In August 2015 I took a 230 mile bikepacking from Eugene to Sun River, Oregon with my wife's cousin, Ryan. This trip report is meant to serve as a guide for other people interested in doing something similar.
Where We Went
Ryan and I had about five days to plan a bikepacking trip based out of Eugene before we had to meet up with our families who were vacationing in Sun River. We originally planned on riding the Three Rivers Route and then bussing it to Central Oregon, but we decided to ride all of the way there instead. Here's a map and a day by day breakdown of our route:
(Click on the day number for the blog post corresponding to that day, and click on the route for a map.)
Route: Eugene to West Fir
Distance: 65.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 7,169 feet
Surface: Paved for the first half, then a little gravel, then singletrack into West Fir.
Food and Water: We brought about 60 ounces per person but still ran out of water and had to filter from a stream. I'd bring 100 ounces per person.
Notes: This route was a lot harder than I expected. There's 20 or 30 miles of singletrack once you climb away from Lookout Point Lake, and much of it involved pushing the bike uphill.
Route: West Fir to Paradise
Distance: 62.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,219 feet
Surface: Almost all paved except for a few miles at the end on the McKenzie River Trail.
Food and Water: There are several campgrounds along the way with water (and you're following rivers most of the way), but nowhere with food until you get to Highway 126.
Notes: The Aufderheide Highway is almost totally empty, but when cars are on it they tend to drive slow and give lots of room. We saw a handful of logging trucks.
Route: Paradise to Big Lake
Distance: 26.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,827 feet
Surface: Slow-going singletrack on the McKenzie River Trail (several miles of hike a bike), then fast singletrack on the west side of Clear Lake, and then sandy gravel up toward the Santiam Wagon Trail.
Food and Water: The lodge at Clear Lake has a restaurant and snacks (Oreos, nuts, etc.). I don't remember seeing potable water along the McKenzie River Trail but you could filter out of the river.
Notes: We actually stopped a few miles west of Big Lake because it was getting dark, but there's a campground there with potable water.
Route: Big Lake to Sisters
Distance: 25.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,511 feet
Surface: Sandy and unrideable (unless you had a fat bike, maybe) in the beginning, then better quality once you get to Forest Service Road 500. Finish on paved road (Highway 242) into Sisters.
Food and Water: Water in Big Lake and at Cold Creek Campground on Highway 242 near Sisters, and lots of food in Sisters.
Notes: A few miles east of Big Lake the Santiam Wagon Trail splits into three roads. The road to the far right/south (which is listed as the Santiam Wagon Road on maps) is unmaintained and unrideable and requires carrying bikes over rocks and trees. We opted for Forest Service Road 500, which is the middle road at the split. This takes you to the end of the Santiam Wagon Road and it's much nicer to ride on. We stayed in a backyard in Sisters, but there's a campground in town with showers spots for cyclists. We also heard (though did not confirm) that there is dispersed camping a few miles south of town on Three Creeks Lake Road.
Route: Sisters to Sun River
Distance: 50.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,848 feet
Surface: Paved to Bend, then singletrack to Sun River.
Food and Water: There are plenty of options for food and water in Bend.
Notes: A really nice route, except for some mosquitos (if you stop long enough) along the Deschutes.
What I Packed
All together, my bike, gear, food, and water weighed about 40 pounds. I was mostly happy with the amount of stuff I packed and didn't find myself wanting for much of anything along the way.
Here's a photo of everything packed onto the bike and a category by category breakdown of what went in:
Tent with fly: An ultralight Big Agnes Fly Creek 1. Worked great.
Sleeping bag: My 40° down bag is getting old and cold, but I made up for it by wearing lots of clothes while I slept.
Sleeping pad: Required.
Pillow: Bought on a JetBlue flight. A luxury, but a very light, cheap luxury. Glad I brought it.
Utensils: Brought along a knife, spoon, and fork.
Bowl: For oatmeal and Ram-o-lami.
Sunscreen: Very valuable. Used about four ounces.
DEET: Didn't use at all but I'm glad I had it.
Headlamp: Only used this once when looking for a campsite north of West Fir in the dark, and it was invaluable.
First aid kit: Didn't use it, but prudent to have at least a small one on hand, especially in the event of a bike crash.
Chamois cream: Used Vaseline and DZ Nutz. Got a saddle sore, but that probably had more to do with my saddle choice than my creams.
Soap: Used soap leaves. Wish that I'd brought liquid Dr. Bronner's.
Bandanas: One of the most useful pieces of traveling kit there is. On my previous trip I had one for padding camera and one for bathing, but this time I made do with one. When bathing, use it as a washcloth first, then rinse, wring out, and use as a towel to dry off.
Lighter: Used for starting Ryan's alcohol stove each night and morning.
Bicycle: A newer Salsa Fargo on loan from one of Ryan's friends.
Bags: Revelate seat bag, frame bag, and gas tank. A prototype handlebar bag with stuff sack. And a no-name hydration backpack.
Bottles (2): I carried two 24 ounce water bottles (plus the 60 ounces in the backpack). This was enough with water stops along the way, but I wish we had a better water filtration setup (so that we didn't have to wait 4 hours for pills to work).
Multitool: Ryan and I shared one.
Patch kit: Make sure the glue is fresh.
Tubes (2): I think two is enough.
Pump: Ryan and I shared one.
Chain link: Didn't use it, but necessary if your chain breaks.
