Saturday, December 8, 2007

A hug for Albert Meerscheidt

December R-12: Cold is not a four letter word.

It is not often that grown men hug each other. May be family, may be really close friends, but the handshake is the preferred way between acquaintances, and friends. However, Albert Meerscheidt, who I know more virtually (email) than in person, was the recipient of a hug from me. The first SIR member to get a hug from me. You wondering why?

Wayne Methner organized a group permanent, and an army (of 13) randonneurs rode the Snoqualmie Valley and Falls Permanent this past Saturday (12/08/2007), in really clear, but really really awfully cold conditions. No randonneuses - too much good sense. There was no chance of rain, and the forecast called for clear skies all day. The temperature read 27 deg F at the bank clock (opposite Victor's Coffee shop), and my tropical brain told me that it was too cold to ride. I looked away.

Riders were: Albert Meerscheidt, Wayne Methner, John Vincent, Peter McKay, Steve Davis, Mike Richeson, Gary Prince, Ward Beebe, Bob Brudvik, David Harper, Mark Roehrig, Noel Howes and myself. All of us were on uprights, with Bob and Noel riding SS/Fixie.

Start to Lake Stevens

We decided to start at 7.15 to allow for the guys to get some food and use the bathroom. It was funny to see a whole boatload of randonneurs head straight for the bathroom the second the store opened. We left at the appointed hour, and I led the way - imagine that - until Novelty Hill loomed ahead. John Vincent and I were the only guys bringing up the tail. Albert, for some reason had started late, but he too quickly passed us and headed uphill. The hill was welcome though, as it started to warm me up a little. The pavement was mostly dry, but any water present anywhere was ice. Everything, it seemed, was covered with frost.

John and I rode together this year at the Spring 400k from the Canadian border to the next control (the location of which escapes me now), and are both vegetarians. John had given me a lot of advice about being vegetarian and surviving in France (along with Duane Wright). It was nice to ride with some company, although we leapfrogged each other a lot. The descent on Woodinville-Duvall road chilled me terribly, and I was constantly worried about the slickness of the roads, and so kept my speed under control. Chilled to the bone, and no longer able to feel several body parts, I stopped off and put on my rain pants, which I had not used in months. Carrying that piece of gear saved my ride.

I warmed up on West Snoqualmie road, which had the occasional patch of ice - nothing too worrisome. On Highway 9, we were overtaken by a guy in full rando regalia - nice bike, Bagman rack, Brooks Saddle and a Carradice bag, but since he passed without so much as a "hello", we figured he was not with SIR. Even the fast SIR guys stop to chat.

We reached the Lake Stevens control around 10a, and quickly left after some food and water. At the control, we saw a guy get out of his car. This in itself is not that big a deal, but what was interesting was that the right hand side of his windshield was completely frosted over. He had no vision on that side. When I pointed this out to him, he said, "Oh yeah, I got here fine. It will finish defrosting by the time I leave here". I didn't care to tell him the gravity of his error.

Lake Stevens to Sultan

The terrain flattens out after the Lake Stevens Control, with a lot of flat riding, and a peaceful stretch on the Centennial Trail. Further incentive: the next control had a good bakery. We left together and having all the time in the world, chatted away. The floods and their effect on Paul Johnson's house [John's house apparently escaped], the bomb threat some "genius" kid in his school came up with, and PBP.

I had forgotten that John made it to Paris, but he was very candid in recounting his experience. This is John's second year randonneuring, and he certainly has come a long way. John did not finish PBP, and it was heartrending to hear him talk of the kind of disappointment at having DNF'd, and the agony he suffered in trying to persist in the face of sleep deprivation. He said his undoing was spending too much time at the controls, and I filed that away as an interesting data point. The disappointment does hit hard: Carole Bernhardt is a friend of his, and she was so devastated upon DNFing PBP that she didn't want to be around any people.

Time at controls seems strange at first, but at a massive event like PBP, it assumes greater importance. At our local brevets, I find it difficult to leave a control in under 10 minutes, and am all in awe of people like Jan Heine, who spends 3 minutes at controls. Definitely something to emulate. Get food and water, get card signed, use bathroom if you have to, refill bottles, and go. Simple steps, but I cannot remember the last time I did NOT forget one of these steps, or just spaced out. On this year's Spring 400, I had a stomach upset and spent upwards of 20 minutes at each control.

Temperatures were warming up, but not the point where I felt comfortable: I need 60 deg F for that. My fingers were frozen completely, and my right thumb was by far the worst. My toes were also gone and the cold air was hard to breathe in. All I could think of was, "Why am I doing this?", "What am I doing here?" and "What do I have to gain from this?". The answer was simple: R-12. Having shut down long distance riding once "inclement" weather hit in years past, I usually came in to the start of the season an effete copy of my former self, and this is one winter that I am determined to not fritter it all away.

At the end of the trail, we came upon Ward Beebe, who was just finishing up fixing a flat, and jerry-rigging his computer sensor. He rode with us for a while, and when I told him I was wondering "Why am I doing this?", he replied "You are a randonneur. That's why". That put that doubt out of my head pretty quick. Thanks, Ward.

There definitely was more wildlife than last time. Snohomish-Monroe Road has some lakes to the left, where we spotted a Bald Eagle trying to hunt some ducks in the water. A Bald Eagle in full flight is an awesome sight, but not if you are a little duck, I guess. The duck would dive underwater each time the Eagle swooped down. There were a lot of White Geese (thanks Wayne). We reached Sultan a little after noon, and almost everybody in our group was there having lunch, but most of them would leave shortly after we arrived.

Albert inquired about how I was feeling and when I told him about my cold fingers and toes, he gave me a pair of chemical warmers, and said it would last at least 4 hours. He just made my day! You cannot possibly pay your debt by saying "Thanks!": the man deserved a hug. So, I gave him one. I hope you feel real special, Albert. Two donuts, Tomato-Basil soup and 2 slices of bread, and 15 minutes later, I was ready to roll. John had left a little earlier than I had, and this gave me a chance to ride at my own pace for a little while.

Sultan to North Bend

I love Ben Howard Road and was looking forward to riding on it, when my fork-mounted computer sensor, decided to crash into the spokes. It was not broken, and I had to zip tie it to the fork to prevent it from clattering and smashing to smithereens. I heeded the sign "Water over Roadway" on NE 100th and took NE 80th, but Wayne later told me that he had no trouble with NE 100th. Oh, well. A few bonus miles never hurt anybody. I caught John in Carnation, and we rode together pretty much all the way to North Bend. Dusk started falling as we neared Mount Si, and the twilight shining on the mountain made for pretty scenery.

We did see a lot of the riders making their way back to Redmond as we were climbing the hill to the Falls. That was the last I would see of many of them. I estimated - accurately as it turned out - that we were an hour behind them. We arrived incident free at North Bend a little after 4.15p.

North Bend to Finish [Redmond]

As we entered the Control, John asked me if I had seen the Elk herd grazing on the side of 202: I hadn't. A guy filling gas said there were 78 of them. Now I felt really bad. We made short work of the control: I filled my water bottles with Powerade and left within the next 5 minutes, eating on the bike. It was a stop Jan would be proud of.

It had not started to get dark yet, but we switched on our lights, and made our way back to Redmond. Traffic was heavy as usual, but we made good time. I got a chance to see the Elks, and there were about a dozen cars pulled over by the side of the road watching the Elks graze. Some of the Elks were huge. Local sources tell me that these Elks are a constant fixture of that part of the valley, and are "garden terrorists": they apparently eat up a lot of the plants in people's gardens.

Fall City was lit up bright, and we hoped that somebody would be stopped there for coffee or something: I was sorely tempted to stop here myself, but wanted to finish as quickly as possible. We were humbled by a cyclist going back home on his commute, but we made it to Redmond at 6.05p in total darkness. C'est Fini. Surprise of all surprises, Wayne was still waiting there for us. This was waaaaay beyond the call of duty: John and I had figured that there would be nobody around. Wayne signed us in, stapled my receipts to my card, and gave me all the Permanent paperwork to validate, and a ride home. He also gave me a skull-cap for those cold days, which I wore all through the ride.


Thanks go to Wayne Methner, for organizing this group ride, handling all the paperwork, waiting for all the riders and signing us all in.

I made a couple of mistakes on this ride. I forgot Bag Balm. The other mistake was not charging my battery completely: I had inserted the charger plug into a dormant strip, and so only had 3/4ths of a battery full (about a 2 hour run time). I need to investigate a good backup lighting source, such as the EL-53o.

Mark Roberts rode this exact same route on Sunday, and amidst all the snow and the wind, finished in 10h 15m. Tim Hennings successfully completed the South Hood Canal Permanent, which we all chickened out of, fearing closed roads. I am told that he had a lot of roads to himself. An intrepid randonneur indeed.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Hooray, a new Permanent!

The Inaugural Mountain Loop Permanent ride, November 03, 2007

I have always hated chip-seal: Monte-Elma road, South Sauk Highway, that road from Potlatch to Belfair, and Rockport-Cascade Road, are just some of the names that evoke nightmares. It has its list of annoyances, but after yesterday's 200k ride, I shall never ever complain of chip-seal, for I now know what one step lower than chip-seal is. Geoff Swarts and I experienced it first-hand this past weekend.

Geoff, upon hearing that the Mountain Loop Highway had just opened, quickly came up with a route sheet and all the necessary paperwork for it to become a RUSA permanent. Of course, we needed to ride the route to make sure that everything was a-ok. I really enjoy riding on "new" scenic roads: ones I've never been on. This seemed a great way to indulge that passion.

Geoff picked me up at my house around 6.30 in the morning, and gave me my route sheet, brevet card and waiver, to keep things all nice and official. I was wearing a synthetic base-layer, a half-sleeved SIR wool jersey on top, and my Showers Pass Jacket, along with Ibex Wool leg warmers and Sugoi (means "great" in Japanese) shorts. We were a bit overdressed. Temperatures hovered in the low 40s, but it seemed like a third-layer was unneeded. I tried to thwart the rain gods by carrying a helmet-cover, rain pants and ear muffs. If they held true to form, we would have no rain on the ride.

Somewhere early on this ride, Geoff recounted the Peter McKay incident, and I was shocked. Peter is a terrific guy, and I rode with him last year on the Dan Turner 300 (he was gracious enough to shepherd me and Cindy Holmstrom along), and was full of good conversation and smiles. A terrible thing to happen to him, but then again, Peter is sure to bounce back from this incident quicker than anybody I know.

