The Oregon Timber Trail is still being actively developed and as such is quite rugged and challenging in sections. But what does that actually mean? We collected the most common questions and asked two of the first pioneers to ride the whole route—Heather Rose and Kim McCormack.
Heather Rose was the first thru-rider to complete the trail self-supported in its inaugural year of 2017. She hails from Santa Barbara, CA and has raced the Colorado Divide Trail as well as bikepacking all over the American West.
Kim McCormack rode the OTT semi-supported in 2016 before it was even on anyone's radar. Word leaked out and she knew she had to tackle this challenge so she set out with a solid adventurous crew of friends and a rough line on a map.
We polled the Oregon Timber Trail Riders Facebook group and compiled the most frequently asked questions for Heather and Kim. Without further ado, here they are.
Who are you? What's your name, where do you live, what's your day job, and how much bikepacking or mountain biking experience do you have?
Heather: Hello! Heather Rose here and I am a professor of Biology at Santa Barbara City College in CA. I don't have to teach summer school, which means I get to ride my bike!! I've been cycling for close to 20 years with a few years as a roadie and then I transitioned to more mountain biking and cyclocross. I started bikepacking about four years ago.
Kim: Kim McCormack. I live in Ridgefield WA. At the time I rode the OTT I lived in Beaverton, OR. I am a registered nurse and work on a Perinatal Special Care Unit in the Portland area. I started mountain biking in my early twenties, so about 12 years ago. My first mountain bike ride was with my now husband, Ben. It was a 20-30 mile grind in North Central Washington that definitely took me to the limit. I have been hooked ever since.
What inspired you to ride the OTT?
Heather: My primary goal this summer was to explore the wild places of the PNW and the OTT seemed like the perfect way to accomplish that.
Kim: The summer before, Ben and I visited some friends in Denver and Durango. While we were in Durango, we rode part of the Colorado Trail. I said to Ben, “I have a great idea!!” He said, “No way, find someone else to do it with you and I will happily support you.” He knew what I was going to ask...which was, “let’s ride the ENTIRE Colorado Tail!” As soon as we got back to the car, I messaged one of my best buds, Sam, and asked her if she would like to ride the Colorado Trail with me. Within minutes I had a quick reply of, “absolutely!!” There was not a question in my mind on who I knew would be the perfect match for such an endeavor. While the three of us started planning our trip, a mutual friend floated the idea of riding something similar in our backyard. This was the OTT. We smiled ear to ear at the idea and knew it was the perfect match. We love our backyard, have always wanted to discover more of the Oregon area and having the opportunity to pioneer a trail that would be ridden for years to come was magical! We jumped on board, joined an amazing team, met with Gabe (project manager of the OTT at the time) and the rest is history.
How did you prepare for this (physically/mentally)?
Heather: I start every summer horribly out of shape and then spend 2 months mountain biking until I am ready for a big ride. I did two shorter bikepacking trips in OR this summer prior to the OTT (Mt Hood area and the North Umpqua Trail). Since I raced the Colorado Trail last summer, mental preparation is not really necessary anymore. 😊 Though I do admit I was nervous prior to the start of the OTT, due to so much of the route being unknown.
Kim: On the physical side, I just rode longer rides and made sure to keep it simple. I kept my rides fun and figured that if I could be in saddle for 6-8hours in the elements, riding on technical single track that was a good foundation. Nothing crazy just a bit more mileage more often. Mentally, I decided to trust the process. We made a plan and just had to execute it. Having Ben and Leslie there to support, cheer us on and refuel was very comforting. We had a plan for extraction in case of emergencies as well as carried ample supplies to ensure that we could sleep in the mountains for a few nights alone if needed. My pack was probably 20-25 pounds, haha, so I practiced riding with a heavier pack and decided it would make me stronger. It did. Plus, it gave me mental comfort knowing that I had all those essential supplies in case of any emergency. Gabe said ‘Don’t die’ so that was the primary focus, haha.
Did you ride the OTT self-supported, with friends, or solo?
Heather: Self-supported and solo (with some personal choice, and some required, detours). It is tough to find folks with the same availability as me that are also similarly paced and, of course, compatibility matters. I've ridden alone enough to know that it works well for me.
