Friday, December 5, 2008

Stolen pleasure

Winter let down its damp grey guard for just a moment Thursday. Opportunistically, Steve Davis, Matt Newlin, and I rushed in to snatch a beautiful ride from winter's clutches. Sunny skies and pleasant temperatures accompanied us on our ride of Permanent route 341: Leschi-Redmond-North Bend-Maple Valley-Leschi.

Although a perfect day for the Fenderless R-12 quest, a cold had sidelined chief quester Amy Pieper. So we all brought fendered bikes - Steve his shiny new old Schwinn, Matt his cream Kogswell, and me the back-from-Down-Under Serotta - as we made off with our prize. Included with our theft were mountain views (Baker and Rainier), glorious quiet road riding under the gaze of Mt. Si, the company of our fair-weather riding shadows, and good coffee. Sweet!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Down in the Valley

Apparently the Great Southern did nothing to cure me of the rando bug; instead it appears only to have deepened my affliction. In addition, a quick review of the year's rides found me just shy of 5000 RUSA km for the year. So out the call went for companions on a Saturday ride of Permanent 186 - Snoqualmie Valley and Falls. Mostly nice weather in the forecast tempted many.
  • Ralph Nussbaum brought the single bike this time.
  • Erik Andersen and Bob Brudvik brought the single speed bikes.
  • Vincent Muoneke brought a nasty cold. ("You shouldn't be riding," I said, mostly in jest. "Go downtown and find a few big guys and then try to stop me," came the response. He's got the bug bad).
  • Rookie randonneur Dan Rearden brought lots of questions and the right attitude. His e-mail full of questions the night before concluded with "Ah hell, see you in the morning."
  • Also responding were Danish transplant Ole Mikkelsen and Jeff Loomis, back in Seattle after some years in the Boston area. Both did a full ACP brevet series with SIR this year and Ole rode the scorching Cascade 1200 as well.
  • By coincidence, Jack Brace and friends (Tom Norwood, Ryan Schmid, Destiny Williams) had also arranged to ride the same permanent. Jack e-mailed me to say that they could join us for the start but would be in a bit of a hurry and would have to "hustle along" after the first control. You'll have to ask him how that turned out.
So a nice big group of twelve merry randonneurs set out from Redmond. Hammering along seemed to be the order of the day, and I only managed to eke out one legitimate coffee stop on the ride. The sun came out half-way through the ride and Bob and I stopped for espresso drinks at Vinaccio Coffee in Sultan. They roast their own beans and are delightful people as well.

We had a full regroup in North Bend about 160km and one good rain shower into the ride and all twelve of us enjoyed a nice fast paceline into the finish. A fun day. Tom took pictures and has promised to post soon.

Sunday Bob, Dan, and I still wanted more, so we joined Robin and Amy's training ride out of Renton. Great weather, great company, fast pace, and not enough coffee. Again. I'll have to offer a refresher course on the interrelationship of randonneuring and espresso.

Monday, November 17, 2008

More Great Southern Goodies

Nice Medal

Google Map of Route (approximate)

View Larger Map

Before & after (Tired? Who, me?)

Maps by day (approximate)

Day 1

View Larger Map

Day 2

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Day 3

View Larger Map

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fenderless R-12

Riding buddy Amy Pieper, who bills herself as a weather-wimp (and who is anything but), decided that she (1) wanted an R-12 award and (2) wanted to do all the rides on nice days. Living in the Pacific Northwest, with its 8 rainy months, makes this an audacious goal. Achieving the "Fenderless R-12" would require both a dedication to randonneuring and a keen eye on the weather forecast. In October, the Sunrise Climb fit the bill nicely.

This past week was dreary and wet in Seattle, but the Friday forecast looked promising. For the November installment of the Fenderless R-12, Amy first suggested the Crystal Mountain Climb, but a rain induced landslide closed the road to Greenwater (and high points beyond). A backup plan was hatched and the call went out for riders to come ride the Hood Canal Loop permanent on Friday instead.

Waiting for the 6:10AM ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, I met Amy and Robin Pieper, Ralph and Carol Nussbaum, Matt Newlin, and Jack Brace. Robin was fresh off the plane from England the night before, so he was nice and jet lagged, offering hope to slower riders like me. (As it turns out, jet lag just makes Robin look tired; he still rides fast.)

But for a major coffee crisis, we had a great day. I had coffee in Bainbridge before we started, espresso at Port Gamble after 18 miles, and a bottled coffee drink in Quilcene after 38 miles. I was prepared to tough it out for the next 37 miles to the Hoodsport Coffee Company. But, I was not prepared for the sign on the door - "Closed. New Owners. Open Soon." Not only did this dash my dreams of a warm apple danish with vanilla ice cream washed down with a triple latte, I had to contemplate the darkness of an uncertain future of Hood Canal cycling coffee. Despite the nice lunch we had across the street, it took me miles and miles to regain any sort of equilibrium. A Starbucks DoubleShot in Shelton steadied my nerves, but barely, for the ride to the finish.

Thanks to Jack, Matt, the Piepers, and the Nussbaums for their good company. A nice (and hilly) day on the bike. No fenders required.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Great Southern Randonee 2008


In October 2001, fresh from London-Edinburgh-London and looking for my next randonneur challenge, I traveled to Melbourne, Australia for the 1200 kilometer Great Southern Randonnee (GSR). Despite being in relatively good shape, I came away with a Did Not Finish. I rode the first 500 kilometers of the ride under difficult conditions, including rain and 50-100kph headwinds. Of sixteen riders who started that year, seven were DNFs. I was the seventh rider to abandon; everyone who stuck it out just a bit longer was able to finish. As my Danish friend Stig Lundgard would remind me every time I saw him thereafter, quitting when I did was pretty stupid.

Despite the DNF, I had a great time in Australia. After abandoning the ride, I rode 250 kilometers back to the start, mostly on the course, but with a scenic detour. With tailwinds and nice weather (and a good night’s sleep), I thoroughly enjoyed the ride back, spending long periods at the manned controls and taking in the spectacular Great Ocean Road scenery. After the event, I had several opportunities to enjoy the company of the local audaxers, including on a nice ride partway around Port Philip Bay. My Audax Australia hosts were terrific in every respect.

