Saturday, December 6, 2008

Familiar roads, unfamiliar pain.


Familiar roads are fun, like visiting an old friend. While some things remain the same, there is always great pleasure in noticing something new about them. Some permanents qualify as old friends. Some of the perks include not having to consult the route sheet much, being aware of what turns are to be made, and what each turns looks like, and the scenery in general terms. Some of the newness comes from construction, the weather, seasonal changes, time-of-day changes, your body, and the like.

Pain however, is not much fun. It's like visiting a few relatives of mine. When I was at their homes, all I could do was try and find something to alleviate the "pain". My body betrayed me on this ride. My mileage this past few months has been very low. It's my own fault of course, but it gave me a good reminder of how little we can take for granted in the randonneuring world.
Needing a 200k for December, and seeing a rare (for December) above freezing day, I set off for the Arco Gas station in Redmond to do the Snoqualmie Valley and Falls Permanent this past Saturday. I rode to the start, and as the fog thickened I stopped a couple of times to seriously ponder whether I should even do this ride today. But, nice days in December are not to be wasted. This kept me going.

My original plan was to start at 5a, but I overshot the Arco gas station, and then rode back to get a receipt, only to find out that I really needed to use the bathroom. The Arco station had no food and no restrooms, and so I was forced to go to the 7-11 near Sammamish Valley Cycle. The clerk there refused to let me use the bathroom, so I just bought food. As I lined up to pay, he asked me if I was from India. When I replied in the affirmative, he let me use the restroom in the back: no lock on the door, and the door didn't close completely. Lovely! Apparently he thought that an Indian wouldn't mind the substandard restroom facilities. I was in no position to argue the injustice of it all to him however. Redmond 7-11 bathrooms are apparently for Indian looking people only.

6a: Start to Lake Stevens

It was foggy. The climb up Novelty Hill Road wasn't particularly cruel, and the turns came fast and easy, and the route sheet was rarely consulted. The joy of riding familiar roads. The sun started poking his head out of the mountains near Snoqualmie Valley Road, and I stopped to take a picture of the glorious light on the greenery.
Traffic was light, but the lights at all of the farms were on. Some people start early. I reached Lake Stevens with plenty of time to spare, and took off after about 10 minutes. My left knee let me know that it was still in trouble, but nothing untoward.

Lake Stevens to Sultan

The fog was lifting, and the trail was full of runners, and quite a few men wearing "Army" uniforms running on the trail. I almost took out one gentleman who hastily turned left with nary a warning, and my "On the left" went for nought: iPod. Just before the climb up Old Owen Road I met another bicyclist out on a permanent ride:
Unenventful roads and an even more uneventful climb up Old Owen Road later, I was at the SubShop in Sultan, which is a faster stop than the Bakery (blasphemy!). My plans of holding off Mark Roberts (who was to start an hour and a half later on this same ride) succeded. But as I was finishing my food I was greeted with "Narayan, what are you doing here?". It was Mark. I had only beaten him here by 10 minutes! ;)

Sultan to North Bend

I set off ahead of Mark (who got a nice Coffee and a sandwich), knowing fully well that he would catch me before long. This has always been the stretch where I have lost time in the past, and this was no exception. However, I pushed the pace a little, trying to gain some time, and this had disastrous consequences. Shortly before the return trek on W Snoqualmie Valley Road, my left leg started troubling me too. It wasn't the knee, but rather the outside of the right knee right where the upper part of the leg attaches to the lower part of the leg (hey, I am not a doctor).

I slowed the pace down, and stopped to stretch the IT Band. Mark caught me just as I started back up, and rode with me for a while. My evening plans included the Nutcracker at McCaw hall (My wife's company Christmas Party), and Mark's included dinner with friends. After asking me to raise my saddle a little bit, Mark took off. Did I stop and raise my saddle? Nope. I was quite sure that it wasn't anything to do with fit. After all, I had completed a 1000 with this same fit. Near Sandy's, my right knee started hurting a "tad". I didn't have time to stop and have coffee at Carnation. I was riding slower than 15kmph now as I ignored my legs' request. This weather may not come around again. I did stop and stretch a few times.

The climb up to the falls, was not quite as bad I thought it would be. I half expected to not encounter Mark on his way back from North Bend, but I did see him in Snoqualmie, shouting encouragement. When I got to North Bend, I was thankful for the break.

North Bend to Redmond

A sane man would have bagged it here. Home wasn't that far off. I thought about the weather, the R-24, and plodded on after about a 10 minute break. Darkness was falling all around us and Mt Si was lit up beautifully from the setting sun. I was running late, and didn't manage to win any brownie points on this ride, that's for sure. I don't remember much of the details of this section, except to say that I tried to find every conceivable leg position, pedal action and muscle pressure. The final solution (shudder!) was to move my knee towards the top-tube, and not apply any pressure at all on the downward stroke of my right leg. This gave me relief from the pain, but the pace was horrible. I finally arrived at the Fred Meyer about 11 hours and 45 minutes after I started. I was running late for the Christmas Party and in some pain.

My left knee hurt, but my right knee was in a class apart. I saw a doctor, and have been recommended Physical Therapy, and a bike fit at the hands of Mr Erik Moen.

Nutcracker Update

I came home, showered and very quickly set off for Downtown Seattle. We were quite late to the Christmas Party and all the vegetarian food was gone. Nice! To top matters off, I kept nodding off during the Ballet, and despite my wife's best attemts at keeping me awake by nudging, hitting, and tapping all failed. I don't think I am a ballet man.

Knee Update
Having been thoroughly freaked out by the experience, I visited Erik Moen at Corpore Sano, and got a bike fit. He was aghast at my bike fit. My self-guided idiocy was hard on his eyes, and he set me up the right way (My saddle was raised 3 cms). The benefit he said, will be better climbing ability and better speed. I have been cleared to ride 10-20 miles on flat lands only. My January permanent is now under serious jeopardy. However, all this snow and ice has meant that I haven't been out to test my new position.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Randonneuring sometimes involves mountaineering.

Somewhere near the end..

There I was, 118-odd miles into my Whidbey - La Conner permanent. Riding the flat sections near the river, I was making good time. I had taken my time at some of the contrôles using it to recover and such, but I still had plenty of it to fritter away. After all, how much would I need to cover those last 8 or so miles?! All good.

The scene now shifts to barely a half-mile away, and I think you know what is coming: I am on all fours, climbing this terrible mountain, wondering if I am ever going to get to the top?! I am in my lowest gear, with a howling left knee, looking up at this wall, and wondering where the clichè'd crampons were in my Carradice. SIR has struck again!

Start to Coupeville

It began much better than this, honestly. I got an early start on the permanent, leaving home at around 5.20. My wife dropped me off at the Ferry terminal, and I was second in line. A nice breakfast on the relatively short ride ferry ride to Clinton left me fueled for the ride ahead. Time was 6:30. Not wishing to waste these empty roads, I left Clinton at 6:30, after a nice break at the Passenger wait area. Downtown Clinton was empty, and not a soul to be found.

My mind wandered back to those empty roads... Why do we love to ride? We love riding at night because of the stars, the lack of traffic and the melancholy stillness. We love riding during the day because we'd enjoy the outdoors better and daylight is not to be wasted. We love riding early in the morning because of the sunrise, the quiet, and well, empty roads. Is there ever a time of day we don't love to ride?! A randonneur uses every excuse in the book. Someday someone is going to have to write a book about randonneuring. I bet it will become some kind of classic like "Old Man and the Sea" (which is required reading for a randonneur by the way).

The next few miles were spent climbing and descending over and over again, but on perfect pavement, clean empty roads and wonderful greenery. The odd car would go by, but the stillness was mostly broken by a cough of mine that I couldn't shake away. Every now and then a dog would bark in the distance, unnerved undoubtedly by this oddly-attired man on this weird rolling contraption. Boundaries were respected, and knowing glances were exchanged, one side curious, the other side, wary.

Near the Keystone Ferry Terminal turnoff, I was back on familiar ground. My wife and I toured these parts in 2005, and took this very same ferry to Port Townsend. Plesant memories. I pondered stopping for coffee at one of those wheel-away huts, but the call of the general store was too strong. By the way, it hides inside a gas station.

Coupeville to La Conner

Coupeville is a small town. A gas station to the left, and a mall to the right. You'd miss the commercial area if you blinked. But the town had the first traffic light in the last 27-odd miles, and so missing the contrôle was pretty much out of the question. I am sure somebody (no names!) will prove me wrong! ;) I was greeted by a cheery clerk who informed me that there were no services between here and Oak Harbour, a hardy 10-mile ride. No point bragging. But this is a nice contrôle with all the rando essentials: clean restrooms, perfect location, food and water.

I was genuinely excited about the next few miles. I knew I was going to go over Deception Pass, but it has been a few years since I passed this way by bicycle. There are some wonderful-but-devious roads away from SR20 (Madrona Road being one of them). This road features 18-20% hills, and we found it hard going on our tour. We didn't take any of these roads today, as the road hugged the coast, and the waters of the sound glistened blue in the distance.

I rolled through Oak Harbour, but traffic - though heavy - was extremely courteous, with everybody moving to the left lane at the first sight of a cyclist in the distance. Oak harbour has some of the very few traffic lights on this route. The wide shoulders of SR20 gave way to narrow shoulders and somewhat oddly high traffic past Oak Harbour, where the uber-strong rider Ward Beebe lives. Now Ward is one of those people who I get to see at the start of the ride and never again. I half expected him to be out riding. This weather was not to be missed.

