Open All Night

Our very own Tom Selleck Tyler Smith ventured out to Eastern Washington earlier this summer to take part in a 24 hour mountain bike race. This is his story.

If the thought of checking out a 24 hour mountain bike race has ever crossed your mind, don't hesitate.  Just sign up.

First of all, you can basically get several different types of racing all rolled into one event: Short track XC, with a Le Mans style start, long course endurance MTB racing where digging deep mile after mile is just par for the course. Throw in a dash of cyclocross, pinch of alleycat, drop or two of gravel grinding, and sprinkling of Burning Man, and you've got a 24 Hour MTB race. 

Spokane has drawn us East for this crazy race, The Round and Round, on more than one occasion. The 5th iteration of this journey would take us down some fresh trails, expose us to familiar highs and unexplored lows, and ultimately deliver an experience as unique as the first time we rode that lap.

Over the course of this 15 mile lap, one tends to encounter certain features that are more fun than others. You find yourself dreading a specific section of loose, sandy trail, or a punchy and strength-sapping climb, but also looking forward to that breezy ridge line paralleling the river, where you can pick up some speed and gather your wits before dropping into dense and technical singletrack again.

Similarly, you may find the searing temperatures of a mid-summer afternoon on one side, with dusty and stifling trail conditions, while laps in the dead of night necessitate vests, warmers, and embrocation. 

The route up a particular sustained climb at night looks like a radio antenna stretching skyward, as riders navigate their way up the sandy terrain, taillights blinking from their seatposts. The same climb, timed correctly, can also afford a front row seat to the first rays of sunlight, peaking over the hills to the East. A lap that starts in the dark, necessitating all lights, can quickly transform as the sun trickles through the trees with cool blue hues, and illuminates the trail once again.

As you leave the transition tent, and the hum of generators, squawks of the announcer, thump of the music, and cheers from your teammates fades behind you, you find yourself alone. You might end up riding an entire lap without seeing another rider, or you may be lucky enough to catch or be passed by other riders, exchanging encouragement and maybe some company for a few pedal strokes. On a dark and windy trail, with only the amber spot of your own light to distract you, the contact of another human, another rider tracing the same lines and features, can be the equivalent of a caffeinated gel or push up a hill.

At some point, the march away from civilization, and your friends, turns into a return voyage, a journey back. That final descent down the fire road, and the welcome clatter of cowbells, voices, and the announcer reading off your name and number is music to your ears. The rows of tents, RV's, campfires, and porta-johns make you smile as you roll across the line. You're home. That is, until your next lap.

Up at 3. Coffee at 7.

by Adam Kachman

3:00AM. Downtown Seattle. Pioneer Square is desolately silent for the next forty minutes as rice cakes are wrapped, tubes are packed and film is loaded into a small, ride ready point and shoot camera.  At this point, I have not slept, but the sun, and mountains do not wait for the weary. Thus, packing continues as freshly roasted Miranda beans from Elm Coffee Roasters make their way into a hand grinder and I spend the next few minutes contemplating our route to Chinook pass, my preparedness, and whether or not this is an absolutely terrible idea. With coffee grounds ready, I pack up the remaining equipment: Snow Peak pocket stove, fuel, an AeroPress, canteen, Rainiers (obviously) and some extra rice cakes for Ben who will be leading me up to the pass, pushing me though my many stages of exhaustion that await.

3:45AM. Ben Popper is outside, ready to go, his Team Rock Lobster CX loaded up in a way that clearly demonstrates his familiarity with this type of ride. With bikes in the car we head towards Rainier National Forest, where Ben feels most at home amongst the old growth and the gravel.

Arriving at the park entrance, the forest was still asleep. A lone pigmy owl sounded off just above us to a distant companion who echoed the calls into the darkness as we check over our equipment by headlamp and moonlight.  This is why we are here, to immerse ourselves into a realm that is very much so not ours. The forest belongs to its inhabitants, and we are made very are of this fact as family of elk silently cross the road just ahead of us, the parents keeping a watchful eye on the plaid creatures on two wheels as their young slip back into the shroud of the trees.  