Lock: Coiled, so not too secure, but good enough in a pinch and not too heavy. Coiled is also easier for locking to odd objects like trees and picnic tables. Didn't actually use it this time (though I did on my previous trip), but I would've if I were traveling alone.
Flip flops: My off-the-bike footwear. Not good enough for a hike, but light and disposable.
Prana yoga shorts: With the exception of my long underwear, these were my only off-the-bike bottoms.
Underwear: Ex-Officio for off-the-bike.
Long underwear: Kept me warm at night and around the campsite.
Knee warmers: I only wore these at night when it got really cold.
Long-sleeved capilene shirt: Recommended by Gordy, ended up being a critical piece of clothing. Wore during the day, to sleep, and sometimes as an undershirt when riding on colder days. Smelled awful.
Socks: One pair was enough.
Cycling shoes: Clipless.
Bib shorts: I think an extra pair might've been worth the weight.
Jersey: Only took one so that my tan lines would be uniform. Smelled terrible, but that doesn't matter when you're on the bike.
Undershirts: Could've gotten away with one.
Sunglasses: Cheap plastic pair from Performance Bike.
Contacts: I wore these during the day.
Contact solution: Small travel bottle.
Contact container: Self-explanatory.
Eye drops: Hours on the road in the sun can do a number on my eyes so I brought eye drops, but I ended up not using them.
Glasses: Only used these a few times at night, but they're good to have in an emergency.
Toothpaste: Brought a small travel-sized tube.
Floss: Whenever I eat lots of jerky I have to be extra diligent about flossing.
Advil: Didn't use but nice to have on hand.
Steroid cream: For eczema.
Imodium: Didn't need, thank goodness.
Earplugs: Makes it much easier to sleep in crowded (and even empty) campgrounds.
Tweezers: Sent home, but then I got a sliver. Probably worth the weight.
Hand sanitizer: Only used a few times but nice when using campground pit toilets.
Toilet paper: Just in case.
Maps: Brought along several maps to cover our route. They turned out to be very valuable. Also had Ryan's Garmin to navigate off of, which was critical for the first day of riding.
Fuji: My camera for the trip, an X-T1 with a wide-angle lens and standard lens.
Fuji charger: I didn't take a lot of pictures so only had to use this once or twice.
Nexus 5 smartphone: Thought about leaving this at home, but it ended up being incredibly useful. Phone to keep in touch with Rachael, Ride with GPS for navigating, and WordPress for blogging. Left in airplane mode most of the time to save battery.
Nexus charger: Barely used the phone so only had to charge it once.
Kindle: I thought I'd have a lot of free time but I ended up sleeping as often as I could.
Cash: I brought $300 and spent about half of it. Handy for paying at campgrounds and small mom and pops that don't accept credit cards.
I completed my first summer cycling trip without a stove but Ryan wanted to bring one so we used his. I'm not sure that I'm converted to traveling with a stove, but it was really nice to wake up with hot oatmeal and coffee. Ram-o-lami in the evening was nice, too.
Tortillas: Don Pancho ten pack, went through two.
Peanut butter: One big chunky jar.
Honey: One bear's worth.
Electrolyte pills: Ryan gave me a few of these.
How It Went
What went well
Routing: I'm glad we took the route we did, I just wish we knew a little more about what we were getting ourselves into (see below). The route is probably better ridden east to west, but it was still great the way we did it.
Food: The peanut butter honey tortilla comes through a winner again, though this time it was supplemented by hot coffee, hot oatmeal, and hot Ram-o-lami.
Pictures: One of the objectives of this trip was to take pictures that might be useful for Ryan's job (he works in the bike industry). I don't know yet if any of them will end up being helpful for him or his company, but it was still fun to have a mission.
Clothing: I didn't bring enough warm clothes for my first tour but I corrected that mistake this time around.
What didn't go well
Saddle Sores: I opted for a different saddle than the Cardiff I used on my first tour because the Cardiff was starting to give me a little numbness. I didn't have any numbness with my new saddle, but it did give me some saddle sores (even though I've ridden it for years). I guess I just didn't give myself enough time to adjust. In retrospect, I ought to have stuck with the saddle that I'd already ridden for nearly a thousand miles this summer, numbness be damned.
Planning: Ryan and I did a lot of research on the route before we departed, but apparently not enough. The first day of riding to West Fir had significantly more climbing and singletrack than we expected, resulting in a very long day. And the Santiam Wagon Trail was all but closed on the eastern end which meant we had to backtrack and then detour. I'd probably follow the same route to do it over again, but knowing what we were getting into would've made it less difficult.
On the first day of the trip, and for much of the second, I couldn't help but think that I'd exhausted my desire for bicycle trips and that this would be the last one I'd attempt. But by day three, those feelings had passed, and I'm looking forward to the next time that I'll be able to string together a few destinations into a point to point bicycle trip.
I enjoyed the off-road nature of this trip (compared to my first, where car traffic was a frequent concern and occasional nuisance), but I think I'll be sticking to road touring for a while. A few reasons: it's easier to plan, there are more resources along the way, and you can do it alone (I really enjoyed riding with Ryan, but I'm not sure if he'll always be available when I want to go on tour). Not to mention the fact that bikepacking requires a whole new set of gear. Most of what I used was generously loaned to me by Ryan and his friends.
The whole point of this post is to share the things I learned from my trip. If there's something you'd like to know about that I didn't cover, please leave a question below and I'll do my best to answer it.