Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Crank it up

I've always felt that there is a major structural flaw in the calendar. Weeks come with five weekdays and only two weekend days rather than the other way around. But not always. I spent five days last weekend at the NW Crank cycling camp sponsored by the Seattle International Randonneurs. Much better.

Around 40 cyclists participated in some or all of the camp. Many, but not all, were SIR members. Terry Zmrhal created this event a couple years ago so we could flee the west-of-the-Cascades spring rain and ride in the sunshine. I had not previously attended, but had heard great reports. They were true - I enjoyed five days of good cycling and great company.

Numerous route options were provided each day. My choices involved no monster distances, but quite a lot of steep hills. Most of the routes took us along the river, then up a valley until it ended in a steep climb to a plateau or a U-turn back down. Many of the steep pitches were unpaved, but quite rideable on my rando Serotta.

Thursday, the longest day, was up past Palisades then up a steep gravel section to meet Sagebrush Flats Road from which we followed the Cascade 1200 route in reverse to Quincy and then up river back to Wenatchee with a climbing detour up around the airport at the end. 50 miles of glorious riding followed by 50 miles of unrelenting stiff headwind. I was barely making forward progress 5 or so miles from the end when I ran into the late-arriving Piepers, who towed me in with their good cheer.

Friday we crossed the river, rode downstream, headed up a canyon for a nice supported break, turned around when the road turned to gravel, and then did a lovely tour of the orchards of the Stemilt foothills. I passed on the bonus climb up to the Mission Ridge ski area, but still managed to find 5700 feet of climbing in about 60 miles.

Saturday, I opted for the "adventure" route. Sixty miles, with 20 miles of unpaved road and over 6300 feet of climbing. With the experience of the previous two days to gauge my relative climbing ability, I headed off a half hour before the others. Turning away from the river, the route climbed the unpaved Rock Island Grade road with 3.5 miles of gravel road at an average grade of 10%. I was happy just not to have to walk, although I did have to climb seated virtually the whole way because otherwise my unweighted rear wheel with road tires would just turn fruitlessly in the gravel. I waited about 15 minutes at the top for the main pack of riders. (Picture courtesy of Jim Rupert).
I probably shouldn't have waited, for I was soon left in the dust (and gravel) as the road continued up (and up) on the plain. But the group returned the favor outside Waterville before the climb past the Badger Mountain ski area and up to the top of Badger Mountain, where volunteers had another great rest stop waiting for us. With a few short uphill exceptions, the ride finished with a nearly 20 mile paved downhill back to town. Wheee!

The adventure ride on Saturday was the riding highlight of the camp and worth the price of admission. In the evening we had a banquet at a restaurant (Garlini's) owned by a local cyclist. The white elephant gift exchange after dinner offered many useless bike items cleared from many garages, along with an unfortunate photoshop of the local RBA onto a training wheel bike.
Sunday we rode to Lake Chelan up the Navarre Coulee. An easier day - less climbing and a nice tailwind back along the river. Monday most of the remaining riders drove to Leavenworth and did the Chumstick-Plain-Lake Wenatchee loop with a nice descent (marred by two flats) through the Tumwater canyon back to town.

All in all, an excellent five day weekend.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sneaking one

On Sunday, at the corner of serendipity and wimpiness, I found a lovely ride. Strange spring weather plagued the Northwest this year. In March, SIR postponed its 300km ACP brevet due to ice and snow. (I missed the makeup on a beautiful day the following weekend). In addition to the postponed brevet, we also scheduled a new RUSA 300km brevet for May 2nd. I planned to ride the course this past weekend this past weekend in preparation for using a new route.

With a conflict on Saturday (an all-day retreat for the board of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington), I invited folks to join me on Sunday. The choice of Sunday was serendipitous - Saturday brought hail, sleet, and snow at sea level along the Hood Canal. A Saturday ride would have been somewhere between uncomfortable and downright dangerous. In Portland, Susan France postponed the Oregon 300km due to wintry conditions.

Faced with iffy weather for Sunday and in contravention of our self-cultivated hardy randonneur reputation, we prepared for an alternate ride - the 215km Hood Canal South permanent. Like the 300km, the permanent started from Bremerton. With permanent owner Geoff Swarts along for the ride, we opted for the wimpier choice at the Seattle ferry terminal. Peter Beeson and Geoff had prepared cards for the permanent and Geoff took our registration forms on the ferry. Bob Lagasca and David Harper were there too and RUSA and SIR treasurer Eric Vigoren joined us in Bremerton.

While it snowed and hailed back home, we had terrific weather for most of our ride. I rode the first third of the ride (to Hoodsport) with Geoff, behind a lead pair of Peter and Eric and a middle pair of Bob and David. North of Hoodsport, we found David fixing a flat and stopped to offer commentary. After that we rode in two groups of three, with Bob joining Peter and Eric and David riding with Geoff and me.

On a day of strange weather microcells, Geoff, David, and I enjoyed a charmed ride for 185km. A few raindrops and (I believe) a few snowflakes fell as we rode around the canal, but we mostly enjoyed nice, if cold, weather and an unexpectedly large amount of sunshine. The winds kept shifting and managed to be at our backs most of the day, changing directions just before we did. Just a glorious ride!

Only over the last 30km or so from Belfair did the weather turn on us, with colder temperatures and a pelting hail accompanying us much of the way to the finish. I found the hail more amusing than unpleasant, enjoying the crust of hail that decorated the exposed wool sleeves of my jersey and marveling at the odd texture of the hailstones that I caught in my mouth. On the ferry back, we relished the ride we had sneaked from winter's clutch and told our usual collection of old rando tall tales.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Fleche Fun

A recent thread on the randon mailing list pondered the question of whether randonneuring is "fun" or not. Can an endeavor with lots of struggling and striving be fun? Does the pursuit of "fun" lead to a casual attitude that makes DNFs more likely? Or maybe spending a day (or more) on a bicycle without a non-cycling care embodies the very essence of fun.

