On Friday night Aj and I headed East of The Dalles, OR to Deschutes State Park to camp and partake in a unique gravel/road race Saturday morning. I signed us both up back in March when I first heard about the event. Having participated in many gravel races back home in the Midwest, I was very excited to find something similar out West. Donnie Kolb, the race director, invested a considerable amount of time and effort putting the course together while trying to form a gravel niche here in Oregon. I am still trying to process the whole day and feel very lucky to have been a part of it.
It was the same game out West as it is back home, a free, local grassroots event with a wide range of participants looking to challenge themselves individually. It was very convenient for me to participate in these types of events back home because it is where gravel endurance cycling events started. The races I have participated in have been both physically and logistically challenging and vary greatly in terrain and environment. The Oregon Stampede varied more in terrain and environment that I had expected and made for a much longer day on the bike. Back in Iowa, obviously, we don’t have any six-mile climbs, or even the possibility of finding a course route that proceeds to take you uphill for the first 20 miles. So it goes….
The start was unrushed and easy going as we rolled out of the park area and hit the gravel quickly. Steep sections of gravel seemingly came out of nowhere and quickly separated the group of 50 riders. Climbing out of the Colombia River Gorge area was beautiful and made it hard to look at where my front wheel was headed. My lungs quickly began to gasp and rear wheel began to slip as I got out of the saddle. My bike gearing for this course was not ideal, quickly finding myself cranking up the hills in my lowest gear ratio. As the road grades leveled to a more manageable bike environment, Aj and I were able to settle in for the day. Everything about the day was going perfectly. Weather was awesome, views even better, and chatting with Aj about random thoughts helped pass the time quickly. After climbing for about two and a half hours we were treated with an epic panorama of various mountain peaks. Visible to us were Mt. Adams, Mt. Ranier, Mt. Hood. and Mt. Jefferson. Not a bad view to earn. An exceptional five-mile gravel decent took us back into the valley before finishing it out on pavement. Aj had some trouble keeping the water bottles in their cages and I had to retrieve one, but otherwise we kept on flying down the hill.
As we approached Dufur, the first of three towns on the route, I mistakenly miss-read the cue sheet and took us on a six-mile detour. We got back on course and made our way into town to fill up on water and grab myself some food. Aj’s dietary decisions required him to carry all of his food for the day, making his race even more true to the un-supported ethos of gravel racing. Besides some water re-filling, he hauled everything he needed for 130 miles on a bike.
From Durfur to our next checkpoint, was for me, the best part of the ride. We were on some awesome minimum maintenance roads and had a four-mile stretch of some pure gravel lunacy. Dusty gravel quickly turned into full on mountain biking, which helped take my mind off of my tiring legs. I would try to explain more of this awesome backroad but it wouldn’t give it much justice.
The rest of the ride was more of the same, including a mix of road and gravel roads. Aj and I rode with a few others, which was a pleasure and makes these events more memorable, until the long and steady six-mile climb out of the valley. One more pit stop and it was relatively downhill from there. A few short climbs and we summated the last leg of the course. We began our descent back into The Gorge just before sunset and had an awesome ride down. I was too busy looking around to take pictures and took in much more enjoyment celebrating the moment flying downhill for well over 10 minutes. We came into the campground just as darkness set in with our lights on…..right at 12 hours and 30 minutes for the day. Considerably slower than I expected to complete the course in, but I couldn’t have asked for a better day on the bike with my brother riding beside me. It was a day I will not forget.
It was a great feeling to finish and hang out with some cool people around the campsite afterwards. It would have been awesome to stay for another night but Aj had finals starting Monday and needed most of the day on Sunday to study.
Many thanks to Donnie for organizing the Oregon Stampede and providing those who participated with an awesome opportunity to experience all of the natural beauty surrounding the course. I love these events and the people who attend them. I would much rather go and support local people who put on these events for the love of cycling and being in the presence of others than those with outrageous entry fees. Go ride, give it your best, have a blast and share your experience. That is why these events are growing in popularity in the Midwest and it will certainly follow suit here out West with awesome people putting these events on and participating in them.