Pedals turning over, breath heavy and head slung low, I try to find a rhythm. But it eludes me. Too little sleep to make mind and body work together.  I fumble with the shifters, adjust my backpack, get out of the saddle, but it is all a futile effort in the face of a 4,000 ft climb. I succumb to the current state of affairs and find Ben's wheel, the only thing I can rely on this early in the morning.

Blue hour is upon us, no longer dark and not yet near light. It is a surreal state to climb a mountain pass in. Everything transmits its presence as a denser version of its fully lit self. The mountain, snow, and trees, breathe their first morning breath and we can feel every expansion of our surroundings.  There is a certain awareness that comes with a lack of stimulus, the flutter of hawk’s wings can be heard from 200 yards away; as the only other sound is four tyres on the smooth pass roads.  

Mt. St. Helens reveals herself after we crest our first ascent, as the golden glow of sunrise peeks around the ridgeline that is our horizon. Ben yells out a resounding “whoooooooo!” which reaches the mountain and makes its way back to us ten times over. This is why we are here, to playfully echo amongst our surroundings.  

The climbing continues through 6-foot snow walls against the backdrop of snow covered evergreens and I cannot help but realize that up until this point we have not passed a single car. But moments later, a snowplow comes barreling down the switchbacks. Its driver giving us a knowing nod. Nobody comes up here this early, at this time of year on road bikes. Clad in flannel for the simple pleasure of a cup of coffee. Nobody but Ben Popper and I.

We take this moment to get entangled in conversation about solitude, the other, immersing yourself into a setting, and the proper way to form a snowball. The sudden appearance of another person on this road. Even if they are in a massive truck, reminds us that there are others up here, most likely in search of the same thing, most likely of the same mindset as us.

A few more miles of cold toes, a couple more photo stops and we find ourselves at our destination. Ben quickly scales an 8-foot snowdrift and decides that this is our spot. I toss up his Rock Lobster, followed by my Land Shark (we have a thing for mythical creatures) and make my way up to our coffee shop at 5,500 ft.

First things first: Rainiers are cracked and we take a moment to digest where we are. There is pure silence, no breeze, no cars and we don’t say a word.  For a while we just sit there, ginning like fools. The exhaustion has lifted and the elation of being where we are truly sets in.  Time for coffee.

Elm Coffee Columbia Agua Blanca. 20 g coffee / 400 g water at 195 degrees Fahrenheit, four minutes.

Good Morning.

The Long Days

 

Early in the process of approaching mid age, a family man begins to look at his days as a precious resource. A commodity to be stretched, massaged, and doled out with careful measure as the endless days of youth and sunrise to sunset rides are fewer and farther between. Do I miss those? Kind of? But that new #dadbody!

 

Conversely, the onset of early mid age bestows upon a human (at least personally) the ability and wherewithal to really appreciate and bleed each of these moments of all the lifeforce they contain. With this age comes a perspective and a slowness that makes a trailside stopandlook really take your breath away, if you let it.

Also you can get up way earlier. #dadstrength

So what you do is, ask/beg/bargain with your life partner and get that thing on the books. If you’re gonna get rad, you gotta plan with care and well in advance.

Here’s my suggested process…

  1.  dreamz
  2.  personal justification
  3.  date selection matrix/nexus
  4.  approach life partner with relaxed attitude and vague plans
  5.  upon positive review, firm up those plans with other participants
  6.  plan menu because snax
  7.  bike inspection/repair
  8.  burn some sage
  9.  supply procurement/prep
  10.  get up way early
  11.  shred
  12.  beer/snax
  13.  shred (when possible)
  14.  try and make it home in time to tuck the kid into bed

On this particular day, the course of action was agreed upon and maximum enjoyment was possible. On board was myself (James Chip Woodley), the incomparable Craig Hot Laps Etheridge and Kelly #farmstrong Nowels. It promised to be a capable and spirited mix of participants. The destination was to our east, in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. A town called Leavenworth. #FREECASCADIA.

According to Wikipedia….

“Leavenworth is a city in Chelan County, Washington, United States. It is part of the Wenatchee−East Wenatchee Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 1,965 at the 2010 census.[5] The population was 1,970 at 2012 Estimate from Office of Financial Management. The entire town center is modeled on a Bavarian village…

…The city struggled until 1962, when the Project LIFE (Leavenworth Improvement For Everyone) Committee was formed to transform the city into a mock Bavarian village to revitalize its economy.[6] Owen and Pauline Watson, owners of a business on Front Street, formed the committee after visiting Solvang, California in 1958 and thought it was an excellent idea for Leavenworth.”

