Monday, April 28, 2008

A beautiful Spring day is not to be wasted

This all started when Duane sent me a note asking me if I "wanted to fall sick" on Wednesday. I replied in the affirmative as the weather forecast was slated to be good. A few hours later the man writes to me again, this time wanting to ride on Saturday, because it was going to be "spectacular". After the soggy 300, I was entitled to a spectacular ride. So, we made a deal to ride Woodinville - Granite Falls on Saturday.

Since I am one of the permanents co-ordinators, I get to read first hand accounts of people's rides. This ride was initially reported to contain 3300 feet of climbing. And then Shan Perera, Galvin Chow and Thai Nguyen rode it one time and sent me a note informing me oh-so-politely that the total elevation gain posted was wrong, and it was more like 5500 or 6000 feet, depending on who you ask.

This was our chance to find out. I rode down to the Tully's (being only a mile away from my house) and was pleasantly surprised to see randonneur like bikes sitting in the parking lot. Maybe Duane had some of his friends show up too. I sat there eating a donut while waiting for Duane. He arrived only 5 minutes late, and after some food and conversation, we got up. The other riders introduced themselves as SIR riders by asking "Are you guys doing 359 today too?". (359 is the Permanent # for this ride). The riders were Jack Brace and Ryan Schmidt (sp?) of SIR. Jack is a current member, while Ryan is not (I found this out on Sunday). I asked them if they had paperwork, but they didn't. Jack was going to get no credit for his ride, but that is not the only reason why we do these things, do we ? We left the controle at 0715.

The morning was chilly. Temperature were in the low 40s, and we set off on the flat stretch towards Issaquah. We talked about Duane's running, and his bike riding, and my past running days, and my wife's recent troubles with injury problems. There are no real hills between Woodinville and Issaquah, and the first controle was upon us in no time. I almost spaced out, but luckily read the cue sheet properly. After the usual control rituals we headed out to climb Issaquah Fall City Road.

Our legs were sufficiently warmed up for the nice climb up the ridge, and after the Endeavour School turn, the low traffic allowed for more conversation and side-by-side riding. We plummeted down the valley, I more than Duane, who took the descents a bit more cautiously. After the SR 202 crossing, the route is more or less flat all the way to Carnation. However, we came upon a "Road Closed" sign before Tolt Hill Bridge. Construction workers littered the bridge, and I politely begged my way across, making sure I asked permission and remembering to thank each of them as I passed. We were in Carnation in no time, but not before Duane peeled off to use his favourite Port-A-Potty.

Ryan and Jack joined us here. I had a cookie, and took off my jacket. The day was warming up, and near 10a. We never saw the two again, not even at a controle. Quite a large contingent of cyclists were out riding. It was too beautiful a day to not be out and about. Of course, this also meant being passed like we were standing still on some of the roads of the Snoqualmie Valley. A huge contingent of riders led by a woman hammered past us on W Snoqualmie River Road, as did a rider on his beautiful Trek 5500. Duane was ahead of me on most hills, and I was better on the flats and the downhills. We saw SIR rider Urs Koenig riding in the opposite direction from us, and waved to us. Duane opined that Urs beat a hasty retreat from us, because he was scared of us "hammerheads". We had spectacular views of the snow covered mountains to the east.

Ben Howard road was as beautiful and quiet as always. Not as many anglers today, and surprisingly not a lot of bicyclists either. This was also the first time that I rode Ben Howard road towards US 2, and it was a different experience. After the left turn onto US 2, we had to hold up traffic, and were greeted with some nasty honks, not from the car right behind us, but somebody behind that vehicle. I mentally steeled myself to not react, and the moment we pulled over to the shoulder, the SUV passed us and so did the offender, yelling something that rhymed with Crass and Dole. I have ridden with Duane on several Permanents, and I have never heard him swear. It was funny to see him yell an obscenity, while I was waving my hand to the offending driver, all while the driver was flipping us off. Duane's philosophy was to use voice (which the driver could not hear), rather than sign (which the driver could see), and get it out of the system. As we pulled into the gas station, the same car driver was there, but he drove off after making a right turn onto Old Owen Road.

