Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Tahuya 200K


Having successfully completed my R-12 quest, it was time to enjoy the brevet season one more time. I rode the 8 miles or so to the Starbucks near Lake Forest Park, and Wayne Methner gave me a ride to the West Seattle ferry terminal. We talked about our riding so far, and it was pretty much the same thing: life getting in the way of riding. We got to the ferry terminal with plenty of time to spare, and rode down to the start from the parking lot, and found a gaggle of randonneurs. I chatted with Mike Richeson and John Morris, whose company I have only experienced at the start of these rides. The ferry crossing was great. This was going to be a mixture of old and new routes for me, and I was looking forward to a nice ride. Even if the fact that Mark Thomas took 13 hours to complete this ride indicated I would most likely end up with a Hors Delais.

Start to Purdy

After some pre-ride instructions from Peter McKay, who referred to this ride as a certifiable "Ball-buster of a ride", we all set off. It takes me a while to warm up, and the rolling terrain meant that I was very quickly spit out the back. I settled into a comfortable rhythm on the rollers that marked the first few kilometers, but I misread the sign for Olalla Valley road and wondered if I was going in the right direction. I shouted this thought out as I passed Tom Barocan on a sweeping downhill, thinking I would have to climb this hill if I was wrong. I needn't have worried because the road only went that one way. However, this little logical gem didn't hit me as my brain was addled without the effects of Caffeine. The faster riders had long since vanished, but Bill Gobie, myself, Jeff Loomis and Chuck Hoffman were all strung out on the roads within sight of each other. The roads were bereft of traffic, and new roads are always a joy to ride in. The 0.4 mi stretch on Burley Olalla Rd caught my attention courtesy of the short-but-steep climb to the turn onto Fagerud road. The tone of the day's ride had been set. A few of the roads on this stretch had very Scandinavian names.

The first inkling of the existence of cars in this world came on 144th Ave, which had a steady stream of traffic. Peter and Amy passed me just before the route left 144th, in a car stuffed to the gills with control paraphernalia. I knew I would be seeing them before long. I caught upto Jeff Loomis near Carr Inlet and had a nice chat with him, soon lost him and managed to reel him in, only to lose him again. The route was relatively flat till the first control, where I found a huge group. I had my sights set on a short stop, and was quite pleasantly surprised that I had made pretty good time to this control, getting there at 8.35 or so.

Tom Barocan is visiting India and wanted to talk to me about this...

Purdy to Kay's Corner

I refilled my CamelBak, bought food, and rushed out to the roads, after bidding bye bye to Bill Gobie, knowing that he would catch me in no time. He was riding strong. About a mile out of the control, I reached in my back pocket to get some food, and quite annoyingly couldn't find it. Of course, I had paid for my food and left it behind at the counter. Very smart. I rode back and saw some riders wondering where I was going and I had to fess up. Bill and Tom were still there, and I quickly picked up my food, and went in the wrong direction. After about a 100 yards, I realized that I was going in the wrong direction, and turned myself around. My navigational brain was mostly unavailable.

The road seemed wet, but there was no rain. Ten pleasant kilometers later, I found myself on SR3, leading into Belfair. I took the previous turn than the one I was supposed to (the easy to miss turn), but quickly corrected myself when I saw the yellow "Dead End" sign. Shortly after this I left the world of smooth pavement, and entered the world of chipseal. Now, if you have ridden this particular part of the world before, the surface may not surprise but is sure to shock. SR 300 had a fresh coat of chipseal. The other thing is the absolutely certainty of you being accosted by a bad driver. Luckily, I got mine out of the way, right after I started on SR 300. Let's just say that the driver's horn was stuck and he could not find a way to get it unstuck.

I was completely alone on this stretch, and I looked south to see SR 106 snaking its way along the South shores of the Hood Canal. More housing developments could be seen on the hills along the highway, but the road I was on, the North Shore road seemed mostly unchanged. A gentle mist provided some wetness, but no water droplets. North shore road was quiet, except for people mowing their lawns, and coming outside to get their newspapers. The miles ticked away and pretty soon I was at Kay's corner, to be pampered by the volunteers who staffed this control: Amy Pieper, Peter McKay, "Sandwich man" Robin Pieper, iPhone photographer Mark Thomas, Eric Vigoren, his dog, and "Write a poem!" Maggie Williams.