Snohomish to Granite Falls

We got to the starting control at the 7-11 in Snohomish, quickly got our receipts from the friendly sales clerks and took off, a tad late. The first few stretches of road are "rolling", and hit you when you aren't really warmed up. There is a fun descent on 131st Avenue, which I particularly enjoyed, but would hate to go up on. Fear not, there is no paucity of reasonably steep but not terribly long, little hills on this one.

Geoff would be my nominee for SIR rookie of the year. He rode our Spring 200, 300 and 400, and then rode from Los Angeles to Boston, in 32 days. He also rode the toughest 1000k of the year, albeit in conditions far friendlier than on brevet day. He was coming up on 10,000 miles for the year, and compared to my 6000 miles, he was head and shoulders above me, literally and figuratively. The more I talked to him, the more I was impressed by his riding abilities. I was the laggard as Geoff motored up the hills. This was a recurring theme throughout the ride, and Geoff was most patient with me. If he were a rim, I was the brake pad constantly slowing him down. We rode two-abreast as far as we could, except our climbing abilities quickly split us up when the rode tilted uphill. But I bet you knew that already.

The route from Snohomish to Granite Falls is extremely pleasurable cycling. Rural roads, with very little and very considerate, traffic, the latter coming as a pleasant surprise from my ride the previous week, where I had gotten honked at twice in this same county. The county was having a case of Multiple-personality disorder, but I was not going to complain. I don't remember if the roads were chip-sealed, probably not, as the hills were the only thing that gave me any trouble. There were two turns onto Robe Menzel Road, one unmarked, and the other a little further down the road that was marked. The whole area formed a big triangle, so if you are looking for this turn, look for this big triangle. However, if you are tracking the turns using the mileage as I was, you should not miss this turn. We didn't, but you could miss this turn, if you aren't.

We stopped a couple of times to make notes, and ponder over some of the roads, and got to Granite falls, with about 20 minutes to spare. We used the Shell station by making a left on E Stanley Street (instead of turning right as the route sheet advises), but services are available by following the route sheet as well. We made short work of the control stop, doing the usual things. I bought a Snickers bar, some water and Gatorade, and the clerks at this Shell were efficient, nice, and interested in where we were headed, and even offered information about the roads.

Granite Falls to Darrington

After a very short flat stretch, we were on Mountain Loop Highway, which was to be our
companion for the next 50 miles or so. It starts out true to its name, and then becomes a long and gentle climb. The closest I could description I could give of this road, is Skate Creek Road, with tons more scenery. The road parallels the Stillaguamish (Stilly) river for much of the ride, offering great views of the surrounding mountains. A fine mist covered the air and the water drops got progressively heavier but never to the point of actually being rain, as we climbed higher. Fantastic scenery, with a gentle climb and hardly any traffic at all, resulted in peaceful, comfortable and fairly quick cycling. The Pass itself was only 2361 feet, hardly a monster, but a Pass nonetheless, and with fresh legs, we were able to maintain upwards of 20kmph, with rare stretches where we dipped below.

Geoff and I had never ridden together, but he let me set the pace for much of the ride. We passed Verlot. Not much in the way of services here, and our initial thought was that Verlot would be nothing more than a bunch of mailboxes and some houses, but we were pleasantly surprised to see a restaurant. We didn't stop in, but it seemed like a fine place to refresh oneself with drink and sustenance. Of course, you could also choose to load up in Granite Falls, as we did. The next services are to be found in Darrington, so you would be smart to stop and load up somewhere before leaving Verlot. Darrington would be called Barrington, if it were not for the bad handwriting of the Postmaster at that time, Geoff informed me.

I was quite apprehensive of climbing Barlow pass, but I should have been more apprehensive of my math! I repeatedly forecast the summit of the pass, only to be wrong. My miles to km conversion skills have eroded. A lot of campgrounds dotted the route, with tons of little shacks for restrooms, so one was not tempted to water the bushes. I think this would be a fascinating place to camp, however, a guy we met in Arlington, seemed to think that there were so many bears, that he would not camp there without a gun. Forewarned is forearmed, literally.

It got progressively colder, and we faced some very light rain. My toes froze, and the tips of my fingers started to freeze, but that was to be expected. Geoff wore half-finger gloves, and was never cold. We were riding in a bowl of mountains, along a river, and the snow on the mountains seemed closer and closer, until we finally got to the summit. We took pictures at the "summit", adored the scenery for a few minutes. The ghost town of Monte Cristo is just off this road, and I hunted for a "Kent Peterson was here" sign somewhere. :)

We had been trying to guess, at what point the unpaved section would start, but the sign at the pass cleared it up. "Pavement ends" it said, and sure enough, we encountered gravel and loose dirt and stones. Geoff commented that he was making a list of the signs that gave bicyclists the creeps, and said that "Pavement ends" was one of them, along with "Truck Route", and "Slower Traffic Keep Right". Well, how hard could it be? We were about to find out.

I think I ought to come clean about my choice of equipment for this ride, especially the tyres. I rode 28s in the back (Conti GP 4 Season), but the front had disaster writ large over it. 700x23, Schwalbe Stelvios. It started off pretty badly, with some slippery mud, that I was very careful on, but as the road started to tilt increasingly downhill, we encountered mud, gravel, rocks, potholes and and compacted dirt, which had gotten further mashed by all the cars driving through.

I started off extremely cautiously, and I think that saved me, as I felt my rear tyre slide out only once. Pace was slow, and I abandoned any thoughts of making significant time up on the descent. We didn't know how far these treacherous conditions would last, and as long as they lasted, our speeds would not exceed 15 kph, which was slower than our average climbing the pass. That was going to be a first.

We were hoping that the gravel would last about 5 miles before pavement would begin again, but all I got after 5 miles was more loose rock, gravel and mud, with running water as an added bonus. If all this weren't enough, there were cars in either directions, and this made some of the turns pretty slippery, not to mention complicated, because we could not take the best routes through the mud. Most cars were extremely kind, but you still had some "unsmart" people, who passed us close, or tried to maintain their path through the middle of the road, thus relegating us to the perilous corners.

My hands started to hurt through the constant braking, and mud splattered liberally all over my clothing and the bike [It sits as yet unwashed in our garage]. If it had rained any heavily in the last few days, we would have been toast, but for the most part, we were okay. There were also some uphill, which actually provided a kind of welcome relief from the triceps hurting, brakepad destroying, rim killing, braking that I was doing constantly, to keep my speeds down to safe levels. Of course, the only thing we could pay real attention to was the road and the traffic, so we weren't able to see much of the scenery. This was a real shame. I hope they pave this road soon.

We finally reached an area of not terrible mud, but our ordeal was far from over. I spent all of this time worrying about getting a flat. I really didn't want to get down in this muck to fix a flat, and I guess I had some good karma saved up, and completely lucked out. After about 10 miles we had descended enough that there was not much water left on the road itself, and so, the hard-packed mud was actually dry in places. I let it rip down much of these slopes, and rare was the time that Geoff and I rode within 20 feet of each other. The only thing I could think of was this: "If you are going through hell, keep going". I am sure that I would have enjoyed this stretch even more had I had 28s in the front. Geoff, not one to complain that easily, pulled up next to me and said, "I am about ready for this gravel to be over". "Mud Mountain Loop Highway" was how he named the road.

I was cursing my existence, while trying to maintain enough focus and not take a spill. All "bad" things have to come to an end, and we eventually came upon pavement, and both hollered loud enough for people still atop the pass to hear us. 14 miles of mud, muck, water and gravel. Hell was over, and we were back to civilization, back on the much-maligned chip seal. I almost mimicked the Pope [in bending down and kissing the pavement], but decided that it would be a display not befitting a randonneur [or -euse], because after all, we are masters of the stiff upper lip.

We stopped to make notes and to savour the fact that we had gotten out of this mess unscathed, but our bikes could not say the same thing. Mud and muck covered much of our bikes. We picked up speed. The turn onto Clear Creek Road was nice, as it brings you right along the river, only to put you back on the highway again. You can stay on the main highway if you'd like - it is a touch longer that way - but it is not as though this road (Clear Creek) routes you away from some particularly irritating stretch of road. We arrived in Darrington, and the "new road" aspect of the ride was temporarily suspended. I forgot when we got there, but it was with about 50 minutes to spare.

Darrington to Arlington

We ate some food, bought Gatorade and water, and set off after 10 minutes, and started hammering to Arlington. I have always suspected this stretch to be either downhill, or having a tailwind, and it was not even a bother when the rain started. As you may know, it always rains in Darrington. Geoff pulled me for much of the way, maintaining an excess of 25 kph on the flats and the downhills, and then waiting for me on the uphills, as we blasted our way to Arlington, getting there at 4.11p. We had covered the 30 miles to Arlington, in under 2 hours.

Arlington to Finish [Snohomish]

We stopped at the Chevron Station (a control on last years 1000k) and got more food, and took for the finish. We used Burn road, where predictably I slowed to a crawl, but it brought back memories of last year's 1000k. That helped me notice the fact that Burn road turns, so we amended the cue sheet to add a turn to stay on Burn. From here on out, the route is essentially flat to the finish. We switched to the Centennial Trail - much quieter, and no traffic - as Machias Road has no shoulders, and has some hills that I'd rather not have at the end of a ride (the anti Mark Thomas, if you will), and we pleasantly rolled in to finish in 11 hours and 3 minutes (or something like that).

I had tried to chicken out of this ride, quoting things I don't even remember now, but changed my mind, thinking of a chance to get some mileage in, and also visit new roads. I was not disappointed, as the rivers, creeks, mountains and waterfalls on this ride, are simply fantastic. An important lesson I learned was to always use the right equipment for the conditions, something that slipped me on Saturday's ride. The route sheet was spot on, and it was a great day to be on our bicycles.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fear, Fog and Fall

Being somebody who generally does things at the last possible moment, I put off my October permanent until the last possible weekend of the month. A favourable weather forecast for Sunday (the 28th) offered sufficient incentive to go out, in addition to the perverse pleasure of knowing that Albert Meerscheidt had ridden this exact same course in pouring rain the weekend before. I almost joined Albert on his Tour O Misery, but a lingering cold saved me. Hoping others would join in, I sent out an email announcing the ride, but the pleasure of my company being deemed unsavoury, no one responded. After my recent "mishap", I was hoping I could ride with somebody, but, it was not to be. Shame on you all. :) (Well, I could have ridden the Three Rivers Cruise, with Don Boothby, again, but I am a little tired of that route)

We stopped at Victor's in Redmond for some coffee, but were too early. The display board at the Bank flashed 32 deg F. Freezing temperatures. Perfect. Thick fog forced me to move the start time for an hour later, as I didn't want to be riding in that thick a fog, which coupled with thick drivers, makes for rather perilous riding conditions. I set off at 8a, with roads just starting to see traffic. The fields on Avondale Road, were thick with fog, with the rising sun painting them with soft red rays. Very pretty to behold.