Since 2001, the gut-gnawing memory of the DNF (to date my only DNF among ten 1200 kilometer or longer events) and the happier memories of riding and hanging out with the Australians have together exerted a strong pull to go back and ride the GSR again. The next edition was held in 2004 and I hoped to return then. Unfortunately, my 2004 randonneur season was shortened by injury after a 100 kilometer populaire, a 200 kilometer brevet, and a fleche. Returning to Australia that year was not an option.

2008 would bring the fourth running of the Great Southern and another chance at redemption. Already burning bright, my desire to return was stoked further by time spent with the Aussies at PBP 2007 and by the presence of old friends Peter and Barry Moore and new acquaintances Martin and Libby Haynes at the 2008 Cascade 1200, for which I was a volunteer.

To my dismay, 2007 ended and 2008 started with injury and my 2008 season was a bit challenged, to say the least. After a slow 24-hour 400 kilometer brevet and a similarly undistinguished time on the 600 kilometer brevet in our spring series and after being sick in June, I pulled out of the Rocky Mountain 1200 in July. I strongly suspect that skipping that ride was the correct decision, but I wasn’t particularly happy about it. Glowing reports from the participants only added to my grumpiness.

Our summer brevet series went a bit better, but culminated in a 600 kilometer brevet in September that I finished with less than an hour to spare. Despite the uninspiring time, the 600k actually boosted my confidence. I fought through a very deep low point before the overnight and finished a difficult course feeling pretty well. After the 600k, a few fun rides and permanents with friends kept me tuned up and brought me to the time for the GSR.

Before the Start

The randonneur (or audax, as the Brits and the Aussies say) club in the Australian state of Victoria owns a place as one of the premier randonneur clubs in the world. Each year it ranks at or near the top of the ACP points ranking of brevet participation. They have an extensive and diverse ride calendar and some of the most accomplished and fun randonneurs that I know. Extraordinary hospitality must come with the territory. When I told organizer Peter Moore that I would be coming for the event, he let me know that club members would take care of picking me up at the airport, putting me up in Melbourne before and after the ride, and getting me and my bike to and from the start/finish in Aireys Inlet.

Trusting in the offers, I made no plans of my own. Audrey Adler, a randonneur friend from southern California, was on my flight from LAX. In addition to riding the 1000 kilometer GSR route, she was also visiting family in Melbourne. In baggage claim, she asked if I needed a ride from the airport. Her cousin could drive. No, I said; “I have a ride.” “With whom?” “Well, I don’t know for sure.” “We could give you a ride.” “Not really,” I said, “I don’t know where I’m going.” I’m sure she thought that I was leaving a lot to chance.

No worries, as they say. Andy Moore, another of the Magnificent Moore Brothers, awaited outside baggage claim. He loaded me and bike up in van, pointed the way to the correct passenger side of the car, and dropped me off at the Surrey Hills home of Peter and Eileen Donnan (and their charming son Stuart).

I would be in their care for the next two weeks, and they couldn’t have been nicer. They have travelled the world by bicycle and are stalwarts of the local audax community. Peter is a three time PBP veteran (1991, 1995, and 2007) and was the routesheet guru for the GSR.

Saturday before the ride (which would start Monday afternoon), Barry Moore collected me at the Donnans and we rode into downtown Melbourne and back. Less than 40 kilometers, but a great opportunity to catch up and to regain the feel of riding on the “wrong” side of the road.

Using the right-side version of the Take-a-Look mirror was a helpful reminder. On the way, we stopped into Peter Moore's bike shop, home to the largest collection of Brooks saddles that I've ever seen.

In South Bank, we met up - for coffee of course - with Hans Dusink, former president of Randonneurs Mondiaux and of Audax Australia, and Carol Bell, a US resident (DC area) New Zealand expat in town for the GSR. Hans and Carol planned to ride the GSR together. Carol turned in a smoking performance at the 2008 Cascade 1200, so I didn’t expect to ride with them much on the GSR.

Sunday, Peter Donnan, Jan Erik Jensen (a Dane living in Sweden), and I went to Aireys Inlet to spend the night before the start. Eileen and Stuart met us there, and we walked around, checking out the nearby lighthouse and giving me my first real experience with the flies of Australia, seen here dotting Jan Erik's back. Riding closed-mouthed is a good idea!

Ride Plan

The GSR consists of an initial 210 kilometer loop to the east, followed by a 1000+ kilometer out-and-back to the west. A supported stop at Port Fairy (500km and 925km) divides the ride neatly into 500 kilometer, 425 kilometer, and 290 kilometer pieces. (My altimeter would later report that these segments had elevation gains of 4600 meters, 4200 meters, and 3200 meters, for a total elevation gain of 12,000 meters or 39,000 feet).

Although 500 kilometers is a lot for me to take on at once, the ride start would be at 5PM on Monday, so I thought it a reasonable plan to ride 500 kilometers straight through, to spend Tuesday night at Port Fairy, to ride a long (425km) day on Wednesday, to spend a late night back at Port Fairy again on Wednesday, and then to ride 300 kilometers to the finish Thursday and Friday. Bag drops would be available at Port Fairy and also at Port Campbell (370km/1050km). A bag left at the start could be accessed at 210km. Supported controls could also be found at Halls Gap (680km and 745km), Hamilton (840km), and Apollo Bay (1150km).

I didn’t have a very detailed ride plan in mind. My main plan was not to quit again. Recalling that I had quit just outside of Port Fairy in 2001, I told Martin and Libby Haynes, who would be volunteering there this time, that all I needed from them was to make sure that I kept going.

As always, I hoped to keep my stops efficient and try to build a time cushion that way, knowing that my on-the-bike speed was unlikely to be anything to write home about. Peter Donnan figured me out early, counting me among those randonneurs “who make up for lack of ability with lack of sleep.”

For food, I imported Ensure and Clif Blox from home with the idea that I could count on base calories from those items. I expected that I could carry food for the first 210 kilometers, restock at Aireys Inlet with food for the next 160 kilometers, restock at Port Campbell for the next 130 kilometers, restock at Port Fairy with emergency food for the next 425 kilometers, relying for that stretch on the legendary Pam and Grant control at Halls Gap and other roadside resources, restock again at Port Fairy for 130 kilometers, and finally restock at Port Campbell again for the last 160 kilometers. For rest, I planned to sleep at Port Fairy twice (at 500km and at 925km) and to grab naps as necessary along the rest of the way.

