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:

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Mountain is Out

When the skies are clear in Seattle, locals may say that "the mountain is out." Although we are surrounded by mountains of various description, the phrase has a specific meaning - that Mount Rainier visibly looms over the area. This spectacular sight is one of the great joys of living here. The mountain offers many ways to experience its grandeur - climb it, ski it, hike it, or just gaze at it. Given my own obsession, it should come as no surprise that my favorite way is to ride my bicycle around it.

Cycling Mount Rainier plays a key role in my history with randonneuring. Shortly after I started riding seriously and riding longer distances (a 2-day Seattle-to-Portland double century in 1996 and a 1-day STP in 1997), I set my sights on a classic of the local cycling scene. Each July, the Redmond Cycling Club (RCC), with which SIR shares many members, organizes RAMROD - The Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day. I had heard that high demand made entries difficult to obtain. Not realizing that it wouldn't matter, I joined RCC in hopes of increasing my chances to ride. One benefit of membership was the RCC newsletter, which among other things, listed rides of possible interest to the membership. My first newsletter included a mention of a Seattle International Randonneurs 200km brevet. It seemed a bit extreme to ride 125 miles at the beginning of April, but I signed up anyway. Ten years later, I have ridden over 50,000 randonneur kilometers (a mark I passed without noticing on the 400km brevet earlier this year), but it started with me trying to get a leg up on a ride around Mount Rainier.

In addition to RCC's terrific event, the ride around Mount Rainier now also exists as a RUSA permanent (#126). With nice weather in the forecast, for the weekend, I sent an invitation to the SIR mailing list to join me in riding the permanent. Takers included Rick Blacker, Steve Davis, Amy Pieper (on her first permanent), Robin Pieper, and Mark Roberts. One other rider came to the start, discovered his helmet was missing, and unhappily headed back home.

With great company, jaw-dropping scenery, delightful weather, heart-pounding climbs, and screaming descents, the day was simply perfect. Highlights: The first views of the mountain as the sky cleared approaching Ashford. Singing (ok, only a highlight for me) on the long climb to Paradise. (Along with Blood Sweat & Tears, I was "gonna get me a piece of the sky" as I ascended). Relaxing in the sun outside the newly remodeled Paradise Inn. High speed descent to the park entrance at Stevens Canyon. Riding companions waiting patiently atop the long slog up Cayuse Pass. Passing a closed deli in Greenwater, audibly lamenting the missed ice cream opportunity, being heard by the owners relaxing outside, and then enjoying cones in the open-for-us deli. A fast paceline down from Greenwater to the finish.

Simply marvelous.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

SIR 600k Support

Assisted by an able team of volunteers, Brad & Jeff Tilden, Don Smith, and Ray McFall organized our 600km brevet last weekend. Including the 6 riders on the scouting pre-ride, 54 riders participated in the brevet. The ride rewarded all with their money's worth of pure randonneur goodness. Bone chilling rain over Stevens Pass, warm sunshine east of the mountains, awesome tailwinds, fearsome headwinds, long climbs, fast descents, spectacular views, and stories galore. After the ride, these stories started to appear online and I've enjoyed reading them all. I'm sure there will be more, but so far I've read accounts by John Kramer, Matt Mikul, Joe Platzner (you have to register to see the pics), Robert Higdon, Geoff Swarts, Jennifer Chang, Ward Beebe, Kole Kanter, Nick Bull, Dan Boxer, Narayan Krishnamoorthy, and volunteer Paul Johnson.

I needed to scout a portion of the Cascade 1200 route through Yakima and talked Robin Pieper into coming along. We took a nice 25 mile route scouting tour on the Yakima Greenway trail, had lunch, and then drove up to Rimrock Lake, where we enjoyed a wonderful 25 mile loop around the lake, including some lovely quiet roads on the south side of the lake. Fifty miles of riding in the sunshine and daylight made for a delightful non-rando cycling day. After our rides, Robin stayed in Rimrock to help the overnight control crew. I went down the hill to work the secret control with Don Smith and two of the many cycling Tildens - Ron and Brad.

