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600-mile Oregon Emerald Outback event will traverse coast range



*Scenes from a reconnaissance ride on the route taken by Benjamin Colwill.

Many of you are familiar with the famous (or infamous, depending on your experiences) Oregon Coast Bike Route.

Coverage of unpaved adventures is sponsored by Co-Motion Cycles, Rolf Prima Wheels, and the Oregon Triple Crown (registration now open for this year’s rides!).

Can you imagine doing the entire thing — from Astoria to Brookings — but instead of rolling along the paved coastal highways, you’d be riding in the coast mountain range? Off-road?! That’s the promise of a new event known as the Oregon Emerald Outback.

At 600 miles and about 65,000 feet of elevation gain, it’s an audacious proposal.

I connected with the OEO’s creator, Benjamin Colwill, to learn more about him and the inspiration behind the event.

Ultra-cyclist Benjamin Colwill, shown here crossing the Missouri River during the Santa Fe Trail Race, is the creator of the route and event.

Tell us a little about your background:

I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and since my 20s, I’ve lived all over the northwest. I picked up bikepacking in 2010 and rode my bicycle all around the country touring for six years. I haven’t driven a vehicle since then. I currently spend my winters in Arizona mining for gold and occasionally riding in 70 degree weather.

How did you get into doing these “ultra” rides?

I bumped into some TransAm racers the first year they took off and talked to a few of them along route in Prairie City. From then on, I had my mind set on racing the TransAm and started my ultra-light, ultra-cycling career. I raced the TransAm in 2016 and finished 5th and then again in 2017 and I took the lead after 500 miles — only to lose it and have to drop out after an achilles tear about a thousand miles later.

I raced the Steens-Mazama 1000 the next month and finished 2nd behind Kraig Pauli and then raced it again in 2018 finishing first and setting a new course record.

View the route on RideWithGPS.

How’d the Oregon Emerald Outback come about?

After those races, I wanted to focus on rides I want to do, ones on backroads with gravel and dirt. I started the Santa Fe Trail Race in 2018 and when I got back from a test spin from the course, I realized Oregon had a lot to offer for backroads — especially along the coastline.

So I set up a route on RideWithGPS (a Portland-based route creation, event-planning, and mapping tool) and took off. I immediately fell in love with the non-motorized use roads the Oregon coastal Mountain ranges have to offer. Roads covered in pine needles with a layer of moss. I mean, come on! It was too serene: Dense vegetation among woodsy growth with ample opportunities to collect water from streams. What could be better?

How many people will join you on May 4th in Astoria for the inaugural ride?

The amount of people is still unknown for the 2019 ride. I like to keep these rides open to all who seek an adventure. Yes, it’s a race and you should stay true to the course; but I also like to see people use this as a bikepacking event where they can sluggishly join in too, no matter what battle they’re fighting. This is an event for all to enjoy.

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The route goes through some rugged and remote places. Are you taking safety precautions?

SPOT trackers are required and offer a little bit more safety to the event. There will be a live map with all the riders’ locations tracked by Trackleaders. The SPOT Gen 3 tracker has an emergency S-O-S button for riders who get in trouble and need to get carried away. Emergency use only of course! They will not come to fix your flat tire.

How long will the entire route take to complete?

600 miles and nearly 65,000 feet of elevation gain is a lot. You’re climbing over a 1,000 ft every 10 miles. I would venture to guess it will take in the three day range for our top riders — and that’s one hell of a push. There is some steep terrain that is going to take maximum effort. And a rouge lantern [back of the pack] time could be around two weeks.

I’ve ridden about 200 miles of the route and from what I’ve seen, it can be a physical challenge to the extreme. You add elements such as rain, and you have even more.

In true ride organizer fashion, Colwill tells us he plans to finish riding the remaining 400 miles of the course in March to vet the route and make changes if needed. As everyone who’s ridden in the coast range knows, you can never count on the existence of a road or trail until you see it with your own eyes.

Good luck Benjamin (and everyone else lucky enough to try this)! We can’t wait to hear how it goes.

If you’d like to sign up, see more photos, or take a closer look at the route, visit OregonEmeraldOutback.com.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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