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.