Saturday, June 12, 2010

ORR 600K: Several lessons learned.

Before anything, thanks are due to Susan France, Britt and Joshua Bryant for their time, organization, support and encouragement!


I'd never attempted a 600 on one week's rest. This would be a first, and the source of much thought before the ride. Lots of new roads, with some familiar roads thrown in.

The sound of rain against the window wakes me up, and my first thought is "Ugh". I briefly consider bagging the ride but quickly put that away. A brevet in the rain does wonders for one's confidence. The Grant Lodge is a smallish throng of riders. IanS, Corey, Mark, Geoff, Mike Richeson, Millison, and Vincent are here ably representing the Seattle Randonneurs. Roger and Ali Holt from the BC Randonneurs are here. The riders appear chipper despite the grim weather. It hasn't started raining. Yet.

Start [Forest Grove] to Vernonia

After a few pre-ride announcements, we leave. I leave first, and am ahead for all of 20 yards when the train passes me. Mark passes me with a "You are winning!", and I find myself at the back pretty quickly. Lanterne Rouge. I keep at least some of the riders within sight, but most of them are gone. I catch up to Bill Alsup, but he too pulls ahead of me, but unlike the others he stays in sight almost all the way to the Banks Vernonia Trail, which we both have trouble finding. Bill circles back, and rides with me, and we pick up the trail after a little hunting.

The trail is quiet and the gentle grade is enough to slow both of us down. The scenery is nice. There are a few rough transitions, and a couple of times we have to ride through some heavy rock filled gravel. I walk my bike, not wanting to crash. Bill is a bit more daring, and pulls ahead. Halfway along the trial, Millison passes us, and is gone from sight in a matter of minutes. Bill seems to know the trail well, and points out some of the recent improvements.

We eventually arrive at a freshly-paved road and cannot decide if this is the exit on to SR 47. Since we had the option of staying on the trail, we ride on and the going gets tougher and tougher. Lots of potholes, loose gravel, and mud. My tyres aren't built for this, but we have come too far. We stay on course, and arrive at a very steep downhill. Bill rides down, and I walk my bike again. We are now at SR 47 but have no idea which way to go. We try to flag some cars down but while they slow down, they do not stop. Roger and Ali Holt appear and they have exited the trail correctly. We get behind them and arrive at the Coffee store. I have about an hour in the bank. A good start.

Vernonia to Fort Stevens State Park

Millison is leaving as I enter the coffee store. We exchange our hello's and he is on his way. Bill, Roger and Ali have just arrived as well. A cookie, and a hot chocolate which goes into my bottle. It has been raining for a while now, and I put on all my rain gear. My helmet cover is safely home, so on goes the skull cap, which keeps me plenty warm. Bill heads out, and we leave after about 15 minutes. The three Canadians are now Les Lanternes Rouge. The rain mostly stops now that I have put on my raingear.

We ride mostly together, chatting about this and that. I ride mostly with Ali; Roger is much faster than us. We discuss topics thorny for most people: religion, politics, and government, living in the US vs living in Canada, the economies, personal integrity, our "beloved" Prime Minister, etc etc. We also discuss the state of randonneuring, of "macho" courses, the dwindling numbers of women, and the "glamour".

Roger pulls up next to us, and so we stop talking about him. I kid. Roger is a great sport, and rides off again. We've been riding two abreast for a while now, and I am slow to pull over for a truck. I ride ahead and wave my hand in apology, but the passenger is not pleased: he gives me the finger. I laugh it off, and increase my wariness on the road.

We discuss stopping at Birkenfeld but press on, our food and water stores adequate to get us to Olney. We start to climb over the Coastal range and all that rain gear generates a lot of heat. Ali is ahead, and Roger is with me. I stop to take off my clothing, and the climb is now much more pleasant. Not too steep, but quite steady. My pace drops horribly near the top and the first drops hit me near the summit. Time for a lesson on "microclimates": the rain starts pouring just past the summit. I brave it at first, but a few wet and soggy miles later it is time to find a tree and pull everything back on again!

Roger passes me again, and we plunge together to the other side. The roads are quiet, and there is a woman walking in the sun. We are hit by intermittent showers. A lovely creek flows by. I am wet all over, but warm. We regroup and Ali tells me to keep my raingear on and take one for the team because each time I take it off we get dumped on. I keep everything on, and we eventually get to Olney. Olney is little more than a convenience store and some houses. Ali is eating a giant burrito with some very spicy looking sauce.

I make a quick stop here to get PowerAde, and then set off again, confident that the Holts will catch up. Young's River Road is idyllic with not much traffic and better weather. We are riding to the East of Young's Bay, and the Holts join me as I jot down the Info Control answer.

We set off again together staying together most of the way. The road undulates with pleasantness, and the wind isn't that brutal. As we near the bridge on 101 it starts raining hard, then harder, and Bill Alsup is on the side of the road fixing a flat.

Roger stops to assist him, and Bill seems to be okay, and Roger moves on. I see all this unfold ahead and zoom by Bill. He is just finishing up. We are now heading straight into the teeth of the wind, and the rain is a drag. We get a little confused by the turn to Alternate-101, but Roger checks with someone and it turns out that we have to go a little further than the route sheet lets on. We turn onto A-101, and a few miles later we spot Ian Shopland and Millison. There are a couple of other rides heading back as well. The wind is relentless, but the sun seems to be out. No rain. The chip-seal is a drag. A Police car circles around, probably wondering why all these bicyclists are headed to a mostly empty parking lot. I finally get to the Info Control and regroup with Ali and Roger.

Fort Stevens State Park to Tillamook

We lean our bicycles on the ground and have something to eat. The weather is looking considerably better. Off comes the raingear. There are some dark clouds down the coast and I am sure I will get rained on again at some point, but it is too warm. We leave after about 10 minutes not wanting to waste daylight or the lack of rain. The wind is out of our faces, but we have a confused wind. Now a tailwind, now a crosswind, but generally favourable. As we turn back onto 104 we spot Bill coming out of a Porta-Potty. Despite the two flats he has had he is in good spirits. I give him my spare tyre, knowing that Roger has a spare that I could use. We say our farewell's and head on down the road towards Seaside. Traffic has picked up, but the weather is looking up. The day is warm, and the sun upon the waters lifts my spirits.

We make excellent time, and hit Seaside. Ali wants to eat, and the local Pizza Hut is too slow for our tastes. We order Vegetarian Sandwiches at Quizno's, and have a sit down meal. A welcome break. We leave quickly.

There is some climbing, and I am the last one up on all of the little hills. Roger waits patiently atop the climbs for us. Cannon Beach with its beautiful rock; Arch Cape with its benevolent climb. The scenery is amazing. We regroup for the tunnel entering Oswald West State Park, and ride at a fast clip towards the end: we reach without incident.

I am slow up the Neahkannie Mountain climb, but Roger and Ali are waiting there again. They are going to stop and get a bite to eat at Nehalem. Quite a few tourists are enjoying the views, but we head further South. Roger and Ali are ahead of me, and I see them heading to a store. Mindful of being the slowest of the lot, I keep riding, my food stores sufficient to get me to Tillamook. And I am sure the Holts will catch me. I am alone now, bereft of any sense of urgency.

Onto SR53, and then onto Miami River Road. This is my second time here on a bike, the first time was on a fully-loaded tour of the Pacific Coast with my wife. I remember this road fondly, but the sharp little climb at the start jolts me out of my pleasant memory. The road is idyllic with plenty of farms and livestock. About halfway down, I spot some deer on the side of the road and sure enough they bound right in front of me. No danger of running into me though; they just send my heart racing.

