Wednesday, June 17, 2009

SIR Spring 600: Truth in advertising


Starting a 600 without first completing a 400 is something I have never done before. Endless promises of a flat 600 had me fantasizing about a strong finish, something very quickly dispelled by the organizer, Albert. "The course is not flat", he said while shuttling between the drop bag truck and the hotel lobby. A lot of new roads, and a lot of familiar roads awaited.

I met a lot of the usual suspects at the start. Michael Huber was there and confessed to being quite strong on the bike this year and was having grand ideas of riding straight through. I found myself on the opposite side of the spectrum. Having DNF'd the 400 in Ephrata (at about 300k), I was wondering how I would fare. My only goal was to finish, and I rode with precisely that aim in mind. I would keep my control stops short, and en route dalliances to a minimum. Three hours of sleep at the overnight would be nice, but not necessary.

Start to Ruston

I rolled out at the back of the pack, having stopped to use the restroom to apply bag balm. We stayed in a big bunch, aided by the red lights on 15th and the West Valley highway, though Bill Alsup, Duane Wright and I were already at the bottom end. I caught up to Rick Haight. Rick volunteered on the PBP qualifier of 2007, and I joked about how I begged for coffee on the road to Whitney, and Kent Peterson, mindful of not supporting outside the controls, offered a "You are only a few miles out of the control!"... He was just getting warmed up and separated himself on the initial incline of Military Road. When I crested that hill, all I could see was The Kramer on his 'bent and Rick pulling away. The pack was gone.

I somehow found myself alone on the turn onto S 360th, and thought Duane would have trouble with this turn, and as I stopped to fix my dropped chain, I saw Duane fly by the turn. I tried waiting for him at the SR 99 intersection, but he didn't show up quickly enough for me. I caught up with Bill and passed a crouched Dan Jensen, fixing a flat. Bill stopped to take a picture of the bridge and I kept riding (having left the camera at home as a time-saving measure). The trail along the water was full of runners and even some cyclists getting their bikes off their cars. I got through the tunnel, and crested the little hill to the first control at Ruston, where I was met by Robin and Amy Pieper, and Charlie White and his son.I had about an hour in the bank. This was unexpected good news.

Ruston to Waterman Point

Amy and Robin filled my water bottles, and after a brief discussion on who was behind me, I left for the next control. The left turn onto Pearl put me in the company of a few "normal" bike riders, and on a mostly shoulder-less road with cars trying to get to the start of a run. I was off the madness quickly though and onto the Tacoma Narrows bridge which shares quite a few similarities with Vancouver's Lions Gate Bridge: Great views and Green in colour.

After a nice scenic stretch next to the water in a still sleepy Gig Harbour, I found myself on some of the roads that we rode on the Tahuya 200 last year, except in reverse. Orchard Road bit me a couple of times, the first bite forcing me to zig zag. The second bite was a bit less painful than the first, and reminded me of Port Gamble Road. After some more riding along the water, Dan Jensen caught up to me, and we rode maybe a mile together before we found ourselves face to face with Eric Vigoren, manning this control.

Waterman Point to Cosmopolis

After a few cookies, some nice catching up, and a visit to the porta-potty, I took off with Dan Jensen. He was clearly a faster ride than I was, and dropped me, but I passed him when he stopped to take a picture and then went to a bike shop. On Clifton Road we passed by Anderson Hill Road, and I could only think of thanking Albert for resisting the temptation to put us on that three-headed monster during daylight hours.

This section - Clifton Road - was a low point for me. There was a nagging uphill grade, a headwind and I found myself not going fast enough for my liking. However, Feigley Road changed all that. The descent was awesome but somewhat ruined by a pickup truck illegally backing uphill to make a left turn. I wasn't going down quite as fast as I usually go, and that saved me from just rear-ending the idiot.

The day was quite beautiful and a lot of cyclists were out riding their bikes. As I slowed down to make the left turn onto West Belfair, a couple of riders stopped on the road to ask me about the ride we were on. They knew we were together, and I did my best to give them a 2-minute summary of what we do. They were suitably impressed when I described the ride I was on. I gave them our website, but I think that a few little scraps of paper with our website written on it would be a brilliant idea. We parted with mutual wishes for a good ride.