Twenty four hours of SIR's Fleche NW last weekend provided plenty of opportunity to consider this question. Out of shape and more than six months past my last ride over 150 miles, I struggled mightily with the hills and distance. With too few prior miles on the saddle, my backside hurt. After only cool NW riding this year, my system was surprised by temperatures nudging the 80s. True to form, I whined a lot. And I had fun. Lots of fun. Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. Randonneuring contains multitudes.

A diverse team met in Port Hadlock for the start of our fleche route. Greg Cox, with whom I've done 3 PBPs and countless other rides, joined Amy Pieper on the Piepers' big yellow tandem. Rick Haight, who towed me in on the 2005 Cascade 1200, looked strong and more than ready for the first randonneur event of his seventh decade. Tom Martin, ER doc, swift cyclist, and second year randonneur, came armed with a supply of patience to ride with a slower team. Jon Muellner, with whom I've shared many miles including riding and begging for water together on the 2002 Rocky Mountain 1200, arrived from Port Townsend with his beautiful new Pereira bicycle sporting, among other deft touches, an integrated bell mount.

Our route took us across the Hood Canal bridge, where a bump dislodged one of my tailights directly under a tire of a following car, to the Kitsap Peninsula, where I had two flats (a mystery rear flat and a wire-induced front flat). We fixed my first flat and Tom's broken headlight near Bremerton and my second flat not long after. Happily those were all the mechanical issues for the ride, and they were all in the first 50 miles.

The pain and pleasure started in earnest after Bremerton. The old Belfair Valley Road offered up its usual great riding, interrupted only briefly by my second flat. Out of Belfair we rode along the Hood Canal as we have many times before, but this time we turned left and up for the climb to Mason Lake. A beautiful clear starry night and Tom's encouraging company offset the pain of the steep climb. As the temperature dropped, we arrived at Greg's cabin on the lake. A warm cabin, freshly baked muffins, and the cheerful presence of Mary and Megan (Greg's wife and daugther) warmed us right up.

Barely refreshed by an hour's nap, we headed back into the cold beautiful night. Coffee warmed cold fingers at the 24 hour convenience store/control in Shelton. We rode on to breakfast in Montesano. Along the way, as we crossed the hill between Kamilche and McCleary, the pre-dawn air warmed up by 10 degrees, a welcome auspice of a great weather day ahead.

The Beehive diner in Montesano served up a breakfast as warm and tasty as the dinner I had there on the 2007 fleche. A diner breakfast after 100+ miles of riding counts as fun. Slogging up the valley to Matlock after six months of too many good meals and not enough good miles might not be fun. Neither was feeling the need to inform my teammates that they might want to head on without me. Of course, my teammates would hear nothing of this. Emphasizing the team nature of the fleche and demonstrating the camaraderie that we randonneurs love to extol, Greg tells me that we're a team and will go on together. I think his exact words were "Don't be such a wuss. Let's go."

Abuse from Greg has been a constant of my randonneuring experience for a decade. To be fair, I try to repay this gift in kind as much as possible. With Greg's great storytelling and wicked humor along for the ride, I've spent many a mile in the saddle laughing like an idiot.

I've headed up 101 along the west side of the Hood Canal on my bike so often, I could probably do it in my sleep. Stoked by espresso from the Hoodsport Coffee Company, however, I didn't have to find out. Endless miserable hills with beautiful views along the canal preceded the Walker Pass climb, on which I felt great. Watching Greg & Amy descend the other side (with Amy now in front) was like watching a rocket take off. (I had to ask Robin later whether he had neglected to show his wife how to work the brakes.)

The relatively gentle section from Quilcene to Discovery Bay marked the low point of the day for me, but before long I found my teammates at Fat Smitty's in Discovery Bay. All but Tom, who had continued up the road. Happily we found him via cellphone in time for him to ride back over a big hill to meet us before the 22hour point of our ride.

The scenery and views on a beautiful day along Discovery Bay and Cape George to Port Townsend are nothing short of spectacular. Gratuitous climbs tempered the fun a bit, as did anticipating the abuse I'd get for choosing the hilliest route back into town. Finishing - at Jon's house - was all the more fun for the challenge of last 15 miles.

At Lanza's for dinner, we met Wayne's team and the Nussbaums' team for great food and more tall tales of this and other rides. As with so many of these adventures, the 2008 fleche was even more fun in retrospect. At brunch on Sunday, we heard the other teams' tales - fun was had by all.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Giving Back

Snow and ice postponed the SIR 300k brevet from 3/29 to this past Saturday. A prior commitment (political caucus) kept me off the roads for the rescheduled 300k. In retrospect, spending 16 hours on my bike would probably have been less grueling than the 10 hours spent in a local high school gym.

SIR had a non-riding event Sunday. Through the efforts of SIR member and PBP ancienne Amy Pieper and others, the club adopted a section of road along Lake Sammamish. Having proven our bona fides with the fall cleanup, the county put our name on the "Adopt-a-Road" sign in time for this weekend.

Yesterday, about a dozen club members showed up for our second cleanup of that section. Kent Peterson took this shot of the crew at work:

True to form for an SIR event, a good rain came along to soak us part way through the festivities. Thanks to all who helped.

A sorry note: Although most of the roadside trash appeared to have originated from passing cars, we did find empty gel packets and energy bar wrappers suggesting that we cyclists aren't always the best of citizens either. Let's put the empties back in our jersey pockets, ok?