Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Gorge Ride

I've stumbled onto a fabulous training strategy for STP.  It involves going on organized rides where we have little to no idea of the route or terrain we'll be covering, but the conditions are much harsher than anything we'll see at the event.

As part of that strategy, I registered us for the first annual Gorge Ride, a supported tour of a 20 mile stretch of restored Columbia Gorge Highway put on by the Friends of the Columbia Gorge.  Their goal is to restore the entire highway so that you can bike from Troutdale to The Dalles without ever encountering Hwy 84.

It was the Gorge, so we could deduce that the route would probably involves some hills and oh yeah--there might be a little wind.  But what the heck, it was only 40 miles, right?

We arrived at the start point at 8:30am, having driven ourselves out from under the clouds that clung over Portland.  The sun was shining but it wasn't particularly warm at that time of the day and as soon as we got out the car, the wind hit us with steady force.  At least we'd be going into it starting out and enjoy a nice tailwind on the return leg.

As first time organized rides go, I'd say this one was a success.  The route was stunning, the cars few, and the rest stops, well placed and well stocked.  The nicest stop by far was at the historic Meyerdale Estates, a huge house that's in the process of being restored.  On a small patch of the expansive lawn, we enjoyed the usual rest stop snacks plus fresh cherries picked on the property that morning.  Mmmmm.

The stop at Rowena Crest had a great view but exposed as it was to the wind, we stayed just long enough to use the facilities and take a couple of pictures.

Another highlight of the ride was the trail section that is closed to cars and goes through the restored Mosier Tunnels.  The path is only a few years old and the road was buttery smooth.  Best of all, the end of the trail marked the halfway point.  From here on out, the wind would be on our side.

It was a much nicer return journey until we hit Rowena Crest again.  The gusts were 30-40 mph and we were literally almost blown off the road by cross winds a few times!  I've never cycled in such windy conditions and the concentration required was all consuming.  The windy descent I'd been looking forward to since we climbed it that morning was more of a harrowing test of nerve with all the battering crosswinds changing every few seconds.  I kept my hands on the brakes and didn't touch my new aero bars once.  When it was over, I was more relieved than exhilarated.

The flat end to the route was lovely though and an ice-cream reward awaited us at the finish.  As I walked into the Columbia Gorge Discovery center to use the bathroom, it suddenly hit me that I had thought about mom in hours.  As far as I know, that's the first time it's happened.  The thought was ruined by the fact that having the realization made me think about her again.  Not that I want to forget her or anything, but it was nice not having that huge shadow hanging over me for a few hours.  I suppose this is how it time goes by, I'll be able to just live again and remembering her won't mean the risk of sliding down into dark tunnel of grief.  Or so they tell me.

Riders could buy reduced entry into the center, and they were pretty fanatical about making sure folks paid up.  We were questioned each time we entered to use the bathroom and we watched one worker chase another woman down when she strayed too far in in the wrong direction.  Apparently they missed the memo that it's a historical center, not a rock concert and dubbed themselves the security detail.  We found it pretty amusing.

We sat on the grass outside the and ate our lunches and talked to a nice older couple that we'd passed several times on the route and traded conversation, before heading home.

By the time we get to the mostly flat, comparatively windless STP, Jess will think it's a breeze.

More photos are here.

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