Monday, April 21, 2014

Grand Fondo Goldendale


The best word to describe both Steve and myself following the Ronde Von Palouse bike race is wrecked.  The toll from being dropped from my last two races was taking a serious mental toll – bike racing is awesome, chasing alone or with maybe another guy for thirty miles sucks.  Anyway that’s fodder for another blog post.  In addition to the mental degradation I’d been pushing my no longer twenty eight year old body too hard: racing, training, skiing – all done too hard and too often had worn me down.
Why then would the two of us elect to drive four hours to the south central Washington town of Goldendale to do a ninety mile hilly, windy Grand Fondo?  I doubt either Steve or I could give a satisfactory answer to that question, but regardless we got in the car and drove to Goldendale; we had planned it that way so that’s what we did.

Steve chefing up in the sweet suit
Goldendale is a sleepy town into which we rolled hungry, but without appetites.  Neither the weird bar that claimed to serve burgers nor the Mexican restaurant seemed appealing, so instead of going straight to dinner we checked in at the hotel.  Thank God I paid the extra five bucks for the suite – the sweet suit we called it.  The sweet suite had a refrigerator, an oven, a stove, pots, pans, plates, everything we needed; we headed to the local grocery store.
After a shower and a massive dinner of pasta, sausage and bread that filled in most of my empty spaces I went to bed thinking that the next day just might be doable.

Cold and clear at the start
We awoke to a slightly cold but clear sky.  Screw it, let’s do this thing and let’s do it with a smile.  Steve and I filled up on as much of the complimentary hotel breakfast as our bellies would hold all the while picking the brains of two other riders.  They were seasoned Fondoliers (a made up word but I like it), and they seemed extraordinarily chill, not the intense Type A’s one finds at sanctioned bike races.
The ride started from the local high school and I met up with a couple of guys I knew from cyclocross as well as a father of a girl on my daughter’s gymnastics team.  I looked across the parking lot to see a familiar kit: it was Monica from my bike team; she had come with a couple of gals on the Group Health team.

Off we went on a neutral rollout through town, rigor mortis had definitely set it.  The crisp morning chill actually felt invigorating - the start of a beautiful day – but my legs were D-E-A-D dead.  Steve, on the other hand, was riding fresh as a daisy. 

This was a relatively small Grand Fondo, about one hundred and twenty riders, but it seemed to break up into predictable groups within the first few miles.  Out front you had the fifteen or twenty “racers” then you had the twenty or so “deliberate riders” guys who were riding hard but not necessarily racing, then you had the recreational riders, then you had the folks on mountain bikes.
I, along with Monica’s friend Marsa, fell in with the deliberate pack, while Steve bridged across to the racers.  At this point I figured that Steve and I would be riding separately, and I settled in for a long day.  Thankfully within a few minutes Steve rolled back to Marsa and myself, “fuck that” he said.

We were in a group of about a dozen riders and strange as it may seem every time we hit the gravel (there was about twenty miles of unpaved road on this ride) the pace would shoot up.  The Grand Fondo was put on by Vicious Cycle Promotions and every time we’d hit the dirt these five or six guys in Vicious Cycles kits would blast on by, but then they’d fade on the pavement.  Those 33mm cross tires inflated to 50 pisi were good on the gravel but they proved painfully slow on the road.  I rode 25mm Continental Gatorskins inflated to 100 psi, some of the downhill gravel was sketchy, but I’ll take that over sixty five miles of road on knobby cross tires anyday.
Steve, Marsa and I fell into a great rhythm, my legs were coming around, we were all riding consistent and strong and the wind, well it wasn’t that bad.  During races hills are my nemesis as I have yet to find that extra tiny little bit required to stay with the peloton over the top, but tone the pace down just one mile per hour and I can ride uphill all day.  I actually kind of enjoy it – it gives me a chance to look around and enjoy the scenery.

At the top of one such long hill we rode through the middle of a wind farm.  Instead of focusing on the steepness of the climb or the crappyness of the rutted dirt road I took in the view: Mount Hood, white in the distance, the Columbia River rolling below, a gentle breeze blowing over the hills of Central Washington, it was spectacular, all you had to do was look up.

Approaching the wind farm
After some rolling terrain, through which we picked up and dropped numerous riders we descended into the Columbia Gorge.  It was a fairly dramatic descent down twisty roads, and I made the most of the free mileage.  Steve later told me that he and Marsa were freaking out over the wild antics of the riders who surrounded me.  I guess I was focused on the road ahead and didn’t really pay them any attention, I thought all was cool.

The Lyle rest stop at mile fifty five was well-stocked.  Steve and I had brought our own food (more on that in another post) and had also prepared drop bags, but I just stood at one of the picnic tables shoving mini Pita Pit sandwiches into my mouth.

From the rest stop we had sixteen slightly uphill miles along the Klickitat River, Marsa, Steve and I caught up with a strong duo and we pushed a steady twenty mile an hour pace.  We had been warned about the hill at mile seventy two.  The hill was really no mystery: we were heading north and soon would have to head east toward Goldendale, and off to the right was nothing but a massive ridge line, we’d have to cross it one way or another.

At mile seventy two, just as predicted, we turned off the river road and literally hit a wall.  I had nothing but big gears and the pitch was nearly too steep to ride.  Within the first few hundred yards we passed a “Primative Road” sign and they weren’t exaggerating.  The ancient road was little more than a rutted jeep trail, the grade remained at least ten percent.  Riding on road tires meant that I couldn’t stand up to pedal – my rear wheel would just spin in the loose dirt.

Somehow, somewhere I got a second wind and it seemed like climbing became nearly effortless, I was rolling up the hill, no problem passing riders one by one.  It was weird, but not unheard of.  I’m used to riding long distances at a moderate pace and have learned how to fuel myself; my near constant ingestion of food was paying off. 

Steve finishing the "hill" Mt Adams in the distance
I waited a little bit at the top of the hill for Steve and Marsa, and then we finished the last sixteen miles of rollers together. 

All in all the weather was perfect, the scenery beautiful and the company impeccable.  By sticking to our plan Steve and I had managed to salvage our weekend and pull out a memorable ride.

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