Drivers are a constant when riding in the Seattle area, so we started talking about some unforgettable incidents that our riders have had over the years: The one where a BC randonneuse was so harassed by drivers in Snohomish county, that she was almost on the verge of abandoning her ride, and the one where a man threw a full pop can at one of our riders.

I got rid of my leg warmers, booties, and skull cap, and swapped the heavy gloves for some SmartWool full finger gloves. The easy part of this ride was done, and now began the "lumpy" bits. After averaging the better part of 20kmph, we would get introduced to single digit riding. Duane was not using his granny at all, which meant he powered up hills. I was slow, dragging my ugly carcass all over the road. I have never ridden north on Old Owen Road, and this was the first time. Reiner Road was more of the same. Rollers, and some nice steep but short pitches. Duane wondered if Old Pipeline Road would come at the bottom of a hill, but I had to demoralize him by telling the truth (not to mention SIR tradition).

The steepest part of Reiner Road slowed me to a crawl, and Duane pulled ahead and kept riding uphill, while completely ignoring the left turn onto Old Pipeline Road. I of course, was a touch familiar with these roads as they were on the Fall 1000 that I did in 2006, albeit in the opposite direction. A big yell caught Duane's attention and he came flying down informing me that he was testing my navigation skills! Old Pipeline is a private road, had very little traffic and had good pavement. The next few stretches were extremely low traffic, but I was low on power for much of it, and it was very obvious that I was weighing Duane down. The calmness of Woods Creek was great, as were the beautiful views on Lake Roesiger and Menzel Lake Road. The latter two roads punished me though, and all I wanted to do was survive them. We finally arrived at the Granite Falls Chevron, not a controle but a good spot to get some food. I had some Jojo's and some Gatorade. I sat down while Duane patiently waited for me.

Not wanting to waste more time (Duane called me a "Slave Driver"), we set off and made excellent time on Jordan Road to Jordan Trails park. We were greeted by cheers from the folks below on the river and we waved, but pressed on. A special treat was seeing the bird pictured. He (or She) looked beautiful. Duane kept saying redhead, and I kept looking for a pretty redhead :) The climb out of the park was a bit severe, but not very long, and we arrived at the Burn Road intersection. Duane spotted the Info control and we didn't write the answer down, as it was easy to remember, but hard to guess.

I had ridden Burn Road in the opposite direction on the 1000, and I forgot that I was going to get a nice long downhill. We bombed down the hills and got into Granite Falls again, for more Gatorade and water. This time Duane wanted a sit down, and we relaxed for about 10 minutes before heading out again. Some not very hilly stretches later, we arrived at the very easy to miss turn onto N Carpenter Rd. The only reason I saw the turn was because I spied painted Dan Henry's on the road, and looked up to see the turn. Duane was very appreciative of my efforts: he said it was above and beyond the call of duty for me to have driven the route and marked Dan Henry's. :)

We hit the last Info control of the day, and just as we were writing the info down, Duane threatened to quit on me. He said he was going to ride back the way we came. I wanted his company, and so had to beg him to reconsider and ride with me. A big dog stood about 200 yards from where we were. Duane graciously allowed me to go in front, and I kept yelling "Go home", and even though the dog was wagging its tail, I took no chances. After a few warning barks, the dog went home, as commanded. We headed on, until we hit Dubuque Road.

Our first vision of Dubuque road was a wall. A wall rising about 200 feet into the sky. We started plodding out way to the top - Duane in front as usual - when we started hearing the unmistakable signs of an aggressive vehicle: A SUV was driving towards us, with the passenger yelling out at us with the usual invective directed at cyclists: "Get off the road", and the words that rhyme with Crass and Dole. However, as this mania jumped out the window curse at us, he also lost something that flew onto the grass. The Vehicle itself gave us lots of clearance, but the passenger was not so nice. He was either high or really drunk.

Duane stopped to pick the object and stuffed it in his jersey: they were the maniac's sunglasses. Now, a lesser human being (say myself), would have either smashed the thing with a stone, or thrown it in the nearest trash can or left it in the middle of the road to be crushed by a vehicle. Duane is not such a human. He crossed the road and left it atop a green power box, so that somebody might find it. I told Duane that he was a better man than I was.