Kim: The route was theoretical in places and conditions were unknown at the time we were riding, so we decided to ride it with vehicle support from Ben and Leslie. This was so wonderful and the four of us developed a kindred friendship. A typical day. Leslie would ride with us in the morning shooting photos (she is an amazing photographer) and Ben would meet us for lunch. Ben would get Leslie back to her vehicle and they would go set up camp. Ben would usually ride in to meet us at the end of the day and ride out with us. It made a great flow. Everyone got to ride their bikes and having Leslie and Ben on trail with us part of the day really gave us oomph and encouragement. It was perfect and everyone got along really well. Ben and Leslie were committed to seeing us finish and believed in us. That got me through some challenging moments.
How long did it take you?
Heather: About 17 days.
Kim: 16 ride days with one rest day in Oakridge for showers, shopping, and the pub.
How many hours did you ride per day?
Heather: Most commonly I rode 10-12 hours a day, but I also had a couple light recovery days (Oakridge and Sisters). I did not have any days completely off the bike.
Kim: On average we were out for ~10-12 hours total time (pedal time was less). Our longest day was 18 hours. We didn’t start the day thinking that we would spend so much time in the saddle. But, as we day went on, we felt like riding more! Why not?! We were already there and love riding our bikes. We just did a pace that we felt we could sustain forever and took it in segments.
The route is 51% singletrack. What is the other 49% like?
Heather: Very little pavement! A mixture of tough jeep roads (eg. out of Chemult), really mellow dirt roads (eg. into Chemult) and everything in between
Kim: Primitive-ish gravel and sand roads. Most of the time it was so remote and a lot of the roads were rugged, so it didn’t really feel like road riding.
What was the toughest section in terms of supplies and water?
Heather: Definitely the southern (Fremont). If you are like me and hate to go off route to resupply, you also need to carry several days of food in the Hood section.
Kim: We didn’t really have issues with supplies and water since we had super-Ben and Leslie helping out Whoot whoot!! But, Gabe has done a fantastic job at mapping out resupply and camp spots on the route.
What proportion of the descents are fun, technical descents compared to undemanding downhill trails? How much time did you spend pushing/walking on the climbs?
Heather: Hmm... Most of the downhill was real singletrack requiring attention, some of it was simply fast and fun some of it quite technical and fun (eg. Middle Fork of Willamette into Oakridge). Some of the singletrack is technical, narrow, and/or rocky enough that I walked portions due more to terrain than grade (eg. Bunchgrass Ridge and some of the earlier singletrack in the Hood region shortly after Breitenbush).
Kim: 100%, fun, some less demanding than others. The descents down Hager Mountain, Middle Fork Trail, from Three Creeks into Sisters, and down from High Prairie were awesome. The Oak Ridge descent into Parkdale may have been the most technical. The only time we had to walk was when there was blow down. Mostly we were on our bikes. There is a push to climb out of the Bunchgrass Bowl.
How much of the Fremont Tier was rideable? Any recommended route-arounds? How realistic is the recommended route/mileage through this section?
Heather: I bypassed some substantial segments of the Fremont and can't comment on those parts. I rode miles 0-47 (varied between enjoyable riding and heinous, random seeming pushwhacking through the forest), took a paved road detour to Paisley when I hit the 395 (though apparently the section after the 395 was cleared during the Stewardship weekend and you should ride it! -- I did not know this at the time) and then took alternative route listed in the guide from Paisley to Currier Spring (past Summer Lake Hot Springs --stay there! -- and up the well maintained forest service road to the spring). From Currier I got back on route until the Fremont Point cabin (miles 18-28 on that segment), this part was rideable (VERY slowly and you had to scan constantly to stay on trail, follow the markings on the ground, not the GPS!). It was worth it though, it is beautiful up on Winter Rim! From the cabin I tried to stay on the the trail, but it become even fainter with the added pleasure of many downed trees so after about 1.5 miles, I backtracked to the cabin and followed a road (there are several options) down to Silverlake. Each day I made good mileage (about 40m) due to including some road reroutes each day. I can't predict what it would take if you stayed on track under the current conditions.
