There are less than three weeks to the Winthrop Fondo and I’m trying to fit in a few hard rides before I taper. This past holiday weekend I did some fun rides with Hottie and a solo long grinder. On one of those rides with Hottie we had over 2,500 feet of climbing. Don’t look over your shoulder fellers or you might see her gaining on you……
The cooler temps hit with a vengeance and it is amazing how sixty degrees on a sunny morning can be fine in a short sleeve jersey but sixty degrees on a cloudy, breezy morning can freeze your cowbells off.
I set off after breakfast with sleeves on and a wind jacket in my pocket. After a steady ascent of the Winthrop Trail I enjoyed the roller coaster singletrack of the Patterson Lake Trail. This trail is one of Brad’s favorites and I can’t wait to share this route with my German brothers next summer. The Black Pine Lake loop has it all.
After the lake I join onto Elbow Coulee which had the best surface I have ever experienced on that gravel road. I could fly with absolute confidence. Then after a brief section of pave’ I was onto Poorman cutoff and soon I was climbing up Poorman Canyon.
Oops, a March flashback......
By now my sleeves were off and during the climb I unzipped my jersey and let it flap. Why they even make jerseys with less than full zippers is unknown to me. The surface was better than it had been when El Chefe’ and I contemplated killing Mr. T. in the spring of 2015.
I got myself into a good rhythm and got to work. Despite the holiday weekend there were only a couple trucks heading the opposite way and they let me pass with ease. The grade was pretty constant with minor fluctuations to keep you honest.
I was working my hip flexors and trying to keep a good cadence. I took note when I finally reached the first switchback (900 meters above sea level) as well as the highest elevation (1250 meters) at the lake. I kept myself in Zone 4 for nearly all of the climb and felt strong.
When I topped out I finished my second bottle. I chomped down a bar and prepped for the descent. I zipped up, put on my sleeves and wind jacket and pointed my front wheel downward. I was glad for every piece of clothing I had on. It is much easier to steer and brake when your hands are not hypothermic.
After passing Black Pine Lake I noted the descent has four right hand corners, all signed, worth slowing down for. The first three are on gravel and the last one, though paved featured a lot of loose sand and pine needles that could potentially ruin your day.
At the bottom of Buttermilk canyon I rejoined onto the paved Twisp River Road and headed east, downriver. This is a good recovery and gives you an opportunity to believe you are feeling better than you really are. This false sense of fitness is a precursor to making bad decisions.
At this point there are two gravel options to get back to Winthrop. One is to make the gradual climb up Elbow Coulee, retracing your start. The other is to make the climb up Thompson Ridge Road which is an absolute sting in the tail for this loop.
I stopped and stuffed my jacket and sleeves into my jersey pockets and gathered my courage from my diminutive suitcase.
Leveraging the previously mentioned euphoria I opted to climb up Thompson Ridge Road. I had put in a good effort on the hour long climb up to Black Pine Lake and this would be another solid half hour of upness. I silently committed myself to making a good effort and swerved off the pavement and began the typically loose climb that starts off with a ridiculously steep section. The incline, crappy lines and loose rocks combine to make you question yourself. Nothing like contemplating giving up less than a minute into a thirty minute climb. My powers of denial are strong and I persevered.
I took it right in the face!
My legs reminded me of the earlier climb up Poorman Canyon but I told my legs to shut up. I got out of the saddle only to have my rear wheel spin. “Sit down and pay the price,” I thought to myself. Blah, blah, blah…. you just go faster.
There is a brief respite that parallels the Twisp River Road before twisting upward into the mountain. Instead of relaxing I built up some speed and then turned north and it was on. I settled in and welcomed my good friend, Mr. Hurt.
I hadn’t done this route since dropping a couple kilos before the Dolomite trip and was hoping for a personal best on the climb. The road was sandy and there were a couple washboard sections that just zap your strength and crush your mojo. I had to pay attention to picking good lines which gets harder when you throw in hypoxia.
I was in a Zen-like state and to be honest I was enjoying it. I didn’t have McWoodie or Einmotron pulling away effortlessly so I could pretend I was going fast. The sky was cloudy so I wasn’t baking. It had grown darker but I had not noticed because I was so focused on my effort. I heard some thunder behind me, much further east. “Cool,” I thought to myself.
As I got closer to the top there was another clap of thunder except now it was right over my head. I didn’t smell burnt ozone or anything but it wasn’t far away like the one five minutes before this one was right here.
“I need to get off this mountain,” I thought. I quickly considered my options for a rapid descent. I had to keep going hard to the top of course but after that I would head down......
I came upon the Meadowlark trail junction and took it. I then took the faint trail that is the Pine Forest cutoff. Gnomes and locals can spot it, others don’t even see it. That trail is barely there but it kept going. Not a lot of switchbacks so it was steep but my brakes were working well. When I came upon some ruts I took a high line to avoid the rock-filled rut.
Suddenly my front wheel slipped on the loose stuff and went down into the rut and I was on my left side on the ground. I had been going really slow so there wasn’t any drama. I stood up, brushed off and in fifteen seconds I was back underway.
By the time I reached the gate that opens into Pine Forest I did note a couple spots were feeling sore. Adrenalin had come and gone following the fall.
The sky was still dark and I was expecting rain at any moment. I could see across the valley that it was raining on the Rendezvous and part of the Chewuch. My original plan to ride the first part of the Fondo would have put me under that rain. I would like to claim wisdom but in fact it was a warning from Brad on the washboard condition of the road that had motivated me to head south instead of Northwest.
As I approached the cabin I kept looking to my left at the ominous clouds over the mountains and counting myself lucky to be dry. I had cut my ride short by a few kilometers but I was satisfied with the day’s effort.
I know the secret for the Winthrop Fondo is to keep my powder dry on the first climb so I have something in the tank for the final climb. Saying and doing are different things.