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].