Bellarine Loop (0-209km)

From the traditional gravel start, the first 210 kilometers of the ride loop eastward to make a tour of the Bellarine Peninsula, the west pincer of the claw that surrounds Port Philip Bay. The first 85 kilometers took us generally eastward past the 2001 start location in Anglesea to Queenscliff (from which a ferry can connect you to the Mornington Peninsula curving around the bay from the east). A lovely tailwind and the last of the daylight joined us for this stretch. Typically, I started out from Aireys Inlet with some faster riders, who immediately dropped me on the first hill of any consequence. I rode much of this stretch alone, enjoying the brisk pace and great scenery, including the ocean views around Barwon Heads. For a bit, I chatted with Julian Dyson, one of two UK riders (Judith Swallow the other) visiting for the GSR 1200.

The staffed control at Queenscliff provided water refills and great sandwiches. I worked through the control quickly and headed out with Hans and Carol and John Retchford, an accomplished mountain climber and cyclist who was fascinating company. When I could keep up, that is.

We rode together along the bay at Portarlington, with the lights of Melbourne visible across the water in the distance, and then I fell off the pace before the cafe control in Geelong. I kept that stop to a minimum as well and rode most of the way back to Aireys Inlet with a quick moving group of cyclists. Hans and Carol dropped off in Anglesea for a pre-planned sleep break and I continued to Aireys Inlet, arriving a bit after 1:30AM. Even acknowledging the wind assist, covering the first 210 kilometers in 8.5 hours and putting more than 5 hours in the bank provided a nice confidence boost. While some riders stopped for a sleep break, I moved through the control fairly quickly, just eating from the great spread offered by the volunteers and restocking my handlebar bag with more base calories.

To Apollo Bay (209-273km)

The road from Aireys Inlet to Apollo Bay is spectacular, hugging the coastal hills and bathed in the sound of the surf below. For the visual part of this, I have to rely on my memory from 2001, because this time I traversed this section in the dark both ways. The night riding was peaceful and fast. I enjoyed most of it solo, with brief chats with faster riders catching up and passing me after their longer stops at Aireys Inlet. Volunteers Simon and Gordon served coffee and snacks at Apollo Bay because the store would not open for another hour or so.

The Otways (273-371km)

From Apollo Bay, the road leaves the ocean for an 80 kilometer tour through the Otway Range, returning for a brief kiss at Castle Cove before heading up into the hills again. Simon warned that the toughest hills of the ride were in the next section, and suggested that the ride would be easier after that. “Wouldn’t we be riding the same hills after 1000 kilometers?” “Oh, yes, there is that.”

The road climbs immediately out of Apollo Bay. Moseying (at best) up the hill in a drizzle, I was startled to note that I had company in the other lane. Displaying a gait somewhere between a bear’s trot and a beach ball’s roll, the koala seemed unfazed by the nearby cyclist with its strange lights. Remembering the camera in my bag, I fumbled for a picture. (One of only about 5 that I would take over 3.5 days of the ride. That camera represents weight I could probably eliminate!)

After the first climb, the route rewarded us with a beautiful stretch along a river valley toward the sea at Castle Cove. As I approached the cove, I could see the start of the Lavers Hill climb soaring off to the right. Lavers Hill is the highest point on the GSR at 472 meters. Although not a climb with the insistent length of a Cascade mountain pass back home, the trip up to Lavers was still a full breakfast of up with which to start the day. I reached Lavers Hill with speedy riders Tim Stredwick of Tasmania and Keri-Ann Smith of Canberra. I would see them from time to time on the ride as they’d pass me after some stop or another. Always cheerful, they made the ride look effortless. Keri-Ann and Tim sensibly stopped for some “brekky” in Lavers Hill, but I took off down to the sea.

Some 20 kilometers out from Port Campbell, the road returns to the ocean and takes you past the Twelve Apostles. These spectacular rock formations in the surf look, as best I can tell, nothing like apostles. And there aren’t 12 of them, either. Nonetheless, this is a glorious section of the ride. In need of a break, I struggled up and down the little hills on this section before arriving at the control at Port Campbell.

Encouraging volunteers swarmed the control, cooking and catering to riders’ every need. I had the chance to catch up with Bob Bednarz, who (along with Ann) hosted me in 2001. Feeling quite grubby, I happily recalled that I had tucked extra base layer and shorts in my drop bag, so I headed off to take a shower. Aaaaah! I washed my shorts and hung them up to dry in the cabin so I could enjoy the same great feeling on my return two or so days later.

Port to Port (371-498km)

From Port Campbell, the route leaves the Great Ocean Road to head inland. Other than the nice bakery control at Cobden, there is little to recommend this choice. After DNF’ing in 2001, I rode back along the omitted section of the Great Ocean Road and thought it spectacular.

The 40 kilometers to Cobden has some nice riding as the road rolls along from creek to creek. I had plenty of time to enjoy it as my pace slowed. At the bakery in Cobden, I found the three keys to my getting through the upcoming 90 kilometers to the overnight stop in Port Fairy. Predictably enough to those who know me, the first two were a deep black cup of coffee and an apple pastry. Even more welcome, however, was the company of Greg Lansom, one of the “mongrel dogs” of Wollongong (outside Sydney) that I had met on the 2001 GSR. We had suffered together in the headwinds in 2001, but while I quit, he and his riding buddy toughed it out and finished just within time. Riding alone this year, Greg agreed to ride the next stretch with me.

The road from Cobden to Warnambool seemed dismal. Thoroughly boring countryside offset by the adrenaline rushes of big double trucks coming past on the shoulderless road. The highway through Warnambool wasn’t much more fun. After 400+ kilometers on the bike and a night without sleep, my attitude could have been better. Greg’s company on this stretch was a life-saver. After Tower Hill we left the highway to take the back way into Port Fairy. Here we encountered the stiffest headwinds of the ride, but they were but a whisper compared to the 2001 winds. We arrived at the control around 6:30PM, in great shape as far as time went, with close to 8 hours up on the brevet time clock.

I craved a beer, but none was to be had. Aside from that, however, no rider need went unmet at this terrific control. Libby and Martin Haynes and other wonderful volunteers had delicious soup and other goodies. Hot showers, clean clothes, and bunk beds awaited. My goal was three hours of sleep, which normally works well for me on longer rides. I asked for a wake-up in 3.5 hours and clambered into my (upper) bunk for some sleep. Sad to say, however, sleep didn’t come my way at all. The same thing had happened to me in 2001 and I believe that my DNF was attributable, in part, to that lack of sleep.

