Tuesday, June 21, 2011

SIR 600K: Taking the hard road home.

First and foremost, many thanks to all the volunteers and organizers of this ride. We could not have done this without you. Thanks for taking the time and spending the weekend for us. I qualified for PBP thanks to you, and hopefully this time around, I will actually get to go to Paris! ;)


I was pretty nervous before this ride. The 200, 300 and 400 had got me walking my bike at least once, and on my knees more than once. I was nervous in 2007, but I was quite nervous for this one. I didn't think I'd get any sleep, and the thought of Tahuya after 500 punishing kilometers was more than my mind could handle. I steeled myself for the first sleepless 600 of my Randonneuring life.

Sorry about all the annoying references to 2007. This is my second attempt at this route, and I kept thinking about how the present compared with the past.

Day 1: Start to Buckley

There was a nice group of riders at the start; some were laughing, and quite a few lost in thought. I was one of the latter. Mark Thomas gave me both of the wool jerseys that I ordered, and I stashed them in the drop bag. I was carrying Sustained Energy, in the vain hopes that it would be rocket fuel; I had enough - I thought - to last me until the overnight in Elma. The idea was to just get water and move on at the controls. We'd see how this would work out. I had more in the drop bag to last me day 2. I left all the rain gear at home.

After the usual pre-ride instructions, we set off into the slightly chilly morning. The weather forecast was spectacular, atoning for the dousing we got during the latter part of the 400k. I was dressed in shorts and a short-sleeve jersey, and though I was cold for the first little part of the ride, it wasn't uncomfortably cold. I found myself stopped at several lights with Jan Heine. Imagine that?! Even as we hit the hill leading to the International district, a significant proportion was still within eyesight, but I probably had the lights to thank for that.

This section of the route used to be my commute when I lived in Factoria and worked in Downtown Seattle, so I knew it pretty well. Several randonneurs whooped it up in the tunnel leading to the I-90 bridge. I found myself riding with Lynne from Portland (riding her first 600), and Mitchel Schoenfeld, but Mitchel quickly outpaced us on the bridge, and Lynne outpaced me on the hill into Mercer Island. I was alone with my thoughts again. We made a wrong turn (repeat of 2007), and Jeff Tilden's hand circling the air told us to retreat to the North Mercer Way turn. I was still in contact with riders and this was an encouraging sign. We made it across the slough and then onto Lake Washington Boulevard. My thoughts were focused on Coal Creek Parkway (on which I sucked in 2007), but for some reason only one hill bothered me. These rollers have gotten easier. I had some trouble shifting into the granny (bad sign on this ride), but somehow made it up.

May Valley road was idyllic and peaceful, and a cop car followed us patiently along until it was safe to pass, going by with a wave. Lynne was riding smoothly, and somewhere ahead were Jeff and Mitchel. I knew that there would be a secret control someplace on May Valley road, and sure enough we stopped briefly when Elaine Jameson demanded we produce our cards and then sent us along after signing it. Jeff Tilden was now riding with us, and this was another good sign. Jeff was a great source of encouragement as I made my way up the rollers of Issaquah - Hobart Road. My chain popped off once and Jeff left me, dancing on the pedals as he muscled his way over yet another roller. I caught up with him and Lynne, and we rode all the way to Buckley. There was quite a crowd at Buckley. More good signs.

Day 1: Buckley to Eatonville

I had a decent cushion in Buckley; more than an hours worth. I was determined to make a quick stop at Buckley, and left after refilling my water bottles and buying a PowerBar. As I made the turn onto SR-162, I reached down to get some water, and came up empty! I had left my water bottles at the Buckley control. I quickly checked for my control card, but luckily I had picked that up! I cursed my carelessness at the control, and rode back, seeing all those who had left a few minutes behind me, explaining to everyone why I was riding in the opposite direction.

The store owners had kindly stashed my water bottles. I thanked them and made way again, and had wasted 20 minutes. I was quite mad at myself and had to to calm myself down; I need the nervous energy to fret about the ride. I had more granny trouble along the next few hills on Orville Road, but finally figured out how to get it to shift to the granny. Yaay for me! Traffic was less than courteous on Orville Road, but luckily I sucked less than on the Fleche. SR 161 brought me crashing down to earth, as the climb into Eatonville in the hot temperatures slowed me down terribly. The granny got a workout, and I made it into Eatonville, and found the Truly Scrumptious Bakery, for the very first time.

