Monday, May 29, 2023

(Temporary Backup) An Odyssey Without So Much VOG

First question you are thinking…what is VOG? It stands for Valley of Giants. I stumbled upon this route on PNW Bikepacking’s YouTube channel (funny guys, if you ever want to watch some bikepacking videos) a couple months ago, and proposed it to our bikepacking group of women as a possible Memorial Day Bikepacking trip. It wasn’t too far away (Tillamook Forest), and looked doable. Afterall, the name of the route was Odyssey of the VOG-Northern Tier Weekender. Turns out, there is a much longer Odyssey of the VOG route…but more about that in a moment. 

After a fair amount of initial enthusiasm, it came down to me, Jana, and Katie actually doing the route. Jana and I opted to bring our gravel bikes (a mostly good choice). Katie brought her hardtail (also a mostly good choice). The plan was to go to the Jordan Creek Staging Área (and start of the route) on Friday, find a place to camp, start the route on Saturday, continue on Sunday, then either camp again near the staging area Sunday night, or if Jana and Katie weren’t too tired, drive home Sunday night. There was a small wrinkle. Jana wasn’t able to leave town until 5:00pm Friday night. Katie was able to leave at noon. Katie would pick up Jana’s bags, then pick me up. Katie and I would drive to the start, get a campsite near the start, set up tents (including Jana’s), then Katie would find a place to park her car, and ride her bike back to the campsite. When Jana would arrive at the parking area, she would the ride her bike to us at the campsite. Seemed like a good plan…

Night 1
Google maps routed Katie and I a most different route to Jordan Creek. The “normal” route would have taken us through Portland to Hwy 26, through Banks, and onto Hwy 6 to Jordan Creek. Instead, it routed us across the Columbia at Longview, then backroads to Vernonia, then Banks, and Hwy 6. It was a very pretty drive, and we discovered a delicious Mediterranean restaurant in Vernonia, and a Mexican bakery. 

If you go to Vernonia, that Mediterranean restaurant is a must! 

We had an earlyish dinner, then got pastries from the Mexican bakery for an evening snack and breakfast. 

We pulled onto Jordan Creek Road in a line of several other vehicles going to the same place. Hmmm…probably going to be tricky to find an open campsite. We drove past the staging area finding every spot to be filled. We followed the route for what ended up being 3.3 miles from the actual start/staging area before we found a pull-off that no one had taken yet. Fortunately, we both had about two liters of water because we were nowhere near the creek. 

We set everything up, and Katie drove back to the staging area to park, and then rode her unloaded bike back to the campsite. 

It had a nice view. 

Then we waited for Jana. As we had no cell service, Katie had left a note on her car telling Jana where we were, and also spoke with some people who were camping at the staging area to be on the lookout for her. We waited…and waited…we ran possible scenarios in our heads. Finally, at 10:00, we were too cold to sit outside our tents any longer, and went to bed. A couple of vehicles had gone by that we asked if they had seen a woman riding a bike, coming this way. Nope. 

Shortly after 11:00, we heard another vehicle coming up the hill. This one pulled into our site, and soon we heard Jana’s voice. Some very nice people had seen her riding in the dark, and offered her a ride. We all thanked them profusely. We got the lowdown from Jana, then went to bed. 

Day 1
In the early morning, we woke up to rain. It wasn’t super heavy, but enough to put on rain jackets (but not rain pants). We did have to pack up wet tents though…always fun. 

We started riding…I mean…walking at 8:25 (right when I thought we would). I say walking, because we were right in the middle of a pretty steep climb. Not warmed up, and not used to the heavy bikes, it was impossible for Jana and I to get going on our gravel bikes. Katie on her hardtail, had better luck. As is usual, adjustments had to be made to the bags shortly after getting started. 

We continued on climbing. Periodically, I had to walk as I was still not used to the weight (this was the first gravel bikepacking trip I had ridden Sly). Turns out there would be quite a bit of pushing throughout the day. 

Finally some blue sky, and the rain quit. 

Tillamook Forest is a working Forest. So there were several clear cuts. 

We came to a gate that was the entrance to the Stimson Timber Company property. The gate was locked. With teamwork, we got the bikes successfully through. 

The main thing about this section was that there was no camping. 

The road surfaces varied, but mostly logging type roads. 

The route had us turn up a rocky steep sort-of road. It came to another gate. 

Jana approaching gate number 2 for the day. This one was pretty easy to get the bikes under. We came out to a very large intersection. It was time for some lunch. I think we had gone 14 of around a planned 50 miles…it was going to be a long day. Now we were out of the Stimson property. We saw several off-road vehicles heading into several trails. Then about 7 dirt bikes went by and headed up another trail. Everyone seemed make it to the top except one. He came off his bike trying to make a sharp, steep turn. We watched as he kept trying to get the bike upright to give it another go. Finally when he did, he came off again. This time we could see him limping. 

