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Gorge Short Track series exemplifies beginner-friendly race scene

I’d be lying if I said the bike racing scene didn’t intimidate me.

I’ve seen the high-end carbon bikes at road and cyclocross races where everyone has fancy team kits prominently displaying their sponsors. From what I can tell, the world of bike racing tends to run rampant with gear-heads and has a vast pool of talented riders.

I, on the other hand, ride my bikes purely for fun and have never really given much thought to racing them. After playing competitive sports for years, I picked up mountain biking about three years ago with the intent of simply getting outdoors and enjoying myself.

More opportunities

n June 22-23 – Tour de Hood Challenge, Hood River, Ore. www.tourdehoodrid...

n June 22-29 – Cycle the Gorge

n June 29 – Mt. Adams Country Bicycle Tour (Trout Lake)

n June 30 – Six Hours of Mt. Hood (SkiBowl)

n July 19-22 – Race Across Oregon

n July 12, 14 – NW Cup #5 (Skibowl)

n July 27 - Jackson’s Ride the Gorge

n July 29-31 – Hood River Bike & Brew

n Sept. 14-15 - Double Cross (Cascade Locks)

n Sept. 15 – Cascade to Crown (Cascade Locks)

n Sept. 21 – Hood River Harvest Ride

n Sept. 23 – Super Commuter Bicycle Race

n Sept. 28 – Echelon Gran Fondo (Hood River)

Completely lacking any bike racing experience and going against all my normal reasoning, I ended up heading to Cascade Locks on a recent hot and windy Thursday evening to compete in one of the five Gorge Short Track Series races. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the parking lot was not crowded, people were not madly spinning on trainers in front of their parked cars and there was no line for registration or the (very clean!) port-a-potties. I was quite relieved to see that everything looked very mellow and low-key.

After filling out a quick registration for the women’s Category 3 race (which is the beginner group), I took a leisurely warm-up lap around the course. I had never ridden on the EasyCLIMB trail system in Cascade Locks, but I realized pretty quickly that it is very friendly terrain ideal for my first bike race.

The track covered about two miles, with no major hills to contend with in any direction. The course wound along the Columbia River and made for a very nice loop with nothing more technical than some switchbacks, a little gravel and one fairly straightforward drop.

I finished my warm-up lap and learned that the Category 3 women and men riders were in the same race as the juniors, who greatly outnumbered the small group of beginner adult racers. I therefore prepared myself emotionally to get beat by teenagers — maybe even pre-teens — as the race geared up to start. Unfortunately for me, race officials gave the adults a 20-second head start, which subjected me to the indignity of having the junior racers go whizzing by in the first part of the race. I consoled myself with the realization that kids are fearless (and fast).

Once the bulk of the speedy kids were past me, I was able to just enjoy the race. I pedaled along at a much faster clip than I had done in my warm-up, but didn’t go so fast that I was out of control. My main goals for the race were to have fun and stay upright on my bike. Partway through my first lap I did mentally add a third goal after spotting a caution sign about the vegetation — don’t get poison oak!

The 30-minute race went by quickly, thanks to most of it being on singletrack trail, which I enjoy riding the most. If there was a much larger group in each category the singletrack might have been frustrating since it left very few opportunities to pass people (not that I was doing much of that). But the small amount of riders made for a great little ride and a pretty low-pressure race experience.

It was great to have the chance to try out competition like that in such a relaxed race environment. Overall it met my main objective for the race, which was to simply enjoy the ride. All I really needed was my bike, helmet, and a sense of self-deprecating humor for when the junior racers went flying by.

Doing the Gorge Short Track Series was a good reminder of how much fun I could have on a bike by getting outside of my regular routes and routines. There is a variety of awesome opportunities for experiences like this right in our own backyard (see the bike events list at right). I definitely encourage anyone who likes to bike to give try something new this summer, whether it’s one of several local races (most of which have beginner categories), a camp or charity ride or one of the ongoing summer group rides.

n Kellie Dunn is a freelance writer for the Hood River News.

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