January Bikepacking: 2-Day Bend Gravel Odyssey and 2-Day Salem Gravel Roubaix

Although the weather in January has been downright miserable, with only a few breaks in Oregon’s perma-rain forecast (at least in the Willamette Valley), I’ve become a true weather opportunist, and any time the forecast calls for only a chance of rain, I anticipate this break by creating a route in a region of Oregon that looks to be 1) not covered in snow, and 2) at least bearable low temps.

So far, this has only happened twice in January, and the first ride can hardly be called January, as it was over the New Years holiday. Nothing went exactly how we had planned, but it was a good reminder to be prepared for anything with these kinds of trips.

Bend Gravel Odyssey

My friend Jesse and I saw what looked to be a small break in the weather and decided that New Years Eve parties were over-rated. The route promised about 140-ish miles with lots of fun back-road exploration.

However, as I was driving to Bend, Jesse texted me and said that Bend was having an unexpected weather ‘event.’ A weather inversion was causing extremely icy conditions in Bend, with freezing fog. As I crested the Santiam Pass, the weather was around 38 degrees and sunny, but I could see a dense curtain of fog lay over Suttle Lake and about a minute after entering the fog, the weather had dropped more than 10 degrees.

Jesse and I were still able to get out and ride, but our route was constantly thwarted by snowy and icy conditions at much lower elevations than we anticipated. Thus, the route became an opportunity for both of us to rely on our navigation skills and create the route as we rode.

We didn’t end up going nearly as far as we’d hoped, in the end, because of our constant stops to check the route, see what was ahead of us, and verify together, but we had tons of fun just being outside together and camping away the New Years holiday. Plus, we learned about a lot of cool off-the-beaten-path dirt roads just east of Sunriver and Bend.

The Map

2-Day Salem Gravel Roubaix

It became clear on Friday of MLK Jr’s 3-day weekend that Sunday and Monday might be rain-free, something that the entire month of January had not yet experienced. Saturday was a day full of errands and getting caught up on house things, but Saturday evening I managed to pack all my gear, download my route, and check the forecast one more time just to be sure. I had an early morning planned.

The Map

I left Sunday morning around 6:30am from my doorstep. These are the kinds of rides I love: Walking out the door to ride known roads for a few hours until the road signs and houses transition to the unfamiliar.

From Salem, I took many of the gravel roads less traveled and arrived in McMinnville around 10am. Of course, with the new Impossible burger at Carl’s Jr., I had to make a short pit stop before continuing on. From McMinnville, I took the busiest highway of the entire route for a couple miles until I once again was on quiet gravel roads, working my way past farms and lonely forested climbs towards Hagg Lake.

The perimeter road around Hagg Lake is forested, hilly, and full of exciting windy turns. While there is a decent amount of traffic, it’s not particularly concerning since the shoulder provides about 3 feet of safety throughout.

Once around the lake, I turned off on a gravel ascent that was punishing in its steep severity, but relatively short-lived at around 30 minutes. After the climb, I rode through some of the most pristine and quiet farmland of the trip, before turning onto NW Nestucca Access road and starting my final climb of the night.

The climb was manageable and unrelenting, a continual climb towards my intended campsite for he night: Dovre campground, managed by BLM. Unfortunately, as soon as I crested the last of the climb and started my descent, the snow that had covered the sides of the road bled onto the road itself and soon I was in a situation not worth continuing.

What’s more, my partner, Trish, surprised me in the afternoon by informing me that she and Bryn (my dog) would join me in the evening at my campsite. Clearly none of us would be camping at Dovre campground.

An elderly couple from Salem drove up in the midst of my indecision and insisted I put my bike in their compact SUV and drive back up over the top, which I did with thanks. However, after scouting for campsites along the road, I found what looked to be a decent spot and politely declined their insistence that staying out on the mountain for the night was a good way to freeze to death (temps were predicted to be in the high 30’s – child’s play).

As luck would have it, I had cell service at this one spot in the middle of the forest and was able to talk Trish through where it was in relation to Dovre Campground. She rolled up around 6:30pm and we both regaled each other with tales of our day. It’s amazing how 12 hours apart can seem like an eternity when you’re reunited with someone you love.

The next morning, my ride once again started in the dark, but this time I was garbed in all my clothes, started with a 2,000 foot descent, and got a raging bloody nose in the black hours of the morning.

Managing a blood nose while riding a bike is no easy feat, but it eventually subsided as the blackness became gray visibility.

After two pretty legitimate climbs to start the day, and one really cool elk herd sighting, the rest of the ride slowly came back to familiarity, and I knew it was just a matter of finishing what I started.

A blurry picture of a herd of elk.

All told, the ride I did ended up being a little under 200 miles since I didn’t make it to Dovre Campground, but it was great to just get out there and enjoy some substantial hours on the bike. Hopefully these small weather breaks continue until we finally transition out of all of this rain and into some sunny weekends.

Categories: Oregon Bikepacking

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