On a whim, I decided to go ride the Oregon Stampede route. No friends, no strangers, no real plan. I just drove out on a Sunday morning and started riding the route. Lucky for me, it happened to be 100F+ in Portland and on the route.
This route has been ridden for years as part of unofficial gentlemen races and group rides. I’ve known about it but always felt like I had the wrong bike or poor fitness level, inadequate enough to tackle such a beast.
I started riding around 7am that fateful Sunday morning, the sun already beating down on the gravel roads, a tail of dust following my every pedal stroke. Almost immediately I grew very warm and winded on the climb up Old Moody Road’s 10% grade. Being gravel, it was a bit more of a challenge.
By 8am, I donned some sun sleeves, started walking the bike up some of the steeper climbs, and started to wonder if there would be adequate water along the way. I had a filter and a few bottles, but I didn’t feel enthusiastic about trying to filter agriculture run-off to get me through the day.
Luckily, by mile 40 I was able to make a pit-stop in the town of Dufur. The general store was very well stocked with snacks, ice-cream, and all assortments of drinks. After shoving a few hundred liquid calories down my throat, I squinted at the sun and started riding renewed.
Riding through the rough gravel roads, there was hardly any traffic or other human beings to be seen anywhere. Added to this blissful combination were clear skies and many miles of visibility which gave me great views of at least 5 mountain peaks. Mt Hood, St Helens, Adams, Jefferson, and I believe Sisters made the rounds in my vision through the day. Loved every second of it.
The heat was already pushing 100F by noon but this was the kind of riding I loved. I THRIVED in the heat. But the dryness of the air just made me thirsty all the time. No matter how much liquid I drank it just wasn’t enough.
The descent through the White River Wilderness was supposed to buy me some time, gain some ground, and pile on the miles to the odometer, but what I found was a very rough descent that constantly threatened to destroy my fragile rando frame. Each rock was larger than my fist. The road was dusty, hard packed, and so rough that my wrists started to feel bruised, and my knuckles poking through the skin trying to ride the brakes to keep some form of control on the bike.
Later in the afternoon, I finally pulled into Tygh Valley for some much needed food. Sadly, the one store in town only had junkfood on the shelves and I was craving something more hearty like a burger and a milk shake. Oh well. It is what it is.
So, I swallowed another 1,000 calories of ice cream, beans, protein bar, bananas, and other various snacks that have escaped memory. The hardest part of the day was coming up.
I would have to pedal nearly half the route without any further food nor water available, so it would all have to go on the bike.
2 bottles on the frame, two 26oz bottle in my jersey pockets, a can of coke in the basket, and 2 litres of water dangling from the seat bag, ever threatening to fall off. It was getting pretty heavy but it would have to get me back to the car.
Back on the road, through the valley, and across the Deschutes River again, I found myself starting to feel like garbage. Just tired. The last major climb of the day was ahead of me and I was quickly running out of daylight.
The climb out of the valley really started to do me in for the day. My legs were sore. My sunscreen smelled horrible. Sweat started to sting my eyes as salt grew encrusted on my eyelids and under my nose.
On the plus side, I had not seen a single cyclist all day and only counted 20 cars total. It had been nearly 12 hours of riding and I only saw 20 cars.
Nearing the top of the last big climb on the Sherars Bridge Highway, I got yet another grand view of where I’ve been, Mt Hood, and my only flat of the ride. A bit of a scare for me as I haven’t had to fix a flat in ages and these were nearly new tires that weren’t cut out for thorns all over the road. Thankfully it was a quick fix and I was on my way again.
As the sun started to set, I turned on my lights and started texting friends that I might be a bit late getting home. This was taking a lot longer than anticipated and it was going to be very dark by the time I made it back to the car.
Just as I was about to pass some houses on the route, a random driver came by and said there was water available from a hose on her property. This would have been really nice to know hours ago, but at this point I still had plenty of water to get me to the finish.
The darkness came quickly and chilled me just the same. The temperature drop and loss of vision was another challenge to be met, but another for which I was prepared. I put on my wind breaker, turned on the lights, and kept at it for the last 15 miles or so.
It was after midnight by the time I got back to my car. I had no choice at this point to get home to get a few hours of sleep before work.
It took me 17 hours to cover 126 miles. Wow, that was slow and challenging.
Was I tired in the end? You bet. Was it worth it? I would do it again in an instant.
Have you ever been out there? Want to do it?