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!).


Robert Higdon said...

Quite an epic retelling of the 300k! It was nice to see you again and again (and again) on this ride though. It was a welcome gauge of our time despite all of the mechanical trouble.
*high five*

matt said...

Nice writeup! It was a wonderful ride indeed, although being slower meant more rain for us I guess.

I was one of the "Flat Four," riding on a blue Miyata. (Another rider called us the "Fantastic Four," I think i like that moniker better!)

But yeah we had more than our fair share of mechanical issues, one of our riders had 4-5 flats! One of those flats was only 2 miles from the finish too.

See you on the 400k!

Rando Rider said...

Great write-up. And I agree about it being a nice Permanent ... I just have to figure out how to include that D-Line hill twice ... :)