Friday, June 26, 2009

1000km Unsupported?

Susan France, the indefatigable RBA for the Oregon Randonneurs, asked if I would be interested in a check-out pre-ride of the 2009 edition of the Portland-Glacier 1000km. With my usual careful "What? A ride? How far? Where? Ok, I'm in!" analysis, I agreed. It would be a reprise of the pre-ride that Greg Cox and I did of the same route in 2007, my story of which can be found here. For this year, the easiest part of the ride was persuading fellow ride junkies Geoff Swarts and Vincent Muoneke to come along for the fun.

Other riders seemed surprised or impressed that we would be riding "unsupported" - no help along the way from the ride organizer and no personal support at any of the controls. Although unsupported riding is the essence of randonneuring, our longer NW brevets typically have club-organized support at the overnight stops or out on long, service-less segments of the courses. The unsupported nature of the ride fazed me only a bit, however - Greg and I rode it that way in 2007 and had a grand adventure of it.

But I also knew from years of riding these events that there would, in fact, be lots of support for us. That support would take many forms, some expected or planned, some much less so:
  • The organizer, Susan France, had created a wonderful route that would urge us along with promises of varied and wonderful scenery around every (rare) corner.

  • The United States Postal Service cycling team is no more, but the USPS can still deliver - in my case a support package at each of our overnight stops - fresh shorts, additional bike food, etc.

  • My riding companions carried cameras and good memories. They would take pictures and do great post-ride accounts, so I wouldn't need to. (See Geoff's here and Vincent's here).

  • Nice folks served us food in restaurants along the way, including great sit-down breakfasts in Lyle, WA on the first day and in Thompson Falls, MT on the third day.

  • The friendly residents of La Crosse, WA lined the main street of town to witness our arrival. (Possibly they were waiting for a parade, but we didn't see one.) The residents of Tekoa celebrated our transit with an egg toss contest (happily completed before our arrival).

  • When Geoff and I crashed in a deep sandy shoulder just north of the Tri-Cities, a passing motorist stopped to offer aid and wouldn't leave until she was convinced we were ok (which we were).

  • In addition to providing glorious scenery, Mother Nature supported us with 100 miles of wicked tailwind on the first day from Lyle to Plymouth.

  • Random by-standers assaulted with tales of our adventure provided the boost of acting suitably impressed.

  • The passing RV from which a "Yeah, Go Seattle!" cheer came our blue-shirted way over 900km into the ride nearly made up for the idiot RV'er that almost ran us off the road a bit later.

  • Regular support came from caffeine, my favorite performance enhancing drug, in its many and wondrous forms: diner coffee, Starbucks DoubleShots and Frappucinos from convenience store refrigerators, chocolate bars, iced tea, caffeine tablets, cola nuts from Africa (courtesy of Vincent's dad), caffeinated Clif Blox, and of course, espresso wherever possible. (I couldn't, however, bring myself to go for the Red Bulls that worked so well for Geoff).

  • After I started posting our progress on facebook (see below), many supportive comments from friends and family kept my spirits high and made quitting even less of an option than usual.

  • Although it came after the ride, we welcomed the offer by the night clerk at the finish motel of her car so we could get a post-ride meal without having to ride into the torrential downpour again.

  • Mile after mile, the steady friendship, strong riding, and good humor of Geoff and Vincent bolstered the spirit and enhanced the experience. Thanks.

  • And of course, neither this or any other ride would be possible without the bemused support of my family at home. On hearing that I planned to ride a 1000km to Montana, my daughter said "Yes, of course you are. What else would you be doing?"
What else indeed. Thanks for the support.

Facebook updates posted along the way:

June 19 at 9:39am
Mark Thomas with Vincent & Geoff at breakfast in Lyle,WA (108 km).

June 19 at 1:49pm
Mark Thomas in Roosevelt, WA (200km)

June 19 at 7:08pm
Mark Thomas is now having dinner in Kennewick, WA (320km).

June 19 at 11:52pm
Mark Thomas is having a beer and getting ready to shower and sleep in Connell, WA (398km).

June 20 at 11:03am
Mark Thomas - enjoying an iced mocha in Dusty, WA (half way!! - 505 km).

