In July 2015 I took an 800 mile bicycle trip around Oregon. This trip report is meant to serve as a guide for other people interested in doing something similar.
Where I Went
One of the main objectives of my trip was seeing friends and family scattered around the state, so the route I took was essentially a game of connect the dots. Once I knew where I was going, I tried to find the most peaceful roads in between. These often ended up being Oregon Scenic Bikeways - I rode on five in all: Willamette Valley, McKenzie Pass, Twin Bridges, Old West, and Blue Mountain. I took no freeways, but my route did include a lot of highways. Thankfully most of them were mostly empty. Here's a map and a day by day breakdown (minus rest days) of my route:
(Click on the day number for the blog post corresponding to that day, and click on the route for a map. Note that the day numbers on this post don't match up with the day numbers on the individual blog posts because I wrote posts for the rest days, too.)
Route: Portland to St. Paul
Distance: 32.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,671 feet
Traffic: Medium (Newberg to St. Paul was a little busy)
Food and Water: Short enough that it's not necessary, but there are stores and restaurants in Newberg.
Notes: It's possible to leave Portland on the Fanno Creak Trail. After that it's lots of farm roads, some empty and some crowded.
Route: St. Paul to Albany
Distance: 61.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,210 feet
Traffic: Low (though more traffic in and around Albany and Salem)
Food and Water: Lots of options in Salem
Notes: The route goes right by the Oregon Capitol. It's worth a stop.
Route: Albany to Eugene
Distance: 45.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 974 feet
Food and Water: Brownsville is big enough to find food and water
Notes: When I rode this leg I had an incredible tailwind. Maybe you'll be as lucky. I stayed at Armitage County Park in North Eugene on the edge of the McKenzie.
Route: Eugene to Paradise
Distance: 57.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,987 feet
Food and Water: Lots of little stores along the highway.
Notes: Several options for lodging around here, including at Belknap Hot Springs a little further up the road. Belknap has food and wifi, but I was happy that I slept at Paradise because it was cheaper and prettier.
Route: Paradise to Bend
Distance: 66 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,264 feet
Traffic: Low (though Highway 20 from Sisters to Bend was really busy)
Food and Water: Water at Cold Spring Campground and food in Sisters.
Notes: I thought this day would be really, really hard, but it ended up being just pretty hard. The ride up McKenzie Pass was one of the most beautiful roads I've ever ridden.
Route: Bend to Ochoco
Distance: 54.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,905 feet
Food and Water: Prineville
Notes: I got rained on, but I think that's uncommon for this area. No cell service outside of Prineville. I stayed at the Ochoco Forest Campground which has water.
Route: Ochoco to Dick Creek
Distance: 69.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,870 feet
Food and Water: The Sidewalk Cafe in Mitchell is run by a woman from Portland (my people!) and has food and wifi.
Notes: I stayed at Land's Inn (a so-called "pilot ranch"), which was great. The only problem is that you have to ride 2,000 feet up a dirt road to get there.
Route: Dick Creek to Monument
Distance: 27.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 956 feet
Traffic: Low (I was passed by two cars the whole day)
Food and Water: There's a little store in Kimberly.
Notes: This was a kind of rest day, hence the shorter mileage.
Route: Monument to Ukiah-Dale
Distance: 61.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,683 feet
Food and Water: You can get breakfast (and wifi) at a grocery store and diner in Long Creek. There are also a few stores scattered along the way. I stopped at one in Dale for a beer. You can also get dinner (and wifi) in Ukiah at the Thicket.
Notes: I was only passed by a couple cars between Monument and Long Creek. I was a bit worried about traffic (particularly trucks) on Highway 395 but it ended up not being an issue at all. I ate dinner in Ukiah and then stayed at the Ukiah-Dale Campground on the banks of Camas Creek.
Route: Ukiah-Dale to Pendleton
Distance: 47.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,920 feet
Food and Water: Pilot Rock
Notes: The ride was really pleasant as far as Pilot Rock. After that the roads are a lot busier. It's pretty cool to come out of the Blue Mountains and onto the Columbia Plateau, but at least when I was riding the transition brought some wind, too.
Route: Pendleton to Crow Butte
Distance: 71.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,426 feet
Food and Water: Hermiston and Umatilla
Notes: Most of the ride was pretty empty but there is a fair bit of traffic (especially semis) on Highway 14 in Washington. I stayed at Crow Butte Campground. I met a couple people on tour here, which makes sense because Highway 14 is on the Adventure Cycling Association's Lewis & Clark Route.
Route: Crow Butte to Deschutes
Distance: 63.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,406 feet
Food and Water: Roosevelt
Notes: There's a store and short order cafe (with wifi) in Roosevelt, Washington. They even have a guest book for cyclists to sign. The wind generally blows from the west, so you'll have a headwind if you're headed toward Portland. Camped at the Deschutes River Campground five miles west of Biggs Junction. It was full, but it was a Saturday. I doubt it fills up during the week.
