A year ago our experience riding the Ephrata Fondo was essentially a Spatchcocking from Mother Nature. They say Mother Nature is a Mother and they are right. This time around we had near perfect conditions. If you’re having a barbeque sunny and seventy is perfect. If you are racing bikes then fifties and cloudy is perfect. To ask for anything more might appear ungrateful and result in a punishment similar to the wrath we experienced in 2015.
As it was, the day dawned with high clouds, a hint of a breeze and a start temperature trying to reach fifty degrees. Clothing-wise, Rich was playing it safe but El Chefe and I opted to go with Belgian Knee Warmers and hope for the best. The Peloton was almost giddy at the good weather and a little over two hundred optimistic riders headed into the hills northwest of Ephrata.
My initial optimism that the good weather would result in faster times was shattered as we hit the gravel. Last year the rain had combined with the dust to firm up the gravel and this year the dry dust was a lubricant and on the first climb rear wheels were spinning out and fishtailing.
El Chefe and I were riding together and had inadvertently started toward the back during the neutral roll out. Now we found ourselves working past riders struggling on the gravel. Because we were still bunched there was a shortage of good lines and those lines had rows of sketchy riders. Thus we had to burn some matches passing on loose gravel and working harder than we should have so early on.
I had a pretty firm ride plan in my head which I had shared with El Chefe. The plan was to spend the day in Zone 2-3 and on the climbs maybe just touch Zone 4 but not dwell there. The looseness of the gravel, the lack of good lines and having to pass when the opportunities presented themselves, challenged my plan. All in all I did pretty well.
This first climb gained over a thousand feet so things sorted themselves out soon enough. Like an ungrateful child we gave back all of the elevation we had just gained on a long paved downhill only to start climbing again. I was on 28mm wide Sectours and as Rich said it was a good day not to be pushing too much rubba.
This second climb started off paved and even though the grade and total elevation gain was almost identical to the first climb it felt almost effortless. Almost at the top of the climb the road turned to gravel and we began to accelerate and pass riders again. We caught Spinner John and exchanged some encouragement.
A ninety degree right turn and a slight downhill presented some of the most challenging gravel of the entire ride. There were no good lines and the gravel was soft and everyone tested their level of comfort with fishtailing. I hoped Spinner John would back off here and a post-ride conversation confirmed he had indeed used the good judgment so rare among cyclists.
Soon the gravel firmed up and after some rollers that were tons of fun the road pitched down toward the Columbia. I let the Boone fly knowing that El Chefe, who descends gravel like a Falcon, would catch me. I passed bunches of riders who were exercising caution or were spent from the previous two climbs.
Sure enough with a “whoop” El Chefe was beside me and then in front of we. We proceeded to pick off a few more groups of riders as we churned along. Soon we passed the portal of the train tunnel and the river opened up in front of us.
Then we partook of the sandy Cyclocross diversion that I really don’t understand. It felt almost like some weird biathlon activity where you take a break from riding to juggle or perform a set of Thighmaster exercises. I’m on an 80 mile gravel ride in March so I really don’t have a high ground position to question anything. Roll with it Davo…..
I felt a sprinkle of rain on my right leg and hoped it was an anomaly. We hit the food stop and with German precision we completed our tasks and were soon rolling again. We were chatting and riding side by side when three riders caught us and encouraged us to join them.
Another time, another place. El Chefe pushing about 100mm of Rubba
“We’re all friends after the food stop,” was an oft repeated refrain and we joined in and a paceline was born. Last year the headwind and rain in our faces had made this false flat climb up Palisade Canyon thirty kilometers of hell. This year we enjoyed the beauty of the valley and we drilled it. STRAVA would later tell us our time was fifteen minutes faster than we did it in 2015.
The three devils climb was looser than last year but also seemed tamer than my memory expected. With the major climbs behind us I reveled in how strong I felt. I couldn’t help but credit my long rides with some increased fitness.
We gained elevation with each set of rollers and soon the road pointed down sharply toward the hamlet of Ephrata. Despite the hours of riding in our legs we now smelled the barn and opened up on the descent. El Chefe and I passed each other then we took turns pulling all the way to the finish.
After crossing the line we made our way to the car and it started to rain. We thought of Rich who was still out on the course. Luckily the rain stopped as quickly as it started and all was good. We both felt strong and were elated that the good weather had held.
Before long El Chefe, Rich and I were all slouched in a booth in a local Mexican Restaurant trying to replenish ourselves. Rich filled us in on his adventure and we told him about our day. We were all pleased with our rides and the drive home was all smiles. After the smack down of last year we were all glad to have less drama this time around.
My lessons learned this time around were twofold. First, the reapplication of chamois cream half way though was a slick idea (use a pun, go to jail) and Secondly it confirmed my perception that I definitely prefer dry over biblical rain.