Our team has demonstrated some tendencies that the casual observer would find bizarre. As an example when the summer is in full swing the number of participants in our Sunday Coffee and Lies ride predictably increases. Yet when the menu offers up a mid-winter celebratory slog-fest we get more riders than a warm Sunday in July. We get more participation when the forecast calls for pain.
McWoodie pretending to be patient....
This was proven again as fourteen souls assembled before seven in the morning and departed for a gravel adventure that promised to leave everyone tired, sore and filthy.
Are you ready to rumble?
We had done this ride fifty short weeks ago and we came back with more riders and wider tires. The sky was smoky from fires to the north and the mercury was aiming for ninety degrees by mid-afternoon. Without shame I broke the rules and carried a hydration pack. I was not the only one. As we age, logic does make limited inroads.
We rolled out and my legs protested immediately. Nearly three hours of mountain biking with El Chefe the day before had left a mark. This would be a long day. Sore legs would only make it longer. I am a fool. It was a Morgan Blue Solid kind of day.
This is the time of year when most of us are wondering what to do with the fitness we built up all spring and summer. I am usually in this camp and it is a great place to be. Hills are easy and power is there when you need it. Long days in the saddle are a pleasure.
My personal agenda this year had many events and distractions that were not conducive to cycling fitness. I find myself torn between trying to cram in some late season fitness only to lose it between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day, or to just limp into winter and build up fresh come spring. At this point I must simply confess I am not in good cycling shape.
Rich man was sporting his new Litespeed and his shiny rear cassette looked like it was made of diamonds glistening in the sunlight as he rode. The shiny metal bits were anxious for an introduction to the dirt and gravel they were designed for. Rich man did not disappoint.
Let the climbing begin!
The dusty road soon turned uphill and my legs went from being sore from the prior days ride to working hard on the climb. One form of hurt gave way to another. As we gained elevation the views opened up and we found our varied climbing rhythms. I had recently added a wolf tooth extender and an 11-40 rear cassette to the B2 Bomber. The low gear would be my best friend on some of the climbs later in the ride.
After the ride last year I did some research on the Stampede pass area and this year I kept my eyes open. The history of the railroad, train tunnels, and mining from a bygone era in this forgotten land is fascinating.
We climbed and climbed and the grade let up now and then allowing us to catch our breath. After topping out the first sustained downhill was a chance for us to fly. Our single flat tire forced a stop for the group while they worked on a leaky valve stem.
If I don't make eye contact with the flat then my tires will be unaffected.....
At this point someone asked Rich man how he was liking his new ride. Fat tires and hydraulic discs make all the difference and his reply was less than enthusiastic. He finished his comments by saying he was not a good descender.
This was unacceptable for Evo and I went to his bike and checked his tire pressure. It may not have been sixty psi, but it felt like it.
I unscrewed his valve stem and began to let some air out and Rich man quickly thanked me. I kept letting air out and his gratitude turned to panic. The sound he made was a combination of the word “no” a quacking sound and a scream. Undaunted, I kept my finger pressed on the valve letting those unnecessary pounds per square inch go free. I took his 40mm wide Nanorapter down to about 30 psi. I went to the back and despite his repeated protest I brought that down to about 32psi.
After the next downhill he would comment on how well the tires were now working. Welcome to the wonderful world of wide tire tubeless! Rich man, we’ve been waiting for you! You’re never going back!
Deeper and deeper into the forest we went.....
Like some strange black, orange and white accordion we strung out and came back together. We reassembled at critical corners and stretched out on long climbs. We linked up when we hit the Greenwater draining and we flew down the road in a literal cloud of dust. At one point I looked at my once-white arm coolers and they either had a patina of light colored dust or had a pearlized surface finish. My teeth were likewise coated with dust.
After a long false flat the final climb starts off steep and loose and the heat of the day seemed to increase the effects of gravity. My legs hurt but I just kept going. Even in my Horst gear my cadence was slow. I could only imagine some poor soul on a cross bike climbing this with a 36-25.
The grade let up and I was able to get a much better pedal stroke going. With my hip flexors working my pace picked up considerably. I felt a fleeting moment of strength and revisited the question of trying to increase my fitness so late in the summer. I kept pushing and tried to stay ahead of the man with the hammer as I could sense he was getting close.
After an unexpectedly steep though short, loose section after a bridge I saw Ryan stopped in the shade at an intersection. That little kicker in combination with the heat brought me back to reality. A couple minutes later the rest of our breakaway came up, one at a time wrestling their bikes. Their faces revealing the aftereffects of that short steep section.
The climbing continued and I recalled the section ahead from last year. At that time I had attacked and chased Big John all the way to the top. This year my focus was to drain my hydration pack and metabolize some calories to prevent bonking. My shoes suddenly felt hot and I noted the full wrath of August was upon me. No shade for the wicked on this exposed dusty road. Oddly, this is my idea of fun.
Near the top I realized that shortly we would be going downhill and the implications of cramping or blowing up were lessening quickly. I got out of the saddle and pushed myself. With a spring and summer full of limited efforts it felt good to push hard on tired legs. I smiled at the ache in my quads. This is how we get strong. “I remember this feeling,” I thought to myself.
After reaching the top I circled back to collect KB who was also feeling the heat. Amazing how after a minute of coasting downhill my legs recovered and the final kick of the climb felt easier the second time around.
After cresting the top the road hugged the ridge and offered a slight, though sustained, downhill. Without a word we let the grade give us free speed. With big tires and low pressure we were safe as we ripped along high above the I-90 corridor.
There is a freeway down there somewhere
We sailed along with broad smiles and soon everything increased. The turns got bigger, the downward incline got steeper, the gravel got looser and we just went faster as we could sense the ride was nearing a happy ending.
By now we had become accustomed to flying over washboard and bunny hopping ditches. When the crunch of gravel ceased as we hit the pave’ for the first time in hours, the silence seemed sacred. We looked at each other and did not need to speak. The quiet was deafening and our expressions told the story.
Back at the cars we peeled off our crusty kids. El Jefe’ handed me a bottle of water fresh out of his ice chest. We munched on chips and drank the cold water as we changed and loaded the bikes up.
A stop at Lake Kachess provided a chance to cool off in the lake and partake of various other beverages that El Jefe’ had hidden his cooler.
This is the "after" photo
Fourteen middle aged men stood by the lake each grateful for friendship, wide tires, cold water and supportive families. As KB said, he was sore and tired, but it was the best kind of sore and tired.