Greeting nordic peeps and fellow time travelers, it's been a while eh? Yeah some severe disruptions have altered the norm which now takes some contemplation as to just what is the norm these days ? Nordic Dave doesn't usually expound on anything that isn't about nordic skiing yet there is a connection here as he's working hard to make things go well when the snow flys. ND gravel biking for more than a decade and this summer has jumped in full on to multiple gravel races. At first he had to convince his wife that this was fun, cajoling her along pleading her to join in. Now that she's getting better results than her hubby as a top female rider, she's all in ;)
Und zo.... it would appear the good folks in Oregon have created their own unique gravel culture, hosting a variety of events statewide. Which brings us to the Ochoco Gravel Grinder, a two day race format in the Ochoco mountains in Eastern Oregon. Having never knowing that such a place existed, ND has decided in his mind that the name is possibly Native American and translates to "climbs with no end".
Getting there was a unique drive in and of it's self, rolling through isolated Eastern Ore. mtn towns that seemed quite politically charged in a not so friendly way if your point of view doesn't fit theirs. The banners and signs on many ranches had a "wow" umm "really?" surreal factor that sowed hate and discontent albeit posted alongside a large American flag which seemed to be code talk that OUR flag belongs exclusively to this point of view. A few T.V. shows from ND's formative years, i.e. The Twighlight Zone and Night Gallery come to mind regarding the reaction of "wait ...what.....? " But if you never watched these shows then conjuring Germany in the 1930's will suffice.
Race Central was 30 miles away from the nearest town which made for a communal camping fest complete with free beer, snacks and water. ND's large Ram pickup truck allowed him to roll through rural Oregon unscathed but looked very out of place amongst the bike scene here of peeps in VW van campers, custom painted Tesla's, countless Subaru's and the like from Bend, Portland, Seattle, etc... Kinda interesting how your vehicle might give you a stereotype. ND swears he got a screaming deal on said Ram and it was an economic and practical decision not a political one as he prefers to drive dirt roads in rural Idaho.
The next morning is our first race, it's 62 miles, we have no idea what's about to go down or where we are going. At the start, we ride a mile or two of pavement and begin a long descent down a canyon, we fly off the pavement going downhill and sink into gravel that can swallow your front wheel. Try riding your bike at full speed from a paved parking lot onto a sandy beach at 20 mph going downhill and see what happens. Add to it some overly aggressive riders jonesing for it too early and you know what happens next. Watching the ensuing pile up of twisted bikes, battered bodies completes with protestations of who wronged who. ND does his best to chill, stay in control and veer away from the pile up without going down in the loose stuff himself.
Miles later sorting it out, he finds two other riders who are of sound mind and predictable to ride with. We keep things organized and begin riding down a multitude of riders who had attacked the rolling hills in the 1st hour with a bit too much exuberance. 3.5 hours later, ND is riding alone and it's time to start climbing back up the canyon of bottomless gravel. It's quite hot out and ND is getting baked feeling heat exhaustion coming on by the minute. Finishing in 4 hours, losing two places on the long nasty climb finishing 12th overall, he's hot, quite dizzy and disoriented, he ends up in the 1st aid tent getting worked on for the next hour. The paramedic takes ND's race # and admonishes him not to ride in the next days race of which ND agrees to.
Drinking beer that night, no intention of riding and being tranquillo, the evening's peace was interrupted by the unmistakable sound of someone shooting a semi automatic rifle not too far away. ND's wife, Tricia asks, what is that ? ND replies , "it's an AR15". Knowing said "dude" is probably spending a dollar a bullet, he starts counting shots wondering if he will spend $50 just to shoot his gun. Sure enough that was his limit and we return to peace time activities.
The next morning we are drinking coffee together and we both have the same idea, oh hey let's do the race why not ? It's another 62 miles and 8000 feet of climbing. ND promises not to race and just do the ride, uh huh....yup he did. The race start is missing half the race field from yesterday with some new riders thrown in. The race director admonishes everyone that this course will be "spicy" whatever that means yet it didn't sound good.
