Thursday, June 3, 2010

Oregon Coast 600k

I love riding the Oregon Coast, so I was excited to do this ride before it started. Riding south on 101 feels like I'm back on tour cruising down to California and beyond. This time, we're heading only as far south as Lincoln City but we are getting some beautiful views of the Pacific. The week before this ride, I re-injured my back lifting a bike at work, so I knew I was going to be a little sore on the ride. I was going to take it easy and had a few different bailout plans if I needed to use them.

This ride started in Forest Grove, like many of the Western Oregon rides. Alan, Corey, Millison, and I drove out to the start from Alan's house in Portland. The morning was cool and we had on most of our extra clothes. It was hard to predict what the weather was going to do today. We headed north to Vernonia along a bike trail and then back on small highways. In the small town of Birkenfeld, I stopped to get some IBP for my back. It was hurting from sitting in a pace line with the group. Riding alone, I was able to coast and stretch more often without having anyone right behind me. I put on my headphones and headed up a small pass over the Coast Range. Sun and rain showers alternated all morning but the temperature stayed relatively warm. As we headed out to the point in Fort Stevens, the wind started to pick up. Riding alone, I had fears of a repeat of the 400k. At the end of the point, we turned around but the wind kept it's same direction.

From the point, I was soon back on the familiar 101 South heading down through Seaside and Cannon Beach. At some point I made the mistake of dropping or leaving my bottle of IBP and Endurolytes so I had to stop and pick some up at a grocery store just outside of Seaside. My back was frustrating me, but it was hard to keep that frustration when the weather was sunny and warm. Originally, we had planned to stop in Cannon Beach for lunch, but Corey and Alan were long gone, so I just kept going. I was feeling slow, but steady and wanted to maximize my daylight at my slower speed. I stopped at a small grocery store just before Miami Foley road to pick up a snack. The valley ride along the Miami Foley Road was something out of a Randonneur's fantasy. There was almost no traffic and the sun highlighted the dark clouds while a rushing river followed the road. In Tillamook, I stopped at a Subway and chatted with the sandwich artist who had just seen some riders ahead of me.

Rather than climb over the 3 capes, the route stays inland and follows 101S to the Sandlake Rd to Pacific City. The wonderful Pelican Brewery has delicious beer and incredible clam chowder. It was tempting to kick back a few pints and call it a day, but the warmth of the chowder spurred me on. (I resisted the beer this time) I should have had a cup of coffee there, because not long after I was back on the bike, I was starting to get tired. I pulled over at a lookout and took a 15 minute nap. It was surreal to wake up and hear the crash of the surf below. Just a few miles later, I came upon another rider and realized that it was my friend Millison. He was confused with the multiple roads named Slab Creek (our next turn). We found the correct road and started climbing the last pass before the overnight control. The best solution to falling asleep is to have someone to talk to. We took a short break at the informational control and then finished the big climb just in time for the sky to open up and the rain to pour down on us. Descending this twisting forest service road with its potholes and poor visibility is challenging anyway, but with water running off my helmet, it was nearly impossible. I picked the best lines and hoped for the best. By the time we got to the bottom, the rain had stopped and we found our way back to the highway and the few miles to Lincoln City.

Earlier in the ride, we had talked about riding through the night rather than sleeping at the overnight control. Now that we were here, the idea of sleeping sounded much more enticing, but I was concerned about how my back would feel in the morning. After changing into fresh dry clothes, getting some food and sitting in warm room, Millison and I felt like we were ready to take on the night, well sort of. Just as we reached the door of the hotel, he turned to me and said that he needed a nap. I wasn't going to say no, so we crashed out in the laundry room floor for a half hour. I was really cold when we got up, and I put on all of my clothes including my emergency balaclava. Later I found out that it was about 36 degrees. We left the lights of Lincoln City and turned off of 101 heading east. The next miles are a bit of a blur. I kept randomly talking just to stay awake and pass the time. I don't think I could have finished that section without some company.

