I toe the start line to push my limits, test my fitness, and see how I stack up against competition. But this race wasn’t about those things. Oregon trail gravel grinder was the ultimate 5 day summer camp, full of shared meals, river showers, cornhole, and lots of new friends. Racing every day on untouched gravel roads through the cascades was just the cherry on top.
Although only 27% of the racers were female, I found myself riding with women every day. Compared to the few other mass start races I’ve done surrounded by groves of men, the dynamic of racing amongst women felt much different. Each day left me inspired, more comfortable in a race setting, and confident in my fitness and abilities. The women’s field was strong, deep, and full of badass ladies.
Our mornings started around about 6:30, with coffee served out of an old VW bus. After packing up camp, we would all roll to the start at 9 am for a day of racing anywhere from 47 to 88 miles. Each stage would end at a different camp spot, eventually creating a 360 mile loop west of Bend. All of our belongings were magically schlepped to the next spot, and upon our early afternoon arrival, camp was already full of tents, hot shower trailers, camp chairs, and games. Afternoons were spent taking ice baths in the river, hanging out in stretching circles, playing bananagrams and cornhole, and of course eating copious amounts of food. As darkness rolled in, everyone would retreat to their tents and camper vans to rest up… And then we’d do it again!
The routes brought spectacular views, pristine gravel, and plenty of adventure. Along the way there were also deep sand pits, rocky descents, mandatory puddle crossings that were at least knee deep, and mounds of snow to scoot across. On the first day they warned of cliffs and I snickered, but on day 4 I somehow got sent off a rocky ledge as some guy with a flat on the side of the road simultaneously screamed to warn me of the hazard. Magically I escaped the wrath of any severe mechanicals all week other than a stubborn chain that dropped 4 times on the first stage.
My last day started out with a pretty bad migraine at mile 5 which led to my DNF. it didn't put a damper on my experience in any way. For those of you who have played the Oregon Trail video game - I received a shirt that says “You have died of dysentery, Game Over" which alone was worth pulling out of the race.
On day 4 I stood 7th in the GC standings with 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th place finishes. I surprised myself with a win on the downhill stage of day 3 - an enduro format with a timed uphill to tacos, chill time at the top, and a downhill section back to camp!
I will definitely be back next year and highly recommend this race to anyone looking for a gravel adventure!