2 Day Bikepacking Trip Near Tillamook State Forest: The Tillamook Forest Experiment
Sometimes events beyond one’s control create challenges on a bikepacking trip: mechanical issues with the bike, faulty weather forecasts, route errors, unforeseen hike-a-bikes – these are all likely culprits of UNEXPECTED bikepacking hardships.
Then there’s the opposite phenomenon: planned events that create highly predictable hardships – a growing trend in my winter bikepacking experiences. This trip’s predictable hardships were the result of a route with an insane elevation profile and the less than ideal weather forecast. Both led to highly predictable hardships that the three of us that completed the route had no one to blame but ourselves… and it was AWESOME.
The Tillamook Teaser Route
Let me be clear before moving forward: this was not at all the route we planned. But sometimes when creating a route, roads that are certainly roads on the multiple layers of maps you’r studying disappear into nothingness when on them in real life. That was definitely the case with the Tillamook Forest Experiment.
However, a ‘failed’ route just means you get to go back and tweak the route a bit the next time. And let’s be honest, whenever you’re out on the bike, it’s a good day, even if you’re scratching your head wondering where the heck you are.
An Inauspicious Start – Day 1
After leaving the Seth’s moms’ house (BEST HOSTS EVER), the route didn’t waste any time, with a punchy 1,000 foot climb right out of the gates. Our group of four consisted of me, Seth (route maker), one of my Salem friends Abdul, and a rider that’s on Seth and my bike team but who neither of us had ridden with before, Colton.
Colton had recently had a bike fit that had caused him some knee pains the last few rides, and the pain started almost immediately for him on this ride as well. After 15 miles, he made a tough but smart decision and called it quits.
After riding through some undulating terrain through classic coastal range mist, we saw a turn-off in the distance that was more of a wall than a climb. Of course, that was our road, and what followed was over an hour of hike-a-bike over unrideable technical terrain ranging from 13-19% grade.
As we neared the top, snow became a factor. Oddly enough, though, a Jeep rolled by that had somehow made it to the top of the road. Pretty impressive.
The wall lasted for a few hours in total, some of it rideable, some not, but it was after the Wall that things got really interesting.
It turns out that many of the ‘roads’ we were viewing on our routing apps were actually ATV roads and dirt-bike singletrack. Some of the roads on the map simply weren’t roads at all. After back-tracking numerous times, we finally decided we would just take the main gravel road straight down to the highway and pump out some highway miles before continuing on our way.
The Final Push
After exiting the highway, the final objective for the day was two solid climbs, one over 1,300 feet and the other over 2,000. We made it up and over the first well before dark but found the light slowly fading into blackness shortly after starting our final climb of the night.
We finally rolled into our primitive campsite for the night around 8pm after losing a team member, climbing 12,000 feet, and getting a small sample of the wetness that was to come. Our evening was brightened by a host of stars as we set up camp, debriefed about the ride, and eventually went to sleep.
When the Weather Forecast is Correct – Day 2
The weather forecast for Sunday in Tillamook called for over 1/2 inch of rain in the morning and 40mph winds. I think that was pretty accurate up on our ridgeline campsite. The rain started around 2am as a light drizzle, but by the time we were packing our bikes and getting ready to go around 7:30am, the drizzle had turned into a steady rain.
We started with a 2,000 foot descent and it was one of the more miserable experiences of my biking career. A steady downpour of rain would sporadically change to hail as we clutched our brakes as hard as we could in the hand numbing deluge, with unpredictable wind gusts pushing us all over the road and testing the limits of our adrenaline supply.
After about 45 minutes of this, however, we finally made it down to the cover of trees and eventually even pavement, and from there, it was all about soldiering on through the wet and rain – first to Safeway for a coffee and doughnut, and then back to Seth’s Moms’ house in Rockaway.
As we pedaled towards Tillamook, Abdul shared that this may have been the hardest bikeride he had ever done, to date. While long races like the 200 mile Swift Summit are challenging, Abdul found the mental challenge of pushing a bike, climbing interminably, carrying all your gear, and not benefiting from pacelines an even bigger challenge. That was a pretty cool insight and I was glad I could be a part of the struggle alongside him.
As Seth’s parents indulged us as we regaled them with our short two-day adventure, the weather outside continued to have an identity crisis, switching from sunshine, to rain, to hail every 10 minutes. After a shower, a beer, and an amazing Lentil soup, we all went our separate ways. Driving home, I had an overwhelming feeling of gratitude: I felt fortunate to have all 10 of my digits of course, but more important, fortunate to have enjoyed another bikepacking adventure with friends.