It was years of lowtech trial and error before I fully began to realize the joy of camping on my bike. There were short tours that ended in train travel home. I once had to phone for a ride home from Astoria after a miserable, waterlogged, and freezing ride to the coast. And yet, I kept embarking on adventures, spending hours poring over maps, and contemplating my gear. Even after daunting scenarios, what I remembered from every trip were the cold beers, the thrilling descents, the effortless spinning on a tailwind, the fun and the accomplishment.
Three Sisters Three Rivers
Gabe said something one night at camp that has stuck with me ever since:
“If you want to have fun adventuring, you have to get comfortable with suffering.”
Those words floated into the pitchblack air and down the river. We laughed, exhausted. We had just spent five long, twelve hour days riding endless single track, and it was wearing us down, steadily. With another hundred miles ahead of us, we needed rest, hot food, and an even hotter shower. We do this for fun.
The route itself is ambitious. It covers the loose and dusty trails of Bend to the wet and mossy trails of the North Umpqua. In between sits mile after mile of the best singletrack Oregon has to offer. To connect each of these trails together, we relied on gravel roads for the most part. The end result is over 300 miles, 60% of which is single track.
In the last few years I’ve designed and ridden plenty of fun routes in Oregon. Each of them have been a blast, but they’ve all lacked the ruggedness that I enjoy. The 3&3 made up for that in spades. The variations in terrain and elevation throughout the route kept us squarely in the moment and on the edge of our saddles.
It was becoming routine; riding all day, stuffing our faces with calories, pulling into camp after dark, and hitting the sack without a fire. The smallest pleasures make all the difference in bike touring, and we were shunning all of them. It was miserable work.
On our fifth night, we sat in the dark, headlamps shining on maps. Before us lay the hardest section of the route, and there was no way around it. Eventually we gave in and hit the sack, exhausted and ready to accept the challenge ahead of us.
The next morning I woke up feeling fresh; which was unexpected. With twenty miles of climbing ahead of us, there was no use in rushing. Gabe fished while I made coffee. There was a light fog on the river. The morning light filtered through the trees into our camp. As we methodically packed our bags, the two of us joked that maybe it wouldn’t be all that rough of a day.
We do this because it’s hard, and precisely because it is not easy. We do this because everything at home is comfortable and safe. We can leave if the party is lame. We can head back to the car if we are cold and wet and crank the heat. Bike touring can be a miserable business, but it’s the masochistic pleasure derived from enduring exhaustion that makes the whole thing so worthwhile.
We do this for fun.
And that’s the truth as far as I can figure out. But this is not about being miserable. It’s about being in the moment. Letting the triple digit heat rage while silently pedaling to the next tree for shade. Picking a rock up the road and making it the goal for the next few moments. Pushing your bike for eight hours, only to pop out on the edge of a pristine alpine lake where the only neighbors are a pair of ducks.
Gabe and I always joke about making our routes slightly easier, but we never do. We could have taken three weeks to finish the Three Sisters Three Rivers, and yet here we were punishing ourselves day after day. We had a schedule to keep, and so the pedals had to keep turning.
The Resolution & The Conclusion
After years of touring, I’ve come to appreciate the influence that exhaustion and suffering has on the overall enjoyment of a great trip. I’ve ridden in driving rain, across deserts, over and through rivers, and into headwinds of dust. Those miserable moments are unavoidable, and they only accentuate every high. Pain is pleasure, right??
In more ways than one, the Three Sisters Three Rivers was leaving its mark on us. The cumulative miles were adding up and the days were flying by. In many ways, my mind was on autopilot, drifting into a place where time is irrelevant. I refer to this as the “euphoria stage”; where pain and miles slip away and pedaling is effortless. The beauty is that it can only be unlocked after so many miles. There ’s no buying into it, the effort must be taken. After multiple days, the results can be exciting. Managing the balance between fun and misery is a delicate tightrope walk. Balancing the boisterous and the bonk.
Every great and memorable adventure comes with a bit of adversity, and this trip will be etched into my memory until I pass from this floating rock. The highs and lows of touring are a potent cocktail that I’m more than happy to seek on a regular basis. On this particular journey we were treated to both ends of the spectrum on multiple occasions. There’s just something about the magic that turns the hardest of days into pure joy later on. And I’m hooked.
Words and Images by Jason Britton