Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Who's in charge anyway (Garmin notes)

The SIR and other lists have recently recounted rider questions and irritations about the Garmin Edge bicycle GPS computers. Of course, I recognize that riders have varying tolerances for frustration, more or less time to devote to the problem, and different expectations for what the technology will do, but for what it's worth and on the off chance that it might help someone, here's my experience.

Over the past few years, I have used the Garmin Edge GPS units with considerable success to keep from getting lost on more than a dozen 1200km brevets in numerous countries. Some of those brevets had fairly inscrutable cue sheets. I have used the Edge 705, the Edge 800, the Edge 810, and most recently, the Edge 1000.

To make the Garmin work for me, I focus on five key things. (Or perhaps these define how I work for the Garmin, but let's leave that philosophical question for another day).

Maps. Early on, I used Garmin's maps. Frustrated by the price and by Garmin's idiotic policies about transferring maps to replacement units, I switched to open source maps from the Open Street Maps project and have never looked back. Before traveling, I visit this GarminOSM and create a map for the countries to be visited. The coverage of OSM maps varies by country - sometimes under-inclusive (missing streets in Korea) and sometimes over-inclusive for my purposes (hiking trails, dirt paths). But they work. Inasmuch as OSM is an ongoing project, the more recent the download, the better the maps.

Backup Plans. I don't place complete faith in the GPS to stay on track. I also use the cue sheet and a smartphone application. When I started randonneuring, sonny, I had none of these new-fangled GPS thingys. My navigation came from the cue sheet and sometimes from paper maps (now replaced for me with maps on phones). My first long brevet was a 1000km from one end of Vancouver Island to the other and back. Cues were minimal and navigation not really a factor. My second was Paris-Brest-Paris and the route was signposted and navigation was again not a factor. (I did recover from a group navigation error by offering up my own hand-marked Michelin maps to some accompanying French riders, who were quite able to dope out the correct answer from there). My third long ride, however, was the 2001 London-Edinbugh-London 1400km brevet with, as I recall, a 14-page dense cue sheet filled with cues like "take right on unmarked lane." Fearful of getting lost in a land where I did not speak the language, I paid a lot of attention to that cue sheet - by studying with maps in advance, by trying to dope out the local customs of cue sheet presentation, and by paying careful attention to it on the road. Although cue sheets are not always perfect, I still consider them to be a very important navigation resource and a key backup to the GPS. In addition to the cue sheet, my second GPS backup is a smartphone mapping app the use of which I I've described here.

Power. One significant weakness of the Garmin Edge units for me is that their batteries don't last as long as our rides do. So I add external power. Usually that involves bringing on a "power bank" type of device that charges from a USB outlet and provides power to one or two USB ports. I use these to charge the Garmin (and sometimes my phone as well). My preferred approach (works for me; others may have good reasons to do differently) is to have some idea of how long I can run the Garmin on it's internal battery. With my 810's bluetooth features off, it seems that I can rely on at least 12 hours of runtime. Based on that, if I expect to ride for 20 hours in a day, I'll run the GPS normally from its internal battery for 8 hours, then plug in the power pack and ride that way until the device shows 100% charge. Then I unplug the power pack and let the Garmin run down until I stop for the night. If possible, I charge it from the wall at night and repeat the next day. If not, I'll charge it up from the power pack while I sleep. With  drop bag support, I'll have four smaller capacity power packs and carry a fresh one on the bike each day. With no drop bag support, I'll carry one large one sufficient to power the Garmin for the whole ride (and/or bring a charger for opportunistic recharging of the power pack and/or Garmin when time at a power outlet presents itself). As a backup, I carry a lightweight USB power pack that runs from 4xAA batteries. (Sometimes I carry it empty and sometimes with four lightweight Eveready Energizer Lithium batteries installed, but with some electrical tape over the ends to prevent accidental discharge.) With AA batteries fairly readily available at stores, this provides a backup power plan. One related problem to manage is that attaching the USB cable to the Garmin compromises the waterproofness of the Garmin. So some effort is required to manage the charging in inclement weather. Instead of following the script above, I'll take advantage of a dry spell or protected rest stop to charge up the Garmin or I'll use a long stretch without cues to put the Garmin, cable, and power pack all together in a waterproof bag and get some charge into the Garmin.

