Wow. We (Joe, Mike, and I) rode our bikes 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) in three days. These weren’t just any miles either. These were through the Cascade mountains, over several mountain passes. There was 30,000 feet of cumulative climbing – 12,000 on day one, 10,000 on day two, and 8,000 on day three. Did I mention the wind? While we started day two with a nice tail wind along the Columbia River towards The Dalles, towards the end of the day there was a nasty head wind through Portland. When I first contemplated doing the ride I had looked at the last 1,000 K ride that SIR (Seattle International Randonneurs) had put on and saw that 5 out of 11 ride rs DNF’d (did not finish). I now understand why.
We did have a few mechanical issues that could have ended the ride early. Right after darkness fell on day one, as we started up Curly Creek Road up to Oldman Pass, Mike began to have drive-train problems, with his chain coming off every 50 feet or so. This was on a steep incline. He found a combination of front and rear chain rings that kept the chain on, but made it a much tougher climb. Not that it needed to be any tougher. When we finally made it to the Sandhill Cottages in Carson at about 10:30 PM, Mike was able to determine that he was missing a chain bolt and the remaining ones were lose. Tightening the bolts and a zip tie solved the problem and he was back in business for the next day. On day three, about 13 miles from Toledo out in the middle of nowhere, I looked down and noticed my front chain rings were wobbling as I pedaled. Upon investigation, the crank arm/chain ring was loose and required a 10mm allen wrench to fix. Of course that was one that I had taken out of my bag to save weight – and neither Mike nor Joe had one. We went on, hoping that the assembly would hold until we made it to Toledo – perhaps a gas station would have a 10mm allen wrench we could use. We made it to Toledo. Now this is a small town – there was one small store open (before 9 on a Sunday morning). It happened to have a bit of everything - gas pumps, (micro) mini mart food stuff, fishing tackle, and, yes, a NAPA auto parts section. Not a big selection mi nd you, but it had a nice short handle metric allen wrench set. I was back in business! We were fortunate that we did not have any flat tires.
We were also lucky health wise. Not to say we didn’t have our aches and pains. Mike had knee issues that I think he solved with wrapping his knee with a head band to keep it warm. Joe had sleep deprivation that was battled with coffee. My feet and butt hurt big time. I had ridden cross-country earlier this year from LA to Boston – 3,400 miles in 32 days – without anywhere near the level of discomfort. Thank goodness for Ibuprofen.
We were rode the ride as a “pre-ride” – basically checking out the route sheet to make sure it was ready for prime time, finding out what stores might be available 24/7, and identifying construction or other issues that can only be seen “on the ground”. Mark and team had done a great job – we didn’t run into any major issues. We did come up with some tweaks. On day two the route had “top of climb” on NF-44 (Road 44 Summit – elev 4,800) well before Government Camp. It was disheartening to then see the “Chain up area ahead” sign on OR-35 on the way up to Bennett Pass (elev 4,659) and then Barlow Pass (elev 4,153). Our consensus was that day two was the toughest day – while it had less climbing than day one (10,000 instead of 12,000) and fewer miles (215 vs 222), day two had a ride into the wind through Portland and around Government Camp that was much tougher than the day one head/cross wind between Packwood and Randle.
Weather worked out well for us. While the forecast had mentioned the possibility of a few showers at the end of day one or start of day two, we didn’t have any rain. While day three was cool, it wasn’t cold. We were fortunate. The outlook for the regular ride isn’t quite as good as what we had, but hopefully it will turn out okay.
What a ride. While the rides up were often slow and tiring, there were some great descents. The Skate Creek descent on NF-52 from the summit (elev 2,500) down to Packwood (elev 1,100 feet) was quite a rush. We were fortunate to ride down during daylight – at night it would be quite different because of the many dips and bumps in the road.
Eating was a challenge. Getting enough calories and drinking enough fluids on rides like this are critical to making it to the end. The motivation goes if you run out of fuel. You eat and drink what you can carry plus what you can get at stores along the way (corn dogs and bananas are my top choices), but riding the backwoods there aren’t always many choices. On day one between Randle and Bingen, almost 100 miles, there were no open stores when we rode through. I had checked the hours at Northwoods (45 miles from Randle) two days earlier when I drove through. He said the hours were 8 – 8, but when we got there about 7:00 PM they were closed. It will be a SIR manned control on the regular ride, so that won’t be an issue. At least the rest rooms were open and there was a hose available for water. Fortunately I had pre-positioned a bag of groceries at the S andhill Cottages in Carson, so we were able to have some soup for a quick dinner and then bagels/bananas for day two breakfast. We weren’t so lucky for breakfast on day three. There was a Denny’s in Kelso, but it would have been an extra four miles or so. At 4:30 AM we did find a nearby McDonalds with a 24 hour drive-thru, but when we rode up they said no bikes. We tried to argue, but to no avail. So the Flying K gas station min-mart got our business instead – a Lunchable and a granola bar wasn’t quite what I had wanted, but it did the trick.
In Eatonville on our return leg Joe and I were at a Shell station waiting for Mike when two SIR riders drove up (Bob Brudvick and Chris). They had just finished the Cascade Bike Club’s High Pass Challenge that went along much of our day one route from Packwood and then along NF-25. It was nice to chat with them. They updated us on where Mike was, as they had talked with him a little ways back.
Drivers were mostly good, but it seems there are always a few rotten apples. I was shot with an air gun shortly before Sandy, Oregon. The shock was worse than the sting. There were a few obnoxious drivers between Eatonville and Buckley on day three. Joe got so mad at one that he tried to chase him down …fortunately for both he didn’t catch them.
Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my! Okay, we didn’t see any of those, but riding through several national forests and places like Elk Pass (elev 4,094) and Eagles Cliff gave us plenty of opportunity to appreciate the wildlife. Coming down from Oldman Pass (elev 3,061) at night as I waited for Mike and Joe (I didn’t know this, but Joe’s GPS had fallen off and they were looking for it back up the road a ways) I didn’t see anything, but my imagination had all sorts of bears and cougars lurking a few feet away. I saw a group of buzzards pick at the carcass of a deer in eastern Oreg on as I ground my way up towards Bennett Pass (elev 4,659). I heard the grass rip as a cow tore away a mouthful to munch on. An owl flirted away at dusk. Young males postured and howled at each other as we rode past a bar in Portland’s St.John’s area (okay, not traditional wildlife, but definitely wild).
As I write this I’m flying over part of the ride on my way to San Diego. It is quite impressive to see the distance we rode and many of the roads and towns from 36,000 feet up. What took us a day and a half to ride (Redmond, WA to Government Camp, OR), we flew in about 45 minutes. I don’t recommend flying the day after finishing a 1,000 K ride, but at least I was upgraded to first class. It helped lessen the pain.
The week before the pre-ride, on the Mt Baker 200 K ride, I had asked several SIR riders what advice they had for a newbie about to embark on their first 1,000 K ride. It was all helpful, but the best advice came from Mark Thomas – enjoy the ride. I did !