Our goal was to reach the diner in Siletz. We could taste the hot coffee, gravy, and pancakes. But when we got there cold and hungry, the closed sign was still on the door. We could see some people inside and went on in. Three older men were sitting drinking coffee and told us that the cook was sick today so the diner was closed. When we told them how far we were biking, they poured us a cup of coffee and let us warm up for a bit. By then the low hung clouds were getting lighter. We had more showers on and off as we climbed on to the short gravel section. The wet hard-pack gravel with loose rock on top was challenging to go down. Even my wide tires didn't want to grip on the road. With adrenaline pumping, we made it down the other side only to climb back up to the town of Summit. Still no stores open, we counted the miles to Blodgett. The open sign on the store was a beautiful sight. We devoured some hot food and hot coffee while we warmed up.

The sun was shining and warming our muscles and we pedaled slowly out of town heading to the next control, one tiny step at a time. Just as we reached the Safeway, a light drizzle turned into hail and pelted us across the parking lot. The weather today was all over the place. More coffee, food and back on the bikes. Rollers at this point in the ride were challenging to keep your energy up. The steep grades were difficult and the repetition was mind numbing. More showers kept battering us every few minutes. Just when it looked like we would be dry for a few minutes, we would turn down the next road and get drenched again. Digging deep, we found the motivation to keep the pedals turing even after we had to stop and fix a flat in pouring rain. Fellow riders Michael and John caught up with us and pedaled just ahead of us into Dallas. More food and coffee in Dallas to give me enough energy to pedal home.

The lack of sleep was hard to keep focused at this point. All I wanted to do was stop, but we slowly moved along and the last miles of roads disappeared behind us. Finally, we could see the hotel just past the next intersection. It felt so good to be finished. We flopped into chairs and handed our brevet cards to the organizers. A hot shower, burgers and beer and we were ready to head back to Olympia.

Covered Bridges 400k

Some rides go smoothly, other rides do not. The larger forces of randonneuring sometimes work together to create unexpected difficulties. This was one of those rides. Last year, I came down and rode this 400 in personal record time as far as 400's go and was excited to have a repeat performance along this beautiful course. We gathered at the start of the ride chilly, in the early morning before the start. I followed the big pack out of town, but the group got cut apart with a few stoplights just a few miles down the road. I found myself riding next to Milison, who was on his first 400k. We started riding together just as the first winds started pushing us around. The sun was just coming up behind a huge cloud bank, but the day was dry so far. As we continued south, the fierce winds blew strongly across the fields. As the sky got lighter, we could see the first beautiful flowers blooming. The lilacs were in full bloom and many of the cherries still had flowers on their branches. Sheep were calmly grazing in the fields around Scio as we started noticing the first rain clouds. 

In Scio, Corey was having some stomach problems, so we hung out with him for a while. The rest felt good and Milison and I were enjoying some caffeine. We got Corey back on his bike and he started to feel better with some calories and hot liquid in his stomach. Now the search for covered bridges began. This was an interesting concept for a brevet; usually the rides aren't themed in this way. Each or the bridges is unique and beautiful. Riding along these back highways feels like we stepped 100 years back in time. We stopped at each bridge to answer control questions for the info controls as we continued to wonder south. All day we were working in to some kind of head wind. I started counting down the miles until we got to head back north and take advantage of a tailwind. 

Morning turned into afternoon and the sun decided to come out for a few hours. We were able to strip off some of the bulky clothing at lunch. Back on the bikes we enjoyed the last of the covered bridges and set our sights for the Mohawk General Store, our next major stop. The major of the climb of the day was a quiet brake from the wind. The small pass blocked most of the headwinds. At the Mohawk Store, we bumped into riders who were not on our brevet. Whenever we interact with other cyclists at these stops, they always are a amazed and confused as to why we would want to ride so far in one day. I was asking myself the same questions today. 

