I like to say that something isn’t worth doing if, at least once, you don’t ask yourself, “what the hell was I thinking.” With that as a worthiness criterion I can honestly report that the Ronde Ohop certainly was worth doing.
I was a little late getting to the starting line due to the long line of pickups at Spanaway’s Baristas Gone Wild, but the latte was worth the wait. Matt pulled up as I was getting ready; he had just ridden the dirt portion and reported that this was going to be more of a cross race than a road race. There was a fairly even mixture of road and cross bikes in the crowd, and I was starting to worry about taking my road bike onto dirt trails. I’d mounted up two cheap 25 mil tires inflated to 90 psi, but how much of a difference was that going to make. A gal rode by and said “wow I can’t believe you are going to ride that bike.” Hmmm. I was getting nervous.
I lined up without a clue as to what I had gotten myself into.
The course was unusual to be sure: two paved laps totaling approximately sixteen miles and then ten laps around a mini loop that contained a little over a mile of rough dirt track.
The road portion of the race was, for the most part, straightforward and uneventful except for a fifty foot section of gravel road in Eatonville. Just as the pack accelerated out of a right hand turn we hit this dicey section of loose rock. The race director had instructed us to go neutral through that portion, but I guess the lead guys didn’t get the message. I hit the golf ball-sized rocks at full acceleration and then had to bunny hop up a three inch rise to get back on pavement. No way would that have been acceptable on a traditional road race, but this was no traditional race.
The one good hill on the road course split the field; it was a goofy hill as the descent leading into it came through a pair of decreasing radius turns. I had to hit the brakes in order to avoid going over the guardrail which then forced me to work doubly hard in order to keep up with the lead group. The first time up the hill really knocked the wind out of me; luckily the second time up was a bit slower.
At the top of the hill on the second road lap the pack took off towards the mini loops. Looking back on it I think this acceleration was an effort by the road guys to put some distance between themselves and the cross guys. Actually I shouldn’t use the term “guys” as we in the Masters 30+ group were racing with the women. There was a large contingent of strong gals and they matched the guys pedal stroke for pedal stroke.
Matt and I hit the dirt with maybe a dozen other riders, the riding now was single file and consequently the crowd spread out. I was going through George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words routine as I followed Matt through an insanely rough, rocky, mountain bike course – on a road bike. This was a mistake. When we finally got back to pavement I thought, no way am I going to make another nine laps.
I was really worrying about my bike, man I should have brought that cross bike. A couple of times I hit so hard that my rear wheel popped off the ground - nearly sending me over the handlebars. It’s one thing to gingerly ease your slick road bike over an unexpected section of rough road; it’s a whole other thing to be riding it full out over single track. I couldn’t believe I was riding this course on my racing wheels.
The race unfolded into a battle of attrition. People were flatting out left and right, and I think quite a few riders simply called it quits. By the seventh lap my thighs were starting to cramp; I hadn’t been riding much these past two weeks and it was starting to show. I had gone too far to DNF, so I kept pushing the pedals counting down the laps. The odd thing about this race was that I rode the final sixteen miles solo, and consequently had no idea where I stood, was I in the middle, was I dead last, I had no clue.
As I hit the pavement on the final lap both quads totally seized up, but no way was I going to let someone pass me now so I pushed hard to the finish line – luckily it was all downhill. I didn’t wait around for the results and now I’m kicking myself as I have no idea how I ended up.