As we rolled out the grey skies were spewing a few raindrops to test our resolve. We continued undaunted up the Chewuch. Our plan was to do the first hill of the Winthrop Fondo. Before you make a serious error in judgment you should be aware the first climb goes up 5,000 feet. For the avoidance of doubt, we start in town at 1,800 feet and climb up Forest Service Road 37 then Forest Service Road 39 until we reach the pass at 6,800 feet.
Our plan was to get to the pass, ride down the other side a few hundred feet and turn around.
That was our plan.
As we made our way up the paved road we spotted a stray white calve. After turning onto FS37 the quality of the pavement quickly dropped just as the elevation quickly grew. The road meanders at a steady grade in a deep valley. We were enjoying the conversation as well as the views.
The rain had stopped and we paused to stuff vests into our jersey pockets and drink for a moment before resuming our ascent.
As we climbed the quality of the road continued to decline. Five kilometers back there had been cracks in the pavement and now there were potholes that grew larger the more we climbed. We were forced to go single file to avoid the hole in the tarmac.
Finally we crossed the bridge that I knew was the end of the pavement. The surface was loose, sandy and had washboard the full width of the road. The sand diminished but the road remained loose and rocky. The washboard was relentless. I wished I was wearing bibs with a thicker chamois. Note to self for the Fondo: Wear Pactimo bibs.
I love this shot. Prepped for war.Rapha Lightweight jersey and Pactimo Raptor bibs
WhipLaesch and Einmotron slowly gapped El Chefe and me. This was expected and didn’t create an emotion. Soon El Chefe and I were grinding away. My heart rate and cadence were trending in opposite directions.
From bottom to top the climb take an hour and a half. It isn’t possible to ride up this easy.
I was deep in the cave as was El Chefe. We had been silent for ten minutes. The only sound our labored breathing and the constant crunch of gravel under our tires.
“You want the good news first, or the bad news?” I grunted.
“Bad News,” El Chefe responded breathlessly.
“It doesn’t let up at all the rest of the way. In fact, it gets steeper at the top.”
“Thanks” He said after a pause. Talking used valuable oxygen.
“The good news is you don’t have to waste your breath asking if there is any good news.”
I would like to think he smiled but I didn’t have the energy to look over.
We reached the junction of NF37 and NF39 and stopped for a moment and drank and repacked the layers we had pulled off. NF39 veers left and is markedly steeper than continuing on NF37. As we started it was kind of like heading out into the rain where you take a deep breath and mutter something like, “here we go.”
The road is noticeably steeper and looser. There are also some humps that require bike wrestling. I checked any my cadence was below fifty. I had been in my lowest gear for an hour. This was hard. This is, however, why we came.
After a couple twists and turns (all uphill) we came to what I call elephant hill. Although you eat the elephant one bite at a time if you see the whole elephant all at once it is intimidating. This is a climb you see for a good bit and it looks like it goes on forever. I recall seeing riders at the Fondo last year just get off and walk when they saw the climb.
Photo from 2014 Fondo
After reaching the top of elephant hill the road, of course, just keeps climbing. Five minutes later we emerged from the trees and I could see the road carved into the mountain in front of us.
“See that road cut up and to the right?” I asked El Chefe.
“Yeah” he answered hopefully.
“See the one to the right and above that?”
“Yeah,” his voice cracked.
“I think that is the top for today.”
Without a word we chugged uphill. I remembered the grade near the top was around twenty percent. I was saving myself and El Chefe pulled ahead. After the turn at the first road cut the top was visible. Mercifully the road dropped a few meters as we gathered our courage for the final meters.
With profanity oozing from our legs we battled up the final incline. A final kick up in grade was augmented by loose gravel so one had to get some speed to avoid spinning out. We topped out and slumped over the bars.
On the exposed ridge the wind blew cold. The dark clouds were again spewing but now it was snowflakes that dusted our helmets. Quickly we pulled out all the clothing we had and put everything back on. Vests, sleeves, caps and long gloves were all donned in great haste. I checked the Garmin. We were UP there......
I would have loved to have spent a few minutes soaking in sunshine and the accomplishment of the ascent. The sun was hiding and the cold wind cut us down. We turned and headed down.
The road had been steep going up and it was steep going down. The washboard was wicked and kept us out of the saddle. Hovering over the saddle for ten, then twenty then thirty minutes caused my aductors to cramp. Kind of wild to get cramp on a downhill.
Down, down, down we went. Finally it started to get warm. Well, it stopped being cold. El Chefe removed his sleeves and vest. I pulled off my vest but I wasn't ready to claim warmth.
Before long we were back at the cabin and getting ready to take Lily out for a tour of the Sun Mountain trails. We were tired and needed a pick me up. We thought about EPO.
We decided we would stick with burritos................