The South Fork of the Trask River
Looks nice, doesn’t it? Such a pleasant, pastoral image of stereotypical Oregon bliss in no way represents the pain we inflicted upon ourselves on Saturday, April 4th. That’s right, it was THE RAPTURE!
First, a little background. If you’ve read this blog before, you’ve probably seen something about Velo Dirt. The VD (haha, VD) gang inaugurated the Rapture route a few years ago to coincide with one of the many “end of the worlds” various lunatics are always forecasting. Unsurprisingly, the world didn’t end, but a small group of dedicated cyclists did ride their asses off in the Coast Range. I had done the Dalles Mountain last year, and after riding quite a bit this spring, I was thirsty for a new challenge. In the Rapture, I got it in spades. I somehow convinced Senior Chilidog, and Dik Dik Tracy (aka D-Bone, aka Dime Bag) to accompany me on this foolhardy and potentially suicidal venture. The route is tough, around 70 miles in length with over 7,000 feet of elevation gain, virtually all of it on gravel roads. What adds an extra degree of challenge is the remoteness. Unlike other VD (haha, VD. That just doesn’t get old) rides, you don’t pass any convenience stores or restaurants, and hardly even any houses. You are really on your own, responsible for carrying anything the ride might call for, including of course food and water but also anything that might be required to keep your bike rolling through some pretty deep and rough gravel roads.
Girding our loins for battle.
One of the the only easy aspects of our day was the start time, a civilized 10 am. This allowed us to roll out from Portland at a fairly late hour for the drive to the Flying M ranch, the start and end point of the days festivities. A number of riders had elected to camp out at the ranch, and we were greeted by a number of tents with cyclists milling about in preparation for the day. We geared ourselves up and chatted with some of our comrades before gathering around the man who had planned the whole thing for a few last minute instructions.
Donnie from Velo Dirt putting the fear of God into us.
After the safety briefing, we rolled out. I would estimate 60 to 80 people, on a mix of mountain, cyclocross, touring, randonneur, and even a few purpose built gravel bikes. The weather was amazing for April in Oregon, with temperatures forecast in the 80’s and endless blue skies. After 2 relatively flat miles, we passed our first gate, crossing into private timber lands and starting up the first climb of the day, an 8 mile grind that wouldn’t release us from it’s grasp until we climbed almost 3,000 feet.
Just getting started. If you look close, you can see the nice deep gravel on the shoulder.
The climb was steep, but what made it tough was the deep, uncompacted gravel. Log trucks had carved out two parallel tracks that were fairly smooth, but they were separated and bordered by deep, loose, rock. The group stretched out quickly and I found myself at the back of the pack regretting my missed opportunity to gear down to a 34×32 low.
Halfway up the initial climb.
Still halfway, but this time looking uphill. The ridge to the left is where we end up.
We regrouped 6 miles into the climb and paused for some fuel. We had only been riding for an hour, but after already climbing 2,000 feet I was feeling the burn. Fortunately, the gravel mellowed a bit at this point and the riding (surface wise, at least) became a little easier. Another 2 miles of out of the saddle grunting brought us to the top, where a stretch of slightly descending road felt like heaven.
The top, more or less.
We passed a large group around this time, including Johnny 2.0, who you may remember is the guy who (voluntarily) rode the Ronde twice. One of his compatriots would be cursed with recurring flats, and this was the first of several times we would leapfrog each other throughout the day. We then began a furious descent for several miles, winding our way down the West slope of the Coast Range.
This gate marked the bottom of the descent and our return to public lands.
Sr. Chilidog coming in for a landing.
From here we stopped for water in the headwaters of the South Fork of the Trask river.
The boys, making some water safe for democracy.
D-bone had brought a water filter so as to avoid carrying 2 gallons of water on his bike. Streams and rivers were plentiful along the route, it was just a matter of rendering the water safe to drink. I opted for a 3 liter hydration pack and 2 water bottles on my bike, though I was happy to drink filtered river water before the day was done.
How’s that for mountain fresh?
After topping up our bottles, we ventured forward on the now gently descending road, following the quickly widening river. We began to encounter small groups of motocrossers, and could see MX trails branching off the road.
The road ahead.
A few more miles and some more descending brought us out to a main road and something we hadn’t seen in hours: pavement! It’s hard to describe how good a nice smooth asphalt road felt after three hours of gravel. It was not to last, however. Two or so miles and we turned back onto gravel, this time following the North Fork of the Trask. This also meant we had hit the lowest point of the day, and would be climbing until we began to descend the East slope of the Coast Range. Sure enough, after a few gentle meanders, the road turned sharply upward, before leveling out on a moderate cliffside traverse a few hundred feet above the river.
82 degrees and blue sky in May?
Six or eight miles of ups and downs on the cliffside, and we dropped back down to the river level where we took the opportunity for one more water stop. My levels were getting low, so I took advantage of the boy’s generosity to top up.
It was a good thing we stopped when we did, because immediately after our water stop we began to climb again, this time battling a wicked set of switchbacks that seemed endless. We finally made it to the top and cruised along a nice smooth logging road before arriving at Barney Reservoir. The end was finally in sight. Well, metaphorically, anyway. We still had around 20 miles to go, but most of the climbing was over. We took a break on the shore of the lake and powered through some food before gearing up for the final push.
Barney Reservoir, looking southwest. After this I was too tired to take any more pictures.
The road around and past the reservoir was the loosest and deepest gravel we had seen all day. I believe the cue sheet referred to it as “regraded total shit”. I pretended I was Phillipe Gilbert, put my head down and powered through. By now it was four o clock, and I was starting to feel a little punchy. We were all ready to be done for the day. The cue sheet had mentioned a final “bail out” about 10 miles from the end that would cut 7 miles and 800 feet of climbing off the total. We decided to make for it, but first a bit more climbing followed by a wicked fast gravel descent awaited us.
Finally, we re-emerged onto the pavement like dusty butterflies bursting forth from a gritty chrysalis. The asphalt was even more blissful than before because it descended gently, allowing me to take my hands off the bars and stretch my aching back. We found the turn for the bypass, and limped back to the Flying M. It was 6 pm. The final tally was 8 hours total, with 6.5 hours moving time and about 63 miles total. I found myself thinking “what the fuck were we doing for that hour and a half we weren’t riding?” it certainly didn’t feel like we spent that much time off the bike.
Our timing was good, because the food came off the barbecue right after we arrived. That didn’t stop us from getting milkshakes at Burgerville on the way home.