Dalles Gorge Gravel Grinder 2018 - Super Size

I'm doing lots of these epic gravel races this year that take hours, usually involve some sort of dire mental struggle, and require a level of fitness that I don't think many people have. However, this gravel race really takes the cake.

Unabashedly stolen from Tom's Strava
It sounded innocent enough when we signed up for the Gorge Gravel Grinder in Dalles, OR - 103 miles, 7800 feet of climbing, potentially warm. This was the race I failed at last year (DNFsville) because I got hypothermia and went into shock on the first plateau (it was cold and gusty and I was fried). But for whatever reason, I was totally convinced this year would be better and that I had to finish this race; I couldn't let that DNF stand. Cue ominous music. 

Well, I started off the race with a chain drop off the largest cog on my cassette. I had switched out wheels on Ibie because the description of the race on the webpage *makes* it seem like this was a road race; light riders should be on 25 mm tires (tiny!!!) and everyone else on 28s. Like a good girl, I put on my fast wheels on my 'road' bike and put on 28 mm tires with a file tread. Like a dumbass, I did not check my derailleur limits and that the shifting worked, so the entire rest of the race, I had crap shifting and my chain kept dropping (3x in case you were wondering, all involving a full stop and digging the chain out of the wheel, which is horrible for the wheel).

The first 1/3 of the ride was pleasant - a nice, gravel canyon climb up and up and up to 2800 feet. I chugged along happily, questioning my tire choice a bit ('this is a little loose for suggesting 28s...'). The Gorge Gravel Grinder format is that there are 3 possible loops, a medium 50, a big 75, and the super 103. I kept asking women as I saw them what race they were in, and I found one that was in the Super at mile 9ish. She then cat and moused me a bit on some rollers and said something like "Cool, we can ride together for the Super". We then kept climbing for another 10 miles, I dropped her at mile like 10.5 and never saw her again but knowing she was there... lurking behind me... was really motivational (I have to at least beat that one woman!).

So picturesque. So vulnerable to wind. 
Then came the 20 mile plateau. It was horrible. Sure, I've ridden in wind before, but nothing like this. It was constant, the noise was deafening (how do you know you have a tailwind in the Dalles? It's silent, blessedly silent), and it was horrible. The cross winds were as bad as a head wind because they were totally unrelenting - you had to stay in your drops and push the bike forward fighting the wind in all directions. I made a friend (thank you Andrew!) and we averaged about 10 miles an hour for 2 hours (!??!?!?!?!?) fighting our way across the plateau. Did I mention it was horrible?

At the 50 mile rest stop, I caught up with team mate Damien who decided he would be OK being a domestique then pulled me the next 20 miles (Damien, you beautiful, beautiful draft).  I clung to his wheel like Leo held on to that door in Titanic. We eventually caught team mate Quinn who let us know that all our other friends were alive (Daniel, Tom, Roger) and rode with us for a bit. This section was somewhat downhill, and I wish I could say I enjoyed it, but a headwind downhill is still a headwind (how was there always a headwind?! We had like 20 minutes of tailwind the whole time).

It was really pretty
I left the rest stop before Damien on the final climb at mile 70 (Lo never lingers at rest stops). Damien caught up to me about 100 feet from the top of the 1000 foot climb, and he was literally singing ("Your Song" by Elton John) as he zipped by me. Damien asked how I was doing and I muttered something like "I want to die". At this point, I was thinking that getting hit by a car would put me out of my misery at least. Oh, and this was not a fun climb... at this point, I felt like I had gone 130 miles (not 70) and my legs were screaming. The climb was >10% at points too... it was just mean.

But then it was over... except for the last, steep, gravel descent of death. I was angry at many things at the ride here, but nothing compares to my seething rage over having 28s. I had seen about 20 flats over the course of the race, and my 28 file treads were not the tire for the job, even remotely. Quinn thought I was a mad woman when he saw what I was running (I did too Quinn). The last descent was terrifying - loose, big gravel on a steep descent with a few mud pits thrown in essentially on road tires. To be honest, I almost crashed multiple times, and was just holding my breath hoping I would make it (spoiler: I did) without losing all my time (spoiler: time didn't matter).

The last 15 miles were as soul sucking as any of the others. Somehow (seriously, somehow) we had a headwind again. So descending on a paved road, I was going about 17 miles per hour. I had all these ambitious time goals when I started and thought 6.5 hours would be reasonable. Pffft. I finished at 7:59:42 (yes, I had to race the clock to squeeze in under 8 hours). I won my age group, was 2nd overall for women in the super (got some sweet tires and coffee! #CouldTotallyLiveOnThat). They told me at the finish that most of the women (more than 4) who signed up for Super dropped out during the race (smart ladies) and only 3 of us finished. I almost cried at the finish, and I couldn't tell if it was from relief of finishing/placing or if it was from total despondency.

Mmm 103 miles of that.
Summary: it was horrible. I was pretty much stuck on that like a PTSD victim for our 4 hour drive home (vacant eyes, with a flat "it was horrible" every 5 minutes). They did say it was a particularly bad year but... that was horrible. Pre race, I had a slice of cake and some potatoes (thanks Tom!), during the race I had half a granola bar, 2 ritz crackers and pb, so I was absolutely famished when I finished (hard to eat during a race with winter gloves on). Dan, like a hero, pre-ordered me food so when I arrived, I only had to wait a few minutes for food (<3 <3 <3).  I don't feel like riding bikes anymore, but I have to commute to work soon (and I am procrastinating by writing this blog post, shameless). I will begin praying now for a quell in the winds for Kansas in June...

All the pictures are courtesy of Dan... somehow he managed to take pictures while finishing 7th (?!?!?!). I have no memories, only dark, murky memories of wind and barns.

Would I recommend? I don't know. I would never want to subject myself or anyone to that experience, but they did say it was a particularly awful year. Last year wasn't exactly great either though...

Ride is here: https://www.strava.com/activities/1497915179

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