The money quote is “Bavarian village”. It looks just like Walt Disney built a Bavarian Village but with a less than Disney budget. Still, charming though, I guess.

For us the real attraction were a couple of expertly maintained and well built trails on the outskirts of town. Really choice work out there, guys. The clay composition of the soil in the area lends itself very well to the shaping and building of #sickberms. The local trails organization is killing it. I think we’re talking about these guys here, Central Washington Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, but don’t quote me. Anyhow, those berms.

Trail number one on the day is/was named Xanadu. If you are a PNW resident and skew towards the kneepad full suspension set, I’m sure you’ve heard about this one. If you haven’t heard of it…

To quote a quote…

[The mtbr.com describes this ride like this: "Crazy, sick, fun, relatively easy fireroad duo track climb up to the ridgetop and then a knarly steep, narrow singletrack descent with no room for error. Two highly technical sections. The first is a hairpin turn followed by a nasty 6 to 8 foot boulder drop that's rideable followed a short time later by a huge slick rock that's super steep with just enough loose gravel and sand on it to keep you traveling at a good clip before bailing off another steep drop which is also rideable but tricky. If you can find it you will most likely really like it or hate it. ]

I mean that’s basically it. We loved it. We rode it twice. I will go back.

After a lunch of the finest BLTs my cooler had on offer and requisite cans of beer, it was decided that a third accession and descent was doable and probably advisable. Rather than go for three on the Xanadu trail, we made our way into Leavenworth proper for bro-beta from the very very helpful staff of Dasradhaus. Seriously these guys live up to the name of that shop. They took no less than two pre ride phone calls from me enquiring about conditions and weather. V helpful. Side note: don’t come to Leavenworth to ride after or during a rain. The Dasradhaus guys not only discouraged it, they pretty much said we don’t want you to come ride after a rain because you will wreck the berms, bro. Straightup.

Prior to undertaking a third climb, a prophylactic coffee application of Fancy Mochas was needed. We found the nearest Bavarian themed Starbucks and bellied up to the bar. PROmove. Personally, I’m not sure I would have made it if a Fancy Mocha hadn’t been consumed.

Once coffee was had, we directed our attention to a trail snaking down a ridge visible from town called Rosy Boa.

Rosy Boa, not surprisingly, is similar to the prior trail, Xanadu. Same builders/maintenance and adjacent locations. I mean, pretty obviously it was going to be similar. Ridgeline trail crossed with #sickberms. And it was good. But I liked this one better. May have been the exhaustion. May have been that #lightbro. Maybe I was finally getting warmed up. Whatever, it was rad.

Upon completion of descent number three, we returned to our common vehicle to deplete the cooler of all its wealths and bask in the glow of an all grass parking lot at dusk. Stop and take a look sometime. There is beauty everywhere.

We counted our blessing, our mechanicals, and falls (many, 0, 1) and began to make our way back to our verdant home in Cascadia, in the West.

Pretty perfect actually.

 

 

Words by Chip Woodley
Photos by Chip Woodley & Kelly Nowels

3_LV..JPG

Wynoochee

"Yea, sure we can get back to town by 4PM. Let's just meet at 6AM." Plans like that always sound like a good idea a few days or even a night before the actual trip. The realization of how stupid you are sets it when you set your alarm. 5AM? Really? Why? To ride bikes. And so here we were on our first ride together as a team. Excited, chomping at the bit and stoked to explore new roads. When it was all over we were thrilled to realize how well we work together and stick as a team. And some of us realized just how close they came to laying down and leaving it all in the middle of the road. Here is the ride recap from Tyler Smith - AB.

Calamity doesn't always surprise you, like a pothole, or blind corner, or beer can thrown from a passing truck. Sometimes, it develops slowly and quietly over the course of a ride, as micro-choices and miniature decisions accumulate into something unavoidable, unstoppable, irreversible. 

The many small choices I made that morning during our trek into the Olympics, and actions I failed to take, led me to a place I haven't been in a very long time. A place I never wanted to go back to, and will try desperately to avoid in the future. The locals call it Bonktown, USA.