Courses. Most of my preride efforts as they relate to GPS navigation revolve around creating a "course" file in Garmin's TCX format. My goal is to have a file that has both a "breadcrumb" track that follows the course along with "course points" along that track that represent the entries on the cue sheet. I use RideWithGPS, but depending on what may be available from the ride organizers or fellow riders, the exact process may vary. Perhaps a rider who uses the same approach to their Garmin has created a course in RwGPS with cues for turns inserted automatically by the RwGPS application. Perhaps the organizer has provided a GPX file that traces the route that I can import into RwGPS. Perhaps I only have a cue sheet, in which case, I will make the effort to create a RwGPS route. From any of these starting points, I'll painstakingly follow the cue sheet along the course and edit the RwGPS route file. My goal is to have a course point in the TCX file for each line on the printed cue sheet. (RwGPS puts a course point in the TCX file for each of the route's cue sheet entries). If I start with a bare track, this means using RwGPS "add to cue sheet" function to add a cue for each turn or other feature (like controls). If the track has cue sheet entries already, I'll follow along, one-by-one, adding entries from the paper cues sheet that are missing in RwGPS route, deleting extraneous entries, or editing existing entries. Once done, I export a TCX file from RwGPS and copy it to the /Garmin/NewFiles folder on the GPS. Good practice is to divide a 1200 into smaller chunks, but if I have one that has fewer than 200 cue sheet entries, I'll often live dangerously by running a single 1200k course. (Side note: the Edge 800 can't record a ride longer than around 450-500km without crashing hard. So I reset the unit every 400km or every day, restarted recording, and then restarted the course).

Defeat the Garmin. I'm forever at war with my Garmin and its engineering team. They want to navigate for me. Provide them some parameters - destinations, waypoints, a track, whatever - and they'll figure out how to get me there and give me turn-by-turn directions. I want something else; I just want it to help my find my way around the course that I spent all that time creating. Garmin doesn't get it; so we are locked in battle. My happy place with the Garmin happens when I load the course, tell it to ride the course, turn off that annoying "virtual partner", and then have the GPS display a few pieces of key information to me as I ride. The two most important things that I want to see are the map and a field called "Course Pt Dist" that will tell me the distance, along the course, from where I am to where the next course point (i.e., cue sheet entry) is. The map should show my location and the line that is my course. With sufficient attention, this could be the only navigation aid. One would ride to stay on the course line and use the "off course" warnings to cover any misses. I've done that, but it's much better for me if I can see the distance to the next cue sheet entry. As that decrements towards zero, I'll look at the map screen or the paper cue sheet (or both) to familiarize myself with my next required course action. Usually that's good enough, but if I get it wrong, the "off course" warning usually helps me to recover. The Garmin folks have reluctantly conceded that one might want to navigate to a course, as opposed to destinations and way points, but they will not surrender easily their desire to calculate a route to do so. That route will get stuff wrong, so I don't want it. So I try to defeat that route calculation effort. Most of the time I can do so by starting the course, then going into the currently active "Activity Profile" and change the navigation method to "Direct Routing." Annoyingly, it will not save this a setting in the "Actiity Profile," so I have to do it every time. Idiots! I have occasionally resorted to turning off the routable maps in the GPS, starting the course, and then re-enabling the maps. A real nuisance.

