Monday, November 17, 2008

Randonneuring sometimes involves mountaineering.

Somewhere near the end..

There I was, 118-odd miles into my Whidbey - La Conner permanent. Riding the flat sections near the river, I was making good time. I had taken my time at some of the contrôles using it to recover and such, but I still had plenty of it to fritter away. After all, how much would I need to cover those last 8 or so miles?! All good.

The scene now shifts to barely a half-mile away, and I think you know what is coming: I am on all fours, climbing this terrible mountain, wondering if I am ever going to get to the top?! I am in my lowest gear, with a howling left knee, looking up at this wall, and wondering where the clichè'd crampons were in my Carradice. SIR has struck again!

Start to Coupeville

It began much better than this, honestly. I got an early start on the permanent, leaving home at around 5.20. My wife dropped me off at the Ferry terminal, and I was second in line. A nice breakfast on the relatively short ride ferry ride to Clinton left me fueled for the ride ahead. Time was 6:30. Not wishing to waste these empty roads, I left Clinton at 6:30, after a nice break at the Passenger wait area. Downtown Clinton was empty, and not a soul to be found.

My mind wandered back to those empty roads... Why do we love to ride? We love riding at night because of the stars, the lack of traffic and the melancholy stillness. We love riding during the day because we'd enjoy the outdoors better and daylight is not to be wasted. We love riding early in the morning because of the sunrise, the quiet, and well, empty roads. Is there ever a time of day we don't love to ride?! A randonneur uses every excuse in the book. Someday someone is going to have to write a book about randonneuring. I bet it will become some kind of classic like "Old Man and the Sea" (which is required reading for a randonneur by the way).

The next few miles were spent climbing and descending over and over again, but on perfect pavement, clean empty roads and wonderful greenery. The odd car would go by, but the stillness was mostly broken by a cough of mine that I couldn't shake away. Every now and then a dog would bark in the distance, unnerved undoubtedly by this oddly-attired man on this weird rolling contraption. Boundaries were respected, and knowing glances were exchanged, one side curious, the other side, wary.

Near the Keystone Ferry Terminal turnoff, I was back on familiar ground. My wife and I toured these parts in 2005, and took this very same ferry to Port Townsend. Plesant memories. I pondered stopping for coffee at one of those wheel-away huts, but the call of the general store was too strong. By the way, it hides inside a gas station.

Coupeville to La Conner

Coupeville is a small town. A gas station to the left, and a mall to the right. You'd miss the commercial area if you blinked. But the town had the first traffic light in the last 27-odd miles, and so missing the contrôle was pretty much out of the question. I am sure somebody (no names!) will prove me wrong! ;) I was greeted by a cheery clerk who informed me that there were no services between here and Oak Harbour, a hardy 10-mile ride. No point bragging. But this is a nice contrôle with all the rando essentials: clean restrooms, perfect location, food and water.

I was genuinely excited about the next few miles. I knew I was going to go over Deception Pass, but it has been a few years since I passed this way by bicycle. There are some wonderful-but-devious roads away from SR20 (Madrona Road being one of them). This road features 18-20% hills, and we found it hard going on our tour. We didn't take any of these roads today, as the road hugged the coast, and the waters of the sound glistened blue in the distance.

I rolled through Oak Harbour, but traffic - though heavy - was extremely courteous, with everybody moving to the left lane at the first sight of a cyclist in the distance. Oak harbour has some of the very few traffic lights on this route. The wide shoulders of SR20 gave way to narrow shoulders and somewhat oddly high traffic past Oak Harbour, where the uber-strong rider Ward Beebe lives. Now Ward is one of those people who I get to see at the start of the ride and never again. I half expected him to be out riding. This weather was not to be missed.

Deception Pass is oddly not that hard of a climb, but the road does climb gently for a little while, but you are completely in the shade and concentrating on riding the narrow shoulder that the grade passes by in no time. Around a little bend, and suddely you see the structure ahead, with beautiful ocean views opening out in front of you. I rode the two bridges quickly through, waiting for breaks in traffic each time. This was a time to stop, admire, and EAT! I spent about 10 minutes eating and gawking much to the amusement of the people passing by.

The turn to Deception Road comes just as a tempting downhill beckons, and caution is recommended. However, this is the end of beautiful pavement for a while, as chipseal takes over, but cannot ruin a beautiful descent to the water, and a nice sequence of turns. This stretch is hilly though. Snee-Oosh road reminded me of the Tahuya Hills. Narrow roads, chipseal, and no traffic. You go through a beautiful red bridge (which had me ruing forgetting my Camera), and you are in La Conner. My preferred stop is the grocery store.

