Tuesday, June 23, 2009

1,000K Portland to Glacier Pre-ride - No Shoulder to Lean On

An unsupported 1,000 K ride. What an awesome experience. A beautiful ride. Fantastic riding partners! Mark Thomas, Vincent Muoneke, and I pre-rode the Portland to Glacier 1,000K this past weekend. It was great.

The idea of an unsupported 1,000K on unfamiliar roads was intimidating. Yet it is the essence of Randonneuring - according to RUSA ..."Randonneuring is long-distance unsupported endurance cycling." While I love the great support we get at many of the NW Brevets, going back to basics sounded like a great challenge. And it was!

Mechanically we were fortunate ... nothing major along the way. I had a stubborn double flat just outside Stevenson on the morning of the first day ... and we had only gone a few hundred feet leaving the hotel when Mark had a minor issue, so I was a bit concerned with the pattern we were setting. But it turned out fine.

The first day started out a bit drizzly and cool, but soon cleared up and turned warm (80+). There is one stretch where we ride on I-84 ... and due to construction there is one portion that has no shoulder ... we had to ride in the travel lane. That was most unpleasant, but did increase our pace! The other stressful portion that morning was crossing the Bridge of the Gods ... a wet metal grate surface. We almost walked across, but once we had started it was too unsettling to stop.

After a nice breakfast in Lyle (albeit a bit slow ... ), a tail wind kicked in and we more than made up the time we lost due to my flats. We saw a couple of fully loaded bikers headed west ... they were definitely not enjoying the wind the way we were. We caught up with a couple from California on a tandem ... not quite sure how that happened since they were going 30+ much of the time we were with them ... and had a nice stop at Roosevelt. We stocked up on water before we left ... not many sources of that (or anything else) along the route.

At Plymouth, several hours later, we found water (& ice) at the RV park just after turning off SR-14 at the base of the day's one climb. While the climb wasn't particularly difficult, it was lengthy ... but made for a great descent down the other side into Kennewick. Dinner at Subway and stocking up on water again, as no services until the stop for the night in Connell ... 45 miles or so.

The last part of the day was slow ... a gradual climb, a bit of a head wind at times, and we were tired by now. At about mile 212, Mark sinks in to a freshly graded dirt/gravel shoulder ... same shade of dust as the road ... and grinds to a halt. I follow behind, turn a bit to avoid him, and keel over as I can't unclip fast enough. The only damage was to the nerves of the lady driving past us ... she pulls over to make sure we are okay. We are, so everyone continues on. At Connell there are no open restaurants when we arrive ... I finish off the rest of my Subway sandwich and Mark/Vincent polish off some Cups of Soup.

Breakfast was a Ensure, a Lunchable, a V-8, and a Mountain Dew. Not quite a hearty breakfast, but it was okay. Mark and Vincent didn't have much as their stomachs were unsettled, but by the time we got to Washtucna they were ready to eat. There wasn't much to choose from at the little store/cafe, but Mark was able to get his coffee ... that was a big plus.

At Lacrosse folks lined the street to see us go by ... well, that is what it felt like. We were there shortly before a parade was going to go down the main street. We waved. I love this part of the state. From here to the Idaho border is the Paluose. The rolling hills are gorgeous ... especially when they are green and we are going between them, not up them. There was a wonderful valley we rode through shortly before Colfax, where we had lunch at Arbys. We agreed that the roast beef sandwiches were great, but that the curly fries were not.

Tekoe was having a Classic Car show, so we walked our bikes through main street. The street was covered with broken eggs ... residue from the egg toss they had had a little while earlier.

A few miles outside town, right before US-95 in Idaho, was the steepest climb of the day ... fortunately not all that long, with the steep portion probably less than a mile. Maybe half way up we were attacked by three dogs. Being last in line I was closest to them and as they approached I was concerned ... it was a steep grade and I was not getting anywhere fast. I was NOT going to be able to outrun them. My next option, getting in front of Mark so they'd go for him instead didn't seem likely either, as he had a good lead on me (Vincent was practically out of sight). My concern soon dissipated, as the ferocious mutts were tiny little things. While they ran circles around me, they'd jump up and only get a few inches off the ground. It was soon all I could do to stay upright, as I was laughing so hard. I tried to sic them on Mark, but to no avail.

Once we reached US-95 it was mostly downhill to Plummer, the start of the Couer D'Alene bike trail. We ate at the grocery on the left, which had a deli section with some decent choices ... and stocked up on water again.

