Last year, I went on a pleasant little bike ride while interviewing Mike Ripley, the race director of the Oregon Coast Gravel Epic, which will return to the Oregon Coast on Saturday, May 4, offering 37- and 60-mile options.
After the ride and interview, as the event sounded pretty fun and the roads we rode were friendly, I impulsively signed up for the 37-mile race, conveniently ignoring the fact that the ride was in a week and I hadn’t ridden more than 10 miles off-road in more than a year. And that the bike I would be riding I had purchased the weekend before and had ridden a grand total of once.
The mood at the Waldport Community Center, where the race starts and ends, was jovial and electric. The crowd consisted of riders of many sizes and ages, and a fairly large number of female riders — not always the case at off-road cycling events. Even though I didn’t know any of the other riders, I found friendly attitudes and easy conversation.
The race started with a whimper; the first mile winds through neighborhood streets then heads straight up a steep hill. The sound of shifters clicking filled the brisk morning air. The rest of the route is a mix of scenic single-track trails, scenic retired or gently used logging trails, and a long section on a (you guessed it) scenic paved country road that provides a nice respite.
The bulk of my race wasn’t pretty. There were tears, there was snot, and a few spills caused me to lose some blood, but really only enough to donate to a mouse in need of a transfusion.
The good news is I finished, and even snagged one of the custom pint glasses awarded to those who finish in the top three in their category in 10-year age groups for women and five for men (there were only four in mine, but still). You can finish dead last and still go home with some sweet swag.
“In each race finishers get a cool pair of thick wool socks,” Ripley said. “The kind that make it a little easier to ride in bad weather.”
And should bad weather arrive, Ripley and crew are prepared.
“We’ll have some changing huts on the long course,” he said. “Before the race, people can give us dry clothes that they can trade out. But I recommend everyone pack extra gloves just in case.”
For the record, what Ripley considers “bad weather” is anything under 50 degrees. We’re tough in Oregon.
The event is part of a growing trend of gravel riding and racing and, which, as old logging roads are one of the best places to ride, fits Oregon to a T.
“Gravel riding provides cyclists with more opportunities,” Ripley said. “Oregon is filled with logging roads that aren’t often in use. Plus, it is far, far safer than road cycling. And you don’t really need a special gravel bike, you just need a sense of adventure.”
Ripley’s sense of adventure is matched by a desire to support the communities in which he holds races. He’s proud that the race brings people into the Waldport area during a low season; people that stay in hotels and eat at the local restaurants. And the Gravel Epic is a fundraiser for Waldport Junior League.
During last year’s race, people I met included two men who came down from Canada just for it, a woman who was similarly undertrained and riding a spanking new bike (she beat me), and a gentleman in his late 60s who enters as many races as he can every year just for the fun of it (I beat him. Barely). Gravel cycling as a sport is not only opening up the number of places where people can ride, but also the people who do it. As Ripley said, you don’t need a fancy bike; almost any frame fitted with off-road tires will do. That, of course, and a sense of adventure.
Online registration for the Oregon Coast Gravel Epic is open until 5 pm on Friday, May 3, at oregontriplecrown.com.