2-Day Bikepacking Trip from Salem: The Valley of the Giants Weekender
I’m not known among my bike friends as someone who creates easy or flat routes for bikepacking. Climbing is one of the best parts of riding, in my opinion, because it means that eventually you get to go back down, so my routes usually include big climbs. However, sometimes I create routes that are just plain nasty. The Valley of the Giants Weekender is one of those rides.
In fact, it’s probably my hardest ‘gravel’ oriented route to date and it’s not just the 11,000+ feet of elevation you climb in the first 95 miles. It’s the type of surface you’re riding on. When people think of gravel they usually think of nice country roads with the occasional pothole to avoid and there is definitely a little bit of that in this route at the beginning and end.
But once in the coast range, the gravel deteriorates into all manner of sins. To use a nerdy Star Wars analogy, you feel like Han Solo navigating an asteroid field in the Millenium Falcon. So while there is a lot of climbing and physical demands that are taxing, the constant vigilance for the next rock that will buck you from your saddle, or mental demands, are just as taxing.
All that being said, this route rocks (see what I did there?). And while it is a great stand-alone weekend route, it also is the first half of a coastal bikepacking race my friend Seth and I are piecing together. It’s rugged and chunky and will be slower than people think. And they’re going to love it. And hate it.
Below is the route and some photos of our trip. This was a true training ride for all four riders (we all have upcoming races in September/October) and so the photos are less quality than some in the past have been, but the at least provide a glimpse of what the route looks like for those interested in trying it out.
If you are interested, feel free to reach out to me with questions, as it’s a real doozy.
We started the ride from my house, which adds a few miles to the route. It starts easy on some highway riding and rolling country roads. Once past Falls City, though, the climbing starts.
The Valley of the Giants
Around mile 56, we veered right down a steep forest road descent to hike The Valley of the Giants, a very remote hike out in the middle of the Siuslaw Forest.
Then it was back to the grind. After the Valley of the Giants, the ‘gravel’ roads are more boulder than gravel; even the downhills were a challenge.
A convenience store in Grand Ronde provided us all with our ‘gas station’ food quota for the day, a staple in most bikepacker’s diets.
Then it was time for one final 2,000 foot climb to South Lake, our campsite for the evening. With this group of uber-optimists, nothing can bring them down, so I’ll just say that a great day on the bikes became even greater with a small fire and whisky.
The morning started with a steady drizzle that left all of our tents soaked as we packed them up for the morning. After everyone filtered a bit of water from the lake and we continued our climb to the top of Hebo mountain, however, the rain dissipated to more of a mist and stopped altogether as we descended over 2,000 feet to Hebo.
After another quick stop at a market in Hebo, we pounded out some road miles, climbed the last bit of major elevation, and then cruised through the final push from Sheridan to Salem.
With no one in any particular hurry, we decided to treat ourselves to some food at one of the local breweries in Salem, Gilgamesh. It was a great end to a great weekend. All told, we rode close to 200 miles, climbed over 16,000 feet, and averaged around 15 mph – a respectable resume for a weekend ride.