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.