Gran Fondo Goldendale Forwards, Backwards, Upside Down

Last year, I dove into gravel racing with the Vicious Series - a 5 race series that takes place over the course of the year. I completed all of them, but there was one that had a really special place in my heart... Goldendale.

If you squint enough, you can see the happy badger
However, this year, Dan and I are on quite the aggressive gravel-endurance-why-do-I-do-this-to-my-body kick. Dan signed up to do all 5 of the Vicious Series, and we needed a big weekend so... we decided to do Goldendale x2, backwards on Saturday and forwards with everyone else on Sunday. We left early on Saturday (circa 7 AM) and arrived in Goldendale around 11, put on some bike clothes and got to it.

It was nothing short of spectacular. I mean, straight out of a movie. Credits roll as two young, attractive cyclists roll through an open field on dirt roads. They're dressed in Rapha clothing on color coordinated bikes, both indie non-Specialized bikes, as a friendly badger wags his tail from a rustic fence post surrounded by yellow, hypoallergenic dandelions while watching them laugh at each other as they go by. The sun is just right, somehow always at sunset where everything is golden. Their hair needs no hair gel and the birds chirp as they bike along, all smiles and in love, etc. etc.

aid station without aid 
Yeah, and then we hit Horseshoe Bend descent and things got a little hairy. That's when Dan coined the expression "that was a bear" which was heard frequently to describe that same dirt road just in the opposite direction the next day. I was pretty stoked for that descent personally, but I also knew what was coming. Even though we had done very little climbing (and mostly just laughing), we stopped and had a picnic at the future aid station in Lyle (about 35 miles in). We carried all our own food (about 1000ish calories) and water (about 2.5 L each) in backpacks on the trip.

Then the real work began. We had to climb out of the canyon at Lyle, which was about 1800 feet of paved, middle of the day canyon climbing work. It was hot (70F), but we somehow pulled through. Next came about 20 miles of rollers and then fields. The fields were awesome - we stopped to baaa at a very angry baby sheep (so tiny!) and just enjoy the day and the scenery. Next was the climb to the windmills (!!!!) which was the best part of the trip. Secret: no one tells you the best views are in the reverse direction of Goldendale. The descent/climbs at the top of the Windmills were extremely hairy... Dan and I warned everyone emphatically the next day about them (NOT the place to try out your 'new awesome descending skills!'). One more climb (ugh), then one long, beautiful, still in 'golden' sunshine descent into "Golden"dale (get it? that's why it's called Goldendale!). One 90 mile, 6000 ft of climbing leg in the bag.
How often do you get to ride between windmills?

We then met up with Rich and Michael who ordered us pizza (pro tip - if you order Dan and Lo pizza, they'll show up) in town, binge ate all we were worth (we refused to share an XL veggie pizza with Rich, even though we only ate half), went back to the airbnb, passed out, woke up, forced ourselves to eat to the point of vomiting and then... got ready to do it again.

It was fun to see all our friends at the start the next day. Starting the race felt extremely unfair - it felt like I was at the end of the race (> mile 60) while everyone else had fresh legs. I watched myself sink like a rock in the peloton, completely unable to maintain speed to stay with the group. I was slowly dropping back further when I noticed Erika struggling a bit with her bike. She had crashed early on a tricky gravel laced corner and bent her derailleur hanger (we've all done that. Spoiler: Erika, bleeding and with broken bicycle, still finished out the 90 mile race in good time after crashing at mile 5. Major kudos). I tried to help, but fortunately probably helped more in attracting more people and the infinitely more useful Mark Orr (who was able to straighten the hanger a bit). I kept rolling after Mark start operating (spoiler again: this doesn't count as a ditch, they totally caught me later!).

Softly mooing cows from the day before

About 5 miles after this, I made friends with a guy from Alaska. Since I was in full fondo, "I'm going to enjoy this, damnit!" mode, we chatted and laughed and talked about life for a long time. The miles flew by, honestly. Just as we hit the windmill climb, Erika and Mark caught us and we passed poor broken-pedal Diego ("Broken Pedal. EGGBEATERS!!"). I gave everyone my emphatic warning about the windmill descents ("use caution and proceed carefully. Pregnant women should not attempt") and took off. I had a blast going for it on the descent this time, knowing what was ahead. After a quick catch up to Jamie, a layer exchange, catching Mark, losing Mark when I saw Michael changing layers (so naturally stopped and talked to him too), I was back in (fondo) action! Michael and I had a nice cruise together and then came another gravel descent. I told him to just go for it, that it was a safe descent, and it was fun to just watch Michael totally kill it (yeah Michael!).