On the road, I usually set up the Garmin to display five separate screens while I ride. One is a map screen with two data fields added. One of those fields is the Course Pt Dist that will tell me when I'll reach the next cue. The other may vary (sometimes I use a battery indicator if that's a key consideration, sometimes I'll use Distance to Go, sometimes current elevation. Second is the elevation profile screen that will show me the profile of the course behind and ahead of my current position. I'll usually put two fields there too - one with my all-important (to me) Course Pt Dist field and one the current elevation. Third is a screen, created automatically, that shows all the upcoming course points. The entries are severely truncated, but I can, for example, scroll down to the next control to determine how far away it might be, or I might want to look at next couple of cues to know if one comes fast after another (and therefore might be easy to miss). Fourth is screen filled with data that my geeky riding heart desires - elevation, grade, speed, distance travelled, time of day, etc. And of course my Course Pt Dist. The fifth screen is deeper geek - cumulative elevation, average speed, sunrise/sunset times and the like.

It's work, but it works. At least for me. At least so far.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Southwest Washington 1000

Rick and I rode the 1000km course last weekend. See ride record here. We thought it was a glorious ride. The first day took us around the sound, including a nice loop of Point Defiance in Tacoma, up to Mason/Limerick Lakes, before heading out to the coast for a nice dinner stop in Westport and a peaceful nighttime jaunt along the ocean and Willapa Bay.

The second morning, we took a detour around the peninsula at Bay Center before riding out to the Pacific in Ocean Park on the Long Beach peninsula. After a lunch stop with some liquid carbs, we rode along the Columbia past the Astoria Bridge and then over KM Mountain and through the Whitetail Deer refuge to a early dinner in Cathlamet above the Columbia. A wonderful detour around Longview provided great views of Saint Helens, Adams, and Rainier on the way to Castle Rock. The climb up to Toutle was rewarded with a butter-smooth pavement descent to Toledo with the Big Dipper guiding the way. The late night trip into Morton under the Milky Way was surprisingly enjoyable, even the sections on US-12, which was largely deserted.

Mount Rainier kept an eye on us for just about all of the last day. The backroads that kept us off US-12 for most of the way from Morton to Packwood were wonderful. Quiet and peaceful, although with some rough pavement. Skate Creek Road from Packwood to the huckleberry ice cream at Whittaker's in Ashford was a delight - a mostly gentle climb along a mountain stream on one of my favorite roads. Ashford to Elbe to Alder Lake was nice despite the headwinds. Not so nice was the Alder Cutoff Road into Eatonville. With WA-7 closed, this is the detour route and the traffic was fairly unpleasant. After Eatonville, it was calm again along Ohop and Kapowsin lakes on Orville Rd. Milkshakes and dinner at Wally's in Buckley fueled the trip home, which included the climb out of the Green River valley that we all "loved" from Greg's Chili Feed 200k all those years. And then the usual ride back through Black Diamond, Ravensdale, Hobart, Issaquah, and Redmond.

In summary, a nice tour of southwest Washington, with a good variety of roads and scenery. Hope many of you can make it. Any questions, feel free to ask. Pre-registration will be appreciated.

Some notes about support:

You should plan to be able to ride 100 kilometers without services on this ride. It's 100k from South Bend to Long Beach and it's 100k from Castle Rock to Morton.

On the scouting ride, we refueled at

Mile 52 - Sumner control in coffee shop. They have pastries and drinks.

Mile 83 - Lunch in Gig Harbor. This may be less necessary during the regular ride because there will be support at mile 121.

Mile 143 - Food at Matlock store. Note that this store closes at 8PM. You can get services before at mile 128.7 and after at mile 166.5.

Mile 200 - Dinner at Half Moon Bay in Westport. They probably close at 10PM, but we expect to provide support there for later-arriving riders.

Mile 240 - South Bend overnight control.

Mile 304 - Lunch at Pioneer Tavern. The stretch to here was probably the leg between services that seemed longest.

Mile 330 - Snacks at grocery store before Naselle.

Mile 363 - Early dinner at diner in Cathlamet.

Mile 397 - Snacks at convenience store WA-504 and I-5. The store at the control spot in Toutle (mile 408) was closed when we got there.

Mile 459 - Morton overnight control.

Mile 497 - Diner breakfast in Packwood.