After a few more walls, and a few very exhilarating descents, we turned left on Dubuque Cut off road, only to be met with the same type of riding. I crawled uphill, while Duane powered uphill and slowed down for me to catch up. We rode through Snohomish, and its traffic, and finally found our way to Springhetti Road, where we saw a bike commuter. We almost caught him, but he turned left just before the turn onto Broadway. Broadway of course, had been on the tail end of the 2006 Fall 1000k, so I knew it was going to be a while before I made it to the top. Duane became a dot in the distance and I plodded through the false summits, before finally reaching the top.

Duane guided me through the next few turns, and pretty soon we were on Bostian Road, where I stunk again. The steep slope to Woodinville-Duvall Road was the end of this long day of climbing, and we hammered down to the left turn and then again down to 140th. In my infinite wisdom I turned left onto a shopping mall, and then jumped on the sidewalk. Duane followed me, and we used the pedestrian crosswalk, before continuing on 140th. We were at the finish in no time, and saw the bicycles of Ryan and Jack at the Gas Station across the street.

We got more food and Duane gave me a ride home up the Winery hill, before setting off for Seattle. A wonderful day to be on our bicycles.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Where have all the cars gone?!

Me, eating at the finish: "I don't think I have ever ridden a course with so little traffic!".

Ron Himschoot: "Yeah, I think so too. This was like some sections of Last Chance!".

Rick Blacker: "That was the idea".

A hearty dose of thanks go to the organizers, the volunteers who braved the rain and the cold to help us on our way, and the creators of this route. The secret controle in the morning had great goodies, as did the controle atop Tono Road, staffed by Jane and Emily (the wives of two riders), and John Vincent. Mike Richeson standing at the corner on the last informational controle was a comforting sight. Many thanks to all.

Heeding the warnings for good lights, I switched out the bulb on my E6, and it made a huge difference on some of the gravel sections. One car even honked at me to lower the beam a little bit (before the Mike Richeson Info Controle). I carried two Biscottis and a ZipLoc bag of Sustained Energy. I ate one of the biscotti's on the drive there :)

If you didn't get to do PBP last year, all you had to do was show up at the Spring 300k. We got everything you got in France, the wind, the rain, the waterlogged feet, but without the language barrier, adoring crowds, ham baguettes and pain au chocolats. A fourth of that distance at a tenth the price, this was an offer I could not refuse. So I planned to ride it, while fully realizing that the organizer combination of Blacker and Sprague meant only one thing: hills. I always appreciate a good training effect in Spring, the whining was kept to an absolute minimum. And yes, the hills were plentiful, and came often. The number of roads where I saw more than 5 cars on one stretch could be counted on one hand. Truly a great route.

I met a lot of the regulars for the first time this year - having finished the Greg Cox 200 on the pre-ride- and quite a few new faces. No rain at the start, and Ron Himschoot, ever the purveyor of good news, told me that there was a 70% chance of rain after 11a, which meant I had about 4 hours to finish the course in, if I wanted to stay dry. As the current President would say, "Mission accomplished!".

After the pre-ride announcements, we were off and I was oh-so-ahead of everybody else for a while, but then reality set in and was quickly passed on the first few lumps on South Bay Road. Bob Lagasca introduced himself, and rode with me for a few minutes. He does quite a few permanents, and it was good to put a face to a name. The first few miles featured some rollers, and the lovely Barbara Blacker was there shooting pictures of the riders, and offering encouragement. We hit the first controle, and made quick work of it.

After more rollers, I stopped at a gas station just before Downtown Olympia, to buy some water and a Snickers Bar. I usually eat on the go, and as I was finding a place to dispose my wrapper, Ron Himschoot passed by, and after a brief conversation he pulled away on the Lakeridge climb. There was a secret controle somewhere before Porter, but though I can see it in my head, I am writing this too late, and I don't remember the street it was on. Rick Blacker was there, along with Jane and Emily, and they signed my card, and even filled my water bottles. Top notch support! There was an excellent assortment of food, and I ate a cookie before leaving.

Shortly after a left turn, I saw a group of 4 folks were pulled over on the side of the road, and one person seemed like he was fixing a flat. I made sure they were ok, and kept on. It was not the last time I would see them pulled over. :) They passed me in short order on Bordeaux Road, which I just loved. It felt like a gentle uphill, with great scenery. I would have completely missed the D-Line turn, had I not seen John Vincent driving downhill, at the intersection. I stopped to chat, and he warned me that D-Line road was "Gut Check Time". I would have done some bonus miles had he not warned me. I chatted with him for a while, and then took off. I was in my lowest gear pretty soon, but the climb itself was not very long. I paused at the top to make sure I didn't plummet down the wrong road, but another rider came up and stopped and we compared notes. I rode on, while he waited for another buddy.

The descent on D-Line road was wonderful and one of the highlights of this ride. No traffic, and it wound through forested land, with a gentle river running right by it. The pavement was not the best I have ever seen, but it was excellent riding. The trees were blooming, a river flowed nearby, and the weather was perfect. One particularly beautiful stretch is captured by Barbara Blacker:

A beautiful downhill, and another Barbara sighting later, I made the turn onto 12, and had the first - and last - tailwind of the day. I saw the same group of 4 riders (whom I shall affectionately name the Flat Four) pulled over just before the Porter Creek Controle, fixing a flat, I think.

The tailwind didn't last for very long, and I was at the Porter Creek Grocery Store. The lovely Cindi Holmstrom was there: I hadn't seen her since the 2006 Dan Turner 300k, and it was good to meet old acquaintances. She took off fairly quickly though. I refuelled and was ready to take off when the Flat Four rolled in. Apparently one of the riders had trouble with a fender (Honjo), and they had stopped to fix that.

I left the Porter Creek controle, and the first drops of liquid sunshine hit me. A rider was pulled over trying to don his rain gear, and I should have taken that cue to put on my helmet cover, but I kept on. The wind was now in our face, and the chipseal didn't help matters much. In a matter of a few hundred yards, it started raining in earnest. Did I stop then? No. I kept on. There was a spectacular house fire on this road just before the turn to Garrard Creek. I wanted to take a picture, but then decided I didn't want to make a spectacle of somebody else's misery. Turns out it was just a fire drill. The name South Bank Road told me that SIR Member (currently in hiding) Paul Johnson's (aka Dr Codfish) house was not very far from here, and I was wondering about him before the right turn onto Garrard Creek Road. Two riders were pulled over, and I rode with them for a while. It turns out that his house was only a mile away from the turn onto Garrard Creek Road. :(

I don't even remember now if Garrard Creek road was hilly, but I think it had chipseal. I do remember Manners Road. Immediately after the right turn we started climbing, and the climbing was relentless. A farmer out in his farm, waved to me. I remember that stretch as being hilly, rainy and cold. My "waterproof" gloves had now let some water in, and my fingers were waterlogged. Some of the descents on Manners Road were intense, with the rain pelting my face. I rode a little with Eamon Stanley, who warned me about Jan Heine's plans for the fall 600k (6 passes over Hwy 20), and said he was planning to ride it. We stopped at the store near the end of Bunker Creek Road to get some food and water, as I started feeling a little low on energy.

We made the turn onto SR 6, and saw traffic for the first time today. I kid you not: this was the first time I saw 5 cars together since the start. I think the low traffic really made this an awesome route. It is worth registering this ride as a permanent, I think. Geoff, are you paying attention? :)

John Vincent had warned me about Curtis Hill Road. This is also where Steve Hameister breathed his last on last years 300k, shortly before PBP. The hill just looks like a wall, and Eamon effortlessly pulled away. I plodded, plodded and plodded, and the nadir was seeing 4kmph on my now-suddenly-functioning bike computer. It had been puttering on and off throughout the day, and it picked this exact hill to tell me that I stink. Thanks Cateye!

I eventually made it to the top of this road, and bombed down the other side to Boistfort Road. The market looked like it was in renovation, or I might have stopped there for a little break. This hill was a toughie. The 16 or so miles on Boistfort road was my low point for the day. I hated the chipseal, hated the weather, hated the wind, hated my speed. But luckily I clued in on this early, and pretty much knew I just had to get through it. The route sheet mentions Camels, but the only Camels I saw were inside the J&S Grocery Store (which was also a controle on last years Fleche). I loved SR 506. It was a wonderful little stretch dotted by farms and beautifully coloured homes, with fantastic architecture.