Day 1: Eatonville to Packwood

There were quite a few bikes at the bakery, and I found Andy Speier, Mitchel Schoenfeld, Jeff Loomis, Joe Platzner and Chris Heg finishing up their food and getting ready to leave. I ordered a Maple Bar, quickly wolfed it down, mixed up more Sustained Energy and took off. I had stopped for less than 10 minutes. I would have spent less, but I had to text my wife and updated Facebook. Ah, the perils of modern technology!

Lynne had gone ahead of me, and I probably would never see her again given our climbing discrepancies. I spotted Dan Jensen at the convenience store, and knew he would pass me sooner than later. I ground my way towards Highway 7, the temperature veering towards hot. Not bad though. I thought about stopping at Elbe, having already finished off both my water bottles, but had a brain fart and suffered on through to Ashford, where I got a 1.5 liter bottle of water and refilled my supplies for the Skate Creek Road climb. A motorcylist and his son sitting outside the store were all ears about all the cyclists on the road, and were quite surprised when I told them where we were headed. He seemed familiar with the Tahuya hills, and wished me luck. Dan Jensen pulled in just as I was leaving. I knew he'd catch me before long.

After I turned onto Kernahan Road a coyote crossed the road and headed into the undergrowth, traffic stopped, and the temperature though still hot seemed to cool down a little. That there were ample opportunities for shade probably also helped. Dan Jensen caught me here, and I was able to stay with him, either because he was feeling charitable, or I had found a hidden fount of strength that I was previously unaware of. I am thinking it's the former. Dan was motoring along, but at a slower pace than normal; he let on that he doesn't do well in the heat. Our pace, surprisingly, was compatible, and we made our way up the 11-mile climb at a decent pace. I had used my granny in 2007, but somehow was able to make it up on my middle chain ring this time. Thanks, Erik Moen!

Dan was the powerhouse on our Fleche team (William Tell's Arrow), and his familiar company calmed my nerves down a little bit. He is a great conversationalist and we chatted about one ride or the other, one thorny issue or the other. We even share a taste for the crass: we are both fans of South Park! We stopped to take a photo of Mount Rainier, and I knew that the "summit" was someplace close. As we got to the top, Dan and I bombed down to the bottom, oftentimes riding side by side. I probably made him hit more potholes than necessary by riding alongside him, but he didn't seem to complain. We got to Packwood in plenty of time, and found almost nobody there. Ok, first bad sign.

Day 1: Packwood to Centralia via Morton

Dan went to get real food, and I ate another PowerBar, and lubed up. In my insane quest to eat fast and leave fast, I ate my Bear Claw too fast, and was rewarded with a bout of nausea. I forgot that I have to slow down my eating in the heat. I have been faced with some chafing issues since I switched away from Bag Balm and started wearing new shorts, and I was determined to avoid this if at all I could. We left after 2o minutes; this was my first long stop of the day, but my spirits were buoyed a bit at having done the first 200k in 10:30. Things were looking good. This was my fastest ever 200 this year. The next stretch threatened to take it all away though.

I had been dreading this stretch ever since the route was announced; all I can remember of this stretch from 2007 is the heat and the headwind packing a one-two punch and transforming me into a sweaty miserable mess. I can still remember Jon Muellner pulling slowly away as I struggled to stay in his slipstream. This time however, the weather gods seemed to make up for that tour of misery. We had a rousing tailwind, and though the temperature was hot and the shoulder inhospitable in places thanks to irresponsible beer drinkers, we made excellent time. I tucked in behind Dan, and was towed at a very comfortable pace, first into Randle (where the temperature read 87 deg F), and after a nice series of hills, into Morton. I knew that relief was up ahead on SR 508, and then the piano would get dropped on our heads.

We hit Morton, and decided to stock up for the night because of the paucity of services leading into Centralia. It was a welcome break. I had a brain fart and got my card signed here. The question from the store clerk "What's this?" should have clued me in, but I must have been a bit out of it. I had (very) briefly entertained thoughts of a secret control on Alpha - Centralia Road and thought of riding on, but wisely remembered that there hadn'd been one in 2007. We ran into David Harper who was having stomach issues, but decided to join forces with us into Centralia. David is a very strong rider and we just mowed down that stretch of 508 before the first hills hit. David took off leaving me and Dan in the dust, but we reeled him in. I was feeling surprisingly good after the last few miles, using the granny not once. I knew I'd pay for this hubris on Day 2, but I was having fun. Dusk was creeping on, and we stopped at the intersection of Alpha - Centralia Road to put on our reflective gear, and turn on our blinkies for the night.

