No longer benefitting from Donnie’s organization and the promotional backing of Velodirt et al, this year’s edition of the storied Oregon Stampede was a lightly-attended affair. You basically had to remember that it was happening and on which day. Lucky for us, four Ruckus Test Teammates did. We lined up alongside nine other men and women at 7 a.m. in the Deschutes State Recreation Area parking lot.
With no leader to tell us otherwise, we split down the middle in our opinions about which direction to go. Rather than come to a consensus, everyone agreed it would be more comical to ride in opposite directions and “high-five in the middle.”
Seven people turned left to go the traditional Stampede route. Six of us turned right.
Our crew of six consisted of myself, Richard Fattic, Shawn Small, Andrew Yeoman, Kyle Mensing and Dan Norman. We wanted to bust out the long stretch between water stops first thing, before we were tired and dehydrated later that day.
Gordon and the Death Rollers
Notorious for its downhill headwinds and its traditional position at the very end of both the Oregon Stampede and the Oregon Outback, Gordon Ridge almost felt easier to go up than down. This was, of course, only because we were fresh. We were all trying to be the fast guy up the ridge, getting in line for a minute, then half-wheeling our way up to the front, until the next guy half-wheeled his way around.
We were probably going a lot too fast for a 2,000 foot gravel road climb that tops out 110 miles from the finish line, but we were having fun, feeling chipper, and enjoying the morning light.
We got to the “death rollers” on top — 20 miles of straight gravel roads across rolling farmland — and kept crushing hard. I had to drop off the back to catch up on my missed morning constitutional. There I was shitting in the middle of an open field with nowhere to hide when a crop-duster airplane flew over me at about 100 feet off the ground. I waved.
We regrouped and kept crushing gravel until we made it to the big descent all the way back down to the Deschutes at Sherar’s Bridge. For 5 minutes and 46 seconds, I was very happy to be riding a road bike with 25 mm tires as I swapped full-tucked, high-speed attacks with Andrew and Kyle. I chopped ‘em on the inside left-hander cyclocross-style. Kyle out-pedaled me on the straightaway. Andrew sat on wheels, then attacked like the sprinter he is.
We regrouped and climbed back out of Sherar’s Bridge — an easy 500-footer to the tranquil Tygh Valley. I was wishing for a third bottle as i chased the boys into town (I’d stepped off-course to check out White River Falls), but once we arrived at the Tygh Valley General, there was all the Gatorade and Jo-Jos anyone could asked for. I bought a couple Just Fruit Bars (note to self: ALWAYS buy more Just Fruit bars than you think you’ll need when you’re riding more than 100 miles and the temperature could climb to over 100 degrees).
The Wildlife Area
Everyone knows about the wildlife area on the Oregon Stampede. It’s where you switch from feeling sorta good and riding kinda fast to crawling along through sand at 7 mph, then walking for fifteen minutes up the final climb as dudes in four-wheelers with rifles in their laps pull alongside and offer encouragement.
I resolved to “ride my own pace” (aka I couldn’t keep up) on the climb. Kyle rode away. Shawn pumped up a leak. Andrew flatted. I kept going. I flatted. Richard and Dan kept riding. Shawn’s leak turned into an undeniable flat. We regrouped and walked the final climb together. Andrew jumped on his bike at the top and realized he’d flatted again. Kyle was gone for good.
By the time we made it the 11 miles from Tygh Valley to the exit of the wilderness area, I was already through two of my three bottles and feeling mighty thirsty. The temperature was on the rise and we were getting tired.
We ran into the other crew at Friend Lane, mile 70. This meant we were probably ahead of them, but who knows. We shot the shit, gave our high fives, and went on our way: destination Dufur.
What Can We Dufur You?
Andrew and Shawn emerged as the strong men on the long, shallow gravel descent into Dufur — keeping the pace high and bringing our average speed back into the teens. The harsh miles of loose gravel on my road bike were starting to get to me, and I was beginning to hate the feeling of pedaling hard in the saddle. I was longing for a geared cyclocross bike, but it wasn’t long before we were back on asphalt, making our way into the biggest little city on Fifteenmile Creek: Dufur, Oregon!
I love Dufur. The town is cute as a button, and Kramer’s Market is about the best general store East of Mount Hood. We loaded up on everything at Kramer’s: Chili Cheese Fritos, carrots, string cheese, potato chips, sandwiches, more Jo-Jos, Coca Cola, Gatorade, Powerade, water, water and more water!
