Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Cascade 1200: Living the Dream !

What a glorious time !

Where to start?

The first is to recognize the organizers - Mark Roehrig, Don Boothby, and Joe Llona, along with RBA Mark Thomas, and the numerous SIR volunteers ... too many to name, but each and every one very much appreciated. You made the ride! Thank You!

Then some background - what is the Cascade 1200? It is a 772 mile (1240K)ride over four days (93 hours) through Washington state put on by SIR - Seattle International Randonneurs. It starts east of Seattle in Monroe, goes down Western Washington to US-12, where it goes over the Cascade Mountains via White Pass, overnights in Naches, goes back up into the Cascades, then back down and then east of Yakima, north up in eastern Washington to an overnight in Quincy, then on day three from Quincy over Loop Loop pass to an overnight in Mazama, then on day four over the gorgeous North Cascades Highway, returning to Monroe. It is not for the casual cyclist! 17 of 57 1200 riders DNF'd.

Waiting for the ride to start is one of the hardest parts ... but finally it is time to go. What next? Not more than half a mile down the road ... a train! More waiting.


Day 1 - Climbing up White Pass in the heat

I'm from Seattle. If it gets to 75, I start whining about the heat. I love to ride when it is in the 50's. On Saturday, by the time we got to Randle on US-12 (mile 142) at about 3:00 PM it was in the 90's. Joe and son Jesse were there at the secret control with water and ice socks. What is an ice sock you may ask? It is simply a sock filled with ice. You put it on the back of your neck and it cools you down as it melts. You can ride with it to keep you from overheating. I had never experienced one before ... thought it was a bit weird, but I am here to tell you it is better than sliced bread! The catch is on a day like today it only lasts for about 10 miles. It was gone before I got to Packwood. 17 miles up the road.

When I got to Packwood, I went into the convenience store, bought a cold drink, some gatorade, some water, and ice to refill the sock. The clerk asked me to take a drink before paying ... I was so shaky. A volunteer (sorry, forgot her name) refilled my Camelback and topped off my other water bottles while I caught my breath ... stopped shaking ... and then headed up US-12 to White Pass - another 20 miles up the road. I would have loved to sit a while longer, but I firmly believe in minimizing time at the controls ... I may not be a fast rider, but I'm a persistent rider.

Anyway, the ice sock ran out before the mountain did. I kept going for a while longer, but with perhaps 7-8 miles to go I simply had to stop and recover some. I found some shade and sat down, eating, drinking, and recovering for 5 minutes or so. I felt so much better, but enough of that. Back to the bike. Another couple of miles and an SIR Oasis! It wasn't a mirage, it was Don Boothby with water, watermelon, and more ice. I was saved! While I didn't sit down, I restocked and left refreshed and renewed. Still, there was a long ways to go, and the heat wore me down before I made it to the top. Then I picked up a hitchhiker. A bee started crawling around the visor on my helmet, right in front of my eyes. I didn't want to try and swat it - hard to do when you're plodding up a hill - and certainly didn't want to annoy it and get stung! I'll just ignore it. A few minutes later and it departs.

One more stop by the side of the road to catch my breath - renew my energy - with a couple of miles to go and then on to the top. I made it to the top just after 7 PM. I had passed two cars broken down along the side of the road - they had overheated - I had survived!

From the top it was a short eleven miles to the SIR control at Clear Lake, where SIR volunteers Dave & Cathi Read and Mike Norman gave me some soup and revitalized me. A short while later I was on my way to the overnight control at Naches Middle School - 35 miles down the road. As I got ready for a refreshing ... and much needed ... shower, I noticed how my black riding shorts were covered with white streaks - all the salt I had sweated out. It was a good thing I had been taking the electrolyte tablets along the way!

Day 2 - Yakima to Mattawa in the heat

I had left the overnight control - Naches Middle School - at about 3:45 AM. I wasn't sleeping well at all and decided to get some riding in while it was relatively cool (at least not hot). Sleeping in a sleeping bag on wrestling mats in a sweltering gym with a bunch of other people was not one of the high points for me. However, the advantage was I made it to the Fruitvale control just as it started getting really hot - almost half of the days riding down.

