When I finish the video, the link will be HERE !
Three weeks was not enough time for the scars left by the Leavenworth Fondo to heal. The Post Traumatic Stress was significant. Perhaps that is why there were half as many souls willing to partake in the “bonus” Fondo known as Ellensburg. In conversation with the other entrants/idiots there were many who related having complex internal dialogues that preceded participation in this event. Some of us learn from our mistakes; some of us do not.
This was the inaugural Ellensburg Fondo and with predicable patheticness the usual suspects assembled out of fear of missing out on the suffering each considered their foreordained destiny. This had been a series of four of fondos and “New for 2015” was this addition pain festival that brought the total to five. Having five fondos ruins all of the “grand slam” references but it is what it is.
Incorporating the lessons learned on previous fondos I think I finally have the routine dialed in. The curveball this time was that the event took place on a Saturday instead of Sunday. After work on Friday I went home, cooked some pasta, ate, loaded the war wagon and headed out so I might spend one more night in a hotel with a view of the interstate.
The hotel was just fine and the only issue I had on Friday was a recurring twinge in my right calf hinting that it wanted to cramp. I hadn’t run for a few days so my tight calf was a complete mystery. It was just enough to keep me wondering if it would attack on one of the climbs. We all need some fearful thought that can dance across our minds as we drift off to sleep don’t we?
The refreshing change compared to Ephrata and Goldendale was that when I looked out of my hotel room window in the morning there was no rain falling. There would be a headwind going out, but that paled in comparison to the suffering that had been served cold and wet in March and April. I was glad to stay in a hotel to avoid an alarm going off at three in the morning like I had the morning of the Leavenworth Fondo.
The morning followed the usual pattern. Coffee, breakfast, dress, drive to the start, sign in, load up and wait to line up.
Then it went sideways.
My Garmin mysteriously shut down and when I turned it on again the battery was dead. I am pretty geeky about keeping it charged so I can only conclude it got bumped and turned on subsequently draining the battery during the previous day or two. As we all know there really isn’t any reason to ride if you can’t record it on a Garmin so I prepared to pack up and go home. Realizing I had already applied Buttonhole I figured there was no turning back now.
Following an unusual moment of wisdom and good fortune I borrowed a power stick from El Chefe and connected it into the Garmin to charge it and stuck the whole wired contraption in my jersey pocket.
I was curious to see if Jake’s pre-ride instructions would be as stern as they had been at Leavenworth. His pre-ride words before that ride felt like he was trying to persuade us to skip the event and go home. This time the information disseminated did not feel like it was intended to strike fear but to inform. When we finally took off I didn’t feel like had a reasonable expectation that I would survive the day.
There were about a hundred intervention candidates who departed Ellensburg and headed for the hills. The neutral start lasted longer than usual and I tried to soak it in. When the lead car honked and the pace picked up our little band of orange clad riders had no plans to go hard but we did want to hold a reasonable tempo.
On a short climb one of our clan dropped back as a result of some medical issues. A gap formed and the leaders slowly pulled away. I hated to see them go. Actually I hated to see their draft go. We had a headwind and needed all the help we could get. We settled in and our group picked up friends who were saving their powder for the climb that we all knew was looming thirty miles up the road. I dubbed this behavior the “Leavenworth Hangover.”
In the true spirit of sarcasm a coworker had presented me with the ribbon shown below and I spent much of the first hour of the ride fielding questions from other riders about the ribbon flapping around behind my saddle.
There were many who coveted the maroon ribbon. Lou Zers.
We traded pulls and tried to keep our anxious legs in check. Everyone was drinking and eating as if drinking now could somehow retroactively reduce the suffering of Leavenworth twenty days prior. Once bitten, twice shy as they say.
We kept looking ahead and to the left where we would soon be climbing. The hills presented a stern front with no obvious gaps. We spotted a road cut high on the mountain and joked that is where we would be riding. Little did we know that steep line was exactly where we were headed. By now the morning chill was gone and the sun felt good on my black shorts. I welcomed this rare and fragile time when the temperature was perfect. I expected I would be baking soon.
When we arrived in Cle Elum I pulled out the Garmin and the charging had worked and the Garmin appeared ready to play. I switched it on and El Chefe told me we had had thirty eight kilometers in the books already. I would be doing the math the rest of the day.