ND steers clear of the bug eyed dudes raring to go at the start, he's actually riding with some nice sporty looking ladies and he's thinking well isn't this nice !? They pushing the pace and one of them knows how to descend like a hawk dropping from the sky to pluck it's prey. ND just smiles and catches up on the next long climb. The two track jeep road turns into a single mtn bike trail and things are getting hurly burly on our cross bikes, sure enough we come upon a crash of one the bug eyed dudes. He's really hurt, broken hip, possible internal bleed, a life flight is necessary. His fit semi pro rider girlfriend elects to ride on and passes ND at a furious pace making up for lost time and places. ND ponders to himself...self....how would you feel if your partner said "honey, so sad too bad...I'm gonna ride on to make sure I score enough points in this race series and I'll find out later which hospital they life flighted you to".
15 miles of the hurly burly mtn bike course is over, we have a few miles of pavement to straighten out the kinks in the bod and then the mother of all gravel road climbs unknowingly begins unfolding a never ending suffer fest. An hour into the climb and no end in sight the mythical Greek story of Sisyphus comes to mind.(look it up will ya?) . It was about then that it occurred to ND that the Ochoco mtn range was probably a Native American term for climbs that have no end !
Somehow ND doesn't remember the climb ending but an aid station appears as an oasis in the wilderness. They have pickle juice and pickles, they filled ND's water bottle with ice water, omg back from the dead ! 20 miles to go , we can do this right ?
A while later a rider passes ND and says "hey man are you alright ?...you don't look so good !" ND just smiles..."yeah I'm good" LIAR !
The end is near maybe 45 minutes to go ND has been riding for 5 plus hours, naturally the climbs are getting steep again, the legs are protesting loudly, but the end is near ! ND knows Tricia is probably closing in , ND has been in survival mode and she has an excellent trait of riding people down never going for the bait in the early stages of a race. In fact all those nice looking ladies ND rode with long ago, Tricia has since ridden down and physically dusted them. Suddenly, ND is startled from his stupor as a large truck is driving right at ND and it's not moving over. Too tired to yell what ND thinks of said jerk, he knows he's within 3 miles of the finish. ND gets to a road junction, there are no signs pointing which way to go. ND goes straight and finds himself climbing again. 30 minutes later and another 1000 feet of climbing, he reaches another junction, no sign and no bike tracks to be found. He's now been riding over 6 hours. The devastation and despair of realizing he's ridden off course is an emotion hard to describe. He starts back tracking but unsure of where he came from. Out of water, heat exhaustion once again setting in, he spots a Latino family compound. They look at ND wide eyed as he rides in, most don't speak English. ND just blurts out to anyone that will listen, "I'm lost, I'm out of water and I'm about to pass out." BOOM, a young lady steps up and takes charge, ordered to lay down, ND has ice crammed everywhere into his body and for some reason ice behind the knees really zapped him. Pedialyte is served, he's getting his body massaged as the cramping and spasms are uncontrollable.
15 minutes later & regaining consciousness, Nordic Dave remarks to her, someone has medical training. Yes she says, I'm a Physician Assistant and I'm glad you found our family. ND has no words once again to describe his emotions of gratitude.
Her husband puts ND's bike in a truck and we set out to find race HQ. A while later we find it, Tricia is waiting, worried and says something about already knowing ND took the wrong turn. It seems that the said redneck dude in the truck that almost ran ND over had been out on course pulling the signs that directed us to the finish. It seems the race director had gotten things corrected after ND the sabotaged road junction of missing direction signs. ND had missed the turn with 1 mile to go that recreated the parable of Homer's Odyssey of never quite being able of returning to where he had started.
Although the perpetrator might somehow feel smug and satisfied knowing of the harm inflicted, in retrospect nothing could be further from the truth. ND had found kind caring people to save him as well as being severely tested and having fully experienced that which doesn't kill you surely makes you stronger !
From the Nordic Dave Adventure Series.