I stop to change into my night riding gear. The route eventually leaves this road and the noise of 101 annoys me afresh. I ride through Bay City, and as I pass through Tillamook, I am struck by the number of businesses that have closed down. I eventually arrive at a Shell Gas Station near the end of town, around 9.45p. 3 hours and 15 minutes in hand!

Tillamook to Lincoln City

There have been several riders through the attendant reports. Bean burrito and some PowerAde is on the menu. She offers me a ladder as a chair and my legs catch some rest. It is such a simple pleasure, this sitting. The store closes at 10 as much of Tillamook does: Roger, Ali and Bill are going to have to stock up someplace else. All dressed up for night riding, I leave around 10.05, confident that I will make more time in the next 50 miles before the overnight. A gentle drizzle starts. A few miles out of Tillamook, there is some nasty road construction (which the organizer warned us about in his ride report), and a few miles down I find progress suddenly very onerous. My rear wheel is squirming around. Sure enough, my rear tyre is going soft.

This is my first night time flat on a brevet. I remove the tyre, and by the sound of leaking air, manage to locate the spot. A piece of metal has worked its way into my tyre. I am considerably slow doing this. I am a bit tired, the rain is annoying, and there is not much light to work with. There is a goat in a small hut nearby, and my presence makes him nervous. I spend about 15 minutes trying to locate other spots of trouble, and find none. Roger and Ali ride on by, and stop upon hearing my "Hello!". I change the tube, and Roger puts the tyre back on. I have lost about 20 minutes.

We turn onto Sandlake Road, and I hear yelling and screaming from a passing car: "buy a f***ing car" he advises. Roger and Ali are ahead and get the same treatment. We regroup a little down the road, discuss the car that just yelled at us, and ride along. We have ocean views for a while. The moonlit waves make the only sounds. It is lovely and peaceful. We descend Cape Kiwanda, and ride in together to Pacific City.

Pacific City to Lincoln City

The town is sewn up. We stop at the ATM and take turns getting receipts. A 2 minute-stop. The time is now 1:05a. We head out, and we stay together till 101, but the gentle rollers carry Roger and Ali away. My tyre has meanwhile gone soft again. Also, it is raining. Not a "make the pavement wet" type of rain, but misty rain. I harbor visions of pumping my tyre over and over again and reaching the overnight, and try this a couple of times. It doesn't last. I don't like this, so I finally stop and change the tube again. I resist the temptation to just RIP the tube to shreds. I may need to patch it tomorrow. It was a brand new tube, you see?

Another half hour wasted. Not in fixing the flat itself, but in dealing with the flat. I ride slowly along. I find the turn for N Slab Creek Road, and since the mileage is just a little bit off, I start the climb. It feels like a steep climb and I crawl along. The pavement is crappy, with potholes in places. The only illumination is my eDelux. I eventually get to the top, and am back on 101. This isn't expected! I was supposed to ride 4.5 miles to the Info Control. I flag down a passing car, and it is full of teenagers, with an adult at the wheel. The car reeks of alcohol. They have no idea where Slab Creek Road is. "What are you doing here, man?", the drunk in the backseat asks, clearly questioning my sanity. "I am on a long ride, but I need to take Slab Lake Road", I say. Oddly, they seem to understand. Or they think I am crazy and oughtn't to be messed with.

They wish me good luck as they leave, and I call Josh. He informs me that I am still on the course, and that I should ride a little bit further along and will see another turn for Slab Creek Road. Well, I diverged from the course at N Slab Creek Road, so I ride back down the same nasty road again, get to 101, and climb back again. I am not pleased with myself. A ton of time has been wasted, but I resist looking at the clock.

The real Slab Lake Road arrives, and it is slow going. I am tired, sleepy and not in good spirits. I wonder how much sleep I will get, and if I should just throw in the towel at the overnight. I put these thoughts out of my head. Not enough awareness to make such a decision now. A creek keeps me company, noisily running down the hill. I finally get to the Info Control sign, and ride on, not even stopping to write down the answer. The road seems to steepen now, and I decide to take a break.

After a minute or two of napping on my handlebars (the Harold Bridge technique), I wake up, and start pedalling, but cannot clip in my left foot. Not enough leg-cleat coordination left. I am now really not amused. I get back on again and somehow clip back in, and after what seems like forever, get to the top. Now the road is twisty, I am tired and sleepy, it is dark and so cannot ride down my at usual pace. I finally find the turn off for Three Rocks Road, and get back to 101. It is starting to get light out again. I climb the remaining few rollers to Lincoln City and find the Motel 6.

Lincoln City to Logsden

I find Josh, sign in, and find out that I have taken 6 hours and 20 minutes to go 50 miles. Truly pathetic! My dreams of having a 3-hour nap are now smashed. I shower quickly, and set a wake up call for 5.30, and hit the sack. 50 minutes worth of sleep. I wake up and Bill is still not in the room. This is not good. I was hoping to ride with him partly because that would prevent a DNF. I raid the control's food stores, and head down to the lobby, and Bill Alsup is finally there. He has a half-hour to spare. I try to cheer him up the best I can.

I feel decent. There are a few other riders at the lobby, but I leave ahead of them. They catch me a few miles as I am cresting one of those endless rollers on 101. I am a little bit worried that I missed the turn onto SR229, but I haven't. The day is cool, and the clouds are ominous. As I turn onto SR 229, a gentle shower descends. The Siletz flows gently by and eager anglers descend on the river. The road meanders gently with no steep climbs, but I suspect much of it is gently uphill. We are headed upriver. Cars pass us with plenty of room, save for one gentleman who decided that startling a cyclist was fun. I arrive at the Siletz store and find three other cyclists.

I drink a cup of coffee and refuel. As I wait outside drinking my coffee, the women inside the store are telling a local about our exploits. It feels good to hear someone talk about what we do in glowing terms. I set off down the road, and the two cyclists who left before me tell me I have missed the SR 411 turn. We find it together, and then they are gone. One small bump in the road, and a few miles later I am at the Logsden store. I have about 28 minutes in the bank. Great, finally a small cushion to build on. Ha!

Logsden to Blodgett

Time for introductions. There is Keith Kohan, Jim, and David. Every time I do an Oregon 600, I see Keith fixing a flat: the last time was in 2008 on the road to Prosser. I try and get out of here as soon as I can, but everybody except Keith has already left. I stop to take a leak, and Keith flies by. Bill Alsup is behind and probably gaining. This thought cheers me up a tad. Roger and Ali are nowhere in sight. I assume they are miles down the road, and have no hope of catching them.

The dreaded "Pavement ends" sign arrives. I stop to take a photo, and set off into the rather rough gravel. I freely ride down the opposite side of the road where the only clearly rideable surface is. I jump back to the correct side when the road improves. It turns out that going uphill was the easy part. David catches up and comments that the course while meant to be a recreation of Paris-Brest turns out to be a recreation of Paris-Roubaix. I get a good guffaw out of that. My tyres are suspect, and I decide to walk down the hill and David rides away. A spill here would be most painful. The scenery is spectacular, but the rain now decides to come down in sheets with some hail thrown in for good measure. Gone is the misty rain, and it is dumping. I cover my seat with my hand, and walk down, fully aware of the loads of time I am giving back. A truck coming uphill passes me at good speed, and I turn my back to them to receive the pelting of stones.

