On the Road – Daniel Sharp Goes Stampede Solo

One of the nice things about Daniel Sharp’s photographs and prose is that they don’t over-glorify his exploits. He acknowledges his miscalculations, his struggles and his suffering. Because that’s what adventure is, right? The intersection of suffering and fun?

This time Dan is riding solo near his Oregon home. His photos and excerpts from his trip journal below:

At some point you realize that a good weather window is a gift and that if you’re going to go, you might just have to go solo. I see the solo as a step in my progression with bikepacking. I did a couple hard solo rides in Arizona recently. One of them just about broke me, but that’s a post for the near future. Doing it solo allows you to ride your own pace, to leave when you have an opening in your schedule.

From the Velodirt site:

“The route itself is not to be taken lightly.  Expect lots of dirt and gravel with over 9,000 ft of climbing and some real rough riding in sections.  There are well spaced services, but inconsistent cell service.  As with all rides out this way, watch the weather for high winds and extreme temperatures.”

The other great thing about this route is its proximity to Portland. The start of the route is just 95 miles down 84 to the Deschutes River Recreation Area, where you can leave your car.

I love this part of the state. I think my first exposure to the area was photographing the Rapha Continental Dufur ride back in 2009. I fell in love with the undulating wheat fields and picture-perfect farms. I love how open and dry it is compared to the dense forest of the Cascades. But starting that climb up Company Hollow you’re reminded that it’s going to be a long day through some of the most beautiful and lonely roads in Oregon. The road to Dufur is not easy on a loaded mountain bike. There is about 1300 feet climbing in 40 miles. I kept imagining how much easier it would be on a road or cross bike.

That might be the best part of a solo trip. I stop when I feel like it. I don’t feel rushed when I want to take a photo. I stop and snap photos and eat some salami and cheese and I enjoy being the only person out there. OK, one farmer did just drive by in a cloud of dust, but just one. I kept feeling like WOW it’s really pretty desolate out here, but at that moment I’d come across another farm or abandoned building.

I’m glad to have a GPX track to follow here, since there are many roads that diverge and look just as well traveled. At one point I take what looks like the obvious turn only to check my Garmin and see I chose wrong. That only happens once, but I can see how you could get lost in here. For the first time on this trip I’m happy to have a mountain bike. Water runs down the trail and I’m having to chose lines or get stuck in ruts and the occasional field of rock scrabble. What a treat, though! It’s gorgeous and it really makes the route feel like an adventure. I’m happy it’s not all dirt roads. By the third stream crossing I’m in the zone. I stop several times for photos.

This is definitely an area that I’d like to come back to explore more. I’m still feeling like I need to push on a bit to Tygh Valley. I’d camp here, but I want to make a few more miles today and Donnie mentioned it could get cold in here this time of year and my sleep system is on the cold side, so I’ll push on. Just outside of the Wilderness area I stop to filter water for dinner and breakfast. At this point it’s all downhill and paved to Tygh Valley. A group of deer cross the road in front of me and bound effortlessly over barbed wire fence and into an empty field. Late afternoon light filters in through trees and I feel the euphoria of arriving in a new place under my own power. This is one of those moments where I feel golden. I know this is special. I savor it. I stop in an old pioneer cemetery and take photos.

I love arriving at my destination at this hour. The road is gorgeous and curves back around towards town. Tonight I’ll be the only camper at the Fairgrounds – only human for that matter. No one comes out to ask what the heck I’m doing, so I set up next to a picnic table and start boiling water for dinner and setting up my tent. I just pumped water and I’ll be able to charge my phone in the outlets, so I’m all set. I’m surprised how few cars drive by. I’m not wasted tired, but lack sufficient curiosity to venture into town, so I just set up camp, eat buffalo chili and look at maps. It was a good day.

The solo overnighter is a nice quick-fix outing. I’m pleased with my effort. Nothing crazy went down. I didn’t encounter another cyclist on route. I saw a few deer, some farmers in pickups, but I’m struck how easily it is to get away from the city and visit some very quiet parts of Oregon. Now that I’ve got a few rides under my belt, it feels natural to grab camping gear and food and get away for a couple days. This would be a great shakedown for Oregon Outback. In fact, the last 33 miles of the Outback are the same as the Stampede route. The Outback just climbs another 5000 feet over an additional 230 miles. The reason to do these ‘easy’ routes is that you build up your confidence and remind yourself of what works and what doesn’t.

 

Read the unabridged adventure here and see more of Daniel’s exquisite photos while you’re at it. Daniel rides a Seven Sola 29 SL.

Getting Closer

Riding past horse pastures and state parks in and around Hamilton, MA, last weekend, I found myself daydreaming once more about riding off road. I chuckled to myself remembering the wise old proverb, “if all you have is a mountain bike, everything looks like a trail.”  Now I am finally understanding the truth of it.  In fact, ever since ordering a Sola SL, I have scoured the countryside for trails, parks, and recreation areas.  I stare at the woods and drift off, longing for the day I can roll through those very trees.