This was another stretch I had been dreading. In 2007, I had ridden this stretch with Allison Bailey, Peg Winczewski, and Allan deCamp, and gotten a few miles ahead on this road before night fell. I was just a few minutes off my 2007 pace! This was good. Very good. I was feeling really good on this stretch. The combination of Sustained Energy, and regular Nuun intake was fueling me really well. I even engaged in a little "King of the Mountain" point sprints with Dan, and he effortlessly dusted me a couple of times before letting me "win" a couple of times. ;)

David's stomach distress made a roaring comeback unfortunately; he started dropping back and I passed him hurling his guts out, and kept going albeit at a slower pace to give him some privacy. When I climbed up the umpteenth dip in the road, he was nowhere to be seen. But David is nothing if not persistent, and in a few minutes I'd see his light bobbing in the distance. We repeated this exercise a few times, and then completely lost sight of him near that rousing descent into Centralia. No deer this time! We arrived at Centralia at 10:30p to find Lynne at the Chevron eating some hot soup.

Day 1: Centralia to Elma

A few minutes after I got my supplies and lubed up again, David entered the store announcing "I am not done yet!". His confident manner gave me great hope that he would continue the ride with us. I was unable to find anything vegetarian and hot, and I settled for another PowerBar. David sat down to have a nap, and when the three of us (Lynne, Dan and I) were preparing to leave we asked him if he wanted to join us. David replied in the negative, but I was sure he would continue on after a few minutes rest. In hingsight, I regret leaving him behind.

We left after about 15 minutes and surprisingly caught sight of two blinkies in the distance: Corey Thompson and Joe Platzner. We joined forces, and started to nip away at the miles. Joe, Corey and Dan took some monster pulls: Lynne and I hung on for dear life. I found Joe to be pleasant and funny, and was a great source of encouragement and mirth. The chipseal roads of Elma Gate Road slowed us down, and we made the easily-missed turn onto Cemetery Road.

Just after we turned onto South Bank Road, I begged the three of them to back of the pace a little bit, and we slowed down for a while, stopped to eat and take a potty break. We left as a group, but Corey and Joe dropped back a little, and Lynne and I rode side-by-side talking about everything from Software Development at Microsoft (our little secret) to her kids' education and careers. We finally got to Elma at 1.30a. I had Five and a half hours in the bank. I was positively giddy.

Day 2: Overnight

Don Jameson and Ron Himschoot were manning the overnight control, and they quickly signed our cards and showed us to the food. I quickly ate some Pizza, and then Dan and I headed for our room, while Lynne headed for hers. I wasn't sure how long she planned to sleep for, but in hindsight it would have been good to synchronize our schedules so we could ride together.

I showered first, and then hit the sack, and then Dan showered, but my night was fitful as the third member of our room - whose name I never did catch - was a snorer. I even considered waking up and taking off, but put that thought quickly out of my head. We woke up at 5, and I was rather slow in the morning. I tried to leave the overnight with just a short-sleeve jersey, but Ron Himschoot in his inimitable style said "Your'e being optimistic", and then asked me to carry a long sleeve jersey to help against the cold. I was slower leaving, but Dan and I left at 5.35a, a full hour and half in the bank. This was a luxurious 600k!

Day 2: Elma to Potlatch

The air was chilly, and a bit of a fog hung in the air as we rode away from the overnight, the denizens of Elma long having hit the sack after a night of fun. Traffic was light, and lighter after the turn onto Cloquallum Road. We made decent time rolling uphill along the false flat, but two or three riders passed us, and I only seem to remember Chris Willett now. You know what they say about old age? Oh, I forget now.

Just past the jail and before the turn onto the overnight, we caught up to our companion of the night before, said our hello's and passed him. We were a little surprised when a few seconds later, he clicked up and took off. Randonneuring is not a race, right ? In any case, Dan quickly dropped me, and got into Potlatch. There was another huge crowd again here: Jennifer Chang, Corey Thompson, Joe Platzner, Andy Speier, and others. We had more than 2 hours in the bank.

Day 2: Potlatch to Tahuya via Belfair

I had a Subway Veggie Footlong sandwich, and SIR took over this little Subway; I was one of the first to leave, and enjoyed the views of the Olympic mountains across the Hood Canal. The waters were calm, and there wasn't a wisp of a wind. Dan caught up and we were a team again. The Corey-Joe-Andy-Chris-Unknown train passed us at great speed, and Dan and I watched it fly by giving us no chance to jump on. We caught the train at the Starbucks at Belfair, where it was refuelling. Andy, Corey and Joe were there again, having stopped for refreshments (and cigarettes?). We left after a 10-minute break.

