Camp Badass

I checked into Camp Badass in Sisters, Oregon, two days ago. They limit bikers to two days; RVs can stay lots longer. This makes a lot of sense. Bikers are quiet, clean, take up almost no space, and worst of all, continually remind the RV-ers that they need to get off their asses and that, no, driving an RV isn’t “exercise,” a “workout,” or “good for you.”

My favorite junk hauler was a gentleman who parked his junk barge in the space reserved for handicapped people. Behind the junk hauler he’d strapped on two e-bikes, which obviously needed to get out of the garage and see the countryside, as there was no way in hell anyone was pedaling them anywhere.

The fellow docked the SS Crap, pulled out the lawn chair, and with his wife and kids sat around, sitting, while they sat, seated. Eventually they took the e-bikes out of their kiddie seats and leaned them up against the crap hauler, I guess so they could be closer to the fire. As of this writing, the bikes haven’t budged, but appear to be happy as they’re no longer strapped in.

When I got here there were seven bikers camped out to my left, six students and a professor from the college in Ashland. They were riding the Oregon Trail, a mixture of gravel, single track, and asphalt all the way to Hood River. It was part of a class on outdoor leadership, and I have just one question: “Why the hell didn’t I have any classes that gave me credit for riding my fuggin’ bicycle?”

The answer apparently is, “You went to the wrong school, dummy.”

This was the first time I’d been at a campsite that had so many other bikers; for the most part riding around the West Coast has been like the way that orangutans mate. They spend virtually all their time alone and come together briefly, very, very briefly, once a year or so, and back to the solitary. So it was awesome to have company, biker company.

The students ranged in age from what looked like early 20s to 40 or thereabouts. They were remarkable in every way. One of them, James, had “practiced” for this 600-mile odyssey by “training” on an MTB for two weeks prior to liftoff. This got my Badass of the Trip Award as it put the lie to all of the fake cycling coach bs that you have to go in gradated steps until you finally reach the nirvana/certificaion/black belt of “qualified cyclist.”

James just got on his fuggin’ bike and rode it 600 miles over unpaved roads. So stfu please, thank you.

And what bikes these people were riding! Heavy as boulders, giant tars, chromoly frames, and most of them carrying backpacks along with fully loaded bikes. I asked James how much his bike weighed. He guessed “Fifty or so.” I am certain it was “or so.” Seventy, easily.

That’s how little they cared about the weight weenie side of things. Have bike, have gusto, will pedal. Nor was Hood River their destination. Once they reached the banks of the Columbia they’d be met with the second half of their trip paraphernalia, sea kayaks, and would then paddle NINE DAYS down the river to Columbia.

“Where will you get your Oreos?” I wanted to ask, but instead said, “Where will you get your food?”

“We’re taking it with us,” they said.

One of the other riders, Weston, provided me with GPS files of their route and lots of great info about the trip. Best of all, he left me with a 2-lb. bag of oats, same as you’d leave your favorite nag in the stable when you rode off to conquer some nation or other. A third rider, Buoy, amazed me with her toughness. She’d sprung a knee leak somewhere up some dogawful climb and simply gutted it out. I thought about all the times I’ve quit because of an ache or a twinge in my [fill in the body part here].

Lucas, another rider, talked with me about the transcendence of de-cluttering and how that is amplified when you are outdoors, carrying all of your stuff with you. He and the other riders also generously gave me a tour of their bikes and their gear, offering insight into what worked, what was less than awesome, and most importantly, how it wasn’t about the gear.

Off to my right, arriving shortly after I did, was Badass Assemblage #2. This was the father-daughter team of Adam and Penny. She was 12 or 13; but they had ridden up to Sisters, 30 miles distant, from their home in Bend simply to camp out for a night and then ride home. Adam had a cargo bike and was hauling a pretty heavy load but you wouldn’t have known it from the smile on his face when they arrived.

I was so awed by this guy and his daughter, using bikes to take advantage of the beauty of Central Oregon as contrasted by the Main Street of tiny Sisters, which was bumper-to-bumper-to-toe-to-forehead with angry drivers and pasty-faced RV barge captains. Penny and Adam rode all day, hopped off their bikes, set up camp, and trotted into town for dinner as casually as most people would have driven to the McDonalds.

So they were running neck-and-neck with the students for Badass of the Trip Award. Of course I have to put Ian, the guy who rode from Mexico on the Continental Divide Trail, in his own category …

Anyway, everyone left yesterday morning and I was alone, tallying Badass votes. Until Chris and Katie showed up. Rail thin, sunburnt, big grins, powerful strides, and the confidence that you can’t buy in a store or on Amazon, that doesn’t come with a new bicycle kit or e-shifting, that you don’t get with a new house or car, and that you can’t absorb from a book or listening to a podcast.

They had the elan that comes from walking with a pack from Mexico to Central Oregon, destination Canada, on the Pacific Crest Trail. Departing in March, they’d been on the trail a solid six months. “Told my boss I’d be back in October,” Chris said. They never hiked less than twenty-four miles a day, excepting the days they dropped off the trail into town for re-provisioning, and their long hikes were as much as thirty-nine miles.

So much happiness and smiles and good cheer exuded from these two, not to mention actual hours on the road, on foot, that they easily overtook the others for the lead in the Badass Competition.

Then Rod and Laura showed up. At first they looked like folks who’d ridden in from the other side of town. They set up camp and before long we got to talking. Turns out that they have traveled the world on their two beaten-up but incredibly well-maintained bikes. Rod began telling me about riding in Ghana, and Laura directed me to her travelogues, begun in 2007, that record their trips to places so far flung that you can’t fling any farther.

At 72, what impressed me most about Rod was his good cheer, a happy and warm mien that overlay unbelievable toughness. He waved his hand at one of the RV junk-haulers. “I could afford one of those,” he said. “But I’d be miserable. I like to do things that are hard. I like challenges.” And then, channeling Corey Thompson, he said, “if it’s not hard you’re never going to appreciate easy.”

Rod and Laura have been touring for 35 years, and though their international plans were shot down by the covids, they still hopped on their bikes for 10-day tour close to home. Over fresh cantaloupe Rod and I discussed politics, history, and Chaucer, reinforcing that people out seeing the world by bike have time to break bread, to talk, and to share.

Of all the things that impressed me most about them, however, was their obvious love for each other. “I started riding,” Rod said, “because I wanted to spend time with my wife!” He adored her so openly and unabashedly, it is the kind of love you read about in poems but never actually see.

But my two-day time limit at Camp Badass ran out so it was time to strike camp and move on, wherever “on” happens to be.


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8 thoughts on “Camp Badass”

  1. That looks like an awesome place to hang out! Lots of good bikepacking setups in that group, too. Hope you have clear skies in Oregon, as we still have smoke here in California. Take your time…

  2. Bend/Sisters is such a cool and quirky area. Badassery abounds and Sister has a famous quilting festival in non-Covid times and…..wait, what the heck is a Golden Oreo?!?!?

  3. That was a fantastic read Seth, most of yours posts are. The photos of Dad and his daughter gave me particular joy since I have plenty of happy experience with daughters and bikes. I envy your trip and hope that in the not so distant future I’ll find myself rolling down a road to I don’t know where. Thank you!

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