Sunday was the first day of the off-season, the time of year when I am done racing, no longer beholden to my training schedule and cleared to do whatever the dickens I want to do each day. On this day, Ben; best friend, husband, partner-in-crime and dog parenting, said he wanted to spend the day with me, living fully. We tossed around all the options; drinking coffee in our pajamas all day, riding Whoops, a local flow trail, doing yoga, going for a run, or riding gravel. Much to my amazement, the old boy said he was keen to try riding gravel – something I had all but ruled out based on previous life experience and the fact that Ben never rides gravel.
Cold clear skies drew us out, cloaked with fleece and wool; we pedaled. The initial shock of the near freezing air bit our lungs and we quickly realize it wasn’t going to get much warmer, we just needed to pedal harder. Not too much harder. This is a friends’ ride. A best friends’ ride.
Ben and I are riding road bikes together!!! I am giddy with the thought of hours of uninterrupted time spent with the person I love most in the world. Getting him to agree to such an afternoon wasn’t easy. It required the promise of new-to-Ben roads and, of course, a bakery stop, a prerequisite for any adventure on two skinny tires. But not too skinny! Good old 33mm were the choice of the day, ideal on pavement, even better for gravel. And gravel was the name of the game. Beautiful Central Oregon dirt roads; flanking the west side of civilization and abutting National Forest.
We rode northwest from Bend, passing by the frozen outlet of Tumalo Reservoir and the PAVEMENT ENDS sign which marks the start of Sisemore Road, a six-mile stretch of dirt road that allows for unobstructed views of the Cascade Mountains, freshly blanketed with snow. For the first few meters, Ben pedal squares but quickly found his rhythm and grew amazed by the capability of his bike. Until now, mountain bike tires were ridden on dirt roads - his world expanding. Seeing it first hand was incredible to watch.
“I found a ribbon!” he said, a ribbon of perfectly packed earth in a sea of gravel. He looked at me and smiled, a really big smile.
When we rolled off the gravel and onto the butter-smooth asphalt, it was almost disappointing. “Don’t worry, there is plenty more to come,” I said.
We rode into the sleepy town of Sisters, known for its quilt shops, rodeo and Angelina’s Bakery. This bakery ranks high on our all-time favorites list with cinnamon buns the size of your head and my favorite, jam-jam’s (you will have to visit to learn what these consist of). With nearly frozen fingers, we pulled open the door and walked into the smell of fresh baked goodness and windows made steamy by the warmth of the indoors in November. We picked out our sweet treats, wrapped our defrosting hands around big, warm, handmade mugs and laughed about nothing in particular.
On the way home we ditched the asphalt and took the back-way, riding on roads, which in summer, are nearly impassable on bike. Today they are awesome; a little bit more primitive than Sisemore and Ben is impressed. The sun is still relatively high in the sky and dancing off the snow on Tam MacArthur Rim, where next month we will be skiing.
As we approach the outskirts of Bend, I am overcome with gratitude. Gratitude for this day, for these legs that allow me to pedal and for Ben suggesting “Ride gravel, Let’s do that!” The off-season is off to a great start.