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The Oregon Outback – Guest Post by Donnie
We’re doing a series of guest posts by riders planning to tackle the Oregon Outback. Look for new posts as long as we keep getting them. And yes, we know technically Donnie isn’t a “guest”, but we wanted to stick with the same format, regardless of who was doing the writing…
We’ve been putting on rides for 5 years now and each year organizing them brings new twists on the familiar themes of bike and tire selection, weather, and seeing new and old faces. We consider it an honor to ride with you all, and love how stoked everyone is to come out and suffer together on some of the most beautiful roads anywhere.
I expected much of the same for this year’s Oregon Outback. Yes, it was more ambitious than anything else we’d ever done before – but generally the longer the route, the fewer people want to do it. So we figured it would be relatively simple to organize. Little did we know that the response would be overwhelmingly positive.
I’ve been asked over and over why I think so many people want to ride the Outback route with us next month. After months of making shit up so I didn’t sound ignorant, I think I’ve actually figured it out.
First and foremost – bikepacking, gravel riding, and endurance racing have all gone mainstream. None are fringe activities anymore. The mother-of-all gravel rides, the Almanzo 100, draws over a thousand riders each year. Think about that for a second. There aren’t many bike events of any kind, anywhere that draw those kinds of numbers, much less one that includes riding 100 miles of gravel in a day. Along the same lines, Revelate Designs, makers of some of the best bikepacking gear out there, quickly went from a one-man shop run by Eric Parsons, who hand sewed individual custom bags, to standardizing and outsourcing his products for mass production and international distribution (note: his bags are still all handmade in America, some Oregon!). And just open a newspaper or magazine – it seems that every publication has covered these new trends – everything from Outside Magazine to the New York Times to small-town newspapers like the Bend Bulletin. Bizarrely, even Details magazine was trying to get in on the action. Details!?!? The reality is that bikepacking and gravel riding’s time has come.
A much less influential, but still significant point is that people love to ride across stuff, be it a state, a country, or a continent. People crave that sense of accomplishment. I strongly believe that if we’d instead put together a 360-mile loop, we’d have less than the half the interest. But cross Oregon from end to end (even if it is the shorter way across the state…), and people take notice.
Lastly, I think there is one important thing that distinguishes the Oregon Outback from most similar routes/rides: the primary focus isn’t racing. Yes, we know a lot of you are planning to race. That’s awesome – I plan on riding it as fast as I can even though I don’t expect to be competitive. But that isn’t the focal point of the ride – it’s all about the experience. Want to take a week and leisurely enjoy the route with your buddies? Go for it. Want to ride it nonstop in 35 hours? Sweet! Or do anything in between – we don’t care. We just provide the route, some route details, and the rest is whatever you make it. I think this approach opens this ride up to a whole subset of people who traditionally have been excluded from participating. And that group is much, much larger than those whose sole interest is racing.
So that’s what I think. And here’s what I now know after 5 years of doing this: I love dirt and gravel, I love finding new remote routes, and I love exploring on my bike. But what ultimately motivates me to do rides like this and share what we learn about new routes is the desire to get people out riding their bikes. We love it, and we hope we make it easier for you to discover it for yourself. And if all of this happens to support awesome local businesses, local communities, and promote Oregon – so much the better.
Anywhoo… we really hope you all enjoy your Outback experience, whatever you chose it to be. And for those who didn’t get the opportunity to ride this year, the route is always there for the taking and we’ll be back again next year. Promise.
WHY ARE YOU DOING THE ROUTE?
This is one of the most beautiful bike routes I’ve ever ridden. I can’t wait to do it again. Plus the route holds special significance for all kinds of personal reasons. I’ve also always wanted to push myself on a long route, but free time is not something I’ve got in great quantity. So, while it’d be way cooler to be jumping on the Tour Divide route this June, I’m satisfied with something smaller, more intimate and closer to home.
WHAT IS YOUR GOAL, IF ANY?
I really wanted to do this in 3 days and I trained accordingly. I recently came to the conclusion that 3 days is impossible for me, but I think 4 days is realistic. My plan is to go as hard as I can and see what happens.
WHAT EXPERIENCE DO YOU HAVE DOING ULTRA ENDURANCE RACES, MULTI-DAY BACKCOUNTRY TOURING, AND/OR BIKEPACKING?
I have zero experience racing bikes. That might surprise some of you. But no, I’ve never raced a bike in my life. Go figure. However, I have done a lot of progressively longer and more remote bikepacking trips over the past 5 years. Also, in a past life I climbed – rock, ice, alpine, mountaineering (all poorly). I think that actually was the best primer for these kinds of trips. I learned the difference between essentials and comforts, and how to instinctively eyeball your food and gear and know whether it’ll go (I don’t count calories or weigh gear…).
WHAT BIKE TIRE COMBO ARE YOU PLANNING TO USE?
OTHER RELEVANT GEAR CHOICES
Our recent 4-day trip through remote Southeastern Oregon was a great shakedown trip for determining what I really need to do this route fast and light. I’m cutting out everything I possibly can (no stove, no tent, etc.) and hopefully will have things dialed enough to leave either the seat bag or the handlebar harness at home. Ultimately though, everything is weather dependent. If it’s really cold and/or raining, it’ll dramatically effect how light I can go on clothes, shelter, etc.
Because I’d planned on riding the route in 3 days, I’ve been focusing on 3-day training blocks with a day or two off in between blocks. In order to not overdo the riding, I added hiking, cross-country skiing, and weight training so I’m not riding 5 or 6 days a week. Over the past few months I’ve been slowly ramping up the daily volume, including endurance rides, some interval training, and recently two-a-days (combining morning hikes with afternoon rides).
I will also add that I’m not fast. Genetics, two hip surgeries and a decade of knee problems have seen to that. But if I keep a slow steady pace, I can now ride for hours on end without aggravating any physical ailments. So it’s mostly been about increasing endurance for the long days ahead. I expect to ride for 12-14 hours a day, ass-dependent.
Plus, as I mentioned above, a few of us rode this last weekend, which was probably harder than the Outback:
That’s it! Good luck with your gear, training, and logistics, and we look forward to bullshitting and riding with everyone next month.