Race Across Oregon 2009

Start – Hood River, OR Best Western to Time Station #1 Tygh Valley (73.4 miles)

The Race Across Oregon in 2009 started in Hood River Oregon. The neutral start was led by George Thomas from the parking lot of Best Western out up some steep side streets through orchards to Hwy 35 which snakes slowly up the East side of Mt. Hood. Hwy 35 is an easy 5-6% climb that goes on for a long time. I met the crew at mile 18 or so and loaded up with some supplies and kept riding for the summit at Bennett Pass. Descended Bennett Pass which was a nice and fast descent to Hwy 48 which we hung a left to head out to Tygh Valley. This section was easy to descend and the climbs were not too steep. I was riding with James Cox and he mentioned his crew was meeting him at Tygh Valley because he figured he would not need support this early on in the race. Talk about hard core. We were riding through drier terrain and the trees were starting to thin out. I was moving well as we finally hit Tygh Valley at 9:32 AM in 10th place.

Stage 2: Time Station #1 Tygh Valley to Time Station #2 Moro (@45 miles)

We left Tygh Valley and crossed Hwy 197 towards the Deschutes River Valley. This is a rolling farm road with a terrific descent to the Deschutes River. The river was looking nice as it was starting to get hot as we faced the exposed Grass Valley climb that lacked sufficient parking space for crew support. The climb was not that steep, but the heat was starting to get to me and I was starting to cramp up. I popped a couple of S-Caps which immediately fixed the problem. I was passed by James Cox and Michael Maughan who was bravely wearing a black jersey in 90 degree heat. He flatted right before team support was available and had to deal with that annoyance. We also had to give James Cox some s-caps as he was starting to cramp due to the heat. We hit Hwy 97 and sadly turned away from Moro to Rutledge road where we hung a left. We were advised this should be down wind by the race guide, but sadly enough it was more of a head wind. This was when I first got passed by Karen Armstrong. I was a bit annoyed to be passed again as I was not feeling great, and this was mildly demoralizing, but I was feeling decent in the heat, while not very strong at this point. I kept pedaling and Duc, Thien and Jason worked hard to keep me loaded with liquids. I was slamming v-8, rock-star and diet coke like crazy as I started to pass Karen Armstrong just for the hell of it. She stopped and I hit a nice tail wind into the end of stage 2 at Moro. I don't remember seeing any people in this little town and I worked my way on some endless rollers and ever increasing heat into stage 3. 1:15 PM in 8th place.

Stage 3: Moro to Time Station #3 Shell Station Heppner (86 miles).

It was getting hot as we rode out of Moro and towards the canyons of the John Day River. We road down Monkland road which had a ton of rollers and then onto Hwy 206 towards Condon. There was one nasty hot climb on this section that was at least 6 miles with no shade and the crew saved my day by dousing me with ice water ever mile. This was a critical move by the crew as it prevented me from over-heating. My bike computer was reading 106 on this climb and I heard reports it was 100 degrees in nearby Heppner. I was unable to take a leak which bugged me, but I felt moderately ok in the heat as we finally got to a plateau where I pulled out the Time Bike and started cranking on the rollers. I passed Bruce Carrol from Team Almighty who looked awful. He beat me on the Terrible Two and is a strong rider, so he clearly was in a rough spot. His team saw me passing and figured it was him and offered me support. It took them a few seconds to realize I was not bruce, but I could tell he was going to have a tough time recovering. We hit a nice descent and then a solid climb where I saw Karen Armstrong again which felt good. I could not catch her on the climb, but was glad she was not too far ahead. I was passed by the very fast 4 man team Koenig's Kronies at this point and we saw George Thomas at this point. He was marvelling at Gandalf's Staff that Duc had found to prop up the trunk of the car that would not stay up with the second bike attached to it. George has done dozens of ultra's and had never seen anything like it was impressed enough to take a photo of it. Leave it to Duc to engineer something so simple yet elegant ;). We began full-time team following just before Heppner and rolled hard into Heppner at 8:03 PM in 7th place.

TS #3 Heppner to TS #4 Spray (151 miles)

