Sunday, May 11, 2008

SIR Spring 400k Pre-Ride: Dubuque..The WALL

Six of us rode the 400K pre-ride yesterday: Brian, John, Erik, Thai, Mark T, and me. Galvin had planned to join us and was there at 5:00 AM all dressed, with bike, but no helmet. As none of us had an extra helmet, he wisely decided to postpone his ride till next weekend. After a few words about the course from Brian, off we went. The plan had been to split into two groups ... the fast (Brian & John) and the not-so fast (the rest of us). Brian had a wheel issue within the first mile, so while they stopped to deal with that, Mark and I plodded onward, figuring they'd catch us soon enough anyway. Mark and I were climbing at different paces, so I forged on ahead. Brian and John soon caught up, zipped past me on the way up to Snoqualmie Pass. I never saw them again.

Road conditions were pretty good. Interstate riding seems safer than many other types of riding, as the shoulders are very wide. The shoulders were free of snow and there wasn't much debris. The dangerous areas are the on/offramps, where extra care is required, and then one narrow bridge at mile 47, just before Cle Elum. The bridge shoulder is only 1.5 feet wide (narrow), so you end up in the lane. Obviously this takes extra caution ... timing to ensure you aren't pulling in front of a semi or other traffic. Fortunately it is a relatively short bridge (150' or so) and as you will be quite motivated, the exposure is short lived. There is a bit of construction just before this, but as long as the barrels are to the side (which they were for us) it isn't an issue. Thai noted there is a bike detour at exit 78 around this, but I didn't see it.

Blewitt was also a breeze. By and large the climb was quite reasonable ... long to be sure, but steady and gradual. The shoulders on 97 were generally nice and wide and also for the most part free of debris. The exception was on the way down from the summit ... there were 3-4 places where a few rocks had tumbled down from the hillside (aka cliff) and were on the shoulder. It will be important to keep your eyes on the shoulder to avoid these ... at 30-35 mph it wouldn't be pretty. The good news is there were only a few and they were easy to see ... assuming you are looking! There was a bit of road kill ... a couple of deer thay had probably gotten in Brian/John's path!

Turning onto US-2 we ran into one of the few areas of poor road conditions. There is construction going on ... probably for less than a mile. The road surface is great ... newly paved blacktop ... but the shoulder is practically non-existent. The climb up wasn't too bad ... felt a bit tougher than Blewitt, probably a bit steeper at times, but then it may be just that it was the third of the three passes. There wasn't any snow on the road at the summit (lots just off the road ... it does cool you down ... especially on the way down). The ride down from the summit is fast and cold. Watch out for the grates at the side of the road, especially at the sharp U curve at the bottom. After that, the shoulder disappears a few times and there are a number of narrow bridges & one short shoulderless tunnel on the way down. Not much road debris ... I did hit some just before Zeke's/Gold Bar.

As to the other major concern ... food. According to Thai, the pie at Liberty Café (hwy 97) was worth the wait. He and Erik also stopped at the Deli (& Liquor) in Skykomish, opened 8-8PM on Saturday, across from Chevron. Sandwiches made to order by pre-filling a form, and they have nice warm soup. Lots to eat at Leavenworth and since the control is at a Subway, I figure you are set there. The next logical spot (and last one for quite a while) is at Sultan. There are numerous choices ... just before the main part of Sultan is a McDonalds and a Subway. In town there is a Bakery that is open till 8:00 PM for dinner (although they often close early!). At the turn to Old Owen Road was another restaurant, although I don't know how late it is open.

Now don't eat too much ... on the way out of town up Old Owen Road and the first part of Reiner Road is quite a hill! At the top of the hill, just when you start to catch your breath, you may run into (or be chased by) a dog ... at least I was. It wasn't one of those "I'm going to bark and run at you a few paces" type dogs. It was the Blondie "One Way or Another, I'm getcha, getcha, getcha" type. On the plus side it got me going again.

Climbing Snoqualmie Pass, Blewitt Pass, and Stevens Pass wasn't as tough as I had expected. Tiring to be sure, but nothing killer. The climbs were pretty much steady and gradual. My challenge was the last half of Dubuque beginning at about mile 195. The first part of Dubuque was wonderful ... generally a gradual downhill and quite gorgeous. While I knew there were hills ahead ... I've ridden this part several times as part of Permanent 359 Woodinville - Granite Falls - Woodinville ... and been sworn at by Narayan for the hills ... I think I was lulled into complacency by the first part of Dubuque and the fact that I'd already ridden 200 miles over three mountain passes ... what can a few hills do? Just past Creswell Road is the first one. Shortly past that, just before 171st, I thought the road turned a bit and there was a barn or house straight ahead (it was getting a bit dark at this point, although still "daylight"), but no, it wasn't the side of a house ... it was a hill! Buckle on the crampons and tie into the rope line. Fortunately it wasn't all that long, but it was quite a grade. A bit past that were a couple of rolling hills ... deep U's ... if you went down one side fast enough you'd make it 2/3rds the way up the other side and then have to peddle the rest. I was really glad to be done with Dubuque! Even the climb up to Snoqualmie Falls was a piece of cake after that.

The rest of the ride was pretty straight-forward ... aside from Paradise Lake Road, the roads were ones we've ridden many times (at least for me) ... no major surprises. Watch out for bad railroad tracks on Yew Way ... they grabbed Thai! Only other issue was a bit of road construction on North Bend Way just past the QFC. Unpaved for 0.1 mile or so and riding between cones on a curvy lane in the dark was a bit disconcerting. North Bend Way seemed to go on forever, but I suppose that was just that it was the end of the ride.

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