How to ride the Oregon Gran Fondo.
This is a photo of one of the hills coming back into the Lorane valley from the Oxbox area. It is not a steep hill, just feels long. There are no steep hills on the Oregon Gran Fondo, and nothing terribly long though the 6-8 hills add up to between 5 and 7,000 feet. As such this is not an overly difficult ride. At 117 miles, the distance can seem daungting, and if not prepared will be. Each year I have found someone on the way back through Lorane who was in serious difficulty. So for those who are interested here are some tips for getting through this unscathed.
1. This is the start line, actually near the back. By this point you should be ready, and anyway, it's too late to back out. Most riders have a check list. If you have followed it you are ready. It will be June 5th, so no telling what the weather will be. Last year (photo) was obviously warmer than usual. I have done this ride in all kinds of weather, the first year in particular was wet. I also have not had to wear more than arm and leg warmer, and a gillet.
2. Mentally, remember this is just a bike race. No matter how it turns out, the real accomplishment takes place here-the start line. Consider the preparation that has gone into getting yourself here-the planning. This is already a success. From here just have fun. In the past I have competed in some fairly big races. I was so overly competative that it got so I couldn't handle the anxiety prior to an event. In 2008 I unofficially retired from racing. Last year, prior to the Gran Fondo, I had been to India and Nepal. Something was different. I was in good form, and could have set a PR. Instead I stopped several times along the way, just to take in the "beingness" of this ride. I took a video in the deepest part of Oxbow, completely alone in the forrest. I stopped on the last climb to offer some encouragement to a struggling rider. I am not sure why I did these things or others, just to be there. I crossed the line minutes past my goal, and laughed.
3. If you are racing this, obviously this advice is not meant for you. If you are not racing, but are driven to accomplish some kind of goal, I am not sure that you will heed this advice. If you are back of the pack, and not sure you can make it, this is for you. Start drinking, and eating right away, and keep it up. Be careful leaving town. There is a good deal of starting and stopping. The first hill will sort this out. The first hill is not hard, and it seems that I get shuffled to the back here by riders intent on staying with some imaginary bunch, though the front bunch is already long gone. Ego is the enemy here. Ride your pace. There is another small hill just past Lorane, then a quick downhill with some sharp corners-beware here. You are then on a major highway for a couple of miles. This is followed by the KOM climb on Smith River Road. If you are just trying to finish, this is of no importance to you. Again ride your pace, and consider not stopping at the top. This will look good to you, but unless you are out of drink there is another aid not too much further down the road. From here, a short downhill and into the Oxbow Burn area. This is real wilderness, and the site of a big fire years ago. You will find yourself on rough, and at times very narrow roads, at one point so narrow you will wonder if you have lost the route. You have not, it is virtually impossible. What is left of the field will have also thinned out, and there will be few riders here. And by the way, unless it is too late to change, this is chipseal in here so 25 or 28 mm tires are good. After leaving Oxbow the climbing starts again with the climb pictured, dropping then back toward Lorane on Siuslaw River Road. If it is warm, it will seem hot here in late afternoon. There are a couple of short, steep climbs that will test your legs. Seriously here, your pace. There is one more aid station just before Lorane, and the turn back toward Cottage Grove, with one last climb, the other side of the first of the day. It may or may not seem hard, and here if you feel good, let it rip. There is then only a fast descent into town, and the finish line.
4. Celebrate. Be happy with your accomplishment, whether you finish or not. If you set a record, or you are the actual winner of the Oregon Gran Fondo, I salute you. There will only be one who finishes first, but that makes no one a loser. There is a certain equality to the knowledge that we all, one day, must die. Any accomplishment compared to this great equalizer seems rather small. And yet if not for the things that we do, life would be futile. Celebrate.