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 :)