Friday, May 22, 2009

SIR 400k Pre-ride: A rookie mistake.

I will update this post with photos once I have had a chance to upload them.. :(

Short version


Had the beginnings of a cold. Didn't bank much time at any of the controls. Had 26 minutes at Farmer, where I just stopped to take a picture of the hall. Had an hour and 8 minutes at Pateros. Lost time on the section to Twisp. Nice headwind and a crosswind. Rode strong over Loup Loup pass. Had about 40 minutes at the Omak Store. Made good time on Columbia River Road, but ran out of food about 5 miles from the turn onto 155. Called Shane and Chantel, who came and picked me up: he said I was slurring my words, which is not a good sign.

In hindsight, I should have just asked him to bring me some food and continued, but I didn't want to get support outside of the controls. I learnt that I needed to carry more food than necessary. This was particularly stupid, because I carried lots of food for the first 75 miles which lasted me almost till Omak. So, it is not as though I am stupid all the time, but, in this case, with no support until Electric City, my mistake got magnified.

Long Version


Duane and I drove together to the start, and had a nice dinner with the pre-riders at a restaurant in Ephrata. We Woke up early, and got dressed up for the early morning chill. It was cold at the start, maybe in the 40s. There were several of us: Geoff Swarts, Matt Dalton, Mark Thomas, Mike Norman, Thomas Martin, myself, Duane Wright, Tom Brett, and Bob Brudvik. This was an almost entirely new route to me. The only section that I was familar with was the section on 97 from the 97A intersection to Pateros, and the section from Pateros to Twisp, both of which I rode on the 2006 1000k. Not what I would call "hard".

Ephrata to Farmer

The first section was to go through the Sagebrush Flats, and the Moses Coulee. "A whole lot of nothing" quipped Mark Thomas. Kent Peterson that quotable ex-randonneur once said of the Sagebrush Flat "It gets the 'flat' part its name for the same reason that three-hundred pound tattooed Harley riders are sometimes named '"Tiny'. It is a description that stuck to me. Since there were no services for the first 75 miles, I was well stocked up with food and water: I had 3 Bananas, 3 PowerBars and 12 Pepperidge Farm cookies in my bag, and two water bottles. I stashed a 1-liter bottle of water in my Carradice.

The road tilted up immediately, and Duane and I quickly dropped back, while the group took off ahead of us. Duane was riding his fixed-gear, an insane choice considering the length of some of the climbs and the descents. To top this off, he had just ran a marathon the previous weekend. Not my idea of a recovery ride. The terrain was mostly dry, not much vegetation except sagebrush. The first few miles were mostly up, and once we got to the "top" of the climb, we had a nice descent on which I lost Duane. I descend like a rock, and Duane was on fixed-gear. I didn't know this then, but this was the last I would see of Duane for a while.

After a couple of bone-jarring gravel stretches of just a few feet in length, I got to a T-junction. The route sheet said make a left turn onto Highway 2, and that didn't register until I started riding towards a sign that said Highway 2 West. This was a steady climb again, and I soft-pedaled several times to let Duane catch up. But he was nowhere in sight. I had a bit of a tailwind as I approached th Farmer Control. I took a few pictures and checked th clock, and sure enough, I only had about 26 minutes in the bank.

Farmer to Pateros

My mental strength on rides is directly proportional to how well I am riding. If I am too close to the cut-offs I am not at my happiest. I ate a couple of cookies and left immediately from Farmer, and was met with long rollers. Spectacular views of the mountains everywhere, but the immediate vicinity was mostly farms. The rollers on this stretch were vicious. The paucity of training miles showed. Every mile there would be a road cutting across, going to some farm, but apart from that there was precious little.

I turned onto McNeil Canyon Road and was met with more uphills, but a little while later, I stopped to see if Duane was behind me. I thought I saw his jacket, but I wasn't too sure. I kept on and after some climbing, I saw a sign that said "McNeil Pass Summit". I hadn't expected to be climbing a mountain pass, but this was another pass climbed. The next few miles were all downhill, and I lost altitude like I have never done before: I didn't touch the brakes once, but the winds were vicious. Tucking in helps lose in minutes what one spends hours to climb.

I thought about stopping at Beebe park for water, but I had a half a bottle. I thought about turning back, but decided to keep going to save time. The day was warming up and I stopped to take off some clothing, and who should swing by but Shane, who gave me a hearty hug. I hadn't met him since we rode the Three Rivers Cruise permanent right after PBP 2007. It was fun catching up with Shane and Chantel. I got some water from him and took off again, aided by a nice tailwind. Familiar roads again. I rode this stretch at night in 2006 and it was good to see the sights during the day. I got to Pateros a couple of minutes before noon, and had about an hour and 12 minutes in the bank.

Pateros to Twisp

Shane was here to sign my card, and I filled my water bottles again with the left over water from the previous riders. Apparently the other riders had left only 15 minutes earlier, but coupled with my 10 minute stay here, I was 25 minutes behind. I had no chance of catching up with anybody. I left without waiting for Duane, figuring that his superior speed would help him catch up. The road follows the Methow river, and the wind was picking up a little bit. I had a headwind for the most part, and it turned into a cross-wind after a few miles. I saw people on boats coming down the Methow, and stopped to take pictures of interesting road names, bridges and the river itself.

