This coming weekend, SIR will host a 600km brevet, a 400km brevet, and a 1000km brevet (linking the 600 and the 400). This past weekend a few of us did scouting pre-rides. Wayne Methner and Geoff Swarts rode the 400; Duane Wright and Michael Huber rode the 600, and Dan Turner and I subscribed to Arlo's "one big pile is better than two little piles" theory and tackled the 1000.
The 600km course (and the first 600km of the 1000km course) make a loop around the Olympic Peninsula that we've done many times over the years. From a map, the route just begs to be ridden: "Look, there's a thumb sticking out on the NW side of the state. You should ride around it." "How far?" " Just about 600 kilometers." "Perfect!"Dan, Duane, Michael, and I met Mike Richeson, who had offered us a bag drop service in Aberdeen, in Edmonds before boarding the ferry for the ride over to Kingston on the Kitsap Peninsula where the 600km/1000km course starts. Michael is a relatively new randonneur, having completed his first brevets (and brevet series) in 2006. Dan has been riding brevets since 2003 and has done at least one 1000km before. Duane has been riding since the derailleur was invented; from the looks of his bike, however, it would appear that the invention passed him by. All are planning to participate in Paris-Brest-Paris this year; for Duane and Michael, the 600 was the last remaining brevet needed for PBP qualification.
Unlike many scouting pre-rides, we didn't plan to ride together. If we grouped up, fine; if not, we'd ride along at our own paces. As we headed out across the Hood Canal bridge and onto the Olympic Peninsula, it sorted out - I'd be riding with Michael, Dan would be by himself a ways back, and Duane would bring up the rear. Duane is famous for getting all the fun possible out of a brevet by using all of the time alloted. With three PBP finishes (more than anyone else in Seattle) and tens of thousands of kilometers of brevets to his credit, it's hard to fault his strategy. We would see Dan in Port Angeles and both Dan and Duane on the out-and-back to Clallam Bay, but otherwise we wouldn't see Dan again until the next morning and we wouldn't see Duane again at all for the two days. (He did, of course, finish).
Michael's ride was a gutsy piece of work. Earlier this spring, he nailed down his PBP plans with a non-refundable plane ticket to Paris. On the SIR 400km less than a month ago, Michael was temporarily blinded by the lights of an oncoming vehicle and veered off the road into a sign while going at a pretty good clip. At the emergency room, he had them tape him up and then was taken back out onto the course to ride the last seven miles to the finish. He had a multiple fracture of his left collarbone and two broken ribs. The next week doctors installed a plate and screws in his collarbone and wished him a speedy recovery. Riding a 600 less than four weeks later was quite the act of courage (or folly, perhaps, but we randonneurs have a pretty high threshold for folly). Michael was obviously in pain, but never in anything short of great spirits. It was a privilege to ride with him.
Friday was a beautiful day. Perfect weather and great scenery (Discovery Bay, the Olympics, the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, the Pacific Ocean at Kalaloch among the highlights) made for a great day of bike riding and reminded me why I enjoy this course. Our speeds weren't record-breaking, but we'd have time for some sleep at Aberdeen. The only major hazard of Friday was fire. At the Lake Quinault Lodge, after about 200 miles, we came in from the dark to a roaring fire in the huge lobby fireplace. The warm fire and the friendly people curious about our exploits and eager to share a glass of wine with us presented us with our only significant DNF challenge of the day. But we had a scouting mission and a PBP qualification calling, so we pried ourselves from the comfortable couches and headed back out to Aberdeen.
Sometime after 2AM we arrived at the motel. In addition to Mike Richeson, our welcoming committee included Brenda, the night clerk at the motel. She shows off her bike and we learn that she's an enthusiastic cyclist. She once pulled her then 4 year old son in a trailer the length of the US Pacific Coast from Vancouver to Tijuana. More recently she rode 3600km from Aberdeen to Illinois. As a result, perhaps, Brenda didn't find our activities at all strange and looks forward to having the main ride come through next weekend.
We planned on three hours of sleep. That may have worked for Michael. As for me, what I thought was my cellphone alarm went off after about and hour and half. Not my alarm, as it turned out, but instead a call from Dan Turner saying that his ride was over. Although he thought he could limp the last 15 miles into Aberdeen, his rear wheel was disintegrating, with three cracks across the rim. The good news: he was, indeed, able to make it into the control and get a ride home from Mike Richeson; the bad news: I never did get that additional sleep.
Saturday's ride from Aberdeen back to Kingston suffered from dreary conditions. Rain was our near constant companion. Michael had flat tire problems. One flat came just as we passed a couple of rickety fireworks shacks on the Skokomish reservation. I propped my bike against one of the shacks and turned to see my resourceful riding companion disappearing into a shack to change his tire out of the rain.