Mile 523 - Ice cream in Ashford.

Mile 542 - Snacks at convenience store in Eatonville.

Mile 573 - Dinner at Wally's drive-in in Buckley. They close at 9PM. 24 hr services are available a short way off course at mile 576.

The longest stretches (40 miles or more) that will be without services, especially if you are running close the time limits:

Mile 121 - 166 (Vinny's cabin to 24hr convenience store in Montesano)

Mile 200 - 240 (Westport to South Bend. There is a 24hr convenience store in Raymond, but that's only about 3 miles from control.)

Mile 240 - 304 (South Bend to Pioneer Tavern or Pioneer Market in Long Beach)

Mile 397 - 459 (Castle Rock to Morton)

Mile 573/576 - 622 (Buckley/Enumclaw to finish. You may find stuff along the way, but not sure.)

Hope to see you there.


Friday, April 15, 2011

1200k planning

Today someone showed me a detailed spreadsheet for planning out a 1200km ride, complete with average speeds, control open/close times, sleep stops, and loads of other data. That set me to wonder why a data-hungry nerd like me has never been interested in using that sort of spreadsheet and to think about what I use instead.

Perhaps I fear that with too detailed a plan, I'll get overly concerned (especially when tired) about deviations from the plan and that the concern will do more damage to my ride than a lack of planning. Or maybe I just don't want to see just how slow I ride enshrined in Excel glory.

So for what it's worth (bring your own salt grains), here's my approach to a 1200km event (I'm up to 13 finishes):

  • Try to maintain 20kph (including stops) during the day.
    • This is easy to calculate, even when tired.
  • Keep stops short enough to keep on that schedule.
  • That gives me 6 hours in 24 for rest.
    • 18 hours x 20kph = 360km or 24 hours of brevet time.
    • 5 hours rest instead allows me to start with an hour in the bank.
  • Don't panic if falling behind.
    • I assume a shorter sleep break can fix.
  • Be cognizant of the 10 hours extra time on return.
    • Forgetting this can induce unnecessary panic (as it did on my DNF).
  • Ok to settle for 15kph (including stops) during days 3-4.
  • Anything better than the 20kph/15kph is gravy. Stop for ice cream.
  • Did I mention already? Don't panic.

Looking over this, I can see why I almost always finish in about the same time (83-87 hours). My very few shorter times have generally come when I've only had 2 sleep breaks instead of 3.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Platzner Makes Fool out of Thomas in Media

Recently, in a (perhaps futile) effort to expand the appeal of the fringe sport of randonneuring, local club president Mark Thomas defended the sport against the charge that it was simply "cycling while sleep deprived." Mr. Thomas asserted to the Seattle PI that "sleep deprivation is not an inherent part of randonneuring." Article.

In a deliberate attempt to embarrass the current leadership, Joe Platzner of renegade website RandoLeaks published not one, but two, all night rides, ostensibly to celebrate an invented holiday he calls Festivus. With plans to have "stupid fun" by "riding all night," Mr. Platzner actually encourages sleep deprivation on December 18th and/or December 21st.

Even the mainstream media was forced to take note, with the Seattle PI now printing that sleep deprivation "is definitely an intentional part of randonneuring events." Retraction.

Worldwide reaction has been swift and derisive. Unable to defend itself in the court of public opinion, the SIR leadership has attempted to have RandoLeaks shut down and deprived of funding. Rumor has it, however, that this attempt has resulted in swift an furious retaliation, with hactivists shutting down Mr. Thomas's paypal account and preventing him from registering for future rides. It also appears that RandoLeaks has now raised vast sums through the sale of glasses ironically used for Mr. Thomas's drink of choice.

More as this story develops.

