What do you do when all the preplanned bikepacking adventures out there just aren’t fitting the bill? Maybe they are too long or too short or in Oregon where it is going to be hot. You plan your own. That’s what you do. And so tasked with finding a bikepacking trip for a lovely group of humans over Labor Day Weekend I decided to make up my own. What could possibly go wrong?
I often get asked HOW I find and plan my own adventures. At this point I have a fairly extensive knowledge of the different parts of Washington so often I start with WHERE I want to explore and then I go from there. For this trip I was feeling kind of intrigued by the forest service roads down by Pahto. Why? Pahto is really pretty, usually the weather is reliably good down there, there is a maze of forest service roads and the area is forest service land so dispersed camping is possible – ideal for a busy holiday weekend when most campgrounds were already fully booked. So with my area decided I just started highlighting forest service roads on caltopo, trying to take us past lakes and by the wilderness area and somewhere pretty but ultimately not knowing where the route would take us. It would definitely be an adventure.
Now to assemble the team! We had forever been planning on spending Labor Day Weekend bikepacking with our friend Carl so he was obviously on board and then, three days before the trip our friend Tyler, who we attempted Sunh-a-do with over a year ago, got back to me and accepted an invitation to join us that I had extended months prior. Not only that but his girlfriend Jamie and their friend Sam was on board. And so suddenly we were a group of six! We made plans to meet in Packwood on Saturday morning.
This was only our second bikepacking trip so Kyle and I had a real fun time packing – trying to remember what we needed to bring, how many snacks to pack and where we put everything on our bikes. Since our last trip we had added lightweight camp chairs to our kit and were so excited to sink our butts into them at the end of a long day. With the bikes all packed up the night before we were ready to load them into the truck and hit the road.
The next day involved a quick stop in Packwood to use the bathroom, regroup and discover that the entire town had transformed into a flea market/bazaar/street fair/gun show. It was weird walking around looking for Asprin and muffins and passing stands called “CORN DOGS OF THE WOLRD”. We got the heck out of dodge as quickly as possible and parked our cars at the confluence of Route 12 and FSR 21. Carl, Kyle and I had a pretty easy time packing up – we had most of our bags already on our bikes before loading them into the truck so really we just had to throw the front tires on and attach the handlebar bags. Jamie, Tyler and Sam however were basically starting from scratch so we all kind of lounged around while they strapped things onto their bikes.
Around 11am we were ready to go and found another parking lot goer to snap a photo of us before we began peddling – straight uphill. I had known the first day might be kind of brutal but wow, I seriously underestimated how hard the elevation gain would be. Most of the first day would be uphill and looking at the elevation profile I had been unsure about how steep it would be. Turns out steep. Very steep. Carl and Sam (the two skinniest tired humans) immediately became a solid team – pulling out ahead of the rest of us and leaving us in their dust. Kyle and I hung out with Jamie and Tyler (the two fat tired humans) and leap frogged them up the hill. There were intermittent downs which was a relief but that shit was hard.
Early on my gears weren’t shifting properly and luckily I had a whole team of people significantly more experienced than I to help troubleshoot. Sam fiddled with a number of things on my derailer and the problem was fixed! Thank goodness we hang out with people who know things about bikes. Unlike on our last trip there wouldn’t be any towns where I could stop in at a bike shop and have someone take a look at my bike.
Finally, eventually, after so much thigh burning and huffing and puffing we reached the top of the biggest climb and undulated past alpine meadows towards the turn off to Walupt lake, which was our planned destination for the night. We were all a little nervous about getting camping – approximately a million cars had passed us on the way in.
When we reached the turn off it was paved and we zoomed down the blessed hard packed surface whooping with delight. However, our hollars were quickly silenced by more climbing – somehow steeper than before and seemingly endless. Again, Sam and Carl had sped off and the rest of us grunted along. Even granny gear couldn’t save us. We walked the bikes a few times.
We passed horse camp and many dispersed campsites (most of which were full) and finally made it to the lake. Which was a mad house. I have never seen anything like it. Here we were, out in the middle of nowhere, and it was like we were back in town at the street fair. People had boom boxes and boats and tents set up right and left. There was beer everywhere. We were immediately overwhelmed and wanted nothing more than to get out of there ASAP. The campsite was full so there wasn’t any reason to stick around – we headed back out the way we came, determined to look for dispersed camping and stop as soon as we saw it. We had only biked 26 miles but 26 miles of steep uphill started at 11am, it sure felt like a full day.
Luckily we had only gone down one little hill when I spotted a couple giant boulders that were clearly blocking an old road. I yelled to the others and we circled back to explore. We rode past the boulders and found a veritable haven. A gravel cul-de-sac with a fire ring in the middle and little pullouts that would be perfect for single tents. We wandered around marveling at our find. The boulders meant no cars would interrupt us and we were only a stones throw from horse camp which had potable water. And best of all – it was perfectly quiet and we had the whole place to ourselves. We laid down our bikes and decided to call it home for the night.
After a quick set up of camp we jumped back on the bikes (which was very painful) and headed back up to the lake. The sun was starting to set and you wouldn’t believe what an hour and impending darkness will do to a place! It had cleared out significantly with only a couple of groups remaining on the shore. We were able to snag a prime spot and set up for dinner and a swim, both of which were superb. And to top it all off Carl and Tyler were feeling frisky and decided to go try and buy some beer off someone in the campsite. Thanks to their tenacity and Tyler’s flattery skills they came back with six cold ones. There is nothing that tastes better than a cold beverage you didn’t have to carry.
Refreshed in a number of different ways we cruised back to camp, feeling like a gutsy little biker gang, and skidded up to our campfire. We spent the rest of the night racing oreos down our faces, drinking hot toddies and having good deep belly laughs. Before crawling into our tents we did a tour of homes (everyone seemed to have their own little tentsite tucked away so it was fun to see what everyone had brought with them on their bikes) and took a quick trip to horse camp to fill up our water. For some reason going to horse camp felt like infiltrating a world we weren’t supposed to be in and the barking dogs as we walked past campsites filled with flickering firelight didn’t help. Thusly we did a lot of hushed giggling while we were in horsecamp and hightailed it back to our dark enclave as quickly as we could. We went to sleep expecting rain on the tents at some point but none ever came. It was so quiet I thought I was wearing ear plugs.
How to do an Oreo Race:
Step 1: Everyone in the group get’s one oreo.
Step 2: Carefully split your oreo in half so that the cream filling stays on one side.
Step 3: Consume the cookie side without the cream filling.
Step 4: Using the cream filling as adhesive stick the oreo side that you have left to your face, squarely in the middle of your forehead.
Step 5: Everyone else should have done the same so now everyone has half an oreo stuck to their head.
Step 6: Once everyone’s oreo is in place count to three and begin!
Step 7: The goal is to work your oreo down your face and into your mouth using nothing but your face muscles (NO HANDS).
HOW YOU WIN: Be the first person to get that oreo into your mouth.
HOW YOU LOOSE: If that oreo falls off your face you are a looser. Sorry. Better luck next time friend.
**I find this game is the most fun if someone is filming and providing a running commentary on the action.