Nine of us headed out of Ephrata yesterday morning on the 400K pre-ride. Seven of us finished within time, one DNF, and one finished outside of the time limit. It is a great course, with some wonderful new roads. First some lessons learned and then some ride highlights.
1. Even if the forecast is for nice weather, it still gets darn cold on the first descents and then late at night. The forecast was for a high of 71 ... and it probably hit it, but I darn near froze my fingers, toes, and ears off on the descent into Moses Coulee after the climb out of Ephrata to get started. Then it cooled off rapidly after dark.
2. If you abandon the ride or are going to be way outside the control times, call Mike or Shane - phone #'s are on the route sheet. Not calling means (1) volunteers wasting time waiting for you at controls, (2) folks worrying and possibly looking for you on the course while you may be snug in a motel bed.
3. While there is plenty of climbing - slightly over 12,000 feet of climbing - there are only two nasty climbs that are likely tough for tandems (i.e. 10+% grades). At the end of the Columbia River Road into Nespelum and leaving Coulee Dam. Maybe half-way down the Loup Loup descent there is a noticeable climb. If you build up some extra speed you can make it up a bit more of the climb - certainly not all of it - but it will make it a tad easier.
4. Food choices along the route are pretty slim - aside from normal convenience store fare. There is a restaurant in Pateros at the Chevron (along with normal convenience store stuff) that we had a decent sit down breakfast at. There was a cafe (Tims) advertising breakfast served all day in Carlton (shortly before the turn up to Loop Loop). The 24 hr Conoco in Omak choices were pretty limited and unappealing to me (burritos, corn dogs, & similar greasy fare) - other than the pre-made (maybe this month sometime) sandwiches. There was a Mexican restaurant along the way before that, but other choices would be off-route (north of town a ways). After Omak your choices (outside SIR controls) will be limited unless you a fairly fast (Nespelum had a grocery store that closes at 8:00 PM) and Coulee Dam had a Safeway that closes at 10.
5. It is possible to call home from the top of Loup Loup pass and wave to them via the DOT web cam.
6. For most riders (aside from the really fast/slow), there will most likely not be anything open in Ephrata to get food after the ride, so plan ahead. Wanda's Country Kitchen is a great place for breakfast in Ephrata after the ride. They open at 6:00 AM. It is a block and a half north from the start on the main drag.
7. Read the route sheet and look at the course on the map beforehand so you have a concept of where you are going. There aren't many turns of the route, but if you miss one, it can be many miles before you hit the next town/intersection and you could end up with a lot of bonus miles. It seems obvious, but remember to look at the route sheet on the course and if you have a GPS, remember to turn it on.
8. Moses Coulee is not Moses Lake. While there are lots of stores in Moses Lake, there are none in Moses Coulee. Do not plan on getting supplies in Moses Coulee.
We started right at 5:00 AM and were joking about how hard it would be to mess up the turns on the course since there were so few (ten in that version). Of course we then promptly messed up on the first turn, turning one block too soon since the route sheet said immediately turn instead of at 2nd light. Oops.
It seemed relatively warm when we started and we certainly warmed up quickly climbing out of Ephrata. We soon split into our riding pattern - Tom Martin out front, Bob, Mark, Tom Brett, Matt D, Mike, and myself, and then Narayan and Duane riding in the back. At the end of the climb, we descended into Moses Coulee, which was much, much colder. Relying on the forecast of a nice day and the presumption that we'd be warm from the starting climb, I hadn't put on a hat nor full-fingered gloves. Big mistake. I was very uncomfortable - fingers in the armpit has limited effectiveness.
Moses Coulee was great riding, practically no cars, and had great views ... a far cry from all the greenery in Western Washington rides. We saw a Coyote ... and it raced off when it saw Bob's Red Booties.
From Moses Coulee we climbed up to Farmer, then turned north for 14 miles of gentle climbing ... and field and fields. One can see for miles and miles and it is almost all the same. Only a few cars.
We made it to the top of McNeil Pass. Now for the descent! It was a great descent ... smooth road surface, no sharp turns. It was a blast. There was a dog then came out and challenged us ... it wasn't an issue for the first ones down ... be fast or be slow! At the bottom was our first opportunity for water - Beebe St Park. From there we road along the Columbia on 97 to Pateros - a lot of traffic, but great shoulders and no meaningful climbs. At Pateros we sat down for a meal ... this was going to be one of the few opportunities and after 75 miles we were ready. Shane and Chantel, who were providing ride support, showed up while we were eating and gave us an update.
Then it was time to start up the Methow Valley. There were two groups of dark clouds where we were headed - definitely raining. Would we be riding into it? Looked that way, but we managed to ride between the showers - only got a few drops and only a short stretch of wet pavement. We made it to Carlton - shortly before the turn up to Loop Loop. The store seemed reasonably well stocked and even had a few deli sandwiches. We regrouped there. They had a few bikes hanging around ... this one had a motor assist that might come in handy going up Loup Loup (is that legal?). It took 1 hr 10 min to 1 hr 25 min to climb up Loop Loop from the turn onto 20 to the top for those in our group - Matt dropped back and started riding separately at this point... then another fun descent. We couldn't open it up as much on this descent as the McNeils Canyon descent, but it was fun just the same. When we finally made it to Okanagan, it seemed to take forever to get to the control in Omak ...and it was not a high quality stop. Covered the basics - but not much more. Dark clouds were approaching as we left ...they were headed our direction ... would we outrun them?
We had 41 miles of riding before our next turn ... not only were we riding into some blue sky, but some gorgeous scenery and wonderful roads ... very little traffic. A couple of climbs, but well worth it. Mike and Shane have found a real gem.
Bob started a stampede ... those red booties. He made up for it shortly thereafter. We made it to Nespelum a few minutes after the store closed, but he sweet talked the clerk to let us in as she unlocked the door to let out a customer. I'm sure it was the red booties that were the clincher. It was getting dark as we left the store, so we prepped for night riding ... jackets & hats on.
Before long we were in Coulee Dam ... and a particularly
nasty climb out of town past the dam. But it was well worth it. At the edge of town Shane and Chantel had set up a control that was fantastic. Sandwiches, soup, beverages, & chairs. We stayed longer than we should have, but left feeling quite refreshed. Thank you Shane & Chantel !
One more stop ... at the Dry Falls Visitor Center ... to stock up on water and take advantage of heated bathrooms (open 24 hrs). Then only 24 miles to go ... we finished at 2:34 AM.
Tom Martin finished about 5 AM ... a wrong turn (GPS turned off) and something like 50 bonus miles meant he finished after us. Matt Dalton finished about 5:15 AM. Narayan DNF'd, running out of food at the end of the Columbia River Road. Duane finished at 9:30 AM, outside the 8:00 AM limit.