My thought going into this was that it would be cool to meet Chris Horner.
Of course, I had no idea who else attended this shindig until afterwards when I started Googling.
Turns out that “the really big guy on the Cannondale with disc brakes” wasn’t just last year’s winner, it was Ryan Muthafuckin’ Trebon.
Also in the field were multiple pros and national amateur champions like Serena Bishop Gordon, Starla Teddergreen and Brenna Lopez-Otero.
If I had known this going into the ride, I probably would have stuck to just getting a picture with Chris, riding leisurely at the back, and getting some good pictures of the day.
But I didn’t know, and I didn’t stick to the plan.
An Odd Twist of Fate
I forgot to start my Strava.
Like any dumbass Cat6, that meant rolling out and immediately digging in my pocket for my phone. Luckily, the start line at Mt Bachelor Ski Resort includes a wide driveway, which afforded me the opportunity to slide down the line and settle in the gap between the “front race group” and the “non-competitive gran fondoers” while fumbling to start recording.
While that was happening, the leaders of the front group had blown through the first corner, and the race volunteers were trying to get everyone on route. Turns out, not even Trebon or Horner remembered they were running the race backwards, which meant a counter-clockwise loop through the Cascade Lakes, Sunriver, and back up to the ski resort.
This left me in the somewhat fortuitous position of being the 3rd rider into the proper corner, and the first rider with any real idea what to do. So, I went to the front and started pulling.
400m into the race, and the plan was already out the window.
Do You Even Tuck, Bro?
I’ve never run into a situation before that necessitated a standard crank on my road bike. Usually, the grades I’ve ridden are short and gentle enough to not spin out a 50×11. That, and I’m usually far enough at the back end of a race that I’m not attempting to keep up with people cranking on a 53×11 or greater.
This was a day of firsts.
I had the entire weight of a now-annoyed lead group behind me, and a road dropping at around 6-8% with no major corners. The 50×11 spun out within the first few hundred meters as we careened downhill at 80kmh+. This left me to just tuck into my bars and try to get sucked along in the wake of the contenders who were now angling to get to the front.
The first 14mi of the race are a rough blur of 130rpm cadence and wonderment at being this close to the front of a gran fondo. I vaguely remember someone’s family videotaping at the roadside, and some hippies swimming in one of the lakes.
At this point, still hanging on within the first 10 places at the front of the group, I was more or less committed to going all in.
What the Hell Am I Doing Here?
Why was I trading off pulls with a guy roughly 1/3rd my size, at the front of a race going 40kmh through rollers, in a field of riders that was unmeasurably more talented than myself?
I still have no idea. But I was.
Then, in an even more obscene piece of lunacy, the pace dropped cresting a small roller into a plateau, and I attacked out of third wheel.
15mi into a 76mi race, I was attacking a field of national champions.
I don’t actually know why. I think I was just teasing the group to see if we could go faster. Checking if there was anyone who wanted to just go balls-out for the next 45mi until we hit the eventual soul-crushing climb of Mt Bachelor. Or, conversely, seeing who had just unwittingly gotten sucked along in the slipstream of the opening descent.
For whatever idiotic reason that spawned this, I managed to power open a non-trivial gap for a few miles by just burying my head and channeling my best Jens. There was no way it would stick, but it seemed the right thing to do.
Eventually, the reality hit me of what it means to be off the front alone.
Having no intention, nor ability, to hold everyone off on the rolling terrain of the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway between Elk Lake and Lava Lake, I sat up and slid back into the rotation at the front.
That’s where I basically stayed, through Forest Service Road 42 and Sunriver. Trading off pulls with a small group of leaders who were hell-bent on unleashing a veritable Strava apocalypse for all segments in the first 60mi.
The Adults’ Table
Turning onto Road 42, which led us back toward Sunriver and the base of the climb, a small gap was created in the lead group.
A slight uphill, and a turn on to the rugged chipseal which is endemic in the Pacific Northwest was the perfect spot for it to happen.
Especially when Ryan Trebon decides it is time to actually start riding his bike.
Swooping to the front, it was obvious this was going to be where the race really started in earnest. After all, who was going to pull through 5kmh slower when he slid off? Who would have the audacity of slowing the race down after that?
Barely hanging on at the tail of this new front group, I thought briefly about returning to my plan, and letting the group ride away. I had been boxing out of my weight class for probably 50mi by this point.
(I should probably go back and reference the correct mileages for this, btw, but I’m just going to run with my hazy recollections as further evidence of the permanent mental and physical damage done on this ride.)
I managed to slowly crawl back up the front group, until I was again sitting second wheel for the final flat turn of the day on the outskirts of Sunriver.
Gamely, I even tried to take one more pull at the front, but quickly nudged my elbow and swung off.
My First Sticky Bottle
I fell back through the group so hard that Trebon himself asked me what was wrong.
His was the last wheel in the now diminutive lead group, as he waited for his opportunity to shatter the race on the 15mi climb back up to the ski resort and take his second win in a row.
The organizers had provided a follow car for the lead group, providing water and soda when needed. I waved them through and knew I wasn’t going to hang around long once the road started going up.
Chris’ daughter reached out and handed me a Pepsi. Grasping the cold can, I tried to get a little boost from the car up the short incline marking the beginning of the end. Again, a day of firsts: My First Cav Moment.
Once shelled out of the group, I could feel every last watt of the effort, but the hardest part was still to go. I limped into the final aid stop as reality began to set in.
*I made it 60mi in barely over 2 hours on 2 water bottles, a Pepsi, and half a protein bar.
*I had led the race, both as lead train puller and delusional attacker, for probably 10 of those in total.
*I still have no idea why, or how, I pulled that off, but I now have a Strava KOM to prove it.
My partner at the front for most of those miles had apparently also dropped off at this stop, and we shared a quick joke about how long this last 15mi would take.
I took a piss, filled bottles, finished a protein bar, and headed off.
I Live at Sea-Level
Up until this point, I hadn’t really noticed the elevation.
Going downhill, pumping adrenaline, not paying a lick of attention to my heart rate monitor. There was no place to really think about breathing.
Now I had 2000′ up with nothing else to think about.
I immediately couldn’t get enough air, and my heart rate immediately stuck in the 190s. Grinding my low gear, 34×25, cursing myself for not bringing a 27.
In short, I was fucked. Wicked fucked. With no way of making it better.
2 bottles of water went down in the first half of the climb. A protein bar shortly followed.
3 stops, 2 hours, 1 drive-by inquiry from the SAG Wagon, and countless thoughts of taking them up on their offer later, I made it to the summit.
It isn’t even a huge hill. Strava makes it out to be a Cat 2, at 3.5% average. But, it is also the biggest mountain I’ve ever climbed, and felt absolutely unrelenting.
I had no shortage of partners in this brutal endeavor, as we leap-frogged each other in a game of suffer-and-pause. The top of the mountain seemed like it would never get there.
Then, all of a sudden, it did.
I turned back onto the highway, suffered up and under the “Main Lot 1Mi.” sign, and coasted down into the parking lot and through the Finish Line.
Then Stuff Happened, I Think
I was so fuzzy by this point, my body didn’t really know what to do. I vaguely remember asking the BBQ Tent what they had to eat. Then I think I walked away to get Froyo.
I may or may not have had a couple conversations. I did hang around at the finish, and made sure to applaud the finishers who came in afterward.
Then I went back down to Bend, sat in a hot tub, drank a beer, tried to breathe again, and started making plans for 2014.