This section of W Belfair was new to me, as I had only ridden it in the opposite direction on last years Tahuya 200. More flat riding, and as I went by Bear Creek - Dewatto Road, I uttered another round of thanks to Albert. It certainly looked like he spared us some major heartburn. After a brief jaunt on the high-traffic SR3, we were led to the chip-seal hell that is SR 106. I arrived at the Union Country Store, filled my water bottles and took off again, while Dan Jensen waited to get a sandwich.

Oh, I forgot to mention this. Since my DNF because of running out of food, I kept a solid supply of food on board. This was perhaps overkill, but I figured I needed the practice. I have cycled many a time on SR 106, but never on Purdy Cutoff road. It was a lovely stretch of road, and I greatly enjoyed the shady respite it offered. My shorts were rubbing me raw, and I stopped to put on some bag balm, and traffic got backed up behind me (I thought it was a low traffic road!). Dan passed me here.

After a steady slog uphill, I made the turn onto Dayton Airport Road, but the stretch to Matlock was new terrain. Mostly flat but the wind wasn't cooperating. I made good progress and just as I got into the Matlock store, I saw Dan Jensen pulling out. I didn't see any other rider until the overnight in Centralia. I refueled at the Matlock store and stayed about 10 minutes. Gatorade, some salted peanuts and more PowerBars. When I left the store I was met with an immediate gust of wind that told me that the wind wouldn't be doling out any favours today. It was put-your-head-down-and-slog time. Some clear cuts, some forests and distant mountains. Oh, and some "transformation centers" (Euphemism for "Pray the Gay away" ?). I also spotted what looked like Nuclear Power plant cooling towers a little before Monte-Elma Road.

The wind was nothing compared to the 4 mile stretch of chip-seal hell called Monte-Elma Road. In previous years, we have ridden this entire stretch, but today was only 4.2 miles, but I was still glad to get off it. I didn't think to stop at the Bakery in Montesano this time around. Blue Slough Road was another lovely stretch, completely shaded and totally traffic free. Lovely, indeed. I arrived at Cosmopolis with plenty of time to spare. I was greatly disappointed to see that Dan Jensen had already left. I was hoping to coax him into riding a slower pace with me at night.

Cosmopolis to Westport

A lot of brevets go through towns and villages instead of cities, and you do meet a different kind of humanity here. The Cosmopolis Chevron had a nice owner who promised to keep his store open an hour later than normal and I made it a point to refuel all my food and hydration stores here to show a small measure of gratitude for such kindness. I also informed him about Bill and Duane being behind me, and that he probably wouldn't have to stay open until 10. I left fairly quickly as I wanted to get to Westport before dark.

A nice wind-aided stretch followed where the only source of trouble was the shoulder-less bridges. However, these were dispatched with aplomb, and I found myself at Westport fairly quickly.

Westport to Rainbow Falls State Park

I had promised myself a bit of a breather here, but considering the wind, I took off in about 10 minutes after filling up on water and food, and using the restroom. I knew that darkness would fall on this stretch, so I wore my reflective ankle bands, but left my jacket off. I had brought leg warmers, but it looked like that would be overkill. The shoulder was filled with debris and a few miles out of Westport I started to ride on the main road, and moved into the shoulder only when I spied a car in my helmet mirror.

To avoid psyching myself out over the distance to the overnight control, I folded the route sheet to the Raymond turn, and focused on getting my butt to Raymond. The Peninsula is a great place to ride. Mostly flat, little traffic and features the soft sounds of waves crashing on the beach. I made good time, but about two-thirds of the way to Raymond, I stopped to don my jacket and reflective vest. I also turned on my E-delux light, a birthday gift from my wife.

What a difference this light made!! It is a totally awesome light. The E6 has a yellowish light, but the E-delux throws a white light. I had it mounted on my front rack braze-on, and though there was some wheel shadow, the light was simply superb. Pricey, but good. It light up at far lower speeds than the E6 and features a standlight, which is a great addition.

