The Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder is a five day four night race that involves a lot of gravel, a lot of climbing, and camping. We start in Sisters, Oregon, and follow the itinerary below, riding from place to place as the promotion crew takes our totes full of our tents, sleeping bags, and personal items to meet us at camp.
Sisters, OR to Blue River, OR
Miles: 73.5 Elevation: 6,400 feet
Blue River to Oakridge
Miles: 59.2 Elevation: 6014 feet
Oakridge Loop (Original destination plans changed for Covid restrictions)
Miles: 53 Elevation: 5433 feet
Oakridge to La Pine
Miles: 93.7 Elevation: 9837 feet
La Pine to Sisters
Miles: 83.3 Elevation: 6491
Rebecca: In 2019, I won the event for the women and placed pretty highly in the overall. 2021 would write a different story, as faster men showed up, the women were fitter, and I was still recovering from my effort and illness after Unbound.
Stage one of The Oregon Trail has some very technical climbing and descending, and while I love the descent, the effort right at the gun was a shock to the system. I lagged at the beginning reminding myself that it was a long race. Sure enough, a few miles in I started to pick off other riders. I found I had ridden myself into third and by the final descent I passed Sarah Sturm to take second on the day.
Kerry: First time in Bend since 2010 CX national championships. It was wet, cold, and snowy then. It was dry, hot, and dusty now! With some big names on the start list, I was looking forward to a week of testing myself. That started with day one, we started going up immediately and the field quickly separated into groups that would more or less stick for the rest of the week. I had my trusty Libre beneath me with a new Fox RAD fork upgrade, which I couldn’t wait to point downhill on the other side of the start climb.
Cory had a slow start to the stage race. He spent the Sunday prior to our Wednesday start doing the Skull 120, a 120-mile gravel race in Burns, Or and the spicy start was a bit too much too early after an eight+ hr thrashing just three days before.
Wally finished nineth and I came in for sixth on the day, thinking that the first day was much harder than I thought it was going to be. Little did I know what was in store.
Rebecca: Day two’s route had to be altered at the last minute due to forest road construction and it saw us on a lot of pavement. Somehow, I managed to flat early in the stage as a large rock was kicked into the line I was in and I didn’t have time to react. As I stood there seeing if it would self-seal, I blew my CO2 and broke my pump. Not sure what to do next, Barry Wicks comes along to save the day! He assess my tire, and quickly takes off his rear wheel to give it to me so that I can chase back while he fixes the flat. Sadly, I was solo and on the long pavement stretches I lost a ton of time to the other racers. I was able to chase back a bit of time on the climb, passing a lot of people, I still finished the stage in fifth or sixth and lost a lot of time to the leaders.
Kerry: With the tone set, Day two started out fast again. Being the shortest stage meant it was more of a sprint than a slow burn. We gradually worked our way to the main climb of the day, the field shattered and from the top to the finish it was tactical fast group racing. It was actually quite fun. A good change of pace from Day one’s “who can climb the fastest”.
Wally made the selection with Geoff Kabush finished fourth and fifth and I slotted in with the group behind for sixth. Consistency!
Rebecca: Day three was supposed to be the easy day, but I felt like I wanted to be on the attack after having lost so much time the day before. After trying to chase down Kerry and Cory who attacked early (LEAVING ME BEHIND) and after the effort of the day before, I had nothing in my legs and finished the day off in third.
Kerry: We started this day in a big group ripping our way around a reservoir. Everything was fairly civil until we hit the base of the ten-mile climb, which boasted 3000 feet of vert. Another short day meant the pace was high. The grade wasn’t that steep so the group stayed together for longer than the previous two days. I fell back three-quarters of the way up the climb but Cory hung on over the top.
Once over the top it was one big gravel descent down into the finish. Lots of super tuck, lots of drifty corners and lots of wash boards but man it was fun.
Cory finished up in seventh and I was eighth. We spent the rest of the afternoon jumping in the river that rolls by the Oakridge park, best camp spot during the whole stage race. Since we didn’t have to pack up and move around there was even time for extra curricular activities like fly fishing.