I resist the temptation to kiss the pavement, and start riding again. I arrive at the Nashville turn. A solitary cyclist on the other side of the road turns around and starts riding with me. He is full of questions about our route and destination. I tell him we are headed back to Forest Grove, and he says he saw a lot of riders at the Blodgett store. I descend into deeper depths of self-loathing. He bids adieu and heads downhill again, while I slog uphill. The scenery is again great. It is still raining rather heavily, and I find the livestock has taken cover under the trees. Horses run around. Cows lie in the mud and watch me go by. Sheep huddle under a tree, hiding away from the rain.

The road reaches the hamlet of Summit, and then decides to go down again, but instead of a sustained descent, we climb back up again. This pattern is repeated several times, but I arrive at the Blodgett store with 20 minutes to spare. That walk down the hill probably cost me a good 20 minutes.

Blodgett to Dallas

David is at the store, but he is getting ready to leave. I buy more Burritos and PowerAde. David leaves just as I start on my second burrito. I set off again, after about 10 minutes, mindful of the clock. Traffic is heavy, and I finally find the Priest Road turn. A Honda Civic, its rear seat full of stuff pulls over and waits. It is Josh and his wife, Britt. They enquire after my general condition, and I ask them about the road ahead. "You make the turn, and you hit a hill" he says. "I hate you!", I say, not really meaning it. I ask about other riders, and I find out that Ali left at 8a in the morning, well after the control closed. Bill was also behind me, but his friend was going to come and pick him up. I was the Lanterne Rouge!

I turn down their offer of food and regret it the moment they leave. I try to motion to them, but they do not notice, and make the left turn onto SR 223. I stop right after the turn, and eat something. I know that there must be a store somewhere down this highway, and I just don't know where. SR 223 is a rolling highway. Moderately trafficked, but the road isn't ever flat.

Upon cresting one of the innumerable hills my left knee starts acting up. I see a covered bridge but don't stop to take a photo. I would regret this choice later. At Kings Valley Store, I pull in and buy two Snickers bars: Payday bars are long gone. The woman at the store asks about our ride. I downplay it, telling her I am headed to Dallas and leave quickly. The rollers commence again. A few miles down this road, and I feel a pleasant tailwind, and life is good. One one of the longish climbs, two cyclists are flying down in a full aerodynamic tuck. Other cyclists are headed this way too: this must be a popular bicycling route!

The weather improves, and the tailwind is in full session near Monmouth. I arrive in Dallas, and ride through town not sure where to stop. I finally find an Espresso stand, and pull in. 25 minutes in the bank. Not sufficient, but at least I am not losing time.

Dallas, OR to Dayton

"I'll have your strongest coffee drink", I say. It turns out to be 5 or 6 shots of caffeine, with a really scary name. A Soy Latte will do just fine, thanks. There are two teenage girls ahead of me, and they seem to break out into giggles each time they see me. I am past caring. I sit down for a few minutes, but then decide that the Coffee is too hot. I pour it into my water bottle and head down the road again. I turn onto Orchard Road, and the first of the steep rollers comes into view. After the Kings Valley Highway, I am really past caring about my speed up the hills. I put my head down and spin. This road is a never ending series of rollers. I cross Highway 20, and it starts climbing up again. I just spin away. I know I have some time in the bank, and I know I am making steady progress, so why fret ? The right turn onto Bethel Road gives me a wicked tailwind, and I fly to the next turn.

I am suffering from some chafing (must be all that riding in the rain), and stop to put on some lubricant, and stuff my face. Traffic slows down to take a good long look at me. After a short flat stretch, we climb again. This must be the Eola hills. On this climb the rain starts. I stop to pull on my raingear, hoping it will ward off the rain. The rain does stop. These pants must be magical! The rain may have stopped, but the hills haven't. One roller after the other. I finally get to the left turn onto Hopewell, and am nearly taken out by a woman making a high speed left turn. My yell catches her attention and she veers to the right, but does wave apologetically as she passes by me.

Webfoot provides the first flat stretch for a very long time, but near the end it too throws some steep pitches at me. The road surface is chipseal which doesn't help matters much either. I finally arrive at the Dayton Control. I have 25 minutes in the bank.

Dayton to the Finish

I ask when the last rider came through, and the guy at the counter says "Oh, about an hour ago". I lose hope of catching David. Some company would have helped. In the hope of getting some quick calories, I drink a bottle of Naked Mango juice. I still have that Snickers Bar that I bought at the Kings Valley Market. I put on my night riding gear and set out. More rollers. My goodness. How did this man find so much rolling terrain? The waning sun is beautiful though, and I really enjoy riding at this time of day. Oregon has some of the prettiest sunsets I have ever seen.

I am hit by the first signs of heartburn, and soon my stomach starts churning. This is not good. I seldom suffer from GI distress on rides; this must be the juice. I get to Spring Hill Road, and the juice decides to exit; and now. I stop, lean my bike against a post box, and start throwing up.

I am reminded of Eric Ferguson's ride report from Paris-Brest-Paris, where he says "Your'e not a real cyclist until you've puked in a French ditch". This brings a smile to my lips. I am wary of the amount of time I am wasting, but I have no choice. I rinse out my mouth, and continue riding. Not all of the daylight has vanished and I think I spy a red light ahead. I accelerate into the Fern Hill Road turn, but the red light is nowhere to be seen. It is now completely dark. I sense that I am near the end, and finally make the turn onto the Grant Lodge. The parking lot is mostly empty. The time is 21:45. I have taken 39 hours and change on all my Oregon 600's.

Josh and Susan are waiting patiently for me, which makes me feel terrible about being so slow, but they are happy to see me finish. I thank them profusely. We chat about the course, the lack of hallucinations, and the weather. Most of the riders finished in around 37 hours. David finished about an hour and a half before me. Even Ken Bonner took 33 hours. I grab a couple of bananas, and prepare for the drive back to Beaverton.


This is a beautiful course. Yes, the weather was challenging, but the rain was never miserable. The gravel stretch was a pain, but I am sure those with wider tyres enjoyed it. I would love to do this course again. It would make a wonderful PBP qualifying course!

I learned several things about myself: 1) I can survive on 50 minutes worth of sleep, 2) I can finish a tough 600 one week after I do a 400, and 3) I need to avoid Apple juice during Brevets.

Monday, May 17, 2010

SIR 400k: Fun and Games

Many thanks to all the volunteers for a fantastic event: Joe and Jesse Llona, Amy Pieper, Mark Thomas, Geoff and Dorothy Swarts, Mrs and Mr Morse, the Westhaven Hippie Association, Peter Beeson, Eric Vigoren, and Maggie Williams...

Somewhere on the road just past Elma...

Espouse; Equitable; Extirpate; Erudite; Emancipate; Eve... The words ring out in the cool clear night air breaking the silence. With not a car in sight, the three of us ride abreast on the road uttering strange words.. It doesn't look like there is any method to this madness, but there is. A pattern. A little game we used to play as kids. What better than a game to keep the brain occupied, melt miles, and avoid sleep? What is this game you ask? You are going to have to read on..


I ride towards the Park and ride in the early morning mist, hoping to hook up with Mike Huber, my ride to the start. I arrive on time, and so does Mike, and we load up my bike in the car and head south, chatting about rides, times, and food. There isn't much chance of me finishing with Mike, but he does promise that if he finds me on the morning's first ferry he will give me a ride home as well.

