Friday, June 7, 2013

Velodirt's Oregon Stampede

More than anything, I am thankful to my readers. Without you, I would not be a writer.  I met a few of you on the Stampede last Saturday, which vastly helped my survival.  I'm talking to you, John.  And you, Johnny.  And you, Ed.  Each reader, in turn, slowed their pace and rode with me for several miles.  The company was valuable, but even more was the validation that I'm not writing into a black hole, even if I am riding into one.

I was aware all day of my need to dodge cocky arrogance.  I can do anything, it's true, but only if I have serious doubt in my arsenal.  Arriving at Dufur for the first rest stop, at mile 40, I was naively delighted with how well the day was going.  Most of the tough gravel and climbing is behind us.  Most of the pavement lies ahead.  And many of the group are still at the store as I head out.  I thought to myself, I'm doing great!

The cue sheet breaks out the next era of my life like this: 
mile 55.3: straight over the cattle guard, enter wildlife area, dirt.
@ first fork @ 55.9 - at top of hill go right/straight down the rough steep hill.  One small creek crossing (likely dry) b/f some climbing and second fork
@ second fork @57.2 - go left.  look for green marker on tree at left of instersection.
@58.9 - cross stream on wooden bridge
@61 - stream crossing (no bridge)
pavement @ 61.5

I cede that self-imposed suffering is a privilege.  I chose to go on this ride, knowing in advance that I would probably hit a new bottom.  130 miles is well within my grasp.  Riding on gravel is getting easier.  Headwinds and 12,000 feet of elevation gain are just fine.  Combine them all and stir in the White River Wildlife area, which I'd like detonated off the face of the earth, and it adds up to the hardest day I've ever had on a bicycle.

I find myself alone and bawling loudly in this nature reserve that goes for six miserable miles, most of which I have to walk.  As I encounter creek crossing after creek crossing, some wet, some dry, some streams, some bridges, I lose count of where I am and am sure for several miles that the paved road and my sanity are only a half mile away.

Arriving at yet another creek crossing,  I scream at the top of my lungs.  I flip off trees and fish and curse God for the color of the sky. At that moment, after not seeing another rider for hours and feeling certain I was the last shmuck on the route, Howard and Alan appear on their bicycles.  Caught in the act of freaking out is humbling in a different way than the impassable giant boulders and soft silt I had endured.

Finally arriving on pavement, I used anger to power my machine forward at an impressive 25 miles per hour, which I sustained for the next four miles into town.  The lady at the Tygh Valley store said the last group left just twenty minutes before.  I sat and ate popcorn from their machine and refilled my four water bottles for the second time that day.  A woman in an SUV pulled up, asking if we were doing the gravel grinder ride and if we knew where Steve was.  Being rescued terrifies me so I shortened my break time.

Appetite sated and elated to ride on more pavement, I flew off.  Hatred for gravel was translating into a renewed passionate love and lust affair with asphalt.  It's so smooth.  So regular.  Trustworthy.  Fast.  Pavement works with my bicycle, not against it.  Soon I was riding through Warm Springs territory, the DesChutes River Canyon and over Sherar's Bridge.

The next ten or so miles winded me up the road.  I can't recall enjoying a tough climb as much as this one.  I was tired, tear-stained, salty and smeared with sunscreen, but I was singing and climbing to beat the band.  Each little curl of the road revealed a barely visible white line etched into the canyon in the distance ahead.  Those little white lines turned out to be fences between the road and the cliff and represented where I'd be if I continued to pedal.  Which I did, until, at long last, I reached the top.

I started doing math when I got to Twin Lakes Road, which I nicknamed Twin Horns Road.  Gravel just loose enough to unnerve me with lots of little rises and dips.  My speed of 8mph would have me arrive back at camp, and the keg, around midnight.  Midnight!  I needed an average speed of 13mph over the next three hours if I would make my 9:30pm goal.  So, I turned back.

Once again, Howard and Alan appeared.  These two had a nice slow and steady pace and upbeat attitudes.  They slowed to see why I was headed south when north was the way home.  I told them simply "fuck gravel", and continued back to highway 206.  We met up again before Moro, which we had high hopes for.  "To Moro!  To Moro!" I sang in my head over and over on the fast fat shoulder.

Down in the ditch to our right we saw a tiny deer.  It was bouncing along at 20 miles per hour and both Howard and I giggled at the sight.  What a day of nature this had been.  The morning started with a baby rattlesnake in camp, followed by countless dead snakes out in the road.  In the afternoon, I rolled up to a couple dozen blackbirds on a fence, who all flew off at once, exposing their brilliant yellow underbellies to me.  I thought I saw a chicken in the middle of the road, but it turned out to be a giant hawk who was snacking on a dead rattler.  The best though, was the stampede.

Yes, a stampede, on a ride called the Stampede!  While riding on the easy second gravel road of the day, I saw a dark spot ahead.  I thought I was catching up to a group of riders.  The spot got bigger and darker until I realized it was a small herd of cows crossing the road.  Then I could tell they were not crossing the road but moving toward me on it.  Rather quickly.

I saw a taller silhouette behind them, which turned out to be a cowboy.  A real life cowboy wearing a cowboy hat, riding a horse and  flanked by two herding dogs.  He motioned for me to get over, as I was standing in the middle of the road like a deer dazzled by headlights.  As they passed, it struck me how large and fast and strong these creatures are.  Any one of them, even the small ones, could easily take me out with a quick head butt.

Meanwhile, arriving in Moro, we spied a lonely soda machine and fed it dollars.  The guys decided to finish the gravel portion of the return trip, while I opted for the fast fast highway.  I dug deep, back into the recesses of my randonneur experiences, riding and doing math, singing and drinking water.  Soon, I would encounter the third "helper car" of the day.  Out in the middle of nowhere, drivers seemed to be worried about me and would stop to ask if I was ok, lost, crazy or what-have-you.

I'd like to act as a friendly ambassador to the public for all things bikey, but math told me I had no time to slow down, much less stop.  Each driver seemed to respect my curt "I'm fine, please leave me alone" replies and rolled on.  Just a few more miles down the gorgeous descent that is Fulton Canyon Road and I was on the familiar route 30.  I could see a blinking red light ahead of me, which felt like winning the lottery.  I never caught it but I was happy and time trialed back to camp, making it just fifteen minutes past my goal.

"Where's Donnie?" I asked on my return.  I heard a voice from the fireside ask "are you going to hurt me?".  I guess a few riders punched him hard in the arm at the end.  It's counter-intuitive and illogical but I wanted to hug him and thank him for creating the most challenging and beautiful route ever. 

I learned later that the first finisher completed the ride in eight hours.  A friend of mine finished it in eight twenty.  Somehow I wasn't upset or disappointed that it took me almost fifteen hours.  There's no way I could've done this ride a year ago or the year before that or ever.  It inspires me that others can do it so seemingly easily and quickly because I'm learning that...

the old hard is the new easy.


  1. great testimonial/write-up about a unique/uber-challenging event. Way-to-go on your finish!!

  2. It was the hardest ride I've ever done as well. Nice meeting you :)