After a lunch at Subway, I headed out into the heat ... water topped off and ice sock filled. First comes almost eight miles on the Yakima Greenway trail, avoiding riding through the town itself. I don't avoid a snake in the middle of the path though - not sure if it was dead or alive. The bike path ends and I am ready to leave Yakima and head into the nothingness of eastern Washington's heat on SR-24. Fortunately Joe and son Jesse had just pulled in to set up a stop - and refilled my ice sock. I was set. No stores until Mattawa, 58 miles away. Two possible water stops. It was at least in the 90's.

Maybe ten miles later, with my ice sock basically gone, I passed Charlie White, who was off the road cooling off under a great big crop irrigation sprinkler. I lasted a couple more miles, then decided to try it myself. Heaven! Cold and refreshing. Only takes a minute, but what a lift. Then back to the bike. A few miles later - totally dry again and starting to melt - time to find another sprinkler. Unfortunately there weren't too many along the way, but soon there was an SIR oasis. Bob Brudvick and Erik Anderson were there with water, ice, and beverages. With a tent and chairs - shade! How heavenly. But enough of that ... back to the bike. Another 14-15 miles to the Vernita Rest area and water. No irrigation sprinklers along the way, but they were watering the grass at the rest area. What a simple pleasure. And such a relief. The catch with this place is it was across the river from "the hill". Written up in the pre-ride, we knew we had a grueling challenge ahead of us. Not easy to rest with that staring at us. So back to the bike.

A mile ride to the bottom of the hill. It is easily 100 degrees in the shade ... but there is no shade. The sun has been beating on the pavement all day and it is baking. If one could fry an egg on the pavement, today would surely be the day. This is not a gentle grade. It is a 10 % grade. Steep. I contemplate walking up the hill. But no. I'm going to ride up the hill. Not quickly. No attacking this hill. It is putting it in the granny gear and slowly, persistently climbing. Progress. Simply making progress. Making it to the top before melting ... fainting. Heat exhaustion ... heat stroke ... these are definite possibilities. Drink water ... more water ... keep pedaling ... a few more turns of the crank. Soon I'm well on the way up ... and I can see a rider down below, having crossed the bridge and headed for the hill. I've made progress and then ... I'm to the top. Success!

But what's next? I look ahead and there is basically just five miles or so of sagebrush, flat, gentle rolling hills, with some crops way up ahead. A derelict car of the side of the road. Hot. Dry. Can I make it another 12 miles to the next control - Mattawa? I think I have enough water, but it is so hot. I begin to wonder about heat exhaustion. I know I can't last much longer like this. And then ... irrigation sprinklers! I'm saved! I pull over, get off my bike, walk into the field, and under the sprinkler. What relief! It doesn't take long and I'm feeling renewed. So back to the bike. A couple miles more ... a couple more irrigation showers. Then the final turn before the control ... only seven more miles. I can make it!

Mike Norman, son Bennett and friend Kendal, have just set up a control and provide food, drink, and especially ice. I think I'll live.

From Mattawa to the overnight control in Quincy was another 41 miles. With the help of the ice sock and a refill at a store along the way, Charlie White and I made it in before dark. Eamon Stanley fixed up my bike ... it had been giving me trouble with the chain skipping along the way. His fixes made the next two days much easier.

Day 3 - Loop Loop Pass Climb

Charlie White and I left Quincy at about 2:45 AM. We had ridden in together shortly before 9:00 PM and decided that getting in as much riding during the "cool" morning hours was our best bet. We made it to Ephrata about 4:00 AM - it was a chilly? 82 degrees. We rode through the Coulee to Dry Falls, arriving there a little while after Mark Thomas set up the secret control with water and a few snacks. A pause to rest after the climb ... a little while earlier we had been down by the water.

