Komorebi Tomodachi: Carolyn Bys

Tomodachi ( 友 達 ) is the Japanese word for friends. Komorebi Tomodachi are friends we have invited to ride with us on a team adventure. We ask them to share a write-up on their experience - which we now present to you. 

Carolyn Bys has been known by many different titles, including professional seamstress, fiber artist, vegan chef, copy shop girl, paralegal, criminal defense attorney and international human rights lawyer. But most everyone that knows her knows she'd always rather be riding her bike. You can see where she's been lately on Instagram.

Self portrait by Carolyn.

Me & This Thing Called Bikepacking
I love dirt.  I love adventure. I love riding my bike.  So over the years, like many people, I’ve come to embrace the combined experience of riding my bike long distances over dirt roads. I spent five years living, working and, of course, riding my bicycle over dirt roads in Eastern Europe as much as I could.  Having recently returned to Portland, I’ve been plotting routes out in the woods and up in the mountains every chance I get, relishing the open and wild lands after trading in my journeys through countrysides peppered with Medieval (and sometimes even Roman & Greek) relics.

And when I came back this thing called bikepacking had exploded, especially here in the Pacific NW.  I got myself a new bike and hit the dirt roads.  I don’t have all the latest gear, but with a fair amount of experience and comfort riding trails and packed with lightweight camping gear, I can travel pretty nimbly with two rear panniers.  I’ve used the great resources of Oregon Bikepacking, Ride with GPS and the gravel ride section of Ride Oregon, and of course, pouring over my Benchmark Oregon Atlas to help plot some great multi-day trips.

Getting with the Team
Like other Tomodashi, I got wind of an opportunity to ride with these ladies.  I latched onto it and wouldn’t let go until Jocelyn said I could come along.  Dirt. Adventure. Bikes.  AND ALL LADIES!  

“You’re doing what?” said Tyler.  He wasn’t questioning me because he was worried about me riding—hell, I am the trip-planner in our relationship and have been single-handedly responsible for planning each and every bike trip route we’ve taken from a weekend jaunt to more than a year cycling around Eastern Europe. He was asking because he knows my introverted nature. I was going on a bike trip with a six other women I had never really met in person.  This was very unlike me.

But, like I said, Dirt. Adventure. Bikes. AND ALL LADIES! I just knew these people were my tribe. The one thing I’ve learned from meeting bicycle people from all over the world—a love of cycling transcends all.  

Bikes before the gravel.

The Ride Out
This was going to be an epic trip, too.  A trip over the coastal mountain gravel roads via the Trask route, a whole day relaxing on the coast at Cape Lookout followed by meeting up with the Stumptown crew after their day cycling the coast for an amazing dinner feast and campout at Jacobsen Salt Works, and returning via the quiet (and paved) Nestucca River Road.  
Maggie’s Buns in Forest Grove was the meeting point, and a highly recommended way to fill your breakfast belly or take one of their gi-normous buns with you. Taking off after 10 am, though, we were in for a long day and 70 miles to camp at the hiker/bike site at Cape Lookout, just south of Tillamook.

The first climb.

Heading out of Forest Grove we took the back roads.  The miles passed quickly and we soon turned onto gravel and began to climb.  After a long heat wave in Portland, the day’s cooler temps, overcast skies and drizzles were actually quite refreshing, making the steep, stair-stepping pitches somewhat bearable.  We climbed from the farm lands through the rolling hills.  We passed the fence and onto logging lands where the forest sprouted tall and dense around us as we continued on the same style of intermittent steep pitches.  The team stretched out along the road as everyone was climbing at the pace that works for them.   And as we took off on a Friday, we had to make room for the logging trucks heading up and down.  We were respectful and gave the trucks the wide berth that their size demands when you meet them on the gravel road.  In return, all the truckers gave us a smile and a friendly wave. 

Dry side climbing.
Just before the summit.

We reached the highest point for the day, and in logging country, that means views onto open hillsides.  But as we had passed the turn-off to logging operations for the day, it also meant solitude and peacefulness.  Those ominous grey skies following us all morning started to open up.  Just as we reached the Barney Reservoir, with the bulk of the climbing behind us, the rain came—gentle, but steady. 

Team at the top of the Trask.

But now it was time for the really good stuff.  Thick forest.  Rolling riverside terrain.  Some fantastic downhills.  As we came down closer to the Trask river, the green watershed enveloped us.  Mist and overcast provided with that true NW rainforest ambiance. The rain let up just long enough to feel yourself dry out before it returned to soak you again. In this nicest section of the day, both in terms of the surroundings and the riding, my introverted self finds some space to take it all in as I find myself between groups.

We finally regroup just before the final section of the gravel on Trask, and as we grind through, we are all almost ready to be done.  It’s more like chunky pavement and there is nothing technical about it—just a really bumpy way down. And time (or lack thereof) was starting to become an issue.

Trask along the river.
Trask downhill.

We hit the paved road, heading west along the North Fork of the Trask and we can feel the coast not far away.  Daylight was fading.  We formed a line to try to keep together to make it to Tillamook for a quick refuelling stop at Safeway and then onto Camp Lookout.

Adventure Comes in Many Forms
It was just past dusk as we leave the store.  We were told by two different people that it was too dangerous to ride out to Camp Lookout in the dark.  It is a narrow, curvy, shoulder-less road, where people drive too fast. One was so vehement that he kept giving us the death warning:  “You’re going to die! You’re going to die!”  You hear this so many times as a cyclist under all sorts of relatively safe conditions, you just shake it off.   And as woman cyclists, we probably hear it twice as much, so maybe out of stubbornness, we tend it to shake it off even harder.  Or at least I do.  But what else were we going to do?  Riding is our exercise, our recreation, and currently our only form of transportation.  So we get in a line, turn on our lights and put our heads down to pedal through it as quickly as we could.

