Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Montana 1000km

Portland, OR to Whitefish, MT. From the time that Susan France, Portland RBA, described her plans to create a one-way 1000km brevet to Whitefish, I knew that I needed to ride it. (In the lexicon of my randonneuring obsession, "need" means that resistance to the urge would be futile.) Scheduled for the end of June, the brevet would take advantage of long daylight hours to provide ample opportunity to sample incredible scenery. Along with Paris-Brest-Paris, this would be one of the not-miss events for me in 2007.

A few weeks ago, I helped Wayne out with a control on the SIR 600km brevet. (See A Weekend Off). Greg Cox came into the control and tossed out a tantalizing suggestion: I should join him for the scouting pre-ride of the Montana 1000km a week before the event. Of course, this would be insane. Riding unsupported would only add to the challenge. Doing 1000km with only 12 days off from my planned pre-ride of the SIR 1000km brevet might be pushing it. "Don't you think you might be over-training?" asked my tolerant but concerned spouse. I tried to explain that it was not a training ride, it was a goal in itself. My teenage daughter would say "whatev", but Chris just used a look to convey the same resigned disbelief. My family has no faith in my sanity.

"Insane" translated to "need" pretty quickly, and by the next afternoon, when I saw Greg at the 600km finish, I was in.

Riding with Greg would be a blast. We met in my first season of randonneuring (1998) and we've rode many events together since. In 1999, Greg, Bill Dussler, Wayne Methner, Peter McKay, and I rode most of PBP together. At controls, we'd meet a big van with spouses Mary Cox, Bonnie Dussler, Anita McKay, and Chris Thomas, along with children Alaina Dussler, Philip Thomas, and Elena Thomas. Although Greg is a much stronger cyclist than I am, he's a great riding companion and really helped me keep going toward the end of that first 1200km. We did the Rocky Mountain 1200km together in 2002 and PBP again in 2003. We've been on numerous fleche teams together as well. Greg and I also share a similar sense of humor (tending to the sophomoric as the miles pile up), and if you're going to pedal over 600 miles, it helps to laugh.

I would need to sort out the logistics of transportation to Portland, return of rider and bike from Whitefish, and a family vacation, but those were just details. Although I'm sure easier ways exist, they didn't occur to me during the busy couple of weeks (1000km pre-ride and managing the 600/1000/400 weekend), so with inspiration from Rube Goldberg, I came up with the following. Drive from Redmond to Troutdale (start location) Friday night, drop off bike and stuff, drive to Portland airport and leave car in long term lot, take cab back to hotel, ride bike to Montana, take bike to bike shop in Whitefish to be shipped back to Redmond, fly from Whitefish to Alabama to join the family visit in progress (where I am now), fly back to Portland, pick up car, and drive home. In addition, I would rely on the US Postal Service to send stuff ahead to our overnight stop motels and to the motel in Whitefish.

We drove to Portland Thursday night, had a nice dinner at the Edgefield Lodge (start location), and prepped our bikes for an early departure. Greg's plans included a Sunday night train back from Whitefish. We pushed the start time to 4AM to give a little extra margin for him to make the train (64 hour finish instead of 63). Even 64 would be too fast for me - my previous fastest 1000km was 65:28 - but we'd figure that out later.

After about an hour of pre-dawn riding on Saturday, we descended toward the Columbia River Gorge (past the information control at the Crown Point Vista House). The vista did not disappoint. The simply spectacular view of the gorge with the sun just starting to rise upriver marked only the beginning of the great scenery that would characterize this ride.

We passed great waterfalls on the way to our crossing of the Columbia River on the Bridge of the Gods. (We also walked our bikes down a long flight of steps, which might be a brevet first for me). The tollkeeper on the bridge waved us through without charge. Despite the warning on the cue sheet, I looked down through the steel grated bridge to the river below. Briefly.

Once on the Washington side, the route follows SR-14 for 200km along the Columbia. A beautiful stretch of road, but unlike the river, it's not flat. Here we were introduced to the tailwind that would assist us for most of the rest of the brevet. (Note to this weekend's riders: The road goes through quite a few tunnels between the bridge crossing and the US-97 intersection. I recommend leaving a taillight on for this stretch and also stopping to activate the "bikes in tunnel" warning lights.)

We fueled up at the control in Lyle and continued up the river. I insisted that we take a detour (just past the US-97 intersection) to see Stonehenge. We rode down to the bluff where early 20th century railroad executive Sam Hill built a full-scale replica of Stonehenge as a monument to WWI soldiers. It's weird and worth the short detour. We also got water and sodas at the gift shop there, which probably helped us get through the next section.

At Roosevelt, the control was at a nice little market. The lady inside signed our cards in return for us making entries in her guest book. She had realized early in her tenure there that cyclists seemed to come through often, and she started a book for their notes. (Note to this weekend's riders: Not much is available from Roosevelt to Kennewick, a distance of 120km. The cafe at Patterson 54km from Roosevelt was closed on Saturday. A short ways up from the cafe was a church with a nice hose bib on the front. We got water there after Greg observed that the spigot behind the cafe was nasty. The route sheet indicates a part with water on the right near the turn to Plymouth Road, 75km from Roosevelt. This appears to be some ways off the road. There is an RV park on the left after the turn which may have water).