Deception Pass is oddly not that hard of a climb, but the road does climb gently for a little while, but you are completely in the shade and concentrating on riding the narrow shoulder that the grade passes by in no time. Around a little bend, and suddely you see the structure ahead, with beautiful ocean views opening out in front of you. I rode the two bridges quickly through, waiting for breaks in traffic each time. This was a time to stop, admire, and EAT! I spent about 10 minutes eating and gawking much to the amusement of the people passing by.

The turn to Deception Road comes just as a tempting downhill beckons, and caution is recommended. However, this is the end of beautiful pavement for a while, as chipseal takes over, but cannot ruin a beautiful descent to the water, and a nice sequence of turns. This stretch is hilly though. Snee-Oosh road reminded me of the Tahuya Hills. Narrow roads, chipseal, and no traffic. You go through a beautiful red bridge (which had me ruing forgetting my Camera), and you are in La Conner. My preferred stop is the grocery store.

La Conner to Arlington

This was a nice stop for me. Eager to get some rest, I lollygagged (or faffed around, take your pick), eating, drinking, getting rid of trash, and basking in the sun. It was a glorious day, and plenty of people were out enjoying the many little shops that make up La Conner. Many of the roads from this point on were completely familiar to me. These roads are really busy during Tulip Season in April, where these fields are full of tulips of every conceivable colour, and lots and lots of people and traffic. Do not ride this route on an April weekend. Save for a little hill on Fir Island Road, the route turns completely flat. I was also treated to several beautiful vistas of Mount Baker, with just a little cloud on top. Not very many cyclists out today, but I saw my first cyclist on Cemetery road, just before I found myself in Arlington.

Arlington to Snohomish

Arlington serves several roles in our permanents. Starting contrôle, ending contrôle, and of course, contrôle. Today, it was just a contrôle. I was bonking a bit on Cemetry road, and ate my fill here. I waited about 10 minutes for the cleaning of the bathrooms to finish, and spent a good 20 minutes here. I left a little upset about wasting so much time, but I shouldn't have. Worrying about a fast time on a permanent isn't worth it.

I was clad in my usual Blue Jersey, which sadly is getting a little frayed around the pockets, and my trusty Showers Pass jacket, which shows the battle scars of one too many road repairs. My shorts are getting frayed too, and I am scared of buying wool shorts because they will boil me when it's hot out. I bought these cheap shorts in Canada for about 20$ a pop, and they have worked well for me. Would be hard to replace these, but a trip to Sammamish Valley Cycle seems imminent [eDelux, here I come!].

I took the Centennial Trail option, and sucked for the first few miles that the trail gently climbs. But, the lack of traffic was a great thing indeed. My goal was to get to Snohomish by dark and that goal looked pretty much unattainable. A lot of walkers, some with dogs, some on roller blades, and precious few on bikes littered the route. Leaves were aplenty on the trail, as is a nice coating of the green stuff. Takes careful riding sometimes.

Just before Snohomish, I met two riders with Carradice bags, and when I called out to them thinking they were randonneurs, they stopped and turned around to meet me. It turned out to be un-randonneurs, but people who were interested in our style of riding anyways. I did my best to get them to come and ride with us, using the Winter Ride Series as bait. I told them about our website, and hopefully they remembered the spelling of "rando". After an enjoyable tete-a-tete, I bid adieu and continued after dressing up for the night.

Snohomish isn't far away from the trail, and the 76 gas station was a welcome sight indeed.

Snohomish to the Finish

The ride had been very enjoyable thus far. The hills were manageable, the weather was awesome, the wind wasn't too strong, and my spirits were high despite a nagging pain in my left knee that I had been feeling since Arlington. I have been focussing on improving my pedal stroke, and putting extra effort seems to mess it up sometimes. This was the kind of pain I experienced on my 600 DNF, and that went away after about 4 days.

I left this contrôles pretty quickly, in under 5 minutes, a commendable achievement for me these days. The next 5 or so miles was very straightforward as we hugged the Snohomish river. The lights of Everett gleamed in the distance, and traffic was fairly heavy through here, but courteous.

I have read a few reports of this route, and almost everyone mentions the hill at the end. I scanned the route sheet futilely for where the hill would hit. Nothing could be gleaned from the names of the roads, but I needn't have worried. A left turn and I was face to face with the WALL of Everett. I slowly chugged up, and about halfway my left knee told me that it wasn't very happy to be around me anymore, and promptly quit. Not being able to apply much force on one left quickly left me sore in the other, but I made my way to the right turn on S 3rd st, but stopped there to rest for about a minute. I saw 3kmph on my computer once. Terrible! My memory fails me on the nature of 52nd st, but I am guessing that was a climb too. I stopped again to rest after the right turn onto Colby Avenue, which thankfully had a nice downhill stretch to boost my spirits.

One does not lose elevation for nothing on these hills; one loses it to be subjected to further torture. 41st was a windy road, which also featured some climbs, but thankfully none were as obscenely steep as Lowell Road. The next 5 miles were all up and down, and I was left wondering if this were how the PBP course would be. That thought shut my whining up pretty quick, as I slogged through the last 3 miles to be rewarded with a nice gentle downhill to the finish.

I got my receipt at the seafood restaurant, and beat a hasty retreat home with my wife. My left knee still hurts. I really missed my camera today.

Correction: Original post quoted the trail as Cedar River Trail. It was actually Centennial Trail. [Mark Thomas provided correction].

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Fall Colours, rain and euphoria


My October has looked like this: work work work, vacation (or pacation, as my nephew puts it), and sickness. Each of these things eliminated all the nice weekends. My addled brain somehow remembered that an October ride was yet to be recorded, and ailments be damned, I set out to do Leschi-Auburn-Redmond-Leschi, under the threat of oodles of precipitation. Fact of life in the Northwest.

I took the bus out to Montlake from my house, and then rode the 3.5 miles to Leschi in the early morning darkness. It wasn't cold and it wasn't raining yet. The pavement on Lake Washington Boulevard was atrocious. The wet pavement sucked up all the light my E6 was shining on the road. I got lost a few times, but made it to the start around 6.45a. It wasn't the last on this day. After munching on an Apple Fritter, I set off under threatening skies. It was dry, as of now. I briefly pondered abandoning the ride and restarting my R-12 quest #2 again, but pulled that thought out of my head pretty quick. It must have been the Apple Fritter at work.

Oh, and I forgot to take my gloves. I only had my Outdoor Research rain mitts; it turned out to be the only glove I would need all day.

Leschi to Ravensdale Market

The first part of this ride is almost completely flat, with very few inclines to worry about, but the steep little pitch to get to the turn on Seward Park Ave woke me up. The traffic on this road and on Rainier Avenue even at this early hour was enough to keep me on tenterhooks, but the turn onto Perimeter Avenue brought some respite from the automobile. I got completely confused by the directions to Cedar River Trail, and spent a good 1o minutes trying to find the parking lot mentioned. I chased after a passing cyclist (riding on the wrong side of the road), and asked her for directions. She pointed me the right way, and I resolved to update the route sheet when I got home.

It was one thing to find the trail, but another thing to follow the right trail. I took the right fork, and that lead me straight to huge pile of gravel. I beat a hasty retreat and was greeted by a little suicidal dog. I slammed on my brakes and yelled "hey!", while its owner about 50 feet away walked without a care in the world. The morning was cold and foggy, and the trail was chock full of leaves. The hills that parallelled the trail were full of trees changing colours, and I felt like a complete idiot for flying to the East Coast to see the fall colours. Much leaf peeping can be accomplished right here in the Pacific Northwest.

A couple of hours into the ride, and the rain started. It started slow, a gentle mist, and rose to a crescendo and pretty much stayed there until I got to Issaquah. Places to pull over and don some clothing were hard to come by. I kept on, passing the Maple Valley IGA that a few SIR riders have missed (while riding the Leschi-North Bend-Leschi permanent), not realizing that I had to get off the trail here. I thought briefly about it, but then continued on, thinking that the trail would end with a way to get to Highway 169. I found a nice tunnel to stop and don my helmet cover, and avoided wearing my rain pants and booties. I should have.

I must have paid more attention to my cyclecomputer. I overshot my turn, and ended up where the paved trail ends and the gravel starts, without a nice way to get back to the highway. I turned around mad at myself for missing the turn. Leaving the serenity of the trail to head over to the truck-infested Maple Valley Highway was hard indeed. The next two or so miles were some of the longest of my life: I kept thinking I was lost as the street numbers first went up, and then down, and then up again, making me want to stop and reconsider my route each time this happened. I eventually reconciled myself to just riding bonus miles when suddenly 244th St appeared to the left putting me out of my misery (in a good way!). The next little stretch was hilly with narrow roads, but beautiful as we went through steep pitch after steep pitch, making up for the ugliness of SR 169. The rain had thickened, and my lower body was completely drenched by this point. I arrived at Ravensdale market, completely drenched.

Ravensdale Market to Auburn

The look the woman womanning the store gave me was one of pure pity. A guy in a pickup, buying his favourite cancer stick asked me if I was commuting or out on a fun ride. When I mentioned I was out for fun, he said "Some fun this is!", and left after a cheery "stay safe out there!". I donned my rain pants and my booties, and my rain mitts, and not wishing to lose anymore of the measly 30 minutes that I had banked, left into the rain.