Kim: The Fremont Tier was somewhat challenging when Sam and I came through. There was a decade (or so) of deadfall in places and often the trail had been re-introduced into a forest-like state. Since the great work the OTTA and others have done in 2017, I would imagine the Fremont Tier is closer to 100% rideable. If not, it will be soon!!
Note from the OTTA: The south end of Winter Rim is clear after our stewardship campout, and keep your eyes open for another weekend campout over Memorial Day 2018 focusing on clearing the northern end.
Which section did you find the most challenging? Was there a day you wished you had stopped sooner?
Heather: I would have enjoyed the southern portion more if I had not put so much pressure on myself to cover mileage, but I really didn't know how long the whole thing would take and only had three weeks available so I pushed the pace until I realized I had a buffer and was on track to be able to complete the route. Bunchgrass Ridge was as challenging as described, but the slow going technical part only lasts a few hours so it really wasn't that bad (make sure to take enough water on this part!).
Kim: The climb up to winter rim was the most challenging, because of the blow down. But, OTTA has worked very hard on that section and now it is all clear for y’all! I never had a day that I wished I stopped sooner. I felt pretty good about how each day ended. We listened to our bodies, had reasonable check points and always had options to stop and camp at any time, Knowing that we could stop at any time made me feel good about moving forward.
How much on-the-fly rerouting was necessary due to trail conditions? Any sections that were particularly slow / difficult to make your mileage?
Heather: I did a ton of on-the-fly rerouting and it really slows you down! If you really want to ride Fremont prior to more work being done down there, I highly suggest you plan several exit points and map them out in advance from the comfort of your computer at home. I use an eTrex Garmin and the tiny screen is horrible for planning on the go! Cell phone coverage is very low down there, so I could only use Google maps intermittently -- which is also only partially reliable! Sometimes what look like escape routes dead end on private property! I also carried a SPOT tracker so I could be found if I went missing and for its emergency SOS function
Kim: There was a fair amount of wayfinding, reroutes, and woah moments in the Fremont. We spent quite a few hours carrying bikes over trees, stepping over (and in) cow patties, and backtracking in the early days of our ride. As the ride progressed, it became less. I am excited to go ride it again now that trail work has been done and the route is established!!
Navigation challenges? Electronic navigation work out? Did you have to fall back to compass and paper map?
Heather: Having back up of some sort is critical, because you could truly get lost and stranded out there. I did not take paper maps. My primary navigation was on a Garmin eTrex20 and I had all the ride segments downloaded to my phone via RideWithGPS. The RideWithGPS files are much better for global and daily planning. A Garmin is great for following the little red line (track) while on the move and runs on replaceable batteries which is important if you don't have a power generating bike set up!
Kim: We used a Garmin Edge 1000 (Sam) and my Android phone with Backcountry Navigator and found both to be sufficient. We did have paper maps (thanks Caltopo.com and Ben!!) to fall back on just in case.
How much water did you need to carry between sources? Was it enough...did you run out on any segments?
Heather: I carried 6 liters out of Currier Springs because I had no idea how long I would be up there. Since I ended up doing a road reroute to get off Winter Rim, I had plenty. I generally carried more like 2-3 liters unless I knew I would be dry camping that night. I ran low a couple other times, but that was my fault for not filling up at available sources when I should have. Note that half way around Timothy lake there is a campground with water so you do not have to take water from the lake -- the lake seems to have hundreds of people camping directly on its shores each weekend and I seriously doubt its quality! Ew
Kim: Lots. I carried 3 Liters on my back and a bottle on my bike. We saw Ben pretty regularly so we topped off every time we met. It was triple digits most of the trip with a lot of sun exposure in the Fremont section. I used plenty of sunblock and stayed well hydrated. I knew that no matter how strong (physically or mentally) I was, dehydration and sunburns would be a game stopper. So, I did not mess around. I was peeing all the time, haha.
Is there any bear danger?
Heather: I saw a bear about 10 miles into the trail. Whoot! I'm not one to worry much about bears unless I am in grizzly country or high impact areas in CA where they are way too habituated to humans. I think a normal Oregon bear will just run away. I left all my food in my bike bags each night and parked it a little further away if i was concerned at all. A squirrel ate through one of my feedbags at Breitenbush Hot Springs (the BEST place for a vegetarian meal!! reservation required)! I caught the little bugger in the act.
