By Brig Seidl:
Last year’s GF Leavenworth was the debut outing for my new Norco Threshold and my first crack at going tubeless which ended badly when both tires blew out in a shower of sealant before the race even began. Back in went tubes. But this year I was again convinced to try tubeless for Leavenworth and shelled out some pretty serious coin to get professionally set up with some Schwalbe G-One tires. They looked pretty sweet – my main criteria for judging just about any bicycle or accessory – so I eagerly took it out for a short test ride and naturally punctured immediately and the sealant proceeded to work about as much as Frank Benish and Joe Martin combined, ie not at all, despite repeated inflations. Grrrr. As usual what functions flawlessly for everyone else doesn’t seem to apply to me. The night before the race Evan stuck a plug in it and I wheeled to the start line the next morning holding my breath with zero confidence in my tires and 2 tubes in my pocket for insurance.
Turns out I wasn’t the only one with dilemmas. Upon dropping by Peshastin Elementary School on Saturday afternoon to, um, get the lay of the parking lot I guess, I encountered Jake there alone. He had just driven the course and discovered the ridge top following the 3rd aid station was a virtually impassable quagmire because of the heavy rain the day before. To use the normal course and include this section would run the risk of open revolt when riders, already 5+ hours into a grueling event, would be faced with a 4 mile hike-a-bike in ankle deep sticky glop. But there’s no denying it would be epic. And “Epic” is practically a Vicious Cycle bylaw. But….the potential of inciting an angry mob was clearly gnawing at his conscience. Because as much as he revels in dishing out pain he doesn’t especially enjoy the prod of pitchforks or the burn of torches visited on his own body by an angry lycra-clad crowd. I could see he was conflicted and clearly wasn’t in his right mind because he even asked for my opinion. Reason prevailed the next morning when he sobered up and discarded my suggestion and re-routed the course.
Truth is I wasn’t looking forward to carrying my bike through mud for an hour either but to me GF Leavenworth has been defined by the fiendish Swakane Canyon and I worried it might lose its identity without it. In Jake’s entire dungeon of tortures there is probably no more feared apparatus than the one called “Swakane”. Jesus. It makes me tremble just to write that word. I was thinking by substituting the mellow asphalt Entiat River Rd instead would make things too easy. I should have known better…
Race morning dawned with very changeable weather making the already tricky decision on what to wear even harder than usual. I went back and forth a lot before finally opting for just a normal short sleeve summer kit but with arm warmers and a Gore rain jacket tucked into my jersey pockets. I vacillated so long that eventually the sun came out which made my decision a little easier. But you don’t want to get this decision wrong – just ask anyone who did the original GF Winthrop.
The first 4 miles or so from Peshastin to Leavenworth were new and they were gorgeous. Wending through cherry, apple, and pear orchards and past vineyards and grassy fields along a smooth but twisty and undulating road. Excellent stuff. I’d vote to make this starting location a permanent change. I was somewhat near the front of the group and looking back at the huge colorful peloton strung out behind in the beautiful countryside was an impressive sight.
As always there was a crackle of nervous energy coursing through the peloton in anticipation of what was ahead. Everyone’s tinder was still dry at this point and glycogen stores topped up. And these first few scenic miles leaving Peshastin is the only time of the day when we’d be rolling along as one big 200 strong rider pack before the inevitable splintering on the first climb out of Leavenworth. Will you get dropped on the first incline? Are you in over your head this time? And will those bloody tubeless tires hold air for the next 6 or 7 hours?
I chatted with my teammate Michael Broxson for a while before we got separated in the ebb and flow of the pack. Later that night I would learn that Michael wasn’t even in the race and the guy in the Ridge kit I was talking to was probably Dave Visser – whoever he is. Everyone in helmets, sunglasses and identical kits quite confound distinction for me.