I got to SR 160, and the directions mentioned an immediate right turn onto Auburn Black Diamond Road, but I only saw Roberts Dr. Figuring that the route sheet was wrong, I kept on, hoping to come across an Auburn Black Diamond Road somewhere in the next half mile or so. Unfortunately, after about 2 miles in the pouring rain, I didn't find it. So I did the unmanly thing and asked for directions. I was told to head back the way I came and turn on Roberts Dr. (I came home and found out that the route sheet hadn't completely printed. Roberts Dr was mentioned in line 2). I had bombed down and climbed up some rollers and I had to repeat all of this again. I had lost precious time, and wasn't pleased.

The rain intensified, and though I was covered from head to toe in waterproof gear, my rain mitts had started letting water in, and my fingers were quitesoaked. I rued starting, and just hoped the ride would be over. I even thought about calling Sound Transit and plotting a bus ride home. I wasn't even halfway there, and I was already hating this ride. Thankfully not long after this low-point I found myself in the Valero gas station. I had all of 40 minutes in the bank. My excursion had probably cost me around 20 minutes.

Auburn to Cumberland

I must have been quite a sight as I entered the store and got my food and receipt. The woman at the counter looked oddly harried, and I did my best to not worsen her mood. Another dude in a bicycle stopped by and bought his favourite cancer stick. Of course, I have never met a rando who smoked. We may be of questionable sanity, but we aren't stupid. The restroom at this gas station was terrible though. I recommending going somewhere else.

I set off once again with a half hour in the bank. This was going to be one of those days. I felt weak on the bike, and weak between the ears. Neither did I have the power to make this ride go any faster nor did I have a way of making it more enjoyable. So I wallowed in a sea of self-pity, and cursed the weather in colourful language. I knew that the first few miles on Green Valley Road (from Greg Cox's Chili Feed 200) were mostly flat, and I looked forward to that stretch of road. Of course, Green Valley Road also features a climb for the last 2 or 3 miles, but all of it is pretty gentle grade. The farms along Green Valley Road were bare, but the stench of manure was thick in the air. In the spring Canadian Geese make their homes here in these farmlands temporary immigrating to the south. But this late in the year, they are probably in more comfortable environs.

My mood was quickly lifted up by the next few miles of road. I wasn't going anywhere fast, but at least I was in pleasing surroundings. The hills along this road featured trees of glorious yellow, the last hurrah of the leaves before they fell down dead. The trees were shrouded in fog and it was a very pleasing sight. I love the combination of fog and trees. The climb upto SR 169 was slow and painful, but completely bereft of traffic. There would be no stops at the Black Diamond Bakery, as we turned off onto Lawson. Feeling a bonk coming, I stopped and ate food in the rain, as car after car drove bemusedly by.

Some parts of this leg were completely new to me. I looked forward to the Green Gorge Road, as I was sure there would be some climbing, and I would get warm. The gradual plummet towards the gorge was pretty good, though the slippery conditions meant I couldn't quite let it rip downhill. A police car drove slowly by, and the officer waved to me as I started the climb out of the gorge. I arrived at Cumberland Grocery at 1.40, maintaining my nice 40 minute cushion. My only hope of banking some time would be on the flat stretches of E Lake Sammamish and the Burke Gilman Trail.

Cumberland to Woodinville

The stop at the controle was short, as I purchased supplies and left intent on eating on the go. The next few miles were familiar roads, and I knew that short of a mechanical problem, I would gain some time. The rollers before Issaquah went by, with my strength gradually returning. The rain stopped about 5 miles away from Issaquah, and while it didn't do wonders for my speed, it did make me feel better. I fought the traffic through Downtown Issaquah, and made it to the lakeside in one piece, where a fat shoulder insulated me from the cars. The hills to the west of the lake were chock full of leaves and the fiery reds in the sky from a sun making its way down were a special sight indeed. Not many cyclists out on the road, but I did see a few getting their rides in. The one thing about this route is it passes tantalizingly close to my house, but I resisted the call of home (near Chateau St Michelle), and pulled into the 7-11 dreaming of more food.

Woodinville to the Finish

A fast, flat and familiar section awaited: I left about 10 minutes after I arrived, but sunset was fast approaching. I donned all my reflective gear, dumped all my raingear and took off blissfully, knowing full well that most of the hills were done for the day. The trail was full of leaves and bicyclists without lights! I got confused by the "Turn RIGHT towards Hec Edmundson pavilion" clue and since I am not that familiar with the U-district pondered over why I had to ride in the opposite direction. The cue for Hamlin was a left turn, and that set me straight pretty quick. The last few miles are very turn heavy, so I carefully stopped at each turn making sure I wasn't getting lost. 12 hours and 20 minutes, but I had finished. My October Permanent is in the books. I hope I can recover well for getting in a November ride.

A highly recommended route!

Monday, September 22, 2008

OR Fall 600K: The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Pictures are here

Cecil's pictures are here (BETTER set)

Matt Mikul's set is here


First you make plans. and then they go all awry.

I had it all figured out. When I looked at Jan's insane (sorry, Jan) course for the Windy Ridge 600, I knew immediately that it wasn't a course that I could finish - I just wasn't there. His recommendation? The Oregon 600 was an "easier" alternative. I am all for easy. I made arrangements to ride that one, thinking it may be a tad easier than the Fall SIR 600. It turned out to be the hardest 600 I have ever ridden. I don't know how it compares to the Jan 600, but this was not an easy ride.

Mike Richeson and I decided to carpool together, and we left early Friday afternoon, went over Snoqualmie and Satus passes and got to The Dalles around 6.30p.

Mechanical troubles

We had some time to kill before dinner, and I decided to pump up my tyres using Mike's floor pump. And stupidly overdid it! My front tyre just would not hold air. The flat was due to perforations along the spoke holes in the tube. Gary called to say they had arrived at the restaurant so I didn't think much about it. We had made dinner plans with Gary Prince and Eamon Stanley, and I was most surprised to see Matt Mikul there, nursing a beer. SIR was out in full force for this event, with several trying to get their Super Randonneur awards: Matt Mikul, Gary Prince, Mike Richeson, Bill Gobie, Chuck Hoffman, Eamon Stanley and
myself. Eamon had already finished the 4-Pass 600, so this was going to be a gimme for him. Or so I thought.

After dinner we headed back to the motel, and as we were chilling out, my front tyre, sans provocation, completely let out all air, yet again! We took out the tube, and this time examined the rim a bit closely: The idiot (from BC) who built my wheel, had used rubber instead of a proper rim strip, and that was failing to hold the tube in. "
Ace mechanic" Eamon and Mike both recommended some Filament tape as a stop gap, but asked that I remove them immediately after I got back to Seattle, or it would become near impossible to remove.

We set out to the Safeway, bought some tape, and after some cutting and dicing, we fixed it. It was a great joint-effort. I held the rim, Mike cut the tape, and rolled it in, while Eamon guided both of us. I changed tubes, Eamon put the tyre in for me, and I pumped up the tyre (this time using my own pump!). We went to bed around 10p, and I woke up to find that my front tyre still held air. Hooray!

We got ready to leave the motel around 5:35, and after a quick registration with The Kramer, I received my route sheet. It was only one sheet of paper! We must be riding on a lot of highways I thought. My brain was still on at this point and checking the first cue indicated that the ride started at mile 184. That would be a problem. A general alarm was sounded, and new route sheets - complete this time - were provided.

Some old pals from Oregon were there: Bill Alsup and Cecil. I was sure to see more of them on the road. My quitting the Spring 600 had sapped me of some of my confidence, and in my mind, there wasn't much certainty about my ability to finish. I had no idea how much sleep I would get, what my average speed would be, or how I would feel after a few hundred kilometers in the saddle. Not knowing the terrain does that to you, as do DNFs. I vowed to not waste much time at the controls, and be ruthlessly efficient. As usual, my plans and their execution didn't exactly agree.

Day 1: Start to Roosevelt

My rim was constantly on my mind as we set off, and I thankfully had the foresight to ask Paul if there was anything between the start and Roosevelt. Nae was the answer, so though I was leading the pack out of town, I had to pull into the gas station and buy two bananas and a Snickers bar. The whole gang went ahead, and I managed to keep my stop short and stay within view of the taillights in the distance. Crossing the bridge was quite an experience, as traffic slowed to a crawl, but remained courteous. There was quite a vicious wind coming from the W or maybe WNW, but I made it across incident free, and started the long climb up to SR 14. The wind was constantly in our faces, and now screamed from the left. The peloton pulled away further. I was travelling along usually at a princely 13kph, and this was not looking good.

I passed Bill Schell on SR 14, and the cross wind was quite vicious. I heard from Cecil at the overnight, that the wind had picked her up and almost thrown her into a ditch. Progress was slow, and I crawled up the little incline before the right hand turn that would mean a rousing tailwind for at least the next 100-odd miles. There would be hell to pay on the way back, but who worries about those things when faced with a 100 mile relax fest ? We literally flew to Roosevelt, covering the 57 miles at an average of almost 18 miles per hour. The wind was an invisible hand, pushing us along, wiping out every single hill on the course. I shifted to the granny twice, and Bill Gobie had a field day, swooping down the hills, and leaving me agape at the pace of his descents. The route paralleled a train track for much of the route, and train traffic was present even at this early hour on both sides of the river.
The Oregon side had the interstate, and was much more traffic filled than the Washington side.

