Bend High Desert Gravel Grinder

All of these photos are from the official race photographer (Adam Lapierre)
I was too busy racing!
Yes, this life of racing every other weekend is absolutely as exhausting as it seems. The previous weekend we did an "easy" 70 mile gravel ride weekend after 3 consecutive weekends of face paced rides and races. This race in Bend had been on the calendar for months but man... I can't say I was that excited. Sure, I was super excited to go spend the weekend in the paradise that is Bend with Amelia and Tom (this Amelia and Tom!) but... I wouldn't mind a weekend where I lay out in the sun and do nothing for 2 days either.

(you really get a sense of my overwhelming enthusiasm for bike riding above)

well, that's enough to inspire one to ride a bike, right?
Anyways, we paid for the race so... body get in gear! The High Desert Gravel Race was a new course this year, a 90 miler of 90% gravel (and it was... oh it was) with 6000 feet or so of climbing. What I like about the Oregon Gravel Grinders is that they are unabashedly races; pro riders show up and defend their sponsorship at these events. So DK and I despite some overtraining and morale issues... we were ready to ride.

The course started off pretty easy on some gentle rollers; the peloton was sketchy as all get out and the pack shattered when there was a crash about 3 miles in. Daniel and I were still together on this point, but he dropped me soon after on a climb (beat goal of stick with Daniel for 10 minutes! Woot!)

Then began the most interesting gravel course I have done to date. We were dodging big rocks and sand pits on narrow atv trails in the woods (wait... is this a mountain bike race?) After a while, the course opened up into a desert plateau with some STUNNING views of 3 sisters (like, mind bogglingly stunning). There were climbs... there was a paved descent (caught up to the guys who passed me on the climb, ha!) then... there was another climb (passed by my female rival, Ryan who ended up 2nd)... descent... repeat...

The course was technically extremely challenging (Gravel Black Diamond). On the first big descent, the gravel was loose and big, so you had to maintain momentum while descending and turning. Some of the rides we've done in the Olympics prepared me well for this type of descent - I made great time down, passing my 'rival' woman friend on the course. We would trade spots - she was so phenomenal climbing (we're talking >4 W/kg steady for hours) I never stood a prayer, but I would make up time on descents (yes, I'll trade stupidity for a few seconds off my time, thank you!).

The rest of the course featured highlights like a giant uphill sand pit (>4 inches deep of sand) after a sharp right now (KaBLAM into the sand basically) and red clay roads that went on for miles. My hip flexors were not in good shape for this ride, so after about 20 miles, every pedal stroke was painful (shoot, I'm stuck now and have to finish). I'm starting to realize these gravel races are always painful, there's no "I felt great and nothing went wrong [big smile!]". Builds character... right? ...

It smelled like fresh pine the whole time too! 
The amount of sand on this course was mentally tough for me. I had 38 Schwalbe G-Ones for tires, which were awesome for everything except the sand; they just kind of fish tailed in the sand. I am really proud of myself for working through a few uphill sand pit spots (for the record, I totally walked several). At one point, I was getting pretty demoralized around mile 60 when a guy I had pacelined with earlier came up behind me. He warned me that a "woman was coming up behind me and hauling butt", so... I pulled out of my funk and kicked it into high gear for the last 30 miles. I needed that, but I can't always rely on Dave from Dyna to motivate me... I have to keep fighting always :)

We're done!! We're done!! We're done!!! 
I pushed hard and finished 3rd for women in the open (26th overall combined) with a time of 6:11, 18 minutes behind the winner and 8 minutes behind second place. Definitely an emotional, girl power podium - we all kept telling each other how strong we were and how amazed we were by each other's efforts (I'm mean, I'm the lazy potato of the 3, but those 2 women were incredible). We all group hugged on the podium. Then Daniel (who missed my podium because he was changing in the car - silly boy, thought I was going to be at least another 30 minutes :P ) and I filled our little Ford Fiesta up with snacks and drove back to Seattle that night.

An amazing weekend overall. I would highly recommend making the trip for this Gravel Race. The views alone make it worth it, but the challenge of the course makes it worth it.

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