Monday, June 16, 2008

The ORR Covered Bridges 400

This is a very late ride report. Very late indeed.

Photos are here

The past few years - two to be precise - I have been lusting after the Covered Bridges 400K brevet run by the Oregon Randonneurs that takes you on a tour of - you guessed it - a few pretty covered bridges. I missed out in years past, but this year I made it a priority, and saved myself for this ride by DNFing the SIR 600. Not. I was going to do it even if I had to crawl to the finish, but the DNF just helped matters some. I rested my aching knee and it cleared up finally on Friday, so my wife and I set off for Portland under crystal clear skies. We stayed at our friends house in Beaverton.

The weather was for clear skies and warm temperatures. There were a fair number of riders at the start, with a very high number of recumbents. Portland of course is renowned for its cycling diversity, but this was my first real introduction to it. I met Ken Carter (for the first time), Gary Prince (on his first 400), John Vincent, Susan France, Paul Whitney, Brian List and Dan Fender, who had ridden down to Portland from Olympia a few days prior. Brian, Dan and I rode last years Oregon 400 together from start to finish, and I was looking forward to Dan's humour, if I could hang with them.

Coming in with a semi-functional knee, I was determined not to push the pace at all and enjoy a more pedestrian pace. The route was advertised as being without much climbing, and visions of cracking 21 hours danced in my head, and if I could keep my controls short maybe just maybe I could set a personal record for the distance. After a few words from Susan, we headed out, and as everybody took off quickly, I picked a faster-than-normal-for-me pace as my knee felt fine and found myself in a group consisting of Brian List, Dan Fender and Paul Whitney. We were on a busy road for a while, but cars were courteous and there were enough numbers of us for cars to be oblivious. The turn onto Champoeg Road (pronounced really weirdly) brought about welcome respite from the behemoths.

I find myself able to hang with Paul Whitney on the early part of most brevets, but finishing with him has proven elusive so far. Even last year, when I possibly was in the best riding shape of my life, I still could not finish the Tahuya 300 with him, as he took off early from Seabeck, wanting to catch the earlier ferry [he ended up missing it]. We rode along the blissfully quiet roads, admiring the scenery and talking, and the miles flew by. We watched Brian and Dan make a right turn on the wrong road, and Paul and I almost followed them, but seeing a woman headed straight we checked out route sheets only to notice that they had gone down the wrong road. "I should have known those two would get lost", said Paul, fully conversant with their wayward ways. We continued straight along on Case road until the correct turn on St Paul Highway, which was marked. I telepathically thanked the woman who went the right way. I suspect it was Lynne Fitzimmons.

We rode over I-5 and through a sleepy Gervais. The store was closed, but I had a stash of food to dig into, and kept riding on. We spotted a rider stopped near Howell Prairie and wondered if she was ok, and after her reassurances we kept on. We saw another bicycle , so there must have been another rider in the vicinity paying closer attention to the water needs of some plants! Shortly after this we were at the first information control at the Gallon House Covered Bridge. Took off some clothing and took some pictures (my first covered bridge!), and we set off again for the next control.

We rode through a barely waking Silverton, and were boosted by a nice tailwind for the stretch into Sublimity, but the rollers did slow us down. John Vincent was riding strongly, and we weren't able to close the gap between us at all. We finally caught him at Sublimity, but he was just getting out of the gas station, and we were getting ready to stop at Safeway to get some water and make some phone calls. I used the restroom and Paul made some phone calls. I helped a woman with a child with getting her cart, and Paul remarked that I had done my good deed of the day. A randonneur aims to please! The temperature was warming up, and I took off my leg warmers and my jacket. Ahhh, wonderful warmth. I set off knowing full well that Paul would catch me.

The route sheet warns about Cole School road and the warning is well deserved. Since I was alone, I didn't have to suffer Paul as witness to my pathetic climbing skills. The first one was not hard, but the second one took a bite out of me. The descent down Richardson was something to cheer about though, and I made it to the next info control in no time, where I met Dan and Brian. More pictures of Schimanek Covered Bridge, more bridge ogling and more ribbing from Dan later, we headed for the next control where we were promised a coffee shop. Somebody must have been joking. I saw quite a few riders heading back from the bridge, and we cheered each other. I found myself alone to the Hannah Covered Bridge, but Paul, Brian and Dan weren't far behind. A short while later I was at the first control at Scio, being accompanied by Paul, who caught me a touch before the control. I am sure he relished riding at his own pace for while.

I have read a few of Lynne's postings on the Oregon Randos discussion list, and this was the first time I got to meet her. She looked about mid 30s to me, and I was shocked to read that she has two grown kids (whose allowance she is cutting off, the heartless woman!). The store's walls were lined with bicycles, and the riders included Dan and Patti Austad, John Vincent, myself, Paul Whitney and others I am forgetting. This is where the 400 and the 200 diverged, and after digging into the communal water and Frito's supplies, we took off again for parts unseen around 11am. We were making good time.

A uninspiring RR crossing info control later, we were at the Hoffman Covered Bridge, and then shortly afterward at Larwood. The control questions all involved the colour of zipties put down by the pre-riders of the course. Very novel idea! I left Larwood before everybody else, but shortly after the bridge, I saw huge amounts of riders and it wasn't until the turn onto McDowell Creek Road that I summoned the courage to ask what ride they were on [Strawberry Century]. Wonder of all wonders. Lots of people of all abilities littered the route. The riders at the front of that ride looked miserable, while the ones at the end looked happy. The roads that we were on now were clearly the favourites of some local riders, because there were Dan Henry-like markings on the route that we were taking. Pleasant Valley Road took us again along the river, and more riders, now the tailend of the riders went by in the opposite direction. The loose dogs mentioned in the route sheet were absent, and I for one didn't rue their absence.

A huge group of riders was still at the control and I felt a surge of hope. Maybe I would be able to hang with somebody and have some company for the night. A rejuvenating stop at the Sweet Home Thriftway served as the springboard onto the next section, but shortly after Terrace all the usual suspects - Dan, Brian and Paul - passed me. Paul tried to stay with me, but I released him from bondage, and asked him to go find Brian and Dan. After a few more minutes Paul peeled off to catch Brian and Dan. This was the worst stretch of the ride for me. The slow climb up to the "summit" of Marcola was agonizing and I was slow slow slow. I regretted not having the power to stay with the three of them, and my poor conditioning. The road had a wide shoulder and almost no traffic and I suspect I had a nice tailwind, but these niceties were lost on me. I did however make it to the "top" and then bombed down the other side, but alas, my fellow riders were long gone when I got to Earnest Covered Bridge. A very short stop later, I proceeded down to the Mohawk Post Store.

Just before the control I spied a Turkey Vulture sitting on the road feeding on a dead carcass. He (it?) heard me coming and flew away, and I could not take a picture. Paul, Brian and Dan were just leaving the store, and I met Jane and Chris on recumbents. I had an Ice Cream and a Snickers bar, and the 'bents set off for Harrisburg. I was pretty sure I heard Dan mention that they were going to stop in Coburg for sandwiches and I was confident I would catch them there, and they would slow down anyways for the night, and so I would be able to ride with them!

Alas, Coburg came and went, and the wind was now a terrible crosswind as I made my way over to the chipseal of Coburg Road. Having experienced the nasty headwind on US 12 a week ago, this was nothing, and I mentally kept telling myself that the wind was not strong. I put my head down and plodded on at a pretty pathetic rate, but I did make forward progress and I am happy to say no thoughts of quitting entered my head. As the years go by, my mental strength seems to be waning, and I find that the only thing that saves me is company.

I got to Harrisburg, and found Jane and Chris at the control. Chris told me that Jane was in bad shape, and that she could not keep any food down. I bought some water, ate some food and when I met Jane I told her to avoid Cola Drinks and try some Sprite or Ginger Ale, as that settles my stomach, and may work for her too! I then took off to find the public restrooms near the river. After a short break, I circled back to the store, but the recumbents weren't there. Figuring that they were gone, I set off for Peoria all alone. The wind was still strong, but the sun was now in his last gasp for the day. The route was completely flat and the river flowed to my left as I continued to ride on the drops in an attempt to beat the wind.

