By Gabriel Tiller
Tackling the development of a route on the scale of Orogenesis is an overwhelming undertaking. We understood this limitation early on in the process and created the Orogenesis Collective—a loose conglomeration of ultra athletes, trail builders, event promoters, bikepackers, and ghost trail whisperers up and down the west coast. Their knowledge, ambition, and nose for sniffing out overgrown singletrack is what enabled the Orogenesis project to grow into a more or less uninterrupted line for 4,500 miles along the western lip of the North American Plate.
That being said, it’s hard not to focus on the few interruptions in this line: when you hit Wilderness boundaries, a chasm, a gate, or a river and are begrudgingly forced onto unexpected miles of pavement. In 2019 we attempted to refine the many alignment iterations into the preferred alignment, figure out where those gaps were, and try to identify solutions for them. We found about 206 miles of ‘gaps’ where we’ve deemed there to be no current suitable option for riders. That may seem like a lot, but it’s less than 5% of the entire route—all of a sudden we realized just how palatable this entire juicy ribbon of trail was. Could we fast track it for a soft launch in 2021?
Last year our collective—one hundred thirty-two strong—logged over 2,500 miles across three states and two countries while sussing out the hidden stories that trails tell us. One rider, Rick Ianniello, circled the Sierra from Bishop south to Kennedy Meadows, west to the Plunge, and north to Camp Nelson, Bass Lake, Yosemite, Pinecrest, Tahoe, and Downieville—over 1,000 miles all told. Another European rider traveled north from Tahoe, through Downieville to Oregon, and along the Oregon Timber Trail. In Washington, the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance introduced the Orogenesis concept to their state legislators, and Bikepacking Roots submitted comments on several land management changes that could negatively affect the route. The many trail organizations along the Orogenesis route understand the value of long-distance connectivity and have already begun poring over old maps and reopening historic trails with this goal in mind.
Now; instead of the project seeming dauntingly obtuse, its momentum is contagious and the speed at which the puzzle pieces are assembling themselves is unnerving. Replacing 206 miles of ‘gaps’ with dirt ribbons comes with a conservative price tag of $5.5 million in this day and age. Gone is the era of pack and saddle routes to fire lookouts (1910s), aggressive Civilian Conservation Corps trail system construction (1930s), and dreaming up the National Trails System (1968). Today, scratching an 18” wide enabler of joy into the duff so I don’t have to ride my bicycle next to speeding traffic is a frustratingly complex process. Years of stakeholder engagement and environmental assessment must be completed before a shovel touches dirt. These barriers exist for good reason of course, but when you dream on a scale as large as Orogenesis they compound on each other and rip wind from my sails on each tack. Luckily there’s a lot of us with sails up. A shared dream is collectively buoyed—and we’re building a giant raft—throw us a line why don’t you?
If you’re anything like me, 2020’s uncertainties and sorrows have made my usual priorities seem relatively unimportant. I turn 40 in a few days, which comes as a surprise because my personal path had not shown itself until recent years. At this path’s beginning a wise man’s observation stuck with me: “Trails are the oldest form of communication known to humankind.”
What exactly are we all doing here on this raft floating listlessly in unison? Let’s set our sights on the same old ground but with new eyes and fresh optimism. Dirt ribbons, holding us humbly together and closer to earth. What do you want to say—or maybe a better question is—what do you want us to hear?
So what does the future bring? Relationships and connections. We’ll be on the ground, riding trails, meeting each other, talking to funders, and figuring out where goals overlap with the passionate people already doing countless hours of trail advocacy across the West’s crumpled and mysterious terrain. Join us as we launch into this next phase of uncharted territory—creating the world’s longest singletrack bikepacking route.
OROGENESIS TRIALS PROJECTS - 2020 and beyond
PACKWOOD TRAILS PROJECT, WA: 28 miles, planning begins 2020. Estimated cost: $740,000
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Bikepacking Roots is a 8,000-member-strong 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and advancing bikepacking, growing a diverse bikepacking community, advocating for the conservation of the landscapes and public lands through which we ride, and creating professional routes.
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