Oh the river! It was so wide, and coming from a part of the country with a serious water shortage (my mother is fond of asking for some of our water), such amounts of fresh water were a sight to behold. The last such big river that I had the opportunity to see was the Mississippi. The white caps on the water told us that the wind was being kind to us. The pavement was excellent, and largely devoid of any debris. It started raining on us after about an hours worth of riding. A rain jacket was needed, but I didn't bother wearing my rain pants or my helmet cover. I pulled into Roosevelt, in the rain, severely ahead of the control opening time. Ray Ogilvie, Andrew Black, Cecil, Bill Gobie, and Sal were already there, with Cecil and Sal getting ready to leave. It was my fastest ever century.

Day 1: Roosevelt to Umatilla

A sub-8 200k seemed very likely, if only I could get in and get out of the control quickly. I forgot to get water the first time, and thought I could save time by using the water from the rest room but there was so much chlorine in it that I came out and waited in line. And then her cash machine was broken! I had already spent 10 minutes at this control, and was getting impatient. I asked her if $2 would cover it, and when she said yes, I just left $2 on the counter and fled. Ray Ogilvie was leaving as well, and we left together.

The hills to the left of Roosevelt looked daunting. I thought we were going to climb Roosevelt Grade, but thankfully the road still hugged the train tracks, and we saw the hills recede harmlessly to our left. It seemed like we were cycling on top of a plateau, because the Oregon side was much lower than the Washington side. I kept a careful eye for traffic, and moved into the shoulder each time I spied somebody flying by. Traffic though light was still courteous, but why take the risk?

After milepost 154, I got a rather rude shock. I saw a pickup first drive on the shoulder, and then veer into the lane at a terrifying speed. So, I moved well to the right and got out of their way. As the truck passed me, I felt something really hard hit me on my left hip, and the pickup drove away. The pain wasn't stinging, and I stopped to see what it was. It was - I kid you not - a used diaper. It was sealed up pretty good, and that probably prevented it from exploding. Had it exploded, I would have been in a very bad position (mood?) indeed. I think the intent was to hurt rather than embarrass. I guess I was determined to look at the good. I stopped there for a few minutes to gather myself and let the venom seep out of me, and then started riding again.

I felt great through the next 50 or so miles. What was not to like? A blistering tailwind drove me into Plymouth, where we finally left that highway. The wind was coming from my right and it was very clear that the next day would be challenging. I quickly put that thought out of my mind and concentrated on finding the bike trail over the Columbia. Umatilla surfaced a short jaunt later, dominated by bicycles of the Oregon Randonneurs. Matt Mikul and Mike Richeson were about to leave, but there was still a huge contingent of us there.

Day 1: Umatilla to Pendleton

I got water, some Snickers bars and left the control in under 10 minutes. This was a good stop. Several folks were enjoying a sit down lunch at the Subway. The crosswinds were still strong, but there were trees here and there to break the wind and offer some relief. Settling into a nice post lunch reverie, I was rudely awakened by a dog chasing me, and I put on a good sprint to get rid of it. I wonder how many more riders it chased. Riding through Hermiston was a huge pain as the relentless traffic made relaxing riding impossible. Highway 395 soon gave us a nice shoulder, and I was passed by a relaxed rider who soon vanished off into the distance. I didn't catch his name.

When we finally headed straight towards Echo, I stopped to take a picture of the "Entering Echo" sign. I have no idea why I thought that was interesting. Ray Ogilvie passed me as I clarified the route with a gardener, and then we continued on together. At first this road looked like any normal road, but after a sign that showed an alternate route to Pendleton, we entered the sheltered confines of a narrow road, taking us deep into a canyon of sorts. The pavement was not too bad, and traffic was non-existent. There was a nice river flowing to our right, and the walls of the canyon to our left. The peace would be shattered by the odd train, but the tailwind had returned. Three miles into this road, we hit the 200k point. I looked down at my watch and saw that we had covered it in 8 hours and 20 minutes. This was a new personal record! No time to stop and celebrate. We made excellent time, with Ray and I repeatedly leapfrogging each other through this area. We saw all of SIX cars on this stretch, and joked about complaining to Paul that we actually saw CARS on this stretch, and that he should be ashamed for bringing us into contact with these vile things. We also saw signs for the Oregon trail, but didn't stop to explore. This is one of the things that I miss in Randonneuring: the ability to stop and wander to my hearts content, and not be a slave to the clock. Well, that is a discussion for another day.

Twenty-two blissful miles. All too often the stretches that you want to last forever are gone sooner than you want them to, and this road was no exception. We finally started seeing some signs of civilization. We saw the sign for a Shell gas station, but the name of the gas station that was to be our control was nowhere to be found. As we seemed headed to the center of the town, we met Mike Richeson coming back towards us, and he told us that he had just gone into town to do his control necessities. We did the same thing, stopping at the Chevron for about 20 minutes. It was a well deserved break. In hindsight we should have left sooner than that.

Day 1: Pendleton to Holdman (an informational control).

The break rejuvenated us, and we left together, navigating through the one-way streets of Pendleton. The right turn onto Northgate took us out of Pendleton traffic, but the road started tilting uphill almost immediately. Ray dropped me on this climb, and I suffered through the next 10 or so miles, with its non-stop rollers. As amply documented earlier, I am not the greatest of climbers. I wanted to just get through this stretch, and sure enough, I arrived at the Informational Control in Holman, to see Ray Ogilvie dressing up. He was prepared to wait for me, but I had to don my night clothing. Heeding my request to move on if he felt like it, Ray left shortly after I arrived. I took a photograph of the info control question as I didn't want to get my card out with wet hands and ruin it. I dorked up, and as I was dressing up, I heard voices. They were of Cecil, Sal and Andrew. The rain looked like it was returning: misty at first, so I wore my helmet cover and my rain jacket.

Day 1: Holdman to Hermiston

It wasn't going to be very far to the next control, and I was sure that this speedy group of randonneurs would catch me in no time, so I begged their leave and took off, now comfortably attired in my night clothing and rain wear. The sun was now losing much of its power, and I set a good pace into Hermiston. A nice descent later, I was down at a T-intersection on US 730, not knowing whether to go right or left, as the route sheet just said "- take the". A couple in a car stopped and offered me help. "Is it a race?" they asked. I was apparently making excellent time on the "10 or so people" behind me, and told me to turn left to go to Hermiston. They were from Richland, and were surprised that we had to get there to sleep. I almost embarrassed myself by questioning how well they knew the route, as I didn't to be led astray by tourists.

I turned left as they said, but I called Paul just to make sure who confirmed what the couple said. I was back in business. A couple of miles later, I was at the Safeway where there was a huge bunch of randonneurs hanging out. I was determined to get in and out of this control really quickly, so I bought two snickers bars and some chips, and left with the gang which had arrived earlier but were waiting out the rain.

Day 1: Hermiston to Richland (the overnight control).

There was some confusion in the ranks as to how to interpret the directions on the cue sheet ("its the main road, heading away from the way Safeway faces"). I interpreted it exactly the wrong way, but thankfully the collective brains of the group helped me out. On the longish climb out of town, the group dropped me, and I was separated from them by a light and some traffic. I saw their lights vanish in the distance, and cross the Columbia. We had bombed down a nice hill on Plymouth Road, and now it was time to regain that lost altitude. After I crossed SR-14 a lot of souped up cars on the road forced me to pull over, not wishing to become road kill.

Plymouth Road just took off into the sky. We knew we had 40-something miles to the overnight control in Richland, but we didn't gamble on the fact that the next 12 miles were almost entirely uphill. I caught up to Ray while he stopped for something, and then we rode mostly together, but I was greatly demoralized by my slow pace up this hill. I was making slow progress, and I didn't know whether there would some time to make up on any downhills, so I plodded on. There was a watering machine prowling the fields and its eerie on-off-on-off light sequence was very weird in the dark. Far ahead the lights of the others who I had been with barely 5 miles ago were receding into the distance. Cecil was riding strong all day, and she just put me away on that hill. I later heard from Mike that her pace resulted in everybody getting dropped except Mike Richeson himself.

When we made the turn onto Clodfelter, I had put a decent distance between myself and Ray. I stopped for him but figuring he would catch me in the next few miles, I started riding again. Clodfelter is one wicked descent in the direction we were going. I am a decent descender, and I just let it rip on the descent. About a couple of miles into this descent, hardly 10 feet ahead of me, a coyote/fox crossed my path, its coat lit up by the bright lights of my E6. It bounded off into the undergrowth. There was a lot of development on Clodfelter. The 9 mile descent was going to be the last easy navigation for a while.

I was worried about finding the bike path, but found it after about a minute of feeling around the area with my headlamp. I was headed towards crossing the Yakima River, when I spied a Randonneur climbing up a hill away from the water towards the bike path. It was Andrew. He had gotten confused by the "Follow bike path Downhill" bit, but had missed seeing the "but generally straight" bit. Riding bike paths can be hard, and is harder at night in unfamiliar territory. We rode together after this, and arrived at the Days Inn, at 0113a. Cecil was already there as was Sal.

Paul, his wife Julie, Gary's wife (whose name I now forget), and Jason were helping riders with food and accommodation. I ate two helpings of some delightful Vegetarian Chili (with Tofu), and tried showering in the room where the control was, but there was no hot water. I went to my room, and showered, and the three riders who had arrived were all up and getting things done, so it was hard to go to sleep. We finally turned off the lights at 2p, which meant I would get 3 hours of sleep before the 5a wake up call. I hit the sack, and went out like a light.

