Monday, April 22, 2013

Once More Unto the Breach... Now, With Updates!

The Lion of Flanders marks the way.
  (Editors note: I went back up to Council Crest on Tuesday the 23rd and took some pictures of spots I was too tired to properly photograph the day of the ride and added them to the story. This explains the sun and clarity in said photos)
This past Saturday was the latest edition of what has become something of an institution for Portland roadies. In it's sixth installment the Ronde, or more formerly De Ronde Van West Portlandia promised to send us up some of the West Hills steepest climbs.
The scene at the start. This is maybe half of the starters.
 A little background if you're not familiar. The Ronde started in 2008 as a celebration of the traditional Spring Classic races and is named after the Tour of Flanders (or the Ronde Van Vlaanderen) which is known for rough roads and short, steep climbs. It was the brainchild of local race promoter/ne'er do well Brad Ross (most famous for the 'Cross Crusade) who wanted to force willing riders up some of West Portland's little known and punishingly steep climbs. The route is only 45 miles in length, but climbs a hefty 7,800 feet, including multiple ascents of Council Crest. One of the most interesting things is that it is totally unsanctioned. No entry fees, no waivers, no numbers. It definitely appeals to a pretty race oriented crowd though. We recognized many faces from the 'Cross Crusade and I would guess 80-90% of riders present hold an OBRA license.  
Dik-Dik Tracy, the Hymanator and an unnamed accomplice waiting to start.
It turns out most of Team Metropolis wasn't quite up to the challenge this early in the season, so it came down to just myself, the Hymanator and D-Bone (aka Dik-Dik Tracy) to represent the honor of the team. The Schwartz gets an honorable mention because he had planned on doing it but was forced to retire due to illness. We rolled up to the undisclosed start location about ten minutes early and hobnobbed with some of our fellow riders. I chatted with Johnny 2.0 of the Filth and Fury team, and discovered he had already completed an entire lap of the course, and was refueling for his second go 'round. Then, right at ten o'clock, a motorcycle rolled up to the start and off climbed Brad Ross. He yelled something like "It's ten o'clock! What are you waiting for?" and off we went.
 The first leg of the route took us up Highway 30 to Saltzman Road and the first climb of the day. Saltzman starts off paved, but the upper 3 or so miles are gravel. At this point, we were still in a pretty big group and while Saltzman isn't a super steep climb, it is 1,100 feet of elevation gain over almost 4 miles, so the group  started to stretch out a bit. At the top we took a hard left onto Skyline, bypassing the gaggle of riders taking a break at the roadside. I didn't realize it at the time, but the 6 miles that followed were probably the easiest (not counting descents) and most peaceful of the day. A sharp right at the Skyline Restaurant dropped us down into position for the first brutal climb of the day, the infamous Brynwood Road.
Riders about halfway up Brynwood. To the left you can see people in a driveway resting for the next leg.

Brynwood isn't a long climb, only about 1/3rd of a mile, but the grade varies between 18% and 35%, depending on who you ask. Let's just say it's really, really steep. Stupid steep, not the kind of thing you would ride for fun. I had only ridden it once before, after I missed the Ronde last year. In addition to being absurdly steep, Brynwood has 3 other things that work against you.
1) It's narrow. This isn't a big deal if you're by yourself, but when there are 500 other people on the road with you, a little extra space is helpful.
2) It's slippery. Being narrow and tree lined, it doesn't get a lot of sun and the resulting moss can be a deal breaker if it causes your rear wheel to spin out.
3) It's not straight, but roughly s shaped, and from the bottom you only see the first 1/3rd. The problem with this is you think that first turn is the summit, but once you reach it, you are confronted with another 100 yards of punishing steepness.
   The only thing in your favor are the driveways. Clever riders know they can use the half dozen driveways on the upper stretch to catch a quick breath before lurching off for the next toe hold up the line. Therefore, you'll see 2 or 3 riders in each driveway describing tight circles on their bikes, breathing like a blown race horse before surging off once again.
Brad Ross, delighting in the carnage he has created.
 I personally only made it about halfway, even in my 34/32 low gear. But hey, at least I didn't fall over like the poor bastard on the time trial bike that toppled into me as I was trying to dismount in disgrace.
The final push. Literally.

