Oregon Gravel Epic Fail

The gloomiest/wettest/coldest spring in my four years in the PNW continues. Although it's been a week since the trip down to Oregon with some fantastically sunny/dry/warm-ish days in between, I'm currently sitting here listening to the sound of raindrops pattering against my living room window while I type this. 

I'll warn you now that there aren't that many photos of the ride itself. Constant driving rain has a way of encouraging me to keep my camera safely stowed away, especially when the roads are loose and bumpy. The Oregon Gravel Epic has been on the plans for the better part of a year and was meant to be one of the highlight rides of this season. With that in mind, you'd think that somebody that plans as meticulously as I do and has as much clothing for various conditions would be prepared for pretty much anything Mother Nature threw at us, but we'd both be mistaken. I was a victim of my own over-confidence in the forecast for shorts weather. Don't be like me; pack EVERYTHING.


We woke up on Saturday morning to strong coastal winds, and though it was overcast and dry. That lasted for all of about 30 minutes or so because as soon as we left paved roads and hit the first dirt section, the sky sprung a leak and continued to empty itself for the entire morning. Long story short, Alex and I bailed out at the first aid station and took the option to do the short course instead of the full monty. When the organizer tells you that first aid will be at least an hour away if things go sideways and you're soaked to the bone with not enough foul weather gear, common sense and self-preservation should probably triumph over ego. It's a shame because despite the wet spring hampering my ability to get regular training in, my body felt fine and wouldn't have struggled with the terrain or ride profile at all. I had a handlebar bag full of om nom nom and with three total aid stations, it wouldn't have been a problem keeping up with caloric intake. There's always next year.

The good news is that we had plenty of fun off the bike hanging out with Alex's college roommate and his family and running into the usual spots in Portland. One of the highlights was Alex running into a former riding buddy who knows the owner of VeloCult and getting to venture down into the basement. If you've been there and seen the stuff that's hanging in the rafters on the main level, just imagine the cool shit that's packed away downstairs.

One last hurrah for summer

I don't exactly remember when my first trip to Portland was after I moved to the PNW, but I do remember hearing my friends and co-workers hype it up after I had settled into life here and began looking for adventures. My cycling buddies loved it for its bike-friendliness. My non-cycling friends loved it because of the food, drink, and tax-free shopping.

Since that first trip, I've tried to return at least once every year. In the past, I've tried to time the visit to coincide with various shop garage sales, but there didn't seem to be one happening this year. I've also wanted to visit the famous beach(es) of the Oregon Coast and see some big-ass rocks.

After roping Tobin in, finding a sweet AirBnB, loading up two bikes into the back of my tiny Civic (without a rack), off we went after work on Thursday evening. I'd given him plenty of grief for traveling on a long weekend across the border without a Nexus pass, but I was actually the one who came this close to screwing up the trip before it had even begun: we were sitting in line at the border crossing talking about something or other related to travel documents and as I'm opening my passport to the photo page in preparation to present to the agent, I notice that my passport expired back in April. Merde. I'd actually considered not bringing my Nexus card considering that I wasn't going to be able to use the dedicated lane, but am glad I brought it along anyway.

Once through the border, we made our obligatory stop at Aslan Brewing in Bellingham for dinner and then continued the long drive down the I-5. There aren't too many exciting details here as we arrived in Seaside, OR around midnight, checked into our motel, and promptly hit the sack. We were greeted by a nice salty mist in the morning, a far cry from the sunny weather that had been forecasted. After rolling down the boardwalk to get some mediocre coffee, we decided to hit the road and make our way to our planned destination: Canon Beach.

Sure, there are beaches in Vancouver. There's even a cool rock, but it's not really that big. And there's only one. Maybe it was vacation placebo effect, but the sand felt "beachier" there. The views of the coast coming in and out of view as the lighting shifted with the clouds and the mist was spectacular. The ground was firm enough closer to the water that we were able to ride along. We resisted challenging tourists to "beach crits." Sure, the combination of salt water and sand probably wasn't ideal for two guys riding steel bikes, but whatever. Prudence be damned. Sometimes you just want to act like a kid again and go splash in the water. Totally worth it.

Our original plan was to stay in Canon Beach until dark, light a bonfire, make smores, sip bourbon, stargaze, and sing Kumbaya, but decided we'd rather get a head start on the drive to Portland so we wouldn't have to do it in the dark. We didn't have a firm itinerary for the weekend aside from two planned rides, the first of which was the Forest Park / Skyline Loop. If the Seymour Demo Forest road had a ménage-à-trois with the climb from Mulgrave School to First Lookout and any of the trails in Stanley Park, this is what you'd end up with: 5.5km of relatively packed down dirt and gravel climbing upward at an average gradient of about 5% with absolutely no vehicular traffic allowed. A little slice of heaven just outside the city limits. From there, the route takes us through rolling rolling rural roads before dropping us back down some nice twisty descents (including tunnels!) back into the heart of town.

Our only other planned outing was to go climb Mount Hood. This part of our trip could have gone...better. My over-zealous planning for an early morning start in order to: a) avoid any vehicular traffic on the drive to the mountain as well as up the climb itself and b) to ensure we still had an afternoon to spend in town meant setting the alarm for 6AM and getting to the base at 8AM. Avoiding traffic on the climb was actually a moot point since we'd planned on ascending a Old Leg Road (a service road used for the OBRA uphill TT Championships) instead of the Timberline Highway route. What we didn't account for were the temperatures associated with a starting elevation of 1,379m. The plus side is that I was greeted by a perfect combination of misty roads punctuated by golden hour light, resulting in one of my favourite things: #angelboners. Instead of risking hypothermia, we ended up driving up the highway route and parking at Timberline Lodge, descending a good chunk of Old Leg Road and then climbing back up. It wasn't quite what we had in mind, but probably better for, you know, not dying.

Finally, I leave you with this collection of random images from the trip that didn't quite fit into their own galleries, but can roughly be divided into some distinct categories:

  • Tobin using Google Maps.
  • Tobin drinking things.
  • Coffee.
  • A rather inadequate collection of #baaw
  • Our AirBnb hosts' cat: Apollo.