Richland to Prosser

Day 2 of a 600k is always a day of trepidation. You never know how your body is going to react. Some times 3 hours of sleep makes you feel great, sometimes it does not allow you enough time to recover at all. On my first ever 600k, I had felt great when I left the control, but started feeling like old crap, about 15 miles into day 2. My second 600k, the Tahuya Hills, I felt like a god on Day 2 hammering over the Tahuya Hills, which were genially introduced to us at km 494.

I woke up, got dressed, but somehow lallygagged for too long. I ate some food, and after filling up my CamelBak, I left. It was 5.50a and I had hardly 15 minutes in the bank. This was terrible. I didn't know if the terrain would have allowed me to gain some time, and in hindsight, I should have gotten to bed sooner, and left at 5.30, which would have given me an hours cushion.

I watched the Sun come up shortly after I left, and soon riders started passing me. I rode through Benton City, and saw the most beautiful clouds in a gentle blue sky. Well at least we'd have nice weather today. Jim Cox and Matt Mikul both passed me near Benton City, and I saw Cecil, Andrew and Sal at the gas station before the turn onto WA225. I almost missed the turn onto Old Inland Empire Highway, but another rider made the turn before me, and I turned along with him. Otherwise I would have missed this turn completely.

My rear wheel was giving me some worry: the sensation from the back wheel felt alien and sure enough when I looked down, I saw the rim moving left and right, and that was not good. My wheel was out of true! I didn't stop to check for any broken spokes, but I was sure that a loose spoke was the culprit. I had 31 others I could depend on, so I just kept on.

OIE Highway was rolling, but I was feeling good. A river to the left and a river to the right made for some pleasant riding, and I had lots of company on this road. Cecil, Andrew and Sal caught and passed me, and Cecil was very clearly in a photographic mood. We also had another kind of company on this road: the four-legged kind. At one point, two small dogs chased the three of them, and it was funny to see Cecil stop, turn around and keep repeating "let's all go home". Here I was, hyperventilating about not having enough time in the bank, and here she was mothering dogs back home. When you are strong, you can do a lot of things. I rode on, and she caught upto me again. We made decent time to Prosser, and just before the turn onto the Control, I saw Paul Whitney and Eamon Stanley waving to me from the confines of their mini-van. I made the Prosser control shortly afterward, and had about 55 minutes in the bank. This was promising.

Prosser to Sunnyside

I took some pictures, and got some food and water, used the restroom and mounted my steed to leave, all in the space of about 5 minutes. It was my fastest control stop in a while. Hardly beats the 1 minute stop I took at the first control of my first 600k, but hey, that was my first 600k. Newbie exuberance. I also dropped my rain jacket, and drank a V8 from Paul's supplies. Shortly after the control, I came to a very confusing cue. The direction said go straight ("S"), but the instruction was "Straight onto Wine Country Road". I went straight to cross check, but that road name said "CR12" and was NOT mentioned on the route sheet. So, thinking I had to make a left to stay on Wine Country Road, I turned left. For some weird reason, I was not sure about the left turn. Hadn't the directional cue said go straight? I went about 5 miles before I found a convenience store and asked them where Grandview was. Their answer confirmed my suspicion, but I called Paul (which I should have done in the first place), and he was quite apologetic about this mistake.

I knew my 55 minute cushion was now history. In fact I would probably be behind time. So, I started hammering the best I could back up to Prosser. I had enjoyed an nice downhil out on Wine Country Road, and how had to make it back up again. It wasn't that big a climb, but a bonus climb nonetheless. Paul and Eamon were stationed at the turn warning other riders of the mistake. I just said my hello's and rode on. Just past Grandview, I was passed by two recumbents travelling about twice as fast I was (Alex and Keith Kohan, I would later find out). They stopped to talk to Ray (or was it Andrew?) who was fixing a flat, but I kept on, finally making it to a gas station right where I needed to turn left onto 16th Ave. I had about 20 minutes in the bank. Instead of riding 13 miles to Sunnyside, I had ridden 23 miles.

Sunnyside to Goldendale

I felt very deflated mentally here. I knew the next stretch was hilly, and that we would be going into the wind. Not having any cushion at all meant a certain DNQ. I didn't know if I had any realistic chance of finishing. But somehow the thought of quitting never entered my mind: I left the control in 10 minutes time, getting water and applying some Sunscreen. The day was warming up. I ate on the go, and was joined by Andrew and Cecil shortly afterward. I had seen quite a few bikes parked outside the McDonalds.

Shortly after the right turn onto Glade Road, the pavement severely deteriorated into coarse chipseal, and the wind turned into our nemesis. The heat wasn't that bad, but my speed dropped. Cecil rode away from me, and it was clear that we were headed towards the hills. It was the only road for miles around. I spotted the switchbacks, and Andrew and I compared notes. When Andrew stopped to get something out of his jersey, he dropped both of his long finger gloves, I called out to him, and he came back down to get them. My good deed for the day!

Cecil and Sal pulled away for good, and Andrew and I were the tail. I climbed at a steady pace determined not to redline too soon, while Andrew took frequent breaks and still outclimbed me. The switchbacks were easy at first, but at the end they weren't quite so easy as the climbing took its toll on me. Andrew and I are both purveyors of Computer Science, and we discussed mundane things on our climb up. He eventually left me for good on one the last climb, and when I got to the very top, I was overjoyed. I needn't have bothered.

The switchbacks had brought us to the top of an endlessly rolling plateau, with the wind straight in our faces. I was travelling 7.5 miles downhill. I would gain maybe 1 mph if I went into a full aerodynamic tuck. The wind was simply relentless. I ate one of my Snickers bars right after I passed the cellphone towers stop the hills, but all I remember (and this is bad rando amnesia), is crawling. The desert, the tumbleweeds that would occassionally roll across the road, the weather: nothing would give me joy. I was riding like an automaton, completely devoid of any pleasure. The terrain was most unvarying, so it didn't leave much of an impression. I stopped every hour or so to catch a break, but I knew that I had to ride a 10 mph average to make it to Goldendale. Problem was I was just a hair short of that average hour after hour.

Bickleton was nowhere to be found. Thankfully I had enough water and food, and was set as far as those two were concerned, but I could have used some stronger legs. We eventually crossed from Yakima County to Klickitat County, and the pavement nosedived. The trauma my rear wheel already reeling from, was now being kicked up a notch. It was terrible. Simply terrible. I started paying close attention to the road from this point on, as I didn't want my rear wheel taco'ing on me on a 600 out in the middle of nowhere.

In my reading up of the towns along the route, I had found out that Bickleton is the "Bluebird capital" of the World. I did see a lot of these small blue houses on this road, surely to house these birds. I spotted one sitting atop a fence, but (s)he flew away as I approached. Oh, well. Finally, I saw the sign for the highschool, and Bickleton came into view. I had done the 25 miles in slightly under 3 hours. This was not good. To use a one-day cricket analogy, the number of balls was going down, and the number of runs was staying the same!

I saw Sal here and he said that I would have time to get some Candy bars, but that I would not make it if I sat down for lunch. The Bluebird Inn was open, and it looked like a very quaint old building. In fact, it is the oldest tavern in the state of Washington. There were a bunch of antique cars parked across the street. The grocery store was closed, and the Bluebird Inn was the only choice. I entered the Inn, and all heads instantly turned in my direction. I did my best to fit in (in my Canada Jersey and Lycra!). I went up the counter and got more Snickers Bars, and as I was waiting for the waitress to ring me up and fill my CamelBak, a gentleman sitting at the bar struck up a conversation with me. He asked me where I was going, and when I said Goldendale, he asked me "Do you know what is between here and Goldendale?". When I shrugged my shoulders he said "Rock Creek Grade" in a sort of horror movie voice, clearly indicating that a man on a bicycle should not aspire to head to Goldendale over this road.

"You will see when you get to it", he said, and I parted company with him. As I was about to exit the Inn, another older gentleman called out to me. "You all walk funny" he said, and I showed him my cleats as proof of our duck walking. He laughed at my self-deprecation, and I took off into the sunshine again, eager to make progress. Thirty Five miles more left. and 3 and a half hours to do it in. If only I had those 55 minutes now... It makes no sense to dwell on these things, and all I could do was hope that I would make it. I really hoped that the road would tilt downhill after Bickleton, but I was grossly wrong. The road did tilt down, but then it tilted back up again, and it was a while before I hit the true downhill to Rock Creek Grade. And what a descent it was!

It started off like a normal descent, and I could see where I was headed. The wind buffeted us making riding a bit scary. Shortly afterward, we got a series of 20mph recommended turns, and to my left was the great canyon and Rock Creek flowed in the middle somewhere. I was going to lose all that elevation in a matter of minutes and spend the next hour climbing back up. Well, maybe the climb would not be that bad, and maybe the road would flatten out, and maybe I would make it, eh? This is all I did in my head as I plunged down that canyon, moving my weight backward, pointing my heels towards the turn, and using countersteering around the tight corners. At the very bottom of the climb, I started a clink-clink from the rear wheel, and after completely losing my momentum on the uphill, I stopped to look at the reason.

This was it:

I was stunned. This was going to be a disaster! My Super Randonneur dreams for the year would go down in smoke. I thought of calling for help and ending my ride, but there was no cellphone reception. I quickly placed the spoke back in its place and hoped for the best. It seemed like I had to climb my way out of this canyon anyway, so might as well do it and get to safety. I knew Paul would come and get me in a pinch. But why not try ride it gingerly and see if it holds out ? Why despair when I don't have a Taco yet ?