The plan from here was to bike just a few more miles south, then cross I-5 and ride the tailwind all the way home. But, the weather had other plans for us. The moment we crossed over into the valley on the west side of I-5, we were hit in the face with some more headwinds. To top it off, there were fewer trees and larger fields in this section of the ride. We hunkered down and got back into the drops and stacked up into a nice pace line and headed north. The sun was setting as we staggered into the next control. I remember being here hours earlier last year. At this point Corey and I came to the realization that at this pace, we weren't going to be getting finished until 3am. We tried to pick up the pace a little bit, but the wind slowed us down again. Sitting all day in the saddle in a pace line was making me saddle sore, not a fun way to spend the next 6 hours. I stopped not far down the road for some more chamois cream. The road continued on endlessly into the night. The winds didn't stop with the sun going down, but we push on anyway. The next stop was at a convenience store in Albany. Hot coffee and some calories helped me get back in the mood to finish this ride. As we neared the next control, we could see some riders returning back to the highway. It felt good to see riders ahead of us as it was the first time since lunch. Not much was open in downtown Independence late at night. We ended up getting invited into a loud bar by the bouncer. They put us at a table and put hot coffee down in front of us and signed our cards. Being inside with lights, music, and heat was a little bit of sensory overload. We paid for our coffee and left to finish the last 50 miles. 

Everyone was starting to get sleepy, but we kept the conversations up to keep everyone on track. Corey and I found ourselves riding along after a quick bathroom stop and we chatted to keep awake. We came upon our friend John, who was looking a little sleepy. The three of us finished the last few miles together just as the birds were starting to wake up. We didn't end up getting back to the hotel until after 4am. This wasn't my slowest 400k, but it was very close. We stubbled upstairs, turned in our cards, and each took a hot shower before passing out in bed. 

Five Fleching Friends

The annual Fleche is one of the few team events in the sport of Randonneuring. Although many people chose to ride with a group during a brevet, it is not required and many times groups will morph during the ride as people change pace and make stops. During the Fleche, teams ride from around the northwest into Olympia and celebrate a post-ride brunch. Each team is required to ride a minimum of 360k in 24 hours without taking more than a 2 hour stop in any one place. This creates unique challenges and is good training for night riding during the longer brevets. This is one of my favorite events and is the third year I've participated in this ride.

This year, our team called the Five Fleching Friends Following Fellow Fools Follies, departed Olympia at 4pm heading south to Rainier. The warm sun was on our backs and the ride felt more like a casual evening ride rather than a start of a 24 hour adventure. We ran into heavier commuter traffic as we headed around the military base into Tacoma. When I was designing this years route, I forgot to take into account that we would be riding through the most populated areas during rush hour. Luckily, there was a large shoulder and the traffic gave us plenty of room. Corey and I came up with the idea of this route based on where we would be spending our two hour nap. Some groups spend that time sleeping in a gas station, Denny's, or Post Office, but we opted for a warmer option of the hospitality of fellow rando rider Jon who happened to live about 100 miles away in Port Townsend.

It felt strange bicycling towards a major city, usually we are heading away. We were distracted by a beautiful sunset over the Olympics as we approached the Narrows Bridge. As dusk settled, we prepared for night riding with reflective gear and some warmer clothes. The night air was cool, but warmer than I was expecting. I have ridden a few times on the Kitsap Peninsula and knew that it was hilly. So I avoided those hilly roads in hope of finding a new secret flat route into Belfair. Of course, those roads are only flat on the map, and we spending the first few hours of the night screaming down steep rollers and then creeping back up the other side. Traffic was low and the stars were out above us.

At the Safeway in Belfair we grabbed a close-to-midnight snack and took a few minutes off the bike to enjoy the break. Just after the break Chris discovered our first mechanical of the night. He had lost a screw from a cleat in his shoe, not allowing him to unclip from his pedals. Corey came to the rescue with a spare bolt and we were back on the way, Chris thankful that he didn't have to ride to Port Townsend without being able to unclip his shoe. The conversations started to drift as our group began to get sleepy. I'm not used to staying up into the early hours of the morning and yet we weren't going to be into PT until 5am. After the coffee runs out, I start with mint chewing gum to help distract me from drifting off. Corey and I chatted for awhile and eventually we started to see the lights of the city ahead.

Jon, an experienced randonneur and Fleche veteran knew how to treat tired riders. He had beds and food laid out for us and we quickly sacked out on various mattress pads and spare beds. Getting up from an overnight control is one of the more difficult parts of randonneuring. The spattering rain didn't help our spirits but the promise of hot breakfast and coffee at a diner woke us up enough to cruise down the hill. Refreshed and refueled, we turned our eyes south and headed for home. It wasn't long before the drizzle of morning rain turned into heavy rain. We put our jackets on and heads down counting down the miles until we hit 101. A quick jaunt over Walker Pass and we enjoyed a few moments of 35 mph into Brinnon. I have ridden the highway to Brinnon many times and was prepared for the rollers. Soon, the sprinkles turned into full on showers and we were soaked to the bone. I always wondered how difficult a fleche could be in the rain, and now I knew.