I bought some food and water at the controle, and finally put on my helmet cover and rain pants. I had ridden without donning these for the better part of 61 miles. Not very smart. The Flat Four rolled in just as I was heading out. They mentioned that they had to dump his Honjo fender because they got tired of fixing it and lugging it around when they could not. Jan Heine, our expert equipment note taker might want to make a note!

The next few stretches were also rolling, but somehow my riding picked up right after I left the controle. The rollers didn't weigh me down, and I realized that I knew some of these roads (from the Fleche). When I got to the Main Street Food Mart in Chehalis, it was late evening, and the light was starting to look dim. This was also the other spot where I saw more than 5 cars in one stretch.

I refilled my food stores. After a hot chocolate, some Snickers, some Gatorade, I left. The woman at the controle was very helpful and encouraging, and gave me some zipties to hold my helmet light in place. I think Dan and Patti Austad pulled in just before I left. I also dorked up here, putting on my leg bands and my vest. A beautiful ride past the Steam plant, and a short climb up Tono Road brought me to the most wonderful sight of the ride: a bunch of selfless volunteers, sitting under a canopy awaiting the arrival of the next rider: mine was greeted with hooting and hollering! John Vincent, Jane, Emily, and another gentleman helped me the instant I came in. John took my bike, and the women pampered me with food and encouragement. It is here that I found out that Jane and Emily were the wives of two of the Flat Four. I thanked them mightily, had some hot chocolate, some Peanut Butter and Jelly Bagels, and a cookie, and took off into the night. Comfort, on such events and especially in adverse conditions, is to be partaken in little amounts: too much of it, and you either end up wasting a lot of time or losing sight of the goal completely.

The women warned me again about a sharp turn, and I was off. About a mile downhill, I heard my helmet cover fly off into the darkness. DRAT! I pulled over, and looked hither and thither, but no sign of my helmet cover. I started riding uphill looking for it, and I could not find it. I felt pretty sad that I had lost my nice rain cover. I resigned myself thinking I would ask John Vincent to come looking for it for me, and rode on. After about a mile, I stopped, took off my gloves and felt the top of my helmet. And there was my faithful helmet cover. I have heard of bad brains at rides longer than 600k, but this was a first and a new low. :)

I came upon a smiling Mike Richeson at the informational control; the answer was fairly easy to guess. Seeing him was reassuring, and I committed the information to memory, and headed out. It started raining a tad heavily now and I could hear the rain drops hit my helmet cover with alarming intensity.

Fairly deep gravel marked the trail, and I walked to the pavement, not wanting to risk my noggin. Careful riding ensure that I made the easily missed left turn to Chehalis-Western Trail. 10 miles of flat land bliss followed. After exiting the trail, I could not find the connection to continue on to the trail, so I rode back up a short steep hill, back the way I came to find out if I spaced out. I had not. Under the trestle (new word learned!) I went, and saw the left turn, and continued on.

This stretch saw the worst of the rain of the entire ride. It poured mercilessly down, and all the way through the streets of Lacey. I arrived at the finish, completing the ride in 17:54. I had grand plans of finishing in 16 hours and change, but the rain had me spending more time at the controls than necessary. Rick and Barbara Blacker, James Sprague, and Jane and Emily were there, along with Ron Himschoot, who had showered. Over great food (Vegetarian Pizza with Cashew nuts, and cookies) we talked about the ride, and the lack of traffic, and the hills, and Steve Hameister. A nice hot shower made me a new man. The Flat Four finished, a testament to their perseverance. I think Eamon finished a touch behind me, and I don't know where I passed him.

I should have stayed and napped and then left in the morning, but I chose to drive home not knowing the effect of tiredness. I nodded off a couple of times, before good sense kicked in, and I napped for an hour at a gas station, and then took off for home. Not a mistake I will repeat, ever (meaning, please don't yell at me for this!).