In the before times many of us two-wheelers here in the Pacific Northwest eagerly anticipated the drab, gray, wet, perhaps even hostile, coming of winter weather. This excited anticipation could be summed up in one word: cyclocross. We of the wet north not only tolerate cold, wet riding conditions, but we actually celebrate the mud and the grit, every Sunday at MFG and CXR cyclocross races. It was with sad hearts that we learned of the cancellation of the 2020/2021 season, and so it was with a feeling of withdrawal that I opened up Randy’s email invite for a late season gravel ride. The “to” line contained a listing of the usual suspects, some I had known for years but most were cyclists who I’ve only ridden with over the past four months.
With road racing cancelled for the summer I pivoted to gravel riding and through my friend and teammate Brian I got in with a stellar group of riders – all of whom were simultaneously discovering the cache of unpaved adventure at our doorstep. Suffice it to say that I had one of the best, if not the best, summers of my cycling career – and I only toed the line at a one single race.
Randy had suggested a humpback thirty-five-mile ride in the increasingly well-known Campbell-Global Forest. The CG is an immense private forest twenty miles east of Seattle and, for a fee, users can cycle, hunt, fish and even gather firewood. The CG a working forest, but the road traffic is minimal, especially on the weekend. The weather forecast called for cold, yet dry (kinda) morning, and I was looking forward to a great ride as I drove east towards our starting point at Snoqualmie Falls.
Erik and Mike, pulled into the lot with me closely followed by Randy, Brain, Nikos and Alex. I hemmed and hawed over my clothing selection, I’d rather be hot than cold, but I knew that he pace set by these guys would be, shall we say, rapid and consequently overdressing and overheating was a real possibility.
I opted for a wool baselayer under a thermal jersey and a softshell jacket on top and legwarmers and no overshoes for the bottom. With the exception, of some slightly cold feet on the final descent I neither sweated nor froze.
The route Randy chose was Sophia’s Choice from the list of recommended gravel routes put together by Quinn and listed on the Northwest Gravel Riders Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/notes/northwest-gravel-riders/recommended-gravel-routes/2352941958340137/. This is a nice route, good gravel, no steep grades, and at this time of year some descent mud. What I like about riding with this crew is that the pace gets pushed to the point of challenge, but not to the point of heartbreak. A popular term for this type of pacing is “spirited.” I think that’s a good way to put it.
I’ve beaten my head against the road racing wall for a decade now and I’ve started to get a headache. This past summer going out and riding hard on unpaved roads has reinvigorated my passion for cycling. I’ve been fortunate to be able to ride with an assortment of cyclists who love cycling, who thrive in adventure and who know how to keep it fast while keeping it sane.
I’m looking forward to a future of exploring the vast unpaved not only here in the Pacific Northwest but across the country.
For a file of the route see: https://www.strava.com/activities/4239075721