Monday, May 19, 2008

Spring 400K: I survived!

Many many many thanks are due to the volunteers for organizing this 400. I can honestly say that I would not have finished without their support, especially the controle at the top of Blewett Pass, and the Dubuque Cutoff controle. Brian Ohlemeier, Geoff Swarts, Mark Roberts, Erik Anderson, John Morris and Mark Thomas: Thanks very much!

Photos are here

I wasn't so sure of finishing this one. The Fleche and the Tahuya 600 rides last year were two that I remember being nervous for. But, not so much. The ride was constantly on my mind. The three passes were daunting, and my familiarity with the hills north of US2 didn't help matters any. None of the 4 400ks that I have done have been particularly tough. I pegged my odds of DNF'ing higher than my finish odds. I knew precious little about Snoqualmie and Blewett passes, but I was no stranger to any of the roads after US2. Duane Wright and I had ridden the Woodinville - Granite Falls permanent, and the latter half of this route reuses most of the latter part of that permanent. Reiner and Dubuque Roads were fresh in my memory.

Preparation: Swapped out the 28s for 23s. The weather was slated to cooperate, and so I could leave most of my rain gear behind, but I needed some for those pass descents. I was tempted to leave the Carradice behind, but left it on. In preparation, I cleaned out the old CamelBak, got lots of sleep and kept myself hydrated. I had to be quick at the controles: could not afford anymore than 5 minutes [I was woefully wrong about this].

There would be lots of positives: I would add to my collection of passes (current tally: Steven's going East, Washington and Rainy going West, and Barlow North). I would be in good shape to ride the 600, with more new passes to bag. The ride was four parts: The three passes and then the stretch to Maltby. The route after that is largely devoid of climbs, save for the climb to the Falls, and maybe some climbing on Paradise lake road and Woodinville-Duvall Road. The goal was to survive the passes, fly down the descents, and somehow make each control: just hang on to finish. Seemed like a plan.

Kevin Humphreys was to give me a ride to the start, and as I bombed down the hill at 70kmph I hit the train tracks hard, and my rear tire went soft. I walked to the Tully's. This was not a good start to the day. I hadn't seen Kevin since 2006, when we chatted for a while in Bellingham: he on the 400, and I on the 1000. I usually don't see him because, well, he is hours ahead of me. Once we got to the hotel area, I fixed the flat real fast, and we set off for the hotel, where I missed the pre-ride instructions thanks to lining up for the bathroom. Met Matt Mikul in the line.

Start to Cle Elum

I left about 5 minutes late. I saw the Fantastic Four in the distance, and then I was all alone. The initial bit was granny gear time, but about 3 or 4 miles later, the grade evened out and I was able to make progress at better than "crawl" pace. The weather was cool, and the scenery was spectacular. I have never travelled very far east on 90, and this was a fantastic first time. I passed Ward Beebe fixing a flat, and shortly after the summit, met up with Paul Whitney. Paul and I rode last years Spring 300 together, and we spent the stretch to Cle Elum catching up on the past year. We got to Cle Elum around 8.55.

Cle Elum to Leavenworth

A small group was still there: Peg, Lesli (from the OR group), Michael Norman, and Gary Smith. We left about 10 minutes after we arrived. The day was slowly starting to warm up, but I didn't feel then need to use sunscreen yet. Paul and I rolled out together, and I lost Paul just before the turn to Highway 97. I slowly caught up to somebody I thought was Michael Norman, but it turned out to be Jeff Tilden. Jeff is very gregarious, and we proceeded at a very decent clip up the mountain. Jeff pulled off at a restaurant after Liberty Cafe to get some water, but I soldiered on. I stopped to apply sunscreen, and Jeff joined me shortly after. It was pretty good scenery. I saw Old Blewett Road go by wondering what challenges lay ahead on the 600.