La Conner to Arlington

This was a nice stop for me. Eager to get some rest, I lollygagged (or faffed around, take your pick), eating, drinking, getting rid of trash, and basking in the sun. It was a glorious day, and plenty of people were out enjoying the many little shops that make up La Conner. Many of the roads from this point on were completely familiar to me. These roads are really busy during Tulip Season in April, where these fields are full of tulips of every conceivable colour, and lots and lots of people and traffic. Do not ride this route on an April weekend. Save for a little hill on Fir Island Road, the route turns completely flat. I was also treated to several beautiful vistas of Mount Baker, with just a little cloud on top. Not very many cyclists out today, but I saw my first cyclist on Cemetery road, just before I found myself in Arlington.

Arlington to Snohomish

Arlington serves several roles in our permanents. Starting contrôle, ending contrôle, and of course, contrôle. Today, it was just a contrôle. I was bonking a bit on Cemetry road, and ate my fill here. I waited about 10 minutes for the cleaning of the bathrooms to finish, and spent a good 20 minutes here. I left a little upset about wasting so much time, but I shouldn't have. Worrying about a fast time on a permanent isn't worth it.

I was clad in my usual Blue Jersey, which sadly is getting a little frayed around the pockets, and my trusty Showers Pass jacket, which shows the battle scars of one too many road repairs. My shorts are getting frayed too, and I am scared of buying wool shorts because they will boil me when it's hot out. I bought these cheap shorts in Canada for about 20$ a pop, and they have worked well for me. Would be hard to replace these, but a trip to Sammamish Valley Cycle seems imminent [eDelux, here I come!].

I took the Centennial Trail option, and sucked for the first few miles that the trail gently climbs. But, the lack of traffic was a great thing indeed. My goal was to get to Snohomish by dark and that goal looked pretty much unattainable. A lot of walkers, some with dogs, some on roller blades, and precious few on bikes littered the route. Leaves were aplenty on the trail, as is a nice coating of the green stuff. Takes careful riding sometimes.

Just before Snohomish, I met two riders with Carradice bags, and when I called out to them thinking they were randonneurs, they stopped and turned around to meet me. It turned out to be un-randonneurs, but people who were interested in our style of riding anyways. I did my best to get them to come and ride with us, using the Winter Ride Series as bait. I told them about our website, and hopefully they remembered the spelling of "rando". After an enjoyable tete-a-tete, I bid adieu and continued after dressing up for the night.

Snohomish isn't far away from the trail, and the 76 gas station was a welcome sight indeed.

Snohomish to the Finish

The ride had been very enjoyable thus far. The hills were manageable, the weather was awesome, the wind wasn't too strong, and my spirits were high despite a nagging pain in my left knee that I had been feeling since Arlington. I have been focussing on improving my pedal stroke, and putting extra effort seems to mess it up sometimes. This was the kind of pain I experienced on my 600 DNF, and that went away after about 4 days.

I left this contrôles pretty quickly, in under 5 minutes, a commendable achievement for me these days. The next 5 or so miles was very straightforward as we hugged the Snohomish river. The lights of Everett gleamed in the distance, and traffic was fairly heavy through here, but courteous.

I have read a few reports of this route, and almost everyone mentions the hill at the end. I scanned the route sheet futilely for where the hill would hit. Nothing could be gleaned from the names of the roads, but I needn't have worried. A left turn and I was face to face with the WALL of Everett. I slowly chugged up, and about halfway my left knee told me that it wasn't very happy to be around me anymore, and promptly quit. Not being able to apply much force on one left quickly left me sore in the other, but I made my way to the right turn on S 3rd st, but stopped there to rest for about a minute. I saw 3kmph on my computer once. Terrible! My memory fails me on the nature of 52nd st, but I am guessing that was a climb too. I stopped again to rest after the right turn onto Colby Avenue, which thankfully had a nice downhill stretch to boost my spirits.

One does not lose elevation for nothing on these hills; one loses it to be subjected to further torture. 41st was a windy road, which also featured some climbs, but thankfully none were as obscenely steep as Lowell Road. The next 5 miles were all up and down, and I was left wondering if this were how the PBP course would be. That thought shut my whining up pretty quick, as I slogged through the last 3 miles to be rewarded with a nice gentle downhill to the finish.

I got my receipt at the seafood restaurant, and beat a hasty retreat home with my wife. My left knee still hurts. I really missed my camera today.