We met our secret control in Hoodsport just in time to see a few sun rays poke between the clouds. These vanished again once we were on the way to Shelton and our 22 hour control. We arrived in Shelton with our tails between our legs and water dripping off of our helmets. At this point we knew we would be pressed for time to reach the end of the ride before the 24 hour time cut. We had just a few more miles to go, but the weather was keeping us from making good time. With no other option other than to go on, we headed back in to the faucet and snuck closer to home. A few more brakes in the clouds helped lift our spirits home. As with the rules of the fleche, we stopped where we were and marked our position at the 24 hour mark. We were just a few kilometers from the official end, but had covered our required distance of 360k, so we were still going to get credit for the ride. We parted ways and searched out warm showers, clean clothes and a soft bed.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lets Go Fly a Brooklyn

Working at the Bike Stand has allowed me to meet hundreds of cyclists. As I have become a more proficient randonneur, word has spread around our regular group of customers about the crazy riding I enjoy. Every now and then people start asking about how to get involved with the sport and I start giving them the rundown of the rules, how a ride works and what to expect. Eventually some get up the courage and ask if they can tag along on a ride to see what it's all about firsthand. Instead of riding on a brevet for their first rando adventure, I usually suggest riding a permanent instead. This gives us more educational time rather than the chaotic excitement on a brevet. The permanents are also ready to ride at any time a allow us to pick our own difficulty and distance.

It was under these circumstances that we set off from the Lacey Fred Meyer with a small group of riders, ready for the adventure to Brooklyn and beyond. As I have said before, this is one of my favorite rides into the small logging community of Brooklyn, Washington. We set a moderate pace out of town and easily navigated the route to Littlerock, WA. Not much was going on at the gas station this morning and after a quick drink and snack we were off chasing the sunshine to stay warm on the brisk morning. After a few minutes of riding in our pace line, I glanced down at my speedometer and was surprised to see it reading 19 miles per hour. I wasn't working hard enough to be going this fast at the front of the line. At this point I few past a flag that pointed out the blasting tailwind. Feeling warmed up, I decided to push a little bit and enjoy the wind. The speed crept up to 21, 22, 25, 26 until I started to hear complaining behind me. We settled into about 24 mph and enjoyed being blown down the road. Somewhere in the back of my head, I thought this wind might bite us later in the ride, but the sunshine melted my worries away.

Finally we hit the gravel section, my favorite part. I love taking my bike places that most roadies don't go. It was interesting to see how our group of riders handled the terrain. After multiple flats and problems with fenders clogging, it was evident that those of us on wider tires and more fender clearance were having an easier go of things. Everyone was smiles at the top of the first large climb and we rocked down into Brooklyn. Sharp gravel caused a few more flats and delayed our descent, but we were ready for more as we approached Smith Creek Road, the second climb. The second section of gravel is even less used, and easier to ride. Back on pavement on the other side, Corey and I cruised along with Rick and chatted about rides to come.

My growling stomach indicated we were getting closer to 101 and Raymond. It was warm enough that we took our sandwiches outside and enjoyed the calories after the difficult climbing. The moment we turned north out of Raymond, we were hit by gusts of wind, this time from ahead of us. We followed the headwind for the next 60 miles. Each of us retreated in our heads and worked hard to stay together as a group. The winds swirled around our pace line forcing everyone to work hard to maintain even 13 mph. We all rode in silence; it was too windy to hear each other well. The end of the ride passed without any major events and we struggled up the final hills into town. We were blessed with a fantastic sunset, coming in just before it dipped below the black hills, ending an exhausting but rewarding day.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Another 300k

