Tour de Lab September 1st

The Oregon Outback is dead, long live the Oregon Outback!

Posted by on June 18th, 2015 at 1:58 pm

Screenshot from OregonBikepacking.com.

Despite all the buzz floating around the web right now, the Oregon Outback is not dead.

Yes, I’m well aware that Donnie Kolb, the man who first mapped out what has become one of the most famous bikepacking routes in America, proclaimed its death yesterday; but I think some folks are getting the wrong idea.

Yes, among the large gathering of folks (myself included) who did the route last month, there were inexcusable actions by a few rude and inconsiderate people. According to Donnie, they left garbage and human waste in a public park and even on someone’s private land — land that was generously loaned to them to sleep on no less!

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That horrible behavior has ticked off some locals who live along the route. In one case, a small town (Silver Lake) has reportedly just passed an anti-camping ordinance in their park specifically because of how it was treated by people who were riding the Outback route.

However, despite these unfortunate developments, you can’t kill something that doesn’t exist.

The Oregon Outback was never an event to begin with — at least not in the typical sense of the word. At its core, the Outback is just a route (which is 100% on public lands, for what it’s worth) and a geographic place. It has never been a sanctioned “event” and definitely not a “race” even though it’s often mistakenly referred to as such.

I am just as disappointed in the people who made poor choices along the route as anyone else is; but let’s not forget that the Oregon Outback is alive and well. It’s still there for everyone to ride and enjoy — just please do us all a favor and leave no trace next time you roll through.

The Death of the Oregon Outback

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43 Comments
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    PaulaF June 18, 2015 at 2:25 pm

    Very sad indeed. More than having to “shut down” the event – the impact it had on the fine supportive people in the areas the route went through. How will that affect future riders?

    pretty disgusting behavior, for sure.

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    9watts June 18, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    Even if everyone behaves, too many people, too much popularity can still ruin something that depended for its charm on a lack of people.

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      broMan June 18, 2015 at 3:16 pm

      True, much like what the City of Portland has been going through in these last few years.

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    spencer June 18, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    Perhaps we can find a way to promote more ecological literacy without inflaming the situation? I come across human cat-piles all over the PNW. We need to discuss and instruct how to void in the backcountry more openly and more often. I’m embarrassed to be associated with the people who did that on the Outback ride. Its a shame, and I agree with Mr. Kolb. I too would back away from enabling this to happen again.

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    Dan Kaufman June 18, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Well said.

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    Jeff June 18, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    The route itself should be pulled. Bury it. Let people rediscover it if they have the will.

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      9watts June 18, 2015 at 4:15 pm

      Or we could challenger ourselves to have the conversation about what it means to live in a world that is no longer empty, that we through our choices, priorities, decisions keep filling up. What is gained and lost? How do we move forward, keep our options open, tread lightly, manage things that are now or may become scarce?

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        Jeff June 18, 2015 at 5:38 pm

        I appreciate the sentiment, but that’s preaching to the choir here. The conversation is not all that challenging. Plus, “no trace” is predicated on perfect adherence. I’m all for no trace but perfect adherence? We can’t even achieve that with murder or rape, let alone not shi**ing in the desert.

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    LC June 18, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    Pretty sure I wouldn’t try and ride out through communities full of pissed off ***derogatory label deleted by moderator*** blaming their problems on people on bikes. The people who live out in these places have a low enough opinion, give them a reason to hate and then see what happens in these remote places. Bad news all around.

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      Tim June 18, 2015 at 5:36 pm

      I have ridden bikes extensively in rural areas without a problem and had dozens of nice experiences. When was the last time some one stopped to give you a fresh home grown peach in Portland? Nearly all passing vehicles pull completely into the other lane and I estimate at least 80% of pickup drivers wave. I can’t say that for other cyclists on the park path.

      I suspect you comment is based on xenophobia rather than experience.

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        Rob Chapman June 18, 2015 at 5:43 pm

        Well said Tim.

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        GlowBoy June 19, 2015 at 1:10 pm

        I have biked all over Southeast Oregon, including many places deep into the Oregon Outback, of which this “Outback” named ride only traces the bare fringes, and never encountered any hostility whatsoever from the local residents.