We arrived at the first water stop and refilled our bottles. We knew the flogging would commence shortly. I could sense the uneasiness in the air. It was not unlike the waiting room of an outpatient surgery center. With bottles full we took a collective deep breath and clipped in.
Leaving the water stop the grade kicked up right away. A few minutes later the slope eased up and we were back to taking turns pulling. We collected stragglers and all too soon came the sharp left turn that indicated the wait was over. Many in the group faltered and it was just the boys in orange at the front.
At the end of a Cul-de-sac the gravel started and the grade went from eight percent to fifteen and it was loose and sandy. Looking ahead I could see riders getting off and walking after only ten feet of gravel. That just is not the kind of omen you want right away.
I was with the Silver Bullet and we rode past the walking riders and kept going. The grade didn’t let up but the surface did improve just a hundred meters in. The road ducked in and out of shade and the temperatures were warm but far from oppressive.
Every rider was in their lowest gear. There wouldn’t be a lot of shifting on this climb. There would, however, be cursing, sweating and wishing for bigger rear cogs. The Silver Bullet wished for my 32. I wished for el Chefe’s 36. El Chefe’ wished for McWoodie’s legs. McWoodie wished the climb was longer.
The climb was steeper than the final climb of Leavenworth but it did come earlier in the day. Despite having a cheat sheet with the elevation of the big climbs taped to my top tube I was afraid to look at the altimeter on my Garmin for fear it would scare me.
One could oversimplify the ride by saying you ride thirty miles of road to get to the gravel then climb thirty plus miles of gravel roads tallying 8,500’ of climbing then you ride thirty miles back to town. Metaphorically the ride is a sandwich and this was the first bite of meat. It was a big bite and I was trying not to choke.
I experienced a moment of panic when the road kicked up a bit more and I realized I was already in my lowest gear and the climb would only get steeper. I was passing riders who had gone out hard and were now paying the price. I offered encouraging words using precious breath. Soon I would have none of either to spare.
The views opened up as we climbed
Gravel climbs are harder than road climbs in every way. Gravel roads tend to be steeper than paved roads. The loose surface means you can’t just stand when you want because you may lose traction and spin your rear wheel. The surface also causes you to lose energy rolling over small rocks and a portion of the effort you put into your pedals is lost kicking up rocks and just displacing the surface. Many of us drop our heads and concentrate on long climbs but you have to watch the constantly changing surface so you can avoid the bigger rocks and loose dirt. You also find yourself dodging rocks and potholes which strains secondary muscles that have already reluctantly been pressed into service by the difficulty of the climb.
The upside of most gravel climbs is the beauty of the scene and the constant scanning of the road takes your mind off the profanity coming from your legs.
The climb was, as expected, relentless. This was what I had come for. The climb I had seen on paper was now under my wheels. So far; so good. The dry road climbed up the mountain in a series of unforgiving switchbacks. You could see the end of each switchback and for reasons I still can’t understand you worked toward it like a goal and were glad to reach it. Your only reward upon reaching the switchback was the road turned, continuing on just as steep as before. The corners were usually looser than the rest of the road and you had to almost attack the corner to keep from losing traction and spinning out. In hindsight it was like looking forward to a root canal.
I was now deep in my own personal pain cave and the door was locked. My jersey was unzipped and I was sucking down gel and drinking my preferred potion to fuel my legs. I no longer said anything as I passed riders. I wasn’t trying to be anti-social, this is simply how it works. We all find our rhythm and this was mine. My HR was 172 but I felt really, really good. I didn’t feel like I was redlined and decided to keep going and ride by feel. My calf twinged now and then but my adductors were fine and I was climbing well.
I stopped at a vista and took some photos. It took me several tries to get going again on the loose steep slope. The lesson here was that if you stopped you might not be able to start again. This climb was not for the faint of heart.
This is what 15% looks like
I recalled that I had felt good on the first two climbs at Leavenworth and feared a reprise here. There was a water stop just short of the top of the first of three progressively higher summits. The break felt good. I waited for one of our riders who was having a rough day. I recalled what a good descender he was and decided to roll on and let him catch me on the downhill.
Water Stop near the top......
I knew the second climb was short so I allowed myself to push it a bit. We were dipping in and out of forest and the scenery was impressive. I kept looking for the third summit which was also the Cima Coppi of the event. I rounded a corner and the road pointed down and with no fanfare I had just passed the high point of the ride.