We wait for a long time at the light to turn left, but finally we buy our tickets and head over to a huge group of riders assembled at the Bremerton Ferry. The ferry has just arrived, and cars unload at a furious pace. Riders mill about, some fiddling with their bikes, some with their thoughts; I greet the ones I know, and share a casual conversation with a few. We board the ferry, and make a beeline for the little ropes to secure our bikes.

I register with the ever friendly Amy Pieper, who this past week rode a "headwind in every direction" 400K down in Oregon. We are treated to a singing performance, and I can hear laughter behind me. Riders seem to be calm and relaxed. More familiar faces. Mark is here, volunteering as well. The ferry is late, and we we arrive at Bremerton at 7a. There are more riders in front of the Starbucks.

Start to Shelton

Joe gives us some pre-ride instructions, and we are off. The lights split the riders faster than usual, but at one of the lights I avoid a huge group by fighting to make the light. A few riders make it along with me, and we settle into a nice rhythm, riding by the big boats and the cool waters. Two hundred and thirty odd miles must elapse before we will see these boats again, some during the still of the night, others during the pre-dawn hours of Sunday.

The tricky left turn onto 304 has us climbing a little, and I am spit out of the group. Absolved of having to maintain any kind of pace, I slow down a little and watch the train recede smoothly into the distance. I am passed by more people, and we roll by dale, farm, lake and hill along W Belfair Valley Road. I ride a little with Ron Himschoot, and he pulls away too. I see Gary Prince fixing a flat, and offer to help. He waves me on, and I continue. A few miles later he flies low, a good 10 mph faster than I.

A few miles later, I see a rider on the wrong side of the road, and circle over to him. It is Gary. He is changing his tube again. He has no more spares. I assure him that I have 3 spares, and all he has to do is stay ahead of me, and help is assured. The beauty of being fast is that you can always wait for help. The lanterne rouges need to be self-sufficient. I press on, wary of wasting daylight. Gary flies by me again, and I hopefully will never see him again. For his sake. I arrive at Shelton and see Bill, Peg, Lesli and Jennifer. Ron is having a sandwich at a cafe, off the course.

Shelton to Cosmopolis

We make quick work of the control, and we all leave together, but I get dropped again. By the time I make it to the top of the little hill, they are nowhere to be seen. Solitude. Blissful at times. Stressful at times. I turn onto 108, and the dread of chipseal enters my mind. I almost catch Ralph and Carol, but it is not to be. Ron catches up to me with a "When did you get ahead of me?". We discuss our stops, and it turns out that he has had a nice Sandwich at that cafe. We ride through McCleary, where he bids me good day and is off down the road. I enter chipseal hell.

Monte-Elma road fills me with dread: the headwind is blowing strong, the road surface is what it has always been, and my pace has tanked. Bill and Jennifer pass me again part of a bunch of riders. There is little to do but put ones head down and crank away. "If you are going through hell, keep going" comes to mind, and I finally turn left onto Main Street.

I am slowly exiting my dark place when Alan Bell pulls up and says Hi! I ask him to not wait for me and press on, not thinking about what my words might mean. Alan says "Do you mind if I chat with you a bit?": a perfect gentleman. We ride together chatting about this and that, but a lot about Table Tennis, something his fiancée is very interested in. I play too, though I haven't played in a while. I resolve to play her, even if it means certain embarrassment.

We spy a rider ahead, but he isn't one of us. He is one of "them": fully-loaded bicycle tourers. Blue Slough arrives too soon, and we split from his way never to know where he is from, or where he is headed. The clock is a terrible dictator. Traffic free but still chip-seal bound, we make it to Cosmopolis where a huge group (Carol and Ralph, Jeff Loomis, Bill Gobie, Jennifer, Peg and Lesli) is present.

Cosmopolis to Westhaven State Park

After the usual control procedures, I leave before Alan, Bill and Jennifer. Alan is still in the loo, and Bill and Jennifer are just preparing to leave. I soft-pedal; Bill and Jennifer catch up. Alan is nowhere in sight. Shortly before the malls Alan joins us, and our tight paceline with me playing the tail cuts into the wind. I cannot ride their pace, even in their draft. Jennifer tries to motivate me into riding faster, but I beg her to go. She leaves, reluctantly, catching up to the group in no time.

The wind blows from the side, sometimes from the front, and I struggle. I struggled along this stretch in 2006, and why should this time be any different ? As I climb one of the few rises on this road, I find my rear wheel slipping and sliding. Dreading the diagnosis, I look down and sure enough, the rear tyre is slowly leaking air. I find a staple on the sidewall of the tyre, and remove it. I give the tyre the once over and as I am done replacing the wheel, Greg Taylor and Todd Black introduce themselves. Todd collects my tools from the ground while Greg engages me in conversation. We leave together, but don't stay together for long. These two are fast.

I collected some bonus miles in 2006, and I know exactly which mistake to avoid this time. I ride to the end of the beach, and find two bikes in the grass, and find volunteers Mrs and Mr Swarts and Master, Mrs and Mr Morse eager to help.

Westhaven to Raymond

I stuff my face with food, and am regaled with stories of "enthusiastic" people singing songs and forming arches for riders. I regret being slow. A woman offers a beer to Geoff and he politely declines. After a couple of vegetarian friendly sandwiches, two packs of cashew nuts. and a stashed banana, I bid them goodbye. I will see Geoff again next week at the Oregon 600. .

That unseen enemy, the wind, is now an ally. It shoves me through the pipe, and I find myself rolling along at a good clip, but not good enough to catch anybody. This is a lovely section of road, one that I have never tired of despite repeated journeys through. It does not disappoint. Greg and Todd pass me again a few miles South of Tokeland. They watched the surfers and the kites.. What a wonderful way to use ones speed!

I find myself alone again, my thoughts subdued, with the wind, and the water and the waves for company. Time flies (like arrows). I pull into Raymond, and see a small group this time preparing to leave. They stay back upon my request; I don't really want to be riding alone at night.

Raymond to Potlatch State Park

I leave quickly, my only luxury having called my wife to let her know my general location. Soon after we leave Raymond the road pitches up. Jennifer lags behind with me, while Bill rides on a few feet ahead. I try to exhort them to go ahead, but Bill rides back, and the three of us, with my sedentary pace as lead set off again. I am feeling low on energy and a few miles later I stop to eat. I've been bonking, and out come Bill's magic Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip bars, and Jennifer's endurolytes, and my cashewnuts. Some water, and I am refreshed by the stop.

I find that I can now hold their pace, and we discuss our food strategies and the miles melt away along with the daylight. We stop a few miles before the turn onto 107 to wear our night clothing, and take bathroom breaks. We eat a little bit more, rest a little bit more. My companions are kind enough to stay with me, and I promise to ride hard for them. I pick up the pace into Montesano where we arrive just as darkness has started to fall.

There is a rider in a car, and it looks like his family has come to pick him up. I do not recognize him, but he assures us that he is ok. We buy food, water and Gatorade and eat some more. We stay for 15 minutes before setting off on the next torture fest: Monte Elma Road. Again. Luckily we spot a foot wide clean area and ride there, and this stretch too passes by quickly. We are still chatting, and it is clear that tiredness or sleepiness hasn't set in. The rare car flies by, but we can ride three abreast for a good part of it.