Add up the variety of mistakes I made, or omissions that never crossed my mind: too little clothing, too little food, too much bourbon, and too many sprints off the front and throw in a dash of frigid rain, gravel fire roads, and wilderness trails to nowhere, and you have the recipe for my my most recent trip to Bonktown. 

Once I arrived in Bonktown city limits, I realized with a sort of embarrassment that I was now a liability for the rest of the riders around me. We were still a good 20 miles from the car, and I couldn't feel my feet, hands, or face, and I was already slurring like a 21-year old who was 10 shots into the birthday celebration. As the mile markers ticked off the remaining mileage, I started to weave, and found myself on the center line of the road narrowly missing some giant trucks in the oncoming lane. Every incline that we encountered slowed my progress as if an anchor dropped out of my jersey and now trailed on the asphalt behind me. 

The riders around me, my teammates, once jovial and full of banter, now ground out silent miles with heads hanging low, faces numb from the rain and tire spray around them, riding for the sole purpose of survival. They grew smaller and their shapes were eventually swallowed up by the road ahead until I could barely see their tire tracks in the rain. One remained - Adam. When we started the ride, I would have bet 20 bucks that this kid, who was running on less than 3 hours of sleep after closing his bar the night before, and on a broken handlebar, would have been the first to crack. Instead, Adam was now towing my sorry ass back to the car, occasionally looking over his shoulder to give me a thumbs-up; insurance that my brain was still functioning. Irony at its finest. 

The Olympics take no prisoners, I discovered that day. This was a land for hard men. These roads weren't for the faint of heart, or those lacking in preparation. Lesson learned. I will be back for you, Wynoochee. And next time, I will skip the detour to Bonktown.

Words by Tyler Smith.
Photographs by Adam Kachman, Andy Bokanev, Kelly Nowels, Josh Stinger, Nate Hoe andTyler Smith.

Here is the route on Strava

Gorge Roubaix

This past weekend, the Cascadia Bicycling Team crew headed down to Oregon to ride the Gorge Roubaix. We came back a little battered and bruised. Here is Nate Hoe's recap.

Adding a bit of gravel to one of your usual routes is one thing, but racing (riding? Who cares?) some 40 miles of it is something different all together. Last weekend's Gorge Roubaix firmly implanted this distinction in my mind, with nearly every snare and pitfall imaginable making itself known along the way. Except mechanicals, miraculously.

My excitement was nearly uncontainable when I rolled my bike over to the start, as the sound of my teammates around me confirmed that this would be our first formal outing together. With the rain and grit of our ride on the Olympic Peninsula a week prior still fresh in my mind, I was filled with a feeling akin to receiving some letter of acceptance or keys to a new car; this was becoming real, no longer something established in my mind but in my world as well.

The whistle blew, pieces of plastic snapped into pedals, Garmin's issued beeps of confirmation, and legs began to spin. The weather was clear and warm, a radical departure from the rain-soaked rides of a week earlier. Suffice to say none of us brought sunscreen. The chatter began, mutual stoke being communicated with pats on the back and plenty of fist bumps. The pavement began to turn upward but our enthusiasm-speed was nowhere near depleted so it was all gravy.

However this enthusiasm was to come to a pretty abrupt end some 15 miles in. We had just hit The Dalles' storied gravel but realized we were missing a teammate. Some of us, including myself, sat and waited while a few others went back to check.

A flat, I told myself with utter conviction, it's gotta be a flat.

However after we had waited for quite some time we began to ride back. And back. And back. Until a larger sense of dread began to fill my body, the kind you get when you slowly realize the inevitability of an awful outcome. We saw Andy standing there, his chest clad with his own blood, his bike several feet away and not looking like it was dismounted from conventionally.

Andy Bokanev: "That didn't last long. I only just started to settle into a nice rhythm as the road continued to gently point up out of the trees and bushes onto the green plateau with sporadic views of those white Cascadian volcanoes. This is going to be good. Then the first gravel section, a descent. A fell back to take a picture, put the camera away, got into the drops to chase the group and then there it was. An innocent looking right hand turn. Put on the brakes. Nothing. That was the point at which I realized that this may not end well. It didn't. 20+ stitches in my right knee, half a dozen in my chin and road rash on basically every side of my body. The Garmin said I crashed going 35 mph. That tells me that I got off easy. Next time Gorge Roubaix. Next time."

