Posted by Josh Ross (Contributor) on September 21st, 2021 at 9:40 am
Please welcome our newest contributor, Josh Ross. He’ll be sharing ride reports and product reviews. Here’s a note from him: My name is Josh and I’m new to BikePortland. One of the things that defines who I am on a bike is a desire to do epic things. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to challenge myself and to share some of those adventures with you. I plan to share new ideas and rides — and maybe even inspire someone to try something new.
When I say I like to do epic things on a bike that almost never means racing.
What I like to do is ride out my front door and ride as hard as I can for as far as I can. I’m not completely opposed to racing, but it has to be the right scenario. Occasionally there’s a race that I feel aligns with the spirit of challenge and adventure that appeals to me. The Swift Summit Northwest is definitely one of those races.
The Swift Summit Northwest is a race that lets you choose from 200-mile or 100-mile distances around Lebanon Oregon. The routes change from year to year and the 200-mile (211 miles with just under 14,000 ft of elevation this year) race covers both paved and unpaved roads. This year there was an added option of also racing a hill climb time trial the day after the distance race.
If that doesn’t sound epic enough already, it’s put on by Trevor Spangle, someone who’s a part of the local community and honestly just gets it. In years past, I’ve seen him show up to group gravel rides with a trunk full of snacks and fliers. When I had a question for him, I emailed and got a phone call in response. His generosity is incredible.
The 200-mile race has been on my radar for a few years but I finally decided this was the year to make it happen. Since I don’t really like to drive to the ride and because I didn’t want to leave my family without a car for the weekend,
I decided to ride to the race and camp.
I set out late Friday allowing 6 hours of travel time to get me to Lebanon in the evening but with time to spare for packet pickup. My route was down the I-205 bike path into Oregon City then into the farmland to the south. From there I made my way through Canby and down to Silverton. It’s primarily farm roads with little traffic and in areas I’ve spent a lot of time. I recommend the riding here, but once I hit Silverton I was in uncharted territory.
Once I arrived in Lebanon I found the campground, set up camp, and stripped down my bike for the race. I rode back into town for packet pickup and food before settling down for a night under the stars. Although I was comfortable, I didn’t sleep much and before long racers were arriving for the early morning start. I ate a Range meal bar, mixed up three bottles with SIS powder, loaded my jersey pockets with gels, and made my way the 50 yards or so to the start line.
It was dark and difficult to see how many people were around. As it turns out there were 39 people there that morning and Trevor gave a rousing speech that I honestly can’t remember now. I had two friends in the crowd and I found them before heading off behind the pace car that took us out of town.
This was the beginning of an absolutely amazing day that unfolded exactly how I’d hoped it would.
I was riding with one of my oldest and best friends and we were doing what we do every weekend. Pretty soon a pack formed behind us, but in the dark it was hard to organize. We chatted and pulled the group along until the first aid station.
With a little bit of light and a moment to think, I told my friend to do less work at the front. I’d had more experience racing long distances and knew we had a long day ahead of us. It made no sense to pull the group without help and we got things a little bit organized with some rotations happening. It continued to get more and more organized as the morning went on. Late in the morning we had split the group and were pushing hard into the hills. At the top of that first bit of climbing I said I needed to pull back a bit and I let go of the group.
As it turns out we descended and the group never got too far from me. The next aid station was close by and I met my friend again. I was living on the GU sports drink the aid stations had available so I was quick to go out again. My friend and I went out together without anyone else and right away we were back to our normal Sunday rides.
We chatted about family and rode at the pace that felt right. We hit the first gravel section and it seemed tame enough. I wondered if I’d made a mistake bringing the gravel bike. Soon after a new friend joined us and we continued to chat and ride. Somewhere around mile 85 the three of us came to the first of the 5 hills that defined the day.
I never studied the course and would have had no idea there were 5 spikes in elevation but my friend filled me in. The first one I was able to handle without too much challenge. It was still somewhat cool and there wasn’t much gravel even though it was double digit inclines. We stayed together. Then the next one hit and it was loose gravel. It was here that I realized how thankful I was to be on a gravel bike with walkable SPD shoes. I walked up the peak of this hill.
Each hill became more difficult than the last.
It was hot, there was smoke in the air, the climbs were steep and the gravel was loose. I walked up the second hill and expected I would be alone at the top. Instead, I found my riding partners were eating some food and enjoying the view while waiting. Just like any long ride. It was amazing.
By the time we got to start of the last climb I was in rough shape. The temperature was over 100 degrees and we’d just spent hours climbing. Christian, my friend who’d I’d been riding with, is diabetic and was starting to have blood sugar issues. At the beginning of the fifth climb we stopped in a shady spot and assessed. Christian reported that he’d be okay but needed some time. I told him I felt okay riding and I’d see him when he caught me on the hill.
He never did catch me on the hill but we met at the aid station on the other side. We took about 15 minutes and I told him I was feeling good again. We were out of the hills, the gravel climbs were behind us for now, and I was in my element. Flat, straight farm roads into the wind are what I do all the time and I felt amazing. I told Christian to grab my wheel and recover then worked to find the right pace for him.
We worked with one other person a bit but Christian was in a rough spot with his blood sugar. Our pace kept dropping and eventually it became clear that Christian couldn’t keep up. We split and this is when something amazing happened for me.
One of the reasons I don’t typically like to race is because it’s boring for me.
I have no chance of winning but I also don’t have to worry about finishing. It ends up being like many other long rides I do except I had to wake up early and pay for it. This time I realized that there was a very real possibility that I was not going to make time cut.
After about 11 hours and 150 miles of riding I had to start seriously racing. I pushed my power to zone three (out of five, with five being the limit) and started to spin out my 1x gravel drivetrain. I caught people I’d been riding with earlier and we pushed hard to the aid station and the first time cut. The first one was the easy one but there was no time to spare for the next.
When I left the aid station, I had about three hours and 40 miles of riding left. That’s not that hard in normal circumstances, but in this case I had 160 miles in my legs and there was 8 miles of climbing with some of that being gravel. The course was 211 miles but these 40 miles were my race. The finish line was an extra 13 miles after that last time cut but I knew that part would be easy. I was alone and all I could do was ride as hard as I could.
At first, I thought there was no way but I pushed anyway.
As each mile ticked off it started to look more and more possible. Then it looked like I wasn’t going to make it again. I made peace with the idea of being an unofficial finisher but I kept going. I made the 8:00 pm time cut with minutes to spare and as I celebrated the volunteers packed up. I went out with my light on to tackle one last steep, paved hill, and enjoy an easy ride to the finish. I went across the finish line in 11th place with a time of 15:59.
Trevor was greeting each person and it was then that I found out the time cut wasn’t an issue. It was the best of both worlds: I got to race against myself and the time cut, but my friends, new and old, had the chance to finish. Only 17 people did finish but Christian was among them with a time of 17:30 and the official “lantern rouge” designation.
I decided not to ride home as that didn’t feel like an interesting adventure anymore.
The race was more epic than I imagined and I had nothing left to prove. I took a shower in the shower trailer, enjoyed an amazing dinner provided by the race, and cheered people coming in. After a final night under the stars, I loaded up my bike and got a ride home.
Looking back, I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again. I did well that day but a season of riding had to line up perfectly to make it happen. I made the right equipment choices and did a good job with nutrition.
If you’re on the fence about doing this event, I absolutely recommend it.
It’s an incredibly hard day on the bike but as Trevor says, “That’s the point.”
— @josh_ross, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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