I was divided into two intense sensations that morning in Tom's barn. My hammock's strung between the front axle of a New Holland and the front counter weight of a John Deere, and rain is coming down hard on the tin roof overhead. The noise is so therapeutic and relaxing. But surrounding my hammock are dudes. Not men, not boys, but dudes, who had trickled into this sanctuary throughout the night seeking shelter. The word had gotten out about Tom's barn- it's roof protecting an enclosed workshop with wood stove that had fifty men and one patient woman sleeping, and when no floor space was left the still-arriving "guests" came over to the half I had escaped to with its dirt floor and no heat. They were loud at midnight, and now at 7am the whole building was awake with dudes burping and farting and peeing with abandon. I wondered if this behavior was due to some cowboy-complex that bike camping encourages in some, or if they were this miserable of house guests in any condition.
I should be a little more subtle about my distaste for this behavior, I guess. I let the morning pass enjoying breakfast and letting my shoes dry, finally getting to know my new friends from Eugene. We were quickly realizing that we were surrounded by slobs, and when this gross army dispatched we grabbed a push broom and started packing every remaining bag and box with their abandoned garbage. Half-finished dehydrated camping meals on the work benches, empty cans and wrappers strewn around the wood stove. Apparently someone was an intrepid enough asshole that they left a Tom a great reason not to invite anyone on a bike to his barn again. So, with bags filled with rudeness hanging from handlebars and me balancing a bulging Coors box, we saw Tom out by his cows and thanked him for his gratitude then pushed into the rain- heading back to Silver Lake to pack out everyone else's garbage and use public restrooms like respectful human beings.
The great thing about the Oregon Outback is even if you're pissed off at the behavior of everyone around you, you can totally forget about them by bombing through miles of gravel. So we did just that, forming a paceline that pushed us past so many people we had watched leave earlier until finally my legs exploded and I fell off the back of the group. Reason must have intervened in the next town of Fort Rock, Oregon and from the Eugene crew joined other riders from Portland and LA. The miles following fell into both the Fast and Fun categories.
Some things work against me bikepacking through the Pacific Northwest.
One of them is how blown away by how scenic everything is- everywhere. Each tree is cooler than the last, each dirt road makes a curve more perfect than the last, and I want to stop and photograph all of it. This can be a problem if I want to ride with others that don't have this compulsion. I've become pretty good at taking pictures while riding a 60lb bike on bouncy dirt roads as a result.
Regardless of how well I fight the urge to stop and take pictures, the first hill will have me saying goodbye to any group I'm in. Oh, I'll take a nice picture from behind as they effortlessly climb their way to the top, sure, but simultaneously I'm scrambling for easier gears and throwing my camera around my back to not fall too far behind. One day I'll learn how to bike up hills fast, though I doubt I'll pick up that particular skill in Chicago.
At this point I've been riding my bike for like six days straight so I'm used to being a slow climber. Let's lie and say it's just my "style" alright? And I'm really working this style entering Deschutes National Forest. The gravel is thick again. Washboards 5ft wide run the middle of the road, dense mud to the sides, and no one can really come up with a good way to ride it. Doesn't make it any less fun, though, and no one is complaining because at least it's not red. But its coming- the Red Sauce. Twenty miles of knuckle-deep pumice, was it? Sure. No reason to waste complaining now then.
So, where do I start with the Red Sauce? Velo Dirt lovingly describes it as " a 20-mile section of the route north of Fort Rock as you pass through the Deschutes National Forest. The only nice thing that can be said about this section is that once it’s over you’ve ridden the worst parts of the route with all the very best sections yet to come. It’ll suck, but trust me, it’ll be worth it in the end…" I think the best way to characterize the difficulty this year is through one rider's remarks later that day.
"Wait, that was the Red Sauce?"
Apparently in a year's time this deep, red dirt/gravel mix has been compacted and solidified, with all of yesterday's rain cementing dust and any loose sections. Let's not get too cocky, it still ain't easy, but it's not impossible. No one had to walk it, is what I mean. There would be other parts of this route that I'd see people walk, but not this. Basically, everyone lucked out.
So, if the Red Sauce had been a sufferfest, the gravel-turned-pavement-turned-gravel-turned-smooooooth-pavement descending the follows for nearly the rest of the day will be your reward. Even with the universe sparing us, the descent was still incredible. It just, uh, it just wouldn't stop.
From my incredibly accurate gauge of snot and tears being pushed out of my face by wind, I'd say I hit 50mph descending into the Prineville Reservoir. Maybe 50mph isn't fast, though? On a top-heavy, just-plain-heavy bike with knobby tires, it certainly feels fast. It's not smart to go that fast on a bike anyway. If anything happened I'd be incredibly injured. But, I think, when you spend so much of the day feeling like you're crawling, it's hard to restrain yourself from going fast.
Flying down to the reservoir was rewarding, but get this: there's still just more downhill to go. And it's paved! At this point in the day it's hard not to feel completely spoiled. I hung back from the Eugene group who had so kindly adopted me to get some shots of the canyon walls that towered around the Crooked River. One last climb is there, just for fun. You know, just to remind you that Newton didn't have much consideration for bikes (I don't think they existed yet, so he's excused). If he did, he surely would have said "What goes down, must come up" instead. My knees were finally protesting, but another descent came along.
As you can imagine, a road following Crooked River will be full of fun twists and turns. Though a headwind howled through the entire way, I finally saw other riders than my group for the first time in sixty miles. They would all peel off, hunting campsites every thirty yards along the river. Each one already full of cars and tents and camp fire smoke. I didn't understand why every campsite was so full until I remembered it was the weekend. Wait, no, it was Memorial Day Weekend. Civilization, which I hadn't seen much of in two days, was on holiday. I guess technically so were all the Outback riders, and we were certainly making the most of it. Hopefully no one pooped in anyone's yard in Prineville.