I got to Raymond in good time, and since I was ok in terms of food and water, didn't bother to ride into town for either of those necessities. I had trouble getting the left turn light onto SR6 to trigger and used the pedestrian sign to get it to turn on. I was starting to feel a bit tired a few miles out of Raymond, but kept on, hoping I would see a grocery store where I could get some coffee. Having woken up at 4a to catch a ride with Duane, I was starting to feel a bit sleepy, and after about 15 miles, I saw a sign for a tavern in Lebam, and figuring I'd take a chance, I entered. A little apprehensively, I admit.

There were only two patrons (read: drunks) there, but the bartender was a friendly sort. They already knew about what we were doing, so I guessed that other riders must have stopped here for refreshments. They were full of conversation: "You have to ride to Centralia, huh? That's a far ways away", one quipped, while the other filled me up on the long and steep climb ahead of me in the next three to four miles. Not to be outdone, the first one made comments about bears, mountain lions and drunks ("like myself", he said). I never got the impression that they were trying to scare me, just filling me in on the road ahead. :)

I got Coffee with some milk and sugar and after making quick work of it, I got up to pay, but was told that the coffee was on the house. Awesome! I thanked the patrons, and the bartender and made my way out, refreshed. It was only a 10 minute stop, but it was a very welcome stop. Now fully awake (those months of drinking decaf now suddenly seeming worthwhile), I continued on. I half-hoped Bill or Duane would catch up to me, but that didn't happen. The roads were traffic free and I made excellent time, even climbing hard amid a very soft rain and enjoying the descent. I made the left turn onto Pe Ell, and only then did fold the route sheet all the way to the Centralia Control. When I got to Rainbow Falls state park, I saw a red blinky and turned left into the park looking for Paul.

I didn't find Paul. The time was now 2.05a. I had made good time, and with any luck I'd get my three hours of sleep tonight. I rode all over the park, but it looked purely residential. I started yelling "Paul, Paul", in the vain hopes that they might hear me. I met a trucker who told me that they were on a turn next to where the bridge was washed out. So, I made my way out of the park and onto a second road, where disaster struck.

I was met by three barking dogs, the smallest of which went straight for my ankle. It was too late when I realized what the stupid thing was about to do, but I had the presence of mind to kick out and off it went whining. I fought off the other two with my front wheel, and as the clearly inebriated owners fought to maintain control of their dogs, I fought with the dogs to stop them from mistaking me for food.

Finally order was restored, and I asked for help in the form of a phone call. One of the family members actually drove out to go see where the control was. (I didn't realize this). To say I was incensed at this point would be a severe understatement. My inability to find the control, the dogs, the wasted half hour all added up. I called Albert to ask about the control, but I used an F-word "adjective" to describe the control (I apologized to Albert at the finish). Albert didn't know where it was, and referred to Peter, who tried to calm me by telling me that getting mad wasn't productive. He asked me to continue on SR 6 and that I would find it. I thanked the couple and left, and a few hundred yards down the road, I was met by a girl who slowed down to tell me that "they" were setup a mile or two down the road. I thanked her and kept riding.

I got to the Rainbow Falls Control at 2.45a, about 35 minutes behind schedule.

Rainbow Falls Control to Centralia

I was met by a smiling Paul Johnson, Sheila Johnson and John Vincent. I was still seething from my lost time, and after a few minutes of ranting and raving, and poor Paul apologizing profusely, I sat down and was treated to a great array of Vegetarian food (excellent Szechuan Noodles). John took my bike, Sheila gave me food and drink, and Paul fought with Raccoons, that were trying to get their hands on some randonneur goodies.

After some pleasant conversation (I stopped being an a-hole), I left around 3a. I told them that Bill and Duane were behind me, and that I hadn't seen them for well over 200 miles. I didn't even know if they were still riding at this point. I was now feeling the effects of the 230-odd miles that I had ridden, but the last few miles went by without incident. I do remember riding by Curtis Hill Road and thanking Albert yet again.

I got to Centralia at 4.37a and was met by Peter Beeson, and some others getting ready to leave. Peter took my bike and escorted me to my room.

