Written By Tori Bortman of Gracie’s Wrench
Photos by Nell Stamper
It was an idea born on the road of long miles in Casey Wytaske’s imagination. As the Liv/Giant Field Rep and demo fleet driver, Casey has plenty of driving time on her hands to dream things up. Her goal was this: get a group of beginner bikepackers (but current mountain bikers) out on a sub-24 hour single track adventure. This would be a great shakedown for beginners, but also prove that you don’t need to take multiple days off to have a great adventure. You could, theoretically, get off of work on the 3rd of July, get out to the woods and ride out to camp (10 miles or less), set up your tent, squeeze in a bag-free night-ride, and be back at your car the next day in time for fireworks and barbeques.
It was audacious, but she came to the right person to make it a possibility. Leah Benson, Owner of Gladys Bikes (which sells Liv bikes) and grand adventurer, jumped right onto the idea by connecting with Lori Sills, event maker of the NWTA. I threw my hat in the ring as ride support, and as fate would have it, ended up being lucky enough to be a trip leader.
Wytaske secured Liv/Giant demo full-suspension mountain bikes and bags for most of the participants, Benson did her magic of reaching out to the Gladys community, Sills helped find more ride leaders, and I scouted the route and cleared the brush and trees from the trail the snow had just melted from days before. It took months to put together, but only a few days for the event to fill to capacity. The weekend before the ride beckoned for adventure with the coaxing of 90 degree days. But on the day of the event, the Pacific Northwest returned to her full spring glory—the forecast was for highs in the 50’s and rain. Whomp- whaaa.
Despite the prospect of riding and camping in very cold, damp weather (with night time temps in the 30’s), when Wytaske revealed the route the day before, the stoke was high. A 12 mile out-and-back with 1100 feet of climbing (most in the last 2 miles) was the plan. We’d found an area in the Wacoma backcountry not far above Post Canyon that skirted the Mark O’ Hatfield Wilderness boundary that had little-known single track that was open to bikes: the Rainy Whatum Trail.
The morning of the event, the weather cooperated and while it wasn’t warm, there was a bit of sun, gorgeous views of Mt. Hood and the jittery energy of a group of strangers coming together to test their riding, packing and camping skills and talents. We gathered in a quarry used by the forest service for gravel and rock storage, and, as evidenced by the shotgun shells scattered around, used by the locals as a shooting range. Since the bikepacking bags were new to almost all the riders, it took a while to both get them packed and get the hang of how they attached to the bikes. I think we all mostly became experts by the end of the trip, but at that point it was some serious trial by error.
At the last moment, Wytaske remembered we’d bought two bundles of wood in town, and distributed a few pieces per person. Before long we each had wood strapped to the front of our loads and set off, pedaling taking the edge off of the nerves and folks quickly finding their strides and new friends.
The first three miles of the trail are mostly flat and deeply forested. It’s the kind of gentle, not technical sigletrack that can lull you into thinking, “Hey, I can ride all day even with 25 extra pounds!” Everyone even made it through a major stream crossing without dismounting but with plenty of whoops and laughter. As usual in Oregon mountain biking, the reality hit at mile 3.5 when the gently rise became a serious climb. One by one, most of us good-heartedly started taking rest brakes, pushing or walking our bikes through the worst of the chunky, thick, loose rock with occasional water bars to momentarily rest. There was no shame or competition, only support and high fives.
At a downed tree near the top, we collectively took a snack break—nothing brings people together like food— and carried on for the rest of the climb. We quickly topped out at the road where the Rainy Lakes Campground intersects, however we quickly descended to the lesser-known Black Lake Campground, where the sites are primitive but the views are premium.
We’d managed to still avoid the impending rain so we took to the serious business of getting into dry clothes, setting up camp, building a fire, deciding on a hashtag for the trip and making dinner (though there may have been some libations involved as well, including sips from a flask that looked like a banana). We were grateful for many things, but none as much as Wystake’s call to bring dry firewood. Winter snow had soaked everything burnable, and without the wood we had collectively carried we would not have had any fire to collect around.
Delicious dehydrated veggie pot-pie dinners from Fernwood Food Company, as well as a tampon-and-lip-balm-started fire warmed us, the latter being worth the extra weight we packed. Just as darkness fell and we were winding down, the first raindrops fell.
In the tents, we were cozy—though the participant who went for hammock camping was rolling the dice. At 3am, we heard a sound like a train roaring, and the gentle rain that had fallen on and off since nightfall turned into a sideways torrent with gale force winds lashing the treetops, testing some tent flies and sending the suspended sleeper into a tent with a cold, wet sleeping bag.
It was predicted to rain all of the next day, but we woke to a calm, breezy morning with touches of blue sky. Coffee and porridge were on the menu, and we warmed ourselves and swapped stories of the early morning storm. Soon we were packed up and were grateful for the short road climb to warm us up.
The trip down was as fun as it was uneventful, other than temporarily losing our photographer to an easily missed turn. On the raucous, rough descent we all had to remind ourselves to slow down—it was challenging not to be able to shift our weight back like we normally could due to the bags under our seats. Faces were tight with smiles and the mellow ride out ended all too soon.
We can’t thank Gladys, Live/Giant, NWTA and our participants enough for making this weekend magic, creating memories and new bikepacking enthusiasts. As for those hashtags, look for more photos at #biscuitsontop and #livanywhere on Instagram. Link to the route below.