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.


  1. Mystery dude in the pic is Dave. Really.

  2. Most fun I've had on a bike this year, albeit painful. Coca-Cola hand up was pretty pro, too!