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CYCLONE RIDES: Oregon’s Steens Mazama 1000

Posted: July 21, 2016 in

David Robinson at the finish of the Steens Mazama 100, after a 24-hour push from Diamond Lake. data-verified=

The rules are simple: Ride 1000 miles, entirely under your own power, without support crews or cars, without caches stashed along the way, and without the benefit of drafting another's wheel to shield you from the wind.

You must haul all the gear you'll need to complete 1000 miles of bike riding through some of the most remote and beautiful, unspoiled areas of Oregon. There are no sag wagons coming to usher you safely home if you bail out; this is an Uber-free zone. It will be extremely hot, extremely dry, and extremely exposed, leaving you susceptible to dehydration and heat exhaustion. There are no cool, luxurious 400-count Egyptian cotton sheets awaiting you at night. Your options are either a bivy sac you carry yourself or a flea-bag motel. Oh, and and it will hurt. A lot.

So why on earth would anyone want to ride the Steens Mazama 1000? And, once decided, precisely how does one do such a thing?

We asked our sales guy extraordinaire, David Barstow Robinson—who completed the ride in 7 days 23 hours and 25 minutes—why he signed on for this. David shared the highlights—and low lights—of his trip and a few photos, because even though the Steens Mazama 1000 is a race, the wild Oregon backcountry insists on picture taking for remembering later.

So, why? I did this race because I wanted to find out what I was capable of, to test my mettle. I wanted to do a long-ride that would take more than just a weekend. I love the whatever-it-is about long rides, and thought that a stupid long ride would involve a lot of that—and it did. I wanted to see Oregon’s diverse landscapes in a unique way. I saw at least a dozen unique landscapes, rode the state's highest road, covered vast stretches full of nothing but nature, and found out where my limits are and how far I can push past them.

Somewhere between Sprauge River and Ciloquin on the rollup to Mazama aka Crater Lake

The "Oh, hell yes!" moment: Being the first racer to reach the Steens summit. Technically it was a fake summit, but only by about 8’ elevation. It was a real struggle to get up there. Took me about 10 hours. I hadn’t slept much or eaten well at that point.

The "Oh, hell no!" moment: About 8500 feet into the climb up Steens mountain—just a few meters from the summit—I decided to turn around. I drank my ‘summit beer’, then had a bit of a breakdown over giving up so close to the top. I pressed on and finished the climb anyway. Then came a moment on Hart Mountain, as I was grinding uphill on gravel into a headwind. I had been passed by my closest competitor and was fighting off Achilles tendonitis that made me seriously worry about finishing my race. I walked a bit, stretched, found some Icy-Hot in Plush, and started an ibuprofen regimen in Lakeview. It helped, and I pressed on.

The No Trespassing gate on the gravel descent into Lakeview

Top of Steens mountain at the East Rim Overlook, elevation 9730 feet. Alvord desert in the background

Favorite part of the ride? Descending into Lakeview at about 12:30am on day 5, the day after I climbed Steens mountain. I had spent most of the day riding across the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge, which was an uphill slog into a headwind on washboard gravel. I decided to push from Plush to Lakeview (about 36 miles) as the sun was setting. With 10 miles to go I was wearing every piece of clothing I had with me—including rain gear—to stay warm and keep riding. I was about to summit Warner Pass when the GPS beeped at me to turn left onto a gravel road. The official route had us taking a gravel shortcut into town, sparing us several miles and a few feet of climbing. Between the Exposure Revo on my bars and a fairly bright headlamp, I had enough light to ride confidently down the mountain across terrain that varied from overgrown doubletrack to rough gravel. It occurred to me that spirited downhill gravel riding— after midnight, at the end of a very long day of hard riding—may not be the best idea. But I climbed under the no trespassing gate and rode the hell out of it, grinning my head off until I pulled into town and got a hotel room.

at the top of Steens mountain

Bike build:

Frame & Fork Fairdale Weekender
Wheels Custom built SRAM X0 rear, Shutter Precision PD-8X front laced to WTB FREQUENCY CX TCS i19 rims

Arisun Gravel Plus 40c 120tpi; tubes are Cyclone brand with removable valve cores, with some WTB Sealant squirted in

Drivetrain SRAM Rival 1x11 42t crank; 10-42t cassette
Chain SRAM PC-X1
Seatpost FSA
Saddle Brooks Cambium C17
Stem Thompson X4 10"x90mm
Bars Salsa Woodchipper
Brakes AVID BB7 Road S with 160mm HS1 rotors
Pedals Tioga Surefoot MX PRO platform pedals with screws mounted
Light Exposure Revo dynamo-powered light
Electronics Sinewave Revolution USB charger running to a cache battery
Bags Revelate Design bags

I had a single mechanical issue; lost 50% air at the top of a hill in Oregon City with less than 12 miles to go.

Kit stuff: Patagonia wool base layers, Outdoor Research Helium rain gear and bivy, Gore Tex socks and long gloves, Giro short-fingered gloves, SmartWool socks and balaclava, Adidas Sambas, lots of water (2 bottles and a 2L bladder), tools, and food. The bivy was the only camping gear I brought, so I spent a lot of time camping in post offices and hotel lobbies. I also brought a Patagonia Houdini wind vest, Marmot Calen puffy jacket, Outdoor Research buff, PDX LOX St. Helens U-lock, Endurolytes and Caffeine Pills in a ziplock bag I referred to as 'Pillbo Baggins' .

Favorite piece of gear: My green Marmot puffy coat; very rarely ridden in, but usually put it on within 5 minutes of stopping.

David Robinson pausing at Crater Lake before continuing on the Steens Mazama 1000

Handlebar selfie taken during a dust storm on the Steens Mazama 1000

Soundtrack: The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers (Wild Horses played for some cows, while the actual wild horses got to hear Sister Morphine). As the album ended, Who Needs Sleep by the Barenaked Ladies came on, and I laughed at the irony of having slept about 3 of the past 48 hours at that point. Later, while riding across the desert, Beethoven’s 9th. Other random earworms: Minka, by Spike Jones and A Horse With No Name by America. Side note: I'm not usually one to name my bikes, but as I was rolling into Needy near the Mahler Refuge, I officially named my bike The Horse with No Legs, after the song.

Advice to newcomers/first timers to the sport of gravel adventure racing: You can always double your previous best mileage. Go farther, even if you’re not prepared. Drink beer.

DAVID BARSTOW ROBINSON is Cyclone's Duke of Derelict. He favors retina-searing hot pink short pants and his beverage of choice is Raineer beer. David's strategy for dealing with socks that get lost in the wash is to just never wear matching socks. Ever. When he's not cheerfully assisting customers with orders David is almost certainly on a bike, somewhere, doing something weird and/or wonderful.