Monday, May 25, 2009

XTR 600 volunteer’s ride report

Preride Photos Oregon Overland Expedition 600k-XTR
The Oregon 600k XTR is definitely a challenging ride. The combination of 20378 feet of climbing (measured by my altimeter), long distances between controls or services, and the large temperature swings and strong winds of the eastern Oregon high country combine to make this ride an epic adventure. Besides the challenges there is also magnificent scenery and the chance to ride some less traveled roads.

David Rowe and I decided to volunteer to thank John Kramer for some of the great rides he’s organized in the past. Along with the volunteer gig went the opportunity to pre-ride the course while John scouted it and met us at the controls.

We were blessed with excellent weather for the pre ride. A tailwind blew us down the Gorge to the Hi-Way Market (opens 6:00 AM) in Rufus. The first significant climb of the day was Scott Canyon Road. On top there are magnificent vistas of the hills and wind turbines, with several of the Oregon and Washington Cascades in view. This section of the ride has a couple of more hills to climb, followed by a great descent to the John Day River and then the sustained climb up to Condon. Condon has a nice market in the center of town with a park next door and public restrooms on the left on the way out of town.

On this ride filling up with water at every single opportunity is imperative. David and I each carried 2 large water bottles plus a large water bottle with four hours of liquid food (another 22 ounces of water). It was barely enough. With the heat and climbing, at our pace, we were completely out of water and fuel when we reached Condon. Slower riders should consider carrying even more water and food that will survive the heat.

From Condon there is a relatively short climb followed by a steep descent into Fossil. We topped up our water bottles for 25 cents each from a water cooler in the Mercantile a couple of blocks off the route on the main street.

Another short climb followed by a steep descent brought us to the John Day River at Service Creek. It was a beautiful uphill river grade, but the tailwind was about equal to our speed, so it felt like we were sitting still in hot air. By the time we reached Spray, the temperature on the road was 104. In fact, we found that temps on the tarmac were averaging between 20>30 above than the 77 degree high forecast for both days. That’s a rule of thumb worth keeping in mind, as the temps are forecasted to be about 10 degrees hotter this coming weekend.

John was at the control with watermelon and cold water, so we were able to avoid the crowd in town for the Horse Show. From Spray we continued along the uphill river grade toward the control at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center. The Cant Ranch (part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument) is on your left just short of the control and there is a water spigot on the front lawn, just off the road. The cold fresh water and shady lawn were great. We filled up and rinsed off. It was the best off-bike event of the trip.

The climb on US 26 to Keyes Creek summit was long (23 miles), but steady and gorgeous. Traffic was almost non-existent, despite the holiday weekend. At the top (4369 ft) we were greeted by herd of deer, and then a descent into a wonderful sunset and a view of thundershowers in the distance. The descent to Mitchell was another screamer with some rough patches of road. For the actual ride, David Rowe will man the control in the park in Mitchell.

At Mitchell, we set ourselves up for night riding and the 6-mile climb up Ochoco Highway. There was no moon, so we were treated to a night sky thick with stars. At the summit, it was 49 (a 55 degree decrease from the temperature at Spray five hours earlier and 2950 feet lower). We put on wool and windbreakers the cold descent toward Prineville. Luckily, it was only steep for a little way and we were able to stay warm and awake by pedaling (and downing massive quantities of Hammer Espresso gel) most of the way into the overnight control in Prineville.

We rolled out of Prineville at dawn for the easy flat ride to Madras, followed by a wonderful descent into the Deschutes river canyon at Warm Springs. The day was already warm as we climbed up the exposed canyon sides past Kahneeta and then to Shimnasho. The people we met at the Three Warriors Market at Shimnasho were very friendly, and the store was well stocked. David and I decided to break from a steady diet of Perpetuem there. I enjoyed a bag of pretzels. He loaded up on Fritos and a Diet Coke. We recharged out bottles and enjoyed another 13 miles of high country riding to the edge of the reservation, which featured wetlands, rolling grasslands, high mountain peaks, and herds of wild horses.

Once on the road to Maupin (US 197), we started feel like we’d returned to more familiar territory. The little town of Maupin is small, and laid out on a downhill so you’ll have to check your momentum as you enter the downtown to spot the answer for this information control. There’s a park on the left side of the highway, opposite Graves market, and some public restrooms there, as well.

From Maupin, it’s 50 miles to the finish, with very few services on the way. You’ll follow the river access road on the east side of the Deschutes to the bridge, then a short steep climb out of the canyon. There’s a pleasant interlude in Tygh valley, followed by the not-so-pleasant extended climb up Tygh Ridge. From that point it’s almost all downhill to the finish. The downhill is vey exposed to the wind, and the road and shoulder are rough. Watch your odometer carefully for the Eight Mile Road turn off. If you’re coming in at dark, keep your eyes peeled for a 4-way intersection (yellow-and-black) road sign; the road sign itself is on the opposite side of the highway. The pleasant ride down Eight Mile Road and back into town is idyllic, and we agreed it was the perfect ending to an awesome adventure.

Parting shots:

It can be a very long way (up to 50 miles) between water and food stops. Top-off your bottles every chance you get. Or carry a Camelbak. We like to think we manage our water pretty carefully, but we arrived at two controls bone dry.

Temperatures can swing from more than 100F in the valleys during the day to downright frigid on the mountain tops at night. Make sure you have warm gloves and a shell for these descents, there are a lot of them.

We counted 21 snakes, though only three of them were alive. The majority were bull snakes, a few grass snakes, and one that appeared to be a rattler. They’re only dangerous if you swerve into the traffic lane to avoid running over one. On the other hand, if you need to take a nap along the road at night, find a spot where you can get off the ground (a picnic table), or inside (a post-office is always a good bet; they are open 24/7).

The deer are out in full force, with lots of little ones in tow, so be careful on the fast descents, especially a night.

Did I mention there was some climbing? Aside from the first along the Columbia River, and the stretch into and out of Prineville, there are very few sustained flat sections along this course. It’s probably a good idea to get comfortable with that idea before you begin.

David and I both agreed this was the most beautiful – and most challenging – 600K we’ve ever experienced. You’re going to see the most beautiful terrain the State of Oregon has to offer, but you’re going to have to work for the opportunity.

Randobiker's Note: It has been three years since I've seen bikers with mugs as happy as Eric and David when they finally stopped rolling in front of the hotel on Sunday evening. Not since Ken Bonner's happy and somewhat confused smile at the end of the Big Lebowski in 2006. Condition Check: Oregon Lebowski-XTR.