It's situations like this that make me feel utterly useless. Instead of being able to actually perform something medically useful I have to resort to issuing comparatively flippant words of encouragement. Fortunately, after some delay, people with actual medical experience arrived on the rural road and whisked him away, with Adam graciously following. Tyler, Kelly, Jake, and I mounted our bikes and solemnly rode away. I was glad that his injuries weren't deadly or anything but was certainly in no mood to ride another 70-something miles.

And yet ride we did, sticking together as best we could, turning the pedals up every sun-soaked climb and taking in the views from every descent. Our physical suffering was tempered by the gorgeous and downright savage landscape we were riding through. My polarized lenses made our surroundings all the more wild, and I had to constantly regain focus as my eyes began to drift along the volcano-pocked horizon.

Tyler Smith: "As my new Paris Roubaix tires rolled effortlessly over the asphalt, confidently along that narrow path of dirt and gravel burnished out by the racers before me, I thought about the way that the day had already dealt our team a full house of unexpected hurdles and surprises that required adaptation and a commitment to seeing the day through, and to riding for each other, whatever that looked like. Andy's crash. Adam's rebuilt Landshark that didn't get a chance to devour the twisty roads it was meant for. My own ridiculous tumble, not in the perilous deep gravel, but out on the open road - stupid. Nate's cassette-freehub time-bomb. And the unexpected pleasure of pace-lining back to town with Jake from Portland."

 Gravel and volcano view aplenty.

The Gorge Roubaix has never been considered an easy day on the bike, but I cannot overstate the pride I feel with how my friends handled a particularly tough version of it. Those of us that remained tried to keep the volley of one-liners and small talk going, despite the attrition and seemingly endless stretches of back roads for us to traverse. Tyler crashed on the pavement shortly after Andy and Adam exited the race, damaging his palms in a race that has never been kind to anyone's hands in the first place. In an act of resilience that I doubt I could have replicated, he draped the same piece of cloth that had cleaned Andy's wounds on his own hands to cushion them on the gravel. Perhaps a tad gross now, I thought it was pretty badass under the hot Dalles sun that afternoon. That piece of cloth is not only clad with our team's little symbol, but has now become a testament to our little band's perseverance through what some might consider one pretty lousy day.

But what's the old adage? "What doesn't kill you will only make your team doper?" That was ringing in my ears as my tires hammered across that lunar landscape. The jokes kept flying, neglected barns emerged and old ones disappeared behind, and we pushed forward, endlessly determined to the finish.

Towards the end of the adventure, those brief looks up and around became less of a distraction and more of a necessity, to remind myself of how lucky I was to be riding through such a landscape with friends like these. The gravel transitioned back to pavement, which brought with it The Headwind (see what I did there?) The last 10 miles of any ride this difficult are pretty much guaranteed to stretch the limits of your resilience. But a stiff headwind? After all that? I had heard of the Columbia's gnarly gusts, but that didn't prevent me cursing every turn at the front. Feeling like a leaf in a hurricane, I would still manage to smile as I moved to my left and Kelly took the reigns, reminding me of the friends that were carrying me back to those oft-mentioned pork tacos at the brewery.

And that's what this is. Less of a race report, or a listing of all the misfortunes that befell us, but more of a celebration of companionship and the bonds that cycling creates. I had met Jake less than 24 hours earlier and yet it didn't take many miles to call him my friend. While our attempt to cross the finish (an hour or so down, mind you) in a line straight across didn't work out, we rode that way, as friends not willing to let each other face that gravel and wind alone.

Tyler Smith: "Sun-burned and sore, stitched and hobbling, shelled and hungry, we all found our way back to the little cabin in White Salmon that we called home for a couple days. We sat around the little fire pit on the deck, recounting the stories and passing phones around to show the sights and emotions that words failed to. We passed that bottle of barley wine around one more time and called it a night. 

Rinse and repeat. Tomorrow is another chance to explore."

Photos by Andy Bokanev, Kelly Nowels and Tyler Smith.