I remounted and began the slow climb up the other side. Luckily we wouldn't be gaining as much as we had lost, and though I was slow, I moved shifted my weight as far forward as possible, and leaned on the front wheel a lot. This had the effect of slowing me down (as I put more energy into grinding my bike into the ground than forward progress). More hills followed. This was not a flat ride. The headwind, powerless in the uphills of the canyon was now rearing its ugly head again. I miraculously caught up with Matt, Jim, Bill Alsup, Andrew and a whole bunch of other riders, but they all dropped me on the steep little climbs before Goldendale.

I had 20 minutes to go 5 miles. My thoughts went out to Duane Wright, who so often finishes at 89:59. I would die of a heart attack a few miles before the control if I didn't know I had some time in the bank. I tried stepping up the pace, but there was no chance now. The steep little rollers before Goldendale got me, and all the riders vanished out of sight. As I looked at each mile marker roll by, I despaired more, and then finally with about a mile to go, I saw 6:20 click on my computer (I forgot that it was 5 minutes fast). I tried to hammer again, but I knew that it was a lost cause. I limped into the control about 5 minutes behind. 6:25p. I had missed it by that much. Had I spent 5 minutes less somewhere on the course, I would have made it. This made me even sadder. I finally realized the importance of the every second counts mantra.

It turned out that everybody had missed the control except Sal, who had made it in with 3 minutes to spare. I called Paul and tried to see if I could continue, and begged him to give me some credit for the Wine Country Rd miscue. I needn't have bothered: Paul immediately said "keep coming". Once inside, I looked at the route sheet and noticed that we were going to go left onto SR-14, which would give us a tailwind. When I mentioned this inside, I was told that we would get a headwind into the finish. This could not be. My understanding was that we needed to go left based on the route sheet. Jim said that the wind would have either died down or switched, so we would have a headwind. I didn't quite understand how this could be. Matt tried to say he wanted to quit, but he was drowned out by a chorus of people asking to ride on. He was guilty that Gary would be waiting for him, but quitting 30 miles from the finish was indefensible. He changed his mind shortly after. I got some water and some food, and remounted my bike and set off again looking for any and all time that I could make.

Goldendale to The Dalles

Andrew told us that there was a screamer of a descent on Highway 97, but it took its sweet time coming. Once it hit, it was unreal. Traffic was light, so it was possible to ride on the roadway and not the roadkill littered shoulder. I tucked in and zoomed down, intent on not missing the left turn onto SR 14. Jim caught up and vanished off into the distance, and I saw Matt and Andrew less than a mile behind me. Matt and I both came down to SR-14, but Jim was nowhere to be found. We both stopped as the cue sheet said "Go Left", but instinct and memory told us that we went away from The Dalles yesterday morning past this very point. We decided to wait for Andrew. Three minds after all are better than one. When Andrew didn't show up, we surmised that he had gone straight, and then continued in the Westerly direction.

That decision made me immediately long for the route sheet to be correct. Sadly the route sheet was flawed. The wind was still in our face, and it hadn't died down at all. The Gorge was acting like a funnel, and the winds were screaming down the gorge, literally stopping us in our paths at times. Traffic was high, and the shoulder, though adequate in most places, had this most undesirable habit of narrowing at times of most need. Progress was slow. After all, I had to go 17 miles on this leg. I tucked in and worked against the wind, watching as Matt pulled away. Andrew had a Dinotte taillight that is visible from miles away, but the curvy nature of SR14 removed any chance of seeing his taillight in the distance.

The miles could not have ticked down any more slowly: Each mile dragged on, and on. I strained my neck to see if the bridge would come into view, and it never did. The bright lights of the Oregon side were a constant reminder that somewhere out there the town of The Dalles existed, but it wasn't getting closer with any urgency. What can you do, but hunker down and ride? The wind actually got harder as we neared The Dalles, and I had to stop each time a semi passed, because the combination of the narrow shoulder and the wind meant that I could get tossed onto the traffic lane at any time. Each stop and start cost me time, but I was past caring at this time. I wanted to get home safely first, and finish the 600 on time next.

The one good thing was the number of stars that you could see to the right. For a city boy not used to seeing many stars, it was the one great thing about riding that night. I remember the last 5 miles into The Dalles. Uphill, windy, with narrow shoulders and inky blackness. When I finally made the left turn onto 197, I knew I would finish, but I had to take extra care on the bridge decks to prevent my wheel from taco'ing. I swooped down, but took the bumps gingerly at first, and then agressively when I realized that my wheel was holding up to the abuse.

The lights of The Dalles were great. The shoulder along some of the roads was not that great, littered with glass and wires, and I rode on the main lane as traffic was non-existent. I straggled in to the motel, the blinking red light the greatest sight in the world. A personal worst, yes, but by far the toughest 600 I have done, and I was just happy to finish.

Thanks to Paul, his family and friends for putting on a wonderful event. The wind could not be helped, but it was a very very challenging ride. The first day was easy and nice, and the second day showed the other side of the coin.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Baker Lake 400: A Mark Thomas Special!

Many thanks to Mark Thomas, Chris Thomas and Owen Richards for a fantastic 400k! The course was very beautiful, the route sheet was perfect and the post ride food and hospitality were awesome. The secret control stop at 210 miles was very welcome. Mark and Chris open their home up to us each year, and it is always great to partake of their hospitality.


Pictures here

Normally, I give up riding brevets this time of year as I have completed my SR series. But this year has been different. Driven by my DNF of the Spring 600, and my desire to stay in reasonable shape for the OR 600, I have ridden a lot more, a lot later into the season. However, no amount of riding can prepare one to deal with Mark Thomas specials. Hilly rides! This ride was no exception. Last weekend, I set out with a bunch of randonneurs and randonneuses to try the Baker Lake 400, hosted by Mark and Chris Thomas out of their Redmond home. With no elevation totals published, I went into this ride blissfully unaware of how hard (or easy) it would be. And I got my tail kicked.

Mark's house is about 5 miles from my house, and I rode to his house. However, instead of turning left for his house, I turned right, and went about 2 miles before realizing my mistake. I beat a hasty retreat and climbed the hill into his house. I got there with about 25 minutes to spare. A lot of familiar SIR faces, but we were only about 14 of us.

Sharon Stevens was there, and it was great to see her again. I did a 200k with her in Texas, and she was very nice to me: a fabulous ambassador for the Lone Star Randonneurs. On a family visit to Washington, she was doing a 400 with us. I also met Peg, who was doing the ride. Teresa (from BC) was doing this ride as well, and this was her first 400. I had promised to ride with her to make her feel comfortable, and our paces seemed more or less the same.

Start to Arlington

After chowing down some food, we set off. The roads near Mark's house are very easy to get lost on, and so I kept a watchful eye. We were a small group, comprised of Teresa, Sharon and myself. It was good to catch up with Sharon again. I implored her to take off, but she didn't. She could have easily found somebody to ride with, as she is much faster (and rapidly nearing 10,000k for the year). We missed the turn onto NE 160 (as that was not on the 1000 2 years ago), but a quick descent later, we found out we were lost. The three of us retreated, and bombed down NE 160th. We paid the price for this fun descent, and on Paradise Lake Road, Sharon left us for good, effortlessly spinning up the hills, while Teresa and I crawled our way up. The 522 light split us up for good, but we did get to enjoy the descent on Broadway (which I have never gone downhill on) onto Springhetti.

The roads were foggy, but thankfully not freezing cold. I wore just shorts and had forgotten my leg warmers, but I did carry a full assortment of rain gear - to appease the rain gods - that I could use in a pinch. There were some flat portions! Thankfully not all of this ride was going to be hilly. Ha! All of the hills had made us overheat, and so we pulled over at Snohomish to take off our jackets and ride in just our jerseys. (we did keep our shorts, however). I took the opportunity to eat the Banana that I had carried with me from Mark's house. I was sick of eating Candy bars on these rides, and so resolved to not eat any Candy bars. I was going to try and eat sandwiches, chips, burritos, etc.

We hopped onto the Centennial Trail and enjoyed 17 miles of bliss. Teresa greatly enjoyed this stretch, and as two Canadians, we talked a lot about Canada. The trail was full of early morning cyclists, runners, and walkers, and we were able to ride side-by-side for almost the entire time. We made good time to the end of the trail, and our troubles began shortly after we turned right. There was a section of road with no shoulder but a very wide sidewalk, and we chose to ride on the road. No sooner had we gotten to the part with no shoulder, than a pickup truck accosted us, and asked us to ride on the multi-user path, as that path was built with his tax dollars. As if I hadn't paid any taxes last year! Teresa told him that we had a right to be there, but I told him something far less charitable (only after he was out of earshot, hee hee).

We arrived at the Haggen's in Arlington, and saw Sharon pulling out of the store and onto SR 530. We had just missed her. Bill Gobie was just getting ready to head out of the control. We were les lanterne rouges, but her pleasant company made the miles melt away.

Arlington to Marblemount

We had made pretty good time, and had about an hour in the bank. This was great. Another change that I was going to do on these rides was to take off my shoes at the controls. Life is too short to be walking around stores in Look cleats. I bought two Bananas and a Bear Claw, while Teresa being allergic to bee stings, told me that she couldn't eat bananas because - get this - if you eat Bananas you become more susceptible to bee stings. Those damn banana loving bees. Albert Meerscheidt, are you paying attention? Lay off the bananas, comrade! We blew the cashier's mind, as usual, by telling her where we had set out from.

