Part of the "new" course
Here is the video
For 2015 Jake moved the Winthrop Fondo from June to September. Wildfires mandated a re-route as well so there was more than a few unknowns to deal with on this ride. Some of my brethren and I had ridden the first part of the Fondo course back in the beginning of September and unbeknownst to us, it was also a preview of the last twenty miles as well.
It may be presumptuous of me to claim this as my “home” Fondo but I ride these roads a whole lot for someone who works west of the Cascade Crest. I was familiar with the route and had been looking forward to this all year. I was glad to host a seven of my teammates at our place for the weekend of the Fondo.
I arrived a day early and tried to keep Friday as low key as possible. I behaved as if I could somehow store my strength for use during the Fondo. Logic says otherwise, but logic has little to do with a ride that covers ninety miles and climbs what I thought would be eleven thousand feet on gravel roads.
Many of our clan had skipped the Ellensburg Fondo in June because they were still staggering from the slaughter that was the Leavenworth Fondo at the end of May. The mind of a middle aged man can do some amazing things one of which is forgetting the cramp-a-thon of the Swakane Canyon climb. Embracing our powers of denial we were ready to submit to the will of Jake once again.
Four of us had promised to ride gentleman style and “pace” ourselves for the Winthrop Fondo. I was anxious to see if this materialized or if some would be swept up in the excitement and attack either on the road out of town or on the five thousand foot climb that followed.
Following a breakfast of carbs and eggs we made the chilly ride to the start via local trails. Soon we were underway. My stories from last year about seeing riders go out hard only to blow up had found traction with our group. I declared a grupetto while we were still neutral. We were riding in formation and I felt pretty comfortable with our patience. I suggested the name, “The Peloton of Discretion.”
All too soon the climbing started and we settled in. When the pave’ gave way we stayed in a group as the sandy gravel crunched under our wheels. As predicted we passed riders who had succumbed to the early excitement.
At the first aid station we all remarked and how good we felt. We didn’t rush as we filled bottles and stretched for a couple minutes before setting off on the steeps of Forest Service Road 39. This part of the course was very Swakane-like and I was grateful it came early in the ride. Soon we were atop the first climb 6,600 feet above sea level. The wind was blowing and those who had shed layers put them back on for the descent.
At the first aid station......chilly
One of the phrases we tossed around was that it was only uphill until you reached the downhill and vice versa. There was no flat on this course, only up or down.
On the descent El Chef flatted and we didn’t see it in real time. When we noticed there were only three of us Big John went back up to check while The Wizard of Coz and I tried to figure out how long it would take for hypothermia to set in.
This is a great part of the course. It is remote and as WhipLaesch says, “it is a place where a small issue can become a big problem.” After less than ten minutes Coz and I were cold and we started riding backwards toward El Chefe and John not so much out of concern but to try and get warm again.
Soon we saw two orange helmets heading our way and once again we were in formation. The next climb topped out just over 7,000 feet and the third one was close.
I found that I had a repeat of a situation that happened a few weeks ago where I was able to climb without issue but the extended descents hovering just over the saddle caused aductor cramping as if I were doing wall sits or similar torture. I would feel okay on the descent but once the climbing resumed I’d cramp instantly. I tried to dial it back and that seemed to work. If the cramping continued it would be a long day. Who was I kidding? Ninety miles of gravel is always a long day.
I could feel the thin air and was looking forward to more oxygen and warmth at Conconully.
After topping out on the third and final pre-Conconully climb we were in good spirits though I felt there might still be one stinger lurking. Sure enough we rounded a left hand corner and there was a sixteen percent grade kicking us in the face. Panicked downshifting took place and we were wrestling our machines up a loose and rocky sick joke. This narrow “road” would turn me back if I were driving a jeep. I remembered losing traction on this last year during the Fondo and having to walk to the top because it was too steep to get going. The drop off left of the road was intimidating. I made it to the top without unclipping.
I felt relief and soon we were on the downhill roller coaster that leads to Conconully. Although the air was getting warmer the wind chill from going thirty miles an hour kept us cool enough.
At the food stop we let the young ladies fill our bottles as we ate and stretched. I changed batteries in the GoPro and chomped some calories and swallowed electrolytes.
The day was feeling warm and we debated what clothing to keep and what to leave behind for transport to the finish. Ultimately I stuffed my arm warmers, wind vest and beanie into my jersey pockets and only left my full fingered gloves.
The remaining climb would be a serious undertaking with fresh legs. NOBODY had fresh legs. With way over two thousand meters of climbing in my legs I started off very measured. We stayed in a group until we hit the gravel and then began to string out.
I felt a cramp coming on and stopped and just stood for thirty seconds stretching my legs. I remounted and climbed some more. I was slowing down and found myself in a strange spot. My cramping kept me from going as hard as I wanted. The level of effort I could maintain wasn’t generating as much heat as a zone three or four effort. This could be a problem…….
I stopped to stretch and I put on my sleeves. After climbing another hundred meters (vertical) I stopped and put on my wind vest. After another hundred meters of vertical I was out of water. The beanie came on another hundred meters higher.
The climb was exposed and the mountains were beautiful. The golden foliage that lined the road was motivating. I could see thirty miles to the south and fifty miles east. The sky was blue with while clouds that had silver edges. I spotted El Chefe on the road ahead and he was cramping as well. This climb was taking its toll.
The air was cold and fresh. The views were worthy of the effort I had expended. My legs ached but I’m not sure I should have expected anything else. I had eaten and hydrated well. My equipment was working. For all of the preparation and execution this ride is just plain hard. I was hurting and I was okay with that.
The ride was so tough, I even turned black and white.....
Near the top of the final climb Coz was shooting video as I rode past head gritting my teeth Rapha-style. Over the top we began the surprisingly smooth descent. The kilometers ticked past and before long all four of us were at the final aid station. With full bottles and smelling the barn we set off for the final nineteen miles.
We dropped three thousand feet in twelve miles and my legs were thrilled when we hit the pavement and I could descend with my tired ass in the saddle. I used my local knowledge and took the sprint to the town limit sign. We crossed the line four across as El Jefe’ cheered us on.
We collected our patches and rode back to the barn (really we rode to the barn) where we grabbed a slice of pizza and collected our drop bags.
I thought the new course was much better than the old one. Move views and the final climb was steady and had good surface. I hope this is the course henceforth and forever.
Back at the cabin the full impact of the day’s journey was manifest. Coz was prone and stayed that way. Complete sentences from any of us were rare. El Chefe’ somehow managed to whip out a recovery meal of barbequed steaks, potatoes, grilled onions and peppers and a salad that would have impressed the fairer gender. We ate our fill in near silence. The quiet spoke both to the quality of the meal and the physical trauma of the day.
For the metrically inclined I collected 158kilometers and 3,692 meters of climbing. That is ninety eight miles and twelve thousand feet of climbing in old money.
We went on a short walk to enjoy the full moon and provide a diversion so we didn’t go to bed before nine o’clock. We went to bed shortly after. We slept. Oh yeah, we slept.
The next night I watched the eclipse from the cabin...