The Hell of the Northwest


Eight Cacti made the long drive from Seattle to the Columbia River Gorge for two days of road racing at the Gorge-Roubaix.  In attendance were:

Chris S                 Open 4/5

Tim N                  Open 3/4

Peter S                Open 3/4

Dave F                 Open 4/5

Dennis T-W        Masters 1/2/3/4/5

Mark C                Open 4/5

Dan L                   Open 3/4

Mike M               Masters 1/2/3/4/5

With the exception of Peter, we all stayed at Chris’ McFunkhouse just up the hill from the Washington town of Lyle – 20 minutes from the start line. 

Peter, Dennis, Dave, Chris and I arrived early enough on Friday to fit in a quick ten-mile spin ascending and descending the steady eddy hills around the Funkhouse.  Tim and Mark arrived a bit later with Dan and his wife Amy pulling in at half past midnight.

Dave had packed an entire king salmon from Mutual Fish Market, so our pre-race meal was a feast of salmon, brown rice and a mulligan salad.

Dennis and I started out the weekend festivities with a 9:00 rollout under clear skies and only a light wind.  I wisely decided to shed my armwarmers at the last minute – bibs and shirtsleeves.  The Masters field was large at 75, but everyone seemed under control, and the first twenty minutes of the race passed fairly easily.  But that’s when the party ended.

Under non-race conditions the Rowena Loops would be a spectacular ride, but in a race…well that’s different.  The gradient isn’t all that crazy and on the race profile the switchbacks appear as a mionr blip, but this is where our race blew apart.  As I gasped over the top solo I managed a glace backward and was a bit more that ecstatic to see that there were actually quite a few riders behind me.

As we started into Mosier I grabbed ahold of five or six guys and we began a really nice rolling paceline.  We picked up another half dozen on the way into town.  The follow car was directly behind us as we approached Mosier, the lead guy in our paceline crossed the yellow line and passed two civilian cars.  Groupthink ensued and we all went around.  “Well that’s it for us” I thought waiting to hear the toot of the horn telling us that we’d been DQ’d, but it was silence – Oregon.  It was time to start up.

The “big” climb is five miles, half paved half gravel.  The gradient is slack and the gravel well-packed.  It was time to find a pace and stick with it.  A big dude in blue was setting a good tempo, so I grabbed ahold and held on.  The Masters race included two laps of this ascent and the thought of coming back around weighed heavily on my already fragile psyche, but as Chris would say “what the hell right.”  The descent was awesome: a long straight down which I clocked a totally stable 47 mph.  I was rolling Compass Cayuse Pass 25mm tires at 90 psi, they gave me a really cush ride and great confidence. 

The second time up the hill didn’t seem all that bad, and I was able to make the top in fairly good form.  Now was time for the reward: an awesome tailwind assisted descent.  A half dozen of us were riding together and now we really started to devour that pavement.

Descending the Rowena curves on a closed course was worth all that suffering.  We were smoking; I got in behind a fella from Bend who had the skills to match his massive moustache and we railed it.  The big tailwind pushed us the final few miles to the finish and that was that: I didn’t finish in the front but at least I finished in a group and we made a race out of it.

We all met up at the parking lot – no lost skin, no mechanicals and a fifteenth place for Tim.  All was right with the world, and so we went out for lunch.

That evening we descended upon the town of Lyle and ordered way too much pizza, and slightly too much beer at the Corner Pocket Tavern.

Despite a much talked about loose gravel descent the Sunday race, to me at least, looked to be much easier than what we had experienced on Saturday.  This time we rolled out from Downtown.

My legs seemed as fresh as could be expected and the first twenty miles passed fairly easily with the entire starting crew riding in a nice controlled peloton.  Now came the hill.  I started near the front and was able to keep up for awhile, but when the big guns started throwing down I began to slip.  I was starting to smell the top when Tim came by in the lead group of Open 3/4’s.  Then came Dan, and at the top of the paved section we were neutralized (i.e. stopped).  Many guys felt like it was time for, as Phil Liggat would say, a “natural” break.

Now we were climbing on gravel and everything got kind of messed up: we had to ride far to the right to allow wheel cars to pass, and we couldn’t go around the slower 3/4’s, so we all just kind of bunched up and ate each other’s dust.  The gravel was much looser than what we had ridden the day before, but there were good lines to be found and before long we were descending.  I locked onto Pruitt who was riding a Cannondale Lefty monoshock with mega wide tires.  Mike sniffed the good lines and I just followed along.  What goes down must go up, so after the descent we climbed back out and then it was a quick descent back onto pavement.

The second time up the long paved climb was solo.  A group of seven or eight from my race were in front of me, but I just didn’t have the gas to catch them.  Halfway down the descent I passed Tim who was just finishing up a self-fix flat.  Fifteen seconds later the karma police caught up with me and I hit a big rock and blew out my front tire.  Ten feet away was a neutral wheel car.  Thirty seconds later I was back in business.

I packed up with two strong riders when we hit the pavement, and together we started the mostly descending trip back into town. At the 5K to go sign we picked up an Audi guy and the four of us started a rampage to the finish.  On the edge of town we made a hard right then a hard left, I came out on top and put the hammer down thinking that the finish line was what turned out to be the 200m to go sign.  I was gassed and rolled over the line three out of four.  I guess it pays to know the exact location of the finish line.

They scored me as a 1/2/3, but if I were to have been grouped in the Masters 4/5, which is where I belonged, I took twelfth.  Not too bad considering.  Tim, Mark and I all had flats, other than that everyone finished intact and smiling.

Then we drove home.