We make the Cloquallum Road turn, and the road pitches up again. Not steeply, but conversation ceases. There is not a star in the sky. This of course, does not bode well for the randonneur. The temperature has dropped too. I find myself under the grip of the sleep demon, and anxious to shake him off, I ask my fellow riders if they would play a little game with me.

My mother, who is a teacher by profession, got me hooked on the English language as a child. She would play little word games with me, most of them designed to bolster my vocabulary and my grasp of the language. Of course, we played word games at school too, and one of the more famous ones was the ones where you would try to keep a chain of words beginning with E and ending in E, going. The rules of the game were simple: Take turns, no repeats, only one form of a word to be used, and the words had to be found in a dictionary.

Bill and Jennifer consent. At first the words fly out fast, and the easy words are exhausted. The dynamics of the game become apparent. It is a test of memory, speed and diction. If you don't use the time you are idle productively to think of other words fitting the pattern you give other people time to think. We take turns pinning the other person to a corner, and we also learn new words in the process. Sleep has receded into some remote corner of our brain, as has the dark sky and the fallen temperature.

Our world is our game, and our lights are its only illumination. Oh, and the odd house: its dogs spooked by the sound (and probably the smell). Jennifer claims to be having a lot of fun, and we finally arrive at the turn onto US 101. Riding abreast at this point is impossible and so the game ends. We all revert back to silence. But it was great fun while it lasted. A mile or two out of Potlatch, we find a group of riders headed back to Bremerton. We arrive at Potlatch to a roaring fire and a warm welcome from the Llona family.

Potlatch State Park to Bremerton

We are shown to our seats. There are some riders sleeping in Joe's car. Joe and Jesse flit around us taking care of our every need. This control has been an enormous time hole for me. I spent about 45 minutes in 2006 trying to warm up after a chilly descent down to the Hood Canal. This time I eat two PBJ sandwiches and a Chicken-Flavoured soup. I start shivering and now I know that I am in trouble. I tell Bill and Jennifer that I am shivering and need to leave or I will never leave. They graciously allow me to leave.

I leave, and cannot warm up. I continue to shiver, and my bike shakes every few feet. I cannot control myself. A few miles later Stephen Barnes joins me. I am still shivering, and his arrival makes me pick up the pace. We chat about our entries into randonneuring, some of his long rides, some of mine and people we know of. I am still shivering. There are no climbs to speak of, and there is water nearby. By the time we reach Twanoh State Park, my shivering stops, but I am still cold. I finally warm up a few miles after Twanoh.

Just before the SR 3 turn, I run over glass. I swear and stop immediately, and Stephen and I go to work on my bike to make sure that I don't have any glass stuck to my tyres. We make the turn onto SR 3, and then onto Belfair Parkway. Traffic dies down, and we are alone with our thoughts again. Half-way down Belfair Parkway we see the first signs of daybreak. One of the greatest rewards of randonneuring is being able to ride late into the night and see the day break.

We turn onto Sam Chritopherson road, and we know that we aren't that far away from the finish. SR3's shoulder is a mess: we climb over, and then plunge back down to the water, seeing those big boats again. It has been 22 something hours since we went by those boats. I want to be done. The short and steep hill on Burwell hits me hard, but I see Stephen waiting for me at the top. We both turn onto the hotel lobby. The time is 5:50a. We are done!

Eric Vigoren and Maggie Williams offer us congratulations, food, drink and encouragement. We make a quick stop to get our cards signed, and take off to catch the 6:20 ferry. On the ferry, I see Bill and Jennifer. They finished about 6 minutes behind us. I catch Mike Huber and he drops me off home. Next week is the Oregon 600!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

April's R-12: A truly last minute affair.


Cue whining music..

I have been horribly busy these last few months, often working late hours, and having no time to either commute to work by bike or do a permanent, because more often than not I was at work trying to get things done. Such schedules lend themselves very poorly to improving ones riding shape. The only day left was the last day of the month, which I had to arrange with my boss since I finished everything at work the previous day. Alan Bell rescheduled his Saturday registration to ride with me, and we met at the Haggen's in Arlington by around 6.45a.

Arlington to Sedro Woolley

We set off around 7.10a under ominous skies. I was greatly encouraged by the wide swath of clear sky to the far west and south of us hoping that as the day progressed the rains would get driven out by the brisk tailwind that we were supposed to get. It didn't quite work out that way, as there was still quite some darkness where we were immediately headed: North, and North-East.

I have ridden several times on Highway 9, but mostly only in the Southerly direction, the lone exception being the 300 where we headed North on Highway 9. Not for far though, as we turned off towards Conway on Highway 534. The road looks very different headed North, and it was like being on a new road. Traffic on Highway 9 was not bad with only the logging trucks showing signs of impatience. Wide load trucks were the best though, slowing down for us, maintaining a very good distance, and passing only when sight lines and traffic was clear.

Alan slowed down a bit to stay with me, and I sped up a little and we stayed mostly together on Highway 9. We chatted a lot, about our jobs, families, backgrounds, interests and so on. The miles melt away in such pleasant company, and you hardly notice the weather. We had been peppered by the occasional water drops here and there, but a few miles into the ride, the rain started. I had hoped that there wouldn't be much, if any, of the rain, and so left my helmet cover and rain pants at home. This would turn out to be the source of much consternation but little actual damage. We stayed warm from the slightly rolling terrain of the Highway.

Alan nearly missed the turn away from the highway, but luckily I was there close enough to avoid any Special Ks. The rain now started in earnest, but we got to the Sedro Woolley control in pretty good time. The time was 09:09.

Sedro Woolley to Bellingham

I got some Hot Chocolate, while Alan got some Fig newtons. The Hot Chocolate was truly hot and Alan suggested that I add some ice to it to cool it down so I could down it and go. Brilliant Idea! (filed away in the "Randonneuring Tips" section)

The rain had now thickened, and traffic along Highway 20 was quite busy, but we turned off on F & S Grade road, which offered a welcome respite from the traffic. I didn't even know that a "Off the Highway" route existed to Bellingham! There were a few locals out: one was clearly the local Adopt-A-Road guy, as he was walking the shoulder with an eagle eye and a trash bag. A couple of walkers looked at us and professed us "Hard-core". I agreed with them, equal measure of vanity and politeness.

We stopped briefly on Prairie Road for some clothing adjustments: I put on my skullcap. My gloves weren't soaked through and my feet were warm in my wool socks. We were among the trees so it was difficult to ascertain what the weather was going to be a few miles down the road. Old Highway 99 took us to the small town of Alger, which I would love to visit and spend some time in ("Cute Little Town", as my wife would put it). The Alger Cain Lake Road stretch, which took us past Lake Cain, Lake Reed, Lake Louise and Lake Whatcom was a lovely stretch, with lakes, verdant forests and farms: pleasing to the eye.

About halfway along Lake Whatcom Blvd, the rain stopped, even if the few people waiting for a bus in the little town of Sudden Valley looked at us like we were ghosts. There is a golf course here: I'd have to tell my brother; an avid duffer, I am sure would love play it. Seeing our shadows was much cause for cheer, even if the hill that followed made me suffer a bit. We got to Bellingham in good time.

Bellingham to La Conner

We were treated to a really grumpy clerk at this control last year, but this year there was an East Indian woman, who was polite but seemed bemused by my attire and mode of transportation. "Are you biking?" she asked me with a sort of disbelief. I bought some PowerAde, and a Bear Claw which I ate on the spot.

