Goals are funny things. In general, I've always focused more on the road than on the destination, but goals do arise. In 2007, randonneuring has been the road. Whether riding brevets, organizing brevets, helping on brevets, riding team events, riding permanents, or readying the SIR or the RUSA teams for PBP2007, I've been reveling in the sport this year to the point of excess or obsession. Chris has looked at all my riding and told me that I'm overtraining for PBP. I've tried to explain that the rides are not PBP training rides. The rides are the goals. Each ride becomes its own goal - to get on my bike and test myself against a new course, a different distance, or different conditions.
Sometimes the road itself starts to suggest a destination to me. I didn't start the 200km brevet up Chinook Pass last month with the idea of setting a personal best, but as the ride wore on and the possibility grew, that idea became a motivator over the last 50km. A similar thing happened over the course of this year. As the randonneur events mounted for me, I noticed that I could reach 10,000 randonneur kilometers. Almost without my realizing it, completing 10k in my 10th season of randonneuring became a goal.
Yesterday, I met a few friends in Duvall for the Stevens Pass 300km permanent (RUSA Permanent #82). After last weekend's rides in Olympia, I had just over 9700km for the year, so this would be the one to put me over. Although we had a few last minute cancellations, five riders met me in the Safeway parking lot. The group included Geoff Swarts, who has done a number of permanents and brevets with us, both before and after his cross-country tour, James Sprague, a PBP veteran with whom I hadn't cycled in a while, Ryan Schmid, a strong cyclist who's been away from randonneuring for a while due to other demands like graduate school, Frank Kaplan, who joined me for all the rides in Olympia last weekend, and Joe Llona, who rode out to the start and let us know (later, when declining a ride home) that riding from his house to Leavenworth and back had been "on his list."
We had learned that US2 west of the summit was under construction. Ralph Nussbaum had recently driven over the pass and reported that the road to "be not only extremely uncomfortable but probably dangerous for bikes" and Will Roberts, with his typically British understatement simply called it "unpleasant." I arranged with Mark Roehrig, the route owner, to modify the route onto back roads as much as possible.
The eastbound ride was terrific. We detoured onto the back roads in Gold Bar. We enjoyed May Creek Road and Reiter Road despite their gratuitous extra climbing. Reiter Road took us into the town of Index, where we stopped at the nice little store there for refreshments before rejoining the highway. James noted that he used to pan for gold in this area and that one of his favorite campsites was up Index-Galena road, but had been heavily damaged in the past winter's flooding. Indeed, signs indicated that the road itself was closed about six miles west of Index. We avoided the narrow tunnel west of Skykomish by taking the back road past Money Creek Campground, rejoining US2 east of the town.
The Old Cascade Highway takes you off US2 for all but about half a mile of the last 10 miles to the Stevens Pass summit. The lower section is a narrow but well maintained road that is a joy to cycle. Heavily shaded and nicely situated along the banks of the stream, this would be one of the highlights of the ride in both directions. The upper section climbs over the entrance to the 7+ mile long rail tunnel (built in the 1920s after an avalanche killed almost 100 people in one of the nation's worst rail disasters) and winds its way to the summit. At one point the road becomes impassable to cars with only a pedestrian bridge crossing a stream. Although the road conditions are less than ideal, with potholes and stretches of gravel, the almost complete lack of cars and nice scenery make it a great alternative to the highway.
We bombed down the east side of the pass and through the pretty Tumwater Canyon on our way to a lunch stop and turn around in Leavenworth. On the way back, we were plagued by a few mechanical issues. A broken spoke was trued around and made rideable. More problematic was Geoff's freewheeling rear hub. If you don't have any better ideas, he announced, "I'll be sticking out my thumb." We didn't, so he did. Not long after, a ratty pickup truck rolls by with window down and a smiling Geoff lets us know that he had a ride. Although I haven't heard the details, an e-mail today described his afternoon as "a bit of an adventure, . . . enjoyable and memorable." I'm sure we'll hear the details on a later ride.
Joe Llona, riding very strongly, waited for us at the summit. Frank went on ahead, not wanting to chill down. The rest of us (now just Joe, James, Ryan, and me) picked our way down the poorly paved eastern section of the Old Cascades Highway and then just blasted down the next section. "What a rush," Joe exclaimed partway down that stretch.
We refueled at the Baring Store. James let us know that he'd rather drop off than work too hard to stay on. Joe continued to push the pace, with Ryan close behind. The combination of Joe's speed and Ryan's size made one of the best drafts that I've ever had the pleasure of riding in. But for the narrow shoulders and idiots in cars, this would have been a great run to the finish. Unfortunately, it was marred by two incidents where car occupants hurled stuff at us - first a glass bottle, then a full soda bottle. Luckily they both missed, but we rode angry for a while anyway. The road south from Monroe to Carnation had generally good shoulders and gave us the opportunity to regain our equilibrium and finish strongly, catching Frank just as we turned into the parking lot at the finish. James would arrive about half an hour later.
Another challenging and scenic ride in the good company of fellow randonneurs. And my new goal accomplished - 10,000 kilometers of randonneur events this year. The road continues, however. The goal is only a waypoint, not a destination. Next up - Paris Brest Paris. And I see another waypoint up ahead. I have 48,300 lifetime randonneur kilometers, so there's another milepost not far ahead at 50k!