By Brig Seidl
So the marketing gurus in the Ivory Tower that is Ridge Cyclesport’s world headquarters in Wenatchee, WA have been wantonly adorning Ridge kits on every upstart cyclocross aspirant and Gran Fondista wannabe who stands still long enough to such an extent that I no longer even know the majority of my own team members by name or face. And everywhere I go – races, bike shops, Home Depot – I see the familiar kaleidoscope of colors that is the unmistakable mark of that revered kit. So it was a bit of a surprise at the first major race of the season, the Goldendale Gran Fondo, to see that headquarters had only dispatched 2 measly Ridge Cyclesport team members for this illustrious event. Fortunately it was the 2 good ones.
It only took a little over 3 hours to get to Goldendale from Redmond so it wasn’t really necessary to get up and underway at the ridiculous hour of 3:30 a.m. that I did on Sunday morning. Accordingly I was the first person to arrive in the pits a good 2.5 hours before the race start. That afforded me sufficient time to walk the 75 feet to Karen & Jojo’s registration desk and pick up my number. I could have even stumbled en route and still made it with time to spare.
The first thing I noticed is that it was cold. Like 30 degrees cold. This fact precipitated an embarrassingly long episode of indecision on my part on what exactly to wear, which wasn’t fully decided until Brooklynn was literally pulling away in the truck for the neutral lead out hours later. At that point I whipped off my jacket for the umpteenth time and determined to go with just a short sleeve jersey and arm warmers as Roger Burton had advised.
But before that happened I had 2 hours and 28 minutes to kill so I did the responsible thing and collected Jake, Karen, and Paul’s cell phone numbers and very diligently entered them into my phone as a precaution. Safety first! In the later frenzy of indecision on what to wear I would mindlessly leave my phone on the passenger seat of my truck whilst cramming my jacket into my jersey pocket as Brooklynn started the lead out. Believe it or not I’ve actually ridden a Gran Fondo before.
All of the Vicious Cycle Gran Fondos have unique aspects to them that affect how the ride unfolds. The first identifying trait of Goldendale – besides the biting cold and the desire to throttle Roger Burton – was that the terrain was pleasant and rolling which meant no separations occurred. We rode as a big, merry pack for a long, long time without anyone getting dropped. Beautiful scenery, gentle hills, empty roads, spring sunshine, and the vibrant colors of the silent, rolling peloton of 120 friends. It was so unabashedly pleasant and bonding that I considered starting a singalong.
At some nameless intersection out in the middle of some anonymous prairie we rounded a corner and the first discordant note of the day was sounded – for Mike Rolcik. The poor buggar somehow flatted on an empty asphalt road in rural Nowheresville. I was directly behind him so had to swing around to the left causing Dale Wentworth, who was directly on my wheel, to take similar evasive action. No one ended up in the field and we resumed without much interruption but I felt badly for Mike because I hate flats and it takes me forever to fix them. I was pretty sure he had more mechanical expertise than me so I semi-expected to see him again later.
I can’t even say for certain when or where it happened but sort of organically the full peloton got winnowed down to a smaller group and 2 guys (Bend hard men Brian Kesselman and Thomas Hainisch) drifted off the front of this reduced group. So then for the sizeable chunk of time remaining to the main aid station at mile 55 a group of 10 of us rode together with Brian and Tom out of sight up the road. I must say, as a guy who has no instrumentation whatsoever and never thinks to bring the cue sheet, it was darn nice to have Jake in this group as that gave me 100% confidence that we wouldn’t get lost or miss a turn. Oh, and he’s just a helluva a nice guy to ride with. We encountered some escaped horses that were running wild, saw 2 big vultures perched in the roadside trees, and, much later, would find for like the 3rd GF in a row a dead skunk in the middle of the road.
Eventually we dropped into a massive, twisty, smooth asphalt downhill that was undoubtedly everyone’s highlight of the day. This was the certifiable goods. The kind of riding that you dream about. Absolutely glorious. And it seemed to go on forever. That was the only slightly worrisome part as I didn’t have the sense that we’d climbed several thousand feet up to that point so that meant pain ahead at some point. But that was in the future and this was now and it was magnificent.
Another thing I was reminded of – just as I am on the first major downhill of every event – is that I need to learn how to pin a number on my jersey! Once again mine was flapping like a hummingbird’s wings and catching wind like a mini spinnaker. I’d actually noticed this way back during the neutral rollout but this colossal downhill sent it into a different orbit of frenzy. I took note of how other people folded and trimmed their numbers and pinned them with 6 pins on their jersey pockets instead of the side like I do – because Karen tells me to! But this was small potatoes compared to what was brewing in my bladder – far more pressure than either of my tires were holding. I needed to take a whizz, big time.