Peoria Road goes by a bird sanctuary, and I saw quite a few species of birds, chirping, eating, flying and hunting all over the place. The 19 mile stretch took forever though, and halfway through the stretch I stopped to put on my leg bands, my jacket and my vest. I pulled down the pit zips to allow better air flow as it was still a warm evening. I called Susan for clarifications at the Orleans Road turn, and was helped out by both Susan and a local teenager who told me that Bryant was straight ahead, and I shouldn't hit the Railroad tracks. I forgot where I got caught by Jane and Chris, but when I asked Jane how her stomach was doing, she called me a "Life saver". I was happy to have been in a position to help her, and now I had somebody to ride with me through the night. We got to Albany around 10.43, and found to our horror that the store was closed. We begged the manager to allow us to shop for food and water, and he relented, and I bought two bottles of Gatorade, and 2 Snickers bars for the road ahead, and then we set off again for the finish.

Jane and Chris are very strong riders and they stayed with me as we got to the town of Independence, where nothing was open except the Bar. We went in and were treated to a surreal scene of drunk people, loud music and a kind bouncer who signed our cards for us. I was accosted by a rather drunk Mexican man, talking to me in Spanish figuring I was hispanic. I had to tell him that I was from India and not Mexico. We were brothers in skin colour, if not linguistically.

I thought we had 6 more miles to go to Independence! Riding with company makes the miles melt away, I said, and Chris responded that those were the longest 6 miles of his life. We turned back the way we came, and I got dropped before Salem. On a stretch of particularly well lit road, I was pulled over by a cop who wanted to find out if I had seen a severe damaged Black Honda go my way. Of course he pulled me over ever-so-gently saying "I am sorry to bother you". Ah, sometimes the Police are so kind. Not one word about what I was doing riding my bicycle in the middle of the night. Of course, once I saw the well-lit stretch I figured that I was in Salem but that was not to be. When I finally did get to Salem I hated riding through town. There were no shoulders on the road, and it went through the heart of Salem. I thought of the fast riders who probably rode through this stretch in heavy traffic and as I comfortably coasted through the night in the traffic free roads.

It took me forever to get out of the lights of Salem, but the lights of Salem had performed a very valuable service. They kept me awake! When I hit the darkness sleep started to become a problem. Had I been a smarter man, I would have socked away a Starbucks DoubleShot in my bad as a way of warding off the sleep, but alas, I have no such distinctions. Half way through the River Road stretch, I saw little peeks of red come out from behind the ridges. This gave me a great boost of energy, and that helped me ward off some loose dogs that strayed onto my path to see what I was all about. That helped!

I was confused about the left turn towards St Paul, and stopped for some Gatorade and Snickers, and who do I see but Chris and Jane again. They had stopped at the 7-11 to get some Soup as Jane was bonking. We rode through the desolate stretches again, and I was dropped again before the downhill stretch into St Paul. It was daylight now and traffic started flowing, even if in fits and starts. One final crossing of the great river, and I finally got to the finish, and found out that Jane and Chris had also just finished. They must have stopped again someplace as I had been dropped fairly convincingly on River Road. Susan France was at the finish, and she babied me with food and drink, and made arrangements for me to take a nap. I was the last finisher, and so was responsible for her staying up as late as she did. I thanked her for her help and apologized for being so slow. She even moved my bike to near my room!

I was happy to be done. A Shower and a nice nap later, I found my way back to Beaverton.

The best way to get over a DNF is to get back on the bike and complete another ride again!

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Most heart-felt congratulations to you, Narayan. Loved reading your victory post...partly because I totally get your DNF-feelings. Vicarious living through you, in a way.

I'm thinking about your last sentence, "The best way to get over a DNF is to get back on the bike and complete another ride again!" It may not be the most prudent thought, at least for me at the moment, but one that makes me nod. Prudence was never my virtue!

Congratulations once again. Truly. And happy to hear that your knee is doing better.