330 Miles of the Gorge Backcountry – Gabe Tiller

330 Miles of the Gorge Backcountry
Photos and words by Gabe Tiller

The Gorge Backcountry route is a 330-mile loop leaving Portland which encompasses lesser known vistas and lightly trafficked asphalt and dirt ribbons through lush forests, river canyons, and rocky escarpments both north and south of the mighty Columbia River.

With the recent fires dominating a lot of the talk about Oregon and the Outdoors recently I wanted to stitch all these pieces together and head out to show that there’s still a lot of green out there. We lost 30,000 acres of incredible forest around many of the Gorge’s most popular landscapes but it’s my hope that this very visible forest fire can spark much-needed discussions about fire suppression and an increasingly volatile climate. And hopefully, people will start picking up maps and start exploring places new to them. On my four day trip, I saw zero other touring cyclists and only a few joy riders on Rowena’s curves. The Gorge and surrounding mountains are vast and opportunities for riding new country are everywhere if you start poking around. I rode an early iteration of this route when I was first starting to get into gravel touring back in 2012, but since then have discovered—and ridden—a slew of new amazing tracks in and around the Gorge.

The Gorge Backcountry route is focused on quiet paved roads but entertains some mellow gravel roads and a few loosely cobbled white-knuckle miles as well. It is comprised of winding verdant forest tunnels, impossibly straight prairie lanes, and chunder gates with dominating views of Mount Hood. The route is a compilation of the best of what northwest Oregon and southwest Washington have to offer an adventurous cyclist.

I rode my REN Cycles titanium Waypoint with a Swift Industries Ozette, Porcelain Rocket half framebag, and Porcelain Rocket Albert seatbag. I’ve logged a lot of road and dirt miles on this bike over the last year, but this was my first bikepacking trip with it. Somewhat surprisingly, loading it down didn’t change a thing. It never felt sluggish, off balance, or like it was slowing me down. (my legs on the other hand…) It’s outfitted with a SON dynamo hub and Luxos U which kept me pedaling in the twilight and all my electronics charged. The Compass 38c Barlow Pass tires ended up being a little under gunned for how rough I remember Gunsight Ridge being, but they rallied through the 2,000′ beating without issue. Usually, I’m packing for more remote mountain bike routes, so I was surprised just how minimal I could strip down my kit for a straightforward road tour. Sleeping bag, pad, and clothes in the seatbag, tent in the framebag, and tools, stove, snacks, food, 1st Aid, electronics, and gummy worms in the Ozette.

See the ambassador route on Ride With GPS.

Learn more about the titanium Waypoint at REN Cycles.

____

Follow Gabe on Instagram, and his other exploits with the Oregon Timber Trail and Limberlost.

  • Beautiful photos and a nice escape, Gabe!

  • Gabe, this is very heart-felt. You can tell it’s your home and you cherish it greatly. Thank you!

  • Frank Wu

    How do you feel about using the di2 buttons with Hylex? Is it possible to accidentally push the buttons, say when holding on tight while climbing out of saddle, or during a gnarly descend? Thanks!

    • It’s happened a few times, but you get used to them. It happens more frequently now when stopped and futzing/leaning the bike up. I do wish I could actuate them better from the drops however, it’s a minor inconvenience but worth noting.

      • Frank Wu

        Thanks for sharing the info. I have always been intrigued by this di2 hack since I got the Hylex, but all my other bikes have SRAM, so every time I try to image the “thumb action” on Hylex, it just doesn’t feel natural to me… Guess I’ll go the Gevenalle route :)

  • Stumpjumper 29R

    Great write. Looks like an Awesome route.

  • Pascal K

    fantastic photos!

  • auton0my

    Added to “bucket ride list”!

    • I want to take Cari on this next spring. Looks amazing.

      • barry mcwilliams

        I’ve already got plans to do it with an old riding buddy of mine this spring/summer. We both emailed each other links to this post. He’s on an academic calendar so we may go in early summer. Will have to hit you up for beta.

  • W. Bradford Williams

    Great trip report and spectacular pics as well. The GPS map and notes are much appreciated. Look forward to doing this someday.

  • wow, looks like an awesome trip! Has me wanting to do something like that…

    • Thanks! Road touring is sort of a treat, compared to a lot more rugged unknown mtb type trips where shit invariably breaks and I invariably get hella lost.

  • tertius_decimus

    Simply beautiful.

  • SlowPokePete

    Awesome! What fork is that?

    • It’s the Ren GX1 fork, but it’s similar to the Rodeo Labs fork.

  • Gus

    So cool! I’ve visited a friend who lives in Hood River to mountain bike / kite surf / play with excavators but I’ll have to do part of this loop next time. Photos are fantastic, what a beautiful part of the world. Thanks Gabe

  • Stefan Haverkamp

    Awesome trip and pictures! Is that again an Ortlieb-Decaleur hack?

    • Yep, I more or less copied Morgan Taylor’s version he posted here last year: http://theradavist.com/2016/06/my-home-hacked-thomson-and-ortlieb-decaleur-morgan-taylor/#1

      • ben

        Beautiful route! May have to add this to next year’s calendar!

        I built the same decaleur setup on my Ritchey Ascent for a trip in the Sierras. Worked great except for two things: access to the front bungee clip is difficult as there’s just not much space. Also, both of the bolts holding the ortlieb pannier rail to the direct mount stem rattled out during a particularly nasty descent of about 4k ft in 10miles. Otherwise, it works great!

        • Yeah, I’ve been trying to figure out a closure that is better than the shock cord. Some small magnets sewn in would actually be awesome.

      • Stefan Haverkamp

        Thanks for the reply. Did you use a Thomson stem? Sourcing all the Ortlieb parts would be easy for me here in Germany, but I find the Thomson stem a little pricey…

    • It works excellently I must say. Lotsa hassle collecting the bits and pieces but haven’t had to tweak a thing since I assembled it.

  • JM

    how in the world did you fit a sleeping bag AND a pad in that seat bag? Both of mine are super tiny, (Mt Hardwear Phantom 32, Thermarest NeoAir) yet still prob would’nt fit together in the bag like that.

    • I’ve got an amazing Western Mountaineering HighLite 35º and a Big Agnes Air Core. They both fit fine along with a Mont Bell down jacket, a couple pairs of socks, shirt, and tent poles and stakes. I don’t use stuff sacks, things just fit better if you jam them all together and compress as one mass in the seatbag.

      • JM

        the bag must be larger than it looks!

  • Sean

    Not quite sure if I am reading your message clearly – yes, climate change is going to force some interesting questions – but there is tonnes of research pointing towards our past fire suppression practices as one cause of the massive forest fires that we are currently seeing. Suppress forest fires for long enough and fuel for fires continues to amass until we see a major fire event. If you are interested http://johnmuirproject.org/ is good starting point on this debate.

    • Yeah, I didn’t elaborate here, but it’s the combo of 100 years of suppression and more dramatic swings in climate (ie: drought)

  • reversethread

    I pulled the riv-nuts out of my frame with that same combo of top-tube bag and Iris cages. You have been warned!