We had to ride on some gravel road through a school and then hit a 5 miles climb that I was feeling pretty lousy on. I stopped a few times for some caffeine and pop-tarts and we finally summited right before pitch black. I went all out on the descent and barely needed to touch the brakes as the road was fantastic. We crossed a river and then got into another 5 mile climb that I did much better on. I always come around at night. The crew was doing a great job following me up the hill. On the descent I passed Ian Fillinger which really surprised me as I had picked him for top 3 base on his Rocky Mountain 1200 result. Before we got to Hwy 395, Ian passed me like I was standing still. I did not let it get to me, however, and I kept pedaling. I was happy to hit Hwy 395 as it meant a new direction South for us. The climb to Battle Mountain was long with a summit of 4290 feet. I was starting to climb better and more comfortably as summit approached and the race got more crowded as I saw Jeffrey Bonk, Michael Maughan, Ross Muecke, Greg Gesser and even Karen Armstrong. Being able to bridge the gap to the main part of the field energized me and I was listening to Jason's iPod with his musical tastes ranging from Industrial to 80's stuff like Depeche mode, kept me awake and guessing what would come up next. I was really pushing hard to get into the time station at Dale and passed a lot of people in the process. I pulled in to Dale at 2:46 AM in a shocking 3rd place. I was surprised to say the least, but really motivated to stay there so we quickly escaped and kept pushing hard towards Long Creek. The clouds were getting dark at this point and we got hit by a few drops of rain, but we drove on towards Long Creek. I could not believe how well the 2 5 mile climbs went as I felt like I was at the beginning of a ride as I climbed with ease sucking down hammer gel, caffeinated energy drink and v8. We hit Long Creek very early in the morning and turned right on Hwy 402. There was a short climb immediately, but we had a huge tail wind for this hill and I was flying to the summit. We then dropped into the John Day River valley down towards Spray and it was a drop dead gorgeous descent and the prettiest section since Mt. Hood. We dropped towards and passed Monument and Kimberly and down towards Spray. The road looked like a nice descent, but I was not moving too fast, but I continued to pedal. I did not want to be passed and my paranoia was starting to rise. I did a quick change at the Spray time station and quickly head out into the next stage. Time Arrived: 8:07 AM. 3rd place.

TS #4 Spray to TS #5 Imperial River Company Maupin (100 Miles)

We had more flats to the beginning of the next climb. I ran into a solo rider from Quebec who had ridden all the way during the last 3-4 weeks to this point. He had a great attitude and kept telling me I was insane and massochistic to be doing this. I could not find a good argument against that and we chatted a while. He turned off towards Bend and I then faced a big hill starting at Service Creek. This climb had 10 miles of 6% grade and I was getting a bit cocky on it feeling great. My left achilles decided to scream out a bit and I had to cool the pace a bit. This climb kept going longer than I expected and I was glad to summit. The crew told me they talked to a race official that said we were still safely in 3rd place. I quickly saddled up for the descent into Fossil which went pretty quickly. We passed the 45th parallel after Fossil we faced a nice 4 mile climb and then a 10 mile descent into the Painted Hills and then into Clarno. Jason mentioned this was a tough climb, but I really started to suffer on this climb and it was the first time on the ride I showed any cracks and weakness. We passed the Clarno Bridge and started the climb. The crew helped me out with ice water dunks every mile or so and the twisty steep road took its toll on me as I had to stop quite a few times. Finally we hit the summit and then dropped into Antelope. For those of who grew up in the 80's, the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh "Osho" and his fleet of Rolls Royces was something that we all remember. I would have gladly joined their cult the way I was feeling at this point, but sadly they were all gone and they had been taken over by a new group of believers Young Life that while lacking the flair of Osho and his cohorts had their own fleet of vehicles, annoying busses taking kids to Christian Camp at 75 MPH. I managed to avoid them as we kept climbing past Antelope on a non-descript 1000 footer into Shaniko. Duc offered me an ice cream, but I was not interested as it seemed too rich. The winds were really whipping up as I had to ride a mile down hwy 97 before a right turn onto Bakeoven road. We had been warned of headwinds, but what we faced was more than tough. The winds were so bad that I almost got knocked off my bike a couple of times. I was cruising at 5 mph into a dead wind down hill and realized this was going to really force me to bear down and not panic. I managed to keep pedaling and stop every once in a while and try to be as optimistic as I could when I talked to the team. It was almost a joke riding in this wind, but this was what I signed up for and I was ready for anything. I dont know how long the 26 miles took to get to Maupin, but it had to be at least 2.5 hours. I pulled into Maupin at 5:37 PM and Duc advised me to cross the bridge and head towards Tygh Valley. 3rd place.

TS #5 Maupin to Cooper Spur Finish (59.2 Miles)