Kim: Ben saw one near Bear Creek just outside of Paisley. Other than that, we only saw sign of them but never actually ran into any. Just like any other outing in the mountains (even local day rides), I try to have an awareness of my surroundings, understanding of potential dangers and a plan.
Bike choice: what bike/bags/suspension/tires did you ride? Were you glad you went with what you did (and why), or do you wish you would've chosen something different? (and why)
Heather: I rode a full suspension 27.5" Kona Hei Hei Trail DL, with a mostly stock build, but I swapped out the 30T chain ring for a 28. I could have used a 26 for the second half of the route; not sure if it was me or the trail :) Tires were Maxxis Tomahawks, 2.3", tubeless. I was clipped in, but be sure you can hike in whatever shoes you choose. Hiking gaiters would have been great on the Fremont Tier! I ride a size small and unfortunately, even with the smaller dropper post compatible bags being made now, I actually had to run my rear suspension locked out due to lack of clearance. Given that fact, my ideal bike would be a light-weight 27.5" plus hardtail. But if you have the height, I recommend full suspension.
My bags were: Revelate Sweetroll, Rogue Panda Ripsey saddlebag, frame bag (homemade by a friend), three Revelate feedbags, as well as a Revelate Gas Tank and Jerry Can, and an Osprey 18 backpack. All of the gear was reliable and worked well, with the caveat that the new feedbag that takes a one liter bottle interfered too much with turning radius.
Kim: Specialized Epic World Cup - 100mm travel front and rear. Specialized Captain tires. The setup worked well. I blew my fork at some point and lost 3-4 spokes on the last day or two.
I now have a Niner SIR 9 and I would definitely take that for bikepacking. If I rode it with vehicle support again, I would ride my Niner RKT 9 RDO because I enjoy the geometry, set up and suspension with Maxxis 29x2.3 Mininon in the front and High Roller in the back.
Is front suspension absolutely essential, or is fully rigid an option?
Heather: Anything is an option, no? I was happy to have suspension.
Kim: You can ride whatever you want, that’s the beauty! I have a rigid single speed mountain bike and there are parts that would be very fun on it. Overall, with the distance, squish is nice on the body and super fun on the descents. I tried locking out my front fork on the roads and after a couple days, my wrists got tired and sore. I opened back up the front fork and felt dramatically better the next day. Sam rode her Moots hardtail for the first week or so and I think appreciated jumping onto her Pivot Mach 5 eventually.
What, if any, mechanical issues did you face on the trail? How did you deal with them?
Heather: On day one a stick kicked my rear derailleur into my spokes. Luckily none of the spokes broke (though I was carrying a fix-it spoke) and I was able to bend the derailleur back out and adjust it into smooth shifting without replacing my hanger (which I had with me, but was buried under a lot of gear). I never had a flat, but regretted only bringing one tube as my bike was taking so much abuse and there was so much off trail action that I was paranoid about tearing a sidewall early on and then not having a back up tube with me.
Kim: Blown fork (noticed just outside of Sisters) and a few broken spokes on the ride down Post Canyon into Hood River. Luckily Ben and I were riding the same bike so he swapped his fork onto my bike while I was sleeping. Dealt with the broken spokes by not getting as rad once we hit pavement outside of Hood River. Also, we had a flat on winter rim, but I run tubeless so I spun the tire really quick and it sealed right up!! Just added some air. I think that tubeless is the way to go for sure.
The age old question- platform or clipless?
Heather: If I were used to riding on platform, this would have been a great trail for it.
Kim: Clipless for me!! I got some great shoes that were comfortable both riding and hike a bike (Giro Terraduros)
Tubeless vs tubes?
Heather: Always tubeless. Carry two tubes on this trail though (see above).
Kim: Tubeless baby!!
Sleeping arrangements. What worked well and what was a disaster? Hammock vs tent?
Heather: Tarp that I almost never used since I dealt more with heat waves than rain. My Sea to Summit hanging mosquito net was crucial for peace while sleeping!
Kim: Mostly slept in a three person Big Agnes Cooper Spur tent. Sometimes we slept in Leslie’s Sprinter, Henry Tan Van. Sam slept in either an Outdoor Research bivy or the van.
