Sunday, June 6, 2010

SIR Spring 600K - 4 Mountain Passes

3:40 AM. even before the alarms go off, I'm up and dressed, ready to go. It's a short drive to Issaquah and the 5:00 AM start of the 600K. I'm there in plenty of time, which is great, as it gives me lots of time to chat. People are surprised I'm riding ... didn't you do the pre-ride is a question I got several times. Vincent & I plan to ride together, which is nice as we haven't done that much recently. He says he'll be my shadow ... which presumably means he won't race off into the sunset (at least too often).

Then it's time - we're off. The first 30 miles .. out to Monroe ... go quickly as I'm riding in a group of a dozen or so riders and we socialize along the quiet roads. I chat with Mark Roehrig about the Cascade 1200 route - it is looking like we'll be using the 2008 route, as there is too much snow on the Carson route. It is nice to hear that Joe Platzner will join us on some of the mid-week rides this summer and that he's thinking about the September Crater Lake 1000K, which should be a great ride.

Vincent & I drop back as the rest take off on Ben Howard Road. We tend to start a bit slower, then build our pace. By Skykomish - mile 65 - the first control, we've caught back up and even passed many of them. We zip in and out of the control and we're soon gaining elevation ... we turn onto the Old Cascade Highway for the first secret control of the day ... Bob Brudvick and Mark Thomas are there telling jokes and signing cards. Vincent tells Bob & Mark he's planning on convincing me to ride through the night - what? I ignore it. Anyway, we're off.

All too soon the real climbing starts... it is a slow but steady grind up to the top of Stevens Pass at 4,000 feet. We catch up with Joe Llona on the way up - chat for a bit about the Spring 400K that he hosted while we climb, then go on by. My shadow soon disappears up and over the crest ... not to be seen again until several miles on the other side when he stops to take a phone call ... he's on call this weekend.

The weather is great .... sunny and warm as we pull into Leavenworth. Vincent is distracted by an almost topless woman in a big SUV at a stop sign - hits a pothole hard, but fortunately no damage done. We pull into the control ...the Subway ...and Charlie White, Mark Roehrig, and a couple of others are there slathering on the sunscreen. First time this year I've needed to do that! They soon head out, while we restock and take a few minutes to eat a snack.

On to climb # 2 ... Blewitt pass. It starts out very gradual and doesn't actually ever get all that steep .. but just keeps climbing. Twenty one miles from the turn at 1,100 feet to the summit at 4,100 feet. Amy Pieper is riding her bike down, turns and, rides a ways up with us - she and Robin are running the control at the summit. She is planning on riding over Old Blewitt. She says good-bye as she stops to fill up her water bottle, but a few minutes later zips past us. Vincent can't let that happen, so he picks up the pace - we catch up and ride with her. Fortunately for me she turns off to go up Old Blewitt in a mile or two - although she turns onto King - maybe it connects to Old Blewitt somewhere? We press on. I manage to keep Vincent in sight the whole way up ... he's only a couple hundred yards ahead of me. We make it to the top, where Robin is signing cards and dispensing goodies. A cold coke hits the spot.

We don't stay long ... leave before some of the riders who were there when we arrived. It is a nice descent for the next 14 miles, then 500 feet of climbing as we head up a ridge towards Ellensburg. Dinner! We stop for some real food ... or at least quasi real food. We stop in KFC for Chicken, mashed potatoes, baked beans, and a biscuit. A nice refresh. I take a couple of legs and biscuits to eat on the road. Something to augment the Ensure Plus I have every 50K. It is almost 6:00 PM now. With luck we'll make it to the "secret" control at US-12 before dark and to the overnight by midnight.

I start thinking about riding through the night. While today's weather has been great - sunny & mild - not too hot, the forecast is for that to change during the night ... rain starting. Riding through if it is still nice might let us get some of the climbing/descents out of the way before the rain hits. But sleep would be nice too! And 5-6 hours worth - wow that would be cool.

Yakima River Canyon is very pleasant - and a practically flat alternative to the climbs that I-84 takes between Ellensberg & Naches. Only 1,200 feet of climbing compared to 2,400 feet. Not much traffic - we enjoy the quiet as the shadows lengthen. Two years ago, riding this stretch with Dave Harper we had to put on our night gear at the end of the canyon ... I figure I'm an hour or so ahead of that pace. I'm grateful for that as we ride along US-12 between Selah and Naches. This stretch is almost criminal. Foot long rumble strips right smack in the middle of a shoulder that usually ranges between 18 inches and 3-4 feet. It does not meet DOT standards! I hug the left few inches of the shoulder and am grateful it is still daylight so I can see any road debris in advance. Fortunately it is a relatively short stretch - about five miles.

The skies are still clear overhead, but looking ahead towards the mountains clouds are creeping in to the picture. We should make it to the overnight without much impact ... but the forecast for rain tonight seems probable.

Brad Tilden & crew are at the secret control at US-12 & WA-410 ... with chairs, sandwiches, & cokes. They've got quite the setup - generator, lights, stove. We sit & eat for a few minutes - recharge the legs - then rig for night riding and hit the road. Only 1,600 feet of climbing till the overnight, saving the last 1,500 feet to the summit for when we restart. It is a very gradual climb - painless if we hadn't already ridden 270 miles !

