The drop bar bikes in the lineup, designed to provide a choice for those looking for a more time honored, road oriented style of riding.
Well they did warn me. It was right there on the information page for the event:
“The course is very challenging BUT doable…“
It was the “Don’t think you can get off the couch after curling your favorite IPA for the last few months and do it” that I really should have paid attention to. But did I? No. I hadn’t been on my bike for any substantial length of time or distance since Sept. 18/2016, so said my Strava!! Oh boy. I should have know this would be tough. I mean, I did know it would be tough but this sounded like a heck of a fun idea when the boys suggested it. Ride our gravel grinder bikes for 40 miles or so, drinking beers, having a good time down in the Cascadias! Mainly timed downhills, in a sort of an Enduro format? Fully supported? YAH! SURE!
Friday morning, everyone arrived at my place around 10:15am so that four of us could load up in Logan’s big ol’ F150 and rally down south in a reasonable amount of time.
What with the snow that had fallen overnight, and the forecast for much, much more, we were questioning if we were bringing the wrong gear and going too far south into the US of A! But we were committed to this bike adventure.
The border crossing included our usual check in to the office. Travelling with my best friend who shares the name of a 60 something, 300 pound neck tattooed drug trafficker does that, nearly every time… even though said friend is maybe 140, has no tats and was 6 years old at the time of the offenses! We were in and out quick though and back on our way.
Importantly, we ate pizza.
To save on costs, we opted to stuff all four guys into a ‘family’ room at the DoubleTree in Olympia. It was actually pretty great: two queen beds, a king and a single pull out.
Wake up came at 6:30am Saturday as we had to eat something, drink coffee and get to the start line for packet pick up and rider briefing.
Tick tock, the moment of truth approached. Was I ready? Is my bike ready? Most importantly, is the aid station ready for me!? I’d likely need it.
Was pretty sure that the bike was ready: it’s a 2014 Brodie Romax Ti with uniquely curated parts. Bits of interest include Easton EA90 CX wheels, a Lev dropper and custom machined shift travel adjuster made by Colin of Dub Manufacturing so that I could run a nice wide 11-42 SunRace 11 speed cassette mated to a Shimano SLX rear mech driven by Shimano RS685 STI levers.
As for me, well… read on.
The start/finish area was at the Evergreen Sportsman Clubhouse, a 30 minute drive from the hotel. It was only about 6°C out at the time. Not ideal especially when mixed with the rain. We were in for a cold, damp event.
The four of us opted to participate in the “Sportive” category, with intentions of stopping at the top of climbs to enjoy the view and share beers. Well, neither of those things happened as it was too cold to stop for any extended period of time.
The ride had three “Special Primes” that were timed separately from the overall race. A sort of race within the race. A very cool idea taken from the mountain biking Enduro format.Myself coming from a mountain bike background, and having raced many Enduro events, I understood this concept. However, I didn’t expect them to all be uphill timed sections! Not ideal for my 220lb frame! I’m not a climber. Enduro mountain bike races, the stages that are timed are always ultimately an elevation loss.
At the top of “Prime 2” there was a wonderfully stocked aid station, complete with chicken noodle soup! A nice treat to warm us up before another descent.
I should touch on that a bit more: the roads were great! Very well maintained, not too loose, and reasonable grades overall. The descents were fast and entertaining, the climbs manageable and picturesque. Apparently there’s over 500 miles of gravel roads in the Capitol Forest, and we only rode just over 40 of them.
As we neared the finish the weather got worse and began raining even harder. The roads of the last few miles felt very spongy, everyone agreed it felt as though we had flat tires. Every little climb was painful by this time. Obviously our legs were cooked.
Finally we hit the pavement again, the indicator that we were at the end. The head wind to the finish was a nice touch, just in case you weren’t tired enough.
The event was very well done. Delicious chili at the end along with tasty local craft brew on tap.
We didn’t stick around long as the DoubleTree had a hot tub!
What was planned to be a party night out in Olympia after a day on the bikes ended up being a nap, then dinner, then bed by 9:30p! After ten hours of sleep, a fantastic breakfast Sunday morning, it was back home we went.
Overall I’d say I did ok. Was I ready? Well, ready enough as it turns out. More riding would have helped me do even better and not be as exhausted after, but even my fittest friends were bagged. The bike performed great, of course, and I’d only change the bar to something a bit wider for better control on the descents.
If you’re debating on entering one of these events, do it. They’re a blast! Bellingham has a bunch this year, a few of which have a $0 entry fee!!