Words and Photos by Danielle Baker
Showing up at the basecamp for the first of the Oregon Enduro Series was like walking into a post apocalyptic Mad Max world where only MC Hammer back-up dancers had survived. The goggles, the fanny packs, the spandex, the neon, the helmets that made them look like children clinging to the edge of an ice rink all gave off the impression of a new sport where no style based on utility had yet been proven. We could only hope the fanny packs wouldn’t get winning times. I had set off on this road trip weekend to Hood River to answer the question of what exactly is 'so enduro, bro?’
As I climbed apprehensively into a vehicle crammed with camping gear and two suspect racers on Thursday afternoon, I was sure that my picture would end up on a milk carton before the weekend was through. Ignoring all the warnings I had received, I buckled up for what would be a nine hour drive of Mexican food, movie quotes, holding hands during rainbow sightings and one bridge collapse. The weather was horrible and after sailing down the highway with our bikes on the roof in high winds and nervously passing hydroplaning trucks and trailers, we abandoned our lofty ideas of setting up camp in the rain and took refuge at the Vagabond Hotel, with every other out-of-town racer.
The next morning, we fueled ourselves at the 10-Speed Café and I was in love. Connected to the Dirty Finger Bike Shop, there was bacon breakfast burritos, fantastic coffee, donuts that I wanted to move into and wifi that didn't need a password. As soon as I met the staff I wanted to yell, "add me on Facebook already!" And there was beer. But I digress, back to racing. We pulled into the field/basecamp/parking lot/our new home and were greeted by The Nomads in their hide-your-children-they-don't-really-have-puppies van. Soon after, we were joined by the recently formed and named for our accommodations, 'Team Vagabond,’ aka the Whistler girls. We unpacked our mansion of a tent and prepared to shuttle the racers to the top to check out the various stages they'd be riding.
Not only have two very different disciplines of mountain biking been squished together both in form and function, but, over the next three days of practice runs and racing, Hood River inflicted further indecisiveness on the already tortured-by-abundance-of-choice enduro racers. Every time the sun peaked out, tires were changed, glasses and goggles swapped and jackets, tools and backpacks were taken in and out of retirement. And knee pads are apparently now made for heavy and light days. The course varied from dry in spots to mud so thick you had to fight to pull out of the less fortunate racers' tracks. By stage seven, tires were coated with mud, some of them even sprouting pieces of plants. Walking on course, Adam almost took a soil sample with his face. It was slippery.
By the end of day two, our tent city looked like a battle zone of mud deposits, wounded and limping soldiers and looks of uncertainty about what the next day would bring. I provided an extra body to look blankly at each bike as the group discussed the merits of tire treads, rebound adjustments, unicorns, and oh, shiny things… oh, right we are still looking at the bike. I nodded agreement and feigned interest whenever someone looked in my direction.
Day three, the last day of racing, brought rain and puddles to The Beaumont (our tent). With the reversed order start, most of our crew would be hitting the trails last out of approximately 320 racers in the mud. I dutifully hiked up into the woods for stage seven to support the Vagabonds, Nomads and the random gonads that I was traveling with. Slowly, a group of racers from earlier categories accumulated and equally cheered and heckled the pro racers. There were introductions, critical analyses of riding techniques and a healthy debate about the direct relation between the volume of one's hub and their speed. No definitive answer was arrived upon.
So, what is so enduro, aside from the poor fashion choices? Well, it's not downhill. How do I know? At dinner one night, I ordered a drink (like an alcoholic one), which was followed by a chorus of requests for water. How very enduro indeed. It's not XC – there just isn't enough spandex or leg shaving. Enduro is a world of opportunities at the moment and, through this multi-day format and transition stages, it is building a strong community. This event created a vibe of support and camaraderie among racers that I haven't experienced at many other races. If there were an opening for enduro groupies, I would be in.