I was heading straight towards an area with dark clouds and about 10 miles, I was pelted by a brief shower of sorts which dried off almost immediately. I went by the store in Carlton not buying anything as I still had a PowerBar, a Banana and about 7 cookies. Just before the Highway 20 turn off, I knocked on a house for water, but nobody was around. I just filled up water from their hose. I now had about 50 minutes in the bank. Not very good with a mountain pass coming up.

Twisp to Omak

I decided to just follow the route sheet instead of the discussed Lower Beaver Creek Road. The road tilted up for a bit, but flattened out for pretty much the rest of the way. I first tried accelerating every few hundred meters and then slacking off, but that burned me too quickly, so I just started pedalling at a consistent rate. The shoulder was not that awesome, but the grade was quite gentle. I reached the summit of Loup Loup pass in about 2 hours and 18 minutes, which put my speed at just about 5-6 miles an hour. I took a few photographs, and then left.

The descent from Loup Loup for the next 7 miles was something else. Going West on this Pass would be a bit of a pain, but I was going down this time. I had a steep pitch after 7 miles and that got me crawling again, but it wasn't for very long. I really enjoyed that 7 mile stretch: it was my high-point of the ride. I stopped to eat the last of my cookies and got to Omak around 7.20, but not before I got confused about the Main Street turn (it was 2 miles further than advertised). I had 40 minutes in the bank. Not very much, but I still had a shot at finishing.

Omak to DNF

I always pictured Omak to be a cute little town, but sadly it wasn't. Oh well.

I bought and stashed three Bananas for the road ahead. I filled up my water bottles, and then sat down to eat the Cheese Burrito that I also bought. I thought for an instant if it was adequate food, and then I remembered thinking that Shane would be some 40 miles up the road in Nespelem. Figuring that I would last 40 miles on the food I had, I waited for Duane. A bunch of kids on bikes chatted with me as I waited. I told them that I was headed to Nespelem, and they said "Wow! That's far", almost in unison. I also dressed up for the night. I made two critical mistakes here: I forgot to buy a Starbucks DoubleShot and extra food. My plan was to restock with Shane and Chantel.

Around 7.40, I figured I had to get a move on. I left Omak and turned right on to Columbia River Road. I expected it to be a very quiet road, which it was. The road surface wasn't bad either. I thought the road would follow the river downstream, which meant a whole lotta downhills, but sadly that wasn't true. The road was rolling, and I ate the first of my Bananas a little too quickly for comfort. I was feeling strong however. The hills weren't that bad and the wind had completely died down. Darkness set in, and the only things I heard were the buzzing of my tyres, critters and barking dogs. After a brilliant Sunset, I saw the Columbia River flowing to my left, and the road tilted up again. I was treated to a most spectacular moonrise above some lake, which I enjoyed greatly.

I eat a lot when I climb a lot, and this meant that I was eating the second of my bananas even before I got to about the 20 mile point. I still felt good. After about 10 miles, I ate the last of my bananas and that was when I knew I was in trouble. I thought I still had 10 something miles to go before I could possibly get my hands on food, but I was wrong about that too.

Usually pretty good about just being in the present and not worrying about the road ahead, I started thinking about the 70 miles or so that I had to the finish. This was my first clue that I was "off". I stopped for about 5 minutes to try and gather my thoughts, and I started riding again. The road tilted severely up, and I found myself having no energy to turn the pedals. I was falling asleep on the bike, and zig-zagged up this climb, whose top I couldn't see. I was completely demoralized. I knew that there would be nothing open in Nespelem, and I knew that I didn't have the energy to get to wherever Shane was.

I thought I could stop somebody and get some food, started flagging down cars, but nobody stopped. It didn't look like I was going to make it to Nespelem. It is very hard to identify the exact process by which one says "I am going to DNF", but mine came half-way up the climb to Nespelem. I was tired, hungry, and demoralized. I started walking up the hill, thinking if I could only get to the top of this climb, I would be ok. After all, I had more than an hour in the bank. But even walking felt hard.

I called Shane to let him know that I was done. I was apparently slurring my words, and not really coherent. I sat down and a car pulled up. It was a driver asking if I needed help. I asked him to give me a ride to Nespelem where Shane would come and pick me up. Shane and Chantel showed up a little while later. I got something to eat, and we loaded up my bike in their car and went looking for Duane, who I had not seen since that climb to McNeil Pass. We couldn't locate him. We loaded up the car and headed back to Ephrata.

We were really worried about Duane, but he showed up around 9.30. He had ridden through the night after taking several catnaps. That was pretty good. We drove back on Sunday, stopping at Ellensburg for a nice lunch.

I rode Redmond-Carbon Glacier the following week in 10:43. My first sub-11 hour 200k in a while... That kept my R-12 streak going :)