Route: Deschutes to Hood River
Distance: 49 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,291 feet
Food and Water: The Dalles (and probably Mosier, but I didn't stop there)
Notes: The first third of this route is on empty farm roads (with some gravel), the second third is on a (mostly) empty highway, and the final third is on a path that's closed to cars completely. It was hot and windy, but the riding was really pleasant.
Route: Hood River to Portland
Distance: 89.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,790 feet
Food and Water: Welches, Gresham, and others
Notes: I was a little worried about this route since there wasn't much information on it online (and the one thing I did see listed a ridiculously erroneous 8,000+ feet of climbing) and it includes Forest Service roads (which are an excellent way to get lost) but it ended up being a really great day of riding. Most of the climbing happens early on, and then it's almost all downhill for the final 55 miles into Portland.
What I Packed
All together, my bike, gear, and food weighed about 66 pounds. I was mostly happy with the amount of stuff I packed, but some people go much lighter, and some people go much heavier.
Here's a photo of everything and then a category by category breakdown:
Tent with fly: Thought about leaving the tent behind, or at least the fly, but I'm glad I didn't.
Sleeping bag: My 40° down bag left me a little chilly, but that's because I didn't bring proper long underwear.
Sleeping pad: Useful
Pillow: Bought on a JetBlue flight. A luxury, but a very light, cheap luxury. Glad I brought it.
Utensils: The only meal I prepared was peanut butter honey wraps so the only utensil I needed was a knife. I sent the fork and spoon home when I was in Bend.
Bowl: Didn't need it. Sent home.
Sunscreen: Very valuable. Used about six ounces.
DEET: Only used once but I'm glad I had it.
Pocket knife: Only used once or twice but I'm glad I had it, mostly because it had pliers and a sharp, three inch blade.
Headlamp: Only used this a couple times because I usually went to sleep before sunset, but I'm glad I brought it. Could've doubled as a bike light if I needed one.
First aid kit: Didn't use it, but prudent to have at least a small one on hand, especially in the event of a bike crash.
Vaseline: Absolutely necessary to prevent saddle sores. Bag balm and chamois butter works well too.
Soap: Two ounces of Dr. Bronner's was plenty. Used for washing up and doing laundry.
Bandanas: One of the most useful pieces of traveling kit there is. Had one for padding camera and one for bathing. When bathing, use it as a washcloth first, then rinse, wring out, and use as a towel to dry off.
Lighter: Didn't use but it weighs almost nothing and is perfect for when you need to start a forest fire by burning used toilet paper.
Fanny pack: Bought this at Fred Meyer in Newberg so I'd have a place to put my camera, phone, and wallet. The shorts I brought for wearing off the bike didn't have pockets.
Bicycle: A 2009 Surly Long Haul Trucker, mostly stock, except for clipless peddles, a Cardiff saddle, and downtube shifters. I added SKS fenders.
Panniers: Lone Peak P-500, P-099, and H-100 matched set from Wayne at The Touring Store.
Bottles (3): I carried two 24 ounce water bottles and one 16 ounce bottle. This was enough with water stops along the way, but had it been hotter I would've carried an extra 16 ounces or so.
Tail light: Helpful for visibility when riding in the rain or in the evening.
Multitool: Only used a couple times (like when I got a flat), but obviously a necessity.
Patch kit: Make sure the glue is fresh.
Tubes (2): I think two is enough.
Pump: Small, so it took a Herculean effort to get to 85 psi.
Chain link: Didn't use it, but necessary if your chain breaks.
Lock: Coiled, so not too secure, but good enough in a pinch and not too heavy. Coiled is also easier for locking to odd objects like trees and picnic tables.
Safety triangle: One of my proudest purchases, safety pinned to my rear pannier.
Flip flops: My off-the-bike footwear. Not good enough for a hike, but light and disposable.
Soccer shorts: My only off-the-bike bottoms.
Underwear: Ex-Officio for off-the-bike.
Long-sleeved capilene shirt: Recommended by Gordy, ended up being a critical piece of clothing. Wore during the day, to sleep, and sometimes as an undershirt when riding on colder days. Smelled awful.
Socks (2): Probably could've gotten away with one pair.
Cycling shoes: I'm used to riding clipless, otherwise street shoes and platform pedals would've been fine.
Bib shorts (2): Glad to have a fresh pair to change into. Probably helps prevent saddle sores and infection, too.
Jersey: Only took one so that my tan lines would be uniform. Smelled terrible, but that doesn't matter when you're on the bike.
Undershirts: Could've gotten away with one.
Sunglasses: Cheap plastic pair from Performance Bike.
Contacts: I decided against bringing my glasses. In retrospect, it probably would've been nice to take out the contacts at the end of the day and wear glasses.
Contact solution: Small travel bottle.
Contact container: Self-explanatory.
Eye drops: Hours on the road in the sun can do a number on my eyes so I brought eye drops, but I ended up not using them.
Toothpaste: Brought a small travel-sized tube.
Floss: Whenever I eat lots of jerky I have to be extra diligent about flossing.
Razor: Used once and then sent home. Helped me to feel less like a caveman but probably not worth the weight.