Tire fixed, we rode up the west side of the Hood Canal. I like this section of road and have seen it on a half dozen randonneur events this year, but it wasn't at it's best in the rain. After leaving the canal and crossing north over Walker Pass, the winds picked up to a good howl. Strong, gusty winds would be our companion for a while, making the crossing of the Hood Canal Bridge particularly hairy. The bridge is a bit nerve-racking under the best of conditions but with a gusty side wind, it was a terror. About 2/3 of the way across, working hard to hold a line, I looked in my mirror to see an approaching 18-wheeler. That was it - my nerve completely left me. I hopped off the bike, put it up on the raised side shelf and walked the rest of the way across.
Just a few uneventful miles brought us to Kingston and the finish of Michael's 600km. Thrilled and relieved to be finished and qualified, he was now Paris-bound. But first, some time to rest and heal.
On the way back to Edmonds, Michael offered to take a drop bag for me and drop it off at my planned overnight control stop in Darrington (110km down the road). This outrageously generous offer lifted my spirits considerably. Although I'd be riding for quite a ways on my own, I would have clean clothes and other necessities of a civilized overnight stop Saturday night. Back at our cars in Edmonds, I packed up a bag and happily turned it over.
From Edmonds, the 1000 joined courses with the 400. Although Wayne and Geoff would be pre-riding the 400, they wouldn't start until morning. Lots of turns (and one big steep hill) marked the section from Edmonds to Snohomish. I kept busy making notes on the cue sheet for this new section of route.
Between Snohomish and Arlington, fatigue set in and I fought off sleep on the way to a stop at an all-night grocery. I recalled that somewhere I had read a hint for a quick nap when sleepy: Take a slug of caffeine and then a nap. After a short snooze the caffeine would kick in and alertness would be restored. Or at least that's the theory. After sushi & V-8 (as Kent Peterson observes, we're not exactly nutritional role models), I tried it in the deserted deli seating area. A caffeine tablet and head down. Asleep in an instant, I woke ten minutes later raring to go. Among the nap, the caffeine, and the desire to be vigilant for late night drivers on a high school graduation weekend, I found what I needed to stay alert for the next 50 kilometers to the overnight stop. Indeed, a very enjoyable couple of hours of night riding ensued.
I arrived at the motel in Darrington after 2AM (again) and resolved to sleep in on Sunday morning. The next control was 85km away and wouldn't close until 4PM (the required speed on a longer brevet drops substantially after the 600km point). I could leave by 9:30AM and have plenty of time.
'Twas not to be, however. After three hours of sleep, I was bolt awake. No gentle persuasion would get my body to turn back off and get some more sleep. A cruel twist of fate - I wouldn't be this awake again until after the ride was over - but at least I'd get an early start.
The ride to Marblemount along the Sauk and Skagit rivers was quiet and pleasant. I wasn't going fast (later, just before the turn-around point, I would note that my average speed on the bike for the morning was less than 12 mph) but was enjoying the solitude.
A latte at Marblemount fueled me for the push up the Skagit River to the turn-around point at the Colonial Creek campground near Diablo Dam. I had forgotten how spectacular the scenery is here. The road hugs the steep sides of the Skagit River. Waterfalls appear everywhere. Also fascinating: in late 2003, a huge rockfall destroyed part of this highway. From the side of the road at MP122, you can look up the hillside and see the incredible scar left by the landslide. The surrounding cliffs & hillsides are weathered dark grey, but the scar is lighter in color.
A couple of good climbs led to the Colonial Creek control spot and the easternmost point of the ride. Eight miles into the return trip, I encountered Wayne and Geoff on their way out on their 400km pre-ride. Our relative paces suggested that they would catch me at some point before too long. We agreed that I wouldn't wait for them, but would assume that they would catch up to me at one of what I was sure would be many food stops.
West of Newhalem, a pickup truck pulls around me and comes to a stop in the shoulder. Uh-oh. I tarry, trying to figure out what the driver has in mind, then slowly pull around. As I do, the driver's window goes down and out pops the cheery bald head of frequent riding companion Bob Brudvik. With his delightful wife Lisa, he's been over near Winthrop for a weekend of fun and mountain biking. After accepting a handout of wasabi peas, I headed off into the sunshine and rain (at the same time).
I didn't see Wayne and Geoff at the philly cheese steak stop in Concrete, but they rolled into the Big Lake Bar & Grill as I was enjoying a club sandwich and french fries. They joined me for dinner and we headed out into the rain with less than 100km to go.
Wayne, back strongly from his earlier hamstring injury, and Geoff, super-fit after a 32-day 3400-mile cross country tour, proved both tough to hang with and generous about waiting for me. It was grand to have riding companions again more than 24 hours after finishing the 600km with Michael. We made efficient, if not speedy, work of the last stretch and bombed down a great hill into the finish, arriving at 2:04AM (67:34 for my 1000km).
Although no Officer Obie would take me to task for my "one big pile" choice, my body has been taking me to task since the finish. Now I just need a bit of randonneur amnesia to strike in time for the 1000km from Portland to Montana!