At 225 miles into the ride, brevet participants can be spread across a broad swath of rando time. Sure enough, we had riders at the control from about 6PM until after 3AM. As the ride reports detail, the story of this section of the ride was headwind. Once the riders turned onto US-12 about 10 miles before the control, they faced sustained headwinds of 30mph with gusts that were much worse. We circled the cars as best we could to create a shelter from the wind at the control. This effort was only modestly successful - from time to time, we had to go chase blown-over lawn chairs. Once those chairs were weighed down by resting randonneurs, we heard 45 wind stories. Bob Brudvik described being brought to a halt by a gust. Another rider reported seeing a section of roof blow past. Most versions of the story were the silent testimony of the riders' faces.

Don and Ron ladled homemade chicken noodle soup and made great sandwiches for the riders. Brad and I offered any other assistance that we could. As the evening wore on, hot chocolate and coffee were increasingly in demand. In the cool air, many riders took advantage of the stash of warm coats that we had brought along.

In the rural darkness on a clear, cool night, the stars were impressive. During breaks between riders, we gazed up at constellations and the Milky Way. With riders in the control, however, we were instead impressed by their fortitude. As I've noted before, it's pretty inspiring to spend time on the volunteer side of these events. You get to see all the riders and marvel at their determination. Restored by hot soup, rider after rider headed out for the 25 mile climb to the overnight control.

Three of the last six riders on the road did not make it past our control. We received a call from one exhausted rider whose knee would not let him continue. On the way out to get him, Brad and I passed another rider who said he was done. We encouraged him to push on to the control and continued along. After picking up the sore-kneed rider, we figured that we should try to figure out the status of the last rider on the road. We found him at a convenience store about 15 miles from the control. A bit dazed, he allowed that he had spent 45 minutes working on a flat tire and was probably too exhausted to continue. We gave him time to make that call and then loaded him up and headed back to the control. I picked up the other exhausted rider and took all three up the hill to the overnight control, trying not to notice the looks of disappointment on their faces. Nothing to be ashamed of there - all had persevered through over 200 miles of very challenging cycling - but none were happy to be in my car.

At 4:30 or so, I reached the overnight control. Riders were still arriving, a few had gone straight through without a sleep break, and others were having breakfast and making preparations to leave. Jeff was running quite the show here with dinner, breakfast, beds, shower, and wake-up calls. Volunteers Allison Bailey, Noel Howes, Shan Perera, Todd Black, and Robin Pieper were tending to riders' needs. In turn, the riders' good spirits and determination inspired the volunteers. All were warned of the chilly descent after the rest of the White Pass climb. We knew, however, that at the bottom, they would be greeted with hot drinks and warm hospitality by Ray McFall and Paul Johnson before being sent off to climb Cayuse Pass.

Thanks to all the volunteers and riders that made the 600km a memorable event.

Monday, June 2, 2008


The most popular permanent in the US by ridership in 2007 was the "Three Rivers Cruise" 200km permanent out of Arlington. I suspect that it's popularity stems from two features: the route is relatively scenic and it is relatively easy. That second feature sucked me in yesterday. After the deeply challenging 600km pre-ride last weekend, I was looking for a easier ride this weekend.

Last week Dan Turner posted that he and Matt Dalton would be heading down from Bellingham to Arlington for the Three Rivers Cruise. A few frequent ride companions led by Wayne Methner had already been discussing ride options for the weekend. Seeing Dan's post, which enticingly advertised a "leisurely pace," we latched onto that plan. I picked up Wayne Methner at his home around 5AM Sunday and we met Bob Brudvik along with Dan and Matt in the grocery store parking lot in Arlington for a 6AM start. (Note to caffeine addicted riders of this event: The nice coffee stand in the grocery store doesn't open until 6AM, so the start should NEVER be before 6:30!)

Grey skies and an occasional drizzle accompanied our trip up the north fork of the Stillaguamish River (river #1 of the three rivers of the ride's title). One of Wayne's oft repeated randonneur/geography/meteorology observations is that it always rains around Darrington on a brevet. Once again, he was correct.

