail. So that was a nerve wracking part going into it. But it turned out to be just fine!
Eric: So did you go over Rainy Pass with people?
Kara: Yeah, I ended up traveling with some folks. I made an effort to go with others during the daylight. I got to Rainy Pass Lodge at 8:30 p.m. and didn’t leave till 8:30 a.m. because I wanted to go during the daylight and when other people were around. So I took a really long break that I didn’t really need, but that’s my comfort level. It was a bummer since it was twelve hours.
Eric: There’s a flipside to that — so many people who are racing go through the pass in the dark and miss out on a scenic highlight of the course.
John: We had a beautiful sunny day, just gorgeous! There were some Buffalo hunters that had gone through [Rainy Pass] earlier and the trail had set up that night. It was a little punchy but all things considered it was awesome.
Eric: John, I read you had forged a strategy with your friend Tim Berntson: stay in the front pack going up to Rainy pass, recover downhill to Rohn, then drop the hammer on the north side of the Range. How did that plan go for you?
John: I was talking with [Tim] about his race last year and he was like, “If it’s fast, you probably don’t even need to sleep.” Tim and I rode together last year for the whole race and it was the third night where we all just fell apart, but we did it. So I realized that I can go two nights without sleep and push it and see what happens. Jeff Oatley give me some advice that the race doesn’t really start until Rohn. By then, mistakes have been made; you can easily lose the race before Rohn, but you certainly can’t win it. So I took that to heart and rode with Kevin over the pass. Then in Rohn, we were sitting there talking and Kevin was thinking of taking a rest on the trail. I still wanted to see if I could do it without stopping. I was either going to implode and see Kevin riding by me later, or if it worked then it worked!
Eric: Did you ever feel like it was going to blow up in your face?
John: I was feeling strong until I caught Andrew and then it wasn’t like I felt wasted — it was more like I lost motivation. It was two in the morning, dark, and I needed to get my head straight. It wasn’t like I was falling apart or super tired . . . just over it. I’d spent six hours chasing down someone, then I did it and passed him. Now what? [I thought:] “Oh crap, I still have eight hours of riding until I finish this thing.”
Eric: People say the conditions were as fast as they could be. But let’s face it, without the snow on the north side it was a very abusive kind of fast — bumpy as hell… How did you fare through that?
John: It was super abusive. I was standing up the whole time absorbing bumps. I felt like I was going super slow; just getting crushed and falling apart. I thought Andrew was way out in front and maybe I’d catch him out of Nikolai. Then after the race I was looking at the SPOT tracker data and I was actually killing it through the rough part. So I passed him around Sullivan Creek and was like, “Oh maybe I was doing ok.”
Kara: We actually train in that junk. We take our dogs out on the mushing trails when there is not enough snow. So we had some really rough training going into it. I bet it helped you get through that.
John: It didn’t hurt. It’s an odd skill I suppose. Like Peter [Basinger, multi-time race winner], he’s just really, really good at pushing his bike.
Eric: Kara, did you have a strategy going into the race, like trying to pace with the other women or were you out to ride your own race?
Kara: My strategy was to hit the pass during the day and to get rest earlier on the trail since that’s where the good spots are to get decent sleep. I knew once I got to the top of the pass I would just keep going and hopefully gain ground on people who had not gotten enough rest. It worked pretty good. I bivied for 3 hrs in the [Farewell Burn] from l4:40 to 7:00am, then I saw you guys.
Eric: When we saw you in the hills leaving the Burn you had just left a bivy. How was the night for you leading up to that?
Kara: It was ok, but I saw someone else bivy and it put it in my head that “Oh yeah, I could sleep” and I was ready for a break. Then just when I get everything set and into my bag, another group of guys that I’d ridden with before came by. If I hadn’t just gotten my bivy out I probably would have kept going with them. But it was 4:30 a.m. — the worst hour of the night. I got up at 7am feeling good and kept going through to the finish.
Eric: Hear the wolves howling that night?
Kara: No, I didn’t!
