A Family Bike Tour of Oregon's Ghost Towns
7 days of reconnecting with a kind America
The term "Ghost Towns" brings to mind abandoned buildings, tumbleweeds, and decaying equipment. All three of those elements were ever-present on our tour of eastern Oregon's tiny, forgotten towns, but we found so much more depth to the experience of biking through these places than just the superficial "decay porn." It's almost impossible to roll through someone else's town at 10 mies per hour, eat at their dinner spots, or walk their sidewalks, and leave feeling that the gulf between "them" and "you" is unbridgeable. Kindness is vastly underrepresented in the modern media landscape, but hopping on a bike can help you pop that artificial bubble. Yes, you will see a few yard signs and bumper stickers proudly proclaiming ignorance and/or fear, but we have yet to find a corner of the United States where that isn't possible. Most people are good, kind, and happy to welcome you to their town. It's helpful to go get a personal reminder of this once in awhile, and a guided tour like this one makes that infinitely easier.
+ Tour Operator
- "Heart of the Ghost Towns Tour"
- $2300 per person
- Includes a bike, all camping and lodging and some meals
Shelley & Thom are the tour operators extraordinaire. They take care of all the logistics, maps & route, shuttle transportation, snacks, prepared meals, camping supplies. Thom biked with us while Shelley drove the van and trailer, setting up break spots. All we had to do was bike ourselves each day, and even still, we could hop in the shuttle and cheat if we weren't feeling up to it. Our daughter, Annika, did this more than a few times and Shelley was incredibly obliging.
Seeing as how this was our first fully supported bike tour, we were pleasantly surprised at how convenient it was for a family and would highly recommend them!
+ Tips for family bike touring
Everyone will enjoy themselves on a family bike tour if you follow these tips:
Depending on the age(s) of your child(ren), you have many configuration options but if your kid cannot do 60 miles a day on their own bike, you should get an electric assist set up. If you or your partner is tired, one of you can hop on the electric, and, as long as you charge the battery mid-way through the day, you'll get 50-70 miles of blissful riding. For this trip, one of us rode one of Thom's bikes (which was perfect) and the other pulled our 8 year old daughter Annika on a Pedego Ridge Rider pulling a Burley Piccolo trailer bike. We are fortunate to be roughly the same size, so this works for us, but if you or your partner is much taller than the other, there will be a little customizations.
You're essentially on a road trip and what family road trip would be complete without music. We have the JBL Flip bluetooth speaker and listen to a combination of KEXP podcasts and Google playlists (you can download these).
DRESS FOR SUCCESS
- Rain - pack rain gear, boots and goggles and they will love riding in the wet
- Sun - a flexible sun hat is great for shielding their eyes and faces and can be worn under the helmet. Sunblock is very important for their exposed shoulders and necks. We like crocs for our feet for warmer weather
- Cold - nothing zaps bike touring fun faster than cold extremities. Pack mittens, wool socks and boots with some insulate.
Thom will outfit their bikes with handlebar bags, but if you plan to ride your own bike, make sure to get one of these bags. They are perfect for carrying extra water, snacks, sunblock, bluetooth speaker for music and any other small things that will keep a kid happy.
PACE YOURSELF & TAKE BREAKS
Especially if there are long climbs, make sure to take breaks and let your kids run around and drink lots of water.
GIVE THEM A CAMERA
Since they're not "driving", give your kids the camera to capture the scenery and other riders.
Day 1 - Shaniko to Fossil
Our first day of riding was characterized by very fast (30+ mph) downhills, switchbacks, some uphills, rock formations, sweeping and untouched land and a little snow flurries.
Day 2 - Fossil to Hardman
Long and steady downhills and uphills, vibrant colors, gravel riding and mud greeted us for day 2.
Day 3 - Hardman to Long Creek
This was probably my favorite day of the tour. The first third was gravel riding, next third was paved forest roads and the last third was a long uphill along Utah style rock formations, and finishing with riding a plateau of 360 degree views.
Day 4 - Long Creek to John Day
My least favorite day riding mostly had to do with the windy weather and busier roads, but finishing in John Day and being able to walk around town, visit the Kam Wah Chung historical site, drink beer and eat food at the 1188 Brewery and sleep in a vintage roadside motel was pretty cool.
Day 5 - John Day to Sumpter
Sumpter was an amazing ghost gold town. I had never seen or heard of gold dredgers before and this one was huge! Imagine 100 football fields worth of riverbed getting torn up into long ravines by a machine and be left as brown fields, ridden with mercury. Was 10 years of gold worth it? The ride to get to Sumpter was very challenging. The pass we were supposed to ride over was snowed in and the temperature dropped to 20-30 degrees, which was normally fine, but not without having access to our winter riding gear.
Day 6 - Sumpter to Baker City
The final day of riding was beautiful with blue skies, green fields, rushing rivers and finishing in Baker City. We definitely felt like we earned the stay at Geyser Grand!