This was a first for me. I’ve participated in our mtb races before, and I’ve ridden many a gf course in my time, but always solo, I have yet to ever participate in any of our Gran Fondo rides. It was not something I had planned on doing either. In fact it wasn’t until Friday while packing that it struck me. I should ride! Why not?! I could see that if ever there was a time for me to do it this was it. Low turn out, easy course to get around for volunteers, and really, once we start there’s not much I do other than drive around and watch. So after getting my family’s blessing I grabbed my bike and gear, and thought this is just crazy enough to work!
I arrived in Goldendale Friday evening, parked my camper at the high school, grabbed a bite to eat, and got settled in to get some rest for a big day of course marking. Then I heard something outside my camper. Sounded like a car running. I peeked my head out the door and it was the cops. I was busted, they must have found all the dope I was smuggling. Oh wait, it was just because I was camping in a school parking lot. No problem, I explained what was going on and all was well. The next morning I was off to mark the course and immediately was feeling pretty happy about my decision to ride. Such an awesome area! I did however grossly underestimate how many arrow I would need and ran short. I was then stuck waiting for my lovely wife to arrive from home with more. I passed the time drinking coffee and eating junk food. Before I knew it I had more arrows, finished the course and we were doing early check in. In my mind I had pictured us sitting around outside the camper, hanging out, doing check in, maybe bbqin, but that’s not exactly how it was. More like cold and windy and we hide inside with the heat cranked peeking out the window.
Sunday morning was cold. I was having second thoughts about riding, thinking this could be some kind of payback for GFE. Things were kinda hectic as I tried to get all the last minute details wrapped, but mostly just dumped everything on Brooklynn and hoped for the best. Gear choice was a crap shoot, would it get warm or stay cold? I wore my Rapha knee warmers, bibs, and merino base layer with a ss vc jersey, and thermal vc jacket. I lucked out and was happy (I’m usually not happy). After Brooklynn’s stellar neutral roll out the pace gradually began to ratchet up. It makes me sound slow to say that because the fast guys say would probably call it a nice “warm up” or “conversational pace.” In fact that’s what most of them were doing. Me, I was watching my heart rate thinking hmm 170, that seems high for 90 miles, I think I’m hosed if they don’t slow down. But that’s not what fast guys do, fast guys go fast. As we got to the sand trap I overheard someone say get to the front otherwise you’ll get caught up in the bottleneck. Made sense, so I did just that and was able to get through clean. We whizzed by aid station #1, nobody said anything. I was finally starting to feel okay heading up toward the wind farm. I was leading and maybe starting to stretch out the group a bit, maybe. I bombed the downhill and got in a comfortable rhythm only to see something in the distance blocking the road. As we got closer I could see it was cattle. You can’t make this up, it was a flippin cattle drive right through the middle of my flippin race, er I mean ride. We all had to stop and move completely off the road as 50+ cows were herded by us. This took probably 5 minutes total and anyone who had maybe been shed from the group or was about to be was now back and ready to hammer. We made our way toward Lyle on what is normally one of my favorite stretches or road, normally like as in when I ride it by myself. Now I was with fast guys who were making it hurt. Roller after roller… headwind… we were in a rotation with approx 12-14 riders, there was at least one time that I almost lost the group as I pulled through and let a little gap get in front of me, a gap that was probably less than 20 ft but I was pegged. I was definitely starting to feel the effects of riding over my head. As we pulled into the Lyle aid station I was hoping for a miracle. I starting shoving food down my face as fast as I could, pbj, banana, mini pita, cookies, chips, mini Coke, all the while watching closely so as not to get left behind. It felt good to get some food (sugar) in my body. I’m not a big pop drinker, but man, that mini Coke hit the spot. Back on the road we were headed up the Klickitat River. It wasn’t long before my sugar high wore off and reality set in. And reality was even if I can hang on for the next 10 miles, I am hosed when we hit Horseshoe Bend Rd. I let that simmer for awhile as I struggled to hang on. The group wasn’t riding smooth. On the brakes, on the gas… it was wearing on me. We made the right turn onto Horseshoe Bend, rolled past aid #3 and kaboom! The group of 14 or so was blown to pieces. Horseshoe Bend Road is steep. Like Three Devils kind of steep. I immediately found myself at the back as scratched and clawed my way up the first few steep pitches. I thought dang man this sucks to make it this far and implode. I decided since I could no longer even see the leaders it was best to just block everyone else out and find a pace I can manage. I slowly began to catch a guy, then another, and another. I definitely was not feeling good, just slightly better than them. We finally got to the top and made the left turn toward town. It was only 10 miles to go, and we had a pretty good tailwind. I was ready to coast the rest of the way in, perfectly content with a top 20 finish. That’s when Frank Colich whom had been back and forth with me the last mile or so passed me and said something like lets go. He was in is drops and pulling hard. We were ripping along at 25-30 mph. I had nothing left, my legs were quivering and on the verge of a total cramp seize up. We passed a few guys, and few more. I made a couple half hearted attempts to pull. Frank was either not impressed or had mercy on me, putting himself back on front. As we neared the finish he asked how much farther. I pointed out my wife’s white car a couple blocks ahead as the finish. He said are we going to race? I was incoherent and mumbled some jibberish, but he must have heard bring it on! The next thing I know he’s out of the saddle sprinting like a banshee. I tried to act like I was sprinting as a courtesy to him, complete with a face of agony (that part was real). I crossed the finish line and was handed a Gran Fondo Goldendale finishers patch. I thought to myself that I’ve handed a zillion of these silly things out over the year, but dang, this one is mine! I caught my breath, ate an orange and went back to doing what I do, hauling coolers, checking aid stations, scoring, printing results, course take down… man what an awesome ride, so glad I have such an awesome crew of volunteers to allow me to do that!