Ed note: Further research has uncovered evidence that Mr. Platzner's vendetta against Mr. Thomas started long ago. Poisoning?!?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Out Collecting

Yesterday, I joined Alan Bell, Joe Platzner, and Ken Ward for a wonderful 200km permanent ride around Seattle. At a time of year when Seattle randonneurs can expect to ride in cold rain, the four of us instead enjoyed a gloriously warm and sunny day. At the finish, we celebrated Ken's successful completion of his R-12 quest and I happily collected another nice randonneuring memory.

My blog updates have been scarce since last summer, but not from any lack of riding. Although my motivation to write about randonneuring disappeared, my motivation to ride stayed strong as ever. In 2010, I've added quite a few gems to my collection of randonneur experiences. Looking back today, I see two grand randonnees, eleven other brevets, one populaire, and one fleche on my 2010 list of event finishes, matching exactly my totals for 2009. Along with a good collection of permanents, these made for a lot of nice days on the bike with good friends already this year. As is often the case for me, the standout additions to the collection in 2010 came from the longer rides. 

In June, I traveled to Oregon for John Kramer's Oregon Blue Mountains 1000km brevet. I saw the OBM1000 as a rematch for his XTR600 that nearly did me in the year before. Getting shelled out of the back of the pack within the first 10 miles put an early dampener on my hope for a triumphant return to central Oregon. With cooler temperatures than 2009, however, I manage to ride myself back into the ride. As with my Scandinavian adventure in 2009, I felt better each day of the ride. By the third day, I was boasting on Facebook: "What else you got?! Clarno Climb? Bah! I killed it!" Although vicious headwinds turned the last 40 miles into a slogfest, I finished happily with Rick Blacker (SIR) and Karel Stroethoff (Montana) and the year's adventures were off to a great start.

July brought the opportunity to participate in the Hokkaido 1200, which would be the first RM 1200km brevet held in Asia. As a collector of rando doodads, I was quite eager to join this ride. It would give me the chance to be one of the first, if not the first, rider to earn an International Super Randoneur 1200 (4C) patch for collecting a 1200km ride from each of four different countries on four different continents. I had previously collected an ISR 1200 (3C) and an ISR 1200 (2C) and had a European and North American ride already collected towards this one.

Although not the most challenging or the most scenic 1200 in my collection, the Hokkaido 1200 may be the most unique. Some extraordinary help and generosity got me to the start line in Sapporo. David Thompson of Tokyo, whom I had met on his trip to Seattle in June to participate in the Cascade 1200, and his wife Tomoko rolled out the red carpet for us. Chris accompanied me to Japan and we had a lovely time touring Tokyo, Kyoto, and the Izu peninsula before she returned home and I headed north with David for the ride. I scarcely had to think about any logistics and could just show up and ride.

Before I had even left home, Toshio Muto, ride organizer, and Hiroshi Horikawa, my anglophone correspondent, had done everything possible to welcome me to the ride and to make me feel like an honored guest of Audax Japan Hokkaido. As it turned out, I was the sole rider from outside Japan. Despite the language barrier - my Japanese consisting solely of a vague ability to say hello or thank you while grinning enthusiastically - I felt immediately at home with the riders from AJH and elsewhere in Japan.

Careful work by the organizers and some advance GPS prep effort on my part kept me on course for the entire ride despite the mysterious (to me) cue sheet and indecipherable (to me) street signs. Staying fueled in a different culture proved to be no problem - great food was offered by the volunteers at the few manned controls, including the first octopus that I can recall consuming on a brevet. The other controls were at convenience stores (including the ubiquitous 7-11s) and I soon found a routine that worked for me - a coffee drink, a sports drink, water for the bottles, and onigiri. These seaweed-wrapped rice balls with mystery fillings (I couldn't read the labels) proved to be perfect ride food for me. I probably had at least 50 of them!

My friend Peter Donnan from Australia describes randonneuring as a sport where one can make up "lack of ability with lack of sleep." For various reasons, I only managed one good night's sleep on the ride - six comatose hours at about 850km. With little sleep, I collected the fastest 1200 time of my slow career - 76 hours, 34 minutes. An extraordinary adventure.