The trail was wonderful ... several miles of gradual downhill, then flat for miles and miles along the lake and a river valley. Once again we made up time. Eventually it joins up with I-90 and runs through a few small towns that may have had something open, but we smelled the barn and were focused on getting done with the day, so didn't stop. We reached Wallace, our overnight, about 10:30 and stopped at a gas station at the edge of town, scrounging some "food" ... I think I had orange juice, chips, and a lunchable.

Our mistake was not getting something for the morning, as there was nothing in town available when we left at 5:00 AM. So it was an Ensure and a few chips for breakfast. Two mountain passes between us and real food. I have another Ensure after the first pass. We are famished when we finally get to Thompson Falls ... and have a great breakfast at Minnie's Montana Cafe.

The next 75 miles or so (on 200 and 28) are not especially pleasant riding. While the scenery is wonderful, the riding is a bit unnerving at times. There is generally no shoulder. On 200, when there is a shoulder they have put a wide rumble strip in the middle of the shoulder! There is barely enough room to ride on the remaining portion of the shoulder ... and not enough room if there is any debris there. The drivers often do not slow down to pass, but simply (fortunately) move over a bit into the oncoming lane ... with no regard for any oncoming traffic. There were a few times where oncoming traffic was forced partly off the road! You definitely do NOT want to ride this portion at night.

We aimed to stop at Lone Pine Store for dinner & water (50 miles from breakfast), but it was "temporarily closed" when we got there ... and it was going to be another 40 miles before our next chance. bummer! We finally made it to Flathead Lake after a long false flat at the end of 28 ... maybe 600 feet of a gradual climb over 8-10 miles. Disheartening as you think you should be making more progress than you are. Probably partly the lack of food.

Flathead Lake is a mixed blessing. While there is now a nice shoulder, there is nothing flat about the riding ...lots of ups and downs. We finally make it to Lakeside shortly after 9:00 PM and are wiped. Dairy Queen revitalizes us though. We agree we are going to be going slowly from here ... only about 30 miles to go!

About 30 minutes from the end it starts raining hard ... and continues the rest of the way and through till morning. Not a problem though ... we are going to make it, so the rain actually feels good (well, sort of). It was a bit cool .. and actually snowed on the nearby peaks.

We made it!

The next morning we gingerly rode our bikes to the bike store ... they will ship them home. Then off to breakfast at the Buffalo Cafe (highly recommended), then coffee & a snack, then lunch, to the bookstore, and back to coffee & another snack. Food was high on our list! We had chosen to fly home, so it was soon time to head for the airport and the end of our adventure. Time to start planning our next one!

Monday, June 8, 2009

SIR 600K Preride - Or how I never met a Contol I didn't like

Time management is usually an important element in managing one's ride. Not so on this ride. A relatively flat ride ... especially the first day (6,200 feet of climbing over 255 miles) allows one the opportunity to put a lot of time in the bank ... or not, if they choose to spend the time along the way. On this weekend's pre-ride, we were not miserly with our time. In a spree that would do my wife proud, we spent our time like Congress doles out stimulus money ...

My first clue that we would not be setting any personal bests for the course was when we made an unscheduled stop for coffee in Port Orchard. It wasn't just that we were stopping, but that the barista (and I use the term loosely) wrote down each order on a post-it note. Now that was actually a good thing, as when Mark went back up to her several minutes later, after everyone else had received their order and it was apparent that no more Americanos were forthcoming, there was actually some documentation that something was missing.

One of the other hallmarks of the ride was that the original course and the route we took did not always coincide. That is one of the aspects of a pre-ride that I like. If it isn't working, we work out a better plan. My Garmin doesn't like it and gets confused ... beeping madly that I am off-course when in fact I am on course and it is simply living in the past. As some 10,000 runners and their people are descending on parts of Tacoma next weekend - and planning on running where we were going to be biking - a change was in order ...hopefully avoiding the worst of the chaos. Get back to me on that.

Where we didn't alter our route ... but will for the real deal ... was in Gorst where SR-16 merges with SR-3. Crossing three lanes of 60 mph freeway was more excitement than we needed. More than one pair of shorts likely needed to be changed after that experience.

If you have ever ridden past the Union Country Store in Union without stopping, you've made a big mistake. I have made that mistake many times in the past, although the fact that it had always been closed is probably a valid mitigating factor. Since it was a long ways till our next control in Cosmopolis, it was lunchtime, and we had time to spend, we stopped.