The breakup of the group happened kind of organically on the steep asphalt slopes above Leavenworth. Nobody really exploded off the front, we just kind of got stretched out and then little sub-groups formed which eventually fell out of sight of each other. On the first significant gravel pitch a large group went by me at a pace I wasn’t ready to match yet. I roughly estimated myself to be in about 30th place at this early point and not ready to go into the red. The heavy rainfall that caused the re-route also made the road surface much better than in past years. In fact all the gravel sections were in far superior shape than I’d ever experienced them before. Much better grip without a super loose dusty layer on top made for great riding conditions. The first climb gets uncomfortably steep at the top but the descent was primo with the extra moisture in the ground. I had been gapped pretty badly by the time we finally started going downhill but people started coming back to me pretty quickly on the descent. Apparently roadies don’t descend gravel roads with the aplomb of mountain bike guys. Pulling back the climbers here was like shooting fish in a barrel.
This was however when the overriding theme of the whole day really started to make its presence felt – wind. It was diabolically windy and would be so for the entire day. Every exposed corner you ran the risk of being blown right off the road if you happened to time the ferocious gusts wrong. Reef the mainsail good swabber! Owwwhooooooo!!
It’s usually not a good idea to skip aid stations on these big epic rides but I felt so untaxed upon reaching the first one that I did indeed blow through it. Managed to pick up 2 other riders on the high speed jaunt down Mad River Rd and they would more or less be with me until we reached this very aid station again in about 4 hours time. We picked up another rider on the traverse up Mud Creek Rd forming a little group of 4. I got popped slightly off the back over this second major climb but was quickly able to re-pass and distance them on the descent. Just one of them, Steven Williams(?), was able to get down the hill on my terms and we hit Navarre Coulee together. We then picked up 2 more riders in quick succession, likely Dave Bergart and Adam Van Dyke, as the wind positively assailed us down the coulee. Last year I did this entire section between aid 1 and aid 2 on my own so was thankful to have 3 other guys with me this time as the wind was downright fiendish at times. And by “at times” I mean “all the time”.
If I didn’t have to take a whiz so badly I probably wouldn’t even have stopped at the Entiat aid station because I still felt fine but cruised in with my 3 mates just as the lead group was departing. Funny thing about peeing in endurance events. You’re dying to do so but upon unpacking the necessaries not a damn thing happens for the longest time. Maybe it has something to do with sitting on a bike seat for so long but I’m just standing there looking down imploringly but accomplishing nothing. C’mon, c’mon get moving! The lead group is getting away! Sure the view was majestic but when I’m trying to pee in a race I want to see efficiency not grandeur.
Fortunately by the time I got done my ride cohorts had not yet all departed so I was able to ride up Entiat River Rd with another guy before a group of 4 caught us from behind so we rolled into Aid 3 as a pack of 6. Two of them stopped and the other 3 hesitated, probably to see if I was going to stop which I didn’t so they continued as well. All 3 of them went by me in pretty short order but I was thinking if I could keep them vaguely in sight I could possibly catch back up on the descent. But Jake foiled me in this regard by somehow adding an extra 4 miles to the uphill part of this exact road that we had just descended some 3.5 hours previous. I’m damned if I know how he did it. But Christ that hill went on forever! The 2 guys who paused at the aid station passed me and quickly disappeared and my morale started to sag. So all 5 of the guys who accompanied me on the pleasant ride up Entiat River Rd had now dropped me. But lo! Upon rounding a corner I encountered a near vertical face masquerading as a forest service road (which we surely hadn’t descended earlier) and 2 of the first 3 guys, light green and dark green jerseys, were stopped about 3/4s of the way up it. I couldn’t immediately tell if they were roped in or just clinging to it but they definitely weren’t moving. As I inched up the road Light Green started riding again but Dark Green was forced to walk which resulted in all 3 of us coming together again at the top of this particular section. But once again they rode away from me and here I’m ashamed to say my normally insouciant demeanor took a dark turn. This #$#%$&* hill will not end! We didn’t come down this, no way! Jake is a double-crossing #$&*%!@. It was ugly and I’ve since apologized to Jake for having those thoughts but I popped on the upper reaches of this K2 of forest service road climbs as the wind pulverized me. This is where having some instrumentation might have been handy. I’m old school, also known as “broke”, so don’t have any fancy schmancy Garmin but it would have helped to have known how much bloody further it was to the summit. I was deluded into thinking I would remember it from the morning but most definitely did not.
