Heading Out on the Dark Divide 300
This afternoon, I am heading out on the Dark Divide 300 bikepacking route. Ever since Ben Everett, the mastermind behind the Evergreen Gravel Racing series, announced this challenging route, I’ve wanted to ride it. The course includes many of the best gravel roads in the central Cascades, passing through the area between the big volcanos of Tahoma (Mount Rainier), Loowit (Mt. St. Helens) and Pahto (Mt. Adams). Because it’s so remote, this area is known as the ‘Dark Divide.’
Many of those roads are long-time favorites, familiar from various Bicycle Quarterly adventures. There are also quite a few that I haven’t ridden before, especially in the southern part on the approach to Portland. And then there is Juniper Ridge…
Juniper Ridge looms large in our imagination. In the heart of the Dark Divide, this 11-mile-long high-elevation trail offers stunning views—and challenging conditions. It’s so iconic, it inspired a Rene Herse tire (the 650B x 48 dual-purpose knobby). Above are some photos from the first exploration of the route by a group of local cyclists. Suffice to say that this isn’t your ordinary gravel route!
This course is challenging even by the standards of the Cascade Mountains. It’s 330 miles long, and it climbs 30,500 ft. (In metric, that translates to 530 km long / 9,300 m up.) Most of it is on gravel, much of it steep. Once riders leave the Puget Lowland, there are only two resupply points. One, at Trout Lake, is a tiny hamlet with a single store that has limited hours. By way of compensation, Trout Lake also has a great diner with world-famous huckleberry shakes and a shaded garden by a creek. I’m already looking forward to one of those shakes (or maybe two). I’ll be looking forward even more once I’ve tackled Juniper Ridge.
Ben is organizing a bikepacking race across this route, with a Grand Depart on August 10, 2023. I was looking forward to that, but when the date was announced, I realized that I’ll be in France, getting ready to ride Paris-Brest-Paris… So I decided to ride the course as an Independent Time Trial instead. Kenny Rizer, a legendary Seattle racer, rode it solo last year and set the current FKT (Fastest Known Time) of 39:52 hours.
I’ll be riding the Rene Herse that we built for Unbound XL (where Mark rode it) and the Arkansas High Country Race. Why am I opting for electronic shifting rather than the Nivex derailleur? Because Juniper Ridge is mountain bike terrain. The one-by and the ability to shift while climbing out of the saddle could a plus there. (I might still change my mind at the last moment and ride the Oregon Outback bike, as the Nivex rear derailleur has more ground clearance and is less likely to get damaged by the rough trail.)
I plan to start today (Wednesday, July 19) at 4:30 p.m. You can follow my ride at Trackleaders.com. By the way, Juniper Ridge is between Miles 152 and 162…
As I’m preparing this ride, I’m excited. A bit apprehensive, too. This is really a departure into the unknown. I’ve never actually ridden Juniper Ridge Trail. It’s so remote that, every time I attempted it, I ran out of time and had to turn back. And now a heat wave has descended on the Pacific Northwest, adding to the challenge… Wish me luck!
- Follow along with Jan’s ride on Trackleaders.com. (The page also will include the tracks of the Grand Depart, so there are other names there, too.)
- The film about a ride on the Dark Divide 300.
- Information about the Grand Depart on this route, starting on August 10.
Photo credits: Ben Everett (all except bike photo)