Noel, Mark, and I rolled up a few minutes after everyone else - Noel had had a flat tire - Peter was lounging in a chair with one of his many cokes. We went inside and after a few minutes of indecision we began to narrow in on our choices. The clerk then announced that she was going to have some pre-made sandwiches ready in a few minutes. That sounded better than what we had come up with, so we custom ordered a few pre-made sandwiches. Very good. I saved part of mine for a later stop. Having not eaten enough on last week's Oregon 600 XTR, I was now working on the other extreme.
It was a relaxing stop, but at some point, we reluctantly decided to move on.

We left Union, then left the Hood Canal with a climb up towards Shelton. After 16 miles of pretty darn flat (if you don't count all the chip seal up and downs), a bit of a climb was a nice change of pace. Had I mentioned there was some climbing before the control at Waterman Point? No mountain passes or anything like that. I'm sure my Garmin was still confused from the earlier rerouting when it hit a 30 degree grade a couple of times on Orchard. But I digress.

It must be time for a stop. At Matlock we pulled in just as a few raindrops began to fall. Nothing major, but may as well go in and set a spell. Coke time for Peter. I finished off my sandwich. When we finally get back on the road and head for Brady, I come to the conclusion that it is much faster going Matlock to Brady than Brady to Matlock. A gentle downhill and perhaps a slight tailwind do make a difference. We managed to pass stores in Brady and Montesano without stopping.

At Cosmopolis Albert has a nice stop set up for us at the Chevron. He had us go into the store to sign our cards - to give them the practice. We sat for a few minutes - I ate a Lunchable, which I prefer to the greasy burritos, fried chicken, and similar choices at many of these types of mini marts. We worked out a reroute for Westport, cutting out a couple of miles that weren't needed and taking advantage of the Shell/Subway right on SR-105.

At Westport, Albert was there with his van and chairs all ready for us. Once again we ate, drank, and rested ... before we prepared for riding at night and headed out along another very flat stretch. From Brady to the overnight control ... about 200K, there is only a little over 2000 feet of climbing. It gets dark before we get to Raymond and Vincent discovers that his light isn't working - somehow it got water inside. Bummer. Fortunately we come up with a backup and he's able to continue ... after another unscheduled stop at the Raymond 24 hour Chevron. It is a blessing that there are no tables & chairs there, so we don't stay all that long. As the local high school graduated their seniors that day and the beer sales had been heavy, we were glad to get out of Dodge.

I hadn't ridden the Raymond to Centralia stretch before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I still haven't seen it, since it was pretty dark, but it was decent riding - generally good shoulders and only one big hill a bit before Pe Ell. Shortly after that it was our last control before the overnight. Albert had set up a stop in a wide spot along the road. Hot cup of noodles hit the spot. Along with some Doritos it recharged us for the last stretch of the night.

We made it to the overnight about 2:15. It would not have been hard to make it before midnight if we hadn't stopped so many times and for so long ... but then the ride isn't about getting there quickly or getting a good night's sleep.

Getting a good night's sleep was certainly not what I ended up with ... the folks in the room next door complained about us making some noise as we arrived. Yes, these were the ones with the TV going loudly all night long. Recommendation: bring ear plugs. I did get to sleep, but woke up at 4:15, then 5:30, and finally got up for good at 5:50. I did feel rested ... especially by comparison to last week's 600K with no sleep (an hour of rest). We hit the road at about 6:30.

Mark had called ahead to a local cafe ... they're open for breakfast, right? Yes, we are was the answer. It is so easy to miscommunicate. They open for breakfast at 8:00 AM. Well, McMinnimans is a few blocks away, we'll go there. A block from there ... Peter is actually on the doorstep of McMinnimans, when we pass a tavern that is open, with people standing outside. Vincent asks them about breakfast. They're serving! We go in to the back, by the pool table. As we pull some tables together, the bartender tells us they're a tavern ... and a grill, it may take a while. We were warned. Some warnings should be ignored. this one shouldn't have been.

She took our orders and eventually my meal came. I ate and paid for it before the others got theirs. There was one cook, one grill, and a one order at a time process. We didn't get out of there until almost 8:15. It was an experience. Drinking beer at that time of day ... well, I guess we all make our choices. While I was waiting I went out to fuss with my bike ... and was told it was a good thing it was early in the month. Apparently that meant the welfare checks had just arrived and so it was less likely that our bikes would disappear. I stayed out and watched them the rest of the time anyway.
Noel was the last of the riders to get their meal (Alberts was last, but time was not quite as pressing for him). I'm not sure if he felt any pressure from the eight other riders who were itching to go, but he wolfed down part of his meal, packed up the rest, and we finally hit the road.

