Sunday, August 31, 2008

Mountain 600K Pre-ride: All Creatures Great and Small

I pre-rode the Mountain 600K ride this Saturday and Sunday. Jan Heine and Ryan Hamilton put together what was billed as a "fitting finale to a season that carried the motto "Return to the Mountains"" and that "will challenge all riders". Seeing the course ... up to Paradise on Mt. Rainier (5,400 feet), up to Windy Ridge on Mt. St. Helens (4,035 feet), up White Pass (4,500 feet) , and up Chinook Pass (5,438 feet) ... it was clear they were succesful. The question was, was I up to the challenge? Could I do it within the 40 hour time limit?

I left Eatonville at 4:00 AM. I was well rested, having gone to bed at 5:30 PM, getting up at 2:00 AM. It was cool, but I was well dressed. A new pair of AmFib tights had arrived Friday afternoon, just in time for the ride ... they were warm and wind/rain proof, so I didn't need to bring rain pants. They turned out to be well worth the price.

I was doing the ride solo, but 45 minutes into the ride I had company. A car rode along side with the driver, a young woman, asking me what I was doing, where I was going, etc. After a few minutes, she left, but ten - fifteen minutes later she pulled up again, wanting to know more details. She stopped the car and, after a brief conversation, I took off again. Another ten - fifteen minutes and she showed up again ... promising she wasn't stalking me! Another brief conversation and I left. Fortunately a little later the route took a side road, Mt. Tahoma Canyon Road, so if she was still looking for me she didn't find me!

The first control of the ride was at the Paradise Visitor Center - 5,400 feet up. It had been misting for the past several miles and was foggy. I rode up to the entrance and ... it was closed. It was just after 8:00 AM and the sign said they opened at 10:00. Not a good sign. I tried the door and it was open. Actually, they were open ... at least the climbing desk was ... the store/visitor center part didn't open till 10:00. That was fine with me. I was soon on my way.

The ride down from Paradise was chilly and wet. A badger (or something like that) ran across my path, yipping all the way, less than a mile from the top. After the long climb up I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't let it rip on the way down, but the scenery was so beautiful that I enjoyed it anyway.

Before I knew it, it was a little after 10:00 and I was in Packwood. Along with everyone else. They were having Packwood Days or something like that. There were booths up and down US-12 and lots of folks out for the day. One advantage of that was the Shell station had someone outside making sure no one parked there without going to the store. I made a snap decision and had him sign the card and left without getting any supplies ... the next control was only 16 miles away.

At Randle, the next control, I resupplied and prepared for the climb up to Windy Ridge on Mt. St Helens, 33 miles ahead. The past thirty miles had been basically downhill, but now the tables were turned and it was uphill. Between the change in grade and the warming of the day, it was time to take off the tights and jacket. Ten miles from the control was the turn to FR-26 ... but there was a sign saying the road was closed due to washout 14 miles ahead. Oh shucks! I knew that FR-99 (the last road to Windy Ridge) was closed to cars, but the route sheet doesn't say anything about this. I wasn't about to ride 14 miles uphill just to find out if it was passable or not. Since the planned route was to go up FR-26, join FR-99 to Windy Ridge, then come back via FR-99 and FR-25, I decided to go up FR-25 and then hopefully find a ranger or someone to find out if 26 was passable. So up I went.

While I have seen pictures of Mt. St Helens before, I had never been there. Pictures don't do it justice. The power that was unleashed to wipe out the miles and miles of trees must have been amazing. It was nice to have miles of road closed to cars, but the condition of the road precluded letting it rip on the downhills - there were periodic cracks in the road, boulders, landslides, etc. I made it to Windy Ridge by about 3:30 PM. It was windy (maybe that's where the name comes from), and there were threatening clouds, so I took a couple pictures and left.

I did run into a few bikers and asked them if 26 was passable ... they said it was, so I headed that way. They were right. I was able to make it through, but there were several patches of gravel, bushes overgrowing the already narrow road, and one complete washout. The picture shows the washout, taken towards the way the riders will be coming from. For them it will be at the bottom of a downhill, so hopefully they will take it easy on the way down so they can stop in time! After that the roads were better, albeit with a few short patches of gravel, and I was rolling down the mountain ... enjoying the scenery and the grade!

I rolled into Packwood again at 7:00 PM. I was just about half-way done ... two of the four climbs and 180 of the 380 miles done. Sunset was just before 8 and it was going to be sixty some miles over White Pass with no services until the next control. So I ate a sub sandwhich, called home to check in, prepared my second bottle of multi-hour Sustained Energy, and got ready for night time riding. Forty-five minutes later, I headed out.

