Saturday, March 12, 2011

lanterne rouge in the dirt

I first heard about the Dalles Mountain 60-miler (which happened on March 5th) from Ed Groth, who was organizing carpools and sleepovers for this fire-road-populated cycling event about 90 miles East of Portland. But if I was gonna do it, it would be spontaneously. After all, with hernia repair recovery going slower than anticipated, and a “Bike Tattoo Day” (put on by my cycling team) supposedly happening the same day, my options were staying open.

Well, “Bike Tattoo Day” got cancelled, and the hernia irritations were being mitigated by ibuprofen. So I managed to get my ‘cross bike somewhat prepped and out to The Dalles in time for the 9:00 start. The only thing I neglected was swapping the 32mm slicks for some cyclocross tires.

announcements by tangocyclist
announcements a photo by tangocyclist on Flickr.

The Dalles Mountain 60 was put on by VeloDirt, apparently a loosely organized trio of Portlanders who like to ride their bicycles on dirt roads throughout the rural Northwest. What I mean by loosely is that there was no sign-in sheet and no registration at the local coffee shop in The Dalles from whence the ride started. However, there was a riders’ meeting to describe various aspects of the route, and there was a stack of cue sheets pre-stuffed into plastic baggies!

In addition to Ed, some other people I knew at the start were his friend Steph (who didn’t ride this event), Theo (a randonneuring fleche teammate last year along with Ed), Rob A. (another friend of Ed’s who I’ve rando-ed with), and Nathan (the trainer with Brian’s House of Pain, where I work out). ‘Twas looking like quite a diverse group of riders, most of whom I didn't know.

After crossing the Columbia and heading East on Washington State Hwy 14, the route turned up Dalles Mountain Road, which was the first big gravel road climb of the day. I had fallen behind most of the riders a few miles up when my rear tire flatted. Local Portland bike builder Rob Tsunehiro and a friend stopped to make sure I was okay. Sure wish I’d taken a picture of his bicycle with a really nice front rack and headlight mount. Farther up the rode, a rider on a Salsa ‘cross bike had broken his rear derailleur, and was fixin’ to coast/limp back to The Dalles.

rob by tangocyclist
rob tsunehiro a photo by tangocyclist on Flickr.

If I was slower than the others uphill, I was much slower on the rutty, muddy downhills. I’m sure those wide-ish slicks didn’t help. Ed later noted that the while the roadies had a speed advantage going uphill (cuz of lighter weight), the mounting bikers could descend considerably faster. Meanwhile, my descents on the muddy roads were super cautious and hardly any faster than my ascents.

Things flattened out on the back side of the mountain, and after a combination of some more gravel and pavement, I turned onto Hwy 97. A few riders (including Rob T.) were doing a return chug back up Mary Hill Loop Road, having found the road closed further down because of an un-forecasted car event. I joined these riders on the descent down Hwy 97 to the Shell station near Hwy 14. At this refueling break, I bought batteries for my camera and was able to take my first pictures since the start in The Dalles.

In anticipation to the possibility that Mary Hill Loop might be closed, there were alternate directions from Hwy 97 on the cue sheet that directed riders East out to Stonehenge Dr. But none of the riders that I left with from the Shell station went that way. Instead, they flew down Gore Rd. for a shorter trip to the bridge crossing into Biggs.

I, on the other hand, visited Washington’s version of Stonehenge for the first time. It’s a miniature version of prehistoric monument found in England, and built as a memorial to World War I casualties. The road from there is also a nice descent to Maryhill, then Biggs Junction.

end of old moody rd by tangocyclist
end of old moody rd a photo by tangocyclist on Flickr.

The next gravely ascent was up Old Moody Rd, which starts where the Deschutes River runs into the Columbia. There were sections where I was barely able to keep pedaling. But pedal I did, until able to coast down to Fifteen Mile Rd. From there, it was mostly rural pavement all the way back to The Dalles.

At 4:00 PM I arrived at the coffee shop from where the ride started. There were no other cyclists, nor cyclists’ cars, nor evidence of any cyclists having been there … except for one passerby who asked me, “Was there some bicycling event going on here earlier today?”

On the drive home, I stopped half way in Stevenson, WA at the Walking Man Brewing, where I was serenaded by bagpipers during a well-lubricated dinner.

More photos are here on Flickr.

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