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.