That little road out of Belfair and into Tahuya has increased in busy and decreased in courtesy towards bicyclists. Dan and I were subjected to several honks and close shaves, but we rode on. It seemed to ease a little after we passed the turn onto Belfair-Tahuya Road, and this was a good thing. We made decent time to Tahuya, where we were met by a huge gathering of volunteers: Don and Elaine Jameson, Willard Goss, Pamela Creighton, and Rick Blacker.

Day 2: Tahuya to Seabeck

The Tahuya control is always an oasis, and I have great regard for those who staff it: it was hot. The wind coming off the canal cooled us a little bit, and I crashed on the chairs, as the volunteers attended to my every need: food, drink and shade. I ate prodigious amounts of food, mixed up more Sustained Energy, and got ready to leave. Jennifer Chang took off just before I did, but I never had a hope of catching her. I left a little before Dan, sure in the belief that like yesterday he would catch me before long. I was so focused on what lay next that I almost forgot to thank the volunteers, and their friendly calls to "Have a nice ride, Narayan" woke me up. I said my goodbye's and settled into getting my butt kicked.

No matter how you slice it, the Tahuya Hills aren't to be conquered; they are merely to be survived. I find that this line of thinking calms my nerves down. I tackled the first of the hills at a somewhat moderate pace. The day was quite warm, and the hills came one after the other. I remember the spot where Paul Johnson got a flat in 2007 and encouraged us to motor on. I saw quite a few cyclists in the opposite direction, all of them waving or saying hello. There was a short-but-steep stretch on Tahuya River Road that got me begging for lower gears, but I made it to the top just fine. I knew Dewatto Road would bring along some misery, with the hill just past the County line of the choice kind. I stopped in the shade for a little bit, but before long I was staring at the Olympic Mountains in the distance and the waters of the Hood Canal at my feet. I made it down the hairpin bends just fine, taking them at a nice sweep before I was greeted by the welcome chill from being near water.

I slowed down here a bit to recover for the next little bit, as I knew there were two monsters coming up: the county line hill and Holly hill. I expected Dan to catch up to me by now, but I didn't see him. I should have stopped to meet him, but I kept on, mindful of the fact that I usually lose time in the Tahuya Hills. Dewatto Holly Road is a gentle uphill at first, but that only hides what comes next. A little past Oak Lake the Mason-Kitsap county line hill looms, and with it comes one of the steeper climbs of the Tahuya hills.

As I was climbing the county line hill, a large group of cyclists bombed their way downhill. I made it up the county line hill very slowly - zigzagging once or thrice - and was met with a second group of cyclists. One of them recognized us and yelled "Go Rando!". I was still recovering from the climb, and only had a muted "hello" in return. Ok, one devil done, another one to go. I remember riding portions of this with Vic Ringkvist and Steve Hameister in 2007, and this time around stopped at almost the same exact spot to pee.

I was passed by a few riders on this stretch of road: Andy Speier and Joe Platzner coming to mind. Joe rode with me for a little bit offering encouragement and joking around and this helped me take my mind off the ride. This was the second time Joe would be a welcome break, and it wasn't the last time I'd view him as a welcome break either.

I finally made it to Holly hill and crawled my way up. Andy danced up the hill, and so did Joe. I zigzagged a few times, but traffic was rather heavy and I couldn't do it quite as many times as I'd have liked, but in the end I survived. This hill tends to be more of a drag mentally than physically as it doesn't last long enough to cause misery, but leaves a welt nevertheless. I felt the effects of this climb all the way to Seabeck, which of late has taken forever to arrive! Traffic has gotten heavier too. I finally arrived at Seabeck having lost a half-hour of my cushion.

Day 2: Seabeck to the Finish

There was a very healthy group of Randonneurs here; Corey Thompson mentioned that there was a good amount of soup and sandwiches available in the back, but I was in no mood to waste time here. A friendly face was at the counter, having signed numerous cards from years past. Jennifer Chang left just as I was about to buy my food - two bottles of Gatorade and a Bear Claw. Dan Jensen showed up just as I was leaving, and looking good. He said he had me in his sights a few times, but he either had to stop or I pulled away. I felt guilty hearing this as he had done so much to pull me into Elma, but I was again sure he would catch up.