A few miles outside of town I saw a pair of elk alongside the road. They stared at me as I stopped and took a picture ... which only shows a pair of eyes and an outline of the two ... oh well, it was dusk after all. Then the climbing started. On the Cascade 1200, when I climbed White Pass in the 90 degree heat, I had to stop several times. Tonight was not nearly so bad ... not as hot, for sure. It was a slow and steady climb. The sky was clear and the stars vivid. What a wonderful opportunity to be here! Several times I saw little field mice running along the road, caught in my bike light. When I finally made it to the top, while I had been comfortably warm, I soon chilled. I put on my hat, gloves, and the tights back on. Just after the top I startled a skunk was less than ten feet away from me with its business end pointed at me. As we left each other's company, I sniffed ... did it spray me? If it did, it must have missed me due to the wind. That's a relief!

In seven miles is one of the turns that is easy to miss ... and at this point I had turned off my Garmin GPS as it was just about at the end of the regular battery life. I've made this turn before, but it wasn't dark then. I figured by watching the mileposts I could estimate where it would be and would be okay. I found it and then turned on the GPS to confirm. Dead battery, so I went to the backup battery charger ... which has to be connected while it charges, so isn't a great setup, as I don't have it charging on the bike mount, but in the bento bag. Still, I was able to use it periodically over the next twelve miles of winding roads to confirm I was on the right one. Being in the middle of the mountains, in the middle of the night, in the cold, it was very reassuring.

Soon I was back on US-12 with a clear cut route down the mountain to the next control in Naches. The question was would there be anything open? While I probably had enough food and water to go through, it would be better to resupply and would be nice to rest a bit ... it was another eighty miles or so to the next confirmed set of services in Greenwater.

I pulled into Naches just after 2 AM and there was an open Shell Station mini-mart. They even had some bananas - no chairs though. I resupplied and asked if there was a Post Office nearby ... there was just a few blocks away on 3rd street. So I headed there and went inside. Warmth! The wind was howling outside, but I was able to sit and rest for a bit on a bench. Didn't sleep, but refreshing nonetheless. Eatonville wasn't getting any closer as I sat there, so at 3 AM I decided it was time to go. I had caught myself wanting to drift off a couple of times before Naches, so I took a caffeine pill to guard against nodding off while I was riding.

The route out of town was along the back roads, and on a couple of gravel roads (which will be changed for the regular ride). The howling wind, which had helped push me the last few miles into Naches, was no help as I headed back into the mountains. It didn't stop me, but did blow me to the side a few times. Fortunately it didn't blow for all that long - ten miles or so at most - and I was able to make steady progress.

Dawn soon arrived. I made it to the Shell station at Cliffdell at 5:45 AM, but they didn't open until 6:00 AM, so I continued on. It was only 27 miles to the top of Chinook Pass, but I didn't get there till 9:00 AM. Aside from the last five miles, it was relatively easy riding - not fast, but very enjoyable. A few deer saw me and then bounded away. Wish I had their energy! The last five miles or so were tiring ... not that they were all that steep, but steeper and it was the fourth major climb and my legs let me know it. Fortunately there were only four major climbs and soon that was history! At the top there were a few snowflakes and then the descent.

After a few miles of descending I had cold rain in my face, but that only lasted twenty minutes or so and I was able to make steady progress. At Greenwater it was time (past time!) for a good breakfast, so I pulled into Buzzy's Cafe and had a great breakfast of bacon, eggs, and hash browns. Really hit the spot. Left there about 11:30.

A monsoon shower struck when I got to Buckly. What a downpour! Glad I had my new tights. It poured until I got to the next control in Wilkeson, mile 347. I stopped at the first opportunity, a gas station that is usually closed on Sundays but was open because the owner was painting. While I was there it stopped, so I headed out quickly. The route from here to 162 was one I hadn't been on before ... and turns out to be a figment in the Microsoft Streets & Trips imagination. After a mile or two of wandering unsigned, hilly, gravel and pothole laiden back roads I came to a dead-end. I was at the right place ... the gps showed the intersection, but the connecting road was down a hilly, wooded path/driveway with a security camera on it. That's why we pre-ride. This is not a route we'll take. So I got a few bonus miles.

Soon I was back on track and headed down the last 20 miles to Eatonville. I finally made the last turn off of Orville Road onto 161. I had been dreading this hill for a while ... and had decided I'd walk it. So I got off and started walking up. What a pain! So I got back on the bike and rode to the end, arriving at 5:00 PM. I had made it! 380 miles, four major climbs, in 37 hours. Yes, I was tired, but it had been well worth it.


Robert H said...

Wow. This is looking like a hell of a ride. I must admit, I am getting nervous!

matt m said...

Great report, Geoff!!

I'm looking forward to this ride as well; it's gonna be one hell of a story-generator..

Ryan Hamilton said...

Thanks for doing some of the early scouting of this ride. Here is my pre-ride report: