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.