Day 2, 7:20a: Centralia to Morton

I told them I was good on food, and after asking for a 645a wake up call, I brushed my teeth, showered, and hit the sack at 4.45a. Yes, 8 minutes. The next instant Peter was waking me up. I brushed my teeth, changed into bike clothing and took off around 7.10am, but had to turn back when I got confused by the route sheet. Peter set me straight, and I rode on worried about the measly 2 hour buffer I had.

I had ridden Centralia-Alpha road in the other direction with Peg and Allison in 2007. It wasn't that terrible, but then I was in great shape that year. This year would be payback. I saw Matt Dalton and another rider fiddling with their bikes at the base of the initial climb, but they started back up, and disappeared around the turn, before I could get to them. I slowly climbed the initial leg, and as it flattened out, I saw Peg down the hill behind me.

She caught up to me on one of the steep sections, and when I hit the top. she was gone. I just slogged through this section. I knew I would be losing time, and I didn't care. I just wanted to make the Morton control on time and I would see what I could do after that. SR 508 was another hard stretch. I didn't have energy and I started stopping to eat my PowerBars. Apart from one nasty climb SR 508 was all right, but my legs weren't. It was just that the 250 miles I had ridden the previous day were getting to me. I took frequent breaks to adjust clothing and eat.

When I am tired, I try and ways to introduce some humour into my ride. One such instance was when I saw a mailbox with the name Studhalter on it. I don't know if you know my sense of humour but it leans towards the juvenile. My immediate reaction: that last name would be a death sentence to a woman. She might as well have been called Ugly. I know this is not funny now, but for some weird reason, it offered me comic relief for a few miles. Eventually SR 508 flattened out and I was riding next to a nice river, and arriving into Morton. I saw Peg leaving the control. She would be the last rider I saw on the ride. I wish I had ridden a bit fast and left with her, but it was too late.

Morton to Enumclaw

I had about 3 hours in the bank when I got into Morton. Feeling tired despite having taken many a breather everywhere I decided to stay about 15 minutes. I bought some Powerade, some salted Cashew nuts, Sprite, more PowerBars and some jojos. The jojos were very poorly made, but I still ate them knowing that there would be some more climbing. I used the restroom, chatted with the friendly clerk, and rested my head on the table.

I filled the Powerade in my water bottle and left Morton on SR7 with a nice crosswind. Shortly after the control, the road tilted up, and traffic was pretty high. The jojos I ate gave me horrible heartburn, and I didn't like this section as a result. The shoulder was inadequate, and I slowly made my way up the climb. I stopped a few times to "adore the scenery". I got to Summit Cr at 1700+ feet, and then had a nice descent into Elbe.
I tried to stop at the bar, but it was overrun by bikers (the motorized kind). One of them commented "So, you made it here all the way from Canada, eh?", looking at my BC Randonneurs jersey. I left the area before they started "joking" more. The wind was now in my face, but Alder Cutoff saved me from the wind, and threw me onto a hill, with cars buzzing by. There was a fantastic downhill on SR 161, and we turned onto Orville Road.
Now, I had great dreams for Orville Road. I was hoping it would be a quiet road with no traffic and lots of views of Lake Kapowsin and Lake Ohop. I stopped to eat off the side of the road, and was met by the rudest honk off a guy driving a huge pickup. He gave me the "get moving sign", but all he had to to was go around me. When I motioned for him to go around me, he threw up his arms in disgust. I wasn't very happy with this, and said "hey", and threw up my arms in disgust. He drove a few feet away and then stopped to backup, but there were other cars behind him, and he just took off. I kept a wary eye out for him.
Pickups, pickups, and more pickups. The surface was not the greatest either, and it had the kind of short choppy lumps that were pretty annoying. My heartburn showed no sign of abating, but my appetite was still there. The grades on some of the gravel roads that led off of Orville Road were unreal. I stopped to admire as an SUV drove down one of those inclines, and progress was slow. It seemed like some sleep would help, but there was nowhere I could stop and nap.
The right turn to stay on Orville Road helped the quality of the people on it. I stopped to admire another nice view before a descent (or I may be making this up). After a few miles I stumbled upon some grass by the side of the road (near an entrance to an RV Park), and napped for a good 20 minutes. My aim was twofold: to allow Bill Alsup to catchup, and get some rest. The constant steady stream of traffic was my way of making sure I didn't sleep for a few hours.
Of all the signs you want to see in this world, "Volcano Evacuation Route" is not what you want to see at the end of a 600k. But my sleep had refreshed me, and though I wouldn't say I powered up the hill, I got there in good time. My mother called to talk. Talking to her was refreshing, even if she didn't understand why I was doing it. I turned left on to familiar roads now, having done the Redmond - Carbon Glacier only last month. The small climb just past Buckley was a kicker, but I arrived at the Enumclaw Control with plenty of time to spare.

