Friday, November 5, 2010

Out Collecting

Yesterday, I joined Alan Bell, Joe Platzner, and Ken Ward for a wonderful 200km permanent ride around Seattle. At a time of year when Seattle randonneurs can expect to ride in cold rain, the four of us instead enjoyed a gloriously warm and sunny day. At the finish, we celebrated Ken's successful completion of his R-12 quest and I happily collected another nice randonneuring memory.

My blog updates have been scarce since last summer, but not from any lack of riding. Although my motivation to write about randonneuring disappeared, my motivation to ride stayed strong as ever. In 2010, I've added quite a few gems to my collection of randonneur experiences. Looking back today, I see two grand randonnees, eleven other brevets, one populaire, and one fleche on my 2010 list of event finishes, matching exactly my totals for 2009. Along with a good collection of permanents, these made for a lot of nice days on the bike with good friends already this year. As is often the case for me, the standout additions to the collection in 2010 came from the longer rides. 

In June, I traveled to Oregon for John Kramer's Oregon Blue Mountains 1000km brevet. I saw the OBM1000 as a rematch for his XTR600 that nearly did me in the year before. Getting shelled out of the back of the pack within the first 10 miles put an early dampener on my hope for a triumphant return to central Oregon. With cooler temperatures than 2009, however, I manage to ride myself back into the ride. As with my Scandinavian adventure in 2009, I felt better each day of the ride. By the third day, I was boasting on Facebook: "What else you got?! Clarno Climb? Bah! I killed it!" Although vicious headwinds turned the last 40 miles into a slogfest, I finished happily with Rick Blacker (SIR) and Karel Stroethoff (Montana) and the year's adventures were off to a great start.

July brought the opportunity to participate in the Hokkaido 1200, which would be the first RM 1200km brevet held in Asia. As a collector of rando doodads, I was quite eager to join this ride. It would give me the chance to be one of the first, if not the first, rider to earn an International Super Randoneur 1200 (4C) patch for collecting a 1200km ride from each of four different countries on four different continents. I had previously collected an ISR 1200 (3C) and an ISR 1200 (2C) and had a European and North American ride already collected towards this one.

Although not the most challenging or the most scenic 1200 in my collection, the Hokkaido 1200 may be the most unique. Some extraordinary help and generosity got me to the start line in Sapporo. David Thompson of Tokyo, whom I had met on his trip to Seattle in June to participate in the Cascade 1200, and his wife Tomoko rolled out the red carpet for us. Chris accompanied me to Japan and we had a lovely time touring Tokyo, Kyoto, and the Izu peninsula before she returned home and I headed north with David for the ride. I scarcely had to think about any logistics and could just show up and ride.

Before I had even left home, Toshio Muto, ride organizer, and Hiroshi Horikawa, my anglophone correspondent, had done everything possible to welcome me to the ride and to make me feel like an honored guest of Audax Japan Hokkaido. As it turned out, I was the sole rider from outside Japan. Despite the language barrier - my Japanese consisting solely of a vague ability to say hello or thank you while grinning enthusiastically - I felt immediately at home with the riders from AJH and elsewhere in Japan.

Careful work by the organizers and some advance GPS prep effort on my part kept me on course for the entire ride despite the mysterious (to me) cue sheet and indecipherable (to me) street signs. Staying fueled in a different culture proved to be no problem - great food was offered by the volunteers at the few manned controls, including the first octopus that I can recall consuming on a brevet. The other controls were at convenience stores (including the ubiquitous 7-11s) and I soon found a routine that worked for me - a coffee drink, a sports drink, water for the bottles, and onigiri. These seaweed-wrapped rice balls with mystery fillings (I couldn't read the labels) proved to be perfect ride food for me. I probably had at least 50 of them!

My friend Peter Donnan from Australia describes randonneuring as a sport where one can make up "lack of ability with lack of sleep." For various reasons, I only managed one good night's sleep on the ride - six comatose hours at about 850km. With little sleep, I collected the fastest 1200 time of my slow career - 76 hours, 34 minutes. An extraordinary adventure.

Back home, I rode very little until my next long event. A 200k permanent in California highlighted the two months between big rides. Chris and I took our bikes along when we drove our daughter to her first year in college in Southern California. On the way back we stopped to visit friends in Santa Cruz. While Chris went off mountain biking, I rode a bit with rando legends Lois Springsteen (current Randonneurs USA president and five-time PBP finisher) and Bill Bryant (prolific writer and historian of all things rando) and completed their hilly, scenic Skyline permanent.

The hill training of the Skyline permanent proved quite useful for my next long event - the pre-ride of a one-way 1000km brevet from Seattle to Crater Lake in Oregon (and on to Klamath Falls for train ride home). As a public service, Geoff Swarts, Vincent Muoneke, Kole Kantner, and I went out the week before the scheduled date of this brevet to take all the bad weather that might otherwise mar a great event. We had headwinds and hours and hours of torrential rains (whitecaps on the road?!?) to enjoy.

Having seen pictures of Crater Lake, one of the natural wonders of the world, I had eagerly anticipated the chance to make my first visit there and on a brevet, no less. After a difficult couple of days along the Washington and Oregon coasts, I almost didn't get going for the challenges of the last day of the ride. But Roseburg (Oregon) is a very long way from home and the 100 mile climb from there to the crater rim seemed like the best among various lousy options to get home. Happily for me, Vincent hung back with me for the long climb. His company proved a great counterweight to the disappointment of the day's weather. The crater was in the middle of a raincloud. No views of the lake were to be had. Indeed, I could barely see my front wheel. I could, however, see Vinny's ever-present smile, appearing Cheshire cat-like out of the mist. We regrouped with Geoff and Kole at the top for a long last 100km to the finish. (Happy postscript - the big group of riders the next weekend enjoyed fabulous weather and beautiful views on this terrific course).

Next up was Australia (I needed another continent, after all) for the fourth edition of the Perth-Albany-Perth 1200km brevet in Western Australia. I turned 50 in the company of great randonneuring friends in Perth before the ride. As I've noted before, one of the great joys of this sport for me has been the collection of friends from all over the world that I see over and over at these events. Nearly 90 riders made for a great field. Common overnight stops led to a very social ride. I saw riders that I knew from the US, Canada, the UK, and Sweden along with the many Australians that I've met on two prior riding visits to Australia (and at other rides).

Many things came together to make this a terrific 1200k for me. Nick Dale and his colleagues did an extraordinary job of organizing the ride. The weather was perfect for me - cool evenings and temperate days. Not a drop of rain (until our plane taxied off to the runway as I left Perth after the ride). Although I usually spend a fair amount of time riding alone (which I enjoy) on long rides, I rode nearly the whole ride in the company of other riders. In particular, I spent much of the ride with Greg Courtney (Iowa), Spencer Klaassen (Kansas City), Maile Neel (DC), and Jos Verstegen (Holland). In addition I rode the first night and most of the second day with Vincent and all of the last day with Peter Donnan (Melbourne), who had hosted me (and towed me in) at the Great Southern Randonnee in 2008. Varied scenery and interesting wildlife added to the fun. (Some pictures of my ride can be found online - mine, Spencer'sMaile's, and Greg's).

All in all, a wonderful collection of randonneur memories already in 2010. A great year. And I collected some new stickers for my luggage box too.