June 20 at 12:58pm
Mark Thomas at Colfax, WA control - 536km.

June 20 at 5:34pm
Mark Thomas is dining in style on sidewalk in Plummer, ID (610 km). A hundred km of bike trail before bed. (Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes).

June 20 at 11:04pm
Mark Thomas working on a Foster's oilcan and a cup-o-soup in Wallace, ID (715km). Sleep soon.

June 21 at 10:53am
Mark Thomas - Minnie's Montana Cafe!!! Thompson Falls, MT (807 km)

June 21 at 1:54pm
Mark Thomas checked into penultimate control in Plains, MT (849 km). A hundred miles to Whitefish finish.

June 21 at 8:20p
Mark Thomas - aargh! Lonepine closed. Limped into DQ in Lakeside, MT (955km).

June 21 at 11:19pm
Mark Thomas in Whitefish, MT. 1005km; 67:13 elapsed. Two 6 hour overnights. Two great riding companions. Thanks Geoff and Vincent!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cool down

After cooking the previous weekend in Oregon, this past weekend I set off with a merry band of SIR volunteers on the workers' ride of the SIR 600km brevet.
  • Instead of highs in the upper 90s, we had highs in the mid 60s.
  • Instead of 20k+ feet of climbing, we had 10k.
  • Instead of 6 climbs to above 3000 feet, we had one climb over 1500 feet.
  • Instead of only 1 sleepless hour at the overnight stop in Prineville, we had about 7 hours in Centralia, much of which, admittedly, was spent in a bar.
  • Instead of 32 hours in the saddle, I had 26.
  • Instead of an 11.8mph moving average, I moved at 14.4mph.
  • Instead of sun-baked desert, we had lush green Evergreen State scenery.
  • Instead of losing calories, I packed them in.
Just what the doctor ordered.

Come try it yourself on Saturday.

(Occasionally functional Google Maps link here)

Eat much?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sear quickly, then cook slowly until done

Not good. I'm semi-collapsed in the shady backseat of a volunteer's car trying to figure out what's going wrong and how to right it. I'm only five hours into a two day ride, so I shouldn't be tired yet. It's only 9:30 in the morning, so I shouldn't be overheated yet. I'm less than 100km along a fabulous course, so I shouldn't be short of enthusiasm yet. But I seem to be all of those things. Not good.

The Oregon Randonneurs 600km brevet this year followed in the footsteps of John Kramer's famed "Big Lebowski" 600 from 2006 (see Kent Peterson's entertaining write-up here). 380 miles of riding in north central Oregon, hotter and drier than my usual environs, will include many exposed, extended climbs. For 2009, John christened it the Oregon 600 XTR. I'm not sure what XTR means, exactly, but it sinks into my head as "extreme" and I easily conclude that I should skip the event. A winter and spring of a few thousand km of brevets and permanents performs its usual magic trick, however, and any common sense that I might otherwise possess disappears into thin air. A late registration is made, and the next thing I know, I'm heading to the start in The Dalles, Oregon with Bob Brudvik and Erik Andersen, looking nervously at the forecast of hot temperatures along the route.

In addition to the 3 of us, SIR would also be represented by Peter Beeson, Rick Blacker, Bill Gobie, Ron Himschoot, Ole Mikkelsen, Vincent Muoneke, Brian Ohlmeier, Ian Shopland, Geoff Swarts, and Peg Winczewski. Vince Sikorski, a long-time SIR stalwart and multiple PBP finisher since 1995, now lives in OR, so we'll put him on the south-of-the-Columbia team. The proximity of two other outstanding randonneur clubs counts as one of the joys of being a randonneur in Washington . The wealth of offerings from the BC Randonneurs to the north and from the Oregon Randonneurs to the south gives us even more opportunities to ride.

