A few wisps of fog cling to the branches of Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, and red cedar. It’s early morning and the air is still. A doe and her two fawns slowly edge out onto the road, then leap up the bank and disappear through the ferns and salal.
There’s a crunch, a chuff, a hiss—and three cyclists come up over the rise, breathing hard as tires roll over hard-packed gravel. They have just reached the top of Beamer after a four-mile climb through the Siuslaw National Forest a few miles east of the coastal town of Yachats. The road flattens out along the ridge. Off to the west, beyond a plantation of young trees, is the steely gleam of the Pacific.
One of the riders is Alex Turpin, who lives and breathes cycling. Riding regularly on the Forest Service roads that wind through the Coast Range, he is seriously training for the Oregon Coast Gravel Epic (OCGE).
The OCGE is a “stout race,” according to race organizer Steve Cash of dark30 Sports in Eugene. When he and his partner at Rolf Prima rode the long route for the first time last February, the temperature was just above freezing. They finished in the dark. “This is either a great ride or an abomination,” he said. Of course, it’s both. Inevitably, the long route was dubbed “Abomination” — It will challenge the strongest riders at 73 miles on mostly gravel roads with 10,000 feet of elevation gain, pulling out every ounce of stamina these riders possess. The shorter “Son of Abomination” is approximately half the length and half the elevation gain. The OCGE “is remote, it’s hilly and it’s an ass-kicker,” says Cash. It’s also a gorgeous ride through deep forest and along ridges with vistas of seemingly endless trees to the east and the sparkle of the ocean to the west.
Needless to say, Alex Turpin is training for Abomination. He has been riding 40 to 100 miles several times a week, generally on gravel, which he really likes because it takes him out on remote roads where there are even fewer cars than on the roughly paved Forest Service roads. His bike is a Co-Motion Velo-Raptor with “X’Plor MSO” tires; he’s saving those tires so they’ll be in prime condition for the race.
Alex’s day job is working at Bike Newport, a premier cycle shop which has become the place on the Coast for cycling equipment and supplies, rentals and repairs, showers and stories. Owners Elliott and Daniella Crowder sponsor and organize the Coastal Hills Classic (scheduled for May 4, 2014) and are providing mechanical support for the upcoming OCGE.
Now 22, Alex didn’t begin riding until his junior year in high school, when a touchy hip convinced him to give up track. Instead, he fell in love with cycling. “I love riding the back roads of Lincoln County,” he says. “It’s picturesque, unexplored. There are hardly any cars to mess with.” He likes riding through the woods by himself, but also rides with various groups that come together around local clubs and bike shops. The riders include high school students, college kids, and professionals, young and old. Many plan to register for the OCGE.
Riders on both courses will start together at the east end of the old Waldport High School athletic field. And when they come back down that final stretch, there will be a beer garden and hot meal waiting for them, plus honor and glory, cheering crowds, and music!
The Oregon Coast Gravel Epic is the crown jewel of the Oregon Triple Crown. The co-chairs of the committee which is putting on the race expect more than just an awesome cycling event. The plan is for this to be the first of an annual gravel epic in the Coast Range and they hope the OCGE will brand the area between Yachats and Waldport as a great place to ride a bike.
“Lots of people ride down 101 in the summer,” said Mayor Woodruff, “but getting off the highway and into the woods is a whole different experience. You can ride for miles on these back roads — from Toledo to Florence, from Yachats to Alsea Falls — without all the stress of riding with cars and trucks.”
Alex agrees. “It’s a different kind of bike race,” he says of the Oregon Coast Gravel Epic. “It’s a great adventure ride, it’s well-supported, and it’s definitely the one I want to do!”
The 2014 race will take place on August 23. Registration will be open through the day of the race. For more information and to register, visit www.oregoncoastgravelepic.com.