We left the river on Plymouth Road. A long climb was rewarded with a nice descent toward the Tri-cities. The Burger King served as our control stop at about 7:30PM. There Greg called ahead to our overnight motel in Connell and was treated to some less than welcome news. Although the motel had received slips from the post office informing them of arriving packages, those packages had not been retrieved. As a result, nothing would come of our efforts to have a change of clothes, more food, toiletries, etc. at the first overnight. We quickly concluded that this was not the worst thing that had ever happened to us. Assuming (correctly, as it turned out) that not much would be available after we left the Tri-Cities, we stopped at the grocery store for extra food and at a drug store for some overnight essentials. Night fell on the way into Connell, where we arrived at the M&M Motel just before midnight.

Saturday found us rolling through the Palouse area of Eastern Washington. In addition to the rolling wheat fields, we started the day riding through one of the canyons (Washtucna Coulee) formed by the sudden drainage of glacial Lake Missoula when ice dams burst during the last ice age. (Similar features exist further west in Washington and are a feature of day 3 of the Cascade 1200 route). A handout at one of the stores along the way provided this geological backround, as well as the welcome news that the term "channeled scablands" refers to the local geology, not to the likely state of our posteriors after 1000km.

We enjoyed breakfast about 50km into the day at the store in Washtucna at the intersection with SR-26. Good espresso and a nice porch. A detour about 30km later took us into LaCrosse and up a gratuitous hill, but rewarded us with a fine view before we descended back to rejoin SR-26. More snacks and refreshments at the Dusty Market were welcome. (Rider note: From the overnight to the full control at Colfax is over 135km. No services exist at the information controls. Stopping at Washtucna after 50km and Dusty after another 55km worked well for us).

We came down the steep hill into Colfax and made our control stop at the local Arby's at about 1PM. From the control was a pretty good climb out of town into more farmlands. At one point, the scenery looked familiar even though I'd never been to this area before. It came to me when I looked left and saw the Microsoft Windows XP default screen background. We skirted Steptoe Butte and passed through the farming towns of Oakesdale and Tekoa. In the nearly deserted downtown of Tekoa (at least on a Saturday afternoon) is a nice little pocket park with a water pump.

A couple miles of gravel and a good steep hill led us to US-95 into Plummer for another control. It was about 5:30, so we made a dinner stop at the grocery store. From Plummer, the 1000km route crosses the panhandle of Idaho on the Coeur d'Alene bicycle trail. In service of Greg's plan for a Sunday night train, our plan was to cycle 106km along the trail to Wallace, ID before stopping. (Most riders on the regular brevet will stop after 88km in Kellogg, ID).

The Coeur d'Alene trail provides a beautiful, no traffic route across Idaho. The first part of the trail descends to Lake Coeur d'Alene, crosses the lake on a bridge, runs along the east side of the lake, and then heads up the Coeur d'Alene river past a number of lakes. After about 80km, it starts to parallel I-90 and is a bit less appealing, but the first 80km were spectacular. With railway grades, this should be easy riding. With 600km done, however, I was having trouble keeping up as Greg effortlessly spun up to 30kph & more. After Kellogg, Greg rode on ahead (as he had Friday night into Connell), allowing more efficient use of the motel room & shower.

Finding the Ryan Hotel in Wallace took a while, but the old hotel offered a charming room and the very welcome sight of a USPS Priority Mail box with my name on it. After 715km, I would have fresh shorts (among other delights). Greg indicated his plan to leave by around 4AM to make his train. We agreed to ride separately - with two big passes at the start on Sunday, Greg would need to wait around for me and might miss his train. I was happy to ride at my own slow pace for the last 300km.

After the beautiful weather of the prior two days, the sound of rainfall (sounding more like a garden hose on the window, really) in the middle of the night was less than soothing. By our 4AM departure, it had settled to a steady drizzle. The climb up Dobson Pass starts right out of Wallace and ascends 1400 feet in 6 miles. Despite the rain, the climb was beautiful. The pre-dawn light, the clouds and fog nestled in the trees, and the sound of water in the creek alongside created a prehistoric forest atmosphere. Not moving quickly, I made steady progress nonetheless and enjoyed the quiet solitude.

The descent from the 4090 foot summit of Dobson Pass was a rude shock. Last year at this time, temperatures well over 100 degrees forced me out of the Cascade 1200. A year and a day later, I had the opposite problem. Despite my usual wool togs, I was chilled to the core. I'm not sure how much of the next 30km was downhill, but I was not generating much heat as I lost 170o feet of elevation. Being 750km worth of tired probable didn't help either. I pulled off the rainy road into the shut-up-tight town of Murray. The Sprag Pole Inn might have been a great place for breakfast, but they aren't open on Sunday. I opened a never-before used space blanket and wrapped myself up on the porch. I may have napped briefly as I warmed up. When a break in the rain came, I headed off to Thompson Pass.