After 3 hours of tossing around, I got up and had a second dinner. Although too nice to mention it at the time, Martin told me later that I looked awful. I didn’t feel too good either, with my stomach complaining angrily about the whole endeavor. I figured that if I headed out slowly my stomach would settle and that I could nap as needed along the way. I was on the road before midnight Tuesday.

To and From the Grampians (498-840km)

Wednesday would be a very long day. Only 425 kilometers, but over 25 hours on the road. The first stretch, an 85 kilometer run to the next control at Hamilton, found me moving particularly slowly. Partially this was intentional, as I sought to calm my grumpy stomach. Partially, I suspect, it was the result of the sleep failure. Only the occasional stump fire spewing sparks ahead of the impending burn ban broke up the monotony of the relatively featureless terrain. I reminded myself that I quit on this stretch in 2001 and that I was determined not to do so again.

“Oh look, it’s Mark,” I hear through a bit of a fog as I catnapped on the sidewalk outside the public restrooms in the small town of MacArthur, 50 kilometers into this stretch. Keri-Ann and Tim were coming through, as were a few other riders. I stumbled back onto the bike seeking company for the next 35 kilometers into Hamilton. With my anemic pace, this effort proved only modestly successful, but I ran into a group of riders at the dreary service station control in Hamilton.

I headed out of Hamilton solo but was soon joined by Peter Donnan for the 30 kilometer stretch to Dunkeld, where he dropped me off at the town park in the first light of morning for another go at a nap. The baby changing room looked like a cozy spot, but the door opened only a bit before hitting another dozing rider. I leaned on the wall outside instead. As I started to drift off, I sensed a companion presence and opened my eyes to find the biggest spider I’ve ever seen perched on my knee. (Presumably a huntsman spider). That sight proved more invigorating than any coffee and I remounted my bike for the trip into the Grampians National Park.

The wildlife of Dunkeld had not finished with me. Not 3 kilometers out of town, I’m startled with what feels like a stone smacking into my helmet. The flutter of wings tells me that it’s not a stone. My sleepy brain figures out that it must be a magpie. (“Spring in Australia is magpie season, when a small minority of breeding magpies around the country become aggressive and swoop and attack those who approach their nests, especially bike riders.” - Wikipedia). Just as I figure this out, SMACK - he nails me again. Not interested in finding out just how many times the bird (birds?) would attack the same cyclist, I sprint off -- aided by a handy bit of downhill. I catch up to the riders ahead and proudly report my initiation into the fraternity of magpie-swooped Australian cyclists. If you ever see cyclists with cable ties sticking straight up from their helmets, they’ve probably been riding in Australia. Barry Moore showed me this defense before the GSR, but then told me that the magpie-swooping season was over and that he’d be taking the cable ties off before the ride. Barry’s cycling is much better than his ornithology.

The next 65 kilometers brought some of the most spectacular scenery of the ride. At the southern gateway to the Grampians, the morning sun turned Mt. Abrupt orange. The road rose over a foothill and then down into the park. Kangaroos (or perhaps wallabies - I’m fuzzy on which is which) would bound out of the bush, hop along the road for a bit, and then bound back into the bush. A few stumpy-tailed lizards oozed along the roadway; many more had met their fate at the hands of passing vehicles. Traffic was low and the surroundings captivating; I felt strong and full of energy for the first time this day.

Anticipation of the control in Halls Gap provided further impetus. The hospitality of Pam and Grant Palmer is legendary. Missing their control in 2001 was yet another reason to regret my DNF. Sure enough, I pulled in around 9:30 to a roaring outdoor fire, delicious soup and other goodies, and kind ministrations from Pam and Grant. I briefly retired to a bunk for a nap, but decided that I was more interested in riding. I felt great, despite the contrary evidence of a contemporaneous photo.

Peter Donnan and I left together around 10:15AM for the 65 kilometer out-and-back segment to/from Moyston. The road, at least at the start, was less flat than advertised, but nonetheless was a nice break from the hillclimbing before Halls Gap. The opportunities offered to see other riders spaced out on the road make out-and-backs great fun on long rides. We saw the leading riders as we headed out and the rest of the field as we returned. The store at Moyston marked the turnaround point for the GSR, but because of the initial loop to the east, it was well past the halfway point of the event. Only 500 kilometers to go. A celebratory ice cream bar seemed in order. A tailwind back to Halls Gap rewarded our work into the wind on the way out and Peter and I arrived back at the control at around 2PM and availed ourselves of more of Pam and Grant's hospitality.

The 65 kilometers back to Dunkeld provided the same great scenery as we had in the morning, but somehow the hills seemed steeper, longer, and more numerous. In particular the climb back out of the park sapped my energy. Peter and I stopped for a soda in town and took a break. The next 30 kilometers from Dunkeld to Hamilton seemed twice that distance. All told it was almost 6 hours for the 100 kilometers between Halls Gap and Hamilton and we arrived at the control about 8PM.

Rando Purgatory (840-925km)

On the return trip, Hamilton had a manned control. Although a vast improvement over the morning’s gas station stop, it somehow didn’t do much for me. I wasn’t interested in the food offerings and decided not to nap. Clean clothes, a shower, and a real bed awaited back in Port Fairy and I really wanted to get there.

After some faffing around at the control, I headed off with Peter Donnan and Greg Lansom. Without their company, I might still be wandering aimlessly on the Hamilton-Port Fairy road. At this point, I was well over 50 hours without sleep. The road seemed endless. I was somewhere in a land beyond Tired and bordering on Delirium. I couldn’t keep firmly in mind exactly what it was that I was doing out there. For a while I was convinced that I was a headlight and taillight tester, but couldn’t keep track of what I was supposed to be testing. Occasionally I would drift into the shoulder, which would momentarily bring alertness. Then a whole cycle of weirdness would start again. Complete rando freak show.

About 25 kilometers before Port Fairy, I could see its lights. But I would ride and ride and they seemed to get no closer. Nothing about the terrain was difficult, but the distance felt infinite. Rarely has my rando soul been more tortured.

