A couple weeks ago a few of us set out to get a taste of what’s to come for Gran Fondo Leavenworth. I had ridden parts of it before, but other parts I had only driven and I wasn’t sure how it would all come together.
We set out and began the first climb up Eagle Creek Rd. We were all feeling very good. The road goes up, but rolls well and is twisty with plenty of scenery to keep your mind off the climbing. The route turns off Eagle Cr to Forest Service Rd 7520 and begins to get steeper. We made an effort to keep the cadence up and not push to hard, but as the grade steepened and the gears ran out it became increasingly difficult. Soon enough we were at the top though and in for a long fast down hill. The speed was kept in check by our bicycle/tire choice and by our desire to continue living.
Once back on pavement at Ardenvoir we opted to skip the Mud Creek climb and head straight for Entiat. This made for a long gradual pavement down hill all the way to Entiat, and from there onto State Route 97, all the way down to Swakane Canyon. This is where the fatigue began to set in of all places. Miles and miles of rugged mountain gravel roads… then 18 miles of pavement (downhill) are what did us in. Maybe it was the wind, the heat, and the sustained effort, but we were feeling it. Or so we thought.
We made a hard right turn onto Swakane Canyon Rd which is steep right off the get go -and were really feeling it. It was also on this particular day, hot! The first few miles are exposed with no break from the sun. Eventually we got into some trees and shade for some much need relief from the sun. At this point we were (mistakenly) thinking that we were near the end of the climb. In actuality it was more like half way. We were zapped from the heat and low on water and this climb seemed to drag on forever with lots of steep pitches and rough road. But the climb is survivable (barley) and the views at the top were worth all of the pain and suffering (okay, the views were great and all, but that was a lot of pain and suffering). Once on our final decent (FS7500) we were treated to a long, fun, twisty downhill all the way back to Eagle Creek Rd, which was even better going down than it was going up (surprise). We finished it up in fine Bavarian fashion, with a bratwurst and cold beer.
Set up for this type of ride is very subjective. A road bike will work for some, although it will be slow on the rough downhills, whereas others will opt for a mtb, which will rip the downhills, but will pay on the pavement. I rode my Trek Cronus Ultimate cx bike with 700×34 Michelin Jet tires set up tubeless at 45/50 psi. I felt the tires were a bit sluggish on the pavement sections which could prompt me to consider a 700×28 tubeless road tire. However the extra volume was super nice on the long and rough downhills allowing me to carry a little extra speed. The Avid Shorty Ultimate brakes on my bike are great, but were at their max in a few situations. Disc would be nice. Summery: there is no right answer. No matter what bike/tire you pick it will be wrong. This ride is very hard and will make you hurt. See you June 23rd!