A bit of high clouds were just what the doctor ordered ... it stayed relatively cool - 80's? until after the Farmer control. It didn't really start to get really hot for us until we road down into Bridgeport at around mile 101. We stopped in Bridgeport for water, then had lunch at McDonalds in Brewster, filling up our ice socks before the 15 miles to Malott - the last control of the day prior to the overnight. Before we left McDonalds, Charlie had a conversation with a nice guy who was telling us about his son's fruit stand. He started giving Charlie directions to it, saying it was about twenty miles out of our way (each way) ... I'll take two cases of apples please, just put them on the back of the bike! Somehow we forgot to go there.

Charlie's plan was to rest in Malott for several hours (we got there a bit before 3:00 PM), letting it cool down a bit before tackling the climb. He'd done the ride a couple of times before, so knew what was ahead. After two nights of "sleeping" on gym floors, and knowing that there were real beds waiting for us in Mazama, I decided to go for it. It was "only" 17 miles to the top. Having left early, we were basically at the front edge of the SIR support ... the Malott control was not yet manned, so there might not be water stops along the way. Still, I can't rest knowing there is something to be done. So I filled up my Camelback with ice/water, filled up my water bottle, prepared the ice sock, and hit the road.

The first four miles were pretty reasonable ... hot for sure, but the ice sock was keeping that under control. I turned onto SR-20 and John Vincent drove past, asking if I wanted some ice. Most definitely. While I still had some, I knew it wouldn't last long. So John topped off the ice sock and then drove off. A quarter mile up the road I could see the climb really steepen - here we go. Hot and steep. What a lovely combination. It stayed that way for a mile or two ... hard to keep track of distances. Very little shade at this point in the climb. Eventually the grade lessened and then ... a downhill? Now rationally one realizes that going downhill when you are climbing up a pass isn't really a good thing, as it means you are going to have to go back up what you are now going down. However, it felt so good! But ... payback time soon arrives and we are back headed up the climb. The good news is that now we are in the trees so there is more shade. Still hot, but the occasional shade provides some relative relief. The ice sock is now history, but the Camelback provides relief, as the ice in it melts slowly, so the water is nice and cool. I drink plenty of it and soon I'm half way up. With maybe six - seven miles to go, Mark Roehrig drives by and stops, offering water and ice. As he fills up the ice sock, Joe drives by, stopping momentarily. He's going to set up a stop five miles from the top. I decide I don't need water at this point, I'll wait till Joe's water stop in a mile or two.

I head on and am counting down the two miles to go - could be less, but I'm being conservative and assuming the worst - two miles. The climb is slow ... 6 mph or so ... ten minutes per mile. I make it to 5 miles from the top ... no water stop. It should be soon though. Ten minutes later, four miles from the top ... still no water stop. I press on, but soon have to stop and rest for a minute. Then onward again... three mile to go, no stop. I have to rest again. Onward once more ... finally, about two miles from the top ... relief ... Joe and Jesse are there with water, V-8, and ice. I pull over, collapse into a chair and rest for a couple of minutes. They give me some fluids, fill up my ice sock and then send me on my way ... telling me there is 6-7 miles to the top. My gps is telling me only a couple ... I hope it is right. It is! A little more climbing and then ... the top. I've made it.

Near the top is a sign warning of hitting deer - how many have been hit so far this year, along with the $ in damages. From there it is a nice coast down to Twisp, although with the sign in mind I don't go quite as fast and am definately watching for a deer to pop out. I make it to Twisp at about 6:00 PM - without hitting a deer thank you. I get a cold drink, a cheese stick and some chips before laying out in the city park for a few minutes to rejuvenate. Then on to Winslow and finally Mazama. I see four deer crossing the the road between Winthrop and Mazama.

A little while after I get in - after a shower, some dinner, and of course some ice cream, as I lay there in a real bed (feels sooo good!), a thunderstorm rolls through - lots of lighting. Then the power goes out ...supposedly lighting struck a transformer. Then it starts to rain hard. I'm glad I decided not to wait in Malott.

