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“It’s the one with the blue cover. You can’t miss it” seems like discerning directions for guiding someone to your boat—until you arrive and realize every boat at the dock matches that description. Luckily, Schwalbe’s OEM products manager Henry Horrocks guessed right and delivered our precious cargo to the right slip. Most importantly, our cooler made the trip from nearby Bend, Oregon, in one piece. We’ve just completed a grueling gravel bike ride from Bend to the shores of Elk Lake with Matt Lieto and Sean Cochran from Schwalbe and, naturally, there’s only one thing on our minds. The first order of business upon embarking on Matt’s 18-foot Catalina sailboat, named “Kooks Only,” is to crack open a couple of Bend’s famous local brews. Clearly, we have our priorities straight.
A beer is always a satisfying end to a ride. But there is something about sipping a cold one lakeside on an especially warm summer’s day, knowing you have nothing left to do but relax, that is the sweetest exclamation point possible.
Elk Lake is home to an unlikely marina. Unlikely because, as an alpine lake, conditions are less than ideal for docking boats. Assembled annually when the snow melts and disbanded when the temperatures start to fall and the summer thunderstorms give way to snow, the dock gives life to a sort of ephemeral yacht club. Matt Lieto is our ticket into this seasonal club. His humble boat will be our home for the night. It doesn’t have the creature comforts of a cabin, but a lakefront view is a lakefront view.
On many days, a stop at a lake like this would merely be the halfway mark of a ride, a nice respite for a few minutes to fill up some bottles and munch on an energy bar before turning home. Luckily, that’s not the case today. We’re joined by Henry, who has spent the day enjoying some of the other outdoor pursuits of Bend, namely fly fishing. Having convinced him to haul our stuff to the lake in a van, we will be living in relative comfort, with sleeping bags, fresh kits and, of course, a cooler full of beer. We’re not sure exactly what the “glamping” version of bikepacking looks like, but it seems like outsourcing most of the packing part to a friend puts this squarely in contention.
Soon, it’s time for a dip in the lake. Filled with snow runoff, it’s a bit brisk. But, being sweaty and caked with salt from a long day in the saddle, we welcome the chance to feel clean and cool off.
Refreshed, we head to shore to refuel with burgers at the nearby Elk Lake Resort.
It’s around 7:30 p.m. by the time we’re back at the boat and most of the other sailors on the lake are just docking or have long since packed up for the day. But not us, we’re just getting started. And we’re dying to put Captain Matt’s skills to the test. He’s an Ironman, but can he sail?
With three mighty pulls of a draw cord, the small outboard motor putters to life and backs us out of the slip for our sunset cruise. Matt begins directing rigging of the two sails on his 18-foot craft. The evening winds are sparse, but we’re determined to find the few gusts still hanging around.
Making our way into the middle of the lake, we begin to find the winds. We pick up speed and soon are cruising. Before long, the dock is just a distant memory, hardly visible from across the waters.
The colors intensify gradually as the sun lowers in the sky, illuminating the mountain peaks on all sides of Elk Lake. The waters become calmer with each minute, interrupted only by the slice of our bow—which is slowly losing pace. Nighttime is creeping in and we’re still on the other side of the lake. It’s close, but with no winds, it’s a world away. We spend the next half hour tacking and jibing our way back to the dock. Moments of near-zero movement are interrupted by the occasional excitement of a fleeting gust of wind. We pick up speed and lose it just as fast. A few minutes without movement go by; it’s time to fire up the motor again. The slip comes into view, now illuminated only by the moon and lights of the Elk Lake Resort.
Finally docked, we prepare the main cabin for the night, shoving food and clothes into the bow and tossing shoes and bags on deck. Before sealing up the deck to keep out the cold, we grab one last glimpse of the stars. There’s nothing quite like the night sky in the mountains. With little light pollution to speak of, we can make out the Milky Way tonight. But we’ve got another day of gravel adventures tomorrow, so we force ourselves below deck for bed.