We made quick work of the control, and set off discussing whether we would stop at the Mambo Italiano for Lunch, a spot venerated by our very own Mark Thomas. Alan wanted to at least check it out since he had never managed to spot it, while I was wary of spending too much time at a restaurant, being fully aware of my status as the slowpoke.

We parted ways at the Cafe: I had just eaten a bear claw, had a PowerBar in reserve, and a bottle of PowerAde, and I knew this would tide me over for the next 30 miles or so, and I left Alan, and rode onto a mostly-empty Chuckanut drive. Not many tourists or locals on a Friday afternoon. I stopped a couple of times to adore the scenery while nibbling on some food. I expected Alan to catch me, but as I flew down the last hill towards Bow, I still hadn't spotted him in my rear-view mirror.

The wind hit me hard as I exited the hills of SR 11, and onto the flats of Bow. It was a W/SW wind, and it seemed like it was in my face no matter which direction the road took. We headed west on W Bow Hill Road, and my pace slowed quite a bit, with the chipseal offering another hindrance. I paused to admire the horses before the last of the small hills on Bow Hill-Edison Road, and the horses came over to take a look at what I was all about.

Alan caught me a mile or two before Highway 20 and passed me with a gentle "I am going to just putter along". I tried to stay in his slipstream but it was too much effort. I couldn't catch him while he was waiting at the light, and the result was another solo slog into the wind. I got to La Conner a little after 3p.

La Conner to the Finish

I tried to make quick work of this control as I knew Alan would probably leave ahead of me if I didn't. The clerk at the Pioneer store was familiar with our activities: she was full of questions about how far I had to go, and how ahead of time I was. When I replied "about a couple of hours", both she and the woman behind in line responded with a "Way to go". Excellent encouragement!

We left the control, and spotted a new Cafe/Bakery to our right (the right turn just after leaving the Market). This will be my preferred stop from now on, I think. Now headed in a Easterly direction, the winds turned favourable, and save for a small stop to eat on Pioneer Highway, we made excellent time. We finished a little before 6:47p, making it in a 10 h 47 minute excursion.
Many thanks to Alan for sticking with me and heeding my call for a Friday ride. I was glad I played hookie from work!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

SIR Spring 300K: Breathing room


After a "less than stellar but still good enough to finish" performance at the Chili Feed 200, I was quite excited about this relatively flat 300. I carpooled with Jason to the start, which featured an impressive array of food and drink. I downed a donut and some coffee there to start my day off right. A lot of riders, and a lot of new faces. This bodes well! But we shall not speak of "the" ride today. There were several BC Randonneurs: Ali and Roger Holt among them. It was good to meet them after a long time.

Start to Hollywood Hills

I was in front of the women's loo when the bulk of the pre-ride instructions were given, but I heard the words "train tracks"... (I was guarding the entrance because a dude was using it). We set off into the pre-dawn hours, and a trail of red blinking taillights could be seen climbing up the little hill. I found my natural position, and chatted with Roger Holt about the fine art of recovering from injuries, though his were far serious than my own.

Roger's pace was too good for me: I backed off and fell in line with a 'bent rider who was only headed as far as Marymoor. On the descent into Lake Forest Park, the 'bent vanished, and just before the turn onto the trail, I saw Ken Krichman walking up the road. He had let a bottle fly off. Ok, I would have some company shortly I thought, but kept riding on, mindful of the narrow time cushion I had survived on a fortnight ago.

I was a little nervous about the routing off the trail, having checked it out the previous day, but there was a rider wearing a Brooks jersey (Chris Stevens), who pointed me in the right direction: he had stopped to take off some clothing. I was making good time, and when I checked my watch as I was nearing the control. I found out that I had more than a half-hour on hand. This cheered me up considerably. I finally got to the Hollywood Hills control and met Mark and Chris Thomas, manning the control.

Hollywood Hills to Beaver Creek Park

I was planning to make a quick stop of it, and when Mark told me that I had 39 minutes in the bank, I was overjoyed. "You are on target for a 15 hour finish", he said. I live right up the hill from the control, and maybe I could take a half-hour nap ?

I set off again for the next control on my morning commute route, and as I was nearing the point where the brevet route diverged from my commute route, I saw Frank Kaplan (who I mistook for somebody else), coming toward me. "Do you know where you are going?", he asked. When I replied in the affirmative, he stuck with me, and we chatted along until I got him to East Lake Sammamish Parkway. Recognizing his superior pace, I told him that he was under no obligation to stay with me. After saying his thanks and wishing me a nice ride, he set off, soon a blur in the distance.

I didn't want anybody to see me suck climbing Louis Thompson Road, and more than a few zigs and zags later, I met a smiling Gary Prince taking photos at the top of a little rise. This is where I heard of the Tofu Sandwiches at the next control. I made it to the next control to see quite a few riders leaving the control. This was another good sign. On the Chili Feed 200, I had hardly met anybody at the controls.

Beaver Creek Park to Sultan

In the randonneuring world, there are controls, and there are controls. This was of the latter kind: Food and drink of every kind was laid out in front of us. Vernonia is the gold standard of Controls, but this one was almost as good as Vernonia (they have French-press Coffee).

A smiling Geoff Swarts welcomed me along with two other volunteers whose name completely escapes me now. She even affixed a "wow" sticker on my fender. Shame on me! I had more than an hour in the bank. This was welcome news, and some much needed breathing room. I saw Jason, and Peg at the control, and this gave some hope that I would actually make decent time. I spent about 15 minutes doing control activities and eating the Tofu sandwich. Just as I was readying myself to leave, the rider in the Brooks jersey rode in, looking all classy. And so did Chuck Hoffman.

I took off again, not wishing to waste any more time, and after a easy-looking-but-not-for-me climb up Ames Lake, I found myself on the gentle rollers of W Snoqualmie Road. The day had started clearing up, and I could see signs of blue everywhere. Pacelines of bicycles littered the roadway. The day was warming up, but not enough for me to take off my jacket. I was passed by a couple of riders on this stretch, and just before the next turn on Crescent Lake Road, Chris passed me too. I was now pretty sure that I was Lanterne Rouge. No matter, I had time in the bank.

I have always suffered on Ben Howard road going East. That one sharp climb always kicks my tail. Zig and Zag to the rescue again. After that one climb things eased up a bit, but we will be visiting these parts again on the 4-Pass 600. Gulp! I thought Chris vanished off in to the distance, but somehow I got to the Sultan Coffee shop only a couple of minutes after him.

Sultan to Granite Falls

I got some chips at the Sub Shop, and mixed up the last of my Sustained Energy: two bottles worth. The next stretch was not easy. Reiner Road would take a healthy bite out of my leg. I finally got to take off my jacket and gloves. I left before Chris and the first little climb up (which I most dread for some reason) wasn't very hard. The area doesn't seem to have escaped the turmoils of the housing market: I noticed that several of the houses were subject to foreclosure. There is a lovely little descent down Reiner, and then a gentle flattish stretch after which the road takes a turn for the worse: Up. I zig-zagged my way, and I spotted a smiling Mark Thomas with his camera ready to capture every wince and whine.

Me: "I hate you" (this is a running joke between us).
MT: "Hahaahaha. It wasn't even my idea. You look like you are enjoying it though"
Me: "There is some pleasure in pain, I guess"
MT: "But not as much as watching others suffer"
Me: "You know how I console myself?"
MT: "How's that?"
Me: "I am not doing these hills after climbing 3 Mountain Passes!"