That Scene in the Three Amigos Where Chevy Chase Pours Sand Out of His Bottle
Did I mention that it was hot? The predicted high of 99 degrees was fast approaching and as we sat in front of Kramer’s, we finally noticed that it was truly hot as fuck. The sun’s radiation as we got back onto the bikes and back into the sun was oppressive. We pedaled our way out of town and down one tiny descent to start the day’s last big climb—a 1700-footer that maintained its perfectly painful gradient along the south-facing slope of an exposed gulch called — charitably — Easton Canyon. Richard’s thermometer read 101 at the bottom, then 103 by the time we left the pavement. The climb got so hot that it started feeling dangerous. I was through one bottle within minutes and could have chugged my other two before the top, were it not for the 35 miles remaining. We were getting those unmistakable feelings of lightheadedness, lethargy and general out-of-it-ness that accompany heat stroke. Shawn and I agreed that we should seek out shade, if available, and take a break. We considered lying under the sagebrush bushes along the roadside, but found a sparsely-leafed tree eventually and lay on the road cursing the solar extremity.
“This HAS to be as hot as it’s gonna get today!”
We felt a lot more human after ten minutes in the shade and got back on the bikes to catch Richard (who opted to ride by us) on Center Ridge Road – the high point of the day. High winds on the ridge eased the heat’s extremity, and we started to feel like we were going to live. I got my second flat and was out of tubes.
The descent off of Center Ridge is where my descent into extreme crabbiness about my stupid bike began — my puny tires now pumped to super high pressure to prevent against further pinch flats. I was getting pummeled by the road as my compatriots flew away down the long descent. I made a plan to convince everyone to cheat at Fifteenmile Road and ride the downhill pavement instead of the two steep gravel climbs and descents of the actual course.
We Finish What We Started
Those bastards had already come to a consensus by the time I got to Fifteenmile Road: we were finishing the course legitimately. We turned left and rode up the little hill to Grammer’s Point. Nobody bothered to take the customary “old schoolhouse on hilltop with rustic Eastern Oregon backdrop” pic.
Another descent, then we were into the little 10%+ jab(that’s also easily skipped on a paved road). Shawn flatted again—his second, and also his last tube. I waited around, then realized none of us had any tubes left so I kept riding, resigned to the fact that Andrew and Shawn were now beating me up climbs and downhills anyway. I rode over one more little up, then a big down until I found Richard on the side of the road changing a flat—his first. I waited with him, assuming Andrew and Shawn would be along, but after waiting a few more minutes, we decided to keep going.
I stopped to text Shawn at the beginning of Old Moody—our well-known final stretch of eight bumpy miles overlooking the Columbia Gorge—and just as i pressed send, Shawn appeared. We were all-together, just caught Dan again, and we started our final crush to the Deschutes. Andrew set off on a “let’s get this shit over with” pace, and I followed his wheel into the stiff headwind. When we turned right, pulling alongside the Columbia, we caught the up-Gorge gale and we were off, pushed along by a 30 mph tailwind.
We ripped through those final flat miles. My ass felt like it was on a belt-sander from the road, but I kept pedaling hard. Finally, mercifully, we saw the “steep descent” sign that meant the sinal drop to the Deschutes and the end of our struggle. I careened after Andrew, felt the smack of a rock through my handlebar, and heard the unmistakable sound of a deflated tire rolling over gravel.
“YOU FUCKING MOTHERFUCKER!”
I had no tubes and Andrew was gone (he didn’t have any tubes anyway), so I pulled off my wheel, ripped out my flat tube, and waited for the others. Dan showed up after a few minutes. He still had two cyclocross tubes for his voluminous 40 mm tires, and gave me one. It crammed into my little road tire with a little finesse. As I pumped, Shawn and Richard showed up with a report of Richard’s second flat. We rode down the hill and what did we see around the first corner? Well, well well, if it wasn’t Andrew Yeoman himself pumping his tire after patching his third flat. That put our total at ten and we rode very carefully the last half mile to the asphalt and the Deschutes river.
Kyle was the only one at the state park—finished two hours ago and no one showed up before we left. We washed ourselves off in the river, jumped in the car, and went to Burgerville. It was one of my top-five Burgerville experiences.
Distance: 124.4 mi
Moving time: 9:06
Elapsed time: 11:30