Eric: We heard a bunch of howling as we were going to bed on the last hill at Buffalo Camp.
John: Yeah, when I was chasing down Andrew I was on some of those rolling hills and saw these huge wolf tracks on top of his tire tracks. I was like, um, I’m not THAT far behind him and those wolves are not THAT far away. They are out there.
Eric: Kara, how was riding the [Farewell] Burn at night solo? It’s kind of an eerie place.
Kara: Actually it was fine; I guess I couldn’t see anything. Through all the frozen [Farewell] lakes and sketchy stuff, I could only see what was in front of me so I kept following the trail, oblivious.
Eric: Like, umm, is this lake frozen? It had been warm . . .
Kara: Right, well, I couldn’t tell so I just kept going and hoped for the best! I also knew that Heather Best and Tracey [Petervary] were ahead of me and they’re both veterans and really experienced and had been through it all already. I also knew it would be difficult for me to come up better than either of them. In this race, it’s invaluable to either have done it before or to travel with someone who’s done it before. As a rookie doing it on your own, it would be very very difficult to win.
Eric: How did your bike and gear work? Anything you wish you had brought or left behind?
John: No problems at all. It was amazing, super smooth
Kara: I had no problems either. I didn’t make a single adjustment, other than obviously tire pressure. Other people had problems with things breaking, frames cracking, fiddling with gear. Some people had some really bad problems.
John: One guy had broken his frame in two places. He had his seatpost pushed down really low and hose clamps holding it together as a splint. Amazing, and he still finished.
Kara: A lot of people had issues with the rough trail — of loads not being secure and things bouncing around, but I didn’t have to touch my stuff once. It’s nice to not have those issues. The bags I used were on John’s bike last year, so they’d already been to McGrath once and are solid.
Eric: Did the warm temps forecasted for the race change your gear and packing list at all?
John: Absolutely, we both left a bunch of junk behind — like the minus 20 sleeping bags. We both brought 10 degree bags, lighter clothes, lighter everything. It only knocked three pounds off the bikes, but it was worth it. We both ditched a lot of food as well, since we knew it was going to be fast. I dropped half my food at the start since I knew I could get food at the lodges and be at Winter Lake [Lodge] for my drop pretty fast.
Eric: With finishing times breaking the two-day mark, and if conditions align again, do you think we’ll see racers cut all bivy gear and go for it?
John: Dave Johnson [superhuman ITI 2015 running winner] did it with like no gear. He just napped under a tree with a puffy coat. That’s Bold. People can and will do it. I wouldn’t. It’s taking a big risk if something goes south. The limit for me with no rest is two days. After that you don’t gain any time, you just get slower. You’re going to crash. Take a four hour nap [and] you’ll be much faster.
Kara: That’s what I hate about records for snow bike races: it’s so condition dependant. The records are the records for that year. You could go out with the same effort and go 1/10 the distance.
John: Look at 2012, it took people two days just to get to Skweetna [90 miles in on the ITI]. Totally different race.
Eric: Kara, You’ve been getting more into self-supported bikepacking rides and races — Colorado Trail last year and now the ITI. Plan to do any big races this spring and summer?
Kara: I don’t know, maybe. I liked parts of the Colorado Trail. But I was not into the hike-a-bike. I was carrying my bike up to these ridges and hikers were looking at me perplexed like, “Why do you have a bike up here silly girl?” I like the riding but not necessarily the Type 2 fun — and there’s a lot of that on both the CTR and AZT.
John: On the full AZT where you have to hike [your bike] through the Grand Canyon . . .count me out!
Eric: Anything else you care to share?
Kara: I think your bags are the best out there and I’ve been using some of the same bags from when you were [sewing] in your garage. I still have all of them. We’ve both shared them in many races and it’s the one thing that we don’t have to worry or even think about. I have a friend who uses the cheapest stuff ever and it’s always on the verge of exploding and is such a pain in the ass. It’s so nice to not have to deal with any of that.
Eric: Awesome, thanks so much for doing this and for your time!