I stopped for about 10 seconds to take a breather on the last vicious stretch, but didn't stay to chat with Mark once I made it to the top. Mark didn't mind. Pipeline road offered some reward for that last nasty climb. The roads after the Woods Creek turn were something else. Chris saved me from bonus miles when he read the BL instruction on Roesiger Lake Road which I completely missed. :) When I crested the vicious little hill on N Lake Roesiger, he was gone. I got to Granite Falls eventually, losing about 10 minutes of my buffer, but I wasn't complaining.

Granite Falls to Conway

I found out that Chris had arrived here only moments ago, and so I made quick work of this control. Got myself a snickers bar, filled my water bottles (no more Sustained Energy, alas), and took off with Chris, who then dropped me promptly. When we got to Arlington, I saw him atop the steep little hill and was happy to keep somebody in my sights. A vicious crosswind greeted me on Highway 9, but there are no steep pitches here. The crosswind turned into a nice tailwind on Highway 534 and blew me into Conway in no time. I saw a blue jersey leaving Conway, just as I pulled in to the gas station there. More time in the bank!

Conway to Stanwood

Chris had gotten there a while back, and looked set to leave. I made a pact with him to ride at night, and we left together after I lubed myself and filled my bottles with Powerade. We would have the dark hours upon us in a little while, and so we put on our night gear as well. I rode behind Chris, and we made it to Stanwood in no time. Again that blue shirt was leaving the control as we were arriving. Drat!

Stanwood to Machias

We just got our cards signed. I called my wife to tell her that I was doing well, and promised to call her again when I knew of my finish time estimate. The wind was quite merciless. After we passed Interstate 5, Chris took off. 43rd Ave delivered a little kicker, but the pain was short-lived. Thank goodness. I had resigned myself to riding by myself again, seeing that I was visibly slowing down Chris, but he was within sight. I passed him fixing his water bottle cage just before the trail, and stopped there to use the restroom. Chris caught up here.

Centennial Trail's gentle little climb has always owned me, but today the story was a bit better. Although I lost Chris again, I found myself in the company of a woman who had just bought a bike, and was trying out clip-less pedals for the first time. "How long does it take for one to get used to these things?" she asked. This brought back memories of my first first clip-less pedals usage in 2001. We engaged in some friendly conversation, and the topic came around to how far I was riding today. I just told her that I was out to get to Snohomish. She mentioned seeing a lot of "you people" near the end of the trail where she got on (this meant that they were at least 3 hours ahead of me).. ;)

She took off into the distance, and I settled into a comfortable rhythm, the blinkie lights of Chris gradually fading off into the distance. I got to Machias station, and saw Mark Thomas again, signing cards in lieu of the info control question. He truly was all over the course. Lyn Gill, Jennifer Chang and Bill Gobie were preparing to leave just as I entered. Chris had already made himself comfortable.

We all know that Mark is a class act, but he goes above and beyond: He offered to come and pick me up at the finish and drive me home. Thanks Mark, for all you do.

Machias to Woodinville

After eating some chips and donning our night gear, we set off down the trail again. Chris decided to stick with me, and we rode together all the way up the climbs on Springhetti and Broadway. Broadway just climbs forever. Its several false flats are annoying to say the least, and we finally got to Yew and made it safely across 522 to the turn on Bostian. Now this road also owns me. I lost Chris here, and didn't meet him until the control. Traffic was non-existent so I survived by zig-zagging up some of the steep ones. I arrived in Woodinville at the stroke of 10p.

Woodinville to Finish

Bill Gobie, Lyn Gill and Jennifer Chang were getting ready to leave again. Chris took off too about a couple of minutes ahead of me. I figured he was cooling down, and had to take off. A scintillating descent later, I spotted Chris a half a mile away from me, and all my insane attempts at catching up to him failed. I settled into a comfortable rhythm on the trail, which was completely deserted. The tree roots were a bit annoying though, but nothing to really whine about. A few miles away from the finish I saw some blinking taillights again, and caught up to Jennifer Chang.

It had been a while since I met her (on my ill-fated DNF of the 4-Pass 600), and we caught up on "old" times. I was a little confused about where to get off the trail, and we stopped and chatted with some U-Dub students, and they eased my mind a bit. Jennifer also seemed to know the area, so we stuck together, and Jennifer let out a "So, we're going to finish" when she saw the QFC.

We rolled into the Pub at exactly 11:40. 17 hours and 40 minutes. Bill and Lyn had finished 10 minutes earlier. The kind organizers, David Harper and Gary Prince, were with Bill Gobie, sitting inside nursing their drinks, and Jennifer and I joined them. The food tasted so good.

Ron Himschoot finished a few minutes later.


I received a message from Jason Dul. He trounced his 17:03 previous best with a 15:11. Way to go! Bill made a habit of leaving controls just as I was arriving. I think next time I will wear some cologne.

My thanks to all the volunteers: You pre-rode in not-so-great weather, had excellent food at the controls, were all over the course, stayed late at the finish, ordered perfect weather for us, and made it a fine day to ride. See you on the 400!

Monday, March 15, 2010

SIR Spring 200K: Au Revoir et Merci


If the entries in this blog are any indication, I've been off the bike for a while. Since November. My R-12 streak - which was at 27 months - came to an end. I think Thai Nguyen is the current leader at 48+. Four R-12s: Mon Dieu! Duane Wright is not that far behind Thai. Enough about them; this is about ME! :)

5:40a: I rode to Kingsgate Park and Ride in Kirkland to be picked up by Thai. I forgot my helmet and had to ride back, which means I missed my appointed hour of 6am by 2 minutes. I didn't know this at the time, but slogging to make time was going to be the theme. We chatted about randonneuring, PBP 2007, and rides past, including Thai's 1000k-on-fixie.

The start was full of riders, fulfilling Greg's desire to go out with record participation. The Coxes, like the Thomses are one of the two ride organizers who open their homes to us. The hill to Greg's house, and the hill up to Mark Thomas' house occupy a special place in SIR ride lore. Greg has helped out more than one rider (including this one) with his endless supply of gloves, helmets, water bottles, and bike parts saving many a rider from a DNS or a DNF. The food, course, attention and encouragement are all top notch. I was a bit sad about this being the final Chili Feed. Maybe Greg will do it again in a few years time. ;)

Start to Town and Country Foods

After some ride instructions, which included the ominous insertion of "a bonus vista", we set off. I hung out safely in the back, no point venturing forward when you are going to get spit out faster than a rotten peanut. I knew exactly where this "bonus" vista would be, having ridden one of the Winter Training rides in years past up that very "vista". I was quite nervous about this ride: I was croaking. Only seeing several well-known faces (though some friends were nowhere to be found) kept my mind off my task for the day: to show up back at Greg's house riding my bicycle before 8:30p.

I rode with a huge bunch, flying down the hill on 240th street, and braking severely at times for the lights. Mike Huber, an old buddy on these rides, pulled up next to me and we started catching up with each others lives. Just before the first climb, Mike found out that he forgot his water bottles at the start. I had two, and I was pretty sure I could buy another water bottle along the way, and so I gave him one of my water bottles.

They pulled away on the climb, and the first of many chain popping offs started. I had just replaced the chain, and it kept falling off the back when I attempted to use the lowest cog in the back. Frank Wilson, stopped to see if I was ok, but I waved him on, leery of delaying him. I eventually made it to the top, and I pulled over to look at my problem. Eric Simmons and Frank stopped, and Frank adjusted my derailleur, and hopefully things would be well again. Things improved tremendously after that, but I couldn't use my lowest cog throughout the ride.

