Seasoned mountain bikers will be taking to the trails June 2 for The Gifford Gravel 50, a route that starts in downtown Yacolt. The roughly 55-mile journey is mainly through Gifford Pinchot National Forest and includes 8,000 feet of climbing. The free ride takes about six to ten hours.
Todd Shank, the founder of Gifford Gravel, said one of the route’s primary appeals is the views riders see along the way.
“On a clear day, typically when the route starts off you’ll see Mount St. Helens,” he said. “After you’ve climbed 20 miles out of Yacolt you will continue to see the volcanoes start to appear. As this route traverses across parts of Gifford Pinchot National Forest you would see Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, and Mount Jefferson.”
While this is a ride full of beautiful sights, Shank is quick to remind riders that it’s not an easy one.
“On this route, the gravel roads are not necessarily maintained by anybody but Mother Nature. These roads will sometimes puncture tires, they will bend rims, things have happened in the past,” he said, adding that one year a single rider had seven flats.
Preparing for the grind
Being in the middle of nowhere goes hand in hand with losing cell phone reception so Shank wants to make sure all his riders are prepared.
“Always have a plan B and have paper maps, that’s the biggest thing I can say,” said. “There is no cell phone service, none, for most of the ride. Paper maps are perfect because all the roads are listed.”
Due to the roads not being maintained, riders must be sure their bike can handle extreme conditions. Shank said it’s important that riders know how to fix flat tires on their bike or a broken chain. People do occasionally fall off their bikes and get scrapes, but there haven’t been any major injuries since Gifford Gravel 50 started in 2015.
“This is self-supported and you are responsible for yourself,” he said. “This is why we do group rides and this is why no one is left behind on these rides. The biggest factor is making sure everyone has a friend to ride with, it’s not fun without someone there beside you.”
Although the group encourages new riders to join, Shank warns that this route, which consists of climbing for the first 17 miles, is not for the faint of heart and will not make a great family outing with the kids. Riders should have a few years under their belt before they decide to undertake it.
“This is certainly not a ride for anyone that spends most of their time riding bike trails that have no elevation gain,” Shank said.