In 3 weeks I will do the longest off-road ride I’ve ever attempted, 584 km in 3 days at the Oregon Outback, presented by VeloDirt. My experience with bikepacking is rather limited. I race for Mighty Riders, CX and Road. I’ve ridden long days through Yellowstone national park with just a backpack of campgear, or something similar on the San Juan Islands when track bikes on long trips seemed like a good idea. However, it’s never been this much off-road, and never this far out of cellphone service.

So when I told Clay (p/b Stuckylife) that I needed to get a gear test in before I was dedicated to the real outback, he was very much game. Vancouver Island has the amazing convenience of getting you from house to woods in no time flat. And Clay took me saying “into the woods” as “most complicated trails you could imagine with a packed bike.” Glorious.

My first ride fully loaded was the route to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal. I had crammed all the gear I would imagine needing on the Oregon Outback ride into my Porcelain Rocket bike bags and backpack. Taking the Brodie Ti Romax from 19.5lbs to 30 definitely made the ride out a little slower. Not to mention that the beautiful sunshine I was enjoying was likely thanks to the hard headwinds coming straight at me from the Georgia Straight. After my relaxing Pacific Cruise aboard BC Ferries, it was another 50km into Victoria with headwinds on gravel. Bikepacking, it seems, is meant to go a bit slower.

It was with great pleasure that I slept on a foldout at Kate and Clay’s house Sunday night. We weren’t rushed to depart on Monday as I wanted to stop in and see the folks at Fairfield Bicycle Shop around the corner before our departure. I heard they like weird bike rides.

I wasn’t fully aware the route to Shields Lake that Clay had put together. I knew it had a minimum amount of asphalt, and that we would likely need to carry bikes when we weren’t grinding away on anything rideable with 33c CX tires jacked to 60psi (in order to avoid flats thanks to our extra weight). Clay was adding to the challenge by running his Single Speed CX rig.

After two coffee stops (just right), we hit the Galloping Goose out towards Langford. After a stop to pick up the last of our food supplies and split the extra weight of a sixpack of Blue Buck, we scooted onto a little gravel between Goldstream and Sooke Road. A hard right turn off the highway and hike a hill, we’re onto the trails.

And by trails, I mean hobo trails. Most of the route hasn’t seen maintenance of any kind over the winter/spring. So we went, across downed trees, through rubble fields and over spring runoff, we chundered our way over Terra Nova, the trail taking us to Shields Lake Loop.

Oh, and we hiked. There was quite a bit of elevation to gain, and some of it was straight up the slick, moss covered rock faces that are so common a feature on Vancouver Island. The bikes were heavy, but the real challenge is in the rigid MTB shoes, built a little more for pedaling efficiency and occasional off-the bike than all-terrain hiking under load. 

It was fairly quick work, considering the efforts, to get to Shields Lake. Lots of standing water, which by the time we were hitting camp, had become more work to go around than to ride straight through.

We had extra light, and decided to hide our packs and do a quick tour around the surrounding trail. We took a rip down some steep looseness, over some creeks, around some really warm single track and back up the hills to camp.

It was a nice warm spring evening, camp was set, and we got a fire going with some found wood and partially burnt logs (thanks to the hicks that left half a camp behind). I’m really loving my camp-stove setup, and the dehydrated food I’ve picked (MSR Pocket Rocket, Snow Peak Ti cookset, Mary Jane Organics food). After dinner, a few beers and campside talks, we turned in shortly after the fire burned out.

We started early the next morning – camping always gets you up with the sun. We cooked breakfast, made coffee (thanks to Clay for bringing the AeroPress) and stuffed our gear back onto the bikes.

Our route out was a continuation rather than a reverse; we headed out and though we missed our first turn, we were on route shortly, getting hot and finding high ridges to roll. From Shields we hit Monument Mountain, then to Ghost Tree Ridge, and down out Charter Creek near the dam.

We popped out in Sooke to grab a coffee from Stick In The Mud and say hi to Lorien at Sooke Mountain Cycle.

The last kick was just a noodle along the Galloping Goose, where Clay recounted the Stuckylife race that had people hammering the opposite direction out to Sooke from Vic. I had a long stop with the folks of Straight Up Cycles as I needed to show Curtis the weird things I was doing on my Ti Romax, and then back to Kate and Clay’s for some quality sleep.

The last kick out of Victoria was to catch a ferry at Schwartz Bay at 3pm. After a few long dealer visits, with Marty’s Mountain Cycle and Cycles West, not to mention a stop at the home of Stuckylife (Broad Street) to talk stupid feats of strength with Parker and Renny, I had to time trial to catch the ferry in time. Exciting, needless to say.

It was a hard 4 days, but not quite as far as the 585 KM I’ll be doing at the Oregon Outback on May 23rd. With this first trip of the season set away, I am excited to see the other disturbing trips Clay comes up with. Hopefully some that will take us out with our friend Nicholas from Ride Gradient. More adventures to come; it’s time to go everywhere.

Strava of the rides here:

Matt HornlandRyan Yip