Eventually, of course, we reached Port Fairy and despite a few questionable turns found ourselves in the randonneur heaven of the youth hostel control. Despite the time-warping ride in, we were 12 hours up on the clock on arrival. Kind volunteers brought welcome food and plenty of encouragement. This time, Martin Haynes had a beer in his hand for me. After a delicious dinner and a hot shower, I crawled into the top bunk with my beer bottle. I finished it off and fell happily and deeply asleep for the first time in days. Bliss.

Port to Port - Reprise (925-1053km)

Peter and I awoke and had a fine breakfast before heading out in daylight around 6:00. Despite the squalls heard on the roof during breakfast, dry weather greeted us on the road. We were in great shape for time, with more than 28 hours to cover the last 290 kilometers and with 7 hours up on the clock. The long slog to Cobden brought us back to the bakery. A bacon and egg pie made a great second breakfast and another “long black” coffee stoked the fires for the trip to Port Campbell.

Although the 40 kilometers from Cobden to Port Campbell gives up elevation as the road returns to the sea, this leg sure had more ups and downs than I remembered from Tuesday. But the weather was beautiful and the riding joyful.

In before 2PM, we once again had about 10 hours up on the clock and only about 160km to go. The Port Campbell control was wonderful. I took a shower and changed shorts and then sat down to lunch. Merryn offered banana splits and I opted to start lunch with ice cream. Peter Donnan, who was brought up to eat the good-for-you food before dessert, looked over jealously. Quite a few riders were around and the atmosphere was festive. Jan Erik celebrated his birthday with a nap on the grass.

The Otways - Reprise (1053-1151km)

From Port Campbell we returned to the lovely road along the ocean.

The scenic ocean stretch gave way to those “toughest hills of the ride” - a bit tougher the second time around. Greg caught up and snapped a few pictures.

Earlier, Peter Donnan had tagged me with a nice euphemism for slow, saying that I was “a diesel” chugging steadily up the hills at a grind-it-out cadence. Along the way up to Lavers Hill, however, the diesel stalled and I sat on a guard rail looking for some spark to continue. A bag of Clif Blox (Black Cherry, with caffeine) provided the necessary fuel and I caught up with Peter and Greg and other riders hanging out at the store in Lavers Hill.

After Lavers Hill the route takes in some pretty sections down to the ocean at Glenaire/Castle Cove, then rolls along nice flats to Hordern Vale, and then climbs uphill again. No koala sightings this time, just some good riding (and more slow dieseling up the hill) in the last light of the day. A screaming descent brought me to the Apollo Bay control, just a few minutes behind Peter and Greg.

Andy of the Magnificent Moores brought his family to the Apollo Bay control to care for the riders. His son Aidan checked us in and his daughter Siobhan made wonderful food. I had soup, pasta, and other goodies. Peter, Greg and I decided to ride into the finish. Other riders were choosing to stay the night and to finish the ride in the morning. We may have been the last night departures and would have left sooner except that I spied another rider eating something I had missed. Our departure had to wait for a made-to-order grilled cheese sandwich with tomatoes and ham.

To the Finish (1151-1215km)

The Great Ocean Road from Apollo Bay to Airey’s Inlet is beautiful. Many of the riders opting to sleep at Apollo Bay did so with the idea of riding this scenic section by daylight. Peter, Greg, and I enjoyed a different, but no less marvelous, experience. Minimal traffic, maximal stars, and a wonderful soundtrack of surf below. Interrupted only by a short break in Lorne and a pause to fix a balky shifter on Greg’s bike, these 64 kilometers were a magical end to the ride.

Well maybe 63 kilometers of magic. The motel in Aireys Inlet sits on top of a hill. I attacked the hill for all I was worth for a triumphant finish. Unfortunately, all I was worth at that point was about half of the hill. So instead, I limped into the finish deep in my granny gear. Greg and Peter waited so we could finish together.

Over beer we celebrated. The next morning, a different finisher was heard on the phone telling her husband that she wouldn’t be home for a while, because everyone was still busy “talking about how good we are.” It took us a while, and another beer, to get off to sleep because I, too, needed to talk about how good we were. Funny, I certainly remember feeling a lot better than the picture suggests!

My time of 80:10 was my second best 1200km time in nine finishes. The monkey that had been on my back since 2001 found itself suddenly homeless.

Many pictures borrowed from GSR gallery. Thanks to all the photographers.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Great Southern Redemption

2001 - Great Southern Randonnee - DNF - Epic Fail
2008 - Great Southern Randonnee - 80:10 - Epic Ride

Great ride. Thanks to Peter and Greg, my Aussie riding buddies, and to all the wonderful folks who organized and supported the ride.

More later. Need to find beer, food, shower, and bed.

Monday, October 13, 2008

100km to Lunch; 100km to Dinner

On Sunday, seven SIRs met up at the Mukilteo ferry terminal to do the Whidbey-La Conner permanent that starts on the Whidbey side of the ferry crossing. One other SIR showed up at the Edmonds ferry terminal, which didn't work out so well. The forecast promised a nice cool clear day.

We had a fast, fun ride up the island, stopping just before the Deception Pass bridge to take on water and fuel and to discuss the pressing matters of the day.

Joe Platzner and Bob Brudvik:

Vincent Muoneke (a.k.a. the good doctor):

Trudy Frantz:

Alan Bell and Steve Davis:

Crossing the bridge:
Happy, goofy, and halfway across:

On the way to La Conner, I discovered a good reason to sit back and draft, rather than get up front and risk perdition.
At the halfway point in La Conner we enjoyed a great lunch at the La Conner Brewing Company. My need for carb replenishment forced me to have a stout with lunch.

Usual Skagit Valley roads took us to the Arlington control and the Centennial Trail brought us to the Snohomish control. We climbed up the knee-breaker hill into Everett and cruised down to Mukilteo, spurred on by the thought of celebratory beer and pizza at the Diamond Knot. A very nice day on the bicycle.

