Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Volunteers in the Hills

As most Seattle randonneurs know, I can be pretty relentless in seeking "volunteers" to help with brevets and our other club activities. Not a difficult task, really; the ready outpouring of offers of assistance is wonderful, humbling, and one of the great sources of the vigor of our club. Of course, randonneuring (in Seattle and elsewhere) also draws strength from the willingness of veteran riders to educate new riders about the sport. This past weekend, I learned that, as part of this education, Seattle veteran riders now teach newbies how to recognize that expectant, we-need-volunteers sound in my voice so they can run away.

As far as I can tell, they never do. Over memorial day weekend, I had the pleasure of riding the organizer's scouting pre-ride of the upcoming 600km. Max Maxon, Wayne Methner, and Peter McKay have been helping SIR for as long as I've been associated with the club. Newsletter editor Peter Beeson and treasurer and membershipmeister Eric Vigoren keep the club running every day. Bob Brudvik has been riding and helping since 2002. David Harper was a rookie randonneur last year and is always willing to help. New riders Greg Paley and Mike McHale filled out the 10-person pre-ride team, looking forward to their chance to help with the ride.

Organizers Peter B and Eric chose a challenging route from 2005 for our 600km, with some changes necessitated by a road washout near Morton. The course provides good training for PBP and is distinguished by some brutal climbs over the last 110 kilometers including the infamous Tahuya Hills.

We assembled Saturday morning at the Seattle waterfront, met by dedicated SIR volunteer Mark Jackson, who had offered to support the pre-riders with a bag drop at the overnight stop in Elma and with assistance at the Kay's Corner control before the Tahuya hills on the second day. This above-and-beyond assistance really helped.

For me, Saturday was great fun. We approached the ride as a team, with lots of riding together and frequent re-groups when we separated. Getting warmed up took me a while, as we hit every red light on the way from the start to the I-90 bike tunnel and as I worked out the muscular kinks still lingering from the previous weekend's hilly 400km brevet back east.

Familiar roads led us to the first control in Eatonville, where we had a nice lunch stop. When I ride by myself, I often keep stops very short and efficient; it can be very enjoyable to go the other way as well. After Eatonville, we climbed over the ridge to Alder Lake on the Nisqually River and rode through Elbe (past some nasty tracks that have taken me down in the past) and Ashford on the way to one of my favorite cycling roads. Skate Creek Road (FS 52) runs 23 miles from just past Ashford to Packwood. A long, mostly gentle climb is followed by a screaming descent along beautiful Skate Creek into Packwood on the Cowlitz River. Although some bad road conditions, including a small trench filled with gravel crossing the road, tapered our speed somewhat, the descent was still good clean fun!

Packwood teemed with visitors to the Memorial Day flea market. Waiting patiently for the port-a-johns, we were offered the opportunity for some quick body piercing. None of us were tempted; we had other pain planned. Heading west from Packwood we met our friend Mr. Head Wind, who would keep us company for the rest of the day. Lots of hills led to us to Centralia, followed by a relatively flat stretch into the overnight control and the warm welcome of Mr. Jackson and the friendly motel staff.

As an aside, we are often blessed with extraordinary hospitality from the stores, restaurants, and motels that dot our route and provide our controls. In general, randonneurs reciprocate this hospitality with gratitude and good citizenship. But not always. We need to be vigilant about the impression we leave. My friend Paul Johnson has an excellent piece on this topic here. Let's make sure to clean up after ourselves, and if necessary, after our fellow riders. Magic words like "Please" and "Thank you" can't be overused.

A luxurious (for me) five hour overnight stop was not enough to prevent Sunday from being a struggle. It took two coffee stops (and the Potlatch control) for me to cover the (relatively easy) 110km to the control at Kay's Corner. Mark's control, with sandwiches, sodas, and other goodies, got us off to a good start to the steep hills to come. The Seabeck Store (with Barbie's Cafe) in the back provided a welcome break after 50km of hills, especially with the weather turning nasty (rain and a drop in temperature). Behind the counter we saw the SIR coffee mugs sent to the proprietors after their great hospitality on our 300km brevet earlier in the year. They pointed out that they had put their names on them to keep them from wandering. One sour note - here David DNF'd, succumbing to the stomach problems that had plagued him off and on for a while on the ride.

The rest of the team headed off, agreeing, as we had for the previous stretch, to regroup at each turn. Starting to suffer in earnest, I was the laggard to most of these regroups. The triple whammy that is Anderson Hill road reduced me to a whimpering walk more than once. Struggling with sleepiness on the long slog on Clear Creek Road, I resorted to a caffeine pill and then a Coke at the store at the intersection with SR-3. That did the trick; the rest of the hills from Port Gamble to the finish were manageable if not necessarily enjoyable.

We finished tired and happy at 7:40 (37:40 total time). For the new riders, it was their longest brevet ever; for several of the others it was the last qualifier before PBP. For all of us, the completion of a tough 600km was cause enough for happiness.

Once again, my fellow riders impressed me. The strongest - Bob on his single speed and newbies Greg and Mike - dispensed encouragement and displayed great attitudes for two days. Steady Eric showed the form that let him ride 12000 RUSA kilometers last year. Peter and Max propelled the big red tandem around a tough course with good cheer. Wayne showed that his torn hamstring injury early this year wasn't enough to slow him down. David showed remarkable perseverance to get as far as he did. And, once again, thanks to Peter McKay for his company and his reminders that it was a beautiful day (or two)!

I look forward to working with these folks and the other volunteers this coming weekend as the rest of the club riders (and some out of town visitors) attack the scenic challenge of this course.

1 comment:

Mike Dayton said...

Mark, another engaging write-up. Keep em coming.

I'm impressed with how often our humble RUSA president lends a helping hand as a volunteer.


Mike D
East Coast