Advil: Didn't use but nice to have on hand.
Steroid cream: For eczema.
Deodorant: Ended up sending this home. Not worth the weight.
Imodium: Didn't need, thank goodness.
Earplugs: Makes it much easier to sleep in crowded campgrounds.
Tweezers: Sent home, but then I got a sliver. Probably worth the weight.
Fingernail trimmers: Sent home. The scissors on my pocket knife work well enough.
Hand sanitizer: Only used a few times but nice when using campground pit toilets.
Toilet paper: Just in case.
Map: Brought along a statewide map of Oregon thinking it'd be really romantic to have it spread out at restaurants or campgrounds, pouring over my route, but ended up sending it home because it didn't have many of the smaller roads I was riding on and my phone was much more helpful for navigating.
Fuji: My camera for the trip, an X-T1 with a wide-angle lens. Thought about bringing along a small point and shoot but I'm glad I brought my nicer camera.
Fuji charger: I didn't take a lot of pictures so only had to use this once or twice.
Nexus 5 smartphone: Thought about leaving this at home, but it ended up being incredibly useful. Phone to keep in touch with Rachael, Ride with GPS for navigating, and WordPress for blogging. Left in airplane mode most of the time to save battery.
Nexus charger: Did most of my charging at restaurants. Look for the table next to an outlet.
Kindle: I thought I'd have a lot of free time but I ended up sleeping as often as I could.
Cash: I brought $300 and spent most of it. Handy for paying at campgrounds and small mom and pops that don't accept credit cards.
I decided against bringing a stove and just figured out one meal that I could eat several times a day without getting sick of it. That meal was crunchy peanut butter and honey wrapped in a flour tortilla. No plate necessary, and the only utensil you need is a knife. For snacks, I had jerky and raisins. I carried enough of all of this three or four days and then refilled at grocery stores.
I ate at restaurants whenever I could to mix up the menu and save my food. On average, I ate one meal in a restaurant each day and made two meals myself.
Tortillas: Don Pancho ten pack, went through two.
Peanut butter: Two small chunky jars.
Honey: One bear's worth.
Gatorade powder: I'd mix up one bottle of this a day at half the recommended strength. Tastes gross otherwise.
How It Went
What went well
Planning: A lot of blog and forum posts I read about touring recommended figuring out your route and lodging along the way. That may work for some people, but I was happy to have planned those out before I left. Had I not planned ahead I might have missed the better roads, gotten lost, or worse. On the other hand, I probably missed out on other things which might've been better than what I'd planned. But I think this mostly about personality and personal preference. I'm a planner in my day to day life and my tour was a natural extension of that.
Routing: I started with shorter, easier days through the Willamette Valley before tackling the Cascades and the Blue Mountains. If, on the other hand, I'd ridden clockwise, starting by riding east through the Gorge, I don't think I would've been in good enough shape (though I would've benefitted from a tailwind).
Rest days: The point of this trip was visiting friends and family, so I spent at least a full day hanging out with each of them. These rest days also kept my legs fresh through a tour I was physically unprepared for.
Food: Even as I write this, having eaten dozens of peanut butter honey tortillas, I could totally go for another one. The more of them I eat, the more I'm convinced that they're the perfect traveling light meal. They provide protein, carbohydrates, fat, and salt, plus they're delicious and easy to prepare. What else could you ask for?
Visiting: The original objective of my trip was to visit friends and family scattered around Oregon. I would've organized my trip differently if I were riding just to ride, but I'm really glad I had great people to see along the way.
Pictures: I almost brought a point and shoot camera to save on weight, but the extra weight of my nicer camera was well worth it. Taking pictures wasn't a major objective for the trip, but I'm glad I had the gear to take good ones.
Smartphone: As I wrote above, this was almost a low-tech trip, but bringing my phone was one of the best decisions I made.
Health: I was pretty diligent about preventing saddle sores (with Vaseline) and sunburns (by riding early in the day and wearing sunscreen).
Lock: I almost didn't bring a lock, but I ended up using it every day. If someone really wanted to steal my bike they could've (I only had a coil lock).
What didn't go well
Weather: I wasn't prepared for the rain and I got rained on. Next time I think I'll bring bag covers for my panniers and Ziploc bags for my electronics. I wouldn't bring a full set of rain gear because I don't mind riding in the rain (your body will dry off eventually, especially when exercising). I just want my sleeping bag and other personal effects to stay dry.
Clothing: It got colder than I expected at night when I was camping in the mountains, so I should've brought long underwear to sleep in.
One of my biggest worries about this first tour was that I'd bitten off more than I could chew and that by the time I finished it I'd never want to ride a bike again. But what I found was a completely new reason to. Waking up in the morning and knowing that I had to travel 70 miles before sundown made me feel like an ancient explorer or someone on the Oregon Trail. I'm looking forward to being able to do it again.
The whole point of this post is to share the things I learned from my trip. If there's something you'd like to know about that I didn't cover, please leave a question below and I'll do my best to answer it.