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.