As we headed toward the water, I knew that I was in for some pain. I made it up the first little grade ok (and Frank even rode back down to see if I was ok, when my chain popped off again), but I didn't have it in me to ride the next little bit. Halfway up, I swallowed my pride and started walking. The 24" gear to the rescue! I didn't want photo evidence published, but I was in no shape to ride up that grade. Eventually near the top I got on my bike again, and Joe Platzner took a photo of me riding up that grade on my bike. I finally got to Town and Country Foods, and met Mark Thomas, Vincent Muoneke and Amy Pieper, and was told that I had a whopping 13 minutes in the bank. The first "Should I just quit?" thought just entered my mind, but I quickly put it away: there was no way I was going to DNF the final Chili Feed!

Town and Country Foods to Black Diamond Bakery

At the coffee store, I ate a couple of donuts and some salted peanuts in record time, and got back on my bike. There were four of us vying for Lanterne Rouge: Eric Simmons, Frank Wilson, David Smith and myself. (though I didn't know that Paul Johnson was behind us, having suffered an endless succession of flats). This group helped me forget my "DNF' thoughts, and I focused on getting to the next control. Another climb and no chain incidents.

Green Valley Road was as pretty as ever, with the farms, the fog, and the blue skies. I was stopped just before the Black Diamond climb to apply bag balm, and Chuck Hoffman passed me with a "stop lollygagging, and start riding". The climb went rather uneventfully, but I did have to zigzag to reduce the grade. I finally made the control to a huge collection of volunteers: Mark Thomas, Peter McKay, Amy Pieper, Bob Brudvik, and the Nussbaums. I had 8 minutes to spare. Duane Wright was leaving the control as I pulled in.

Black Diamond Bakery to Greenwater

An enthusiastic and cheerful group of volunteers will do for your brain what several hours in the bank cannot do, and that is provide welcome distraction through conversation, and lots of encouragement. When I professed doubts about making the Greenwater control it was quickly shot down by Mark and Amy with a look of absolute certainty on their faces (fakers!): "Oh, you will make Greenwater". Ralph was adamant that I would make time on the next leg: "We got here at about the same time as you did, and we finished in 10 hours and change". It is words like these that help you keep going for it's harder to quit when you know that others want to see you succeed. Thanks guys! I might have thrown in the towel here had it not been for you.

All of the randonneurs had left. I got two blueberry strudels, sat outside and and joked with the volunteers about the fastest riders, and moved on right as the control closed. The rain started on Black Diamond Road, and matured to a full-on hail session just before the "Secret" control on Cumberland-Kanaskat Road. There was also a bit of headwind, but when I arrived at the "usual" location of the control, but there was no one to be found. I soldiered on, into the wind and the hail, and the downpour, and after about 2 miles, I saw Mark Roberts on the side of the road with the SIR control sign. I stopped just enough to get my card signed and see if they had any food. But Mark and Rick Haight were both out of food, and so I went to the Cumberland store to get a Pay-Day bar.

At the left turn onto Greenwater, David Smith and I pulled over for a moment. We had 2 hours and 2 minutes to go 17 miles. I was sure I wouldn't make it, but I was determined to try. I took off at first, and the climb to Mud Mountain Dam Road had me by the @#$@#, but I got to the top, and started seeing riders coming back to make the left turn. I would have killed to be in their shoes. Dozens and Dozens of cheering faces went by, offering recognition and encouragement. The temperature kept dropping as I neared Greenwater, and I could see my own breath for the first time all day. I had no time to stop and put on clothing.

Riding with no time banked isn't a problem IF one has the ability to bank some. The prospect of a mechanical delay or getting lost was terrifying. Mike Huber was headed back the other way and rode over to my side to thank me for lending him my water bottle. I feel now that I acted rudely by not slowing down to talk to him, but I had no choice: I was focused on making Greenwater. Sorry, Mike!

I had dropped Dave Smith, and he hadn't caught up to me at all, and I suspected a DNF. Two miles from the control, he blew by me dead set on making the Control. I pulled into Greenwater at 4:06 with 2 minutes to spare. I got the clerk to sign my card, and he signed it with "4:11", which was 3 minutes outside the time limit. I had to show him my phone to get him to change the time. The store had a nice sign inside that said "Welcome, Bike Racers".

Greenwater to Enumclaw

I was relieved. The hardest section of the ride was over. Sure, 218th Ave loomed large, and so did the final climb to Greg's house, but they were minutes of effort, not hours. They were all out of Pay-Day bars, and so I was forced to buy a Snickers bar. Duane Wright was leaving the control, and I found out that Dave Smith had suffered a flat, which was why he wasn't ahead of me by a half-hour at least.

The ride back from Greenwater wasn't quite as fast as I expected, but I felt good nevertheless. David Smith again blew by me, and this time there was no catching him. A wee bit of rain also started falling at this time. The misty sort. The splash from vehicles on the highway made things dirtier than they needed to be.

As I made the turn onto Mud Mountain Dam Road, I saw two people pulled over on the side fixing a flat, and after a quick "Are you ok?" I moved on (shame on me!). The rain started hammering down, and the descent down Mud Mountain Dam road, ordinarily no cup of tea, was pretty painful. Stinging rain on ones face while going downhill in excess of 20+ mph! Yippee!

I spied a green jacket ahead, and caught up to Duane Wright, with whom I rode to the Enumclaw control under clear skies. The time was 5:57. I had more than 25 minutes in the bank for the first time. I finally knew that I would finish the ride.

Enumclaw to the Finish

We drank Hot Chocolate, commiserated with the clerk who had been signing cards all day. Our riders were well behaved however, and she had no complaints. We all donned out night riding gear. As the clock struck 6:10, I had the hankering to move on again, so telling Duane that I would ride slowly, I took off into the fast approaching darkness.

I knew this next stretch almost by-heart, so I made my way as fast as I could, but upon starting the climb up 218th, I finally remembered that I told Duane that I would soft pedal, so I really backed off, and waited for him about a 100 meters up the climb. Duane wasn't far behind, and by virtue of his fixed-gear, had only one speed to go. He didn't weave back and forth, and maintained an even pace straight up the face of the hill. We were also joined at this point by two other gentlemen, who I didn't catch the name of, and the three of us caught Duane waiting for us at the next turn.

The next few miles are almost entirely downhill, so we all hammered to make some time, and when we got near the fire station, the two gentlemen peeled off. Duane took off again up the hill, but I wasn't that far behind. We rode in together to finish. I was so relieved! No DNF! But a new Personal Worst at the 200k distance. 13 hours and 6 minutes. As Jason Dul says, DFL (Dead F-ing Last) is better than DNF. :)

Post ride

There were several volunteers cheering for us at the finish: I saw Dan Jensen, Eric Vigoren, Maggie Williams, Greg Cox, Lyn Gill, Mark Thomas, and Peter McKay, all of whom offered congratulations. I picked up the water bottle that Mike Huber had returned. I had some incredible Vegetarian Chili, and fruits. Thanks Greg and Mary for so many years of fun.

Mark gave me a ride home, and I tried my best to butter the President by saying nice things about Apple. Time to get in shape for the 300! It promises to be considerably flatter than this one. I'd be happy to just finish that one too :)

R-1 in the books.