Back home, I rode very little until my next long event. A 200k permanent in California highlighted the two months between big rides. Chris and I took our bikes along when we drove our daughter to her first year in college in Southern California. On the way back we stopped to visit friends in Santa Cruz. While Chris went off mountain biking, I rode a bit with rando legends Lois Springsteen (current Randonneurs USA president and five-time PBP finisher) and Bill Bryant (prolific writer and historian of all things rando) and completed their hilly, scenic Skyline permanent.

The hill training of the Skyline permanent proved quite useful for my next long event - the pre-ride of a one-way 1000km brevet from Seattle to Crater Lake in Oregon (and on to Klamath Falls for train ride home). As a public service, Geoff Swarts, Vincent Muoneke, Kole Kantner, and I went out the week before the scheduled date of this brevet to take all the bad weather that might otherwise mar a great event. We had headwinds and hours and hours of torrential rains (whitecaps on the road?!?) to enjoy.

Having seen pictures of Crater Lake, one of the natural wonders of the world, I had eagerly anticipated the chance to make my first visit there and on a brevet, no less. After a difficult couple of days along the Washington and Oregon coasts, I almost didn't get going for the challenges of the last day of the ride. But Roseburg (Oregon) is a very long way from home and the 100 mile climb from there to the crater rim seemed like the best among various lousy options to get home. Happily for me, Vincent hung back with me for the long climb. His company proved a great counterweight to the disappointment of the day's weather. The crater was in the middle of a raincloud. No views of the lake were to be had. Indeed, I could barely see my front wheel. I could, however, see Vinny's ever-present smile, appearing Cheshire cat-like out of the mist. We regrouped with Geoff and Kole at the top for a long last 100km to the finish. (Happy postscript - the big group of riders the next weekend enjoyed fabulous weather and beautiful views on this terrific course).

Next up was Australia (I needed another continent, after all) for the fourth edition of the Perth-Albany-Perth 1200km brevet in Western Australia. I turned 50 in the company of great randonneuring friends in Perth before the ride. As I've noted before, one of the great joys of this sport for me has been the collection of friends from all over the world that I see over and over at these events. Nearly 90 riders made for a great field. Common overnight stops led to a very social ride. I saw riders that I knew from the US, Canada, the UK, and Sweden along with the many Australians that I've met on two prior riding visits to Australia (and at other rides).

Many things came together to make this a terrific 1200k for me. Nick Dale and his colleagues did an extraordinary job of organizing the ride. The weather was perfect for me - cool evenings and temperate days. Not a drop of rain (until our plane taxied off to the runway as I left Perth after the ride). Although I usually spend a fair amount of time riding alone (which I enjoy) on long rides, I rode nearly the whole ride in the company of other riders. In particular, I spent much of the ride with Greg Courtney (Iowa), Spencer Klaassen (Kansas City), Maile Neel (DC), and Jos Verstegen (Holland). In addition I rode the first night and most of the second day with Vincent and all of the last day with Peter Donnan (Melbourne), who had hosted me (and towed me in) at the Great Southern Randonnee in 2008. Varied scenery and interesting wildlife added to the fun. (Some pictures of my ride can be found online - mine, Spencer'sMaile's, and Greg's).

All in all, a wonderful collection of randonneur memories already in 2010. A great year. And I collected some new stickers for my luggage box too.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

5000 Kilometers Behind

Last October , sitting on a train to California and feeling behind on my randonneur blog, I wrote A Catch-Up Post. Little did I know that it would be three months before I wrote another post. As someone commented recently, "isn't about time for a catch-up post to your catch-up post?" But I'm five thousand kilometers behind - that's a lot of catching up.