Correction: Original post quoted the trail as Cedar River Trail. It was actually Centennial Trail. [Mark Thomas provided correction].

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Fall Colours, rain and euphoria


My October has looked like this: work work work, vacation (or pacation, as my nephew puts it), and sickness. Each of these things eliminated all the nice weekends. My addled brain somehow remembered that an October ride was yet to be recorded, and ailments be damned, I set out to do Leschi-Auburn-Redmond-Leschi, under the threat of oodles of precipitation. Fact of life in the Northwest.

I took the bus out to Montlake from my house, and then rode the 3.5 miles to Leschi in the early morning darkness. It wasn't cold and it wasn't raining yet. The pavement on Lake Washington Boulevard was atrocious. The wet pavement sucked up all the light my E6 was shining on the road. I got lost a few times, but made it to the start around 6.45a. It wasn't the last on this day. After munching on an Apple Fritter, I set off under threatening skies. It was dry, as of now. I briefly pondered abandoning the ride and restarting my R-12 quest #2 again, but pulled that thought out of my head pretty quick. It must have been the Apple Fritter at work.

Oh, and I forgot to take my gloves. I only had my Outdoor Research rain mitts; it turned out to be the only glove I would need all day.

Leschi to Ravensdale Market

The first part of this ride is almost completely flat, with very few inclines to worry about, but the steep little pitch to get to the turn on Seward Park Ave woke me up. The traffic on this road and on Rainier Avenue even at this early hour was enough to keep me on tenterhooks, but the turn onto Perimeter Avenue brought some respite from the automobile. I got completely confused by the directions to Cedar River Trail, and spent a good 1o minutes trying to find the parking lot mentioned. I chased after a passing cyclist (riding on the wrong side of the road), and asked her for directions. She pointed me the right way, and I resolved to update the route sheet when I got home.

It was one thing to find the trail, but another thing to follow the right trail. I took the right fork, and that lead me straight to huge pile of gravel. I beat a hasty retreat and was greeted by a little suicidal dog. I slammed on my brakes and yelled "hey!", while its owner about 50 feet away walked without a care in the world. The morning was cold and foggy, and the trail was chock full of leaves. The hills that parallelled the trail were full of trees changing colours, and I felt like a complete idiot for flying to the East Coast to see the fall colours. Much leaf peeping can be accomplished right here in the Pacific Northwest.

A couple of hours into the ride, and the rain started. It started slow, a gentle mist, and rose to a crescendo and pretty much stayed there until I got to Issaquah. Places to pull over and don some clothing were hard to come by. I kept on, passing the Maple Valley IGA that a few SIR riders have missed (while riding the Leschi-North Bend-Leschi permanent), not realizing that I had to get off the trail here. I thought briefly about it, but then continued on, thinking that the trail would end with a way to get to Highway 169. I found a nice tunnel to stop and don my helmet cover, and avoided wearing my rain pants and booties. I should have.

I must have paid more attention to my cyclecomputer. I overshot my turn, and ended up where the paved trail ends and the gravel starts, without a nice way to get back to the highway. I turned around mad at myself for missing the turn. Leaving the serenity of the trail to head over to the truck-infested Maple Valley Highway was hard indeed. The next two or so miles were some of the longest of my life: I kept thinking I was lost as the street numbers first went up, and then down, and then up again, making me want to stop and reconsider my route each time this happened. I eventually reconciled myself to just riding bonus miles when suddenly 244th St appeared to the left putting me out of my misery (in a good way!). The next little stretch was hilly with narrow roads, but beautiful as we went through steep pitch after steep pitch, making up for the ugliness of SR 169. The rain had thickened, and my lower body was completely drenched by this point. I arrived at Ravensdale market, completely drenched.

Ravensdale Market to Auburn

The look the woman womanning the store gave me was one of pure pity. A guy in a pickup, buying his favourite cancer stick asked me if I was commuting or out on a fun ride. When I mentioned I was out for fun, he said "Some fun this is!", and left after a cheery "stay safe out there!". I donned my rain pants and my booties, and my rain mitts, and not wishing to lose anymore of the measly 30 minutes that I had banked, left into the rain.

I got to SR 160, and the directions mentioned an immediate right turn onto Auburn Black Diamond Road, but I only saw Roberts Dr. Figuring that the route sheet was wrong, I kept on, hoping to come across an Auburn Black Diamond Road somewhere in the next half mile or so. Unfortunately, after about 2 miles in the pouring rain, I didn't find it. So I did the unmanly thing and asked for directions. I was told to head back the way I came and turn on Roberts Dr. (I came home and found out that the route sheet hadn't completely printed. Roberts Dr was mentioned in line 2). I had bombed down and climbed up some rollers and I had to repeat all of this again. I had lost precious time, and wasn't pleased.

