The Unknown can be paralyzing in a big way—if you allow it. One of my favorite quotes was spoken by rock climber Yvon Chouinard: “The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong—that’s when adventure starts.” In other words, things never go as planned and that’s the beauty of traveling. To be open to The Unknown is to allow yourself to be influenced by your experience in the moment. Taking this to heart, I have gotten into the habit of planning most of the big factors and leaving the rest to chance; hoping the stars align and things work out.
Before May 2016 I had never been bike camping. This small fact seemed half as daunting in May 2015 when I began planning my first trip with my friend Scott. OregonBikepacking.com released a recap of the 2015 Oregon Outback group ride organized by Donnie Kolb around that time with the big, stark headline: The Death of the Oregon Outback. After thoughtful consideration Scott and I concluded with “Fuck it,” and decided we would do it anyway—completely unsupported, just the two of us—and believe that the Universe would bestow upon us magical camping availabilities that Kolb warned may not exist anymore. The final month of preparation consisted of almost daily trips to REI and my new mantra.
“All of your experiences combined have prepared you and toughened you for this trip. Everything will shake out. The stars will align.”
Two days before my flight Scott and I were discussing the lack of buzz surrounding the Oregon Outback this year. It was possible that we’d be going at it alone, so I turned to Instagram. Under the #oregonoutback hashtag I found a guy from NYC, Johnny Alcantara, who was also preparing for the Outback. I direct messaged him and soon our party of two became three—a roadie from Austin, a mountain biker from Humboldt, and a bike messenger from Brooklyn. Johnny even offered to have his friend pick me up from the airport and the three of us would drive to Klamath Falls to meet Scott.
I stepped off the plane and hurried to baggage claim, palms sweating because I had never traveled with a bicycle before. I awaited the arrival of my battered cardboard box and breathed a heavy sigh of relief when it popped through the plastic flaps on the conveyor belt. My phone rings—it’s Johnny. I can’t understand a word he’s saying but I tell him to meet me outside of baggage claim. Again, remaining calm and telling myself that everything will work out. The two strangers, Johnny and his friend Ivan, greet me with big hugs and I am instantly relieved. This is the kind of generosity I would experience from strangers over the next six days.
Two days into our trip I remember thinking I knew this would be the best thing I have ever done. Rolling into Silver Lake after a rough 54 miles, we rejoiced at the sight of the mile-long town’s open convenient store. The owner, Les, greeted us and immediately offered to let us set our tents up in the shared yard between his house and the store. Overjoyed that the rumors we’d heard of Silver Lake’s negative opinions of bike packers were false, we accepted his generosity. The next day, 30 miles from the town and by a stroke of luck, Les and his family pulled up to us in an SUV as we rode through the most challenging gravel we’d faced and gifted us beef jerky and kind words.
As the dusty miles ticked away, my body got used to the long days. My biggest worry leading up to the trip was that I wouldn’t be able to handle back-to-back days of high intensity miles. My savior: chamois butter and trail mix with chocolate bits. I honestly didn’t focus on the physical pain much because every 20 miles or so the scenery changed. It’s pretty incredible what happens when you propel yourself and everything essential to life on your bike with nothing but your own [wo]manpower. I cried a few times when I was overwhelmed with joy. I also cried a few times because biking fully loaded through deep, lightweight gravel uphill in the beating sun can be incredibly difficult.
Now that I’m home and out of my adventure bubble, what seemed like an amazing feat at the time seems so small. I have to keep reminding myself that it was the first of many bikepacking endeavors I will take on in the coming seasons. I’m currently planning a two-week-long, 830-mile tour of Iceland’s Ring Road with two of my best girlfriends, which will be 100% paved. I’ll return to gravel sooner or later, but after 360 miles, I’ve had my fill for a while.