We all know of randonneurs (and randonneuses!) preoccupation with creams that help us ride longer. Apparently one of Teresa's doctor friends told her that one of the best things for the butt was the cream used by breastfeeding mothers! She carried a small tube of this stuff, but it was so hard to get it out of the tube. Teresa had to put pressure with her shoes to get some of the stuff out. I had Bag Balm, which I offered, but she was set of using "her" cream. The store was nearly deserted at that time of day, and so were two jugs of water, which we used to fill our water supplies.

After about 10 minutes, I put my shoes back on again, and we set off for Darrington, which I mentally pegged as my next stop for food and water. We have ridden this road many a time, but it never ceases to make me happy. Traffic was heavier than usual, but that was not a problem as vehicles gave us quite a wide berth. Teresa was a good climber, and a great rider. We talked about some of the things that we could count to pass the time. Teresa came up with a good one: the number of espresso stands that we would pass. They have become ubiquitous, but are seldom open when a randonnneur needs them!

I was feeling pretty strong, and so was Teresa. A few miles out of Darrington, I dropped Teresa completely, as I suspect she was undergoing a bonk. I waited for her, but she was nowhere to be found. Just as I was about to turn around, a car pulled over and told me that my buddy was behind me, and catching up. That put my mind at ease. I would have felt horrible not being able to help her with mechanical issues and such, but as it turns out, she had some shifting problems and stopped to get that sorted out. Her handlebar bag was causing her shifter cables to get compressed, and they weren't doing very well. Kind of like golfers and camera clicks. The slightest thing puts them off.

We stopped at Darrington, and I got water from the soda fountain (no trash generation!), and bought Bananas and Jojo's. After a 10 minute stop, we set off again, but were warned by the construction crew right outside the store that the highway was closed. Visions of the brevet coming to a close danced in my head, and we travelled along mostly deserted roads. The bridge over the Sauk River allowed us some fun, as we looked down the grates to the water.

When we got near the scene of the accident, there was a small line up of parked cars and people sitting in the shade or using the time to do some picnicking or some angling. The crew told us to walk as far away from the roadway as possible, and we did just that, with my stupid Look cleats making me go sideways. When we really got near the scene of the accident, a very polite policeman asked us to walk far away from the roadway. Another man warned me of thorns. Very nice bunch. I didn't bother to look left at all. Teresa didn't look either, though she appeared curious after we started riding again. Normally, my mind would dwell on such things, but the conversation that we held put that out of our heads.

When we got to Rockport Cascade Road, I knew the honeymoon was over. That is 10 miles of nothing but the worst chipseal imaginable. I tried riding along the smoothest part of the road when I could find it. The mountains were all out, and All bad things must come to an end (The Bush Administration, for example), and we were soon making the left turn to get back to US20. Bill Gobie was the only person at this control again. No sign of Sharon. I think she truly took my imploring her to go ahead to heart! ;)

Marblemount to Baker Lake

More Bananas, and some chips from Teresa, and a bit of R&R later we set off again for Concrete and the road that even Geoff Swarts called hard. Now, I don't know if you know Geoff, but he is one strong rider. Teresa and I left first, but Bill caught us just before Rockport State Park, and we entered the back roads of Concrete together. Our first vision of Burpee hill road was one of disbelief. I thought it was loose gravel, and the first little while was indeed pure gravel. There was no pavement to ride on.

The heavy traffic, the sun, and the complete lack of wind were all minor annoyances compared to the road surface and the grade. It was simply unrelenting. No let up at all. I almost crashed once when my tyre got caught in some gravel, and I dismounted, but my tired legs couldn't hold me up, and I started sliding backwards. I just stood there waiting for the burn in my legs to subside. Teresa had started riding up, but she stopped after a while and began walking up the hill, and so did Bill. I got back on, and started riding, slowing my pedal strokes when I felt like I was getting near burnout. The hill simply would not quit. We saw the town of Concrete below us and to our left.

After numerous false tops, the hill "flattened" out, as in wasn't 10% anymore, and we were provided with a fantastic view of Mt Baker in all its glory, right in front of us, the view ruined by power lines. I stopped again for Bill and Teresa, but they didn't show up, and I had to take off. My thought was to catch up at the Baker Lake Resort, as I didn't want to be riding across the "Bridge of Death" at night. Just after I turned right on Baker Lake Road, which was mercifully paved (with chipseal), I saw Mark Roehrig very purposefully heading back towards Sedro Woolley. I guess that he was at least two and a half hours ahead of me at this point. Kevin Humphreys was right behind on his tail, probably a mile behind. They would be done long before me.

Baker Lake Road was not flat. It was severely undulating terrain, but the views it offered were spectacular. I saw a huge clump of riders just before the Bridge of Death, and in that group was Sharon. It was the last I was to see of her on this trip. I saw Geoff, and my first thought was that he had somehow figured out his vacation, and was doing the 1000, 2 days after finishing a tough 400! The man was a stud! (Well, it turns out that he only did 255k on the day).

Just past the campgrounds, Baker Lake Road redeemed itself completely with a fantastic vista of Mt Baker. A fast moving river with hundreds of dead trees in its wake cascaded down rocks, and flowed under. I stopped to admire the view and take a picture, and was immediately rewarded with a fantastic descent down to Baker Lake Resort. I saw Matt Mikul just before the resort: he was maybe a mile ahead. Milking the downhill, I arrived there a touch after 5.20pm, I think.

Baker Lake Resort to Sedro Woolley

Chuck Hoffman was eating a sandwich. I went in, and got a Bear Claw, and something else (can't remember now). The resort was in full swing, as a summer weekend does not go wasted in the Pacific Northwest. I stayed for maybe 5 minutes, and took off again with Chuck, eager to catch Matt and maybe have some company. Halfway up the climb to the bridge, I saw Teresa and Bill flying down. Teresa had apparently suffered from symptoms of heat exhaustion and had slowed down. Wise choice! She was tough, still continuing in the face of severe discomfort. We agreed to meet up in Sedro Woolley, and I kept plodding on.

I got ahead of Chuck somehow, and on the steep pitch just before when the pavement starts deteriorating again, I dropped Chuck for good, and started racing up the inclines. I felt good. The food was hitting my blood stream, and I made pretty good time back to the turn onto Burpee Hill Road, stopping to take a picture this time. The descent down to SR20 seemed to go on forever, and thought the pavement was bad in spots, I tucked in, and swooped down. I waited for Chuck at the turn, but he was nowhere to be seen. I dorked up, and left for Sedro Woolley. I made decent time to Sedro Woolley, and reached there without incident.

Sedro Woolley to Granite Falls

Despite the cute name of the town, I have always been leery of the areas near Sedro Woolley and Highway 9. I don't know why, but that place gives me the creeps. On a Saturday night, the place was busy, and full of weirdos of every shape and hue, led of course by a dark-skinned man, wearing Lycra and reflective stuff everywhere (that would be me!). I got to the control, got some more food, and started waiting for Chuck, Teresa and Bill. I thought we would make a nice Lanterne Rouge foursome.

Chuck arrived after about 15 minutes, and moved my bicycle out of the way of harm from the local inebriated population when I was in the restroom applying a fresh coat of Bag Balm. I had drawn some stares and snarky comments from some youngsters, commenting (OK, mocking) my Canada jersey and my Lycra. One particular mean girl, made casual conversation with me, and then proceeded to mock my shorts. Oh, well. Another girl introduced herself as Lorenza, and was actually the only nice one of the lot. Maybe she was the only one who wasn't sloshed.

I asked Chuck if he would ride at night with me, and Chuck felt like I was too strong for him. I waited 10 more minutes, and then figured that I would get a move on. Bill would probably ride with Teresa and so would Chuck, and I would just have to make do by myself tonight. The route was no stranger to me, and as I headed towards Highway 9, I made sure I didn't see any bike lights coming towards me in the distance.

Contrary to my thoughts traffic on Highway 9 was sparse and courteous. I made excellent time, and felt really strong on this stretch not stopping once. The stars were out, but there was a dangerous hint of dark clouds to the right. There was probably a tailwind. There is no other explanation. I got to Arlington, and found that Matt Mikul had already left. That was a bummer! Oh well.

Arlington to Granite Falls

Though I was disappointed, I quickly downed some food and took off again, but Burn Road slowed me down. I have always crawled up this road even though its grade is pretty gentle. I was feeling a bit chilly, and the climb served to warm me up. I just spun my way, and got to Granite Falls in slightly more than an hour, and found the control closed. This was a bummer. However, the woman delivering newspapers told me about the Shell station down the street, and I rode down and got my card signed.

Granite Falls to the Finish

The convenience store for some reason tends to attract a "different" kind of crowd. There was a policeman standing behind the counter watching the crowd, and I quickly got my card signed, bought some food, and felt like I had to get out of there as soon possible. I stood outside eating my food, and the scene was even more unreal. I am not going to go into details, but I will say that the girls that I saw that night in Granite Falls were very "interestingly" dressed, and participated in some fun activities with their boyfriends.

I headed out in about 5 minutes watching for Chuck, but I didn't see him. I would have waited for him had I seen him. The sleep demon was raising its ugly head, and naturally my speed slowed down. Progress was slow, but I didn't feel like I was lollygagging. There was nothing to be done for the next 40 miles, except perhaps something in Monroe. However, as I dragged my body on Woods Creek Road, looking for the info control near 84th, I spotted a blinkie. There was Owen Richards, a friendly face waiting for riders with food, water and encouragement. I got my card signed, and as I was good on food (I wasn't), I left immediately. I gave up on catching up to Matt, as he had left this control a half hour ago.