But when the third guy told us it was unsafe as he stood by the open door of his full-size, double cab pick-up at the side of the road, and he offered a ride to us and our bikes, we decided to the heed the three-time omen. (Third time’s a charm? Three strikes and you’re out?)  Otto was a great guy, an older gentleman with a pot-bellied laugh and silver hair, who was headed off to karaoke in town when he spied us.   He was a bit cheerful and inattentive (i.e., he already had a couple) as a family of elk slowly tried to cross the road (Otto-watch out!), and we realized he may have been saving us from someone just like him.  Even though we probably weren’t much safer inside his vehicle, (especially Jocelyn in the back, guarding all the bikes because the tailgate wouldn’t close), we were tired and hungry, so it was worth it.  
NB: If you ever find yourself needing to hitch a ride to a hiker/biker campground for safety reasons, make sure your ride drops you off out of view of the park entrance station because they can be real sticklers about allowing people who drive there access to the hiker/biker sites.

Ride Hard.  And Relax.  Ride Again.
Our suffering was rewarded with an unbelievably beautiful day at the coast—the likes of which none of us had experienced in a long time.  A three-day trip to the coast is always ideal because you actually get a day to enjoy the whole purpose of your ride—breathing in the Pacific Ocean with all your senses. The air was warm, the skies were blue and sunny and the ocean was remarkably inviting as some of us took a dip.  Later that afternoon we moved camp to a private party and campout at the Jacobsen Salt Works property, where we were treated to a tour of the saltworks, a gourmet salt-infused feast, Oregon wine, specialty cocktails, campfire éclairs, and a cast of new and old friends to share this small slice of coastal paradise. 

The sun continued shining for the ride back.  For those who have never ridden Nestucca River Road (it was my first time, too), it’s an easy, paved and carefree access route to and from the coast with remarkably little traffic.  After the gruel of Trask, it was nice to have an easier return, especially with a later start and the even more taxing day of relaxing and socializing.  The climb is longer, but more gradual heading east to Portland, with a screaming descent down into Carlton.  The last 12 miles from Gaston to the Hillsboro Max Stations via the flattest, most direct, and busiest Road 47 might have been the hardest miles of the trip, as is always the case when you are trying to make home after a long weekend.

Riding with the Team
It didn’t take me long to realize as we pedalled out of Maggie’s Buns (and was constantly reinforced with every passing mile and minute) that Komorebi epitomized everything that a team should be. These ladies are supportive, collaborative problem-solvers, pushing each other with the goal not to win races, but to win at life—by having as much fun on a bike as possible.  There’s no doubt that our kind of “fun” may make others scratch their heads. (Remember my mantra: Dirt. Adventure. Bikes.)  Riding longer and riding harder means getting to ride in more remote and more beautiful places with more endorphin raising climbs and adrenaline fuelled descents. 

My rides are typically solo, with a partner, or another couple at most.   For me, the chance to ride with Komorebi was less about pushing my bikepacking skills as it was to push myself in other ways to ride with this stellar group of women.  I know now my magic riding number for groups is seven.  It made for a good diversity of personalities, talents and riding strengths, and yet was small enough to form meaningful connections with each of these awesome ladies huffing uphill, bombing down, spinning in the flats, around the campfire, on the beach, swimming in the ocean, sipping wine from camp mugs, cooking up meals and the rest breaks in between.  And that is so much of what this team (and adventure bike trips) are about—challenging yourself physically and mentally with a group of like-minded individuals that always have your back.

The Moral of the Story from a Curmudgeonly Bikepacker

  • Get out there and do it! Just because you don’t have the latest bike and gear, doesn’t mean you can’t get out there.  Yes, you should be comfortable on dirt roads  and have tires that can handle it.  You can start with easier gravel roads, which is easier on you, your bike and your navigation skills.  You should probably have a GPS or a smartphone with a good GPS app. (I highly recommend an offline app called Galileo.) A water filter is always good to have (and necessary even) if you are going off the beaten path.
  • Lighter is always better.  If you like being in the backcountry and you like riding your bike—welcome to the best of both worlds.  And hopefully that means you already have some lightweight camping gear.  I bring one change of bike clothes and the exact amount of clothes I know I need to keep warm on cooler evenings.  I’ve adapted my tent to an ultra-light set-up (rainfly +groundcloth), invested in a good, lightweight down sleeping bag and backpacking stove setup.  I always prefer real food, so I packed couscous & lentils with carrots and kale chips (add garlic, ginger, jalapeno & spices) for my camp dinner.  My one extravagance is that I always make a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies to share with my fellow riders.
  • Gear envy will eventually get you, too.  Even though I feel totally comfortable with my lightly loaded panniers, I will admit that the framebag/seatpost bag/front-roll looks pretty sweet.  Those girls rip both up and down with that set-up (not to mention those badass Breadwinner bikes), so I am definitely going to invest (as I can) in the new standard in bikepacking gear.  As a DIY-er (*see former title above as professional seamstress), I am looking forward to making some of them myself. 
  • Find your mates!  I mean that in the colloquial British usage, like dudettes, gal pals, rad ladies, etc., etc.  A lot of us have done this with our male friends and/or partners, but doing it with all ladies is such a great experience.  And if you’re looking for one to start with, you can always contact me!! I always come with cookies!! Carolyn@twowheeltravelblog.com