Waking up before 6 a.m. on a Sunday usually isn’t an attractive prospect, but most Sundays don’t include the sweeping panoramic views that reward the cyclists of WALLA WALLA GRIT when they get to the top of a climb.
Now its second year, the annual gravel endurance event is back following a successful inaugural edition in 2018, and, according to its organizers, it’s better than ever.
Starting at 6 a.m. Sunday, some 80-odd cyclists are expected to roll out from Quirk Brewing, located in the Walla Walla Regional Airport Industrial Park, and head off into the foothills of the Blue Mountains, where no shortage of impossibly steep climbs awaits them.
The event is the brainchild of Matt Faunt and Allegro Cyclery owners Michael and Kathryn Austin.
Faunt, who was previously store manager at Allegro Cyclery and now lives in Portland, says that WALLA WALLA GRIT takes riders over roads that are familiar to him, but will be new to many participants.
“Locals have been venturing into the Blue Mountains for a long time to get their fix of remote gravel roads,” Michael Austin said in a press release. “We just decided it was finally time to share these roads with the rest of the gravel cycling world.”
The event will send cyclists up the marquee Cottonwood Creek climb and into the mountains before descending once more to finish at Quirk Brewery, where there will be an afterparty and prizes.
Participants have the option of tackling either the short, medium or long-course rides, which clock in at 45 miles, 65 miles and 95 miles respectively.
But while the gravel roads should pose a challenge to riders of every ability, the event is also designed to be accessible.
“Our hope is that we’re putting on an event here that appeals to a broad range of folks with different skills and ability levels,” Faunt said. “And ... even that 45-mile option gets you into the foothills of the Blue Mountains and taps into some really stunning scenery.”
According to Faunt, GRIT has benefited from strong community engagement two years in a row.
The event returns in 2019 with an expanded list of sponsors, including returning supporters Walla Walla Roastery and Colville Street Patisserie.
The event has also netted larger corporate cycling sponsors.
Faunt hopes the race will showcase everything Walla Walla has to offer, not just spectacular gravel roads.
“We want to invite people into Walla Walla, give them a reason to come visit the Walla Walla Valley and have an event that introduces them to a side of the valley that they might not otherwise see,” he said. “But then when they’re not riding, we want to be able to facilitate an experience that gives them a window into how great our community is.”
And though the race is only it its second year, Faunt has his eyes on the future.
“I think the event is poised to grow in a big way,” he said. “Over the next three to five years, if we can be scaling this event up so that instead of 80 people we’re bringing, you know, 150 people, 200 people into town to experience this event, that’s definitely the goal.”
For now though, the focus is on this year, and the cyclists who will take to their bikes bright and early for the event.
Almost a week ahead of the race, registration numbers for this year’s race are better than last year, and Faunt said he expects to improve on last year’s attendance — 83 registered riders — by the time cyclists roll up to the line on Sunday morning.
“Our hope is that it is truly a challenge for everyone on course, but 100 percent worth the views once you reach the summit,” Faunt said. “All those climbs are steep, they’re rugged, they’re tough, but the on-course support, the views that you get from the climbs, they’re kind of unparalleled.”