Footnote: At the Diamond Knot, another patron spotted our randonneur jerseys and asked if we had just finished a brevet. We're not used to having strangers familiar with our odd terminology, so this piqued our interest. As it turns out, we were speaking with Ken Brooker, one of the original Seattle randonneurs. He was quite interested to learn how the club had grown since his time with it. We urged him to come back and ride with us.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


I saw the warning posted to the SIR list:

Apparently there is a bug going around. A few local cyclists were infected at a brewpub in Issaquah today. Concerned epidemiologists expect a rash of sick days to be taken this Wednesday (October 1). Among the symptoms of the dreaded bug are (1) a hunger for breakfast at the Black Diamond Bakery at 7AM Wednesday, (2) a craving to ride 200k on the first of October to bag another R-12 month, (3) a mid-day lightheadedness at 6400' elevation at Sunrise, and (4) a giddy feeling from a long, fast descent. For more information on this illness, see

If you feel yourself coming down with any or all of these symptoms come meet your fellow sufferers at Black Diamond for a 7AM support group meeting. Bring diagnostic information on the form available at

I'll plan to bring prescription treatment in the form of a brevet card and route sheet. Those preferring home remedies can mix their own route sheet treatment at

The support group convened at the Black Diamond Bakery yesterday at 7AM.

The outbreak had spread and sufferers came from hundreds of miles away (John Kramer, White Salmon, WA and David Rowe, Lake Oswego, OR) and from right around the corner (Eamon Stanley, Covington, WA and Tim Halstead, Maple Valley, WA). Fellow patients also included David Harper, Gary Prince, Robin and Amy Pieper, Vincent Muoneke, Trudy Frantz, Matt Newlin, and Bill Gobie. We confirmed our symptoms over a hearty breakfast and headed out at 8AM to seek treatment.

Treatment Plan

The initial phase of the 200km treatment was an uphill climb, to be sure, but the circumstances could not have been better. We had a perfect day, with clear skies and great temperatures. The views of Mount Rainier could not help but lift the patients' spirits. After four hours of low-dose treatment, we entered the Mount Ranier National Park facility for the intense 25-kilometer critical phase of the cure. After two hours of this, I reached the 6400-foot peak dosage of our treatment regime, along with Amy, Robin, Matt, Gary, Tim, and David H. (Eamon, John, and David R were on a faster plan and Vincent, Trudy, and Bill were on a more relaxed plan).

Nearly cured

After a fast and exhilarating descent, we celebrated our good health with a late lunch from the nice folks at Greenwater Outfitters. Sandwiches, ice cream, espresso drinks. Afterwards we made quick work of the last 45km, arriving back in Black Diamond at around 6PM. Over pizza and beer, we pronounced ourselves cured. Unfortunately, it appears that this is a disease for which relapses are likely.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cleaning Up

To work up an appetite (and a thirst) before the SIR annual meeting today, many club members met to clean up our adopted section of East Lake Sammamish Parkway.

Amy Pieper gave us our marching orders.

And march we did.

Also spotted: Robert Higdon and Chris Gay approaching the end of their ride-all-night permanent.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Coffee Ride

Triple latte - Bremerton Starbucks

Don Boothby posted a plan for a "play hooky" permanent on Wednesday on our 215km South Hood Canal route. I met him at the ferry dock in Seattle for the 6AM Bremerton ferry. At the Starbucks in Bremerton, we met Steve Davis who drove up from Olympia and Jon Muellner who drove down from Port Townsend. We caught up over coffee and pastries while waiting for our 7:30 start.

Three shots propelled me through our first 67.5km to Hoodsport. Despite the dreary, rainy weather forecast, we had a beautiful ride along the Hood Canal from Belfair to Hoodsport. Light skies with occasional sun breaks. We commented on our good fortune and hoped not to jinx it. Although 22.5km/shot was pushing the high end of tolerance, our favorite summer coffee stand just west of the Alderbrook resort was closed for the season, so we pushed on.

Triple latte - Hoodsport Coffee Company

Bypassing the convenience stores in Potlatch and Hoodsport, we made a beeline for the Hoodsport Coffee Company. This cozy, friendly coffee shop has long been a favorite ride stop for me and well worth the extra time off the bike. I opted for a cookie, but thought Don's apple danish looked awfully tasty.

The 40km north along the Canal from Hoodsport held a nice surprise for us. The highway department appears to be in the late stages of a road improvement project. We found nice new pavement and much improved shoulders. Jon thought the work was in preparation for the planned set week closure of the Hood Canal bridge next spring. We also encountered a few one-lane sections that had the salutary effect of bunching up motor vehicle traffic and leaving nice gaps when no cars and trucks would come past us. A section of roadway that normally mixes scenic views with stressful riding was remarkably pleasant. Although the rain finally showed up, we made good time on this stretch and arrived at the turnaround in Brinnon before noon.

Canned Starbucks "DoubleShot" - Brinnon Tesoro

The cashier at the Brinnon convenience store has seen many permanent riders over the years, so she was quick to profer receipts for our proofs of passage. In addition to my can of what Kent Peterson once called "nitro for cyclists" we fueled up with a few munchies to get us back to Hoodsport. The rain started to let up on the way back and the kilometers flew by, especially after Don and I crafted a plan to make the best use of our Hoodsport stop and rode all the faster to put the plan into place sooner.

Triple latte - Hoodsport Coffee Company

Don and I arrived back at the coffee shop a bit ahead of Jon and Steve, which allowed time for plan implementation. To accompany our espresso drinks, we ordered fresh apple danishes and a big cup of their locally made premium vanilla ice cream. With judicious application of the handy microwave to our pastries, we soon had big dollops of ice cream melting into warmed apple yumminess. Jon and Steve arrived to see the tail end of this blissful consumption and immediately put their own similar plans into place.

The ride back along the Canal to Belfair was a bit of a buzz-killer. Twenty miles of relentless chipseal and increasing rain put us in a "let's just get it done" frame of mind.

20oz iced mocha - Michelle's Espresso in Belfair

Though less than 25km from the finish, Don needed a nature / water stop. I took advantage of the opportunity to fill my water bottle with an iced mocha from the friendly espresso stand on the corner. The bottle proved to be the perfect tonic as the rain approached car wash intensity for the rest of the way to the finish. Back in Bremerton, we had time to kill waiting for Jon and Steve and then for our ferry. Coffee had done its duty for the day, so I switched to beer and food at the odd, but cheerful Fritz European Fry House near the ferry.

Kept close to 15km/espresso shot, a fine randonneur pace.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Moon and the Mountain

[Inertia became a real problem in my posting hiatus. My blog at rest tended to stay at rest. Each time I prepared to add an entry, I felt the need to start with a some explanation and lots of catch-up. This would prove daunting and I'd set it aside, which only made the problem worse the next time. Enough already. I may never explain myself or describe where my bikes and I have been for the last three months. I missed the Rocky Mountain 1200, but had some nice rides closer to home. Nothing as awesome as last weekend's 600, however, which exerted enough force to overcome the inertia.]

