Like most of Donnie’s routes posted over at VeloDirt, this ride is not to be taken lightly. I endured the Oregon Outback 360 last year and suffered during the Dalles Mountain 60 this spring, before moving to Portland. Both rides were majority gravel and tested my strength as a cyclist. I could only imagine what the Oregon Stampede would be like as it is routed with 60% gravel roads over a 127-mile loop starting and ending at the delightful Deschutes Recreation Area.
We got up early for the suggested 7:00am roll out time because the temperature was expected to reach high into the nineties that day. Maybe the forecast and the fact that VeloDirt is no longer formally putting on these rides scared a few people away because only 13 people showed up. Each die-hard had their own unique outfit loaded up with as many bottles as they could carry. Most had an extra bottle in their pocket along with the two on their bike. I had my extra bottle inside my goodie-bag that was attached to my handlebar and stem. Eric had zipped-tied 3 extra bottle cages to his rig, so he could carry 5 bottles total. Even with two expected refuel stations, water would be scarce due to the heat. After the last few adjustments to our set-ups, we launched the ride.
The route began with an utterly steep gravel climb, which only led us to an even longer scramble to arrive at the first summit of the day. With such a challenging beginning, my nerves began to kick in and I couldn’t stop myself from worrying about whether or not I was prepared for the ride ahead. I’m typically the caboose in the group until my legs warm up around mile 40. In the meantime, I thought about how I would plan to keep up with 6 cyclists that I had never ridden with before. I was instantly thrown from my thoughts when I saw an aggravated baby rattlesnake on the gravel road beneath me. That was more than enough to get the blood flowing and my legs turning back towards the group.
Minding my own business as I roll up along side a baby rattlesnake, only to find out later that they are more dangerous than adult snakes because they can’t control their venom.
After regrouping and refueling at the market in Dufur, we climbed our way to the Wilderness Trail descent at mile 54. I had found my rhythm, just before the mid-ride rollercoaster had started. We were all pretty stoked to reach the shade so we began to let loose on the dirtiest section of the Oregon Stampede. Each of us took our own unique line through the rocky terrain, giving us plenty of great “near miss” stories for later.
Nearing the final 30-mile stretch back to camp, our bodies began to cramp and I was down to one bottle, so we couldn’t resist a short detour to refuel in Grass Valley at mile 95. The sun was setting and the crosswinds were picking up. Erik and I had to dig deep to get each through the rolling hills and closer to the 20-mile descent into camp. We found ourselves riding into the darkness with dying headlights and short one rear-light. At this point, we decided it wasn’t safe to be riding and we ended up hopping into a friend’s truck that had come to the rescue.
Looking up to see Erik at a 60-degree angle to avoid being blown off the road by the strong crosswinds as we followed the rollers back to camp.
Upon returning to camp, we took showers and ate the best meal of our lives. A few people had brought dishes to share, including: steak shish kabobs, mixed veggies, salmon and crackers, and brownies for dessert. As the night stretched on, we began to recline in the grass, look into the Milky Way and share our experiences from the day. I was happy to share that I saw my first rattlesnake ever and Tim shared his technique of descending the Wilderness Trail, which we were all amazed how smooth he took it.
The gravel riding in Oregon fascinates me. Heck! It’s one of the reasons, I moved to Portland. One of these days, I hope to come back and finish the ride, maybe before dark too. I’ll probably wait for a cooler day or break the route into two days for a bikepacking trip. After all, I am happy to be one of the 13 riders that accomplished the ride this year. It was great riding with new peeps and exploring more of Oregon’s gravel roads. Until next time, ride on dudes!