The rain intensified, and though I was covered from head to toe in waterproof gear, my rain mitts had started letting water in, and my fingers were quitesoaked. I rued starting, and just hoped the ride would be over. I even thought about calling Sound Transit and plotting a bus ride home. I wasn't even halfway there, and I was already hating this ride. Thankfully not long after this low-point I found myself in the Valero gas station. I had all of 40 minutes in the bank. My excursion had probably cost me around 20 minutes.

Auburn to Cumberland

I must have been quite a sight as I entered the store and got my food and receipt. The woman at the counter looked oddly harried, and I did my best to not worsen her mood. Another dude in a bicycle stopped by and bought his favourite cancer stick. Of course, I have never met a rando who smoked. We may be of questionable sanity, but we aren't stupid. The restroom at this gas station was terrible though. I recommending going somewhere else.

I set off once again with a half hour in the bank. This was going to be one of those days. I felt weak on the bike, and weak between the ears. Neither did I have the power to make this ride go any faster nor did I have a way of making it more enjoyable. So I wallowed in a sea of self-pity, and cursed the weather in colourful language. I knew that the first few miles on Green Valley Road (from Greg Cox's Chili Feed 200) were mostly flat, and I looked forward to that stretch of road. Of course, Green Valley Road also features a climb for the last 2 or 3 miles, but all of it is pretty gentle grade. The farms along Green Valley Road were bare, but the stench of manure was thick in the air. In the spring Canadian Geese make their homes here in these farmlands temporary immigrating to the south. But this late in the year, they are probably in more comfortable environs.

My mood was quickly lifted up by the next few miles of road. I wasn't going anywhere fast, but at least I was in pleasing surroundings. The hills along this road featured trees of glorious yellow, the last hurrah of the leaves before they fell down dead. The trees were shrouded in fog and it was a very pleasing sight. I love the combination of fog and trees. The climb upto SR 169 was slow and painful, but completely bereft of traffic. There would be no stops at the Black Diamond Bakery, as we turned off onto Lawson. Feeling a bonk coming, I stopped and ate food in the rain, as car after car drove bemusedly by.

Some parts of this leg were completely new to me. I looked forward to the Green Gorge Road, as I was sure there would be some climbing, and I would get warm. The gradual plummet towards the gorge was pretty good, though the slippery conditions meant I couldn't quite let it rip downhill. A police car drove slowly by, and the officer waved to me as I started the climb out of the gorge. I arrived at Cumberland Grocery at 1.40, maintaining my nice 40 minute cushion. My only hope of banking some time would be on the flat stretches of E Lake Sammamish and the Burke Gilman Trail.

Cumberland to Woodinville

The stop at the controle was short, as I purchased supplies and left intent on eating on the go. The next few miles were familiar roads, and I knew that short of a mechanical problem, I would gain some time. The rollers before Issaquah went by, with my strength gradually returning. The rain stopped about 5 miles away from Issaquah, and while it didn't do wonders for my speed, it did make me feel better. I fought the traffic through Downtown Issaquah, and made it to the lakeside in one piece, where a fat shoulder insulated me from the cars. The hills to the west of the lake were chock full of leaves and the fiery reds in the sky from a sun making its way down were a special sight indeed. Not many cyclists out on the road, but I did see a few getting their rides in. The one thing about this route is it passes tantalizingly close to my house, but I resisted the call of home (near Chateau St Michelle), and pulled into the 7-11 dreaming of more food.

Woodinville to the Finish

A fast, flat and familiar section awaited: I left about 10 minutes after I arrived, but sunset was fast approaching. I donned all my reflective gear, dumped all my raingear and took off blissfully, knowing full well that most of the hills were done for the day. The trail was full of leaves and bicyclists without lights! I got confused by the "Turn RIGHT towards Hec Edmundson pavilion" clue and since I am not that familiar with the U-district pondered over why I had to ride in the opposite direction. The cue for Hamlin was a left turn, and that set me straight pretty quick. The last few miles are very turn heavy, so I carefully stopped at each turn making sure I wasn't getting lost. 12 hours and 20 minutes, but I had finished. My October Permanent is in the books. I hope I can recover well for getting in a November ride.

A highly recommended route!