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.