Even though the weather forecast wasn't looking pleasant, Rick and I decided to venture north to the Bellingham 300k. After riding a 300k in December, this couldn't be any harder, especially when they were advertising a flat course. The flags in the parking lot looked awfully stiff when we showed up at the start. The wind was whipping across the tulip fields and the clouds were racing across the sky. As I was organizing things in my handlebar bag before the start I realized that I forgot a hat and my helmet light. Last year I was able to finish a flat 300k before dark, so I guess I'll just have to repeat that sub 13 hour time again. We formed a huge pace line from the start to battle the headwinds south to LaConner. There weren't any tulips blooming but a few fields of daffodils gave the gray day a splash of color. Finally we made a critical turn and felt the wind pushing us from behind rather than holding us back. We road the tailwind at over 20 mph for an hour until we hit the rolling hills of Chuckanut Drive, a popular ride south of Bellingham. I enjoyed this road even more today without the regular stream of traffic this road gets on sunny days. Just outside of Bellingham the drizzle we have been having turned into heavy rain and then into hail. Spring storms can bring all kinds of weather. I was glad to not have to worry about tornadoes in this part of the country.

The tailwind blew us north out of Bellingham and up to the Canadian boarder. Even though the winds were fun, we knew it was only a matter of time before we were going to battle the wind again. The sun continued to break out between the storm clouds every few minutes and the day stayed relatively warm and the roads relatively flat. After another brief control, we turned into the strongest winds of the day. Another storm cloud opened up and flooded us with driving rain. Luckily our route turned away from the wind but up an incredibly steep road. Roads with names like South Pass, Summit Ridge or North Slope always give a good warning about oncoming hills. This South Pass was no exception. I shifted into my low gear (30x32teeth) and spun up the hill.

The steep climb did take us out of the farmlands around Bellingham and into the rolling forests. This drastically improved the wind conditions as we looped around Lake Whatcom to Cedro-Wooley. I got to demonstrate how to fix a flat tire to a man reading his paper on his front porch. He came over trying to figure out what I was doing in his driveway as I pulled a few large chunks of glass out of my tire. Inflated, I pushed on alone after my group passed me by. I caught them again at Subway in CW and we pedaled off to the metropolis of Concrete. I think more Randonneurs go to Concrete than actually live in the town. Instead of the regular route up Hwy 20, we followed some beautiful rural back roads along the river. As we climbed up to Concrete, the weather got colder and the clouds gathered together. It started misting just as we arrived.

I was in dire need of calories and coffee and took a beeline for those two things. I told Rick and the group to go on ahead so I could take a moment to eat and stretch. A few minutes later, I felt energy rising up through my body again. I plugged in my iPod and took off into the cold rain that was now drizzling down. It's amazing what food will do for your mood on a ride like this. By the time I got back to Cedro-Wolley, I was warm and happy again. I met up with 2 other riders and we headed back home. The sun had been behind clouds for the last few hours, but it was just starting to get really dark as we pulled into the final control. I made it without needing my helmet light. I shaved over 2 hours off the ride from the previous weekend and finished just over 13 hours. Another wonderful ride.

Bumping Up

So long 200k, the season is moving up in miles and on to a 300k. There isn't much difference between a 200k and a 300k as far as mental or physical preparation. At the end, it just feels like a long 200k (a 400k feels much harder than a 300k). The Granite Falls 300k started in the U District of Seattle so we decided to drive up the night before and stay with fellow rando rider Andy S. He lives just a few minutes ride from the start so we were able to avoid the drive up to the start early in the morning. It seems that everyone has decided that this is the year to ride and the start seemed crowded with over 80 riders standing around.

At the signal we were all off riding through Seattle to the bike trail that would take us out of town. The major rando routes around the urban areas are starting to look a little bit more familiar after riding them for a few years now. Corey and I backed off the large mass riding down the trail and took our time out of town. The sun started to come up over the valley ridge as we hit the first control. The beautiful sunrise was a good sign for the weather to come for today. We met up with Millison who was on his first 300k and was enjoying every minute of it so far. Our small group turned into a lager group as we picked up other riders down the road through the Snoqualmie Valley.

The sun was shining and warm when we pulled into Sultan for a sandwich and water break. We got strange looks from the other cyclists who were race training and on super light race bikes. They had a hard time believing that we were going over 4 times as far as they were. After the break, we headed up to Old Pipeline Rd. I can remember hitting this hill at the end of the Mountain 400k a few years ago just at sunset. It felt much easier with a fresh set of legs. We continued north to Granite Falls for another snack and then headed north again. The miles slipped away but Conway didn't feel any closer. The legs must be getting a little tired at this point.