I downed a bottle of Nuun, and then made my way out, leaving the big group behind. Some company would have been welcome but I didn't want to burn daylight. They could make time on the road; I couldn't aspire to. A first time rider of this course hears so much about the Tahuya hills that he (or she) is tempted to think that the ride is in the bag at this point, and that little remains between here and the finish really worth losing any sleep over. A good deal more lies ahead: Anderson Hill Road.

The first little climb out of Seabeck was a rude shock, but I knew what was about to hit me as I pedalled my way down the first hill on Anderson Hill Road. I made it up the first bump, grinding my way to the top. The second descent hit me, and I made it halfway up and was still pedalling when I saw Chris Willett walking his bike up the soft shoulder. There was no riding area on this section, and traffic was heavy and fast. I got off my bike and walked up all the way to the top of the second hill; even that was tough. I rode all the way up in 2007!

We finally got off Anderson Hill Road, and onto Olympic View Road, but the rollers of Clear Creek road lay next. The rollers here really slowed me down; my chain dropped off a few times, and the miles in my legs started getting to me. I remember thinking it is going to be a long way back to the finish, but Andy Speier came along and rode with me for a little bit, cheering me up and then taking off on a small hill. I finally made it to Highway 3, and another series of small hills. There was much talk of a humorous sign for Robert Higdon ("Roberto, embrace your inner kitten"), but I never saw it. Crap! Would have been a nice diversion.

A few miles before Port Gamble, Joe Platzner caught up to me, and was kind enough to ride with me to the control. I am sure he recognized that I needed a pick up. Even after almost 550k, he was full of cheer, wit and vivacity, and did a great deal to change my mood. He was full of jokes and stories; we made it to Port Gamble effortlessly.

Little known Rando Fact: Joe Platzner is all awesomeness!

I spotted Andy Speier and another rider leaving the control just as we arrived.

Day 2: Port Gamble to the Finish

I was determined to get in and out of this control quickly, but my stomach played truant. I had to use the restroom and use it bad. I was in decent physical shape, and in good spirits thanks to Joe. I bought some more Gatorade, and a bear claw and left the control. The first few miles on 104 were full of cars, but Port Gamble Road was a welcome turn. Traffic calmed and the hills returned. I had done well on this stretch in 2007, and 2011 was no exception. I found myself making slow but steady progress up the hills, and got over them in no time. I was making pretty good time for the ride, and harboured ideas of a sub-37 hour finish which would be a first in almost 4 years. :)

The rest of the ride was uneventful: I made it across the Agate Pass bridge in no time, and the rollers on Highway 305 were no big deal at all. I rode to the finish control to be greeted by a cheery Mark Thomas. A large group of riders finished 2 minutes behind me, and Mark joked that I hammered to stay ahead of them. My final time was 37:32, which was 40 minutes slower than 2007, but I think I spent more time at the controls this year. If you had told me two days ago that I would get 3 hours of sleep and spend 4 hours at the overnight and still finish in 37:32 I would have cried "Impossible!". I was near 37 hours if I had avoided that Buckley misadventure.

There was a great group of people at the finish: Chris Thomas, Mark Thomas, Lyn Gill, Corey Thompson, Jeff Loomis, Joe Platzner, Andy Speier, Bill Kennedy, Don Jameson and Jeff Tilden. More importantly, there was beer at the finish! I had a Guinness and loved it. Downed about 4 slices of Vegetarian Pizza. I got a shower and changed into decent clothing. Lyn was offering free massages to people, but I couldn't avail myself of that benefit. It was awesome of her to offer massages to the riders though. Thanks, Lyn!

Shortly after I finished, Dan Jensen and Lynne Fitzsimmons came in. Dan had suffered in the heat, but persevered and finished. Lynne rode strongly on both days and picked a tough course to do her first 600. Ken Krichman finished after her, and it was great to see riders come in with megawatt smiles on their faces. We were a bit worried about Duane, whom I hadn't seen at all at any of the controls.

We couldn't stay long though. We had a ferry to catch back home. We sat on the ferry exchanging tales about the ride and about PBP. Mark and Chris were very kind and offered Joe Platzner and I a ride home, on top of all the things they had done for us this weekend. Thanks very much! As we were on I-405 we got a call from Don Jameson that Duane had finished with three minutes to spare! Go Duane!

I am headed to Paris!!!


Jansen said...

Congratulations on an outstanding ride, finish, and report Narayan

lynnef said...

Great writeup! I am amazed that you can remember it in such detail over a month later. Except asking the guys to back off the pace heading to Elma - I thought that was me asking. Thank you again for all your encouragement before and during the ride. It was great riding with you!