Day 4 - Washington Pass Climb/Descent

The climb up Washington Pass was one of the hardest parts of the ride for me. Not because of the climb itself, but because I couldn't find a comfortable riding position. It is difficult to ride when one is squirming ... sitting on a bike seat for three days - and then the ten day ride around Lake Superior a few days before that - had taken its toll. Tylenol didn't help much.

The good part of this was it gave me plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. The ride was so pretty. The trees, the mountains, the streams, the birds, the flowers. It was all so breathtaking. There are so many different bird chirps/songs. I'm sure someone could tell what birds they were from the songs, but that is beyond me. I just enjoyed the natural orchestra. Then there was the range of water sounds ... gentle drip, drip drip of water coming off rock cliffs. Gurgling rivulets through the woods. Babbling brooks. Rushing streams, hiss of spray. All looking and sounding so different. I could drive by ... I have driven by ... and not noticed the variety. It was stunning.

It is possible to eat an elephant. Not the whole thing at once, but one bite at a time. From the start of day 4 to the top of Washington Pass was 18.6 miles. And the day as a whole was 162 miles. If I focused on that it would be too much. I set much smaller goals. My first challenge was to get 10 % of the way to Washington Pass - 1.86 miles. Then 20 %. Then 25 %. Then 33%. Soon I was two- thirds of the way up - 12.4 miles. A little while later and I had done it. The top of Washington Pass. Sure I had another 143 miles to go, but the hardest part was done. The elephant was being swallowed!

From the top of Washington Pass (elev 5477 ft) it was basically downhill for the next 55 miles to the first control of the day at Marblemount. There were a couple of climbs, most noticeably to Rainy Pass (elev 4855 ft) five miles down the road, but it was just a bump in the road. There was lots of coasting and time to enjoy the scenery again - especially noticeable was the variation in temperature on the way down. Chilly from the wind chill -zipping downhill often in the mid-thirty mph range required putting on the jacket - a nice change from the past few days. Warmth in the sunny parts - frigid as I zipped past a large snow melt stream.

From Newhalem to Marblemount was still downhill, but much less so. I had to pedal constantly now, which was a mix of good and bad news. The bad news was that my feet hurt. The good news was that it meant I didn't think about my butt hurting! At Marblemount I decided to try Advil. Either that worked or perhaps it was the Chile I had for lunch, but whatever it was I soon felt better and my average speed picked up by 3-4 mph, even though I was now headed slightly uphill from Rockport to Darrington.

One of the scariest parts of the ride was just a few miles before the end of the ride. I caught myself talking to myself ... and then actually yelling as I charged down then up one of the last hills. I was losing it.

Then finally the end in sight. Knowing I had made it. No real need to pedal, as it was pretty much downhill the rest of the way. I simply coasted, marveling at the experience, that I had made it.


A few weeks before the ride I was telling someone about my June riding plsns - the SIR 600K, the ride around Lake Superior, and finally the Cascade 1200. They said I was "living the dream" They were right - it has been a fantastic month!

One is often asked after a ride like this - are you glad you did it? Would you do it again? I am definitely glad I did it. It was a fantastic experience - quite a challenge. Will I do it again? Not sure ... one of the most memorable parts of the ride for me was the support from all the SIR volunteers - they are what make the ride possible in so many ways. I suspect that next year I will be doing the ride from that side of the saddle.


tripieper said...

Congratulations Geoff! Great write-up. I hope you do get to experience the ride from the "other side of the saddle" - it is so fun and rewarding to watch and hopefully help other riders "live the dream" - especially when you know what they are experiencing and how much that assistance means. Way to go! Amy Pieper

Donald Boothby said...

Congrats on a fantastic ride, Geoff. You are correct, too, my friend. You are truly "living the dream". Now get lots of rest and we'll see you Saturday!

Robert H said...

Awesome story Geoff.
Beautiful pictures as well.
I am in awe.