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!