We regrouped at the top where Brynwood rejoins Skyline, and wolfed down some food in preparation for the descent down Cornell where we would assault the next climb up to the Pittock Mansion. This one was much more manageable, and would set the tone for most of the rest of the day. Climb for 10-20 minutes then rest at the summit, drink some water and snack, then move on to the next one. We repeated this pattern 3 or 4 more times, interspersed with a high speed run down West Burnside, culminating in a lengthy break at  Plaid Pantry for refueling. I was surprised at how many calories I was burning through. I had brought what seemed like an adequate amount of food for a ride of this length, but I clearly underestimated.
 After stocking up on junk food, we crossed over Highway 26 for the next  phase of torment, which consisted of multiple runs up and down the slope between Council Crest and PSU. Finally, we came to the second of the day's brutal monuments: the infamous and feared College Street.
College. Photos don't do it justice.
College was much like Brynwood, steep, narrow, and unpleasant. D-Bone was the only one of us to make a serious attempt and even he had to pause at the halfway mark.
D-Bone at the midpoint.
The view from College.
From here things began to get a bit blurry for me. The route started to work clockwise up and down around Council Crest, winding past OHSU and the VA Hospital. One of the coolest features of the ride, which I didn't capture on film, were the numerous homegrown rest stops along the way, some sponsored by bike shops or teams, but mostly hosted by neighborhood residents. Treats included the basics like water and bananas, and the more luxurious like gummy bears, homemade cookies, and of course, beer. I personally felt pretty pro when I took a Coca Cola handup. We were also routed onto several short stretches of singletrack.
Into the woods. Photo taken 2/23.

A little rough, but doable on a road bike. Photo taken 2/23.

Still 3 climbs to go. Photo taken 2/23
After what seemed an endless carousel of trips up and down hill, we finally began the ultimate ascent.
The ultimate goal. Photo 2/23.

The view from Council Crest.
 The Hymanator had wisely parked his escape vehicle at the top before the ride started, and provisioned it with ice and beer in anticipation of the mighty thirst we would carry to the finish.
The finishers circle, high atop the city.
I was happy to finally dismount and stretch my cramped legs. It felt good just to stand in one place and glory in a cold restorative beer.
D-Bone takes a load off.
If you decide to do the Ronde, either next year or on your own:
The route is easy to follow, you can find numerous maps online, and the turns are marked with the Lion of Flanders in yellow
Bring plenty of food. There are places to resupply en route, but you will need more fuel than you think.
Unless you are positive you can ride 100% of the route, consider trading your road pedals and cleats for the mountain variety. It's much easier to walk, especially up a steep grade.
Definitely bring at least 2 bottles. I probably went through at least 5 large bottles of fluid, and it wasn't even hot.
There are also a few short stretches of unpaved singletrack. Though not very technical, they're pretty rough for a road bike.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Spring Break MTB Action.

New bike at Peterson Ridge

 We made it out to Bend for a few days over Spring Break, and I took the opportunity to get some mountain biking in. I'm constantly amazed at how awesome the trails are in Bend compared to our meager options in the metro area, even though 80% of them were still unrideable because of snow. Fortunately, the Central Oregon Trail Alliance has a great website that tells you at a glance what trails are open. The flagship Phils Trail complex was still closed, so I mapped out a plan to ride Peterson Ridge outside of Sisters on day 1, Horse Butte south of Bend on day 2, and Burma Road next to Smith Rock on day 3.
There are 8 or 10 gnome figurines perched on this rock alongside the Peterson Ridge Trail.

 The trailhead for Peterson Ridge is just a half mile south of Sisters. It's a complex of 3 or so parallel trails with a number of cross trails that you can use to connect up and create longer routes. It being my first time, I wanted to keep it simple, so I opted to do an out and back on the PRT West trail. It's a pretty good example of the awesome Central Oregon MTB experience;  fast, flowing trails winding around outcrops of volcanic rock and stands of Ponderosa pine. Elevation gain tends to be gradual, unlike the gut busting climbs typical of the Coast Range trails (I'm looking at you, Brown's Camp). I climbed 600 feet to where the trail opened up to a panoramic view.
Looking West toward the Sisters.

