Rapha Ride NW: I survived, therefore I am
By Emiliano Jordan
The 2010 Rapha Gentlemen’s Ride Northwest turned into an epic day of battling heat, dust, sharp rocks and, according to my GPS, 8,755 feet of vertical. It what was one of the hardest courses I’ve ever done.
My day started out innocently enough with a quick “hi” to Rapha’s Slate Olson, who I haven’t seen in too long, followed by a trip into the winery and some careful loading of calories into my jersey pockets. Then with some time to spare the Team Oregon’s group sat on a few pallets to avoid the already intense sun. Some jokes were passed around and playing the alphabet game is mentioned, “Yeah, but will we pass a Dairy Queen, or will we be stuck on Q for the whole ride?” This, as with most starting-line plans, quickly fell apart when confronted with the reality of how hard this day would be.
I Love Tarmac
Like most team, after going out in a tailwind we were excited by our average speed. Our rotation was working well and we were reminding each other to eat and drink in the heat. While we didn’t know it at the time, passing the Portland Bicycle Studio’s riders when they pulled over to fix a flat was an eerie omen of events to come. Undaunted, we passed through turns and along the gorgeous country side between Forest grove and south west Columbia County.
Gravel Section 1; Pittsburgh Road
For most teams, as with ours, this was the start of the end. We rode up the climb quickly. We joked around, I took some video with my phone, it was a good time. Then we stopped climbing; cleared tire tracks at 10 mph turned into paths of sharp rocks at 18 mph. Only two bikes on our team suffered flats, but it meant seven flats, eight tubes, another patched, and one severely cut tire. Part of the problem was that in our rush we weren’t getting our tubes back up to 120 psi causing more pinch flats. We were hurrying because we were obviously locked in a battle to the death with Portland Bicycle Studios (and two other teams) over who would leave the gravel and misery first. In the end though, we all lost. Our only prize, memories of playing flat tire hop scotch.
Did I Mention I love Tarmac?
Trying as best I can to save my front rim from the flat I suffered 100 feet before the end of the gravel section, I resist an urge to kiss some good ol’ asphalt once we get there. I have to fix the flat, and Rob needs to better repair an overlooked cut in his sidewall, before we can get on with this. Three of our teammates have been waiting for 20 minute oblivious to the ordeal Chris, Robert and I have endured. Ignorance is bliss. One more tube and a dollar boot down we get on with the ride. The next section includes some great rollers and descents. This is how I imagined the Gentlemen’s Ride. Our next planned stop, around mile 60, lifts my spirits a bit. We do not look nearly as cracked as some of the other riders nor as bewildered as the lady behind the counter, who’s not at all shocked she’s completely out of water. The scene reminds me of the water hole part out of Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth documentary. If only the lions had been hunting melted Snicker’s bars and ice cold Coca-Cola as I was.
The next stretch would prove difficult for the team. Riding through Scappoose it becomes very apparent one of our riders is suffering. This is not unimaginable as the heat has made everything a lot worse on legs and body alike. All riders have been in this situation, when you know friends of yours are counting on you, yet there’s a hollow feeling in your legs and stomach alike, your neck is sore and your eyes just lose focus. This is why when you’re there, even though you feel alone, everyone knows the feeling. Even though all five of us are willing to help, come push, pull and shove, we loose our sixth rider at the base of Otto Miller.
Gravel Section 2; Otto Miller
Otto Miller, is what I had envisioned when I heard of gravel on the Gentlemen’s Ride, more sand and pebbles, less rocks that look like they were used for hunting by our ancestors. In fact, if it weren’t for the heat, this would have been a completely enjoyable climb. Instead we’re crossing the road from side to side trying to stay in the shade as long as possible. We’re picking up teams in ones and twos and I’m happy that more or less we’re ridding together. In a particularly strong lit spot an idea pops into my head.
Tomorrow we need a party bus… A double decker party bus, and on this bus there will be ice cold beer and food and all the riders currently suffering agonizing deaths in the name of watts. And in front of this bus will be Slate, riding his bike, over the whole gentlemen’s course, while we cheer and jeer and laugh merrily.
