Sunday, June 24, 2007

Barlow Trail Century

Some people deal with their emotional pain by cutting themselves, in the hope that a physical manifestation of their pain will make them feel better.

To those people I say, put away your razor blade, hop on your bike and follow me.

Today I volunteered as a chaperon for the Barlow Trail Century, called the "best one-day ride in Oregon" by...well, the people who put on the ride probably. It's a brutal ride that includes MUCH more climbing than the Boring Ride. If it's pain you're looking for, this is a good a way to find it as any, and better than most.

Three years ago this month, mom and I did the 40 mile option of the ride together, with her on my mountain bike. We completed the ride in four hours, which was pretty impressive considering the amount of climbing even in the shorter route. She was a real trouper. I thought it would be nice to ride it again and do the full century.

My team is sponsored by River City Bicycles who put on this event so we're expected to volunteer in some capacity anyway. Chaperoning just involves riding the course (you don't have to do the whole thing, but I wanted to) and being willing to stop and help anyone in need with repairs, directions, encouragement, rations etc.

I stopped at Finkos and printed out a picture of me and mom to tape to my seat bag. It just seemed appropriate.

I got started at 8:00am. The forecast called for rain and there was a light mist when I set out. Throughout the day the weather got more and more miserable and I wore every stitch of bike clothing I had brought and made a fine testing of my new Showers Pass rain jacket (it passed with flying colors).

I started later than most people so I was alone on the road for a long time and what people I did see were generally passing me in a double pace line. I did help one woman who had dropped her chain (she didn't really need the help, but it made me feel useful). The reality is, anyone who signs up for a hundred mile ride with 3500 ft elevation gain, is going to be a fairly experienced and self sufficient bunch.

Even the few injured people I encountered were already surrounded by scores of helpful, knowledgeable people who were taking care of everything. So that just left me to ride and think about being wet and cold and why was I out there and did I *really* want to ride the full 100 miles? I was starting to have doubts.

The website for the ride explained it this way:

Test your resolve like the pioneers before you, laboring up the flanks of the great mountain on this old historic Oregon Trail route. Be sure to look for the stunning views of Mt. Hood along the hearty 8.5-mile climb (average grade 8-10%). Crest the saddle at 3,500 feet and you'll find a stash of provisions nestled in the woods to fuel your ride home.

I was all for testing my resolve, but it looked like my grade was leaning somewhere in the direction of a B-/C+.

As soon as I left the first rest stop at 20 miles, the real climbing started. From then on I just settled into the new reality that my legs were going to hurt. They were soon followed by my knees. "Spinning" wasn't really an option when the grade tilted upwards so steeply it was all I could do to keep up enough momentum to stay upright.

Relief came in the form of a steep windy descent into the valley described as "Little Switzerland" (see above). When the road turned up again, it wasn't quite as steep so I was still able to make good time. Which was a good thing because me and my bladder were counting down the miles to the next rest stop at mile 41. Around mile 38.5, I gave up and went behind the nearest tree. Feeling much better, I rolled into rest stop two and was greeted by a lovely bonfire surrounded by chilled cyclists.

Up until that point, I had still been toying with the idea of heading all the way up to the top of Lolo Pass. But when one rider at the fireside who had just come down said, "I think it's hailing up there," any thoughts of adding insult to insanity faded into the mist. The thick blanket of clouds had wiped out any chance of the fabled amazing views. Without that carrot, I was having a hard time figuring out why I should spend another two hours, slogging up an 8-10% grade to a rest stop where the temperature was 10-15 degrees colder and there was no fire, followed by a chilly descent.

I think not.

I warmed myself up, traded knee warmers for full tights and set off back the way I had come, secure in the knowledge that I could drive back up the pass on a sunny day and enjoy the view.

The ride back included more company as I got passed by yet more burley racer guys and shared the road and some conversation with the occasional woman. Bree was asking about my new aero bars so I gave her a demo by leaving her in the dust on the next descent. I think she was impressed enough that she may be getting her own.

I felt better on the climbs coming out of the valley and Dodge park, even though my knees were protesting heavily by then. Near the end of the ride, I got to help one pour soul I found walking up the last major climb of the ride.

"Think about the burritos!" I yelled as I came even with him.

"There's burritos?"

"Yes, and they're from Laughing Planet and they're excellent."

That was enough to motivate him back onto the bike. He left me to catch his group but I saw him again a few mile later, coming the wrong way down the street after missing a turn. So I guided him in the right direction and then we stayed together through the last few turns back onto the Springwater Trail. The trail is nice and smooth in Gresham and the grade is tipped just downward enough for me to zip along comfortably at 18 mph. After a few minutes, my companion called up, "Hey, do you have a rope?"

I laughed. "Why, so I can pull you the rest of the way?"

"Yeah." I could tell from his voice that he was only half kidding. I knew the feeling. I'd wished for the same thing many times earlier in the day, watching guys with calves the size of my thighs whistling as they passed me.

I slowed down and then I asked if he'd run out of water.


Well no wonder he couldn't keep up with me, even on a $12,000 demo bike that probably weighed as much as one of my pedals. I quickly gave him the rest of my water bottle which also had liquid nutrition added.

He cheered up after that. Then a few minutes later:

"Are we there yet?"

I looked up and thought I saw the sign for Cedarville park where the finish line was. "Yeah, I think we are actually." Together we blazed the last few meters to the finish line.

He headed off to turn in his bike and I took my bike to the car, changed as fast as I could and went to claim my well earned burrito, which was everything I had hoped and dreamed it would be for the last 40 miles. And the banana strawberry smoothie went down pretty tastily as well. I had to hand it to Rivercity for knowing the right way to feed depleted cyclists.

Final mileage was 82, which I completed in just over 8 hours and I'm feeling pretty darn happy with that.

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