This ride doesn't have all that much climbing, but the biggest portion of the climbing is in the 100K after Centralia. It doesn't start out gently, and on a full stomach ... well, a few riders didn't loose their breakfast, but did get to enjoy parts of it a second time. I was grateful that I had been served first and had the opportunity to digest it.

While on the first day we rode pretty much together all the way, with the steeper hills we spread apart pretty quickly. I caught up with Peter, Vincent, and Charlie in Morton and we went to the Thriftway ... they had a deli and we cleaned out their lasagna. While we had had a big breakfast, that was long gone. They found some additional chairs so we could sit down while we ate ... then it was time to hit the road.

Peter, Vincent, and Peter climbed faster than I did, so they were sitting in Elbe eating fries and drinking a coke. They were going to wait and regroup with the rest of the group. I was feeling tired and wanted to get the rollers out of the way, so headed off. I kept going all the way to the next control in Enumclaw. I figured that way I could get a nicer rest.

Albert was at the stop with his van and chairs ... I was glad to see him and plopped into a chair. I was ready to rest. After some water, Doritos, and Coke, I began to get coherent again. Albert was on his laptop, fussing with the course on MS Streets & Trips ... we managed to work out a reroute for the rest of the ride ... so we didn't have to go to Black Diamond and climb out of the Green River Gorge.

We made it to the end at 6:23 PM ... 36 hours and 23 minutes. Albert was there for us at the end, as he had been all throughout the ride. He had pizza and beer for us. Thank you Albert. My Garmin had gone nuts with the last reroute and failed to properly record the ride, so I don't know how much of that was riding time ... but there was at least nine hours off the bike.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Oregon 600K XTR - An Extra Special Ride

Now that was a ride!

The Oregon XTR was everything it was promised to be and more. Stunning scenery, grueling climbs, debilitating heat, fantastic support, and great riding companions. Who could ask for anything more?

More heat would definitely not be on anyone's request list. Certainly not mine. I am not a strong rider in the heat, and my lack of experience in the heat cost me. I took too many Endurolytes in the beginning, then too few. The too many caused stomach problems, which threw off my eating, the too few caused cramping. But I get ahead of myself.

The ride started at 4:30 AM. It was pleasant ... 60 or so. No need for arm/leg warmers or a jacket. The first 23 miles were essentially flat going along the Columbia river before beginning a long, gradual climb up Scott Canyon Road from Rufus. Wheat and wind farms greet us. Snakes are testament to the need for vigilance on the road ... and off. I pass over a small snake, perhaps a rattler, as it slithers towards the side.

By the time we reached Condon at mile 74 it was hot. We had enjoyed a brief secret control with Eric Ahlvin on the way... a cold V-8 hit the spot. Condon was not a destination spot ... we stopped at a run-down gas station with a small convenience section. Broken pop machine dispensed no ice or cold water for us. We made do with the meager selection and filled up our water bottles before heading to our next control at Spray ... fifty miles away with no services in between.

The ride to Spray was a lot of up and down - sustained climbing with nice descents, ending with a pleasant ride along a river valley. We reached Spray a bit after two. Vincent had a burger ... I didn't really have anything much to eat - some potato chips. Not a smart move, but my stomach was bothering me and I didn't want to risk losing it all. While the next section of the ride was a gradual uphill from here, it went downhill rapidly for me.

The 23 mile climb up to Keyes Creek Summit (4,369 feet) nearly did me in. The heat, the climb, the cramping, and lack of food led to major bonking ... I could go only a few miles at a time before I had to stop and recover. Finally, after laying down on the dirt and rocks on the side of the road, I forced down an Ensure. That turned the tide ... the temperature cooled down as the sun began to set, the grade lessened, and I felt better. Strong even.

My riding partner, Vincent, was a godsend. He patiently encouraged me to rest, to take my Endurolytes, and then, once I was recovering, to not overdo it. That was a challenge, as the sun was setting ... I wanted to get to the crest by sundown so we would have the twilight for the descent into Mitchell. We had been warned about deer crossing the road, so having some twilight was essential if we were going to descend with speed. We made it ... and it was gorgeous. The descent was a blast ... an effortless 30-35 mph that made one almost ... almost forget the pain of the climbing up.

David Rowe was manning the control at Mitchell ... and had food and drink that topped off my recovery. I was back. It was very pleasant sitting with my fellow randos in the park, talking of rides - past, present, and future. Ian Shopland, Rick Blacker, Erik Anderson, Mike Johnson, and Alex Kohan were among those there.