I take a picture to document the one lucid stream of thoughts I’ve had in an hour. It’s meant to be of my team, but I’m holding the camera backwards and snap one of myself… I may be cracking. The vision is over, but it puts a smile on my face and I get up the climb chuckling about a merry little party with cold beer and the suffering of the grand designer of this “Saturday in Hell.” (Sorry Slate)
Somewhere between the top of Otto Miller and the bottom of Dixie Mountain a few things happened to our team. The first was we saw some Peacocks, as in The Peacocks. The second is we blew past our turn and added a 4-6 mi loop to our trip. This doesn’t sounds as horrible in retrospect as it seemed at the time. For some reason 100+ degree weather and the promise of cokes stashed in a field (Thanks Cow!) ahead of us on the route caused me to really really want to proceed. That was until we preceded… because then Dixie Mountain started.
Gravel Section 3; Dixie Mountain
My dad always told me he did his best thinking on the… Well, okay, kids. I seem to do my best thinking on the bike. It was at the start of Dixie Mountain that I came up with a new term, Tempo Gerke. Let me explain a little bit as this all starts back in my Cat. 3 days in Tucson. We were starting to take training seriously and quickly realized that everyone had a different definition as to what “tempo” really meant. Most of us took it to mean a pace you could keep up for a ride no less than three hours long. But for some group rides are a way to show strength, even if it’s only for the first half hour of the ride, hence Tempo Muerte. But right now, I’m realizing I’m going to be on a gravel climb until my odometer hits 102, ironically the same temperature I will be climbing in, and so far it’s only clocked 96 and change. I’m also realizing that my team mate has a tempo on climbs that is way beyond me. It also dawns on me that I made a grave mistake and stopped eating around Scappooe, I’m pretty sure it was because it felt like the “race” had fallen apart, and it was the goal of “the race” that had kept me eating. So as Pat rides away from me I dub the pace he’s setting Tempo Gerke. There’s a few rules about Tempo Gerke that need to be adhered to.
- Tempo Gerke is a true tempo, it is not to be confused with false tempo paces such as Tempo Muerte. If this awful climb continued for at least three hours Gerke would, I’m positive, be able to sustain Tempo Gerke the entire way.
- Tempo Gerke is only to be used on climbs.
- Tempo Gerke is done in good nature. Gerke does not set Tempo Gerke out of a show of strength. It’s as if we’re all climbing on 27t cogs and he’s on a 23t and needs to keep his legs turning.
- Tempo Gerke must absolutely destroy the moral and soul of at least one of the riders on the ride, in this case, me.
Setting the rules to Tempo Gerke is surprisingly less helpful in getting me up the hill than the previous thought. For me this falls into one of my most basic theories on exercise psychology. That is to be positive, the more negative the thoughts the worse your performance. You should force all but giggly, funny, positive thoughts out of your head, and yes I said it, giggly. There’s stories of Taumarans running up hills clicking, giggling and singing at a pace unsustainable by most. Part of this is mentality… I though, am fresh out of giggly, funny and positive.
Tarmac, not what you used to be…
This is it, the final stretch. A few climbs, Sky Line, Highway 30 and then, beer. Sweet, sweet, beer. As we’re leaving the final checkpoint and water station there’s resolve just to get home… 11am may have been a little late to leave, the course was longer and harder to complete than originally planned. With this in mind we’re told to skip German Town. We’ll not be completing the true course but this really has been hard enough as it is. One of our riders really wants to do German Town, I’m pretty indifferent but mainly express that I’m okay on skipping another thrashing at Tempo Gerke. A few miles in Chris tells me he’s cramping pretty bad. No wait, not cramping yet, but soon. I chuckle knowing that feeling and then… wait… It’s as if the thought planted a seed in my right quad. Yup, I’m going to cramp too. See what I mean, if he’d told me something “giggly” I would have been set. As it is I’m pretty much afraid to pedal but afraid not to. We cross Cornelius Pass and head up what on some rides seems like a hill, but right now, it’s puny and insignificant. As if realizing my thoughts on it’s mediocrity the hill forces me into cramps. This results in a jerky, standing, climbing ritual. It only becomes funny when Alex, our young gun, starts going backwards with the same motion. It forces me into song… Alex giggles, we get over the top.
Chris King, The Finish
Finally we arrive. As if redeeming all of our suffering, Chris King is way more glorious than I could have ever imagined. The horrid cracks in the road are diamond encrusted, the 6 inch gaps in the train tracks are like riding a massaging chair, the rails them selves made of licorice, the beer is the coldest I’ve ever tasted. Okay, but seriously, it was awesome. I pull up and quickly “acquire” a chair. Lana, in a move of pure genius, has brought a frozen washcloth in a zip-lock bag along with a fresh beer. I quickly get rubbed down and all the dirt is gone, with it a lot of tension in my shoulders and back. I’m done. Thanks Rapha…