A few weekends ago, I was hiking the Ledge Hill Trail at Ravenswood Park.  High up on a rocky outcropping, the view of Gloucester Harbor, blanketed in winter colors, was Instagram worthy – but instead of taking a snapshot, I pulled out my phone to search “Ravenswood Mountain Biking.”  I had to know if bikes were allowed in the park.

What I learned was nothing short of incredible.  Not only were bikes allowed, but Ravenswood was just a small piece of about twenty-five thousand acres of parks, forests, and free trails in Massachusetts managed and maintained by the Trustees of Reservations.  Many of these parks welcome mountain biking, and just like that, my mountain biking schedule is set.

The timing couldn’t be working out any better, either.  Nearly every component for my new bike has arrived.  I’m only waiting on the wheels and brakes.  Once it’s built, Spring will be knocking on the door.  My restless legs bounce just thinking about it.

Because no one in the office wants to hear me talk about it any more (two years of discussion prior to ordering will do that) and because I’m not done yet, I’ll spell out the details in this forum instead.

I have had a soft spot for the Sola SL, since 2004, so I didn’t think twice about the model choice.  I knew that a double-butted tube set would be beneficial for at least two reasons: my frame will be big, and I love the look of over-sized titanium tubes.  Without butting those tubes, my lanky build would take a beating during the course of a ride.  By thinning the tube walls down, I can have a bike that rides like a dream, and meets my oh-so-discerning aesthetic.

Choosing a wheel size ended up being simple as well. I have only ever ridden 26″ wheels, and I wanted to try one of the larger sizes, 27.5″ or 29″.  I knew either one would be fun and new, but beyond that, I couldn’t see any overwhelming  evidence to suggest one would be better for me than the other.  As luck would have it, the fork I wanted was only available in 27.5″ , so the decision was made.

The only real oddity with my bike, or maybe with me, is that I wanted a 150mm travel fork.  Surely a 150mm fork is overkill, especially for the relatively mellow riding I’ll use it for.  No downhill, no huge drops, and nothing that could be considered extreme to anyone other than my parents.  In fact, it will mostly be a cross country rig, with a huge fork.  I proposed the idea to the design team, and while they had questions at first, they started to see my vision, and designed a frame that will accommodate the extra travel without hindering its handling.  It is amazing what they can do once your measurements, component spec, and vision are in front of them.

Below is the drawing of my very own Sola SL. I think it’s going to be awesome.

Karl's Sola SL Cad Drawing

And yes, that is a ton of slope and post exposure, two more style requirements.

In the Queue

Maple and Pine

 

The Little Tennessee River gets backed up at the Fontana Dam forming an emerald green reservoir that has been on my mind since the beginning of summer. Along the shoreline, long leaf pine needles blanket the forty miles of single track that meander through a North Carolina State Recreation Area named Tsali.  It was there that I fell in love with mountain biking on a chilly October day, much like today, seventeen years ago.

 

Tsali was my first experience leaning into banked corners, involuntarily launching over whoop-de-do’s, and trail riding from sun up to until sun down.  Whipping through the woods amidst the peace and quiet of the natural world turned out to be my definition of fun.  That trip to North Carolina was just the start. From there I rode everywhere I could; the Smokies, the Blue Ridge, Pisgah, Monongahela, the Appalachians, the Sawtooths, Yellowstone, the Tetons, the Colorado Rockies, the Metacomet Ridge, and even Dooley’s Run right in my parents’ backyard.  No matter the location, the thrill was the same.  I was hooked.

 

After college graduation, I took a summer job leading mountain bike trips out west, and ended up staying for the year.  I can’t recall if I put pressure on myself, or felt it elsewhere, but when the year came to a close, I determined it was time to follow a more traditional post graduation path. I packed up, headed home, went back to school, and got a job.  I’m sure everyone has experienced it, but in the blink of an eye thirteen years flew by without me so much as throwing a leg over a mountain bike.  Within that time frame I gave “my” mountain bike back to my father, and picked up road biking on the side.

 

For all intents and purposes, I am no longer a mountain biker.  V-brakes have been replaced with discs.  Triple chain rings, flat bars, and bar ends are all gone.  26” wheels look out of place in the sea of 650’s and 29ers.  Judy Butter is no longer the answer to stiction.  My full finger gloves are too small.  People say “shred” instead of “ride.”  I haven’t seen a Grateful Dead sticker on a bike in years.  Mountain biking, it seems, has passed me by.

 

It took a road ride last April, in Greenwich, Connecticut to rekindle my interest in getting back on the trail.  Darren, who works at Signature Cycles and was leading the road ride that morning, was guiding us through winding hills and beautiful country side, but for the first time in a long time, my mind was in the woods.  I don’t recall how, but the topic of Tsali came up.  As chance would have it, Darren had been there too, and had equally fond memories.  We shared stories and fawned over the trails, the pine needles, and that glorious lake.  Somewhere on the silky smooth roads of Greenwich, I decided that it was time go off road once again.

 

Perhaps it’s fitting that seventeen days into October, just seventeen years after my trip to Tsali that started it all, the design for my first Seven mountain bike sits in the queue (behind all of yours), ready to build.

 

I cannot wait.

 

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