The Silver Bullet punctured and he proclaimed his faith in Tubeless was now gone forever. With a tube in his tubeless tire (irony noted?) and El Chefe again in the fold we followed the road downhill toward the food stop at 57 miles.
Yeah, I'm heading for those roads..
El Chefe descends fast. I figure that if his wonderful wife loves him she’ll help him get a disc brake equipped Boone 9 and thus he will be safe on these sketchy descents. As it is, he risked life and limb flying down the gravel washboard. All the while he was hoping his life insurance is enough to get his daughters through college. Such are the thoughts of this noble man.
The Silver Bullet and I waited at the food stop and when El Chefe’ failed to appear I began formulating how I would tell the widow Chefe’ the bad news. To calm my nerves I ate a handful of tortilla chips and the salt and tiny bit of sugar-absorbing fiber hit my stomach perfectly. “Remember this,” I thought to myself.
Finally a rider came in and reported El Chefe’ had a flat and needed a tube. We grabbed an extra tube (worth more than gold on these rides) and headed back up the steep road we had just come down.
Ready to get back to work !!
We received puzzled looks and told the riders coming down that we just needed a few hundred extra meters of climbing. Going backward to help a teammate is noble. Going backward and uphill earns an honor rewarded by getting to wear the orange of 20/20 Fuel.
There were about THIS many flats at the food stop....
Chris of Cucina Fresca came down and told us he had given El Chefe’ a tube and a couple minutes later the man himself came bombing down. The three of us coasted down to the food stop. We repaid the tube debt and El Chefe picked up his drop bag and filled his bottles and we were onto the final climb.
The steady four to six percent grade felt easy after the thousand meters of double digit steepness we had behind us. I found a rhythm and felt super strong. Three to five percent is my specialty. At the top we fist bumped then flew down. Within a mile of the pavement that would carry us back to Ellensburg the Silver Bullet collected anther flat. The gash in his sidewall had exposed the tube. We needed a boot to hold the tire inside the tube. The ribbon was up to the task. Sacrifices had to be made.
The ribbon to the rescue
Just after getting on the pavement we rolled into the final water stop. We loaded our bottles and pointed our wheels toward Ellensburg. Two hundred yards from the water stop we hit a climb the Silver Bullet described as “Spicy.” A sixteen percent grade sixty miles in was plenty spicy. Soon enough we topped out. The wind that had been in our faces in the morning was at our backs and we welcomed the tailwind as we flew down the road.
We could look up the road and see riders who had passed us while changing flats or that had been at the water stop when we pulled in. My legs felt frisky and I convinced El Chefe and the Silver Bullet that we could chase them down as a final hurrah.
There were a few stinger climbs sprinkled in to disrupt our rhythm. As soon as we reached the top of each little climb we would regroup and charge on. Soon the valley opened up and there would be no more climbs. We caught the riders and invited them to join our train. They were either spent or offended by our bad breath and did not latch on.
We came around a corner and the little red arrows that had guided us all day now pointed us onto loose gravel. We were on the Iron Horse Trail now and the gravel was like an ocean of marbles. We kept our front wheels aimed straight and our rear wheels swam back and forth like a hook and ladder as we pedaled. I felt like I was riding a salmon. El Chefe and I had contemplated a long ride on the Iron Horse Trail. Those thoughts died an instant death at this point. For the riders who were baked this power sucking section may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
A few miles further on I spied the finish tent ahead and took my hand off my bars to fish my race number out of my pocket. The gravel pulled my front wheel and I swerved and grabbed my bar to avoid going down. I tried again with similar results. I stopped and put a foot down and retrieved my number which I flashed for the folks recording finishers.
I collected my finishers patch and fist bumped my mates. We still had a few miles to ride to get back to the parking lot. My legs felt really strong and the last bit passed quickly. Before long we were in clean clothes and eating post race burritos. I should clarify that statement. We were in clothes that were clean before we put them on and we were inhaling burritos.
With the power of cilantro-infused beef flowing through our veins we departed the parking lot and began our assimilation back into the world of the living.
This fondo did not leave us staggering but we were tired. The ride clearly exceeded my expectations. The roads to and from Cle Elum turned out to be better than expected and the scenery in the middle had been impressive. Even though we had a short stretch of the course right next to I-90 the course still felt remote which is consistent in this Fondo series.
I am glad we have more than three weeks before we resume our Fondo Odyssey in Winthrop. I will clean the bike....