Got some junk in that trunk
Michael then very nicely pulled me while it rained in the upper fields of Goldendale (no cows softly mooing in the background as a gentle breeze blew through today!). We picked up Mark (who, like Michael had fenders. Guess who was the asshole who didn't have fenders?) and began a very nice paceline where they pulled me for about 10 miles. Then, I decided I could, you know, bike now, and kept going the same speed we were going on the flats... except now we were going up a 6% grade. Whoops. So Michael and Mark disappeared... and I caught and made a few other friends ("hey Lois! It's Brandon from Ellensburg! We rode with you and Jim Jim!) then left them then caught Jamie then left Jamie as I bombed down to Lyle (big girl and bike super powers!). Still raining but I was still happy (fondo!).

At the rest stop, I took my time and binge ate like a starving bear (definitely over 700 calories). Mark and Michael caught up, and Michael, somewhat surprised, commented on "how I just left them". "Michael, you read my blog, you KNOW this is what I do - I draft people and then leave them. You're now going to be a line in my blog, congratulations". Big smile from Michael at that :D

Jamie and I left the aid station together, and Jamie was chipperly describing something when I hawkishly cut her off.

Me: "Jamie, see that guy?" (points to guy about 50 yards away).
Jamie: "Yeah"
Me: "That's a golden wheel right there, he's the best pull we could ever ask for, we have to catch him"
Jamie (somewhat confused): "How do you know?"
Some other guy next to us, later to be identified as Colin: "He is the best draft around, she's right"
Me: "I've ridden with him before"

Who is he? Jonathan Kamrath, fellow High Performance Cycling team mate, who had endo'd earlier in the ride (flipped over his handlebars) and flatted on that treacherous windmill descent Dan and I had warned everyone about (except Jon apparently).  He was well behind where he should have been pace-wise in the group, and he was looking to make up time. So he HAULED our sorry butts up the canyon about 15 miles and 800 feet to the base of horseshoe bend (about 6 of us). No one else took a pull, just hero Jon, selflessly horse-ing it for the rest of us. We then all said our farewells and let the climb sort out the rest.

Well, surprisingly, my legs came to life at mile 70 (Jamie called that one early in the ride... spot on) and I kicked into some real gears to keep Jonathan in sight. We got to the top and I wanted to finish strong (all a sudden) and tried to get him and two others to paceline. Unfortunately, Jonathan dropped his chain, so I left him for dead (thanks Jonathan! Good luck buddy!) and ditched the other two too (one of them said he didn't want to haul a Wolverine around - I was wearing my Michigan vest. Pffft to him). I then began Lo's epic 12 mile time trial with elevation increasing rollers into a headwind. Bring.It.On.

That's giving 100% ladies and gentlemen
I picked off so many people, it became a game. There was always one more in sight ahead of me, and they all seemed so demoralized when I passed them like a train with a big smile. I put out one of my best extended sprint efforts in the history of forever and passed at least 10 people. What I figured was that the race was now fair - everyone was just as tired as I was at the start, but my tired was stronger! When I went to sprint to the finish line, my legs jellified beneath me and I almost fell over. No worries! I made it! I finished 61st out of 120ish and considering I was in it for the amazing aid stations and surviving, I'll take it!

Dan, on the other hand, completely decimated himself in finishing 16th. I have never seen the poor guy so tired (no happy badgers on Sunday for Dan). I guess one of us needed to fondo - someone had to drive us home!

I loved the weekend. Would I do it again? Not this exact thing, but I would do that kind of effort again. My legs hurt, but I feel so much stronger now after this 180 mile weekend. Plus, how often do you get to have date days with happy badgers and babbling mountain brooks (did I mention those?). More epics ahead, stay tuned!!

Happy times!

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