Is a filter is necessary or are water sources clear enough for Steripen or Aquamira?
Heather: I did not carry a filter and chose to pass on a couple water sources, but it was rarely an issue. Aquamira and/or whatever I could find locally.
Kim: Water seemed clear enough though Ben always had water so we didn’t have any issues. I always carried an MSR water filter on me just in case
What did your meals look like?
Heather: Cous-cous with freeze dried veggies, coconut oil packet, curry powder and tuna or mac'n'cheese with a packet of tuna. Or a take out pizza from the cafe in Paisley, yum :) For first breakfast I like the high protein instant oatmeal you can sometimes find, it would hold me for about an hour and a half. During the day is just various snacks and bars. Peanut M&Ms are always crucial.
Kim: Gour-freakin-met. One of Ben and Leslie’s jobs was to keep us fed. They did damn good. Most memorable was a taco truck in the middle of the woods between Silver Lake and Chemult. It fueled us to complete an almost 100 mile day into Chemult from Winter Rim (that was the 18hour day!). Thanks Ben and Leslie, you made it happen and treated us like stars!!
What did you fail to bring that you wish you had? Also the opposite- what did you bring that was not needed?
Heather: I am such a minimalist packer and my set-up is pretty dialed so I really didn't have anything of significance in either category.
Kim: Funny, I spent a lot of time packing and repacking my bag. At the end of the day, I feel good about my supplies (thought I did carry one pound of trail mix that I never touched). Same thing in regards to my first aid, knife, lights, emergency blankets, clothes, maps, batteries, water, filtration, ect…I was very specific about what I packed and would do it exactly the same again if I had vehicle support. I basically started with the 10 essentials, then added bike repair essentials (including a spare derailleur hanger), then thought about first aid, navigation, weather changes and what I would need to sleep 2 nights alone in the mountains in any weather condition. I packed high calorie food that was condensed to save room and weight. I tried to be efficient and started the planning early on. If I was bikepacking, it would look different, but I would use the same approach. Being thorough and organized was very helpful. I even packed my bag in a specific order regarding what I thought I would access the most or might need in an emergency. I am soooooo glad I brought chap stick.
Looking to do a few long weekend 3-4 day segment trips. Any suggestions?
Heather: I think Chemult to Oakridge would be a fun run. The easiest may be Waldo Lake to Sisters using the Metolius-Windigo bypass on the western side of Mt. Bachelor. This also included lots of great singletrack. The Todd Lake road to the north of Mt. Bachelor passed through some of the most stunning alpine scenery of the entire route.
Kim: Hit the Fremont! So good, so few people, so amazing. Lots of good options down there.
Unexpected favorite part of the journey?
Heather: Not unexpected, but it is the people. Always the people. Whether it is other trail users, folks in the towns, or wonderfully kind individuals that offer you a bed and a meal, it is the kindness of strangers that blows me away when traveling by bicycle.
Kim: The lifelong friendships that were made. Leslie jumped on board without knowing us. It was a long trip with a lot of physical and mental challenges. Traveling with other people can sometimes be difficult at best. However, our story is very special in that we grew very close together as a team. At the grand finish, we all four dipped our wheels in the Columbia Gorge together. It was a journey we all four accomplished together!! The next 3-5 days we kept riding our bikes locally showing Leslie around the Gifford Pinchot, yeeeehaw!! I feel so grateful that we all jived well together and now have a kindred friendship. Also, I learned how much I LOVE long distance, multi-day adventure biking. It is my “thing” and I am hooked. I had no idea how much I would fall in love with the unknowns of adventure riding. I have a list of adventures to come now!
What are your sights set on now? What's your next big adventure?
Heather: I am going to the south island of New Zealand in December for over 3 weeks!! I can't wait to explore it via a bikepacking trip
Kim: Leslie, Chris (Leslie’s husband), Ben, and I plan to ride the Baja Divide this winter. Full-on bike-packing on this one on my new Niner SIR 9. Whoop whoop! Also, I am planning to bike-pack around the Olympic National Forest September 2018. Not to mention a lot of local riding. All year and all weather pedaler.