Thursday, October 14, 2010

Eastern Washington Loop 400K Pre-ride

Most people would think that starting a ride at 11:30 PM and riding through the night when the temperatures are going to dip close to freezing is simply nuts. They are probably right. But I did it a couple of days ago and would jump at the chance to do it again.

Riding through the night, under clear skies with the stars glowing, is an exhilarating experience. You can't see much but you can see so much. The stars are crisp. The wisps of fog rolling off the wetlands. The dawn beginning to break. Still, it can be a challenge to stay awake. The cold helps.

Lyn Gill and I left East Wenatchee at 11:30 PM. We left town on Rock Island Road. It is the way most of the Seattle Randonneur (SIR) rides leave & enter town, primarily to get off of WA-28 since that tends to be fairly busy. It wasn't at midnight. There was construction on WA-28, so we weaved in and out of the construction barrels a bit, but mostly enjoyed the smooth new pavement. While the ride was going to be relatively flat per Bike Route Toaster ( ~ 6,000 feet of elevation gain over 400K / 250 miles) a noticeable part (we noticed!) of that climbing was in the first 30 miles as we climb up to Quincy. But we were fresh and it was good to get out of the way, right?

By 2:30 AM we were at George, where the first control was. This 24 hour gas station convenience store was going to be a nice place to warm up and stock up for the next 70 mile stretch to the next opportunity for services - not much between George and Lind, especially in the middle of the night. But wait, it isn't open 24 hours. It closed at 10. Oops. Fortunately we really didn't need much. There was a Porta-Potty at the side. So I popped a caffeine pill instead of a Mountain Dew. I lent Lyn my arm warmers - I had planned on putting them on later if I got cold, but Lyn was cold now. Lyn had hoped there would be a fireplace to warm up by ... I gave her a pair of toe warmers as the next best thing. And then we were off.

Over the next couple of hours we saw two cars.

We woke up lots of dogs ... probably a few of their humans too ... at farm houses as we rode along. Fortunately they were either locked up or too tired to come out and chase us. They simply barked at us, either to tell us they were jealous of our freedom or to tell us we were nuts. I only had to yell back at a couple of dogs the whole ride.

One of the busiest stretches of road on the ride was along WA-172 into Warden at about 5:45 AM. Warden isn't a big place. Population is about 2500. While they weren't all up when we rode through there sure were lots of 'em out on the road. Maybe because of the smell - a mixture of rotting onions, potatoes, and manure. No need for smelling salts! I was glad to get past that little stretch.

On to the Lind-Warden Road. Miles of nothing. Gentle rolling hills. Not yet the Palouse. Very pleasant riding as we raced to meet the rising sun in the east. Dawn breaks. While it didn't "warm up" yet, at least it wasn't quite as cold. But Lyn runs out of gas about seven miles out of town. It was a long stretch between George and Lind (~ 70 miles) - so I gave her an Ensure Plus (350 calories) to help get her to Lind. There she could eat her sandwich and maybe get something else.

We arrived at Lind ... not quite half-way (180K of the 400K), but a major milestone and, significantly, the first chance to resupply. It was now 7:45 AM and it was good to get off the bike for a few minutes. Pickings were slim at Jim's Market - the only game in town - but they had Mountain Dew, so I was happy. We chatted with the guy there ... Jim? - he shook his head when we explained what we were doing. He also asked if we were carrying any weapons, which I thought was a bit odd. But I didn't want to know why he asked that, so we headed out.

I had taken off my warm, full-fingered gloves. I knew it would be warming up soon and wanted to be able to access my snacks - beef jerky and rice cakes - which I couldn't do with my big gloves on. It was a problem at first as I lost sensation in my fingers - making it difficult to know if I was grasping any of the finger food, but fortunately it soon warmed up and I was happily stuffing my face.

The stretch from just past Lind to where we turned north on WA-261 was one of my favorites ... I don't think we saw a single car until almost the end of the stretch ... and it was very pretty in a desolate kind of way. And we hit the half-way mark!

At Ritzville we stopped at a Starbucks - caffeine refill! - for some food, drink, and the opportunity to shed a layer. It was almost 11 AM and it was turning into a very nice day. Highs were going to be around 70, so while it was still cool, it wasn't going to be so for long. Better yet, there was actually a little bit of a tailwind for our long ride west.

We headed out, but by the time we got to the other side of town (and Ritzville is not a big place), we decided we were overdressed. It was getting nicer quickly! A quick stop remedied that, and we headed west on what is basically a 40 mile straight stretch of road. Straight if you don't consider all the ups and downs, that is. No really big hills, but lots and lots of gentle rolling ones. It turns out Bike Route Toaster ( a web route mapping site) didn't do a very good job of estimating the climbing ... my Garmin recorded 9,000 feet of climbing - 50 % more than the BRT estimate.

It was harvest time for potatoes. We saw trucks taking loads in from the fields ... and stray potatoes on the side of the road. With the wide open spaces and low traffic, the truck drivers gave us plenty of room. I did get the finger from one SUV driver as we approached Moses Lake ... apparently bent out of shape that he had to move a bit to the left to pass us, even though he didn't have to slow down or wait in any way. Oh well. I waved.

By 3:30 PM we made it to Ephrata ... the last stop before the end. I for one was pooped and glad to sit down for a few minutes. It only takes a few to rejuvenate. Some food ... another Ensure Plus and a Pizza Pocket. I'm sure the Mountain Dew helped too. Refilled the water bottles, while I wasn't on empty, Lyn had run out (Ritzville was a long ways back), and it was now in the upper 60's.

Less than 50 miles to go! And it is a net downhill from here.

Sunset was 6:15 PM. Could we make it past the construction on WA-28 before it got dark by perhaps 7 PM? I hoped so. There were a couple of places around Rock Island that were signed "Shoulder Closed" and that had construction barrels that forced you onto the main part of the road. Fortunately we arrived there while it was still light enough to see that we could safely go through the barrels and ride on the shoulder - preferable to being in the lane of traffic at this time of day. WA-28 was much busier at this time of day. Go figure!

We made it back to the hotel before 7:30 PM ... finishing in 19 hours and 54 minutes. This was Lyn's 2nd 400K ... and she beat her previous 400K time by over 3 hours! Olive Garden was across the street from the hotel ... it was one of the reasons we wanted to get back at a decent hour, as it closed at 10 PM. After showering and changing, dinner sure hit the spot!

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