Not my finest hour (or two, or three, or maybe more). By turns walking, riding, throwing up, and sitting on the guardrail trying to settle my stomach, I was making poor progress up White Pass on our 600k brevet Saturday night. Last or near last among the riders on the course, I began to lose confidence that I could finish the ride. Of course, that confidence was at best a thin veneer from the start. "Petrified" was apparently the word I had used earlier in the week to describe to Robert Higdon my state of mind about the 600k.

That the ride came advertised as "challenging with four major climbs" in a year where my climbing resembled that of a broken elevator did not enhance my confidence. Memory of a DNF at the top of White Pass on a similar course in 2000 weighed on my mind. Lanterne rouge status on the Mountain 110km populaire the previous weekend certainly brought little comfort.

Not attempting the brevet was tempting - I already had a challenging 600k to my credit this year so maybe I didn't need another. Or maybe I should head down to Oregon for a (possibly) easier 600k the next weekend. But ours was a siren song I couldn't resist. I knew from working with Jan Heine, Ryan Hamilton, and Mark Vande Kamp on the route that a spectacular course was planned. We would get up close and personal with two of the Cascade volcanoes (Rainier and Saint Helens) and would likely see at least two others (Adams and Hood). We would climb a forest service road (#26) that had been calling me from the map, but on which I had never ventured. We would explore some side roads where we often just take the highway. And as the weekend approached, the weather forecast zeroed in on perfect.

Friday afternoon found me in Eatonville dining (and listening to the singing busboy) with Bill Dussler, Robin Pieper, and Bob Brudvik. Robin and Bob planned to ride fast and wanted to carpool with me. I couldn't reconcile these two ideas in my mind but gave them a key to the car so they could go sightseeing Sunday while waiting for me to come in. Later in the evening, I caught a glimpse of what would be my two steadfast riding companions for the brevet - the full moon and Mount Rainier.

With a sendoff from Jan and Ryan, we started off at 4AM under a bright moon. On the first climb out of town over to Alder Lake and the Nisqually river valley, all but one of the bikes turned to red lights disappearing ahead. Sal Ortega, visiting from Oregon, hung back and we rode together for the first 175km of the brevet. Sal stopped from time to time to take pictures and I was inspired to do the same. I have some pictures from the first 200km of the brevet and none at all after that, as my focus narrowed more and more to the task at hand.

I've always enjoyed the ride up to Paradise from the Nisqually side. It seems that I always do this 4000 foot climb early in a ride when fresh. On a clear day, the views of the mountain are wonderful. For the 600k, the sun came up on a perfect day as we climbed up to the visitor center and inn.

With a big climb early in the ride (70km), I was already bumping against minimum brevet speed. But the descent, interrupted briefly by a Reflection Lake gawk and the Backbone Ridge climb and a secret control manned, was speedy, scenic, and fun. By Packwood, we had an hour and a half in the bank, some of which was spent on delicious espresso at the Butter Butte coffee shop). For most of the day, this timing pattern continued - at the top of the climbs, I'd be very close to minimum brevet speed and would get some margin on the downhill, but not much.

The short stretch down the Cowlitz River valley to Randle offered an easy, quick, and mostly flat break from the major climbs of the ride. We followed a nice backroad into the Randle control, where Geoff Swarts and daughter Jessica seemed a bit skeptical of my rate of progress.

After the first sharp climb into the Gifford Pinchot forest on our usual road (FR25), we peeled off onto FR26. Signs warned that washouts closed the road ahead. Pre-riders Ryan and Geoff had reported the washouts passable, so I was a bit puzzled by a cryptic note from Jan on an SIR sign warning that riders should be comfortable carrying their bicycles. We would later find that, seeking to deter motorcyclists from using the closed road, the forest service had dug deep trenches across the road in multiple places and piled the dirt from those trenches on either side. This made for some challenging cyclocross.

Washouts and obstacles notwithstanding, the trip up FR26 was spectacular. Car traffic was virtually non-existent. From time to time, I could look back to see Mt. Rainier continuing to overlook my ride. As we neared the top, we could start to see some of the scarred tree reminders of the devastation from eruption, now nearly 30 years in the past. With a couple of steep pitches, the trenches were not the only places that I dismounted to walk the bike. (Good practice for later).

At the intersection with FR99, Jan had set up a control. With FR99 closed from a few miles east of his spot and FR26 closed south of him, Jan had hauled 75 pounds of supplies up on his bike and in a trailer. The control was for the return, so I stopped only briefly before heading up to the information control and turnaround at Windy Ridge. The next 25km were the only out-and-back section of the ride and offered an opportunity to see the other, faster riders. Spirits seemed high.

The closed-to-traffic road to Windy Ridge was a joy. Navigating around the road hazards required attention, but knowing that the road was ours alone made it easy and enjoyable. I'm always stunned at the sight of Spirit Lake and its logjams of trees stripped and downed by the eruption. Also glorious on the way back down from Mt. St. Helens is the view offered of the other Cascade volcanoes. From one spot you can see Rainier, Hood, and Adams. Nearby Mount Adams is especially prominent.

Jan's oasis still had a few riders when I got back. After food and drink and helpful advice from Jan (as he has before, he advised me to ride faster) I took off down the mountain. I tried to keep up with Robert Higdon (ride story here) and Matt Mikul (ride story here), but as with ascending, they descended faster than I did. The route took us much of the way back to Packwood on the side of the Cowlitz opposite US-12. The joy of the low-traffic road was tempered somewhat by the chipseal and the frequent little hills (apparently the highway got first choice and picked the flat side). I caught up to Robert and Matt and we rode much of the way into Packwood together. Robert appeared to struggle and I slowed a bit to pace him into the control.

At Packwood, I fueled for what I knew would be a long (100+ km), difficult stretch to the next control in Naches. In retrospect, the prepackaged sandwich may have been a poor idea. I thought I'd leave with Robert and Matt, but Robert's achilles tendon was calling it a day and Matt hung back to sort things out with Robert. Anticipating (dreading, really) big bump number three, I headed out into the moonlight.