Zoom in, and you can see the dirt bikes. Finally, another person rode the guy’s bike to the top. It was interesting lunch time entertainment for us. 

Back on the bikes, we came to another gate. This put us back on Stimson property. The good thing was that there were no vehicles. 

Sly is saying, “I’m too tall! I can’t get through!”

Alright, Sly is through…now me! Photo complements of Jana. 

The three of us at the highest point. Photo courtesy of Jana. 

Jana heading down (and a nice view). 

There goes Katie!

We went down down down to our last Stimson gate (but not the last gate of the day).

This was nice, except you had to watch out for the water boards. 

The last Stimson gate. Pavement was not too far ahead. 

Don’t park by the gate. 

A few miles of civilized gravel (as in we were back in civilization) brought us to Hagg Lake and the paved shore road. Ahhh…it was so nice. Then we returned to another gravel climb. We went up, came down, and turned onto another paved section. We crossed a river, and this is where I had had to get creative with the route. To back up a bit, I had decided the route would be better if we reversed it. However, when I tried to reverse the RWGPS route, it kept coming up different, and much longer. Getting nowhere, I just decided to recreate the route in the opposite direction. As I was doing that, I came to a part where RWGPS showed no roads. It was then that I realized the original route creator had probably imported a Strava route to RWGPS. So, in satellite mode, I drew lines that matched the route. I could see on the satellite mode that there were indeed roads. Also…it was Weyerhaeuser land. 

We had to negotiate another gate, of course. It was the beginning of a 7+ mile climb. The road surface was…challenging. Chunky loose rock while climbing for long periods of time means…walking. We trudged our way up the loose rocks. There would be brief bits of riding followed by more walking. We finally made it to the top. The amazing part was that my line drawing had been spot on! Not once did Garmin say we were off course!

A moment of getting to ride. 

We popped out at the Barney Reservoir. By this time, we were all pretty tired, but there were “No camping” signs all along the reservoir. We also had only gone 42 miles. We were aiming for some dispersed campsites around route mile 50. But, we also suspected they would all be taken. We decided we would ride until we found a spot. And, we needed water (there was a fence blocking the reservoir). We rode beyond the reservoir. We came to a small spring next to the road. Yay! Water! While Jana and I filtered water, Katie rode ahead to see if she could find a suitable camping spot (really, at this point, a wide spot in the road would have sufficed). She did, and it was a proper campsite!

Whew! Day 1 was done! We had ridden 47.9 miles and 6673 feet of elevation. It took us 11 1/2 hours (moving time was 7 1/2 hours). We had done 8 of 11 climbs that initiated the climb profile on our Garmins/Wahoo! We REALLY enjoyed our dinners!

Day 2
We were up bright and early for Day 2. No rain, and our tents were dry! It was looking like a beautiful day for another bike ride! We were packed up, and on the road by 7:50! That was good because we had more miles to do than the day before (but more pavement, and less climbs). The plan was to make it back to the cars. Jana really wanted to get home that night (Sunday). 

We were barely into the ride when Jana’s rear tire suffered a nasty gouge, and promptly went completely flat. I tried plugging it (which eventually held), but the tire had gone so flat that there was air leaking out from the bead in several places. No problem…Jana had CO2. That would reseat the bead. Except the inflator wouldn’t work. Katie had a cartridge, but no inflator. I didn’t have CO2. All attempts to pump the tubeless tire failing, we put in a tube. The tube wouldn’t inflate. Oh, it would seem like it was inflating, but would be flat again. Tube must have had a hole in it somewhere. We put in my Tubolito tube (along with a tire boot over the gouge). That did the trick. The whole process took us well over an hour. But, it was fixed! 

Fixed and almost ready to continue. 

The road down out of the Forest to Trask River Rd was in dappled sunlight, and had numerous potholes. It slowed me down because, as I’ve said before, I can only go as fast as my eyes can see. I did not want to hit one of those potholes!

As we were riding along the river, we came to a spot where we could get water. There was someone camping, but we helped ourselves to some river water anyway. 

Best photo of Katie!

Trask River. 

After more steep descending, we came to the beginning of the long paved section that would take us into Tillamook. There was a fair amount of traffic, and a headwind to make it all the more fun. And, of course…cows. This is the home of Tillamook Cheese!

Smooth pavement, also quite rolling. 

The cows were mildly curious. 

We rolled into Tillamook, and beelined for food. We opted not to eat at the Cheese Factory, in part because Jana can’t have dairy, but also because we knew it would be absolutely packed. We found an awesome taco truck right on 101. Jana and I had THE BEST BURRITOS EVER, and Katie had what she described as THE BEST TORTA EVER! Actually, though they were really good, we were also really hungry.

We talked at lunch about the plan for the remainder of the ride. Jana was still hoping to make it home that day. We still had about 30 miles to go (and the remaining 3 climbs, one of which was over 6 miles long). Neither Katie or I had to get home Sunday night. We decided we would see how we were getting on. If it looked like Jana could finish, but Katie and I didn’t want to, then Katie and I would camp another night somewhere along the route, and finish up in the morning. 

We had a short bit on 101 (yes, the Cheese Factory was totally packed with people), then off for some backroad pavement before returning to gravel along the Kilchis River. 

The only true “Giant” we saw. 

Beautiful Kilchis River swimming hole. 

We reached a point where we had about 20 miles to go. Katie and I had decided we would ride until 5:00, then look for a spot to camp. Jana was feeling good, and was confident she could make it back to her car. I gave her my headlight in case she got caught out in the dark. 

Goodbye, Jana! 

Katie and I poodled along keeping our eyes peeled for a suitable campsite. We came to the place where we would begin the long climb. There was a campsite by the river, but there were people there. There was a reasonably okay spot at the other end of where the people were camping. To be courteous, we walked over to talk to them. We told them we were needing to camp, but they didn’t want us to camp there because then they couldn’t let their mean dogs off their leashes. Whatever…we left. 

Katie walked down another road further along. There was a vehicle there too (but no people). We continued on. 

Crossing the river. 

We were really getting into the climb when we came to a hairpin turn. There, at the turn, was a beautiful waterfall that just happened to have a campsite. We checked it out, and decided we were home!

Lovely pool at the bottom. 

Katie called this the”Instagram view”. 

In reality, we were right next to the road! But, it was still a great spot!

As we were setting up for dinner (by the pool),

We heard a cyclist coming up the road. Remember how I said there was a much longer Odyssey of the VOG route? This weekend happened to be the Grand Depart of the full route. We had seen two cyclists go by while we were fixing Jana’s tire. This guy, Tom, was doing 100+ miles a day! 

Just as he pulled away, three pickups full of kids and adults (all family) pulled up. They were local, but were camping back at Jordan Creek. They knew about this waterfall, and had come to visit it again. We had a great talk with one of the guys. Then they all piled back in their trucks and left. 

Shortly after they left, two more (then a third) cyclists came riding up the hill. The third cyclist was a guy named AJ from Burien. The other two were from Boston and Sacramento. Almost immediately after they got there, the kid from Sacramento said he was going to throw up. He dropped his bike and went over to the other side of the road where he violently puked up the contents of his stomach. “Boston” had been remarking how “Puker” had been having tummy troubles. He had been chasing Imodium with Pepto. It didn’t seem to be working. I gave him a Zantac. He wondered if he should eat something. Both Boston and I said no. I told him to wait and see if he could keep fluids down before he tried to eat something. They continued up the climb with the plan of camping at the top. We didn’t see them the next morning, so they must have made it. 

We finished our dinners and bedtime ablutions, then retreated to our tents for a nice night of listening to falling water. At about 10:00, I heard two more cyclists go by. 

We had done 50.2 miles and 2904 feet of elevation. It was a little over 5 hours of ride time. 

Day 3
Katie and I had 11 miles to go, starting with the rest of the long climb. We were packed up and moving right at 8:00. At one point, we could look ahead and see the top of the climb. 

See that break in the trees? That was the top. But, we still had 1 1/2 miles to go to get there. We snaked our way up, doing a few switchbacks. It wasn’t really that bad. At least we didn’t have to walk. We were, however, glad we had not done it last night. Kudos to Jana for powering through! By the way, she made it back to her car at 7:00, and made it home just as she had hoped!

Katie getting to the top. 

The road from above. 

For awhile we just had undulating road along the ridge. 

Fog still present in the valleys. 

As we started a big descent, we came upon a field of lupin. It smelled so good!

So much lupin covering the hillside!

Lupin pano!

The road surface down was pretty good. Then it got steeper, and more loose gravel…not so good. My brakes were screaming so loud, Katie heard me coming from very far away!

Steep and chunky!

We made it to the river, and Hwy 6. 

Bikes on one last bridge. 

After a brief moment on the Hwy, we turned back onto Jordan Creek Road. We had just 2.2 miles to go. After dealing with a few departing campers, we arrived back at Katie’s car. 

FINISHED! 11 miles and 1480 feet of elevation in 1:40 ride time. 

This was a really challenging (especially the first day) route, but it was a great bikepacking trip! All three of us enjoyed how it worked out (and we know…it always works out!). I think I’m still happy I reversed the route (that last descent would have had us all walking a lot of it had we gone the other direction), but it was probably fairly equal…ish.