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.