About 4 miles from the top, my CamelBak became empty, and I only had one full water bottle, which I promptly fnished off before the top. I was thirsty when I got to the top, and met Brian and Mark Roberts. They were a very comforting sight. Apparently we weren't Les Lanterne Rouge. It was Bill Alsup from Portland. Drat! They had all kinds of goodies on them, chief among them being water. I refilled, stocked up on food, and started the descent. Jeff had left about 5 minutes ago, laying down a "catch me" challenge. It was a fantastic descent! However, Mark Roberts caught me on the descent and proceeded to drop me like a hot potato! Quite a few riders were out climbing, and it was a rip roaring descent for me. I watched for rocks as Geoff pointed out in his report, but didn't touch the brakes until the turn off to US2. A fast flowing river provided the scenery for the last few miles before US2. I saw Mark Roberts returning along Highway 97, returning to the top of Blewett Pass.

Six hot hot miles later, I was in Leavenworth, and at the Subway. Jeff was already here, and so were Peg and Lesli. Peg was filling a tube sock with ice. The old Cascade 1200 trick!

Leavenworth to Skykomish

I wanted to eat solid food, but I figured I would save all the time I could, and decided to just eat candy bars. I refilled my water supplies and food, and set off for Skykomish with Jeff. Peg and Lesli left after us, but my last image of the two of them, was them flying by me with an "on your left". How they do it I know not, but they were fast. Jeff was fast too, but the heat soon took a toll on us. This is also where I started suffering some rather serious cramps, and I would just stop, wishing the pain to go away. I almost crashed once. These cramps would plague me all the way to the top of Stevens.

Progress was pitiful, but I finally made it to Coles Corner, where I saw Jeff's bike parked against the store wall. I ate a ClifBar that I had taken from the Blewett Pass not-so-secret control, and nearly threw up. The heat had melted the bar, and it was almost inedible. I ate it anyway! In hingsight it was a mistake to force it down. This started a 15 mile stretch where I was nauseous constantly. A great many negative thoughts flourished in my mind: I could just turn left on JW Mann Road and then take Ben Howard Road, and then ride home. My wife could come and pick me up. I could always do the Oregon 400 and the Oregon 600. I didn't know how I refocused, but arriving at Nason Creek rest area probably helped!

I had planned to refuel on water at Nason Creek (a tributary of the Wenatchee River, I found out), and it was a relief to find some shade. I filled up all of my water containers and just slumped to the ground. Several helpful people came up to talk to me, wanting to make sure I was ok. One guy, a cyclist, asked me how I was doing on supplies. He said he had food and water that he could share with me, and then asked about the route. I doused my head with water to try and cool off. After about a 10 minute break, I set off, confident that Jeff was still behind me, but as it turned out he had missed seeing my bike. Oh well. I caught him sitting on a shady spot, and we rode together for pretty much the entire climb. Jeff kept me from quitting. His humour, and timely witticisms helped me tremendously.

The next 18 miles was a study in contrasts: The temperature got colder as we climbed up, but the heat was searing at the lower elevations. Jeff and I stopped in the shade quite a few times, there simply was no other way to cool down. I had severe hot feet issues throughout the latter part of this ride. Of course, had we been faster, our pain would have lessened. I had left my bike computer at home (I get depressed looking at my low speeds), and so I had no way of tracking progress. At near 2000 feet, the air started to cool, and life was good again. Our slow pace also afforded us great views of the mountains, literally hundreds of waterfalls, and several thundering creeks, and raging rivers.

We arrived at the summit at around 7p, I was about an hour behind my fantasy schedule, which wasn' that bad. Jeff set off again for the bottom, and another fantastic descent ensued. I tucked in, and bombed down, and got to Skykomish at 7.37p, to be faced with the worst restroom ever known to man. Jeff was polishing off a Burrito.

Skykomish to Maltby

We spent about 15 minutes here, recovering from our exertions of the last 150-odd miles. I figured I was going to finish with about an hour to spare. We milked the descent some more, and pulled off just after Sultan (or was it Gold Bar?), where we stocked up on food, water and ate a little. This was mostly a 20 minute Rest and Recovery stop for us. We shared some chips: salt never tasted so delicious. It was around 10p, and we were set for the next punishing stretch. The horrors of Dubuque Road lay ahead, as did that killer uphill before the turn to Old Pipeline Road.