The last 25 miles were truly a contrast, as the first stretch was deceptively simple, but soon after the turn onto NE Woodinville Duvall Road, the character changes to downright nasty. I was tired and probably bonking on this stretch, and dragged my way up. Even in my lowest gear, it was hard. There was no traffic, which thankfully made the narrow shoulder somewhat inconsequential. I was also afraid of missing the turn onto Mink Road. Daylight was beginning to break, as I made the turn onto NE 128th, I had no idea of the horror that lay ahead. I had to start zig zagging across the road to get over this stretch, and the bomb down to 202 was awesome. I made the correct turn this time, and the next half a mile was no slouch either. More zig zagging. I had climbed this hill yesterday morning fairly easily, but now every pedal stroke was hard. We climbed the ridge to Mark's house, and I finally got to his house at around 5.20. I was done!

Matt was sitting inside, having arrived about 50 minutes ahead of me. That man is fast! I saw Sharon and Peg's bikes parked outside. Chris is always very nice and made me something vegetarian. She always makes something just for me. Mark heated it up, and I stuffed my face silly. After a nice nap of about an hour on Mark's couch (needs to be sterilized now), I rode home.
Congratulations to Teresa who finished her first 400k despite suffering from heat exhaustion and numb hands. VERY Gritty! Bill rode all night with Teresa and guided her to the finish. Thanks Bill. You did what I was supposed to do! Now begins the preparation for the Oregon 600. I am carpooling with Shan Perera, Gary Prince, and Noel Howes.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Happy 10th Birthday, RUSA!

Many thanks to Eric Vigoren, Maggie Williams and Peter Beeson for organizing an awesome ride. There was another woman volunteering at both the bad carb and good carb controls, but I didn't catch her name. Thanks go to her too! A very enjoyable day.


It has been 10 years since RUSA came together thanks to a few visionary randonneurs and randonneuses. To celebrate this August (pun intended) occassion randonneuring clubs across the nation organized rides, and the Seattle Randonneurs were no exception, hosting a 100k populaire and a 200k RUSA brevet out of Bremerton. Lured by the tantalizing pictures of the medal, I set out to ride to the ferry terminal from my house in Kirkland, at 2.35 in the morning. The roads were mostly without traffic, and the highlight was the 45 mph swoop down Kamber Road in Bellevue. Some things are worth climbing for. I reached the terminal at 4.05a, a bit too early for my tastes. I could have had atleast 30 minutes more sleep. Several riders showed up slowly, but I can happily say that I was the first. I was wearing the SIR wool jersey, but had my Canada Goose jersey in my saddlebag as insurance. However, I had forgotten my camera, and lousy cellphone photos would have to do. I can imagine Dave Read chuckling.

I didn't realize this at that time but I would also go over 10,000k in brevet/permanent distances, if I successfully completed this brevet. Now, when compared to the accomplishments of several randonneurs, this is a very puny milestone indeed. Karen Smith completed 40,000 brevet kilometers last year, and Ken Bonner has probably a million kilometers under his belt. But 10,000 was where I was, and I hope the next 10,000 doesn't take 5 years!

People slowly started arriving at the ferry terminal, and I sat and chatted with the riders who arrived. When the counters opened, I went first to pay, and the woman asked me if I was paying for everybody. You should have seen the look on her face when I said "No". The huge number of cyclists completely swamped her, and I am sure they had fun with the 30 or so cyclists each paying individually. Is there a better way ?

Registration and Start

We registered on the ferry, and Peter Beeson took our money and made us sign autographs, and arranged for some entertainment from a fully stoned young man on the ferry ride to Bremerton. There were about 40 riders at the start, and I spotted several familiar faces: Robin and Amy Pieper, John Vincent, Dan Turner, Chuck Pailthorp, and a few others. A few words from Eric about the route, and we were sent off in one big bunch. The first hills on SR 3 had me at the back of the pack, my rightful place. Huge warships lined the Bremerton waterfront to our left, as we headed on "familiar" roads (we had just ridden this stretch on the Tahuya 200k). A very relaxing stretch along the waterfront with Dan Turner later, we were at the Bad carb Control, staffed by several people, including Peter, Maggie Williams and Eric Vigoren. The cookies were delicious, but the strident calls for poetry began to be heard. Paul Johnson pulled in, and then pulled out immediately afterward. That was the last I was to see of him.

Bad carb control to Good carb control

Thoroughly sated, and fully protected from the sun, I set off with Dan, who promptly dropped me while cheating with his aerobars. Banner Road certainly caught my attention, but thankfully it was only a mile and half or less. The info control question was a big vague, and I put down both possible answers to it, while promptly spilling the entire contents of my wallet on the ground. Charles Pailthorp, the genial professor from Olympia (who makes killer fruit smoothies) picked the contents up for me, and we left the control with cries of "Bring back Fleche Gordon's space cadets". True to the words on the cue sheet, we endured the rolling hills, some better than others, and it is a very easy guess as to how I endured them. The day was warming up and that proved to be a challenge as well.

SR 106 has some of the nastiest chipseal and I made my way to the control, hoping all the while that history would not repeat itself: I have suffered flats each of the last three times I have cycled along this route (though in the opposite direction everytime). Thankfully, my luck held, and I didn't suffer any flats. A lot of riders were making their way back to SR3, and Shan Perera was ahead of almost everybody. The good carb control was at Twanoh state park, which is right on the waters of the Hood Canal. There was a new, massive landslide across the water on US 1o1, and I wondered about how they had patched the road up. Riding the North Hood Canal permanent seems to be imminent. Responding to comments that I look "toasty", I took off my wool jersey, and donned my Goose jersey, to which Robert Higdon remarked "Keep it on buddy". Ouch! I had a two V8s, some chips, some bananas and a bagel. I bonked a little before the control, and wanted to make sure that I was well fuelled.

Good Carb control to Camp Union grocery

After enduring several requests to write poetry, but hardly budging, I set off to do the Tahuya portion of the ride, on many new roads. Accompanied by a hot sun, and a nice westerly wind, progress was somewhat unspectacular, but the sight of the day was the wooden bicycling sculpture advertising some local politician. I hope she wins!

The turn onto Old Belfair road was not so hard to spot anymore (not to Matt Mikul however), and as I was merrily chugging along when I was caught by the ever smiling Ray McFall, who aparently did some "bonus" miles. "How is your navigating?" he asked. I replied that I was slow but not that bad at navigating, and he responded by staying with me till the turn onto Bear-Creek Dewatto Road. This road however starts climbing at a decent clip into the hills of Tahuya, and even though we both were seriously bothered by the heat, Ray pulled away. I plodded along, stopping at whatever shade I could find. The road gently climbed after its initial assault, into logging territory, just like any other road in Tahuya. We were blessed with some new and nice views of the mountains, before the control at Camp Union. Ray was chilling out there, pointing me to water and a nice bag of ice left behind by some kind soul.

Camp Union to Liquid Carb control

I filled my CamelBak with water, drank about a liter of it, and then proceeded to fill it with water again. After I filled the bag with water, I put some ice between my back and the plastic to cool me down further, as I rode further. Ray set off before me, but I got my card signed and took off into the heat of the day. We may have left the general vicinity of the Tahuya Hills, but the climbing had not come to an end. Eric does not organize "cake walk" routes, that's for sure.

On Clear Creek road, the first mechanical problem of the route reared its head. When shifting up from the granny to the middle chainring, the chain slipped and fell between the small chainring, and my chain stay and lodged firmly there. Attempts to pedal my way out of it didn't help, and it only got further lodged in. I laid the bike down, and then after several attempts finally got the chain free and back on the middle chainring. Of course, Clear Creek also featured some headwind, but the downhill on Sherman Hill was lovely. I saw a huge group of 100k riders at the Bond Road intersection, and recognized Mark and Chris Thomas.

Big Valley road, although mostly flat, had some wicked headwind, and I was clearly not my best here. I suspect I was bonking here, as the road didn't seem particularly harsh, and I remember it fondly from previous brevets. I stopped at the info control, and was now on some very familiar roads. The last few miles of my first ever 600k was in these parts, and I remembered being passed by Chris Menge just before the Hood Canal turn.

I saw the huge giraffe, but went toward the driveway past it, but I had to turn back around to head to the control, where I was met by Eric and Peter. Jon Muellner was fixing a flat, and set out before me. This control was awesome, and I spent a little too much time here. I drank a small beer (which I almost never do) to celebrate RUSA's 10th birthday, compliments of the club. This beer at controls is a fabulous idea. Maybe we should have them at the end of 600 PBP qualifiers! I stuffed myself silly at this control: courtesy of some veggie dogs which Eric very kindly made, Sprite, Chips and water, I was a new man! I spent about 25 minutes here but what the heck? It's not often that RUSA celebrates its 10th anniversary! In fact, after careful analysis, I concluded that it would only happen once.

Liquid carb control to the finish.

"How good are you at navigating?" asked Dan. Hadn't I been asked this question already? Dan dropped me (again!), and I could not catch upto him, despite his stopping to lend Jon Muellner a tube. Poor Jon was fixing another flat! Tyre woes! It would have been nice to stay with him, but he assured me he was okay. After helping Dan with the left turn onto SR 308, I slowed down to enjoy the ride , as I was not going to make the next ferry anyways. The nasty bad pavement towards the end was a downer, but I made it to the finish in 11 hours and 5 minutes. A fantastic way to spend a day on the bike!

Happy Birthday, RUSA! I have to wait 10 years for the next Anniversary ride ? Bummer.