Ninety hours of mountain biking over two weeks. Nearly 700 miles and 70,000 feet of climbing.
And then there were the crashes, the downed trees, the scarce water sources, the bugs, the broken bike frame …
Bend’s Dakota Gale and three of his buddies completed the Oregon Timber Trail from Lakeview to Hood River in July and lived to tell about it.
“To finish it felt like a real accomplishment,” says Gale, 36. “I pushed myself harder physically than I ever have on a trip. It felt like a reward to get to the end and jump in the Columbia River.”
The Oregon Timber Trail (OTT) runs north and south between the state’s Washington and California borders.
It is made up of entirely pre-existing trails and roads and includes about 50 percent singletrack, 40 percent dirt roads and 10 percent pavement, according to project manager Gabriel Tiller.
The 669-mile trail is organized into four tiers from south to north: the Fremont Tier, Willamette Tier, Deschutes Tier and Hood Tier.
The route, which includes 66,000 feet of elevation gain, carefully avoids wilderness areas and other trails on which bikes are not permitted. The OTT is a partnership among Travel Oregon, the U.S. Forest Service and the Portland-based expedition company Limberlost, founded by Tiller.
Tiller estimates that only about 30 to 40 riders have completed the trail this year and about 20 in 2017, the OTT’s first year as an official route.
When Gale’s friend J.T. Lehman, of Portland, mentioned the idea of riding the OTT in its entirety, Gale was all in.
Lehman last year had ridden the Colorado Trail, a 486-mile hiking and mountain biking route from Denver to Durango.
Gale had never made such a “bikepacking” trip before, but he is an avid mountain biker and says he had done about 8,000 miles of bike touring on roads throughout the world. He runs a small mortgage company remotely, which allows him time for such adventures.
Brady Lawrence, of Seattle, joined the group for the ride, as did Zach Guy, of Crested Butte, Colorado.
Bikepacking involves cycling over long distances and over an extended period of time while camping each night. The estimated time to complete the entire Oregon Timber Trail for a bikepacker is 20 to 30 days, according to Tiller.
Gale and his friends needed just 15 days, covering about 50 miles per day. They carried food and gear in their bike bags, resupplying in towns along the way as needed.
The four mountain bikers started out from near Lake-view on July 7. The first 200 miles of the Fremont Tier is the most difficult portion of the trail, according to both Tiller and Gale.
It is remote, with sections of downed trees, unforgiving terrain and limited water access. The riders used GPS and hand-printed maps, making it easy to navigate based on the guide provided on the website oregontimbertrail.org.
They pedaled along massive ridges atop Winter Rim, above Summer Lake.
“Nobody ever goes up there,” Gale says. “It was cool to get to a different area, and you’re pedaling along this rim, looking out over a totally different landscape. Above Summer Lake and Silver Lake, there’s nothing out there.”
On day four the bikers pushed their bikes uphill through a section of brush that had yet to be cleared, needing eight hours to cover the 17-mile stretch, Gale notes. Awaiting were scores of downed trees they had to hike over on a 5-mile downhill section.
The first day of the Willamette Tier brought relief, with swimming and no fallen trees — but then Lawrence’s bike frame broke, snapped between the top tube and seat post.
“We camped at Waldo Lake, Zach got into the margaritas and said, ‘You’re not quitting this trip, we’re gonna fix this bike!’” Gale recalls. “We took ski straps and some duct tape, and held this stupid bike together somehow.
And Brady rode another 350 miles with us to finish the trip on a totally destroyed bike frame … crazy.”
The Deschutes Tier of the trail cuts through Central Oregon on trails and roads, passing by several Cascade Lakes, Mount Bachelor, Tam McArthur Rim, the communities of Sisters and Camp Sherman, and the old Santiam Wagon Road. This was an easier section along the OTT, according to Gale.
The Hood Tier started with 9,000 feet of climbing along the Old Cascade Crest trails, the longest day of climbing.
After enjoying the sunset at Gunsight Ridge on their final night of the excursion, the bikers finished in Hood River the next day, July 21.
Gale says they saw only five other bikers during the two weeks, some of them from as far away as Japan or Scotland.
He believes the Oregon Timber Trail will become a destination trail for mountain bikers from across the globe. But more approachable for riders is riding just one of the tiers.
Gale recommends the Deschutes or Hood tiers for those bikers choosing just one. Memories of his ride across the middle of Oregon has Gale dreaming up more bikepacking trips, to places such as Colorado, Scotland and New Zealand.
“I’m excited to do more bikepacking,” he says. “It’s completely expanded my horizons as far as the kind of trip I want to take on my bike.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0318,