Kay's Corner to Seabeck

I forgot the time I got here, but I had gained some more time. This boded well, as I was not hoping to gain any time in the next 50 or so kilometers. Robin made me a fantastic PB&J sandwich (I was one of the very few creamy PB takers), which I ate along with a Granola bar, and some fruit. I had some Snickers bars in my back pocket. Robert Higdon was working on his rear wheel at the control. Bill Gobie, John Vincent and Chuck Hoffman all rolled in minutes after me. After hanging out for about 10 minutes, I took off. No time to be wasted. Chuck Hoffman impressed me by staying less than 5 minutes at this control.

I caught up with Chuck shortly afterward on an uphill stretch, and we were riding together when a young dog [often referred to by the moniker "puppy"] came towards us. I had heard tales of a monster lurking at the base of Holly Hill, but this was way too early. I yelled at the top of my lungs as I passed the dog, and it had the undesired effect of making Chuck jump. I didn't scare the dog, but I sure got Chuck's attention.

Now, there are some secrets to riding the Tahuya Hills. I didn't know any better the first time I rode through these hills, and they ate me alive. I hope you are paying attention because I am not saying this again: Fresh tyres, food, water, and bombing down every single downhill so you have enough momentum to climb the uphill. You can dispatch about 90% of this hills on this leg, if you follow this simple advice. Of course, Dewatto Road will make you cry for your mother, and Seabeck Holly Road is a beast, but most of the roads are handled thus. This being my fourth go-around through this area, I was well armed with food, water, fairly new tyres, and the right attitude. Doing hill repeats up the Winery hill (Chateau St. Michelle) probably also helped.

What Tahuya takes away in terms of hills and pavement, it gives back in scenery and lack of traffic. There was quite a lot of cars parked on Tahuya River Road, and it looked like they were hunters. I saw a dog walk back towards its master with a rabbit in its mouth. But, I could be wrong. This was the first time I have seen more than 10 cars in Tahuya.

I was passed by a blue jersey on Dewatto road, but it turns out he was not on this ride, but lived locally and was out for a ride. He was surprised to see a control at Kay's corner. He wished me well, and left me behind. The floods of last year had affected this area pretty badly, and the scars were there in plain sight. Mudslides, washed out roads, and hitherto unseen stop signs for one-way traffic. The hill past Bear Creek - Dewatto Road got my attention as it always does, and this was one of the few hills that I crawled up on. I stopped to eat something just before the great climb on Seabeck-Holly road, and saw Robert Higdon at the bottom of Holly Hill with a dog running towards him, and knew that the monster had returned. He stopped to take a picture, and rode off.

I charged towards the hill with all the speed I could muster, and yelled at the top of my lungs, and the poor dog ran away into the thickets, not wanting to deal with another brown behemoth on two wheels. Of course, all my momentum came crashing down on the hill, and I crawled up the incline, fighting every pedal stroke, and every breath. This hill is always hard. I pity the riders who do loops on this course, in the annual Tahuya-Seabeck-Tahuya Road race (TBT, if you will). By the time I made it to the top, Robert was nowhere to be found. It usually takes me a good 3 or 4 miles to recover from Holly Hill, and this time was no different. Peter and Amy passed me just past Holly Hill, shouting words of encouragement, but it didn't help my speed any. I slowly plodded my way to Seabeck, expecting the downhill to start anytime now. However, it took forever for the road to decisively point downward. I tucked in, and let it rip, dropping several cars, foolish enough to try and keep up with me. I rolled into the Seabeck General store, and found out that I had banked a further half-hour. This has never happened to me, and I was pretty happy about that.

Seabeck to Lofall [Union 76 Minimart]

The store owners of the Seabeck General store have always laid out a welcome mat for SIR riders, and we in turn have managed to not ruin our reputations. The display case at the store features two cups, proudly displayed for one to see. The store owner, was chatting outside with Robin Pieper. The fantastic four (Robert Higdon, Matt Mikul, Chris Gay and Joby Dorr) were at this control, as was Albert Meerscheidt. Matt laughed about every rider walking into this control being worried about Anderson Hill Road. Chuck Hoffman pulled in about 10 minutes after I did. I refilled water using Peter McKay's supplies, got some food (and took it with me!), and took off for the most infamous 4.3 kilometers in SIR lore.