Randonneurs are fond of joking that they ride for trinkets. I sure do. In the last three months, I've happily collected all sorts of doodads. An offhand comment from frequent riding companion Vincent Muoneke launched one quest. Vincent mentioned that he had earned his third 5000km RUSA distance medal. (He would subsequently earn another one and finish the year with over 22,000 RUSA km, an amazing record!). Having once been a bit of a math nerd and thinking of 15 as a nice triangular number, I figured that if I ever rode 15,000 RUSA kilometers, I'd want to commemorate the achievement with a full set - a 5000km medal, a 4000km medal, a 3000km medal, a 2000km medal, and a 1000km medal. Suddenly I had a distance goal for the rest of the year.

Along the way, I found all sorts of other blankets and baubles in my mailbox.

A 2009 ACP Super Randonneur medal (for riders who complete a 200, 300, 400, and 600km brevet in one year),

a RUSA Super Randonneur jersey (for riders completing the same series of RUSA events),

a PCH Randonneurs Super Randonneur jersey (for riders completing the same series, with at least one of the events done with the PCH Randos in Southern California),

a Last Chance 1200 commemorative jersey (for the summer's party ride),

my second International Super Randonneurs patch (in this case for a ISR1200-3C - completion of a 1200km event in each of four different countries on three different continents),

my third R-12 medal (at least a 200km event in each of 12 consecutive months),

and a beautiful new Randonneurs USA Mondial award globe (for RUSA lifetime achievement of at least 40,000 RUSA kilometers).

Of course, I really ride for the joy of the time on my bicycle, so it's more fun to recall the rides that generated the trinkets. The train ride to California in October took me to Salinas, the start of a one way 600km brevet down to Ventura/Oxnard with the PCH Randonneurs. Spectacular scenery, good company, lots of climbing early in the ride. Worth the trip.

In December, I flew to Dallas to ride a 300km brevet with the Lone Star Randonneurs. Good friend and LSR RBA Dan Driscoll hosted me and took me out for a nice RUSA Permanent ride the day before the event. Having a local rider came in handy when looking for a place to stock up along the way.

On the 300k, it was a treat to ride with many of the legendary Texas K-Hounds. A rite of passage for the local randonneurs is to complete 10,000 kilometers of randonneur events in a single year and get recognized as a K-Hound.

On the 300km brevet, I rode with Dan and Mark Metcalfe, each of whom has had a 20,000 kilometer year, Gary Gottlieb (above right), who was on his way to his own 20,000 kilometer year, Val and Robin Phelps, both on their way to more than 15,000 kilometers for 2009, and Vickie Tyer (above left), a RAAM-qualified (at the 2009 Last Chance) K-Hound. In training for an upcoming 24-hour event, Mark was off the front early, but the rest of the group stuck together all day, building camaraderie by enduring chipseal, headwinds, and Val's jokes (that's him below, laughing at one of his own now).

In between and after these two out-of-town brevets, I rode nearly 4000 kilometers worth of local permanent events. Some were epic, like the all night ride in torrential rains to greet the arrival of the winter solstice. Some just good rides with food.

And many, many were a chance to spend the day with good friends Vinny and Geoff, who are handy with a flat.

And I'll admit that a few fell into the "yeah, I've done this one before, but if I still want 15,000km . . . " category.

Looking forward to 2010.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Catch-Up Post

The longer I go after posting to this blog, the harder it is to get started again. So here's a bit of a catch-up for the last three weeks.

Mount St Helens

After flying high with a fun 1200k brevet on the plains and a fastest-ever 200k permanent, I came crashing back to earth. In Icarean fashion, it was a too much ascent that caused the big descent. On a Wednesday (9/23) a collection of usual permanents suspects met in Winlock for a permanent up to Johnston Ridge Observatory on Mount St. Helens (and back). For years, I've meant to do the organized Tour de Blast ride, but somehow never got around to it. Geoff's Winlock-MSH-Winlock permanent wraps the same climbing in another 40 or so miles of gentle rollers to get the magic 200k distance for the permanent.