I was dressed for the cold, with ear muffs, wool leg warmers, a synthetic base layer, half-sleeved wool jersey, booties, and the thickest pair of gloves I could find at Sammamish Valley Cycle. I had 2 pairs of gloves and my duck-billed platypus helmet cover (so named by Max), in my Carradice, apart from the usual assortment of food, spares, tools, kitchen sink and other such minutia. The climb up Novelty Hill Road reminded me oh-so-clearly that I had lost significant conditioning by not riding much. A screaming descent on Trilogy parkway, brought me to the first quiet section of the ride, 232nd street, a turn I almost missed. The rollers along this road were fun, and I didn't see a single car. I am an optimist, but I still was not ready to completely trust my fellow car-driving denizens, and maintained a constant vigil throught my ride. So, no cars translated to enjoyable cycling.

About 10 km into W Snoqualmie Road, I saw a home-made "Bicycle Free Zone" sign on a lightpost; That was funny, but I certainly hope that people don't take it to heart. I wonder if it should be reported to the officials, as it sends the wrong message, and is incorrect in legality. Didn't make me feel very welcome.

This road was also memorable for another reason: this is where we got a lot of the snow on this years Spring 100k preride, and the uphill on Welch Road looked completely different without 3" of snow sitting on the ground. I rode past, chuckling to myself. Fall colours were out in full force, but most of it was yellow; no reds. The road surface was littered with leaves, but weren't much of a concern because the road itself was not wet.

A bearclaw with my name on it was waiting for me, so I went to pay my respects at the 711 store on Airport way; I peeled off my Showers Pass jacket, but donned a reflective vest to maintain the dorky clothing factor. The stop itself was brief, and I hit the long rollers on Highway 9. Of course, this was part of the 1000k last year, but I didn't have to go as far today. Lakeview drive put the hurt on me, as the first little stretch was a little steep, but the scenery washed away whatever little pain I experienced. Around 10a, I stopped at the Lake Stevens Mini mart for more food and water. It was a quick stop, and I was on my way almost immediately.

I was a bit nervous about finding the Centennial Trail, but I needn't have worried at all. It was very easy to spot, and more traffic free miles ensued. Passed the little town of Machias, where our rando buddy, newly-minted ancien (TM) Mr. Huber makes his residence. Of course, Mike was nowhere to be seen. He has sadly resorted to slacking off, instead of riding. The trail made for pleasurable, worry-free riding, except that they had these massive iron bars that forced people to slow down. Not a lot of people were out on the trail , but I did see the obligatory dog-walkers, seniors, runners and a few cyclists, some of whom were stopped to peel off clothing. The day was warming up, but not to the point where I could take off my booties. I did swap out my gloves though, and move to the SmartWool gloves, which I kept on for the remainder of the ride.

Old Owen Road is fun; it features a wicked descent down to US2, but not before you climb oh-so-slowly for a while. I stopped to check my brakes and my tyres, but alas it was the engine that needed fixing. The Sultan Bakery offered a convenient stopping place, where I downed some bread, split pea soup and a Chocolate Donut. Mmmmmm. A poor substitute for pain-au-chocolat though (Le Panier in Pike Place Market, highly recommended). I left here at 1.15p, a nice half-hour break from the rigours of cycling on a beautiful day.

I almost missed the turn onto JW Mann, but caught it just in time. And then came the first true gem of the ride: Ben Howard Road. I had heard the name, but not experienced its charms until now, but I was quite impressed by this road. It starts out flat, and then enters a wonderful stretch, where temperatures fall a little, the sun is blotted out by the tree cover, and views of the Skykomish river (name?) more than compensate for the pesky little climbs. All of this in absolute silence. Patient anglers waiting for that bite. A couple of hunters, patrolling the fields near the water. Very idyllic: a true gem of a road, and I wish all roads were like this. The road does flatten out for a while, but I felt sad when I had to turn onto SR203, because I quite enamoured with this little 8-odd mile slice o' paradise.

More quiet roads followed until Carnation, where SR 203 offered up a chance to stop at Sandy's espresso, but I was a bit brain-dead and didn't stop. I paid dearly for this on the way to North Bend, because I bonked a few miles South of Sandy's. Progress was slow, and a headwind added to the complications. The climb up to the Falls would normally have been quite welcome, but the lack of energy was palpable, as I struggled to maintain some semblance of rhythm. Gunshots being fired added to the general feeling of unease, but the sounds abated as one gets near the top of the climb. Traffic was heavy, and here my uneasiness was highest, as the narrow shoulders offered little in the way of protection, not to mention the several bridges where this pathetic excuse for a shoulder vanished completely. I stumbled my way into the North Bend Shell at around 4.45p. Grand plans of finishing in the daylight, now lay in pieces.

I went looking for Gatorade/Powerade. There is something wrong with a World where more "low-calorie" sports drinks are to be found than true "sports" drinks. Will the real Powerade/Gatorade please stand up? Thanks.

More food, water and Powerade later, I felt human again; I set out from North Bend, and made pretty good time back to Redmond. I stopped to pump my front-tire, suffering a slow-leak, a few miles North of North Bend. Darkness fell a little after 6p. The construction along 202 was a bit maddening, but I didn't have too far to go till the end. A semi-nice tailwind pushed me to the finish. I finished around 6.35, but waited in line for more than 10 minutes to get a receipt. I really didn't want to ride in the dark alone for too long, as it made me really nervous. I wonder how long it will take for this nervousness to go away.

Now, I can sit back, relax, and wait until the last weekend in November before I try doing a 200 :)

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cruisin' the rivers with No Chain.

I had originally signed up to do the Fall 1000, but decided to opt out and do the Carbon River Permanent as a way to redeem myself, with Erik Andersen and Dave Read, but as the weather on Sunday was slated to be much worse than Saturday - where we would get a few rain-free hours at least- I chickened out and did the Three Rivers Cruise, a route that I was very familiar with. An easy way out to further my quest towards my first R12 award. Shane, Don Boothby, Jim Jensen and Mark Jackson were the other culprits, on a cloudy, rainy and at times cold day. We could see our breaths, and that remained true for much of the day.

This group had not seen each other for a while, and we all exchanged pleasantries. Don asked me if my Immigration mess would be cleared up by 2011, and if it did, he would see me at the start of PBP 2011. He has not yet done a 400, and wants to be all prepared before then. He also promised us a lot of bald eagles and warned us to get receipts at all the controls. This "get receipts or else" was news to me, as all I had done on prior permanents was to get a signature and then mail in my card at the finish. Have randonneurs started cheating? What is up with this?

We started a bit late, as I incorrectly mounted my front wheel. Some help from Shane and Mark, and we were off at 7.10a. Jim waited for a while, but decided to take off ahead of us: we would see him one more time, with him heading West on 20, a tad before Marblemount, and that was it. The four of us set off to sunny skies - yeah, right! - and rode together for the first little while, but our relative speeds quickly split us up. Mark and Don rode together, while Shane and I rode a bit ahead (but not by a lot).

Shane is a newly minted PBP ancien. A tough gent and your quintessential randonneur. Having carpooled together, I began the process of peppering him with an endless barrage of questions: the weather, the food, the people, ahem the hills, SIR's surprisingly high DNF rate, and the experience. It was fascinating to listen to him talk. We talked a lot about Paris-Brest-Paris, which he successfully completed in August in 89:47.

It was not raining when we started, but the cold hit first. About halfway into 530, is a beautiful mountain laden with snow, and the temperature drops here usually. My toes and fingers froze here, but we still plodded on. The rain started shortly after this stretch, but not threateningly so, and stayed with us until a few kilometers before the first control. Shane remarked that this was how it felt when the rain let up, on PBP, and that shut me up pretty good. A fine data point! I had brought along a fine complement of rain clothing, in the hopes of warding off the rain gods: 3 pairs of gloves, a synthetic long sleeved jersey, and the SIR Blue Jersey on top, with thick gloves and wool leg warmers. I had other accoutrements in my bag: A helmet cover, a short-finger glove, and my rain pants.

We reached the Darrington Shell gas station around 9.15a, which was control #1, and found out that Jim had left about 15 minutes earlier. After getting receipts and signatures, and fuelling ourselves, Shane and I left. Just as we were leaving Don and Mark rolled in, looking good. A blissful tailwind guided us all the way to the turn on to 20, as it usually does, and we enjoyed the scenery of the Sauk river as it flowed at levels considerably lower than when we had done this same ride in March. There were quite a few fishermen out today. Fall foliage was rich, with yellows and reds dotting the roads along Highway 530. Fog blanketed the mountains nearby, and rendered everything beautiful. I just love riding in fog!

We saw Jim shortly after we passed the Cascadian farms store, and that was the last we would see of him. A short little dalliance with the rain later, we were in Marblemount. Don and Mark rolled in shortly after we did, and declined an invitation to have soup with us at the diner down the street. Shane and I took off for the diner, and had some delightful soup: Tomato Basil for me, Squash for him, and Pomme Frites for the both of us. A delightful 45 minute stop, and definitely recommended. Shane had some coffee to warm himself up, and not wanting to upset the delicate balance that is my stomach these days, I drank warm water. Yuck!

The winds along 20 heading west can be brutal, but today was a gentle enough day, that we could see the falling leaves corkscrewing their way to the road below. Temperatures warmed up, the rain stopped, and no drivers harassed us, a first for me on this stretch. This stretch was also our latest nice pavement for quite a while, as South Skagit Highway was a 23-odd mile long beast, with the nastiest chipseal you can imagine.

We spotted Mark's and Don's bikes at the store just before the Concrete turn off, but didn't see them: they were probably in the store getting refreshments; this was the last we would see of them. Traffic was low, the foliage was again rich, and the chipseal was ever nasty, but we made it through S Skagit Highway in one piece, but not before enjoying a nice tailwind for the most part of that stretch.

A little stretching session before turning onto Highway 9 relaxed our muscles, and shortly after the turn, the rain began in earnest. I had stowed my rain jacket, but the rain was not as bad as to require a stop-and-don-serious-rain-gear, but the headwind was brutal at times. Proves that the wind on rides is a zero-sum game, and often times negative sum game. I thought of the folks doing the 1000, on 3 days worth of rain, and consoled myself.

I stopped to get some refreshments at a little store about halfway down Highway 9, and was sure that Shane had passed me in that time, so I started hammering away in the hopes of catching him. But as it turned out, he had not passed me, but was close by. A few rollicking descents later, I was on the home stretch to the control, but spotted Shane not 40 yards behind. Powerful rider that he is, he effortlessly caught me on the bridge above the train tracks, just before the finish, and we rode in together. A nice scenic, not too long ride. And I truly (really) never used the granny.