The open fields near Conway were a nice scenic change from the forested rolling hills of the rest of the ride, but a small gust of wind forebode of difficulty ahead. As soon as we turned south, our paced slowed and everyone groaned as we ducked our heads and dug down deep for some more energy. But, it was sunny, warm and our large group took turns leading us into the wind. Nothing last forever (ok sometimes the rain does last forever) but we made it back to the trail south and eventually bumped into Mark T and Vincent at a not so informational control. Rather than have us answer a question, they were signing cards and provided some snacks for the last stretch home. Vincent was showing off his new Boxer custom rando bike. Back on the trail, we caught our first whiff of the beer and burgers awaiting us at the finish and started into the setting sun. The Seattle locals showed us the way back to the Ram Brewery, saving the out of towners from some navigation. Food never tastes so good after a long ride. We devoured dinner and loaded our bike for the drive home.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Berkie 200k 4/20/10

Too much riding and not enough writing. The season is in full swing, so here is a little recap from the Berkie 200k put on by the Oregon Randos. I always feel like I spend too much time refreshing the weather report screen during these early season brevets. The weather can be fickle and ever changing from the beginning of the week to the end and it really doesn't ever change the fact as to if I'm going to go or not. This ride was no exception but I knew it couldn't be worse than last year when it rained for the entire time. Corey and I drove down to Portland the night before the ride and stayed with fellow rando rider Allen. I could see lingering stars in the sky, promising at least some good weather. At the start, we prepped our gear  while stamping and shivering in the cold morning air. The bank thermometer said 35 degrees. Finally, it was time to start and the fast group took off through town at a full sprint. The rest of us took a little more time to warm up and watch for the first rays of sun slowly creeping over the hills. The river valleys are always cold and damp with the night air. By the time we hit the climb up and over Timber, I was ready to get the blood moving. It was fun to see new faces as well as friends from last years Oregon series.

Finally we reached Vernonia and were treated to fresh pastries and hot coffee. The air finally started warming up and the extra clothes coming off during the short out and back. Our larger group broke into a few smaller groups as we followed beautiful rivers into Berkenfeld. Randonneuring takes us into some of the most random small towns. The mustached owner of this store greeted us with incredible enthusiasm and was glad to sign our cards with a call of "See you next year" as we left. Watered and fed, we basked in the full sun that was now shining down on us. A small gust of wind greeted our return south the Vernonia. The headwind followed us all the way back into town. I was glad to be in a group on this ride and our pace line made good work taking turns into the wind.

I started feeling tired and wasn't excited about getting into the wind again, but my mood changed after a few calories and some stretching. We retraced our route back into Timber and over the hill behind the town. At this point my saving thought was a Starbucks Double Shot. I knew that the next control was a gas station and all I wanted was the cold caffeine. It has become a favorite drink of mine during the brevets. We didn't stop long, just enough to get our heads out of the wind again. Finally the temperature peaked at the predicted 57 degrees. It felt incredible to be sweating and have the sun baking my skin. Again, our team worked hard into the wind as we pulled the final stretch into Forest Grove. Corey and I were shocked when we looked at our watches and realized that it was still happy hour! Our time of 8:28 was the fastest 200k for either one of us. We rejoiced over a burger and beer with others at the McMenamins before we headed back home.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chili Feed 200k

This was only my second Chili Feed 200k ride, unlike many others SIR members who had been participating in this event for many years. Last year I enjoyed the opportunity to hang out with many different riders rather than just the few that finished within the 2 hour time that I did. This even has turned into as much a social gathering as a regular event. One can imagine that the grand finale year of this event would bring just about every rider out to participate. Rick, Barb and I made it up to the start with lots of time to spare. This was a much different affair than last weekend in the desert. There were over 120 people at the start; the roads around Greg's house were packed with cars. This also marks the first route over 100k that I have done multiple times. It is interesting how your memory changes about a ride depending on how the weather, company and your body feel.