By the way, the new Ahearne is perfect for this type of riding. I built it up with a rigid fork mainly to avoid the expense involved in a new 29er suspension fork, but it ate up the moderately rocky terrain with no problems.
 The trail was mostly dry, with only a few soft and or muddy stretches, one of the other great things about Bend area riding. In addition to getting less rainfall, the sandy soil drains better and dries more quickly.

More Cascade views.

McKenzie Pass is over thataway somewhere.
DAY 2: Horse Butte

Horse Butte is south of Bend past the historic town dump, and is popular with both trail runners and (surprise!) equestrians. I can see why, as we passed numerous farms swarming with horses on the way out. After Peterson Ridge it was a bit of a letdown, mostly because it took me a while to find the good trail. I started off on the Swamp Wells trail, which is fairly wide and sandy at first, and not especially challenging or interesting. After climbing a bit, it started to get more technical, but I also began encountering more mud, which forced me to walk all the fun parts. This became so frequent I was forced to turn back in search of drier trails.
Looking south toward Bessie Butte.
 After returning to the trail head, I turned east onto what I think was the Arnold Ice Cave trail. The terrain here was flatter and more open, but the trail was narrower, windier, and much more fun. It was also much less scenic than the country around Sisters, so I didn't take as many photos.

Just in case you forgot what the Ahearne looks like.
DAY 3 Smith Rock
For our final day, we wanted to check out Smith Rock as it's just east of Terrebonne, on the way back to Portland. I had done some research, and knew that winter conditions should be good, but the riding would be steeper and rockier than the last two days had prepared me for.This would prove to be a severe understatement.
The trail up to Burma Road
First, let me just say Smith Rock is very cool, and worth checking out, but I wouldn't exactly call it a mountain bike destination. It's best known for rock climbing, as the numerous walls and spires rise almost vertically out of the Crooked River. Those same attributes that make for good rock climbing make for a challenging bike environment. Everything is rocky and STEEP. I had read about a ride utilizing Burma Road that wound up from the river in the direction of Grey's Butte. It sounded hard, and while I'm not a fast climber, I do a lot of it so I wasn't too worried. As it turns out, I probably should have been.  After descending a steep trail down to the , there was a pleasant 2 miles of mellow single track running along the river.
The view from the trailhead.
After that, it got interesting.

That's not encouraging...
First, I had to hike up a steep rocky trail for 300 or so yards before I even reached the road. Then it was a mile and a half of 14% grade. Awesome. It took waay too long, partly because it was so damn steep my front wheel would hit a baby head, or my rear wheel would spin out in loose gravel and I would be unable to get started again. Pathetic, I know, but also very demoralizing. The weather was better then expected as well, mostly sunny and pushing 70. I can't imagine what this would be like in the summer. Wait, I can imagine. Hellish is the word that comes to mind. 

At least the gate wasn't closed.

After much panting, puffing and pushing I arrived at the top. Of course, the singletrack that was my goal descended steeply from the crest, and the whole procedure of hiking and crawling up the grade had eroded most of my available time, so I took some photos, powered through some snacks, and prepared to return from whence I came.
View from the top.
The Crooked River as seen from the top of Burma Road.
The second peak from the right is where my ride ended.
In Summation:
Peterson Ridge: Great beginner to intermediate trail riding well worth the drive.
Horse Butte: Decent riding if you're in Bend and most of the trails are closed for winter.
Smith Rock: Crazy beautiful, but only worth taking your bike if you are ready for an all day epic.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Cascade Snow!

Odell Creek
We took a trip to Bend over Spring Break week and spent the night at Odell Lake, just east of Oakridge. There was quite a bit of snow still, and the wind had blown spray from the lake up onto the adjoining plant life to form some really cool icicles and ice formations. Here are some pictures. I'll post some more entertaining content about mountain biking in Bend soon.

Odell Lake, looking North.
Moonrise over the Cascades