By some divine grace the main aid station was located at the bottom of that mountain in whatever little town that was. But as I was gliding in and unclipping part of our small group cruised right on past! What the? Are we not stopping? I actually felt fine and didn’t need any food or drink or rest but I badly needed to pee. I vacillated briefly before opting to follow without really thinking it through. The group split because some did stop including Jake, Roger, and my team mate Doug Graver. But I didn’t realize this immediately, and before I knew it we were on a river canyon road and there were only 6 of us. I wasn’t sure what to do. I was hoping we would immediately encounter a big hill so when I stopped and dropped out of the group the price would be minimal. But after 5 miles and no meaningful hill and my urethra threatening to detach itself from my bladder I had to pullover to pee.
I’d love to tell you that I leapt off and quickly uprooted a small cluster of sage bushes with an immediate and explosive torrent but the sad truth is I leapt off, hurriedly unpacked the necessaries, and nothing happened. Nothing. C’mon! I began to panic. Nothing upon nothing was occurring and I was in a race. I stood there for at least a minute and a half before a few sorrowful drops were produced. I concentrated, forced, pleaded. A few more drops. Another minute. Eventually the weakest, most lamentable stream of urine ever witnessed made a pitiful appearance. The sage bush laughed mockingly. I tried harder, no effect. Minutes went by. There was now no question of getting back on with the lead group and I was keeping an eye down the road for Doug & Co. Eventually I just determined that I couldn’t spend the rest of the weekend standing there peeing pitifully so I jumped back aboard the mighty Norco Threshold and resumed riding.
But I was now solidly in no man’s land. On straightaways I would look back but couldn’t see the group that had stopped at the aid station and I knew the lead group was far gone. Then, about 15 minutes later, a most maddening thing happened; I needed to pee again. Gaaa! I held on for another 10 minutes or so, made it through the ramshackle town of Klickitat all the while looking for a hygienic bathroom staffed by an understanding nurse with a ready catheter but finding none took refuge beside the river and resumed the ordeal. Same scenario as before but I was determined to see it through to a reasonable conclusion this time because I didn’t want to stop again. Eventually a delicate little stream that a squirrel would be ashamed of was produced and I just stood there waiting the thing out. Generally when you are peeing there is a background sense that somewhere within your body there is a vessel being emptied. You can feel it. That sensation was not apparent even after about 3 minutes on this day. What seemed like an eternity later I tidied up and re-emerged onto the road just as Jake & Co were riding by. I explained my woes to Graver but he just cruelly said, “It’s because you’re old!” It is so not. It is because I’ve been sitting on a bike seat for the past 4 hours. Either way I’ve tasked Ridge Cyclesport’s top medical researchers look into what can be done about this exasperating malady.
It was good to be in good company again but it only lasted about 5 minutes until that hill I had been hoping for 45 minutes earlier suddenly arrived. And this was another of the traits that uniquely identified this Goldendale Gran Fondo: the first (and only) really big, steep, egregious climb came very late in the proceedings, at about the 70 mile mark. And it didn’t start with a gentle ramp to get your legs prepared for climbing, no. You just crossed a bridge and boom! Straight up. And after only about 500 feet the asphalt ended and it became a rough rocky road. This splintered our group as Roger Burton and Conrad Kornmann inched away and Doug and Jake fell back a little. As the climb progressed my legs adjusted from flats mode to climbing mode and I caught back up to Roger and Conrad. Just before making contact with them we all passed a remnant of the original lead group of 6 I had been with, Robert Trombley, who had apparently blown on the hill.
Upon cresting the 3 of us rode some meandering miles together until what was essentially the final turn onto the home straightaway. But, ahem, that blasted straightaway was 10 miles long with continuous undulating hills into a bit of a headwind. And after feeling perfectly fine all day I suddenly felt fatigued right about then. I bid Conrad and Roger adieu as they distanced me and I just rode alone with mounting fatigue the remaining miles back into Goldendale.
All in all a really good day. This is a superb event in really remote, beautiful country that I would encourage all reasonably fit riders to try out. And besides the first half hour when I was shaking cold the weather was magnificent with blue sky, little wind, and tepid sunshine. I didn’t cramp, crash, or have any mechanical issues which is always a huge plus. I ate a piece of cake for breakfast while awaiting the start along with some Sun Chips and raspberries. During the ride I only consumed the 6 Shot Blocks from the registration packet and drank 1.5 bottles of pure tap water. I only ever stopped for the two interminable pee breaks. Bike performed flawlessly. Ran about 40 – 45 psi in tubeless tires and I don’t know what size cassette or chain rings I run so don’t ask. I also noticed that I was in a minority by wearing a normal summer kit with exposed knees and clear lenses instead of sunglasses. And my number was pinned on crummily.
So if you are teetering on the edge of cycling respectability why not up your game a smidgen by entering this ride next year to become a full-fledged member of the greater cycling community? No better way to prepare than by entering GFs Ellensburg and Winthrop coming right up this summer. And heck, if you think you’ve got what it takes to ascend an entire social class in one fell swoop go ahead and put a team together for the 24s of Spokane on Memorial Day Weekend to see if you can run with the empirical Ridge Cyclesport team.