Hart of Darkness:  A Bikepacking Journey into the Sheldon and Hart Nat’l Antetlope Refuges

by Donnie

“Now when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all look that) I would put my finger on it and say, `When I grow up I will go there.’”

-Charles Marlow, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

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The dichotomy of my life is never more clear to me than when pouring over maps and planning trips.  Raised on fictional characters like “Smoke” Bellew and Charles Marlow, my dreams have always been those of the solitary traveler, heading off into the unknown, fragile and alone but inevitably poised to become the hero (anti-hero?).  The ever-constant themes of liberation from the yoke of a stifling society and evolution (if only in psychological terms) drilled into me by Jack London, et al. molded me over decades.   Add in a childhood dash of Big Sky Country, tales of the Old West, and it’s no wonder my dreams are solo endeavors in the classic man-against-nature mold.  But dreams are just that, and despite my insistence on the hatching of each new plan to go it alone, invariably each successively bigger trip results in an invite and a mild sense of disappointment in myself. Fear and the desire for companionship (even from a self-professed loner) are strong motivators.

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This trip was no different. After several attempts to go it alone, I admitted to myself after a 7 hour drive to the start of the route that part of me was relieved the roads were wet, muddy and impassable. Another oath was broken and a new date was set. Even up until the last minute the itch to swear off my new companions was strong. Slights were imagined that would justify their exclusion. I sucked it up and left with them anyways, finally calm with the certainty that both I, and the experience, would be the better for it.  We were.

I rarely regret abandoning solitude on big trips. The added safety and camaraderie far outweigh any additional self-growth I might achieve going it alone. Happily, this trip was no different. Jason and Gabe are ideal traveling partners: laid back, easy going, but strong and reliable. There’s something simple and easy about stepping out into the unknown when you can implicitly trust your companions if the shit hits the fan. It seems almost unfair, and may explain why the stories I gravitated towards as a kid were man-against-nature, not men-against-nature.

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This trip was as bold as it was beautiful. On every count it was a success and as usual, it leaves me longing for more. Not more of the same, but more of the more – more difficult, more remote, more challenging.  Fortunately, we live in Oregon where there is always something bigger and better around the next corner.

I will save you from having to read me prattle on about this-and-that from our trip. Instead, I point you towards Gabe’s beautiful write-up and photos. Click here or the photo below.  Enjoy!

Hart

ps. Donnie followed through on a mid-ride joke to name this writeup “‘Hart’ of Darkness”.  Don’t hold it against him, he knows it’s ridiculous…

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