The pre-dawn initial stretch of riding east along the Columbia to the initial information control in Rufus passed quickly and uneventfully. The climb up Scott Canyon spread the riders out - it certainly spread me towards the back. I attributed my rearward drift to the strength of the field; probably correct, but perhaps the flu symptoms that had passed over me earlier in the week were more significant than I had imagined. By the second significant climb - from the John Day River up to Condon - the trouble had started. Although only a 2500ft climb, I suffered early. Although too soon in the ride and too shallow a grade to be justified in doing so, I was off my bike walking due to leg cramps soon after the climb started. I guess climbing up Devil's Butte had appropriately landed my ass in hell. Near the top (and after the back seat incident), Eric Ahlvin had a secret control. I could still fake a smile for Eric's camera, but I was worried.

I would see Eric quite a few times over the rest of the ride. As "sag" for the ride, he'd be at most of the controls, at least for the slower riders. His good cheer, helpful advice, and cold drinks, along with his refusal, even once, to offer me a ride, were invaluable to my progress. A small, but incredible, team of four volunteers kept riders moving and fueled through a difficult and remote course. Eric, David Rowe, Dave Read, and organizer John Kramer share part of the credit with the riders for the low DNF rate on the event.

At Eric's control, I met up with legendary cross-border randonneur Ron Himschoot, honored in Canada and the US alike. With many consecutive weekend rides of 200+ miles under his belt, he was riding slowly but consistently and strongly. A bit later, at about 150km into the ride, we linked up for the remainder of the brevet. Ron's patience, experience, and no-quit attitude filled in perfectly when mine were insufficient.

Luckily for me, the mental low on the way up Devil's Butte would be the worst of the day, though eating and staying cool would prove to be challenges. Hell, I even passed on a milk shake at Condon. My speed was low and my non-riding breaks too frequent. Really nice scenery provided a counterweight. A relatively nice climb to Butte Creek Summit was followed by a great descent to the John Day River and some really nice, relatively flat riding along the river. By the time we reached the control at the Fossil Beds Interpretive Center/Cant Ranch (250km), I guess I actually felt pretty decent. That it was already 8 o'clock and much cooler contributed, no doubt, to this feeling.

The next stretch, a long, long, gradual climb to the Keys Creek Summit was quite pleasant as night fell. From other riders after the ride, I heard that this section had been brutal in the heat of the afternoon. Along with the substantially cooler temperatures, the inability to see the climb ahead contributed to making it go ok. Sounds odd, I suppose, but usually true for me. David Rowe's rest stop at Mitchell awaited, just a screamer of a dark descent away.

As I settled in for an over-long stop, the reality of my brevet pace started to sink into my consciousness. Arriving at the last control before the overnight stop with an hour in the bank (and spending 3/4 of that at the control), meant that I wouldn't be sleeping on this 600km brevet. Although I've often advised riders that it's not necessary to ride straight through a 600km, it would be so for me this time. Ugh.

The highest point of the course and a 2400 foot climb awaited. In the cool of the night, a fairly substantial meal of a sandwich and a cup-o-noodles sat well with me. The climb was slow, but uneventful. As expected, we cruised into the overnight control with no more than about an hour to spare, at 4:30AM, 24 hours from the start. (24 hours for 375km - painfully slow, even by my standards). An inability to eat more than half a small bowl of pasta and a few bits of potato foreshadowed what would be a calorie-deprived second day.

The first 40, mostly downhill, miles of the day were easy enough, although nearly four hours passed including a breakfast attempt at the Madras Safeway. From Warm Springs at 278 miles, however, my ride went from merely ugly to turn-the-other-way-and-cover-the-children's-eyes hideous. Detailing the agony can do no one any good, so suffice it to say that I ruined some spectacular scenery with some ugly riding. Lots of calories exited the same way they entered, but faster. Slow progress on the bike was interrupted by stretches of no progress on the side of the road. Several bags of ice deployed in waterbottles, in fabric around the neck, and in jersey pockets came and went with little discernible effect on my overcooked state. Some occasional cloud cover and a lot of patience and encouragement from Ron kept me going toward a less than triumphant finish with a half-hour or so to spare on the clock.

John supplied pizza and beer at the finish. My favorites. I couldn't look at them. A bag of ice in my jersey and a coke seemed just about right. Maybe not. The ice didn't last long and the soda hit the eject button. Charming. But hey, I finished the ride before it finished me. Barely.