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!

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