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!