I survived the next 4.3 kilometers, with the last hill really kicking my butt. My chain dropped off once when I tried to shift too quickly, and I stopped under the pretext of having to fix my chain. This happened again on the next steep climb. I finally made it to the turn onto Olympic View Road, which indicates the end of the worst hills on the course. Or does it ? For some weird reason, I have always been slow on Clear Creek Road. Last years 600 was the first time, and this was the second time. The wind was unfavourable too. I spotted Robert Higdon first and Albert Meerscheidt next, fixing flats on this stretch. There was quite a large amount of glass on this road. Robert looked very disconsolate. I should have stopped to chat with him, but somehow didn't. I limped my way in to the next control, my average speed being about 15 kph. I pulled into this control wanting water, and food, and something salty.

Lofall [Union 76 Minimart] to the Finish

Lofall is the town featuring the controle. I could only think of offal. Pardon me. I bought some jojo's and some water. The heat took my desire to eat Snickers bars completely away, and I longed for a PB&J sandwich. I must have made Robin make me another one for the road. I filled up on water and left this control in record time, spending under 5 minutes at this control. Chuck beat me again though, spending less than a couple of minutes. I never saw him again until the finish. The day was now hot, and I was sweating profusely, and going through water fairly rapidly. My poor riding speed continued, and I limped my way through Chico way. I should have probably stopped to eat something cold somewhere, but I wasn't very keen on stopping. I was keen on finishing.

Silverdale, came and went, its lack of shoulders and high traffic a bit disconcerting, but traffic was uniformly courteous. Lots of cars before the turn onto Chico Street for some reason. I was amused by the name Chico; it was the silly nickname of a neighbourhood boy (and his brother, Bingo, both of whom I hated!). I had completely forgotten their nicknames, and Chico street reminded me of both of them. Go figure!

I got on SR3, and a few cars started honking their horns, as if to warn me that I was prohibited from riding on the freeway. The shoulder was littered with debris, and a short bridge with a narrow shoulder provided some quickening heartbeats, but it was nothing to be scared of. I was mostly scared of getting a flat, not by the traffic. Ditto for SR16. When I got to Tremont St, I could smell the barn, and tried to ride as fast as I could. I stopped on Lund street (which also made me chuckle, but I won't tell you why!) to call Wayne Methner, and ask him to leave without me. I had not seen him at a single control, and it didn't make any sense for him to wait around for me just because I was a slowpoke.

SE Mile Hill reminded me of Port Gamble, with its long climbs which one could see from miles away. Not as vicious, but it definitely was not an easy ending to a hard ride. I rode through two solid patches of glass, and started wishing that I would not get a flat so close to the end, and thankfully I didn't. I caught up with a gentleman riding a road bike, who turned out to be a ferry worker. He was quite interested in the activities of randonneurs and SIR in general, and had met several of us in the morning.

The last miles featured more rollers, but the smell of the barn was too strong. I finished to applause I might add, from the spectators at the finish: Amy, Mark, Peter, Robin and a few other riders who were waiting for the ferry. A V-8, some sprite and more food later, I was happy again. Had a good time chatting with Albert and Amy. It was a fun but hard ride indeed. 8300 feet of climbing, give or take. Final time: 11 hours and 6 minutes (which translates to 666 minutes). Albert Meerscheidt finished, despite all his punctures, only 5 minutes after me. Robert Higdon, much to his credit, considered DNFing, reconsidered, and rode to the finish. Way to go!

I caught the next ferry, and rode leisurely to Downtown Seattle with Mark, who then gave me a lift home. Now, I get to write a ride report as a poem. I suggest you buy a vial of cyanide and keep it handy. Don't blame me, blame the newsletter editor.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My first R-12!

