Fourteen weeks since COVID-19 wreaked havoc in Oregon. In hindsight this amount of time almost seems trivial. Many of us had the mindset that this would last maybe 5-6 weeks and we’d resume some kind of “normal”. Truth is at this point I’m resigned to just going with the flow and dealing with things as they come. I have no idea when I will race again, when the next concert I will attend will happen or when I’ll feel comfortable flying back to New Hampshire to visit family.
As of the most recent numbers Oregon has almost 6,600 confirmed cases, 188 deaths and a disturbingly significant increase in reported cases this past week. The authorities claim it is because of more testing. I don’t fully buy that explanation. I think since the reopening of most counties across the state that people have let their guard down and caution has been replaced with a return to pre-COVID activity levels (or something similar).
This weekend was another time that one of my events has been cancelled for 2020. I was supposed to be racing (riding…) the Skull 120 out in Harney County. This was to be the highlight of my summer racing/riding plans. I’ve moved my registration to 2021 and plan to make it next year.
Instead with plenty of time on my hands this weekend I opted for my own personal 2020 Summer Solstice Ride. I don’t know of any official rules as to what counts as a Solstice Ride. I personally feel as long as you start riding at or before official sunrise and end at or after official sunset you’ve done a Solstice ride.
I definitely planned a rather ambitious route. The distance wasn’t exactly the daunting part it was the terrain. I purposely sent my original route along as much gravel as possible and when I could dropped into singletrack. The first 65 miles are doable on any respectable gravel tire. Not sure I would recommend anything smaller than 35c. However I wanted to drop into about 5 miles of singletrack at Hagg Lake. Due to the weather I scrubbed that and stuck to the pavement until hitting the next gravel section on Scoggins Valley Road. At Hagg rain made the trails super slick and mushy. I was riding on 27.5 x 2.8″ Ritchey Z-MAX tires but didn’t feel like messing up the trails or my bike….I still had over 60 miles to go.
I started off the ride in overcast conditions with a chance of showers. As I approached Barney Reservoir the light mist I had been experiencing turned into a constant and steady drizzle. It never really poured down but it sure as heck wasn’t letting up much for the next two and half hours.
I tried out a new way from Barney to Hagg. Unlike my jaunt along 2500 Rd from the other week this time I climbed up Williams Rd based on a recommendation from someone. The grades were almost “pedestrian” compared to other parts of this ride. It’s a long steady climb all the way up to Goback Rd but it’s never brutal.
Serendipitously the rain let up as I descended down to Hagg Lake. I took a few moments to refill water bottles, grab a snack and decide if I was going to bail at this point or keep going. I could see some clear(ish) sky off to the west so the decision was made to continue on. I was warm and damp, but not soaking wet, thanks to my rain gear. About one mile up Scoggins Valley Rd I opted to remove my rain pants and rain jacket and switch back to just a light vest. Given that I was about to climb for 8 straight miles I wasn’t worried about getting cold.
Other than Lake Stop Grocery at mile 6 of my day there isn’t jack squat for services until mile 119 in Gaston. I ran with a pretty good setup to get me through.
- Revelate Designs Ranger frame bag
- Revelate Designs Shrew seat bag
- Revelate Designs Mountain Feedbag (notice a pattern here?)
- 3 water bottles
- MSR Trailshot H20 filter
- niterider head & tail lights
For food I had a mixture of homemade stuff and typical ride food. Three tortillas with Justin’s chocolate hazlenut almond butter and blueberries, 3 Honey Stinger waffles, Skatch labs drink mix, mini Nutter Butter, a Nature’s Bakery Oatmeal Crumble bar and a small package of Jelly Belly Sport Beans. Given that it was raining and given that any food item has to survive being jostled around in my frame bag I was reluctant to bring bananas or easily bruised fruit. I’ll continue to refine my food for rides like this.
So after leaving Hagg and Climbing up Scoggins Valley Rd I traversed a ,new to me, section of gravel and goat track that dropped onto Saddle Mtn Road. I had to pass right through a large group partying under a couple pop-up tarps. I am 100% sure they never expected to see me ride out of where I did.
Here is where my route got really interesting (challenging). For the next 20+ miles I would be on singletrack trails. They were muddy, wet, slick and overgrown in many places. The climbs of Storey Burn from the West and onto Gales Greek up to Bells Camp are hard enough when you’re fresh. Hitting them with over 80 miles already in the legs was difficult to put it lightly. I then took a short detour off Gales Creek trail to hook up with Step Creek Trail and followed that back down to Reehers Camp. I had in the back of my head that I would hit Triple C too but at 97 miles in, and still well over 25 to get home, I opted for a straight shot to Reehers Camp and onto Cochran Rd.
I had mapped out only 107 miles of the route to the base of Strassel Rd. From here I had three options:
- Over NW Strassel Rd to the Banks-Vernonia Trail
- Logging road climb over Wildcat Mtn and down to Banks
- Straight home on pavement via Timber Rd & Gales Creek Rd
The decision on which of those three would depend on what time it was when I arrived at the base of NW Strassel. In order to get my Solstice Ride I had to be home after 9:05 PM. Both Strassel and Wildcat offered 4+ miles of additional climbing (wildcat being the harder of the two) and my pavement option was only about 17 miles to get home and no real hills to speak of. The last option was out because it would get me home too early. Wildcat was out because I was cooked by this point and it was the harder of the two climbs left. That left Strassel.
There was no speed records set on my way up over NW Strassel. At least the sun was out and I was able to dry out at this point. Even my shoes were only damp at this point and no longer soggy. After the descent and quick crossing of Highway 26 I was able to hook up with the Banks-Vernonia trail and follow this 5.5 miles back to Banks.
With only 13 miles left to go I had to start doing the math in my head about arrival time at home. I was going to be darn close to my 9:05 PM minimum and took some liberties with a somewhat meandering route back into Forest Grove, I made it though. Pulled in at 9:10 PM a total of 132.4 miles and according to my GPS 11,487′ of elevation. Garmin, Ride with GPS and Strava all list different elevation gain so I’ll go with Garmin because it’s in the middle of the other two.
This ride has rocketed into the top spot for the hardest rides I have ever done. I’m no stranger to hard rides, long rides or long hard rides. D2R2, Oregon Stampede, High Cascades 100, numerous centuries, etc. What makes this one exceptionally hard is the singletrack.
Mia’s first question to me after I told her I was totally wrecked was “would you do it again?”. Answer: Yes. I don’t think I’d try it in the wet again. The weather added another level to what is already an ambitious day of riding. I’d also size down from 2.8″ tires to 2.0-2.1″. Drop bar vs flat bar is another interesting decision. There are sections of the Historic Hiking Loop that would just plain suck on a drop bar bike. However there are plenty of miles where a drop bar bike would be ideal. In dry conditions I think my Salsa Cutthroat with Maxxis Rekon Race tires would be close to perfect. A 32 or 34 front ring with 11-46 would be a good idea for geaering.
Lastly, in order to keep the recipes during COVID going we’ve got a Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp this week. Chef Mia is doing this one as I am still too tired to think straight right now. I’d probably burn it or leave out a critical ingredient if I attempted anything right now.
Mia likes to tell the story of how her Grampy Duke used to just rip a stalk of rhubarb off the plant, add a little salt, and eat it raw like that. All we can think of is “wicked bitter”.
Thanks for reading