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?

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