I was so discouraged by the time I finally summited that even the anticipation of the final big descent failed to animate me and I just began rolling down it in a sort of defeated manner. It was fun though, the rains had really made the surface grippy and predictable. The air got warmer the more elevation we dropped and I just got lost in the moment of riding my bicycle and enjoying the views and experiencing pleasant thoughts. Maybe Jake wasn’t so bad after all. Towards the bottom where the pitch flattens out considerably I was astonished to catch a glimpse of Light Green and Dark Green at the end of a long straightaway. Holy cow! I couldn’t believe they hadn’t thoroughly checked out whilst I was having my hissy fit on the upper reaches of the climb. I immediately regretted having been a bit lackadaisical on the descent. To hell with happy thoughts and flowers, I smell blood! There was just enough gravel left for me to reel them in and make the pass literally on the final right hand corner where the road turns to asphalt. Unfortunately the same exact second I surprised them by whizzing by I got a huge cramp in my right inner quad. They probably wondered why I sat up immediately upon getting in front of them. There are still a few miles of asphalt descending left at this point and none of us really knew where the finish line was. I was hanging on by the skin of my teeth trying to keep the cramping at bay. We reached the bottom together and if the finish line had been where it usually is I might have contested it but no, it wasn’t there. We stayed together the next couple miles into Leavenworth and spotted the final little red arrow indicating we had to crack a left on North Rd and retrace those 4 original picturesque miles into Peshastin. Dang. I was cooked and trying not to lose my legs to cramping so had to let them go. Rode those final 4 miles alone until the very last turn where, 200 feet from the finish line, I got mixed up in a big pack of recreational riders on Kmart bikes out for a ride so I actually crossed the finish in a big confusing group. I assured Karen and Ruth that I had actually legitimately beaten that kid on the Huffy BMX bike even though he crossed the line just ahead of me.
Another stellar Vicious Cycle Gran Fondo in the books. The re-route worked seamlessly and it most definitely did not make the event “too easy”. If you believe nothing else of what Jake ever says believe him when he says these events are “HARD and intended for crazy people only.” In fact the first rendition of GF Winthrop was so arduous that he fully intended to pull the plug on ever having a second one. I heard him say it myself, “No more GF Winthrop, too hard”. It was a matter of safety, he said, what with the lightning, hailstorm, and hypothermia he didn’t want to kill anybody. Ha! Ha! Jake is such a kidder… – shit! I just realized nobody has seen Rocky Crocker since about the time of that first GF Winthrop!
Nothing went terribly wrong for me and I was infinitely thankful that the tires held air. In fact the Schwalbe G-Ones performed brilliantly. I ran them at about 55 psi. It was much cooler than previous years which also helped me as I wilt badly in heat. No way could I have omitted 2 aid stations if it had been hot. About the only truly annoying thing that occurred was a maddening knocking sound coming from my bike the entire ride. Irritating! Felt like I had Edgar Allen Poe’s raven onboard. Last year I replaced the under seat bags on all my bikes with new innovative bags that didn’t attach to the seat post because those things would always knock against the post driving me batty. These copacetic new bags just attach to the seat rails with a plastic bracket. The night before, whilst plugging my tire, the chairman of Ridge Cyclesport opined that those plastic brackets will surely break so best to loop an old toe clip strap around the bag and secure it to the seat rails. Naturally the next morning the looped strap slipped off the bag almost immediately and the buckle on the toe clip strap proceeded to knock noisily against my seat post for the duration of the day. Moral: Don’t try new stuff on race day.
Well? Don’t just sit there gaping idiotically at your computer screen, go sign up for Gran Fondo Ellensburg! Hurry before it sells out! Become part of the fraternity of hard men and women who are the envy of the masses, the paragon of the proletariat, and the pride of the nation. Those I speak of are the patch bearing finishers of a Vicious Cycle Gran Fondo.