Guest Blogger Brig Seidl
Event: Leavenworth Gran Fondo
Team: Ridge Cycle Sport
Rider: Brig Seidl
Mechanic: No so much
Outcome: No jumping ahead! Read the report.
I was looking forward to this event as the coming out party for my sleek new Norco Threshold which Evan had fitted with road specific wheels, tires, and gearing just the night before. All that remained for me was to just show up on time, air up the tires a little, and proceed to put the hurt on those Audi and Eurosport charlatans over the course of 90 rough miles. I arrived a little early and directly attended to the one simple task that Evan had entrusted me with – topping up the newly installed tubeless tires with a little air to account for overnight seepage. He’d mentioned a preferred PSI but subsequent events would indicate that I pay no attention to him whatsoever. 55 PSI seemed about right.
There was hardly anyone else there at the time so I ambled over to show Jake and some other random guy the new Norco and perhaps brag a little about how awesome I expected it to be. “Yep, with this little beauty I’m not expecting Brian Ecker to be able to hold my wheel”, I began to say when suddenly a huge explosion rent the air and I perceived that Jake and the other guy were completely splattered in tire sealant and my front tire was no longer associated with my front wheel. Ay yi yi yi. I quickly deflated the rear tire to avoid an encore explosion and retreated to my truck to think this thing out, a plan was needed. Deciding to forego the tubeless option I opted to toss a couple tubes in to play it safe – except it hadn’t occurred to me to bring any tubes. So I had to beg a couple from Jake who was probably already a little sore at me for making him start his long day sticky from a tire sealant shower.
The Norco utilizes Thru axles which are slick devices indeed. The QR lever flips over and inserts into notches on the axle head thus becoming a tool in order to unscrew itself. Clever! Just loosening the QR lever and spinning it endlessly doesn’t do anything at all besides eat up about 15 minutes of time before the start of your race. If it’s not evident by now let me mention that I’m not really that great of a bicycle mechanic, I’m more renown as a fiery intellect and peerless lover. Bicycle mechanic, not so much.
But eventually the Threshold was restored to near-showroom condition with both tires getting tubes installed, aired up to a modest PSI, and re-mounted on the bike. Doing all of this caused me to miss most of the riders’ meeting but that was OK, I’d done this event before.
The field of 200 rolled out at 8:00 a.m. under some light cloud cover which I was thankful for as I don’t handle heat very well. It’s kind of fun riding in a big group during a neutral roll out for a couple of miles, you feel like you are part of something special, which you are of course. Even after Jake led us off of Chumstick Highway on his motorcycle and raised his arm to indicate the ride was “on” nothing changed too dramatically as the first 5 or so miles are an asphalt uphill and everyone is looking to keep their tinder dry at this point. But after 5 or 6 miles the route turns left and becomes a dirt road and immediately separations began to occur as this road pitched upwards. It usually takes me quite a long time to find my legs in races so I was trying to hold back and meter my energy but the new bike felt really good and I was positioned towards the pointy end of the group, maybe in about 20th place or so. When things strung out and groups and singles starting dropping me I wasn’t too concerned. Wanted to play it smart and ride my own race. Heh, heh, “play it smart”, remember that in a couple of paragraphs. Of course even if I’d wanted to I wouldn’t have been able to go with some of the faster riders.
The first dirt road climb got pretty steep at the top, lowest gear kind of terrain, and I was more or less holding my ground in the group of 6 that I was in and out of. Once we summitted I found myself alongside Rick Heckenlaible and we started passing people immediately on the smooth surface descent that started almost flat for the first couple miles. But it soon got considerably rougher and steeper with rocks and ruts and I had to let Rick go as he was on an S-Works 29er FS. At some points it got extremely rough indeed and I was concerned about pinch flatting so tried to find a compromise between speed and not destroying my equipment. I noticed one particularly rutted washboard section littered with water bottles and quietly chuckled to myself until I looked down and saw that one of mine was missing. Dammit! I was planning to drink that later. Eventually the steeper slopes gave way to higher speed gravel roads with gentler pitches and I recall passing perennial strongmen Chris Wood and my own team mate Caleb Ambrose shortly before Aid Station #1.
