Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Tuesday, 19 May

It's been a few years since I last did a training camp, and the bar was a little higher this time: bigger hills, bigger miles, better roads. I shan't bore you with an inch-by-inch description of the 500 miles I rode in 4 days--we mostly followed the route of the 2009 Race Across Oregon (we had to detour around a couple of roads still under snow). But here are some of my favorite things about this "camping" experience, in no particular order:

The wildflowers. Some I recognized, many I did not. Some were fragrant enough to smell on the bike. Yellows, blues, white, and red. I have research to do to find out their names, including the tall weed I came to think of as Oregon saguaro because of its shape.

The mountains. We were looking at these all the time, not riding in them. The most stunning views were around Antelope and Shaniko; you could see every peak in the Cascade range from Mt. Bachelor to Mt. Rainier--all at once, from the same spot. The mountains look different across the central Oregon plateau than they do from the west side; somehow the eastern plateau is like a pedestal that sets up each peak with no foothills to distract the eye.

The camaraderie. We were a small group of riders, each with different goals and expectations. One was training for the Trans Portugal MTB race. Two were training for the first part of RAAM, which is the Race Across the West. One was from Houston and learning how to ride up (and down!) real hills. Sometimes I got to ride with another person or two (thank you, Mick, for riding with me through the nuclear gorge winds), much times by myself. It is interesting how rapport builds through shared suffering and shared enjoyment.

The learning about myself. How I can come back from the depths of the black mental abyss caused by trying to ride in gorge winds. What hurts the most after 150 miles on the bike--and the better corollary: how much does NOT hurt after 150 miles! Finding the legs to get in a boys' TTT paceline after 75 or 100 miles. Discovering that, outside Seattle, I am a coffee snob (and an addict who needs her tasty morning caffeine).

The riding and the roads. After the first day, the riding was exactly what I had hoped for. Seemingly endless but not-same miles through beautiful, changing terrain. Virtually empty roads. The feeling of being a tiny speck in a huge expanse without feeling lost. In a few places, the chip seal was not the best friend, but for the most part the roads were smooth, sans potholes. Bits and pieces of the route were familiar from the old Columbia Plateau stage race, and it was interesting to ride some of those backward ("I thought this was flat!").

Seeing the difference between central and eastern Oregon. We weren't far enough south of the Columbia to be in Bend's high desert country, and the creased hills of central Oregon were still green--but with scant foliage. Eastern Oregon has trees and more compact hills. Before we went to camp, I looked at a map and realized how close we would come to La Grande. And when we reached the first false summit of Battle Mountain, it looked like La Grande. Welcome to eastern Oregon.

Isolation. Two miles out of The Dalles, we lost cell phone coverage for 4 days. No laptop, no internet. No news (OK, there was a TV one night, but basketball and baseball aren't my idea of "news"), no phone. I did not miss any of them. At all.

Franklin Hill. In the first stage of Columbia Plateau, the cat 1-2 men did an extra section that none of the other categories rode. I knew there was a climb, and this weekend I got to ride that climb. OMG. It's one of those where you can pick out stretches of the road on the mountain above you. It must be a 5-mile climb. Wunderbar. I think I smiled all the way up. It's a climb that would shatter any race, but you can see the world around you every inch of the way as you climb higher and higher.

The climb from Clarno toward Antelope out of the John Day drainage. The rider from Houston told us afterward that this was an 11-mile climb. Same idea as Franklin Hill--you could see parts of the road winding around hilltops above you, in and out of sight. The view this time was east toward the Blue Mountains. The trees were scrubby junipers, so no shade (good thing we were there at 9 a.m.) but nothing to block your unlimited horizons. This climb is going to be incredibly difficult at RAO. Most riders will do it in the dark, and they will not be able to see the top, however far away it is.

Fossil. This small town wasn't any "better" or more interesting than the others we passed through or stayed in, but it was familiar from Columbia Plateau. Same mercantile, same Shamrock--but we did not have to sleep in a tent on the lumpy football field! And the route out of town on Sunday morning was a gentle little 4-mile climb through a picturesque valley. Fossil still reminds me of Ireland in many ways because of the green, grassy hills and occasional trees.

A successful training camp, me thinks, with challenges both mental and physical, time to relax and socialize and share impressions, many opportunities to learn, and fantastic, supportive, inspirational fellow campers.

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