As we near Rimrock Lake, my light startles a big deer at the side of the road ... it dashes away - and I get a rush of adrenaline ... it had startled me too! That speeds me up and we soon arrive at the overnight - about 11:30 PM.

Jeff Tilden and Peg Winczewski welcome us - feed us bowls of hot chicken & rice soup. Yumm! We decide we'll stay an hour or so - eat, clean up (get rid of the salt crusted on my face), change, reload the bikes - and then head off. Fully expecting rain, I put on rain pants & winter riding gloves - I don't like being cold & wet! Two years ago the White Pass descent was frigid - sometimes I learn from my mistakes :) Kole, who had arrived at 10:00 PM gets up to join us. Before we leave Charlie White arrives ... looking very glad to be here. All too soon it is time to depart.

I have to remind myself - why am I riding on? Oh yes, Vincent is on call and needs to get to Enumclaw so he's within cell range in case he's called. But now that Kole is going to ride perhaps I can sleep? No, I put the thought out of my mind and start the climb. And it turns into a real climb now. Not super steep by any means, but while the 1600 feet of climbing from the base to the overnight had been over 25 miles, the remaining 1500 feet were done in only 8 miles. Three times steeper! Kole & Vincent being much faster & stronger riders, they soon are way ahead of me - with only their flashing red lights proof to me that they are still there. Kole eventually takes pity on me and waits for me to climb the last bit to the top. A few raindrops hit. A hint of things to come ... but they don't last.

We quickly descend to the next control at US-12 & WA-410. Ian & Corey are asleep in the van ... we wake them up to sign our cards. I suppose we could have just answered the info control question instead - but we thought they were just in the van staying warm. Oh well.

Three mountain passes down ... Cayuse Pass, the last one, and the highest at 4,675 feet, is left. It is a slow sixteen miles to the top. With maybe five miles to go I have to stop and rest ... even just a few seconds of not cranking away feels so good. It is getting colder now ... old snow at the side of the road...and the occasional raindrop is making an appearance. As tired as I am, I am still enjoying the sights & sounds as it begins to get light - the birds waking up and the many different sounds of water making its way down through the woods & off the rocks at the side of the road. In places it is so loud I'm fearful as I go past.

But I finally make it to the top ... Kole and Vincent are waiting for me ... Vincent taking a ditch nap in the road as it starts to rain. We get bundled up for the ride down. The road is wet now, and with the solid rain it is getting wetter. As it is not yet daylight - perhaps pre-dawn light - I ride down at a "cautious fast" rate, slower than Kole & Vincent. I catch up to them at the turn to Crystal Mountain. They've stopped to put on more rain gear - I put on my rain shell.

Food is on our mind as we ride down towards the control at Greenwater. We suspect we'll be there before anything opens though. Still, we can hope. We work on a backup plan - there is a cafe at the turn off WA-410 in Enumclaw. Maybe that will be open. If not, there is a Safeway in Enumclaw that we could go to ... just a few extra miles.

Greenwater ... just a handful of houses, a general store, a tavern, and a couple of shops ... is all closed as we go through at 6:15 AM. Enumclaw here we come! Only 17 more miles till food. The last couple of miles are especially painful ... the water running down my face is full of salt, which gets in one of my eyes and burns. I ride with one eye shut for part of the last stretch. But hurrah! The Cafe is open as we arrive at about 7:15 AM.

We turn the waiting area into a laundry room, with wet coats, hats, & gloves draped over chairs. We order hot drinks - Hot chocolate, tea, coffee. Warmth! Then order real food. It tastes great. And it is nice to sit ... not on the bike.

As we leave at about 8:00 AM, I tell Kole & Vincent to go ahead and not wait for me on the home stretch ... I'll try and stick with them for a while, but there is nothing left in these legs but pain. While I enjoy riding with them, they tend to ride faster than my normal pace. It definitely wears me down.

Three hundred twenty five miles down, only fifty miles to go. No major climbs to deal with ... just some rollers and then the "victory lap". With 20 miles to go, we pass within two short miles of the end ... but have to ride the twenty miles around Lake Sammamish. It is cruel. I half expect someone to be there taunting us as we go by.

Kole and Vincent have gone ahead now ... they are planning on eating some ice cream at the last control. In a few miles I get a flat. And I can't find the cause. As I go to pump up the replacement tube - the pump fails. Oh no. I'm not going to DNF this close to the end am I? I work with the pump and it is full of water. Fortunately I manage to clear it out and get it working again. But since I couldn't find the cause, am I going to get another flat right away? Fortunately not. Perhaps it is the time off the bike, but I feel refreshed and make good time the rest of the way.

At 12:35 PM I arrive at the end. Vincent & Kole are there ... they've been there for about half an hour. It is darn nice to be done! Brad's wife (sorry, my brain is mush) is serving up pasta, but my focus is on getting home and going to bed. Before I leave, Don Smith arrives with a report that it was raining at the overnight as the riders left in the early morning hours - they had cold & wet climbs & descents. Looks like we made the right decision to ride through the night!