Rebecca: Day four was the Queen stage and while I had high hopes for the day, as soon as I started pedaling I knew I had to reassess my goals for the day. I dropped back quickly from the group making sure to keep within my own limits on the long climb. Spending most of the day in fifth, I soon found myself in fourth, until my own roommate pulled fifth place back to me! But working together we chased down third place, taking the three of us to the line. It was a sprint for third but none of us actually knew where the unmarked finish line was and being caught off-guard I finished in fouth.
Kerry: Cory, Tristan Uhl, and myself decided we were going to send the long bomb right off the start. So we dropped the hammer right at the word go. We quickly got a gap and we thought if we could get a few minutes we could maybe go over the top with the front group, which would set us up well for the rest of the day, seeing as how that first climb was 23 miles…
Needless to say the boys up front weren’t playing games and caught us much quicker than anticipated. I knew I had to ride my own pace but Cory jumped on to the back of the group, suffering up the first climb.
That effort, in hindsight, was not the smartest thing I’ve done. I continued to try too hard too early and about 45 miles in I looked down thinking we were well over half way, shock was a bit of an understatement.
I nursed my way to the second feed, stoked up on rice crispy treats, let Barry fill my bottles for me, and slammed some coke before getting on with the rest of the day.
To add insult to injury we finished on a ten-mile stretch of road that was more like a sand pit than a road. I was thanking my lucky stars I had people to trade pulls with here otherwise search and rescue crews may still be looking for me out there.
Cory finished up sixth on the day and I came in with a group of three for 9-11th place. There was no chance I was going to try and sprint it out after such a trying day in the saddle.
Rebecca: Day five was one just of survival for me, as I had to make up a six-minute deficit to make it onto the GC podium for third. I felt miserable and slow and dropped off the back quickly. But it seems the week’s effort caught up to the other ladies as well because I soon was passing them until I was leading the group of four. We worked together all day just to get through it. Up the biggest climb of the day I was drifting back in third place and all I wanted to do was walk. Fourth place started nipping at my rear tire, but I knew that if I crested the hill first, I would be able to bomb down the descent and take third for the day. I rallied as best I could and managed to keep it together. I let my new Fox suspension fork work for me as I went downhill maybe a bit more recklessly than I should have. But, at least it was wreck-less!
Even though the results weren’t what I had hoped they would be, I spent the week reminding myself that results aren’t everything, that you can’t always be fit, and that sometimes enjoying the ride is most important part. I shifted my focus to enjoying my friends and teammates, appreciating that my body can do some incredible things even when not at its best, and shredding the down hills to make up for the slow ups 😊
Kerry: With GC pretty much solidified, at least for Cory and I, day five was about flat prevention and survival. We had a pretty mellow day in terms of climbing until the end when we pitched up a 12-mile climb to the finish at an alpine lake (the motivation was a swim in the lake after struggling up the exposed final climb).
While there wasn’t a lot of climbing the road conditions were horrid. There was lots of moon dust and deep sand on most of the climbs. I made it about 30 miles in with the front group before deciding my own pace was my best bet if I wanted to climb that last pitch with any bit of dignity.
The sun continued to beat down throughout the day and with little shade on that last climb, it was ruthlessly hot. Again, the motivation was the alpine lake!
Cory made it up a few minutes ahead of me. I finally limped across the line, grabbed a beer, a chocolate chip cookie, and headed straight for the snowmelt-supplied waters of Three Creeks Lake.
Cory finished up sixth in GC and I finished up seventh.
What do I take away from this experience? It was hard. My first gravel stage race tested me in more ways than one. Mentally I was constantly struggling to walk the line of going too hard and blowing up but also maintaining my spot in GC. I quickly found that I didn’t have a place at the pointy end of the race so I tightened my scope and focused on the things I could control like good line choices and proper fueling. This worked out for me in the end. Sure, I didn’t win but I held a consistent pace all week, had no flat tires, and definitely gained some fitness points moving forward.
Full results: https://my.raceresult.com/173188/results
Photos: Sean Cochran