Biking to Oregon: Background

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Group bike rides were a brief occurrence in 2020. I did a few fat bike rides with friends, and even some road rides in early March, but solo riding soon became the only reasonable option. My previous longest ride before 2020 was 90 miles, biking solo from Corvallis to Portland, Oregon in 2016. Being new to road biking at the time, I didn't bring enough snacks, water, or layers on the 36℉ day.

On an early spring day in 2020, I had biked 50 miles before meeting Abbey in the middle of her half marathon around Lake Monona to deliver snacks and water. I biked home afterwards, expecting my ride to be over, so I had some lunch. I realized how much better I felt after eating food and decided to fill my water bottles back up and go ride some more. A few hours later, I reached 100 miles for the day. I was used to eating out on a ride, but I was artificially limiting myself to what I could carry in my jersey. I also never thought to fill up my water bottles. It's not that I didn't think I could, but I just thought that whatever food and water I could carry from home would be the extent of my ride.

Around the same time, I was becoming more interested in backpacking, bike touring, long distance bike races, and the athletes that stood out in those areas of cycling. People like Lael Wilcox, Ryan Van Duzer, and Mike Hall inspired me with their athleticism to ride self-supported, either in races or on bike tours.

With the help of stopping mid-ride for food and water, I started to do longer road rides: 90-120 miles around the west side of Madison. The nice part about this area are the small, lightly trafficked, paved roads that connect rural homes to the county roads. These roads are usually hilly. No long climbs, but with careful route planning, it's possible to go on a ride and rarely bike anything except for uphill or downhill.

I started to think about the possibility of biking from Madison to Corvallis, Oregon. While planning routes, I discovered the Adventure Cycling Association, which advocates for bicycle travel and maintains routes throughout the United States. I picked a few of their routes that passed by the closest to my starting and ending points. I would join the Northern Tier route in La Crosse, Wisconsin and ride that all the way to Great Falls, Montana. I would bike a short section of the Lewis & Clark route to Lolo, Montana. Then, I would join the TransAmerica route to Eugene, Oregon and then pick my own route to Corvallis. My target was 100 miles per day.

I had never camped with my bike before. Once I was committed to my trip, I picked up some bikepacking bags and some backpacking gear, like a tent and sleeping bag. I did an overnighter to test out the setup by biking to a state park 25 miles away. That went well, with the exception of deciding not to bring a pillow, which was a bad idea.

Bike camping at Blue Mound State Park.

A couple of weeks later, I went on a longer ride, fully loaded with all my gear. I did a little over 90 miles on a flat rail-trail and felt good about it. While on my way back home, I caught up to another cyclist on a fully-loaded touring bike. I said hello and he seemed happy to chat. He was on his last day on a trip from Denver to Madison, riding solo. I told him about my impending trip and he gave me some good advice on camping and food options among the pandemic. I felt so lucky to pick his brain, and he seemed to appreciate the distraction on the tail-end of a long day.

At this point, I figured I was ready enough to start the trip, and anything I forgot or hadn’t figured out yet, I would deal with along the way. Let’s go!