        It’s a looooong way between anything (including other people) out there, and the locals all know that if you get into trouble alone in the deep Outback you die. My experience has been that everyone is universally friendly, and on the rare event of actually encountering another human out there. Off the highways they will always stop to say hi and, while they’re at it, make sure you aren’t in trouble (or headed for it).

        If you’re worried that the locals along this route are going to be less friendly now, which sadly is probably true, there’s a West Virginia sized chunk of desert to the east of it ready for your awed exploration.

        The Diablos, the Warners, Hart Mountain, Beattys Butte, the Pueblos, the Trout Creeks and Oregon Canyons, the Stinkingwaters, the Sheepsheads and Alvord Desert, the stupendously vast Owyhee region, and yes of course Steens itself, are all incredibly lonely and awe-inspiring places. So get some good maps*, do some research, prepare for absolute self-sufficiency (but also make a rescue plan) and go find some of the most spectacular places on Earth. The real Oregon Outback awaits.

        * I recommend starting with the Oregon Atlas from Benchmark Maps (not the DeLorme one, which is too large-scale in the eastern half of Oregon), available at any outdoor store. Also essential, though adamantly not bike-oriented, is the Oregon Desert Guide by Andy Kerr. Once you’ve decided what area to visit, I find the USGS 100,000:1 (30×60) folding topo maps to be sufficiently detailed for bike exploration, and they show nearly all the old dirt roads and jeep trails you’d be following. It is also helpful to have the BLM District Office maps, which don’t show topography but do show land ownership. It’s almost all public land out there, but there are pockets of private inholdings and they are good to know about.

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      Chris I June 18, 2015 at 9:18 pm

      The folks that live on the fringes of the metro area and play farmer tend to drive aggressively around cyclists. If you get a few hours outside of the cities, things really slow down, and folks are a lot nicer, generally.

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        Jeg June 18, 2015 at 10:47 pm

        Claiming that there’s somehow a difference between urban growth boundary farmers and rural farmers is a dagerous tack of rhetoric to take. Farms next to the city are just as legitimate as those remote.

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          q`Tzal June 19, 2015 at 10:55 am

          There is a certain demographic of people that “play” farmer or subscribe to the Marlboro Man lifestyle that you’d think would be happier far out in rural hinterlands but for some odd reason choose to live right on the edge of the urban lifestyle they despise and all its “citified” customs.

          Their reasons for living next to a society they look down on are numerous but the problem is they bring their country driving skills (or lack there of) in to crowded city streets that stress them out. Some people resort to outbursts of anger due to frustration. This is a natural and predictable reaction.

          Unfortunately it is also FATAL and predictable. People that aren’t experienced in city living are not experienced in city driving.

          People bring their biases with them and far too often they are very wrong. Same applies to some urban dwellers out in the deep rural areas.
          There is this wacky notion that some city folk get that anyone living out there is ignorant reject that can’t hack it in the city. City dwellers get used to the anonymity of urban life and will pull stunts the country expecting no on will notice nor remember.

          This group of cyclists described in the article were likely one of the very few to come this year or in anyone’s recent memory. All of a sudden the area is trashed like a NYC subway train in the 1980’s.
          These are the reasons they don’t live in the city and a group of people on bicycles brought that nastiness right to their front door.

          There’s your animosity.
          Doesn’t matter if you did it. In Portland you are one of tens of thousands; in the country you are one of a dozen or so. Your anomalous appearance cements any bad memories for decades.

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            Tim June 19, 2015 at 1:10 pm

            I have also noticed the people bring their city driving to rural roads. People become so accustomed to multiple lanes in the city that they no longer know how to pass on a two lane road. They pass without adequate sight distance or with oncoming traffic. I find this a particular issue on the smaller roads near cities.

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              q`Tzal June 19, 2015 at 2:18 pm

              Oh Yes!
              Also: I can identify transplanted Californians by their driving style.

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    Psyfalcon June 18, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    Oregon Outback shot itself in the foot.

    You can’t have an event that big while saying its not an event or a race. If you’re bringing 200 people through a bunch of towns that don’t even have a population of 100 people you might need to do some more planning.

    Silver Lake has a population of 150 and someone decided it was a good idea to camp in a park?!?!

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      Rob Chapman June 18, 2015 at 5:44 pm

      The park was a great place to camp last year. Of course I don’t air drop doodoo all over the place so there’s that.