Three down, one to go. A beautiful golden moon lit the night. Just after the turn to Old Owen Road, I saw somebody sitting at the Chevron, and Jeff and I rode back thinking the more the merrier. It was Dave Harper who was having stomach problems and was done for the day, having eaten anything since Stevens Pass. I tried to talk him out of it, but he was firm. He wished us good luck, and we were on our way. I had to zig-zag across much of Old Owen road, and same for Reiner Road. When we got to the top it was great relief. I knew the route pretty well, and Jeff and I stuck together.

Dubuque Road was next. Dubuque is the Anderson Hill Road of this ride. After the initial steep pitch, I met a smiling Geoff Swarts driving the route in reverse trying to track riders. It was great to see a friendly face. Geoff is also one of our permanent co-ordinators. Apparently they were worried about us. He warned me about the two U's coming up, and after a short chat, I rode on. Jeff somehow was behind me at this point. I bombed down the first hill, pedalling like a madman, and tried to use the momentum to go up the other side, and miraculously it worked. It was harder on the second try, because the gap is a bit longer, but I made it to the other side somehow. After that, it was just a series of small hills before the turn to Dubuque Cutoff Road, where Geoff told me, more goodies were in store.

I waited for Jeff at the turn, figuring it was easy to miss, and sure enough, he showed up a few minutes later, thanking me for waiting. We made it to the secret control where Erik Anderson and John Morris both filled out water bottles, and a Coke. We left fairly soon from this control. The Coke cooled me down, and I was shivering on some of the descents. I was feeling quite good through Snohomish, and the climb on Springhetti and Broadway didn't seem so bad. We saw blinkies at the Shell gas Station and knew at once that some other kind soul had volunteered to serve us in the middle of the night, even when the controle was at a 24-hour location. It was Mark Thomas, with donuts, cookies, and all other goodies. Time was 0210.

Maltby to Finish

Mark was full of good cheer, and his humour provided a very welcome diversion from the tiredness that plagued me. We talked about the heat and how people were coping: one rider, Vincent, had thrown himself on a snowbank. When I told him that I wasn't ready to do the 600, he cautioned me against making a decision at this very moment. We had passed the four major tests with time to spare, and we only had the Falls climb to really call a climb. We took off after about 10 minutes of chatting. Paradise Lake Road and Woodinville-Duvall Road did have some climbs, but they were of the short variety, nothing really steep. A teen in a mini-van yelled something obscene at Jeff who was a ways behind me, and I pulled over to the gravel to let the morons pass. Sure enough, they yelled the same thing at me. No points for originality.

I came upon the sounds of water on the road on NE 100th, and slammed my brakes hard. Jeff was quite worried about me, and stopped too. We then gently observed the water using our headlamps and the water was only a few inches deep. The still of the night amplifies sounds. I mistook it for a raging river! I saw light to the East on Carnation Farm road, and the birds started chirping, but the moonlight was still strong.

Our collective wheels began to fall off on 203, I think. Our pace slowed to a crawl, and Jeff took up my offer of a hundred miles earlier of salted cashews, at the intersection of 203 and 202. It was Jeff's wife's birthday on Sunday, and he jokingly said that he might not have the energy to celebrate with her! We made slow if unspectacular progress, and it was a joy riding on this road with such little traffic. The last few miles to Downtown North Bend were excruciating as were the 4 miles to the Inn, which even featured a gravel stretch. I deeply hoped to not have a flat! Thankfully, I didn't. Around 628a we arrived at the Inn. 25 hours and 28 minutes later, we were done!

Brian Ohlemeier took our cards, and Jeff immediately left for home. I chatted with him about the ride, the heat, and the great support, while chowing down pizza. A nice long shower and a nice chat with Jan and Ryan Hamilton ensued. They looked as fresh as daisies, and I looked like death warmed over. Jan is not a fan of US2: he said it was hard to have any kind of rhythm. I slept for a couple of hours, after they left. My wife and I were meeting friends from Canada for lunch, so I had to get home quick. As we were getting ready to leave, we were greeted by Paul Whitney and his daughter. Paul planned to sleep in the car while his daughter drove him back to the Tri-Cities. Smart man!

Bring on the 600!