Bridge of the Gods Cycling Blog

Every Reaction...

I thought I'd write about my best ride of the year in 2007. It wasn't at a race. In fact that's usually how it works isn't it? 365 days in a year and less than a hundred days of racing. So it's quite likely that those special rides are when you're all alone, averaging 40kph with your mouth closed and peaking like there's no tomorrow. Mine was one of those days.

It was a Thursday after BC Superweek. The team had just finished a nice little run at Nationals where my teammate Cam won the championship jersey and Randell was 2nd. And Superweek itself was a great success overall. It was good to be back home and the weather was perfect for my favourite ride: The Bridge of the Gods. The Bridge of the Gods is an actual bridge located east of Portland that crosses the Columbia River. It's great to travel over on a bike because it's a metal grate, which is see-through way down to the river below. At first, it was a bit nerve-wracking to look down, but I've since become accustomed to the floating feeling. The journey out there is mostly along another river on the Washington side, the Washougal. Then I drop down to the 14 highway and take that to the Bridge. Once I cross over, the ride becomes even more majestic with a 10km stretch of bike path that is the old Scenic Highway through the trees. This stretch was abandoned after the I-84 plowed its way through to make way for progress. But the rest of the Scenic Highway is still intact as it meanders past 6 different waterfalls, including the famous Multnomah. I am so lucky. Eventually, I climb up to one more viewpoint and then drop down towards Portland once again. On a good day, the ride takes about 5 hours 15 to 5 hours 30.

On this particular Thursday, I had no intention of riding hard. I was taking it easy after the long stint of racing. But the Bridge was calling, so why not ride easy, but for 6 hours? However, after about an hour, I found myself rolling along effortlessly up the false-flat beside the Washougal at a steady 35kph. Usually, that takes a bit of effort to sustain and usually when I'm training hard, I try to hold that pace to the top, which takes about 45 minutes. The false flat came and went and I crested easily. On any other day, I would struggle along the 14 until stopping for a snack at the Chevron. And then hopefully, I'd recover later in order to get home on the Oregon side with some remaining dignity. I motored right past the Chevron and was now on a mission to see just how long I could ride tempo. I couldn't deny my legs a chance to show off. I crossed the Bridge well ahead of my best schedules and entered the bike path. Sections I usually coast down were now fraught with peril as I railed the corners. The path itself seemed eerily missing of any climbing sections. I was quickly onto the Scenic Highway and zipped past all of the waterfalls. No time to look today. I'm on a bike ride. My final test was the climb up to Crown Point. Small ring? No. Let's set a new best time instead.

The ride was absolutely splendid and my average speed was a thing of beauty. Riding through town I was concerned that it might drop at the lights, so I kept drilling it to keep it high and to get home in 5 hours. Finally, nearing home I was racing down 92nd Ave. A number of cars were stopped waiting for a light change. But one car had left a gap for an oncoming vehicle to turn left into a parking lot. Suddenly it was right in front of me. No time to stop. Kaboom! 2 seconds later, there I stood, clipped out of one pedal. I was not lying on the ground. I was not broken. I was just standing there. The vehicle was an old wagon from the 60's: the kind that was made from a single piece of iron. Not a scratch. I spun my Shimano front wheel. It was perfectly true. My Maxxis tire was not flat. My Ritchey fork was not snapped. My Norco frame was not buckled. Absolutely nothing had happened from an impact at 35kph. If every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction, where was it? During my bike inspection the driver of the car had left the scene. Oh well, I figured. Everything is all right. What a marvelous day.

A few days later, I ventured out on another one of my favourite routes: east again but through some splendid valleys. Tree-lined roads everywhere. The snap I had in the legs wasn't really there. Perhaps it was the 100-degree heat. I tend to leave kind of late nowadays seeing as I ride alone. There is little incentive to be out the door at 8 am. The next day, after loafing about yet again, checking and re-checking the internet and watching Frasier, I headed out at high noon. It was already over 100 degrees. The Bridge was calling once more. I started the journey much like the last time, rolling along nice and steady up the Washougal. But this time, the lights went out at about halfway. I crested and noticed I was perhaps 10+ minutes slower than usual. The 14 was unforgiving, with new climbs I'd never noticed before. The Chevron couldn't come too soon. The Snickers didn't really satisfy me. I don't think I bothered to look down when I crossed the Bridge. The bike path was a brief respite from the incessant heat and once on the Scenic Highway, I stopped for water for the 3rd time. At every waterfall, people were really laughing it up and enjoying themselves. Hooray for summer! I hated them. No big ring up to Crown Point this time. I struggled the rest of the way, stopping for water twice more and finally arriving home after 6 hours. I think I gave myself heat exhaustion.

There was my equal and opposite reaction. My greatest day of 2007 was perfectly balanced with my worst day. The same ride took one hour longer. It was truly awful. So perhaps science hasn't failed us yet. But did I learn a lesson from this? Don't train super hard after a long stint of racing? Take some rest? Leave the house before the sun melts the roadway? Well I already know all that stuff. I've just completed my 17th year of cycling. But I think it's these types of ridiculous days that keep me going.

I've known a lot of guys through the years that get into the sport and train so specifically, I can't even tell if they're enjoying it. I've seen guys ride the trainer in San Diego when it's 25 Celsius outside because their coach told them to do so. I've heard stories from my wife of a woman crying during intervals on the trainer because she felt she had to do them. And I've known a guy who would not do the group ride on Saturday in San Diego (which is an absolute blast) because his coach had him ride easy that day, and then ride hard on Sunday. Well there's no group ride on Sunday. So on Saturday, as 100 people would race by, there he would be all alone. And then on Sunday, when a few of us would be cruising along the coast, having a nice chat, he'd pass us all alone again at 40kph. He eventually quit racing.

I enjoy riding above all else in cycling. For 2008, if I can pass along any advice, it would be to enjoy the ride. Some days, you do have to train hard when you don't want to. Some days, it's raining sideways and +2 and you might need to go out in it to balance the joy of riding with the necessity to be fit for racing. But at the end of the day, if it's going to crack you right out of the sport altogether, do what you can handle mentally and enjoy the ride. My training after Superweek was not textbook. But to have a day like I did last summer, it was worth the lousy reaction I had down the road.

The Bridge of the Gods crosses the Columbia River
The Bridge of the Gods crosses the Columbia River
Multnomah Falls is well worth a visit
Multnomah Falls is well worth a visit

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Comments 2 comments

funride profile image

funride 8 years ago from Portugal

I loved to read this hub and watch such beautiful pictures!

We always perform better when we are enjoying it ;-)


Jacob Erker profile image

Jacob Erker 8 years ago Author

Hi Funride,

thanks for the comments. I intend to add more of my journals from races past that aren't just a play by play of what happened. It's often the adventure that led to the race that is remembered most.

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