As with previous rides eastward over White Pass, things went less than smoothly and I found myself in the ugly walk, ride, barf, and sit rhythm mentioned earlier. Soon, however, the moon and the mountain came to my rescue. An incredible glimpse of Mount Rainier glowing silver in the moonlight reminded me of what great fortune it is to live and ride here among these majestic surroundings. Knowing that my negative fuel intake barred all but the lightest of efforts, I geared all the way down, satisfied with any forward progress. With an odd melange of joy and despair, beauty and suffering, I eventually found myself at White Pass summit. Although far from certain about Sunday's ride, I knew I'd make it to Naches tonight.

Rounding Clear Lake and Rimrock Lake I hit another low point. Sitting on the cooler left at the info control location, it took all my energy to persuade a good samaritan in a giant pickup truck that I was fine and needed no assistance. "It's a long ride" was the best answer I could give to "What's wrong, buddy?" Before long, however, the sight of the moon (working alone this time) reflecting off Rimrock Lake provided rejuvenation. A general downhill trend didn't hurt either. From the bridge below the dam, the moonlight Tieton River shimmered like quicksilver. The next 20 miles to the control went quickly, with a sneaky sleepiness my only obstacle. A tailwind into town provided a nice final push. I could worry later about the corollary headwind on the trip back west.

Kind souls (Ryan, Geoff, and Jessica) offered food, drink, and a place to sleep. They were too nice to tell me then, but let me know later that I didn't look so great when I came in. With only about an hour and a half until the control close time and with a still unsettled stomach, I quickly opted for a nap, abandoning a half bowl of delicious chili. When it's all you have time for, a 45 minute snooze can be remarkably refreshing. I had more chili for breakfast and headed off into the headwind as the lanterne rouge.

The climb up to Chinook Pass is long, but the grades are gentle for the most part. The morning winds are tough, but worst at the bottom of the hill and less and less of a force as you ascend. The only services on the 125km from Naches to Greenwater are 40km out, at Clifdell. My late start ensured that there would be no concern with the store being closed. Bob Koen, visiting from BC, was fueling up and nicely waited for me to do the same. We headed out together and would ride together to the finish. We stopped short of the pass summit to true around a broken spoke on his wheel, but otherwise had a good ride to the top.

The descent from Chinook Pass to Cayuse Pass brought unbridled joy. Awesome views of Rainier once again from Tipsoo Lake. Glimpses of Mount Adams in the distance. Brand new pavement to put the "whee!" into our wheels. And lunch in Greenwater couldn't be too far off. We avoided the singletrack detour taken by earlier riders around a road closed for a motorcycle wreck. Instead we braved the shoulder alongside the now alternating traffic. Doors opening, drunks urinating, and trailers in the shoulder were probably evenly matched obstacles to the roots and ruts of the singletrack.

At this point, a finish seemed quite likely. The only edgy moments came with the belated observation that the cue sheet showed nearly 15km of extra distance over 600km and the subsequent discovery that the cue sheet had one 4 mile section of road marked as 0.1 mile. More than 20k of extra distance on the toughest 600k of my career. Ouch.

Bob and I picked up Rick Blacker at the last control in Orting and we finished together, just after 7PM, with just under an hour to spare. Up ahead of the finish line loomed the mountain, looking satisfied.

[After hammering all day Saturday, car pool buddies Bob and Robin opted for an 8 hour overnight stop in Naches, so they had only to wait only a couple hours for me. Not that I cared, really; I was just delighted and proud to finish].

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Caution - Morons on Road Ahead

Yesterday morning, a small gathering of usual suspects and new victims assembled in a grocery store parking lot in Covington to ride the Crystal Mountain Climb permanent (RUSA #241). Bob Brudvik, Mike Richeson, Ralph Nussbaum, Steve Davis, Don Jameson, Ole Mikkelsen, Alan Bell, and I met for coffee and to start the ride up to Crystal Mountain. Rick Haight, still recovering from a recent spill, joined the group with plans to ride partway with us and then head home.

The ride started well - the occasional drizzle never turned into anything substantial. The route took us to the first control at Cumberland via Black Diamond and the wonderful road down to and across the Green River Gorge. We battled a headwind up to Greenwater, where we stopped for coffee at our new favorite spot (the place that opened up to serve us ice cream the previous weekend) before pushing on to Crystal Mountain. The ride up to the ski resort offers glorious views down the valley. At the top, the others were lounging on the steps waiting for me to arrive. The wait was long (I layered a full-on, rookie-mistake, no-breakfast bonk on top of my already weak climbing), but I heard no complaints.

On the way back, we stopped again in Greenwater for some really good sandwiches. Steve had a reprise of last week's ice cream. On the way back to Enumclaw, the route turns south along Mud Mountain Road. We warned the new riders that the long descent demands caution, with sharp turns many of which are littered with sand and gravel. We forgot to mention the morons.

Given the twisty descent, we single-filed and spread out. The lead riders noticed a car driving too fast up the hill. On its way to a particularly sharp right (for him) turn, the car started to go wide, missing Alan by three feet and aiming for Bob and me (the last two of the group). With too much speed, the driver did not navigate the turn at all and came skidding over to our side of the road. (Note the skid marks all the way to the edge of the pavement on our side of the road). Bob had no place to go, but turned his bike toward the side in time to avoid a full head-on. The car hit him broadside and sent him up over the hood and onto the road on his back. Bob says it played out in slow-motion for him, but from my vantage point right behind, it was quick, ugly, and very painful looking.

Moron rolled his window down for a perfunctory "are you ok?" and then started to drive off. We loudly and vigorously suggested that he not leave the scene of an accident. Apparently convinced, moron pulled over. The neighbors, who couldn't have been nicer, called 911 for us and brought Bob a chair. Ralph and Don rode back to the start to get Bob's truck. The rest of us waited quite some time for the arrival of law enforcement; the neighbor observed that their corner of the county wasn't known for quick response. We're lucky that Bob was not more seriously injured. The deputies took our statements and chatted with moron. In addition to his traffic transgressions, moron was cited for expired plates and lack of insurance. Charming.

The others headed back on their bikes and I waited with Bob for Don. We loaded up and headed back to the start. The other riders were just pulling in, so we had coffee and cookies and lamented moron's intrusion into our lives.

I spoke to Bob this morning and he feels better than yesterday, but pretty sore. We're probably lucky that the incident wasn't much worse. Bob's bike isn't too happy. Front wheel and saddle are broken; other damage will probably show up on closer inspection. Tough Bob also left an impression on moron's car, breaking his license plate holder and dimpling his hood. The original plan: