This weekend was the SIR Spring 600K ride. It was awesome, perhaps epic. Brad Tilden and the support crew did a fantasic job. They were amazing. Thank you! For those not familiar with the course, it is 375 miles from Issaquah over Stevens Pass (4,000 feet) to Leavenwoth, then over Blewett Pass (4,100 feet) to Ellensberg, then through the Yakima River Canyon to Selah (by Yakima), then up towards White Pass for the stop at abou 400 K 250 miles). Day two starts with a climb the rest of the way up White Pass (4,500 feet), then down and then back up to Cayuse Pass at 4,700 feet. From there it is a "stroll in the park", another 90 miles or so to Issaquah via Enumclaw.
Talking at the start of the ride we were hoping for an awesome ride. Awesome, but not epic. The course, the support, the views, and the riders were awesome. The weather, on the other hand bordered on epic. Thursday's forecast for Friday and Saturday was, to say the least, concerning:
"This new system is expected to drop as much as 1-2 feet of snow in the Cascades and Olympics above 5,500 feet, with general snow levels dropping as low as 3,500 feet. That can result in hazards for mountaineering and travel in the high backcountry with poor visibility, cold temperatures and potential avalanche dangers once again. It also means those driving Stevens Pass, Chinook Pass, Washington Pass, and the roads to Paradise and Hurricane Ridge could see snow and poor visibility, although snow totals should be 3" or less."
While snow fortunately did not materialize (it is back in the forecast though), it was unseasonably cold, the start of the ride was wet, and it was windy. Oh, and did I say windy? More on that later.
The ride started at Brad Tilden's house in Issaquah at 5:00 AM. The first part of the ride up to Skykomish on US-2 was for the most part on familiar roads, the exception being taking Ames Lake Road to head over to West Sammamish Valley Road due to the Tolt Bridge construction. These are great low-traffic rural roads. While it started out basically dry, it soon turned wet and chilly. The socks stayed wet all day.
The mist/rain would continue until we got a few miles past Stevens Pass around mid-day. While we had ridden over Stevens Pass on the 400K a few weeks earlier, heading East instead of West is a much tougher climb. While there fortunately wasn't any fresh snow, it was cold and wet. Then the ride down from the summit was verrry cold. Fortunately the sky turn blue just as we were turning blue, thawing us out a bit. There was even a bit of a favorable tailwind on our way into Leavenworth.
After a lunch break in Leavenworth, it was on to Blewett Pass. As we turned off US-2 onto 97, we were hit with a blast of wind. A taste of things to come? Fortunately it didn't last all that long, but did come back periodically. Still, with the now sunny skys it didn't affect our disposition ... much. It was a long, slow climb up to Blewett, but when we made it to the top, there was Brad Tilden with food, drink, and chairs. Those chairs sure felt good. The tent shook in the wind ... it sure seemed like it was going to blow away. The ride down was nice, but into a periodic head/crosswind that shaved a few mph off the ride.
At 970, we turned towards Ellensburg. I was expecting a headwind given the strong cross gusts I'd just been hit with. I was pleasantly surprised by a strong tailwind that actually helped push us up the hill for the first few miles, then a great push into Ellensburg ... mid-30's on a long, long downhill, without much pedaling. That was great! And pretty landscapes to boot.
After some food in Ellensberg, it was off to the Yakima River Canyon. What a gorgeous ride! Fortunately we were headed downstream, unlike the 2002 riding of this course, which was in the other direction. For a fantastic story about that ride, ask Peter Beeson about his run-in with a skunk and his calling AAA for a tow in the middle of the night.
After setting up for night riding, Dave Harper and I rode through Selah and then went onto US-12. This is where the ride went downhill ... figurately speaking. It was now dark and US-12 has rumble strips on the shoulders ... these take up most of the shoulders ... with a relatively narrow and sometimes non-existent strip that could be ridden on. Perhaps it could be ridden on during daylight ... where one could see the glass (there was a fair amount of that) ... and if it wasn't windy and if we weren't tired. As it was, we kept trying to ride there, then would give up and ride the white line, then give up and bbbbounce bbback over to try again. It got old quickly. As US-12 is four lanes at this point, with a fair amount of fast traffic, it was not a pleasant experience. After Naches, it got nasty. The wind really picked up. Sometimes a headwind, sometimes a cross-wind, never consistent, but always strong ... STRONG. So strong that at one point earlier in the day it stood Bob Brudvik up. It would push us into the traffic lane, it made it very slow going. At the 410/US-12 interchange, we finally were able to get shelter and rest at a much needed food stop/control. The support team was great ... the food was fantastic.
A few minutes of rest and sustenance and we were back on our way ... at 11:15 PM and 25 miles to go to the overnight control. The sky was clear and the stars were oh so clear. One wanted to just sit and look at them. What a fantastic sight. But no, we had to push on. However, it wasn't so simple. We were tired ... weaving back and forth as we tried to stay awake. Finally, Dave says he's going to pull over and nap but I should go on. Dave ends up taking 5 naps along the way before he finally makes it to the overnight. I push on ... I must have ridden 30 miles instead of the 25 given all the weaving I did. Fortunately there was virtually no traffic at this point. I tell myself just make it to the next mile post, then the next, then the next, and finally ... the overnight.
I pull in and it is like the Ritz Carlton ... being pampered left and right by the control support team. They take care of my bike, bring me food, drink, as they bring me back to a state of near normalacy. They were awesome ! Finally feeling somewhat concious, I head to my room, take a shower and fall into bed. Shortly before my alarm was to go off, I wake up and realize I now had two roommates, including one in bed with me. I was so out of it I hadn't heard them come in. I get up, take my stuff out to the hall and finish dressing there so hopefully I don't wake them. Then breakfast - the support folks have a nice spread with pancakes, sausage, yogurt, oj, and some other stuff. Fantastic. Some of them are taking a well deserved nap. Then it is time to hit the road shortly before six.
By comparison to Saturday's ride, Sunday's is a piece of cake - at least after the first forty miles. The weather is nice, there is only one and a half passes to climb (Cayuse and the last part of White Pass), and "only" about 200K to ride. Saturday had Stevens Pass, Blewett Pass, and the first part of White Pass, it was 400K, and there was that horrid headwind. Still, there was eight miles of climbing up to White Pass, twelve miles zipping/freezing downhill, then warming up with hot chocalate at the US-12/SR-123 intersection control ... thank you guys!. From there it was sixteen miles up to Cayuse Pass, which was the highest of the passes at 4700 feet. That took a long time, slow and steady, slow and steady through miles of forest and mountains. Oh, the views! Finally, when we're thinking we can't handle much more of this, we get to the top. Time to bundle up. Then a great rush down the first part of the downhill. From there, around midday now - it turned into a long, slower than expected ride - a bit of a headwind to offset the gentle downgrade to Greenwater. After a bit of lunch and stocking up on water, we're off for the final push to Issaquah ... including, as Peter B put it, a "Victory Lap" around Lake Sammamish.
Today the weather is nice, the scenery gorgeous, and the camaradrie wonderful. This is why we ride!