July 20, 2008: Prologue

The first time I heard about this R-12 thing, I thought it was crazy. Riding in the cold, icy months weren't very appealing, and so I conveniently filed that under the "I am not doing it because it is too hard" category. It's funny how repeated mentions on the SIR mailing list and casual conversation can force you to refile things under the "I wonder if I could do it" category! Several of our club friends and American Randonneur reinforced the opinion that R-12 honorees from the Pacific Northwest were studs. Keen to prove my stud credentials, I started my R-12 quest in March of 2007.

And then the "I am not going to France because of the USCIS" malaise hit me, and I forgot to ride a single 200k in July of 2007. Oh well! Started again in August of 2007 with the 400k ride of Poor Man's PBP, organized by the Oregon Randonneurs. Peg W, ever the subtle motivator, told me that I was being "crazy", trying to ride outside during the winter.

This July is my final 200 towards my first R-12. I was planning to ride the Tahuya 200, but I wasn't sure I could finish that ride in time (my confidence is at an all time low), and as insurance I planned to ride a permanent the weekend before, and picked a "new" permanent: Redmond-Carbon Glacier. Thai Nguyen, Shan Perera and Galvin Chow are perpetual riders of this route that takes you through Issaquah, Cumberland, Buckley, Enumclaw, Wilkerson and Carbonado, to the lovely Carbon Glacier entrance on Mt Rainer National Park, and then back. They were full of praise for this route words. I'd never ridden this route before, so I looked forward to some new, some old, roads.

Start to Cumberland

I set off from home for Sammamish Valley Cycle, around 6.45 in the morning. The air was chilly, and the descent down the winery hill was cold. I stuck to the trail, and saw the earlybirds running and cycling along. A couple of miles after I entered the trail, I was forced to stop for geese crossing the trail, a once in a lifetime shot that my early-morning-brain failed to recognize. That moment is lost forever! When I got to the start at around o710 the shop was closed! I knew this, so, I visited the nearby coffee store, Victors to get my receipt. Victor's Celtic Coffee is very highly recommended. It is the creme de la creme of local coffee houses!

The day was forecast to be warm, so I had taken my CamelBak, but forgotten my camera. The wussy cellphone camera would have to suffice. The route starts off completely flat, save for a few bumps on East Lake Sammamish Parkway, and I made pretty good time to Issaquah, which was just barely awake as I cycled through. The roads were empty, and I knew that it would be a handful on the return journey. I passed the Darigold plant on Front Street and thought about the vast amounts of Chocolate milk consumed on randonneuring rides across North America. These guys should sponsor us! The first real turn after getting onto East Lake Sammamish Parkway would be the left turn onto Kent-Kangley Road, and so there is a minimum of navigation required to the first control at Cumberland.

Lapsed Randonneur Kent Peterson lives in Issaquah, and as I crossed Sunset Way, I thought of him. I came into randonneuring reading Kent's mentions (and reports!) of PBP on the touring mailing list. Kent has been nothing but helpful whenever I have approached him for help, and it would have been nice to have shared this day with him. However, Kent is no longer a member of RUSA! Terrible! Come back Kent!

South of Issaquah, the first few rollers are encountered, a recurring theme through several sections of the route. Not new roads by any means, as this permanent is a combination of some of the roads from last year's Spring 600 and the Greg Cox 200 out of Kent. The terrain was rolling, and had very few true flat spots, and there was almost no traffic for much of the morning. Lots of cyclists were out enjoying the day, capped off by the two lovely ladies who passed me on the uphill just before the turn onto Kent-Kangley road. There was a nice tailwind going to Cumberland, but these being the summer months, a headwind on the way back was inevitable.

I reached the first control at around 9.55a, a bundle of sweat.

Cumberland to Carbon Glacier

The Cumberland store functions as the control, and since a lot of riders do this permanent, the store owner at Cumberland was more than conversant with who we were. He had nothing but glowing words for the behaviour of past permanent riders, which is always good to hear. I didn't expect anything else. I called my wife to let her know I was making good progress, and set out, spending not more than 10 minutes off the bike.

Familiar roads followed but not for very long, and the stretch on SR-410 was fairly high in traffic, not to mention the presence of "objectionable" members of the passenger population. Some yelling, some screaming, some cussing, but little in the way of harm. I was glad to get out of this road, and onto SR-165, which features moderate traffic, but the vehemence of the drivers on SR-410 was missing.

