by Thomas Durkin
It was a dessert day. You know the type, like strawberries and cream or chocolate gelato. The kind of ride everyone can enjoy. The dawn was clear, the wind light, and temperatures cool , as I prepared for the ride. Just a short ride, as Ken Carter from SIR joked at the start. This is the 200km for the 2010 Bikenfest promoted by John Kramer of White Salmon Wa. I love John’s rides. He artfully crafts the route for challenge, scenic beauty and quiet roads. Twenty five riders heard the pre-ride announcements, and set off into the sunrise towards Bingen. Many friends were with me. I started with Ian from Olympia. We caught up on our riding since the Oregon Blue Mountains 1000km in June. He finished the Willamette Headwaters 600km despite a heavy, high speed chute on the last day. There were lots of other riders nearby who helped him out. As we were chatting, Ian hit debris in the bike lane and immediately punctured! Too bad, we were having so much fun! Ricky then rode next to me, he recently completed the 1600km Italian Grand Fondo. I told him during the OBM that he must ride in Italy, and so his story filled me with great feelings of the joy of riding those great back roads of Tuscany and Umbria.
However the food was not up to the expected Italian culinary standards. They served the same pasta and red sauce every night. I welcomed David Rowe to the beautiful morning. We finished the Three Capes 300km together two years ago. He has new work this year, and the riding has tapered off a bit. I could not sense any diminution of his fitness as we turned off the main road climbing onto an old highway section that wound up over the Columbia.
The horizontal sunlight was challenging, blinding me as the route wound around and through the basalt rock formations to the first control, XXX winery named after the formation. Then Ken road up to me, “Are you a compulsive or what, are you back for more of this, what have you been doing?” he asked. I last saw him on the Eden’s Gate 400km near Stayton. He is the compulsive one I think, finishing the Crater Lake 1000km just last week. Our group was small, including Michael Johnson and his work mate John Desmarais, Ken, a guy in blue on a Geoff Lay, Del Sharffenburg, David Rowe, Ira Ryan and myself. The old road wound back down to the river, with smooth well banked curves. The engineers had a big budget for this project way back when the Model T roamed Eastern Washington.
The Centerville road climbs steeply out of Lyle. Del chatted as I tried to keep up for a bit. I backed off the pace as my heart rate soared. Michael and John came around and I decided to stay with them as this long climb would define the experience of the brevet. Happily for me, they were riding a talkative tempo which I could maintain. My new 34x28 gearing was just sufficient for this effort as I frequently alternated between seated and standing techniques. First Dave eased his pace to chat. Then we came up to Ira who had stopped for equipment change. The pace picked up then as these guys all started talking up front and I was now suffering to hold on. There are several false summits on this climb, and I forgot most of them thinking that the end was finally in sight. At the real summit, John, Ira and I went to the front and zoomed the straight descent. Up ahead about 800 meters, were Del and Geoff, so first Ira picked up the pace, then David and I as well. I could not keep the effort, my legs were feeling poorly and I backed off to wait for Michael and John. The Centerville road has many turns that follow the section lines of the original surveys. Past town the main road to Goldendale continues this practice. I felt the light west wind on the northward portions. Mt. Adam towered over the harvested fields, with Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens peeking in the distance as well. Into Goldendale and the second control we road, John off the front and Michael off the back taking photos.
Del, Ira and the other two were still at the Subway as were several stacks twelve pack of beer. I asked the well known Portland handmade bike builder Ira Ryan if he would build me a bike to carry several packs, and if it would plane for me as well, we laughed. I decided to get riding right away, and started west towards Glendale ahead of the group. The short hills slowed me down and I rode to keep my legs loose. The group came up soon, and I tucked in behind David. Ira and Del set a smooth tempo for several miles which Ken and David continued when it was their turn. I did not return the favors to the group as my limit was always near during the up and down course. At the turn towards the Klickitat Del asked me about my arm braces, I told him it was tennis elbow from skiing. Ira laughed at the bicycle tennis joke as I thanked the group and dropped off the back.
The road went through some rollers for several miles. At a final crest the view of the Klickitat river canyon stretched out both up and down the river. This is a beautiful spot, the river sparkling in the trees at the bottom of the canyon. The layers of basalt flows are distinct on the west cliff while the east side has smooth eroded curved shapes. The road traversed the east side, cuts back into the rock to cross creeks, then back to a straight traverse, miles of fast riding without using the brakes. My average speed for the brevet is 24 kph as I crosses the Klickitat. Immediately the road pitched up out of the river bed, then leveled off for the long shallow climb. There are hunters in orange entering the woods in several spots carrying their rifles. They say that they are looking for deer sign.
Near the end of this grade, Ken catches me. It is good to have help now as the increasing speed of the west wind has slowed me down for a while. As we enter Glenwood, I give the sheriff a wave. Just then two motor cycles whip past, well over the 25 mph speed limit. On goes the siren and lights as the squad car gives chase. We stop at the restaurant where ten or more motorcycles are lined up, their riders lounging under the shade tree or inside. We buy water and chat with these guys, one whom rides bicycles although not as fast as he would like.
The marshes at Glenwood stretch for miles. The Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge provides habitat for migrating birds and other animals. I saw a black bear during another ride recently. We skirt this flat ground to the climb of the bumpy divide between the Klickitat river and the White Salmon river watersheds. Ken may be tired from his 1000km ride, but he easily climbs faster than I and disappears over one roller and reappears as I descend the next. Always he is in front gradually increasing the gap. As I reach the watershed summit, he is out of sight and I descend fast reaching 55 kph as the road curves with the terrain. On the flats of Trout Lake, there is a shift to tail wind so I enjoy being alone for a while. I see Ken in the distance when the route turns towards town. At the store, Geoff Lowe is outside on the cell phone. I have to continue to the control 2 km west. There Ken is waiting, and straight away we ride back into the wind toward Trout Lake where the others have already left the store. We do not stop. I have plenty of water as I carry a flexible bladder in my front bag which gives me a bit more range than just two bottles. Now the route heads toward BZ Corner. This is a gradual descent with short steeper sections. NOAA forecast for increasing winds was right. We can only reach 49 kph, and I am getting very sore legs. At the White Salmon river crossing, David and Geoff are in sight. I wave Ken past as I know I will struggle even with the short climbs. I trade off the wind shelter of the group for a steady slow grind down the road above the river canyon. The view is so beautiful that I don’t feel the pain in my right leg so much. The wind increases and shifts to the west. Forecast for 30mph gusts after 16:00, and it is almost that time. I enter the town of White Salmon and descend at 65 kph to Bingen, the tail wind pushing me along. The westward 2 km part along the main highway into the wind seemed long, but lasted only a few minutes. I arrived a 16:12 to a happy group of tired randonneurs. John Kramer logged my time and offered snacks, drinks, and shade. We chatted about the ride, rides, cyclocross, balloon tires on bikes, and other biker topics. Geoff has the local fast trackie Dean Tracy for a son in law, interesting as I knew Dean when he was a junior. Well another desert ride was had by all. Where are Michael and John? Did Ian fix his tire and get back on the road? I don’t know. I got into the old Volvo and headed straight back to Portland where Ellen was waiting.