But the end was not getting any closer as we sat, so with three hours in the bank, we rigged for night riding and hit the road in what was now darkness. One more climb up to Ochoco Pass (4,731 feet), and then a long descent before we reached the overnight control at Prineville. David Rowe and Eric Ahlvin had put on wool and windbreakers for a cold descent a week earlier. That was overkill now. While I put on my sleeveless shell and a hat, I was comfortable without anything on my legs or arms. Maybe a bit cool, but that felt oh so nice after the heat of the day.

John Kramer and David Read were at the overnight control, serving up great pasta, garlic bread, beverages, and cheer. They got set us up in a room, offering a wake-up service! Wanting to take advantage of the coolness of the night, we stayed only a couple of hours - ate, showered, changed, and laid down for 45 minutes or so. No sleep, but definitely refreshed. We left at about 3:15 AM. 233 miles down, 143 miles to go!

A short overnight stop was definitely the right choice ... if anything we should have cut it shorter. Although Vincent was having stomach issues, we made good time from Prineville to Warm Springs. It being mostly downhill probably helped, but we felt good about our progress anyway.

We made it to Warm Springs while it was still cool, missed out on the ice though, but finished the long, slow climb before it turned hot. While we ate and rested at the Three Warriors Market, Peter Beeson, Bob Brudvik, Ole Mikkelsen, and Greg Courtney joined us. While we left before they did, they soon caught up and passed us. We rejoined them briefly in Maupin for drinks and ice cream at Graves Market.

It was now heating up and the last climb of the ride was ahead of us. A pleasant ride down the Deschutes River valley, with river rafters and steelhead fishermen along the way came first, then a brief (several miles) brutal climb up a baking, shadeless canyon.

No, that was not the end of the climb. Just an interlude through the Tygh valley. Still unbearably hot, so I knock on a farmhouse door to get permission to sit on the grass under a large tree. A short stop, but helpful. I would have asked for water as well, but the resident didn't seem receptive. So we stopped a few miles down the road ... no answer at the door there, but a sprinkler was going - standing in it felt great. Vincent filled up a water bottle to douse himself with later. It would soon come in handy!

A mile or so later the last climb really started - from my Garmin profile screen I could tell we had 6 or 7 miles of solid climbing ahead of us ... and Vincent's temperature gauge read 104. Besides being unbearably hot, I now had a nose bleed. I made it a couple of miles before I had to stop ... there were occasional trees off the side of the road ... with a little shade available before the sharp drop off the side. After climbing over the guardrail and checking for snakes, I sat down for a minute or two. Not a huge rest, but enough to let me catch my breath and calm down a bit. I repeated this a few times, with the distance between stops getting shorter and shorter. I could still see Vincent off in the distance ... now I couldn't handle riding as I was feeling a bit unsteady. So I decided I'd just walk the rest of the way up the hill - only two, three miles tops. It would be progress. After a mile or so, Scott Peterson drove up and stopped ... gave me a refreshing drink of ice cold water and filled up my water bottle with the cold water. That rejuvenated me enough that I was able to ride and walk the rest of the way to the top.

At the summit were a bunch of gallon jugs of water ... hot water, but water nonetheless. I refilled my containers and set off. Only 28 miles to go ... almost all downhill. No services along the way ... one small town with limited services a mile or so off course, but I did not want any extra miles at this point. Having ridden up the last stretch a couple of years ago on my first 1000K ride, I knew that it was a pleasant downhill, with shady spots and a stream. I had visions of cooling off my water bottle in the stream to chill the water for a cool drink. It didn't work, but the idea pulled me towards the end.

At five minutes to five, after 36 hours and 25 minutes, I reached the end. Over 20,00 feet of climbing and 23,000 calories burned. I was wiped. I briefly recovered in John's room - a beer and a slice of pizza, washed the blood, sweat, and grime off my face, and listened to the post ride chat for a bit. Then it was off to our room for a shower and sleep. I slept for about three hours before Vincent woke me for the four hour drive back home. Vincent filled me in on the ride results - 25 of the 27 riders finished.

What a great time!

The XTR was a special ride. The icing on the cake was the little things that John had done - a cut-down cardboard route sheet, double sided, color, and with various icons - a nifty brevet card that included a google map route overview and elevation profile - a personalized biker statuette - and a ride business card, complete with elevation profile. John and team - thanks for a great ride and a great memory!