I had not seen too much of Dan and Matt this year, so it was very nice to catch up as we rode. From the friendly convenience store in Darrington, we rode along the Sauk River (river #2) toward Rockport before turning east along the south bank of the Skagit River (river #3) to Marblemount. I can't deny that I enjoy cycling, but as gravity frequently reminds me, my first love is eating. On the way to Marblemount on the exceptionally quiet Rockport-Cascade Road, I started to obsess over the idea of a diner breakfast in Marblemount. To our dismay, the Buffalo Run was closed, but we found the Marblemount Diner around the corner to save my day. Dan and Matt decided on a quick convenience store stop instead and we wouldn't see them again until the finish. Wayne, Bob, and I, however, dug right in. As if to explain why they are both significantly faster and slimmer than I, Bob and Wayne had bowls of soup while I dug into the full all-you-can eat Sunday breakfast buffet.

From Marblemount, the route heads west on busier highway 20 to Concrete. Unlike most trips along this stretch, yesterday's ride provided no bald eagle sightings here. In Concrete, we cross the river to the South Skagit Highway - more quiet country road than "highway" really. This road is apparently on the Adventure Cycling maps for cross-country bike touring. We saw a group of loaded down riders heading east and then a short while later spotted a guy resting on the guardrail. Bob and I stopped to chat with the impressively mustachioed Portland native on his way to Maine. Fresh, clean, new bike touring gear hung all over his bike. We offered advice on places to overnight, wished him well, and headed off again.

The information control in the hamlet of Day Creek includes two questions, one of which is answered at a church in town. From previous rides, I knew that a garden hose on the side of the church would offer an opportunity to refill water bottles. For the first time, perhaps because we were riding on Sunday, there were some folks there at the church. Far from being concerned at our self-service, they let us know that not only were we welcome to the water anytime, we were also welcome to their bathrooms whenever anyone was there to let us inside. I guess they've read something somewhere about being kind to strangers. We made our appreciation of their kindness as clear as we could and set off.

Nine miles past the info control, we joined SR-9 for the 25 mile run to the finish. Four or five miles south of the intersection, Wayne pulled us off into the Big Rock Grocery (at the SR-538 intersection). Expecting only to refill my water bottles, I was delighted to find charming hospitality and delicious soup as well. Another lovely stop on our "leisurely" ride.

SR-9 is the three lakes portion of the three rivers ride - Clear Lake, Big Lake, and Lake McMurray are passed on the way back to Arlington. We met Matt and Dan in the parking lot around 3:40 and completed our post-ride paperwork over a nice cup of coffee. A great day!

Sleeping on a 600km

In Matt Mikul's excellent new randonneur blog, he wonders about whether to sleep on the upcoming SIR 600km brevet. He notes the advice in the RUSA handbook that a sleepless 600km is key preparation for riders planning to ride a 1200km. This has always been one idea in the excellent RUSA handbook with which I disagree. I differ for two reasons.

The first is personal - I have completed 7 1200km brevets (including the 1400km London-Edinburgh-London) in 8 attempts. I have also done 13 successful 600km brevets and none have been without a sleep break. So I know from personal experience that it's certainly possible to be successful on a 1200km brevet without a sleepless 600km brevet.

The second reason is that I believe that taking a sleep break on a 600km brevet builds three key skills for a longer brevet.

The first skill is managing your time, by pushing on the road and at the controls, to build a cushion that permits a sleep break. I find that thinking about carving time for sleep provides a good focus for the first 400km or so to the sleep break.

The second skill is simply practicing the logistics of a good overnight stop. It helps to learn how to combine efficiently in a few hours some pre-sleep food, a shower, sleep, a post-sleep breakfast, replacing and repacking gear, and maintaining the bike.

The third skill (really more experience than skill) is to learn the feel of starting again in the morning - getting the tired body moving again and revving it back up to good riding form. When doing a 1000km or 1200km, confidence is increased by knowing that you've done that before.

Unless you are one of the talented few riders that can blast through a 1200km on no sleep, learning overnight stop skills on a 600km is excellent preparation for what you'll do on the 1200km brevet.