I had a Cinnamon Pastry, and Shane had an all-american Hamburger and French fries. Apparently Shane craves real food on rides, and recounted the pain he felt at Carhaix when he found out that the McDonald's was closed. Another funny story was of how Chantel (Mrs Balkovetz, and tri-athlete) bought 2 Hamburgers for Shane at the finish of PBP, and Jeff literally gulped one of them with this eyes. Shane gave him one. So, Jeff Tilden if you are reading this, you owe Shane a Hamburger. Just teasing.

A fun ride with not so great conditions. Perfect training! Maybe Carbon River for October?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Mountain Populaire results: Scandal

As (countless?) loyal readers of this blog might have noticed, I pre-rode and completed the recently concluded Mountain populaire event with more than 5500 feet of climbing, in 6 hours and 45 minutes. I was immediately inundated with fan mail, all of them congratulating me on my, and I quote, "awe-inspiring" accomplishment, which said readers may also remember, was done using nothing but my middle chain-ring, in an attempt to one-up a certain Mr. Bob Brudvik. News about my pre-ride spread like wildfire, and more riders showed up on the ride than otherwise would have, to witness the terrain that I had performed said miracle over, and possibly also to see me in the flesh.

Readers, I advise you to sit down, as you read the following paragraphs; it just may be better for you.

I am deeply saddened to inform you that my aforementioned accomplishment has been nullified by the decision of the SIR RBA (who shall not be named to protect him from the wrath of my fans) to not ratify my ride on the grounds that it was not completed within time limits. Or maybe it was the RUSA results website. I thought Karl Rove had vanished into the woodwork, but no, he has reappeared as the SIR RBA.

How can this be? Well, apparently there is a way this could be. When this event was entered into the RUSA calendar, it was entered as a 100k and not as a 110k. This means that the time limit for this ride was 6:40 and not 7:xx. When the RBA went to enter this information, the problem came to light. All 4 pre-riders and another rider were DQ'd because of this. Oh well, that stop at Sandy's espresso for muffins and coffee was costlier than I thought.

I would like to counsel patience and forgiveness to my loyal-but-incensed fans; E-mail me if you can hack into the RUSA results database. In his defense, the RBA has promised to enter this event as a 110k next year, so that slowpokes like me can get some breathing room. Safe to say, you shall see my mug at the start next year.

Congratulations again to all the finishers.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

That's crazy talk, aka the Mountain 100K pre-ride.

Mark Thomas and I pre-rode the season-opening 100k route, this past spring. Somewhere there, before we got slammed with 5" of snow, I mentioned to Mark that I didn't show up at last years Mountain 100, because I was not sure I would be able to finish it. This, after completing last years 3 pass 1000k. Mark's response, and he is pretty quotable, was, "That's crazy talk!".

I took that vote of confidence with me as I pre-rode the 100K route with Kent Peterson, Shan Perera and Matt Newlin, all of whom have spent some time shelling me out in the past. We left at 9.40a from Tibbets Field Parking lot. My front tyre was low, and I stopped to pump it up, as my riding buddies went ahead, but waited for me at the Zoo hill climb.

That climb was long, but not Washington-pass-going-west long, but I was the last to get to the top. The descent was something though, and quite worth the lung-busting climb. It comes early in the ride, and so, you don't feel like you are done. There was a lot of up and down, but the notable ones (to me), were the Tiger Mountain climb, the climb to the Issaquah highlands, Tolt Hill, Duthie Hill and the last murderous climb, that completes the ride. The last climb (Squawk Mountain?) completely took me out, and made me cry for stronger legs or a lower gear, and I got neither. We finished on the dot: 6h 45m.

This really is a fantastic ride; people who have ridden with me know that I get shelled out the back at the first appearance of a climb, and this was no exception, except that my riding buddies waited for me at every turn, and offered encouragement. The stop at Sandy's was fabulous, with all of us getting something cold to drink, and nourishing ourselves for the 3 hills (Tolt, Duthie, Squawk) ahead. I think eating at Sandy's is a good idea, as the last 22km kick serious butt.

There is a surprising amount of flat on this ride, so much so that Kent at one point leaned to me and asked, perfectly innocently, "Do you think there is enough climbing on this ride?", this just before we did Tolt Hill. I was about to tell the man to have some mercy. However, doing this ride a few times, will certainly help my climbing. An enjoyable ride, and I shall definitely do it again. I also plan to do this ride to train for the hills.

Kent's Pictures and mini-report

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Unofficial SIR results at PBP 2007

(Updated April 28th, 2008)

These results were obtained by searching the PBP tracker page for each rider listed on the SIR list. If I have wrongly classified somebody, or you have more information about a rider, let me know, and I shall update this page. The official results, unfortunately, have to come from ACP. There are two extra names: Carole Bernhardt and Ron Himschoot, who both rode with SIR, but did not list SIR as their parent/home club.

40 Finishers, 2 finishers out of time limits (DNQ), 17 DNFs/Unknown, and 2 DNS. 2 out of 3 known vegetarians finished! ;)(Krichman and Wright). SIR DNQ/DNF rate: 32%. As if the distance and the terrain were not challenging enough, the atrocious weather took the fun out of a lot of people, if one were to believe the reports that I have read. The Internet was rife with rumours of riders being allowed to ignore the control closing times as long as they met the 90 hour cutoff, and of 2 to 3 hour extensions to most people to allow them to deal with the conditions.


ANDERSEN ERIK 3415, 24/08 à 11h02 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
BALKOVETZ SHANE 3317, 24/08 à 16h58 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
BEEBE WARD 6881, 24/08 à 11h50 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
BEESON PETER 7475, 24/08 à 14h48 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
MAXON MAX 7474, 24/08 à 14h55 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
BLACKER RICK 4900, 24/08 à 15h06 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
BRUDVIK ROBERT 1496, 24/08 à 01h52 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
CARTER KEN 1977, 23/08 à 18h26 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
COX GREGORY 3380, 24/08 à 08h33 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
DUSSLER WILLIAM 4733, 24/08 à 12h18 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
HAIGHT RICK 3413, 24/08 à 15h46 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
HAMILTON RYAN 1485, 23/08 à 14h40 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
HEINE JAN 1498, 22/08 à 22h00 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
HIMSCHOOT RON 4774, 24/08 à 16h55 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
HOWES NOEL 4710, 24/08 à 16h33 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
HUBER MICHAEL 3360, 24/08 à 11h14 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
HUMPHREYS KEVIN 6892, 24/08 à 10h30 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
JAMESON ELAINE 7467, 24/08 à 14h45 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
JAMESON DON 7468, 24/08 à 14h45 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
JENSEN ANN 7479, 24/08 à 14h47 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
JENSEN JAMES 7480, 24/08 à 14h47 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
JOHNSON PAUL 4770, 24/08 à 16h23 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
KAPLAN MARTY 3378, 24/08 à 16h28 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
KRICHMAN KENNETH 3305, 24/08 à 15h38 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
LLONA JOE 4695, 24/08 à 11h15 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
MCFALL RAYMOND 3396, 24/08 à 15h42 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
MCKAY PETER 3300, 23/08 à 12h29 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
MEERSCHEIDT ALBERT 4685, 24/08 à 16h03 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
NGUYEN THAI 3358, 23/08 à 11h44 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
OHLEMEIER BRIAN 1955, 23/08 à 05h42 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
PIEPER ROBIN 6877, 24/08 à 01h52 à SAINT QUENTIN (15
RICHARDS OWEN 3324, 24/08 à 15h41 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
ROBERTS MARK 4775, 24/08 à 14h56 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
RYAN JIM 3339, 24/08 à 09h33 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
THOMAS MARK 4849, 24/08 à 11h00 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
TILDEN JEFF 3410, 24/08 à 18h43 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
TURNER DANIEL 4644, 24/08 à 15h53 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
VIGOREN ERIC 4642, 24/08 à 16h37 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
WENNSTROM JASON 4639, 24/08 à 15h48 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)
WRIGHT DUANE 4636, 24/08 à 17h34 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)

***** Finished: But outside time limits (DNQ) *****

BAILEY ALLISON 3312, Sick, 24/08 à 23h35
MUELLNER JON 4679, 24/08 à 20h51 à SAINT QUENTIN (15)

************* DNFs/Abandonné/Unknown *************

ACUFF JAN 6880, 21/08 à 18h43 à FOUGERES (3)
BAROCAN THOMAS 4814, 23/08 à 18h31 à FOUGERES (11)
BERNHARDT CAROLE 4822, 22/08 à 18h20 à BREST (7)
DALTON MATTHEW 4729, 24/08 à 01h35 à VILLAINES (12)
HARMAN AMY 3304, 21/08 à 23h03 à TINTENIAC (4)
MAGYAR ROBERT 3303, a abandonné le 21/08 à TINTENIAC (4)
HOFFMAN CHARLES 3296, a abandonné le 22/08 à LOUDEAC (5)
MARTIN THOMAS 3337, a abandonné le 22/08 à LOUDEAC (9)
MCKEE JAMES 4688, 23/08 à 17h17 à FOUGERES (11)
NORMAN MICHAEL 3359, 23/08 à 16h50 à FOUGERES (11)
NUSSBAUM CAROL 7483, a abandonné le 22/08 à CARHAIX (6)
NUSSBAUM RALPH 7484, a abandonné le 22/08 à CARHAIX (6)
SANDERS JAMES 1482, a abandonné le 21/08 à LOUDEAC (5)
SCHOENFELD MITCHEL 4826, 24/08 à 01h11 à VILLAINES (12)
SMITH DONALD 4655, a abandonné le 22/08 à CARHAIX (6)

TILDEN BRAD 4646, 24/08 à 06h00 à MORTAGNE (13)
- Sacrificed Pedal to brother Jeff.

VINCENT JOHN 4796, 22/08 à 05h58 à LOUDEAC (5)

************* Did not start (DNS) ****************

<<-- end of results -->>

A PBP I was forced to watch from afar, I have learnt one thing: one has to be strong in the face of wind and rain (as I am most often, NOT), if one has to see these events to the end. Riding many days in the rain requires a level of mental toughness that I have to build up to.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Never do a 400k when you are out of shape.

Take a bow, Susan France! I had a fun time on the Poor Man's PBP 400K Pre-ride. Riders are in for a treat!

Dan Fender, Brian List, Peg Winczewski, and myself completed the Poor Man's PBP pre-ride. Dan didn't BBB (Brevet, Barf and Bail!). It was my first ever pre-ride where the content of the route sheet was in some doubt; I was quite amazed at the amount of work required of the people creating the route sheet and those doing the pre-ride, to ensure route accuracy. Susan France (OR Randonneurs RBA) created a great route with some new roads that I had never been on, and some utter beauties (Blue Slough Road, S Bank Road, Devonshire road), and some tried and tested (testy? Monte-Elma Road. UGH!) routes such as SR 105, SR 109, and 101 out of Aberdeen. The route sheet was pretty good, and when it wasn't the talents of my fellow riders, helped us get through. I was no use in this endeavour of course, but Brian, Peg and Dan were experts are figuring out things. My hat is off to them. I would have gotten lost countless times if it were not for the route finding and navigation skills of my partners.

We set out at 6a, to some showers, and climbed a short hill (Cooks Hill) which offered some fantastic fog-covered views of the surrounding valley. I got teased for getting excited about seeing deer. Traffic was of course very light at the time of day that we started, and was true of most of the roads that we cycled on, except SR 105, but even on that road, there was minimal traffic on the way back. SR 105 is heavy on debris and traffic. We even saw some Team Time Trials out on S Bank Road, a bike race of some kind. Lots of women teams, some of them said hi, others were just stone faced.

Weather was sporadic rain at the start, beautiful scenery and sunshine for much of the ride, and a deluge of epic proportions along a 3 mile stretch less than 5 miles from the finish. We were all soaked completely. I suffered a slow leak flat on the way to Pacific Beach, but caught up to Peg and Brian, who were camped out at Montesano market getting food. That bakery in Montesano seems to be closed always. We lost Dan Fender in that little excursion, and he finally caught us at the control in Pacific Beach. I got my rear tire slashed (with less than a 1000 miles on it) on SR 109 towards Aberdeen and never found the cause. It did leave a 1" gash on my sidewall. I improvised a $1 bill as a boot and rode gingerly (ka-thump, ka-thump, ad nauseum) to Swanson's market in Aberdeen, where Peg saved my rear-end by lending me her spare tire. Second time this year, I have had to borrow a spare tire. I shall never got out without a spare tire from now on.

The route was great for the most part, and riders are in for a treat, with some very lightly travelled roads and unavoidably, some heavily travelled roads. Susan France is the queen of finding lightly travelled roads, I think. Some dogs tried to chase us, but they were all quite overweight and were half-hearted in their chases and growls. Conversation was great, with Dan and Peg displaying a fantastic sense of humour. Dan is a fellow computer geek, and we had some fun discussions about PC's, Mobile Development, India, China and Prolog. Brian was navigator general, figuring out several tricky route cues. I, as usual, was the guy who can never navigate right.

I had not done a single long ride since the Tahuya 600, and it showed. I constantly brought up the rear, and my companions had to wait for long periods, in the rain at times, which delayed their finish times. Finished very weakly and am not very proud of that. My left knee hurt a little at the end, but as of Tuesday, my condition has greatly improved.

Here are some of the notes that I made. Peg made detailed notes, no doubt already mailed to Susan, and you shall see a very accurate route sheet.

- MP 54.8. Devonshire Road has some massive 1" wide cracks on the road running parallel to the direction of travel, filled with grass at places, not in others, that could be really dicey if you aren't paying attention. Make sure you watch where you are going.

- MP 73.2: Don't get confused by the left turn to go to Pacific Beach (a major highway) with the turn you ACTUALLY need to make, Ocean Shores Road, which is a beautiful, low traffic alternative.

- Pacific beach Control: The market is up the road and the folks there were nice, but their Teriyaki was a bunch of fiction; the food place immediately to the right is a better option. Don't expect great service, or copious refills of your water, if they are busy. They were fast, have Veggie Burgers, and their Onion rings were great. The sun was out, and it was a beautiful place to just sit and enjoy being outdoors.

- MP 109.5: The route sheet was a huge mess at the end of SR 115, but Peg and Brian figured this out. You will have an accurate route sheet, so don't sweat it.

- MP 116.7: The turn to Greenview Road seemed longer than 0.8 miles to me, so don't fret if you don't see it for a while.

- MP 120.3. The road morphing into Discovery is not very obvious, and you may be tempted to stay on Discovery, but you need to make a right turn here. Brian set me right pretty quick, here.

- MP 134.7: Narrow shoulders on SR 109 make it a challenge. I lost my rear tire here, so be careful and ride to the left of the white line, despite traffic. Otherwise you have thorns, and glass, and metal shards to contend with. Pick your poison.

- Aberdeen: The bridge to go over the river, just after Swanson's Market is a pain. No shoulders and high traffic. Take the lane, and pedal with all your might.

- MP145.3: It is not Industrial way, but Earley way (sp?).

- MP 189.8: The quiet section of the ride begins. We encountered very little traffic past SR 105, and whatever we encountered was very courteous. Relax, and enjoy. This is where we started seeing some ominous clouds ahead.

- MP 242.4: Keep a weather eye out for this one. A Right on Old 9 (at what looks like a huge roundabout), an immediate L on Tea St, immediate R on Grand Mound Way. Blink and you will miss this. So watch out. I certainly would have, if it were not for my companions waiting for me on Grand Mound.

- MP 243.5: You better pray for better weather along this stretch. The last 15 miles featured very light rain, but for a 3 mile stretch on 99, the faucets opened up, and we were drenched. But, the finish is nearby. I was ruing my very existence here.

- MP 249.8: The most welcome sight ever. The Travel Inn. After the right turn onto Lakeshore, pay attention to the bumps on the road. I almost wiped out here, and you don't want to crash 100 yards from the finish, do you?

Not that it is important, but our time was ~ 22h 28m. We had 3 big stops of at least a half hour or more, and if you keep your control stops short, you will do much better. Peg said this is an "easy" 400. When you ride as much as Peg does, every course is easy.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Goal Change: PBP to Poor Man's PBP.

Regrettably, my quest to ride P-B-P, ended last night. I sent off a cancellation letter to the RUSA folks informing them of this unhappy event. Mark has graciously promised to help me retrieve my Super Randonneur medal and my jersey. I shall sell the jersey. I do not deserve to wear it.

I have known for quite a while now - maybe a week- but kept hoping that maybe I would get lucky... That hope vanished today when I found out that the USCIS had not yet finished processing applications filed on the 2nd of July. I flunked my final qualifying brevet!

I have decided to do the Poor Man's PBP (unlucky man's PBP ?). I might ride the 400k pre-ride with Peg Winczewski and Dan Fender on August 19th, and then do the 600k on August 25th. I am also planning to volunteer on the 400, the day after finishing my 600.

I have not done anything more than 40 miles since the Tahuya 600, so I better get off my butt, and start riding some. I guess being on the bike is the only to get over my French disappointment.

I wish everyone heading over to Paris, the very best of luck, tailwinds and weather. I shall be eagerly watching you all.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

USCIS capitulates, and my position worsens.

Bowing to pressure from all quarters, the USCIS has gone back on its rejection of Adjustment of Status applications. So, I am back to where I was 15 days ago. Meaning, I wait for a receipt notice from the USCIS to enable me to travel.

We sent our application in to the lawyers today, who will file our application on Monday. And then the big wait begins. Receipts usually take 3-4 weeks, which would cut it pretty close to PBP, but, it is expected to take longer as the number of applications PILES up at USCIS.

This has been a very nasty emotional roller coaster for me and my wife. I am not very hopeful at this point. I posted on the randon mailing list asking if anybody there is from the USCIS or knows anybody from the USCIS. What the heck? Might as well give it my best shot.

I have called around and found nobody who will insure immigration related travel problems. :)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

No PBP for you, says USCIS.

Ever dreamt of something for a long time? I am sure you have. Now imagine yourself having done everything in your power to accomplish this dream. You have trained in the rain, climbed hills, done some tough brevets, ate less to lose weight, read numerous ride reports, tried different foods on the bike to better your performance and spend less time at the controls, talked about it to everybody in your family till they walked away, planned your life around it.. the works. You feel good, and you are about to submit your application for said dream. You probably figured out that this dream that I am talking about is PBP. Now imagine your dream shattered because of something completely unrelated to your ability to ride a bicycle.

Immigration. Along comes the USCIS and blindsides me. In the first week of July, my wife and I are eligible to apply for one of the final stages of permanent residence in the US (I-485, for the immigration geeks). Normally, this would be a well-controlled process (by using a complicated system of priority dates), and processing times were reasonably predictable. Now, the USCIS in their infinite wisdom decided to open the flood gates, and allow everyone to apply, which means "Official receipt" dates are unpredictable. Normally it would be 4 to 6 weeks, but is expected to be delayed because of the flood of applications.

How does this affect you, Narayan, you ask? Well, I cannot travel outside the country until I get an official receipt from the USCIS. Which means I cannot travel to France for PBP. So, no pains au chocolat, no "bon courage", no adoring public, no middle of the night coffee stop in France, for me. Yesterday was one of the most disappointing days of my life. And I don't take disappointments very well. Those of you who don't have to worry about such mundane things as Immigration, are lucky ones indeed.

I suppose I could make all the plans, register, sign up for ride cancellation insurance, and then if I don't get the receipt by the 15th of August, cancel all plans and recoup what I can. But I am not sure I want to go through that nerve-wracking experience. I have a lot of friends who are going to PBP. I feel quite happy for all of them. I will follow their progress online, and live vicariously through them, and rejoice through their successes. But, being so near and yet so far, is very depressing.

This is a disaster. And I am so bummed. Unless one of you knows how to pull strings inside the USCIS. :)

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

SIR 600K: Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'

Pictures are here...

I was right; it was a personal worst for the distance, but somehow, someway, I think this was a personal best. Read on...

Have you ever seen that ad that goes "Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'"? That is what the entire weekend of June 2, 2007 felt like. One giant roller coaster, except that on this roller coaster, you had to work on the uphills yourself, pushing the wagon up some tortuous rises. And some incredible scenery: the infamous Tahuya Hills. Monsters to be experienced only on fresh legs, but sadly, the organizers this year, in a well-advised attempt to train us for PBP and recreate the conditions from Carhaix to Brest, threw in these hills after 494 km. If you can do it after 220, you can do it after 494. Well, if you are aiming to go for PBP, you should be able to ride hills like the ones in PBP, so my whining was kept to a minimum. I had realized on the 1000, that difficulties are placed on rides not to be sadistic, but to give us better training. Attitude can be such a wonderful helper sometimes.

Ever since Mark had told me that this would be the course for this years 600, I started thinking about how I would go about do finishing this ride. My initial reaction was "no way". Past troubles at Tahuya, the recent poor performance at the 400, and a general lack of confidence in my climbing abilities, all pointed to 2 days of pain. I didn't give much chance of besting my PR (36:42, 2006 Olympic Peninsula 600) , and had no particular time goal. All I wanted to do was see the Island Country Inn, within 1op, within the time limits. I shared my nervousness with Allison, who was in the unenviable position of never having been through the Tahuya Hills. It would be one tough introduction for her. Allison was all courage, unlike Mr. Quacking-in-his-boots over here [pointing to self]. I had dawdled a tad at all the controls on the 400, and I was determined to keep my control stops short, even if meant riding alone for long periods of time. I needed all the help I could get.

The morning started early for me, after a tossy-turny 6 hour sleep; doubts about my ability to finish this ride kept me in a state of nervous upheaval. Shane and his wife Chantel came to pick me up, and the three of us made our way to the start in Downtown Seattle. Chris Ragsdale processed my ride entry, and I asked him if he had done the pre-ride. "This is a long one, man", he said, "I think I am going to sit this one out". Not only was this man fast, he was also smart! I couldn't say the same thing about the 70 or so folks at the start today. We wouldn't sit this one out, but rather fight to finish. For some like me, the fight would be harder than for most. There was a prize at the end, a much sought after PBP-qualifier. I met all of my usual friends, all of them smiling, and looking forward to the ride. Paul Johnson looked awesome on his brand-spanking-new Tournesol, a beautiful and very lovingly put together steed that Paul was inaugurating on this ride. The wait was almost too much to bear.

Start to Buckley

After some 20 minutes of nervous milling about, it almost seemed a relief when Peter Beeson gave us our pre-ride instructions, and we set off. The first few kilometers were on roads that used to be my commute route when I lived in Bellevue. The legs felt good, with the two day rest that I had given them helping greatly in rejunvenating them. The terrain was rolling, with the easier-but-narrower approach to the I-90 bridge avoided, and a more rolling approach used. The tone for the ride had been set. The lights downtown kept us in huge bunches, until the I-90 bridge, where we started stretching out. The I-90 bridge was cool, but here was where most people passed me and I would be alone again, until another wave of riders would catch up. Over Mercer Island, and near one of the first lights, I hit the front wheel of Steve Davis, and promptly - with a yell - crashed, and scraped my knee. No problem, my pride was more hurt than my ego, and when I stopped to examine why my front brakes didn't work, I noticed that I had forgotten to attach the brake cables, after taking my bike off of Shane's car. :( Oh well.

I rode mostly alone on this stretch, passing quiet roads with no or low traffic brought us to our first control, the AmyP/Mark/Wayne Secret Control, where Wayne stamped a nice bear claw on to my control card. I left quite quickly, and as I was leaving Mark said something that would stay with me throught the ride: "See you at the finish", he said. What a wonderful ego-boost that was! Thanks, Mark. I almost think he sensed the doubt in my body language. :)

A lot of folks passed me right after the secret control, and one of them was Jerome, from Canada, who was wearing the same Maple leaf "Goose" jersey that I planned to wear tomorrow. Wool and heat don't mix (some South Indian wisdom for you). More quiet roads, up and downs later, we were at Buckley. Paul, Peg and Allison were already there. I went into the store to get some water and get my card signed, and upon seeing me, the cheeriest of store folk, a little girl [Kayla] of no more than 10 years, ran up to the counter and signed my card in a little "K.F", while proudly looking at the clock to prove that she could read the time. I was quite moved by this experience; sometimes we are faced with grumpy clerks, or people with a fake smile on their faces, but to see someone with unmistakably genuine joy on their faces, bounding up to see me was a moving experience for sure, and I shall look forward to visiting the Boise Creek Grocery Store many times over. Hopefully the little girl will be there.

Buckley to Eatonville

The four of us [Peg, Paul and Allison] made a quick getaway from the control having fed and watered ourselves. I mixed 2 more packets of Sustained Energy, and it was going to be interesting to see how these babies hold up to the heat. The day was beginning to warm up, slightly, and we formed a nice paceline that rotated every few minutes or so.

Now, on our rides, we make turns towards many a town, named after different things, persons etc. However, one of the coolest town names that I have ever seen was on the next turn on to Orville Road: "Electron". My photographic talents do not include taking pictures of signs on the move, and I flubbed it. Oh, well. While on Orville Road, we espied a road climbing to the sky, to a new housing development. It looked very steep, and Peg commented that the only reason that we were not heading to that road was because Mark Thomas had not yet figured out how to include that road on this cue sheet. Beware, it is a bit of a beast. Temperatures had climbed quite high, and it was now uncomfortably hot. I didn't put any sunscreen, figuring out that my natural protection would kick in.

Some pleasant sections and a hot climb brought us all together to Eatonville, where Peg's better conditioning came out as she beat us all to the control. I got Peter Beeson to sign my card, and while the rest of my friends sat down for a meal, I refilled my water bottles, and took off for the next control at Packwood.

Eatonville to Packwood

Not wanting to spend too much time here, I continued into the mid-day heat on Center Road. Eric gave me some grief for leaving my friends, but I knew that they would catch me before I got to the next control. The day was hot and and the stretch was pretty, until we got to SR-7 where the scenery kicked it up a notch. I started suffering some hot foot on this stretch which slowed me down, and forced me to pull up more than push down. Several randonneurs were stopped at a store to get refreshments: I recognized Shan Perera and Thai. The stretch to Kernaghan was pretty scenic, and had a nice wide shoulder, which made riding even more fun. Several people had asked me if I had ridden Skate Creek Road, and it took me a few miles to figure out why.

The road starts off with a board proclaiming that you are entering "Gifford Pinchot National Forest", and while this is a recipe for beauty strips and clear cuts, this road was very different. Chipseal of coure, but the scenery was stunning. There was a creek running to the left of us, and the road ever so slightly climbed up, thn levelled off, only to climb again. Allan DeCamp pulld up alongside and rode with me for a while, and then passed me, dancing on his pedals. I passed by a deer standing right next to the road, whch was completely startled by my arrival.

The coup de grace on this road was the close up shot we got of Mt. Rainier. I stood there just drinking in the view in front of me. The day was clear, and the view was splendid without the debilitating effects of smog. We finally started the descent into Packwood, and I hammered along. It is always fun to descend. I saw Ray McFall and his friend sitting next to a creek dousing their feet in cold water. That sounded like fun, but I plodded along.

Just before Packwood, Ray, his buddy and Jon Muellner all caught up to me, and dropped me. We pulled in to the Packwood Control, a little past 2p.

Packwood to Morton

I made the mistake of reading the pre-ride report, and Mark's ominous words "you turn a corner, and get punched in the face" turned true. I ate a candy bar, drank some water, mixed up some Sustained Energy, and then took off. Ray and his friend, took off barely 5 minutes after getting into the control, and it was too bad that I missed them. Jon Muellner left 15 seconds in front of me, but I could not catch him and he slowly pulled away. The wind was quite strong, and the sun was beating down on us. I yelled at Jon, but I don't think he could hear me above the din of the traffic and the distance. I put my head down and started plodding. Speeds were low and hovered near 17-18 kmph. I was going to have to suffer through nearly 34 miles of this. Would make for a long afternoon.

Luckily after a few miles, Jon pulled over to take off his socks. I proposed taking turns pulling to Morton, but Jon refused to let me pull. "I will tow ya", he said, and like a wounded dog, I just put my head down, and sucked on his wheel. I apologized a few times for not being able to pull, but my guilt was short-lived. Jon pulled away, and even with the reduced effort, I could not stay on his wheel. I asked him to not slow down for me, and Jon pulled away, his blue Orca jersey vanishing off into the distance.

I spotted a rider up ahead, and slowly caught upto him. Surprise of all surprises, it was Bill Dussler. He looked a bit tired, hardly the Bill Dussler I saw on last years 1000k. I rode with him for a while, but he pulled away from me on a hill. Proves that a hobbled Mr. Dussler can still dust me. The few miles before Morton were hell because of the wind and the longish rollers that we encountered. I was quite happy to pull into Morton at a little past 5.30p. That was a tough little stretch.

Morton to Centralia

Quite a few randonneurs were here. Thai and Shan mentioned that they had been there for about 45 minutes. Bill and I just slumped in a chair. Some of them were eating inside the Subway (?). I just filled up my water bottles, ate a King-sized Pay-Day bar, and took a breather. Allison and Peg pulled in about 5 minutes after me; Paul Johnson was strangely missing. Bill and I made phone calls (Yaay for "The new AT&T") to our respective homes, and took off. I saw Paul pulling into the control.

There were still rollers, and Bill left me, slowly pulling away. I battled the winds and the rollers on US12 until Jon Muellner joined me. Jon is a cheery guy, an ancien. Ever eager to learn from the masters, I engaged Jon in gentle conversation. We yakked on, about PBP, its atmosphere, the challenge of this route, sleep strategies, drop bags, and the conditions. Just regular randonneur talk. I however was going through a low point. The rollers and the hot feet, coupled with my getting dropped at the first hint of a climb, were forcing me to reevaluate my PBP goal.

Maybe I just wasn't good enough? I don't know what I was expectin out of myself, but I think I hoped to do better, and not feeling 100% physically was draining me a bit mentally. So, I confessed my doubts to Jon. "I am re-evaluating my goal of doing PBP", I said, and good old Jon was aghast to say the least. "I say, Why not? You will be fine, I think", and then offered up his rationale for why I should do PBP. I caught some very gentle flak (when I mentioned this to Wim Kok, he said I deserved to catch flak). This was my second 600, and I really should have recognized a low point and plodded my way through it. What can I say? I am a slow learner.

As there were some unmarked sections of road here, we rode together, Jon riding well below the speeds he was capable of, perhaps sensing that I was going through a low-point and wanting to keep me energized. His company, and his talk, worked, and I gradually lifted myself from the low-point. Oh, I forgot to mention, the stretch to SR-508 was rolling. No flats in sight.

Peg and Allison were using a restroom, and Jon pulled over to use it too. I soldiered on, and pretty soon Allison and Peg caught up to me. Peg was (playfully) mad at me for not riding with them, and I didn't pick up on her teasing. (I apologized, we rode together to Elma, and all was forgiven). In chatting with Peg, Allison and Jon, I had mentioned a goal of getting to Centralia by dark, but at the speeds we were going, that was looking remote. I think darkness will strike halfway on Centralia-Alpha road, I surmised. Peg is all confidence: "The Tahuya Hills are overrated. If you got a granny use it, no problems", she says. Now, I wish I could say the same thing.

Centralia-Alpha road had some steep pitches. The first one was particularly steep, a rather rude introduction. Subsequent stretches saw the three of us leap frog each other a lot. Eric mentioned in his ride report that some of the pitches were as punishing as the Tahuya Hills, but in all honesty, even though we climbed a few ridges, it was not quite the Tahuya Hills. About 10 miles into this road, we stopped to dork ourselves up with reflective vests and legbands. Peg and Allison sported Sam Browne belts, and the three of us set off again. A rider passed us, but I don't remember who it was. Might have been Allan. I nearly hit a deer on a wicked descent, but I yelled out aloud and the deer bounded away.

Just before the turn onto Salzer valley road, we came upon Don Smith, who stated that his ride was over because of a wonky knee. Peg rode with him, and I pulled away, knowing that we would meet up in Centralia at the worst, and sure enough, barely 2 minutes after I pulled into the gas station, Peg, Allison and Jon pulled into. The time was near 10p [approximaton].

Centralia to Elma

Bill Dussler was here, and he was napping. I ate something here, and I don't know what. Jon Muellner arrived, and stated that he was going to take a nap. Bill, Peg, Allison and I resolved to ride together, and left around 10.25p. I would have left early, but I wanted some company to ride at night. We formed a nice orderly paceline, and took nice pulls. We even picked up 2 riders, and the 6 of us took turns at the front. The pace hovered near 20 kmph, with some familar stretches of road (from the Fleche).

Allison saved our butt once, spotting the left turn on to Cemetery road, when all of us barelled through, and we were back on course. Shortly afterward, about 4 miles from the control, Owen Richards and I got dropped from the pack. Owen is one of the creators of the route, and it was funny to hear him say that both organizers DNF'd on their pre-ride. Apparently they got in late, slept in late, and missed the first control on day 2.

We pulled into Elma around 1.15p, and ate some food, courtesy of Melinda Morrow and Max. After setting a wake up time of 4.45a, Bill Dussler and I left for the same room, after handing our bikes over to Fred Mulder. I showered, and then hit the sack around 1.35a.

Day 2: Elma to Potlatch

I woke up with a start, and looked at the watch, and the time was 5.15a. Bill was already dressed and putting on his shoes. I had overslept by 30 minutes, the wakup call no doubt botched up the hotel, who probably just merged the two wake-up calls together. Steve Hameister was also asleep, and I dressed hurriedly and quietly, and set off for the lobby aronund 5.35. Ate some more food, and then set off around 5.50a. Jon left about a minute ahead of me, but he stopped to put on some more clothing, and I kept going.

I had slightly less than 2 hours in the bank, and the next 2 controls would be my only opportunity to bank some more time. My legs were a bit tired, but not so tired as my first 600. The route to Potlatch was very familiar to me, as I had navigated this stretch on last years 400, for a bunch of 5 riders. I was alone on this stretch, Cloquallum road was foggy, but had no traffic, and was a wonderful stretch of road. After a short climb on 101, there was a roaring descent down to the level of the Hood Canal, and Potlatch.

Potlatch to Kay's corner

I don't remember the exact time now, but it was shortly before 9a. Ralph and Carol Nussbaum were just leaving the control, but there was quite a gang there. I saw Albert Meerscheidt, which is kind of a mini-accomplishment for me, because I never see him at any of the controls on any brevets. Peg and Allison arrived shortly after, but I didn't wait for them and bogeyed on. SR 104 is a nasty stretch of road, with dreaded chipseal, and a mine-field of glass and small pebbles that would have to be navigated to get to Kay's corner, but it also had some nice views of the Olympic mountains.

I stopped to take a picture once, but otherwise I continued on, till I experienced a difficulty pedalling. My front tire had gone soft. I always get a flat on SR-104. As I sat down to fix the flat, everybody passed me, and I thought surely I must be the lanterne rouge. I took the tyre off the rim, and proceeded to scan for the miscreant, which turned out to be a truck bead. I thanked Wayne Methner for that little tip, reassembled my tyre and took off.

Arrived incident free at Kay's corner at around 11a I think.

Kay's Corner to Seabeck

On the 300 this year, I had arrived, mixed up 2 bottles of Sustained Energy, and had taken off, all in the space of 5 minutes. There was a huge gang of randos here and I sat down to eat something, after mixing up my bottles. Greg Paley took some pictures of the group, and offered food and a disinfecting wipe. Awesome help at this control. The other person at the control, walked around with an assortment of foods, offering them to us at our seats, allowing us our rest. Paul left ahead of us, but after a 10 minute break, I set off with Albert Meerscheidt, Michel Schonfeld, and Tom. My legs were not tired, but they were not fresh as daisies either, but I was determined to plod through them.

Tahuya River Road is coarse chipseal, and I tried my best to enjoy where I was. A nice sunny day, with nice mountain views to go around, and low traffic roads. I have lost my fear of Tahuya River Road, but it still bites people. Paul had a flat just into this road, and after making sure he was okay, we kept moving. I was riding with Tom, and we tried to ride through as much shade as possible. Not weaving across the road, but just riding through the few patches of shade that we encountered.

Dewatto Road is another story. It packs quite a wallop, and progress was very slow. VERY very slow. The great thing about Dewatto road is that when you do get to the top, you get some nice views of the Olympics, and then that wicked descent down to the Canal. You are gifted with a short flat stretch, and then the horror begins. I never remembered such nasty rollers on any of the 300's that I have done here. It was just hill after blasted hill, and I made my way over them the best I could, bombing down the downhills, and trying to climb without shifting into my granny.

Deja Vu all over again on Seabeck Holly Road, as each roller made us think that we were near the monster hill, but no, it would flatter only to deceive. This was a tough stretch, but we had lots of shade. Albert and Mitchel would pull off at the first instance of shade, and I realized that the heat was getting to them. When I finally did arrive at the bottom of Holly Hill, I stopped to take a picture. I think Steve Hameister was ahead of me at this point, and he climbed the hill before I could start on it. I started with great apprehension, knowing that the next couple of minutes would be heck-on-earth. All bad things do end, and I finally "summitted" only to be treated to more darn climbs. Jon passed me on this stretch, spinning away from me, as I tried my darndest to stay with him. The route sheet mentions this as a 10 mile stretch and that is a darned lie. It is more like a 15 mile stretch.

Finally, the great descent into Seabeck, except this time, it didn't really seem like a monster descent, and the winds off the water offered some relief from the heat of the day. I arrived at a little past 2p, having taken a solid 3 hours to do the 30 mile stretch. I had not banked any time, but I had not lost any time either and that served as a nice morale boost.

Seabeck to Port Gamble

The owners of Seabeck General Store are great supporters of the club. I bought a liter of water, and a Pay-Day bar and sat down to escape the heat of the day. I used the restroom, and set off immediately with Jon, who then proceeded to drop me on the first climb out of Seabeck. I made the turn onto Anderson Hill Road, and knew that I was going to be punched in the mouth.

I remember this road, only as 2 descents and a third climb. Blame it on the night riding on the 300 I suppose. The route sheet also mentions that this is just a 2.7 mile stretch. The first descent and ascent were not bad enough, but the second descent was tough, because you can see the horror that awaits you on the other side. I bombed down, tucked in and pedalled like a madman, and that was good enough to get me to the middle of the second hill, wherupon I shifted into my granny and held on for dear life, as traffic zoomed past at 50 mph. Not much fun, but I somehow crested the second one, but Olympic View Dr was not to be found. I waited here for a while for Steve to catch up, and then the two of us would have a little conference and make sure that we were not lost. Steve however was late in arriving, so I flagged down a pickup and asked him if I had missed Olympic View Dr. He replied that it was further down the road and sped off. I dumped all the plastic and metal cans that I had been lugging since Potlatch (don't like to trash) in one of the recycling bins there, and waited for Steve.

Steve had just walked up the hill, a really smart thing to do, considering the traffic volume. We rode together, and finally saw the next turn. The next few turns are wel known to me, and we stayed together till Pioneer way, which we usually take for a short distance on the 300. However, this ride would take us all the way on Clear Creek/Pioneer. This road featured short and longish rollers, that really tested my patience and my resolve. I asked Steve to go on, but he kept saying "I will ride with you just a little bit longer", and never did pull away. I suspect I was going through a mini-bonk here, but riding with Steve helped, we both got into the Port Gamble control at around 5p, I think [not sure].

I had whined [earlier] about doing these hills afte 200 odd km. It was something completely different after 500k in one's legs.

Port Gamble to Finsh [Island Country Inn]

Jon Muellner had gotten to the control earlier and remarked that he fully expected me to at least appear as a blip on the radar behind him, but he never saw me. He was drinking a V-8 and eating a Chocolate Ice Cream. I got my card signed, bought a bottle of Gatorade, and left immediately, barely 5 minutes after I got in. Peg and Allison arrived just as I was leaving, but I did have 2 others who left in front of me, that I could possibly catch. I almost did catch upto them on the turn to Port Gamble Road, but they pulled away on an uphill.

I am very familiar with Port Gamble Road. This road has such blasted chipseal that my E6 was knocked off its moorings and crashed into my front wheel, when I did the Hood Canal North Permanent last year. So, I made the turn with a huge amount of dread in my mind as to how I would work on this section.

I must say I was quite surprised. I almost caught up to the two guys in front of me, but they pulled away on a steep stretch. I stopped to call my wife and tell her how I was doing, and also called Shane to tell him to go on home without me (I would just catch the bus home). I looked at my watch and it said 6.20p. Did I have a chance at a personal best? Probably not. I crossed Gunderson Road, and if you look up Port Gamble Road climbs this really steep ridge, and it can be demoralizing, but I climbed it with not too much trouble.

Crossing Agate pass was not bad as I managed to catch a break in traffic. The smell of the barn egged me on, and I started hammering the last stretch home. I was doing excess of 30 kmph in stretches, and for a while it looked like I would get a PB, but it was not to be. I finished in 36:52, beating out Jon Muellner, who tried to chase me down, but was 4 minutes too late. :)

Mark Thomas, Duane Wright and Mark Roehrig were there at the finish. I could have scrammed for the 7.10 ferry, but chose to sit down, eat something, and take the next ferry over. It was great fun greeting all the riders as they came in, and we all left in one big bunch for the ferry. Many congratulations were offered and praise liberally doled out on the ride over, before separating in Seattle.

I was quite happy with the way I rode on day 2, unlike my first 600, where I limped my way in. I take a lot of positives from this ride, though I need to work on speed and climbing.

End result: J'ai qualifié pour PBP!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Wrestling with a Grizzly.

I rarely have a case of the nerves before a ride, but this week, I find myself stricken with a strong case of nervousness as Saturday approaches. This weekend is PBP Step #4, the SIR 600K featuring the infamous Tahuya Hills and a grand total of 22500-odd feet of elevation gain (according to the over-estimating Delorme Topo USA). While I am happy that this is going to very closely simulate the PBP stretch from Loudeac to Brest, I am also jittery.