I crossed the Deschutes River Bridge and pedaled away from Maupin into the same stinking head wind. I really started to believe that if this wind did not die down, I would psychologically give up. I could not ride at 8 MPH forever, but I just kept pedaling and hoping for a change in direction. The crew caught me and gave me some great food from the store. They were really an A+ crew that never let me down once. They were so good that I was trying my best to make it to the end strongly to not let them down. We luckily turned right towards Tygh Valley and amazingly I got 4 miles of nice tail wind which I smoked at 25+ MPH and then a descent that had cross winds so bad I could not descend normally fearing being tossed into the gutter. We faced more head winds out of Tygh Valley and then an amazing wind protected 7 mile climb of Tygh Ridge. While this was a tough climb, the lack of wind made me love every minute and I rode it smoothly yet strong considering the steepness. The next descent into Dufur was plagued with cross winds preventing a fast descent. I started to whine when I got hot foot so bad it made me scream in pain. Luckily it went away and we finally got to the outskirts of Dufur and then we hit FR 44 towards the finish. The ride from Dufur is fantastic in the beginning as you pass green farms, horses, cows with an amazing view of Mt. Hood. The climb was going well and my fear of being passed was forcing me faster up the hill. Jason also did some calculations for RAAM qualication and i was going to have to ride with anger to make it in time. I pushed and pushed and pushed and the made mistake asking how far it was to the top and when I heard 20+ miles I almost got sick. I could not believe how tough and long this was. Finally we got into more heavy forest and summited the road and then had a long cold descent to Hwy 35. I started getting mild hallucunications by this point and saw a monkey or two and a small elephant. Nothing like the Hoodoo 500's Giant Bob's Big Boy, or the massive hallucinations on the 508, but just enough that combined with my tiredness made the descent less fun than it should have been. We finally saw the sign for the Cooper Spur ski resort which signaled the finish. I pushed hard as hell to the resort and then knew we had a little climb left up Cloud Cap Road to the end. I underestimated how long and steep this climb was and I kept stopping asking if were on the right road. My nice crew was ok with my annoying questions and finally I saw a car, a cabin and a single empty chair in the pitch black. We did it. Where was everybody? I expected a huge celebration with people jumping up and down, but there we were in a deathly quiet beautiful forest with an empty green chair. We noticed a red Prius with the engine running and a sleeping George Thomas the Race Director. We jostled him out of his slumber and he shook our hands as official finishers. We did it. It took us 43:16 and we managed a solid 3rd place finish as well as a RAAM qualification. In some ways, that empty green chair was a fitting ending to a team effort in which all 4 of us worked hard as a team and never gave in to fear or pain as we drove forward to the goal. We went through deserts, mountains, cold, heat, rain, ghost towns, trailer parks, driving wind and while driven by competition and raam qualification, those external goals meant nothing as much as the team work, friendship and spirit that drove us forward to an empty green chair.


RAO Photos


mthead said…
way to go Chris!
mthead said…
2 questions:
1) When can we ask you about your RAAM plans? and
2) How many bikes did you use and for which purposes?
Chris O'Keefe said…
I used the Scott Bike for 95% of the ride as there was so few flat sections to take advantage of the aero bars/wheels. I used my Time bike for one nice flattish section with clip-on aero bars and was able to make some pretty good time. This ride had so little easy sections on it that it was almost ridiculous. No free miles.

RAAM is something I have been planning on doing for a long time. I dont know when, though. I have massive respect for the ride, and know that a finish would be the toughest thing I have ever done.

I can't help but quote some Taxi Driver here.

"Now I see this clearly. My whole life is pointed in one direction... There never has been a choice for me."
- Travis Bickle
mthead said…
Travis said many germaine things, including this one:
"There will be no more pills, no more bad food, no more destroyers of my body. From now on will be total organization. Every muscle must be tight."
nrmrvrk said…
Careful Mike. ;-)

Great write up Chris. You did us very proud with a solid podium finish. Crewing was fun and more rewarding than I thought it could be. Thanks for the kind words and the opportunity.
Mike said…
Nicely done!

Joan ran out of time in order to finish within the cutoff... She figured there was no sense finishing outside the limit since she'd already done The 508.

Question though... How much tougher would you say RAO was this year versus HooDoo last year? We're gonna get Joan RQ'd one way or another... =)
Chris O'Keefe said…
RAO is way harder than Hoodoo other than the wild card of Altitude which could affect your breathing and cause problems due to the quick jump from the desert to 10,600 feet The 1st 80 miles is fast and easy. The last 100 miles is pretty easy depending on the wind. RAO had few free miles and it was brutally tough. I had a great ride on RAO and still it took me forever. That is tough course, so I am 100% certain she will finish Hoodoo and qualify. She is the only woman now, so at this point, its just a finish and she is in.

Is Joan thinking of doing RAAM once she qualifies?
Chris O'Keefe said…
Mike, did you end up going to the RAO banquet? We wanted to go, but had to get back.

See you at the Hoodoo if not before on the roads..
Joan said…
Belated congrats Chris! Sounds like you stayed strong throughout. I couldn't believe that wind - just when I thought Saturday was bad enough, it got WAY worse on Sunday.... Between that and some problems I was having with a pinched nerve or something in my lower back, I lost enough time to be unable to finish.... :( I'm relieved to hear that you think Hoodoo is easier, although I'm certainly still scared of another DNF. Also trying to figure out what I can do in the offseason (is there such a thing?) to improve enough so that I can go back and exact revenge on RAO! Anyway, most likely see you at Hoodoo if not before. Congrats again!
Chris O'Keefe said…
nice effort out there Joan. I predict you will do very well at the Hoodoo as it is not far off from the 508 in feel other than more elevation.
jmilliron said…