Welcome back to guest author Dieter Loibner! In today’s installment, he tackles an epic Portland ride that’s often done en masse but — I think — is actually better done alone. That way you know you’ve done every torturous inch of it without the help of mass-ride-induced adrenaline:) I wrote about it back in the day, but read on for a much better description. Thanks, Dieter!
I admit it: I had to settle a score. With that pesky yellow lion that’s painted on the tarmac in odd places. Even though I’m used to heraldic animals, I find them bothersome, especially when they wag their tongue like them little fokkers that mimic the coat of arms of Flanders.
It is the Dan Henry marker that guides riders on the Ronde PDX, which is inspired by the Ronde van Vlaanderen, a classic bicycle race that will be run for the 100th time next year. The Ronde PDX yo-yos through the West Hills on a 50-mile course that packs nearly 8000 feet of climbing, if you don’t count detours or repeats. “Some people find this…difficult” is the promise on the ride map. To the uninitiated it is a self-serving endeavor, painful perhaps, but utterly pointless in rational terms.
Yet, here I was on a Saturday morning, spinning an ancient roadified Kona Cinder Cone on St. Helens Road, turning left at NW Saltzman to find out if I’m up to snuff and to prove that I won’t be mocked by those little yellow cretins with their tongues sticking out.
As I started to climb into Forest Park, this adventure quickly took on a different hue: The soundtrack changed from engine roar to chirping birds, burbling steams and the crunching of gravel under the fat-ish tires. “Don’t crank, spin,” I kept mumbling to myself and shifted down another click, just because I could. Soon it was the ride, not the cue sheet that mattered. Yes, Brynwood Lane, College and SW 14th will make you sit up (actually, stand up) with their grade, but that’s why you do the Ronde.
But no ride is complete without some philosophic waxing. The Ronde renewed lessons learned about taking and giving: By the sweat of your brow, you take every inch of elevation, but rather than anxiously holding on to it, you turn around to plunge back down, giving it all back so you can start anew. A Sisyphean task for sure, but in a different light it becomes a metaphor for life’s balance. Climbing and descending, like taking and giving, like yin and yang, are linked in embrace.
From a more practical standpoint, it was an awesome sortie, sprinkled with gravelly stretches here and there and even some steps to increase the entertainment value. As it twists and turns, the route frequently takes quiet back roads that can be potholed and deeply rutted. Sometimes it leads into cul-de-sacs that look like dead ends, but at the last instant reveal miraculous openings that allow only peds or bicyclists to slip through with a glorious vista, an unexpected bridge or another damned hill on the other side.
At the end, approaching the top of Council Crest for good after a few teases (it’s like good sex, I read somewhere…), I thought about those yellow lion-shaped markers wagging their little painted tongues. They were there along the route, helpfully and stoically pointing out the way – always the hard way it seemed – but they shed their mystery and I no longer feel I’m being mocked. Because now I’m in on their secret, which is that of the Ronde PDX: Pointless and painful, but oh my gosh, what a fantastic ride.
PS: In the following days the hills I normally ride seemed to have lost their bite. Boring, flat, short. Residual effects? And I am thinking hard about “De Ronde van Oost Portlandia,” La Doyenne. That has to wait, but I plan to try. After all, I never ride in Happy Valley, so why not?