As my constant back of the pack finishes will attest, climbing and speed aren't my strengths, and I am extremely nervous about the upcoming ride. Especially, the prospect of tackling the Tahuya Hills after 450-odd K, and the possibility that I may not be able to sleep at all, if I am slow getting to Elma. I had the same jitters before last years 1000k, but somehow pulled through the tough second day, which featured Washington and Rainy Passes. However, that was after I had already completed the Olympic Peninsula 600, so I had a bunch more miles in my legs at that point. I take some solace in the fact that if I do run out of time on this ride, I can always do the "easier" Olympic Peninsula 600 or the OR 600. But, I would like to finish this ride, and qualify for PBP using this ride.

Preparation has consisted of doing a few hills, interval training on the Burke-Gilman, and 3 straight weeks of 130miles+ riding to work. I am taking the bus on Thursday and Friday to rest my legs. With a personal best of 36:42 for the 600 distance, a new Personal Worst for the 600K distance on Sunday night seems certain.

The quote ”We choose to do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”, comes to mind. Tough rides are like badges of honour, to be worn proud; a source of tall tales, to be told several years later, when none of the SIR folk are within earshot. ("I had to wrestle a wayward grizzly at 500K and pedalled the Tahuya hills with one leg and one arm"). I normally don't ask for brevet medals, but I shall certainly ask for one for this ride. If I do complete this ride, the medal will own a pride of place in my brevet memorabilia, next to the 1000k medal of last year.

Good luck, everyone. Here is to hoping that we can all walk on Monday and walk with our heads held high.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

SIR Spring 400: No signature for you!

Many thanks to Bob Magyar, Amy Harman, Rick Haight, Dan Turner, Mike Richeson, Steve Hameister and Kent Peterson, for some very admirable support at the start, along the way, and at the finish. We could not have done it without these folks.

A course without major hills promises a fast day. The distance was obviously a challenge: no 400K is to be taken for granted; however, a 400K with mountain passes is considerably more challenging than the 400 that was planned for today. Having recorded either a personal best or course best on each of my brevet rides this year, I entered the day with a great deal of confidence. The Fleche was a very enjoyable experience and maybe, just maybe I would lower my personal best. Reality however, was different. My body did not react very well at all to cycling at that early hour. I let everybody go, and rode for a while with Ted Vedera, who volunteered at the Kalaloch control last year, during the Spring 600K.

The day had begun fairly well. I caught a ride with Shane to the start, meeting him at the Jack in the Box, in Woodinville, a leisurely 10 minute ride from my house. 3.50a. We reached Arlington at 4.35, and I hurriedly pumped up my tires, and got my stuff ready. There was a huge crowd, at least 85 people, and it certainly was the biggest 400k I have ever seen. We set off at the stroke of 5, after Bob gave us some pre-ride instructions.

Paul Whitney rode with me for about a mile or two. I had made a rear-mud flap for him, and though we talked about stopping and handing it over, we never did, and as his pace was definitely higher than what I could muster, I sent him on. He was filled with disbelief. "Oh, really?", he asked. My legs at 5a, replied in the affirmative.

I was under dressed, and stopped to put on some clothing, and pretty much was at the back of the pack. Gradually however, the legs kicked in, and we made good time to the turn onto Cascade-Rockport Road, which was the nastiest chip seal. Ron Himschoot, normally not one to complain, said 7 miles in to the road, "just 3 more miles of this nastiness". Couldn't agree more.

The day was warming up as we got to Marblemount, where I spent some 20 minutes, getting water, mixing up my Sustained Energy, and using the restroom, which was busted. So, it took a long time. I set off alone into the wind, and it would be my constant companion for the next 40 miles. I almost caught up to Ron a few times when he stopped to pee, but as I got to within a few hundred yards of him, he would jump on his bike and set off. It would have been great to have somebody to share a paceline with, but it was not to be. Blame it on my own lack of speed.

When I finally got to Sedro Wooley, I was very irritated with the adverse turn of weather. My average was still higher than 20kph, but I realized that as I got slower as the day progressed, my demeanour would change significantly. After the usual control activities, I set off for Sumas, and the Canadian border.

Highway 9 was scary at times, but overall had great views of Mt Baker and Mt. Shuksan (sp?). Quite a few cyclists were heading South, probably on some organized ride. I also had the great fortune of seeing a very old train compartment heading South. The train itself had only one coach, and was preceded by one of them trolleys on the tracks. That was interesting. The 4 guys on the trolley all waved to me like I was a rock star or something.

A little before the Xtreme Bean turn, I passed 200K, and since I had hit this point in 9h 40 minutes, I entertained fantasies of finishing in 19+ hours. This despite not feeling that great. The stretch to Sumas was on roads that I cycled during my first 300K, and it is amazing what the brain can remember of roads and places. It was Deja vu all over again. I didn't however get honked at like last time.

I finally got to Sumas, and most of the folks left before I got my control card signed and used the loo. I looked for Allison, but she was either ahead of me or behind me, and there was no chance I could ride with her at night (I had promised to, if we were nearby). Joined forces with John Vincent and the vegetarian brigade fought the endless winds again, and got to Birch Bay around 6.30, shortly joined by John Vincent, Paul Johnson (who was ahead of me at some point) and Chuck Pailthorp. The latter two are from our Fleche team. The control was staffed by Kent and Mike, who made sandwiches for us, signed our control cards and were an ocean of cheer, something I sorely needed after my angst against the wind.

Not wanting to burn daylight, I took off, promising to cycle (relatively) slowly, and then made my way to Bellingham, where I saw the most incredible of all sunsets. Great fiery reds and a subtle pink coloured the dusk sky, and made me appreciate the beauty nature can sometimes display. When I reached Bellingham, Noel Howes was at the Chevron station.

The clerk at this Chevron station was talking to his friend about some of his escapades with girls at the store. One of them involved him, and his topless girlfriend in the store cooler. I don't know if all the stuff he mentioned were real or not (my money is on not real), but they certainly was not something my poor tired brain could handle. After retrieving a (yellow) cap left behind by a fellow randonneur, Noel and I set out to handle Chuckanut Drive at night.

I have only cycled Chuckanut Drive during the day, and this was the first time I was dealing with the curvy road at night. The climbs were not that hard, but Noel was a considerably stronger rider than I am, and he took off, never to be seen again. Bow-Edison road was a nasty morass of chip seal, and just as I started yawning again, Kent and Mike drove by. I asked them if they had any coffee, but they mentioned that the next control would surely have some. I wonder now if they refused help because of the no-help-except-at-controls rule. Or maybe they just didn't have any spare coffee on them. I got to Whitney around 11.40a, somehow with all my bones intact, and sure enough the aforementioned "gents" were staffing the control. I met Steve Hameister there too.

I went in to the control, hunted for some Starbucks DoubleShot and headed back to the Cashier to pay. He refused to sign my card! There is a first time for everything, I guess. He would gladly sell me my drink, but "I don't have to sign this, you know?", he said. I didn't ask why, just said it was all right. He opened up. Apparently he was pretty peeved about somebody "throwing" money at him (as a tip?), "throwing" their card at him, and also leaving all kinds of garbage out on the sidewalks. "It is not your fault", he continued, "but I have had enough". I apologized again, on behalf of the riders and the club, and he climbed down. "I will sign yours", he said.

Now, randonneurs are first class people. I know that is a self-adulatory statement, but it really is true. The proportion of classy people to the jerks is far higher than the general populace, and I am yet to meet a single jerk on any of the rides. In 2 countries to boot. I have only met polite and kind people, and helpful souls. Kent, Mike and Steve were in utter disbelief when I mentioned this incident to them, and Steve offered to sign my card. I was wondering why the clerk would have had a negative experience with our riders:

I came up with a few reasons:

1) With the increase in new riders among our ranks some may not know how much we owe these clerks, who really go beyond the call of duty, and sign our cards, take the time to find out what we do (and then pronounce us insane).

2) Huge numbers of riders? This being PBP year, we are seeing double the number of riders than is usual. Being asked to do something 80 times over, may be stressful to these clerks, and he was just irritated? (Maybe we should ask for a receipt?)

3) The 400 being one of the toughest distances to get through, in concert with the terrible head and cross winds we all experienced, riders could get crabby, and hence not be on their best behaviour.

4) He was just being too sensitive?

In any case, we depend on these controls a lot, and though it is good business for them, I have a feeling we need them more than they need us.

When Mike saw me buy the DoubleShot, he went in and bought a few for the riders coming in, as they would not have a chance to buy Coffee after the store closed. Very thoughtful indeed. Fantastic support on this ride. I left the control, eager to get back on the road and do the final push towards Arlington. Any hopes of a sub-20h finish were now dashed, but I didn't have far to go.

The knowledge that some quiet back roads lay ahead, some coffee in my system, and the satisfaction of having mostly completed the brevet filled me with great energy as I set off. Tulip Gardens abound in the first few sections of road, but now that the season was over, were all empty. Pioneer Highway was a long, dark in places stretch of road, with wide shoulders in most places, and some seemingly forever gentle uphills, and the noxious smell of animal farms. Didn't feel like the Skagit "flats" to me.

About 7 miles North of Arlington, I saw a white mist in the glow of the Sodium Vapour lamps, and thought it was mist, but a few miles later it was rain. Not very hard at first, but it started coming down a bit more insistently. A cursory observation of my computer revealed that I had a mere 5 miles to go, so I didn't bother to put on booties or waterproof gloves. Silvana's bars were closing and the drunks were getting out, but I kept a watchful eye and thankfully rode uneventfully to I5.

Crossing Interstate 5 was sweet, and the turn on to the motel meant PBP Step 3 was now over. The time was 02:29a, not a personal best time, but considering the wind and the time I spent at some of the controls, a good time. Bob signed my card, and Amy was there to offer congratulations and some much needed nourishment. As I was pigging out, I heard a tale I won't soon forget. My good friend Mike Huber had crashed, broken his collarbone, called for help, drove himself to the hospital, came back, asked to be taken to the exact spot where he crashed, and rode to the finish. Now that is what I call determination.

I went to bed at 3.30a, and caught a ride with Paul Johnson back home. I now await the ultimate in butt-kickings at the 600.

PS: Allison Bailey fueled by some pie, finished in an impressive time of 19h 45m. And, she hung with fast people all day, so she didn't need my help. Peg and I speculate that her pie contained "performance-enhancing substances". RUSA take note.

PS2: Peg is in no position to criticize, as she had some of that pie herself.