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      Andy June 19, 2015 at 7:08 am

      That was exactly my thought. If you put a time/date/location to a route, and know 200 people are showing, you can’t simply say “this is not an event”. At that level, you need to rent portajohns, set up trash cans, get volunteers to make sure it’s all left clean, etc. I’m all for free/cheap rides instead of $1/mi for-profit or charity rides, but there’s a certain level of responsibility required from those organizing it.

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      Drew June 19, 2015 at 9:48 am

      The ride date and time was a suggestion. Many do the ride or will do the ride at another date, and are able to do this easily thanks to Donnie making his work open to the public.

      I think some like the idea of traveling a remote route with many others. More fun, and safety in numbers. Suggesting a date and time for the event was a gift to many, who may otherwise never ride it.

      He made it very clear that you are on your own. There was no fee or support.

      A few savages left a negative impression of the event. It was bound to happen eventually.

      I imagine he feels somehow responsible for that. But just like you can’t be responsible for the antisocial driving of others, you can’t be responsible for the antisocial biking or camping of others either. I am very grateful for all the route planning work he has done, which he offers up for free on his website.

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        Beth June 19, 2015 at 12:21 pm

        A “suggestion”? Considering how much media coverage this ride gets I think that’s a lame attempt at displacing responsibilty. You wanna ride in the boonies? Don’t tell anyone about it in advance, and don’t make it a Thing. Just go ride.

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          Andy June 19, 2015 at 1:22 pm

          Agreed. It’s one thing to tell a few friends about it. It’s another to make a website detailing it, entice everyone to come, and then blame them for the mess.

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      pat lowell June 19, 2015 at 2:25 pm

      I agree.. organizing a “non-event” might prevent people from suing you, but it doesn’t absolve you of responsibility to the community that your non-event will be affecting.

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    Adam June 18, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    I also heard from a friend that did this ride this year that there was some VERY obnoxious, drunken and loud behavior from at least one group of people, many of whom are active in the local Portland bike fun scene, that will remain nameless.

    He said park rangers asked them to keep it down but they refused. As so much for being ambassadors for biking.

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      Rob Chapman June 18, 2015 at 9:04 pm

      Why should they remain nameless? Call them out and see what they have to say.

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      meh June 19, 2015 at 8:56 am

      Part of promoting and cheer leading for cycling is to be fair and honest about things. That means calling out those who are not good stewards.

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      Dave Thomson June 21, 2015 at 10:57 am

      People who ride bikes are not exempt from Sturgeon’s law.

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    Deb June 19, 2015 at 9:40 am

    Foolish to have an event that big. Are you even aware how much of an impact that many people have? Just idiotic really.

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      Rob Chapman June 19, 2015 at 10:29 am

      Enlighten us all to the impact Deb. When I rode the Outback route last year I know that I left tire tracks on dirt roads and spent money in a bunch of small towns but I’ll bet there’s no trace of me left out there. Oh and let’s reserve the idiot talk for people who try the route in the winter mmmkay.

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        Deb June 20, 2015 at 8:48 am

        I really don’t understand what winter has to do with anything. I think with 200 people camping in the same area is very impactful. That is what the article was addressing, not tire tracks, not the season, mmmkay?

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          Rob Chapman June 21, 2015 at 9:16 am

          People don’t all camp in the same area at the same time. My comment about riding the route in the winter was meant to bring levity to your accusations about people being idiots mmmkay.

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    rain waters June 19, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Carry a small gardening gizmo to dig hole to crap in or duke in a (gasp) plastic bag and pack it out. If that’s too much hassle maybe such aholes should just ride where theres a rest room at the trailhead where they park to unload mountain bikes.

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    Steve Scarich June 21, 2015 at 4:54 pm

    Gotta say that my trust in J Maus journalistic credibility went down a notch. Not even a hint of any of this in his ride report; can’t imagine he didn’t see any of it during his ride.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 21, 2015 at 5:06 pm

      Steve.

      Huh?

      I had no idea any of this had happened. The route is over 360 miles and people get very very spread out. I only rode with a few people and talked to probably just half a dozen people all weekend. Like most people on the ride, this was all a complete shock to me when I heard about.

