Stampede on steel: The Honky Tonk and Rove get put to the test
For the fourth year in a row, the Oregon Stampede brought fools and heroes, myself and Mike from the shop among them, to North Central Oregon for another foray into seldom traveled territories. I decided on Tuesday to go for it, and Mike made his mind up late Friday afternoon. Neither of us had put any kind of training in, aside from a steady diet of canned beer and fried foods, but we're veterans now and we knew what we were getting ourselves into. To us, the Stampede is more about finishing than it is about finishing well. And finish we did.
I of course rode my 2013 Honky Tonk while Mike rode his 2013 Rove. The course is pretty suitable for road or cross bikes, and both of our steeds delivered us home in fine form. The day before heading out to camp I threw some 32c Panaracer Paselas on my bike which had just enough clearance. They delivered a very smooth ride over various terrain and found great traction on some of the looser stuff out there. Some folks are crazy enough to ride road racing bikes, but the smart adventurers choose bigger tires and slacker geometries.
Deschutes State Park to Dufur
It was noticeably warmer when we rolled out of camp than in previous years; there would be no need for arm warmers or vests today. The sun was out and the writing was on the wall: even though the temps would be in the low 80's the sun exposure was going to be brutal. The first forty miles coughs up roughly 4k of climbing with the majority of that on gravel, and most new riders blow themselves up before they hit the top of Center Ridge. As consummate pros we took our time and enjoyed the scenery. The view from the top of Center Ridge is pretty stellar on a good day, and we gazed at the South Sister, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helen's, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainier. I tend to measure my epic saddle days by the number of mountains visible from a single point, and today was adding up to be one for the record books.
The run in to Dufur starts with an eight mile gravel descent. After climbing non stop for the first couple of hours, this is a welcome change. There's no need to even touch the brakes, and the feeling of drifting around corners tends to bring the daredevil out of most riders.
Dufur to Tygh Valley
Depending on who you ask, the second leg of the Stampede is the hardest. There are some punchy climbs, but it's the White River Wilderness Area that gets most riders. It take a lot of skill to descend rutted double track littered with baby heads on a cross bike, but we do it every year. On hot years, the shade in this section is welcome, as is the creek crossings. Generally there are a handful of people hanging out at the larger crossing, but the skeeters were pretty strong this year. Leaving the rough "roads" behind, the smoothest pavement of the day leads into Tygh Valley where the beer is cold, the Harley riders look at you in bewilderment, and the port-o-john smells like it hasn't been cleaned since the first time we rode this course 4 years ago.
Mike and I loaded up on a six pack of cold High Life cans and food for the rest of the day and headed east.
It's become a tradition for me to stop at the bottom of the climb and drink a beer. Sometimes I put my feet in the river, but with the sighting of a rattlesnake and scorpions everywhere I decided not to climb down the hillside. Instead we opted for the shade of the single tree in sight. We enjoyed our beers, and then saddled up for the long climb out of the Deschutes River valley. The wind was stiff in our faces, but just slow enough on our backs to create a dead heat. We climbed knowing that we were about to face a stronger wind for the rest of the day.
To Grass Valley
You don't really ever reach the top of the climb. Every hill you crest gives another view of additional hills that grow in the distance. This year we had a strong northerly wind that accompanied us for the remaining 50 miles of our journey. In my opinion, this is one of the hardest parts of the course. As of 2013, the only market in Grass Valley has closed, and the only cafe in town closes at 3pm that day. We were smart enough to carry ample food, but our water situation was bordering on critical. We found a soda machine and split a Pepsi before heading on.
To Moro and finally home
We motored into Moro and found the only store just about to close up shop. We filled up on water, and I got an ice cream bar. The lady running the place was worried sick about us and offered to stay open later for the remaining riders on course. She was really kind, but it was obvious that she thought we were morons. I imagine there's some truth there.
Previous riders had purchased bags of chips and gallons of water in anticipation of the store closing. We left them for the remaining riders and continued on.
As we descended Fulton Canyon, the wind gave way. We pinned every corner; for the first time in 50 miles we had some freedom to fly. This was cut abruptly short as we hit the road to camp. The last two miles were a painfully slow grind. Mike and I shared some laughs and talked about next year. Will we be there? I know I will be. And you should too. It's only 127 miles!