I think the beauty of the next 16 or so miles cannot be overstated. It starts out being very ordinary, but rises to a crescendo in the last 13 miles. Great scenery with decreasing traffic the further you went along, this stretch was truly enjoyable. I would recommend refilling water at Wilkerson. I ran out of water at Carbonado and turned around to get some water at the house of a very helpful gardener. "If you run out of water on the way back", she said, "feel free to stop by and use my hose again". Her help and friendliness were most appreciated, on a hot day, and made the next 10-odd miles even more enjoyable. SR-165 soon transforms itself into a twisty narrow two lane road which gradually snakes its way up to the turn onto Carbon River Road and features great views of the flowing river. It also features a narrow bridge which accorded great views of the surrounding hills.

Carbon River Road has an even lower volume of traffic, which I am sure none will complain about, but gently tilted up in the direction of travel. More chance to enjoy that scenery I keep yammering on about. The chipseal was only a minor deterrent, and progress was strong towards the end of the road. There are some road markings which inform you of the distance to the end, but those are for some ride that stops about a mile short of our intended destination, the Carbon River Ranger station. Just before the control, somebody had drawn the male anatomy using a spray gun. I chuckled to myself as I rode past, hoping that this little piece of "art" wouldn't survive for long.

I finally got to the control around 12:20p, and wrote down the info control answers. I visited with a couple of New York, who had driven across America, and were now going back to New York, through Canada. They were very interested in what I was doing, and I chatted with them about our sport, the places one should not miss in Canada [Icefields Parkway], and was glad to find that they planned to go along that way too.

Carbon Glacier to Cumberland

I knew the next few 15 or so miles would be mostly downhill, and I was eager to enjoy the tranquility of these roads again. I hammered the downhill to SR-165 and stopped for a picture of the narrow bridge. The days heat had started melting the tar and as my bike went over the little bubbles that form on such days, I could hear their pops. Since I had water, I didn't bother to stop in Carbonado, and thinking I had enough water and feeling good, I rode on without stopping at Wilkerson, which in hindsight was a colossal mistake. I had food, but I ran out of water about a couple of miles past Wilkerson, and suffered in the heat of the day. I should have made excellent time back to Cumberland, but somehow it took almost the exact time to head back to Cumberland as it took to get there from Carbon Glacier, this despite the route back featuring a large downhill section. I resolved to get water at Wilkerson from now on, no matter how good I felt.

I finally got to Cumberland around 2.45p.

Cumberland to the Finish

I really wanted to see if I could crack 10 hours on this ride, but unfortunately, I had lost that opportunity on the stretch back to Cumberland. I sat down and ate some food inside the store, as the heat outside was not inviting. Cold water, some nuts and an ice cream later, I was ready for the ride home. The wind had picked up, but luckily it became a cross wind, which wasn't that bad. I was on the home stretch to finishing up my R-12 and that felt good.

There was a 10 minute construction fuelled delay near Issaquah, which allowed me to eat some more and drink some more, but the days heat was getting to me. I dreamed of stopping somewhere out of the sun for a while, and sure enough there was a McDonald's on East Lake Sammamish Parkway. Not my preferred stop, but I got some ice-cold water, gratis, out of their soda fountain, and chilled out while feasting on an Apple Pie. I spent about 20 minutes here, and then finally took off for the home stretch.

Through the efforts of one Ms Amy Pieper, SIR is the adoptee of a section of road on East Lake Sammamish. I stopped by the sign to adore it, gloat and take a picture. I remembered that cold morning that we gathered together, to clean our stretch for the first time. I was in a cheerful group and we got through our portion in no time at all, sorting garbage and recyclables. I wasn't in town for the second cleaning, but will not miss it the next time.

Traffic through much of the core area of Redmond was busy, but around 5:51p I turned onto Sammamish Valley cycle, and my R-12 quest was over! Well, I need to start R-12 quest #2. It was a beautiful route, and I highly recommend you check it out someday. It features an average amount of climbing, and features great scenery. What's not to like?