A long slow climb (9 miles, 2500 feet, what seemed like hours) led to the Idaho-Montana border at the summit of Thompson Pass. Fresh snow in the hillsides probably not more than 500 feet above the pass elevation proffered a further explanation for my morning chill. By the time I reached the town of Thompson Falls in Montana, hunger and weariness led me to refuge in Minnie's Montana Cafe. An enormous plate of food (some sort of breakfast scramble), two cups of hot chocolate, and a good nap in the booth later, I was finally ready for more. Safe traveling wishes from the waitress and the couple at the next table helped too. It was nearly noon (now in Mountain time) and with stops I had spent almost 7 hours covering less than 100km from the overnight. I hoped to make quicker progress over the remaining 200km.

Much of SR-200 from Thompson Falls to Plains has minimal shoulders. Although the traffic was not heavy, the rumble of approaching 18-wheelers detracted from the beauty of the Clark Fork River to the right. Along the way, I found a nice rocky spot to sit and look at the river. I thought of a Dylan lyric: "I'll just sit here so contentedly and watch the river flow." On most of the 1000km brevets that I've done (this was my eighth), I start to lose focus on making good time on the third day. I'm not sure why, but maybe because the pace requirements for brevets slow after 600km, which helps me relax about finishing in time, or maybe because I'm tired and find it easier to justify rest stops. For whatever reason, between Wallace, ID and the first real control of the day in Plains, MT, I had my rando burrito act in Murray, my long breakfast in Thompson Falls, this stop to watch the river flow, and then just before the Plains control, a nap on a picnic table outside the towns old historic schoolhouse.

Restocked at the grocery store in Plains, I left at around 3PM for the last 150+km to the finish. Right out of Plains on SR-28 is a five mile climb that I could have done without. It would be a total of 80km to reach Flathead Lake. Happily the store was still open at Lonepine when I came through. The friendly proprietor made a hamburger for me and asked about my ride. He mentioned that another rider a couple hours earlier had been on the same ride and that he thought the other guy would make his train (but I wouldn't). I was happy to hear good news of Greg's progress.

Through Lonepine, SR-28 heads almost due north for a ways. Thinking that I was eastbound, however, I spent a lot of time worrying about how the strong crosswind from my left would be a headwind when I reached the lake and turned north. Relief came when I turned again and a strong tailwind pushed me toward the lake.

Flathead Lake is beautiful, but the next 40km were tough for me. Following a pattern that will be familiar to many NW riders, the road along the flat body of water was anything but flat. On fresh legs, I might have enjoyed these, but instead I gave my granny gear a workout and whined to myself a lot. My last refreshment stop came in Lakeside (50km from the finish). (Note to this weekend's riders: It's a long 110km from Plains to Lakeside. I'd recommend fueling up where the opportunity presents itself - at Hot Springs or Lonepine on SR-28 or at Rollins or Lakeside along US-93).

After Lakeside, only a couple more hills before the route took us on a bicycle trail paralleling US-93. The last 40km used the bike trail, a flat section of US-93 after the trail ends, some side streets in Kalispell, and the Whitefish Stage Road from Kalispell to Whitefish. This section was quiet and uneventful (and, for me, slow). I arrived at the finish motel exhausted and exhilarated at 11:40pm (total brevet time of 66:40).

Reflecting over the ride, I realize that this was a special cycling experience. Certainly one of my favorite long events for scenery. The views delighted over and over and offered substantial variety. Riding with Greg for two days was, as expected, a blast. The challenge was substantial and rewarding. Honestly, I had underestimated the brevet, thinking that it would be a fairly flat 1000km with a constant tailwind. The tailwind did not disappoint, but the route challenged me nonetheless. With about 26,000ft of climbing (6000ft in the first 200km, 4000ft in second 200km, 6000ft in the next 300km, and 10,000ft in the last 300km), the route was not flat. Over it's length, the route gains 3000ft of net elevation and it saves much of its climbing for the last day. Riding unsupported (and 1 for 2 on packages at the overnight stops) and riding without a lot of rest added to the challenge. For all these reasons, and probably more that remain subconscious still, I loved this ride. Thanks to Susan and friends for putting the route together. Bonne route to the riders this weekend. I hope you enjoy it too.

A footnote - I rode without mechanical incident; not so much as a flat tire. A very good thing too; I discovered on the second night in Wallace that despite the tons of stuff in my bags, I had left all my tools at home.


Albert said...


Thanks for your detailed report, especially the warnings when to restock food and water.

nate said...

Nice report Mark. It is good to know that this course will not require me to bring any tools.

David said...

I've been anxiously awaiting your ride report, Mark. Thank you so much for taking time out of your family vacation to provide us with a glimpse of what lies just 60 or so hours ahead of us now. It sounds as though we'll need to be opportunistic when it comes to getting water and food along the way. Your estimate of 26,000 feet of climbing is 10,000 more than I got from adding the alt. gains noted in the maps, but I suspected the computer model had underestimated it. North is up, right?


Best of luck to you with the rest of your training for PBP. See you on down the road a piece.


Mike Dayton said...

8 1000Ks?? That's gotta be a record...