What's Cool In Road Cycling

Portland Brevet: Pack Light, Travel Far

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This Saturday, a group of nearly 100 riders will tackle the Portland Brevet, riding self-supported and carrying everything they will need for the out and back, 220-mile round trip journey with an overnight in Pacific City, Oregon. The route was designed by Timothy Coghlan of Rapha and vetted by author Jeffrey Stern and two other riders a few days prior to throwing the attendees into the gauntlet. Going further and bringing less stuff is the goal of this inaugural event – not an easy task for most cyclists. A portion of what transpired during the reconnaissance ride is depicted in the words below.

 

Words & Photos by Jeffrey Stern

Pack light, travel far (aka: PLTF) – the idea itself seems simple enough. Rooted in the principal of taking only what you need and nothing that isn’t absolutely necessary for survival while traveling. The thought isn’t new however, as our early hunting and gathering ancestors went into the wild to acquire enough food necessary to feed their families in minimalist fashion; they took their weapon of choice and maybe some snacks (think original energy bar) to fuel multi-day, large game hunting adventures. They didn’t bring an extra pair of underwear (they wore the same homemade leaf and rope thong every day), let alone a second pair of shoes or socks. Literally, only the bare necessities to protect their behinds and bring home the goods.

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We live in a different world, and our ‘goods’ are the stories, adventures, mishaps, sights and sounds along the way in our journeys. We embrace the pack light, travel far mantra, but we wear clothes too. And likely bring a fresh set along so we can refuel our bodies and let our behinds recover sans chamois and sweat smells. Instead of a spear slung over our shoulder, we straddle a saddle and pedal the most efficient machine known to man kind – the bicycle. The rawhide sandals will be replaced with clipless, carbon soled slippers.

One particular PLTF route takes us from Portland to the rugged Oregon seaside hamlet of Pacific City, roughly 112 miles west of the lush starting metropolis. Our route will carve through the vineyard and dairy farm rich Willamette Valley in the beginning, before giving way to quiet country roads of Yamhill County. At the half-way point, the quaint town of Carlton provides us with our one re-fuel stop and last taste of civilization before we begin our ascent of Meadowlake Road, which ultimately brings us across the heavily wooded Siuslaw National Forest and onto the idyllic Nestucca River Road.

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Espresso and pastries will be ingested regularly. Maybe even a few ‘modern’ energy bars. Homemade salmon jerky will be a treat worth showing up for.

A warm, early spring breeze rustling the endless pine tress surrounding us will be the only sound we hear besides the soft hum of the road beneath our tires. The bicycle as our vehicle to travel far, beyond anything we could realistically reach on our own two feet. A handlebar bag & three jersey pockets carrying anything we could need for 48 hours.

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If it sounds like a dream, then it is. But a hard one at that. A thought worth exploring further – reconnaissance required in preparation for leading a large group on their own search for all-things-good that come from new roads and the unknown that lies ahead.

Four of us set out on a cool, but sunny Monday morning to put the plan in motion. Our goal was to confirm our route for safety, ease of navigation and exploitation of the natural beauty that surrounds. Caressing the curvaceous river bank of the Nestucca for countless miles we found ourselves lost. Not in a directional sense, but swimming in our thoughts. How could something so perfect and untouched exist so close to bumper to bumper traffic, cigarette buts and shattered glass laden bike lanes?

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It was like another world – the fluorescent moss covered trees that matched our mass produced, machine constructed high-vis helmets. The symbiosis of something so foreign with natural beauty made us stop and soak it up for a second. We found ourselves working to keep moving. Around each bend was a new scene straight from our dream that needed exploring and pondering more. The Nestucca River Road embodied all that was right about travelling freely by way of a bicycle, carrying only the essentials on our persons. Why would we need the comfort of a suitcase filled with ‘things’ when all the good stuff was sitting there around us?

As we punched through the western side of the Siuslaw Forest, we were reminded again of the challenge our dream projected on us. With forty miles left to navigate, our warm breeze that only rustled the the pines previously, now turned cool as we closed in on the ocean and also caught our torsos like sails. If we drifted too far from the drops and out of the safety of our well constructed paceline aimed at the Pacific, we could be blown into a coastal cow patty. The Nestucca River Dream Forest had morphed into remote, coastal logging territory. Different, but beautiful nonetheless and an important part of our trip.

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Punching ahead through a particularly brutal section of open, wind-blown rollers around mile 90, we lost one of our travel partners. Stopping to gather the group we munched on snacks and everyone took a breather from pulls on the front. Surrounding us was a valley of wide-open, grass fields that looked perfectly manicured. Closer inspection revealed a certain wildness to the nature of the fields. The tall blades of grass portrayed an image of perfection, as if they had been meticulously planted by a farmer who had tended to his lands for decades on end. In this case the farmer was nature’s hand, as this was a BLM wild field practically calling for grass angels (the summer version of a winter snow angel). The ride, the endless adventure and the scenery was channeling my inner child. I almost plopped myself amongst the grass blades and began the jumping-jack motion required to create the grass (snow) angel. Then I thought of those cow patties we saw only miles before and decided against listening to my inner kid. Still, this is what bicycle journeys were supposed to be about. Bringing out the layers deep within of ourselves that normally prove difficult to peel away when facing our day to day lives. A task not easily accomplished.

The rest of our day proved uneventful, yet rewarding. A few bags of gas station Fritos fueled us over our last dozen miles. We arrived at our hotel, unpacked our pockets, small bags, showered and feasted on the fuel required to take us back through the enchanted Nestucca forest the next day. Yes, we were already looking ahead. The journey rolled on in 12 hours’ time.

Burgers, onion rings, mac n cheese, one IPA each and pitchers of water sent us rolling back to the hotel and into a deep food coma, swiftly followed by heavy sleep. Our 6am wakeup would come early, and solid rest is the best form of recovery. The sunset was alright too.

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Our return trip started with a tall stack of blueberry banana pancakes (more bacon) and enough coffee for a week. The temperature dipped below forty degrees and the coastal fog struggled to part ways for the sun. After a near perfect leg one, day two turned into an afternoon of broken spokes, single speeding on dead Di2 batteries and ultimately complete exhaustion of our group of four. Our four pack split into twos and scattered on the climbs as we approached our point of origin from only a day before. The route was the same, just reversed, but the experience was completely different – enough goods were found for another two stories that will have to wait for another time.

In the meantime, the route was (generally) approved minus a few small itinerary changes. And now, on Saturday we’ll do it all over again with 100 people from around North America. Follow along @rapha_n_america too see how the trip goes, what kind of goods we can bring back to inspire the next journey, where we’ll hopefully go farther and bring even less.

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