An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Gran Fondo Leavenworth: We came, we saw, we kicked our own asses...

On June 23rd, 88 riders lined up at 8:00am in the local high school parking lot in Leavenworth, WA, for the start of the Gran Fondo Leavenworth. I was among them. Ahead of me lay 87-plus miles of pavement and "dirt road" (more on this later). It was a well-run event with an awesome food stop, great riders, lots of flats (fortunately not mine), and a true test of what you've got inside you.

With my wife's birthday on Saturday, we decided to make a weekend of it and drove out on Friday, and took Saturday doing the tourist thing in the Bavarian-style town. Saturday evening was carbo-loading on home-made pizza, chocolate cake and Neopolitan ice cream, and gazing out over Lake Wenatchee from the peaceful deck of the rented cabin.

Ride morning was peaceful, with a glassy lake, a stark contrast to the depths of effort to which I'd need to dig later in the day.

We got to the event site with about 30 minutes to spare, enough to get numbers pinned on, bikes together, and pockets stuffed, then lined up for the pre-ride instructions. "This is not a race..." Yep, indeed.

We started out on about 8 miles of slowly climbing pavement before the gravel and dirt started, and then the climbing began in earnest. This first climb was but a warm-up, mostly packed, nothing too challenging. Then a flying descent that saw many people on the side of the road changing flats, and washboard leading into almost every corner. More than once I barely got it under control to make a turn due to the jackhammer of the road. Riding in the drops with one finger on each brake lever worked well.

Finally down the descent, we emerged back on pavement and at the first water stop. I caught a great draft off that stop which carried me to the next gravel pass -- slightly steeper, slightly rougher, slightly more challenging. I passed several people who were riding road bikes, one with a low gear of 39x25. He was in for a world of hurt.

Off that pass, onto pavement again, I caught another pace line, and we motored to the food stop along the Columbia River out of Entiat. I loaded up on food, still carrying my gels and half my fig bars, filling bottles, then waiting for my wife to find the stop... A quick hello and hug from her and my daughter, and I was off again, along the river, and into the heights of Swakane Canyon and the depths of my strength.

The final climb took me by surprise. Not just because it was immediately rough and rocky, but becau
se it kept getting worse. And steeper. After several miles of gentle inclines, the road gave way to jeep track of STEEP pitches, with loose rock covering, not allowing me to stand. With a low gear of 34x32, I thought I'd be prepared for anything. Several times I just put it in that low gear and PRAYED that I'd make it to the top without having to stop. Eric later described this portion as having been made "by a drunk mountain goat".

Eventually I made it, fighting cramps in both quads. The water stop at the top gave me a much needed respite, and my legs were slightly renewed for the one more round of pounding -- across the top were several miles of dried cat-track, an incessant washboard of a "road" that meandered through a clear cut. Active suspension would have been nice here.

Finally the road turned downward, smoothed out (for the most part), and speed and comfort increased dramatically.

Coming out onto the pavement again was glorious, with a 6 mile descent at 25+ (and +) mph to the finish. Coming across the line, I basked in the adulation of the crowd (my wife and daughter again).

This was the most brutal ride I've ever done, taxing me in ways that I was barely prepared to pay. But I finished 38th out of 78, in 7 hours and 11 minutes, only 1:40 (that's one hour and 40 minutes) behind the leaders.

The bike performed well. The only thing I might have done differently would be to use some tires with a little more tread, and maybe one more lower gear. As it was, I suffered no flats, never spun out on loose rock, didn't crash on the washboard, and made the entire coarse on my wheels.

A good ride to have on my resume. Not sure I'd be so inclined to do it again with that particular final climb. But I'm glad I did it. It was a good weekend, a good test of what's inside me, and a good test of my bike.

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