Jake was there and once again I found myself requesting another favor – a replacement water bottle in this case. He came through as always but I was chagrined. Begging tubes and bottles and favors at every juncture! This was not the rugged, prepared individualist kind of racer that the world associates with the Ridge Cycle Sport stable of studs. Psh, it was looking like that by Aid Station #3 I would be crying, “Jake! Help! My entire kit fell off back there! Do you have an extra?”
I find that whenever I leave an aid station I always seem to be in no-man’s land on my own. And so it was here. I could see a pair working together a few hundred yards ahead of me but I couldn’t quite pull them back and there was nobody behind me and waiting for help from behind is not the Ridge way. We turned up Entiat River Rd and at times it seemed like I was gaining on the pair in front and other times I seemed to be losing time. And then, rather suddenly, I lost sight of them completely and this is where my race came completely unraveled. What had happened is that they had turned right, following the course, up Mud Creek Rd whilst just out of my sight and I continued off-course up Entiat River Rd. And continued. And continued. And continued. At some point I suspected I was off-course because I stopped seeing other racers entirely but didn’t want to admit it to myself. Eventually at milepost 19 I stopped and waited. No one came. So with flagging spirits I retraced my route back to the correct course turnoff close to milepost 10. Ugh. No cars passed me the entire way back until I got to about milepost 12 and just as two other misguided riders were approaching from the other direction I endeavored to tell them that they were off-course a small convoy of Winnebagos went past and by the time the road was clear the other 2 guys were hundreds of yards further down the road and lost to earshot and my good counsel. Like 2 doomed ships that pass in storm…
I did notice a red arrow pointing up Mud Creek Rd but somehow missed it on my first pass. Ridge Cycle Sport’s legal dept is looking into allegations that Fischer Plumbing’s team car was parked there obstructing the directional arrow sign whenever a Ridge rider approached the critical turnoff.
So having wasted over an hour and almost 20 miles of leg energy the event became for me what it was supposed to be in the first place, just a meandering ride in the beautiful countryside without concerns about time or placing. And that section from the Mud Creek Rd turnoff over the mellow 2nd climb to Navarre Coulee was probably my favorite part. I started encountering riders again which was re-assuring. Upon dropping down into Navarre Coulee I was isolated as always so rode the entire way to the Entiat aid station by myself. There was a headwind but not too bad as it is mostly a steep asphalt downhill.
I pitted at Entiat and wolfed down a couple of Pita Pit wraps and thankfully didn’t have to beseech Jake for a replacement kit because he wasn’t there. Which wasn’t surprising as the leaders had probably passed through close to 2 hours previously.
The section from Entiat to Swakane Canyon along highway 97 was longer than I remembered it. Seemed to take forever. The sun, which up until that point had been fairly merciful, began to break through the clouds and make its presence felt. Which was bad timing because the lower sectors of Swakane are completely exposed with no tree cover. Aargh. Was mad at myself for my earlier error as I could have avoided the direct sun altogether on the murderous ride up Swakane. But this is where I passed the majority of people so others must have been hurting even more than me. In fact I still felt pretty darn good, didn’t even feel the need to stop at the stashed water supply which was such a life-saver for me last year. I did encounter some distress further up and I walked briefly for some respite. The only truly hellish part which caused my jovial nature to fray was that infernal bastage of a section along the ridge between the aid station at the “summit” and when the road actually tilted downwards. That @#$@&*(% thing went on forever and after starting fun, fast, and flowy began pitching upwards with increasingly diabolical ferocity. And even the top of that section was a false summit. You still had to navigate a logging camp road with deep silt and branches. This is when I finally started cramping. A few hundred yards from the start of the genuine descent after just catching another rider my right thigh cramped violently and I had to unclip that foot and pedal with just my left leg through this rough section.
The remaining 10 or 11 miles were all downhill, the first part dirt / gravel road and the last 5 miles retraced the original climb right at the start. I picked off a couple stray riders on the dirt section but was mainly riding the downhill conservatively to avoid pinch flatting. I really, really didn’t feel like fixing a flat at that point. Didn’t see anyone at all for the final 15 minutes or more. Other than the initial peloton before it began to splinter I rode alone the entire day – almost 20 of those utterly alone on a misguided solo excursion up Entiat River Rd.
As icing on a long day my old pick-up truck over-heated on the drive home stranding me 1 mile short of the summit of Blewett Pass. If only I’d had Jake’s number!