Editorial note: Two weeks ago I sat down with Jaimie Lusk in anticipation of her Oregon Timber Trail bid. Check out (link) for that story. Today we follow up on her experience post-completion.
The Timber trail rolled out this year as a “Petite Depart,” a small, less official version of the “Grand Depart” we’re familiar with from the likes of the Great Divide. With many of the lesser traveled areas uncleared and a lack of clarity on how passable the route would be, the nature of the start was different and the nature of the adventure that followed was all the more epic.
With a late snow back and correlating storms, much of the southern section of the route remained uncleared. That was known. But the severity was not.
Just over 7 days later, Jaimie finished together with Max Anderson Young, the only two that persevered. They climbed (with loaded bikes) over many hundreds (literally) of trees and were forced to walk at least 50 miles of the trail before hitting Sisters and entering the better-traveled portions of the trail. I invite you to pause here and consider that. Not many of us have the grit to go on in those circumstances.
But Jaimie has some serious grit. The sort of which I’m not sure I can even wrap my mind around.
Not one for minutia or self-aggrandized tales of race victory, when Jaimie and I sat down to talk she shared her inner journey as much as the outer, her observations on her mind and reflections on the human experience. The questions and answers which follow are snippets of a rich conversation which – like her OTT effort itself – cannot be fully captured in a single story.
1. Tell me about the lead-up. You planned this for a long time and in the weeks prior to the start, it was unclear if an official event would even take place.
Yeah, like you said, it was unclear if there would be a start. Eventually they settled on the “Petite Depart.” It was no longer considered a race in that there was no Trackleaders page set up, and no way to tell who was finishing where. This was an interesting internal challenge for me. I wanted to push myself, but would not have an external motivator (other competitors, officialness of a race) to gauge by. This was my A event for the year. I wanted to see how fast I could do it. This turned out to be an interesting goal. With somewhere between 800-1000 downed trees and fire closures, there was no way to compare how fast I was going with anyone else, but the feeling of time-pressure never left me.
2. Once the severity of the conditions became clear did the sense of urgency and being timed dissipate, or did that stay with you.
I spent a lot of time thinking about time. Feeling like I wasn’t going fast enough, that things were moving too slow. And then also wondering why I was still staying on the specified “route” even when it was indistinguishable. It was really an opportunity to observe my own motivations, how I push myself, how time is always this pressure to do as much as I can in life and to do well. And of course, there was also the real time limit of the amount of time I had off from work. If I was going to finish, I did have to do so within a certain timeframe. So some of that was genuine.
3. You said before starting that you would “sleep when you had to.” How’d the sleep situation go and what were the impacts?
I slept from 1-5 hours per night. It was nice because I’d go until I was exhausted and then sleep the second I lied down in my emergency bivy and then wake up naturally. It felt like it was a sustainable rhythm and I could have done it indefinitely. But there was a cost, which was a fragility around decision making. There was a few times when I’d anticipated getting to a really good section of trail and then found it uncleared, or eagerly looked forward to getting into a town to get some real food and missed open-hours and I’d notice that my resilience wasn’t as strong as normal. I felt fragile. One of those times I had to just sit and be with the disappointment for awhile and let the emotions pass before I could decide what to do. I was proud I gave myself the time – what if I did that whenever I was confronted by hard decisions? – but was well aware that my response was not how it’d be if I’d been sleeping.
4. The short duration of your sleep tells me you traveled at night a lot. For me, riding at night is one thing, route finding is one thing, but route finding in new terrain in the dark, without a clear path to follow and countless down trees sounds frankly overwhelming and scary. Did that get to you?
No, it was no problem in that way. I just kept moving along. I felt totally safe and content in the mountains. The only times the dark created obstacles was when I entered towns in the middle of the night. The most up-standing citizens aren’t exactly hanging around small towns at 2 AM and I had a few sketchy experiences including being followed out of town near Sisters. I’ve often said that people are the scary part and it proved true
(Editor’s note: Owner, Brian Roddy has a long history in teaching preparedness and safety in travel – both backcountry and in cities abroad. He advises that in situations such as these it’s best to get near and then bed down and wait until light to enter.)
5. What was your lowest moment on the trip?
I got to the middle fork trail outside Oakridge, Oregon and was really excited to get on some good, fun single track that I knew after hundreds of miles of primitive trail and down trees. It wasn’t cleared and I had a serious moment of panic.
6. Highest moment?
Stunning wildflowers and beauty. I don’t think wildflowers will ever be that great again. The late snows meant flowers were “behind schedule” so there were way more out than this time of year normally. Seeing flowers like that in July was stunning. I can’t imagine the flowers will often – if ever – be that incredible again.
7. What was a concern you had about this adventure that turned out to be unfounded?
Had a calf injury to start after a fall just before starting. Was afraid that it’d get worse, but it worked itself out.
8. Talk to me about the end of the event. Was that pure joy? A let down? There can be such a mix of feeling and response once a big objective has been reached…
It was a bit anticlimactic because most people, even friends of mine didn’t know or necessarily care that I was done. Which of course is reasonable – it’s not like what I was doing was important. But there’s also a sense that I accomplished what I set out for and it mainly goes unknown. I’ve just stepped into a serious relationship though, and so that connection had a big impact. He was waiting for me with a burger when I finished and had tracked me the whole way, so the two of us really shared something in that way. Otherwise, it was just back to real life – namely that we live two hours away and my car died just before I left and now I need to buy a car. Which it turns out, is really hard to do right now.
9. Last discussion you had some really great things to share about gratitude. What are you grateful for about this experience.
First, cleared trees – I’ll never take a cleared trail for granted again.
Secondly, those who supported me, especially my boyfriend - his support, routing and feeling of having someone along for the ride (metaphorically) and watching out for me was incredible.
Brian Roddy (Astral Cycling owner) is incredibly generous with product and time and helping me get my equipment dialed improved my experience out there greatly. My SON generator set up. It was so wonderful to not have to worry about running out of power, charging devices etc.
10. We both enjoy literature. Give me the line that’s come up for you as you look at this experience.
“Move my mind now to that which holds things as they change.”—Wendell Berry
Jaimie finished 7 days after starting at the OTT’s finale in Detroit, Oregon. In a moment of tremendous serendipity her and Max Anderson Young – the only other to finish met back up just before completing after days of being apart. Max road the entire ride on a homemade single speed bike and flat pedals. Jaimie, always of the utmost integrity and humbleness emphatically notes that while they finished together, she diverged from the course for a more preferable section of trail, so Max technically “won.” In our minds, they are both champions.