My performance peak came early as I staved off a convenience store stop in Castle Rock with a timely spotting of an espresso serving bakery. After that, it was a bit of an ugly-fest for the rest of the way up to Johnston Ridge. I augmented my usual climbing prowess with a series of rookie mistakes - not enough sleep, not enough food, not enough hydration, and starting the climb too hard. The 4000 foot climb to Johnston Ridge is interrupted by a 1500 foot down hill, making it more like a 5500 foot climb (somehow the whole route was 9000 feet of climbing). By the time I reached the top I was a bit of a wreck.

But it was a beautiful course with great views of the mountain, so it was a good day anyway. More than 50% more elapsed time than the last 200k (nearly 12 hours total), so back to normal!

Barlow Trail

The next order of business (Saturday, 9/23) would be the Barlow Trail 300k put on by the Oregon Randonneurs. Michael Wolfe, who has recently moved from Portland to Seattle, created this route, pre-rode it during the summer, and then had to postpone the event because of record heat. (Warmer, even, than that I enjoyed on the XTR.) Somewhat humbled by my torturous ascent of Mount St. Helens, I asked Michael about the climbing on this ride. "I'm not gonna lie to you, this is a challenging ride" was not really the reassurance that I sought. My usual riding buddies were iffy as well. Geoff thought that some rest would be a good idea. Vincent was about to leave for the Endless Mountains 1240. Might good sense prevail? Not likely - there was a ride to do. As Geoff's e-mail put it, "Sanity is overrated; suffering is temporary; I’ll be there." So Friday, Geoff, Vincent, Michael, and I are carpooling to Portland. Well, to Sandy, OR, where the ride would start.

The ride was spectacular. Michael was right, it was challenging, but the suffering was modest. We followed the Clackamas River upstream in the morning.

We left the river to climb through the forest on some delightful roads.

One in particular was made all the more delightful by a relative lack of traffic. The paucity of cars could be attributed to the fact that instead of a bridge over Anvil Creek, the road simply ended on one side and restarted on the others. No problem for intrepid randonneurs, but not so good for cars.

We screamed downhill towards Maupin and the Deschutes River. Without the incinerator heat present on my only other trip to Maupin (on XTR), the town seemed quite pleasant. I even felt like eating this time. Geoff and Vincent joined me for a nice sit-down lunch. As with the XTR, we left Maupin for a stretch downriver and upwind along the Deschutes.

A familiar climb brought us out of the river to Tygh Valley. The painful, guardrail-sit inducing, never-ending climb up Tygh Ridge from the XTR was not on this route. Instead we headed for Wamic Market,  climbing out of the valley on a different road.

After fueling up at the market, we headed into the hills on the Barlow Road Route towards Barlow Pass.

We felt pretty good on this stretch and climbed well.

It was dark when we reached the summit and then descended and climbed to the last control in a chilly Government Camp. At this point I was acutely aware of my mistake - forgetting my arm and knee warmers - so I begged for a soup stop before going on. The tomato soup at the Ice Axe Grill did the trick. After donning every item of clothing I had with me, including my always-carried but seldom-used Gore jacket, we zipped down the hill to pizza and beer at the finish in Sandy.

A great ride. Glad I didn't miss it.

Watching a Race

The following weekend brought something different. Bob Brudvik and I headed down to Southern California to crew for SIR member Chris Ragsdale on the Furnace Creek 508 ultramarathon cycling race. Being in the crew van gave us a front row seat for Chris's impressive win over rival (and winner of the last three FC508s) Michael Emde. The FC508 bills itself as “The Toughest 48 hours in Sport” with a race course that is 509.58 miles long and has a total elevation gain of over 35,000′, while crossing ten mountain passes, and stretching from Santa Clarita (just north of Los Angeles), across the Mojave Desert, through Death Valley, to Twenty Nine Palms. An already difficult event was made even more challenging this year by DNF-inducing winds gusting to 60mph+ (and not tailwinds, either!).


Watching a race is all well and good, I suppose, but I needed a ride. Happily Geoff was game for a weekday ride up to Mt Rainier on the Sunrise Climb permanent from Black Diamond. A picture is worth a thousand words.

A wonderful day.