Enumclaw to the Finish

I bought some Sprite, some salted cashew nuts, and a couple of PowerBars, and I knew that I would finish in under 37 hours. That felt good. I helped a woman operate the gas pump (she didn't know how to get that thing started). I left after about 15 minutes. The next section was completely known, except the little stretch past Main Street in Auburn (Leschi - Auburn - Leschi permanent). As I rode up the last little incline, my bike suddently downshifted, and the chain fell off, but only after making an awful noise. I stopped to put the chain back on, but I found that the chain had wedged itself between the chainstay and the small chainring. This was not good. I knew there was a killer descent onto Green Valley Road, and I could basically walk my way to the finish in under the time limits.

I tried doing all kinds of things, jiggling it, trying brute-force, and finessing it. Nothing worked. I flipped my bike over and started to work on getting the chain off, when a car pulled over and asked me if I wanted a ride somewhere. He was a cyclist himself, and when I told him about the ride, he immediately parked his car, and came over to help. We discussed our options, and he said he didn't haveto tools to get the chain off. I replied that I did, and he offered to get the thing off. After what seemed like 10 minutes of jiggling, he finally pulled it off! He was my saviour! And, I didn't even get his name.

I thanked him profusely, and he didn't even complain about having to work on a dirty chain! I wasted about 30 minutes in the process. Oh well. I knew that the finish was less than an hours ride away. The descent to 212th and then onto Green Valley Road was awesome. Green Valley Road was uneventful, but this was the first time I rode in this direction. It felt completely different. I felt strong on the bike, and soon I was cruising past Main Street and onto heavily trafficked roads. I could finally relax. I was going to make it. It is possible to finish a 600 without a 400. I finished in 37:39.

Albert was there at the hotel lobby. The room had Beer, Pizza and snacks. I shoved my face with whatever I could get my hands on, and then called my wife to let her know that I finished. Albert told me that Duane had decide to end his ride someplace near Cosmopolis, and decided to get a room in Aberdeen. I met Karel from Montana. As I was getting ready to hit the showers, Bill finished. He was only 20 minutes behind me, but he had really hammered to the finish. He had a lot of off the bike time that really added up. Karel and I discussed some permanent options that he could do if he wanted to try for an R-12. The Colbert-Metaline falls permanent (seldom ridden) was something he expressed some interest in, but it isn't rideable in the winter. Talking to him made me realize how lucky we all are to have such a living thriving randonneuring community right at our doorstep. And our weather. I know we love to complain, but atleast we can do 200's in the winter. Montanans cannot.

Thanks to all the wonderful volunteers on this ride. The Rainbow Falls control was excellent and so was the support at the overnight. It was a great 600. And it most certainly was NOT flat.


Duane had sent word that he would like me to call him, and when I did, he offered to come and get me. I thought his car was still in Auburn and so he was coming down with his friend to come and get his car. I showered and waited for Duane, and talked with Karel. When I left the hotel, I found out that Duane had driven down just to get me. It turns out that Duane had already retrived his car in the morning, and was just offering to come and pick me up. Duane's Nice!


Paul Whitney said...

Thanks for the write-up. Reminds me that one of the 'interesting' things about rando-ing is the brain-stuff that happens during the ride. Brain-sugar variations and fatigue. Maybe will see you on an upcoming 400km, if you're going for the SR.

Narayan said...


I will be at the Baker Lake 400. I am off to Europe on July 29th, and return on August 18th.... Yes, going for my SR is a yearly endeavour. :)