      Your insinuation that I knew about it yet chose not to cover it is insulting.

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        Steve Scarich June 21, 2015 at 7:39 pm

        I’ll take you at your word, Jonathon. You have to admit that riding 360 miles with 200+ people on the course and you never got wind of any of this strains credibility. Your article followup article seemed to ignore any responsibility by any of the organizers (despite your claim that it is not an organized event), contributed to my reaction.

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          Eric H June 21, 2015 at 9:14 pm

          Did you ride the Outback this year? Last year? I did. Both years. The first I heard about this was after I got home. There is so much mixed information still coming out I’m not sure what to believe. But since I suspect about 99.99% of the folks commenting on this thread haven’t ridden the Outback and never could or would, I’m not really giving much credence to any of it.

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    John Driver June 22, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    My group of three took 6 days to finish. I think we were the last pack. Other than in firepits, not one of us recall a scrap of trash. Other than tire tracks it was pristine. There were outhouses/bathrooms available to us on day 1 (start, Sprague River, Beatty), day 2 (campsite on north end of Five Mile Creek, Day 3 (Silver Lake), Day 4 (Prineville, cowboy camp in the Ochocoas where he fixed us the best steak dinner), Day 5 (Shaniko) and Day 6 (Biggs Junction, final campground). One of our camps was an OHV area and we didn’t see trash from the weekend 4×4’ers either. Not excusing what happened in Silver Lake. It must have been cleaned by the time we got there though.

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    Mike Reams June 23, 2015 at 8:06 am

    If you make something easy, it will attract people looking for the easy path. Once this was mapped out and promoted to the public, it became inevitable that it would attract people who aren’t interested in doing the difficult things, like properly planning for bodily functions and packing out trash.

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    Gabe Shaughnessy June 23, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    We rode the Oregon Outback Route last week and while we were in Prineville a friend sent me Donny’s article. I have to say we were all a bit surprised. I can report that the locals were extremely welcoming, and almost every establishment we stopped at commented on the positive economic impact of the race.
    In particular, the town of silver lake was very welcoming, the locals came up and talked to us for a while, checking out our setups and laughing it up with us before sending us over to the park to catch some shade and relax (they did not invite us to camp there, but it was early in the day).
    At the Fort Rock watering hole, the bartender told us she had made over $4000 during memorial day weekend, and suggested that was a very large take for their bar. James at Good Bike in Prineville was really disappointed by the article Donny published, saying that he thought overall the ‘event’ had an extremely positive impact on the area, and he would like to see it continue, perhaps with a bit more organization.
    We never once along the enite route had someone complain to us or mention any negative feelings toward us. We had a rancher let us camp in his field near Antelope, and spent a while the next morning chatting about the race. He seemed very excited to have so many people exploring the area and talked to us about setting up a water supply near the road since he was in the middle of a long dry stretch of the route.

    You read about our trip here:
    https://goo.gl/photos/thduHCjc1JNstdDL7

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      Scott June 6, 2016 at 9:20 am

      I know this is an old thread, but I want to second Gabe’s experience.
      We rode 6 days last year and didn’t see any hints of trouble.

      Two of us rode the Outback last week and heard similar stories from the locals. In Silver Lake they were a bit dumbfounded by the stories that made their way online and very much wanted to set the record straight. They were very welcoming and wanted to send the message the cyclists were quite welcome. The owner of the Silver Lake store even offered to cache water for cyclists (given advance notice).
      Everyone we met was kind, welcoming, and happy to show off their part of Oregon.

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    Michael March 17, 2016 at 9:09 am

    Steve Scarich
    I’ll take you at your word, Jonathon. You have to admit that riding 360 miles with 200+ people on the course and you never got wind of any of this strains credibility.

    So, what you’re telling us here, Steve, is that you’ve never been on a ride like this. Over 200 riders sounds like a crowd right up until you spread them out over large amounts of time and distance, especially in a remote area like this one.

    Somebody’s credibility is definitely straining here, but it sure as hell ain’t Jonathan’s.

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    Cameron Wade August 8, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    Hi all,

    Am considering doing the trail solo in a week’s time. Am experienced — pedalled the continental divide trail a few years back.

    Wondering what kind of traffic I can expect in mid August (in terms of other bikepackers).

    Thanks!

    Cam

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