Traffic lights split swarm of cyclists into smaller groups as we made our way west through Kent to Tacoma. The weather was beautiful with patchy sun and clouds moving through. I got my legs warmed up on the first climb and continued to ride in various groups through the hills around Dash Point. This year they changed the route slightly and added a "bonus vista" (also read hard climb) through some neighborhoods in the area. Even though they were steep, 18%, they were short and early enough in the ride to not be a problem. My low gear of 30-32 also helps when the grades get really steep. From there, it didn't take long to get to the first control. I wanted to ride with Millison for his first 200k brevet and waited for him at the control. After no more than 5 minutes he showed up grinning and was ready to go.

Before long, we were cruising out through the sunny farms in the Green River Valley. The big paceline broke up just before the climb out of the valley to Black Diamond. The Black Diamond Bakery is a well known cycling destination for their wonderful pastries. I sat in the sun a few moments and devoured a glazed apple cinnamon roll, just like last year. When I came back from refilling my water bottles, I noticed that Millison had already left, thinking I had done the same. I pushed hard and caught up with him at the next turn. Not long after, a large gray pickup truck went by going the opposite direction and managed to toss a half can of soda at me and hit me. This was the first time I had ever been hit with anything from a vehicle, hopefully it will be the last. Luckily the can bounced off my arm and didn't cause any damage other than my ego.

Adrenaline pumping, I pulled a small group south toward 410, ready to get on the way to Greenwater. At that point a small shower opened up over us and started raining hard enough to put on the rain jackets. Within 10 minutes it had stopped and the sun was shining again. The climb up to Greenwater isn't steep, but mentally it is challenging. The road winds up and sometimes down as you gain a significant amount of total elevation. It looks like you aren't gaining much, but your slow speed indicates otherwise. Even with 120 riders on the road, I still found myself riding alone for parts of the climb. I didn't mind, though, it was a beautiful day with a tailwind and the White River rushing beside the highway. I was glad to get to the turn around point at the store just as it started sprinkling again. At about 1800ft above sea level, the temperature was colder than anywhere else on the ride.

Millison and Rick left the store with me and we bundled up for the long decent into the wind and light rain back down into Enumclaw. It was at this point I realized that Millison's mud flap on his fender was not long enough to protect me from his spray. Spitting out a few mouthfulls of dirt made me give him some more distance behind his rear wheel. The sand a dirt from the snowplows of the winter splattered everyone and their bikes with a fine coat of mud. By the time we reached the turn, the sun was shining again and we were quickly dry.

Just after we left the last control, it started to rain lightly again on us. In an instant the wind picked up and started dropping small hail on us while we were riding. Weather in Washington can be dramatic sometimes. We kept on track and made it back into the urban area without any more events. Careful navigation through the final 10 turns (in 4 miles) and we were back at the start. Mark and Greg greeted us with hot chili and cold beer, some of the best recovery food there is. We spent the next few hours telling lies and making plans for the summer with old and new friends.

Here is a link to the Smiling Faces that Mark found on the ride.
Here is the Flickr link to the Ride.

Desert 200k

There comes a time in every western Washington cyclist's life where the need for sun outweighs all other logic and reason. 8 hour drive, sure no problem. Killer headwinds, yup. See for 30 miles in every direction, why not. In this mindset, a number of western riders showed up in Richland, Washington for a Desert 200k.  The other side of the mountains aren't just different, it's almost a different planet. The lack of trees, precipitation, and irrigation canals make this area feel more like California Washington.

John, Paul and I left the Puget Sound on Friday evening heading over White Pass to our hotel in Richland. Plans for getting out of town early were extended when we had to return for a pair of forgotten shoes. No harm done, we were quickly back on the road and still made it to our hotel before midnight. This was just training for the longer rides when we wouldn't be getting any sleep anyway. Morning came too soon and some breakfast was in order.

Sun cracked over the horizon and quickly broke the morning chill as we gathered in a parking lot waiting for the ride to start. It was strange to look over and not see Mt Rainier on the eastern horizon. Introductions went around as people gathered their gear for the ride. I was surprised to see so many bikes without fenders and so many aerobars. It must be a dry and windy place out here. A brief welcome form Paul the organizer and we started off. The ride started up a main road out of town and a small group developed in the front of the riders. No one wanted to take off quickly, so we all warmed up together for the first few miles. At the first climb, I decided to stretch my legs and sped up off the front. It felt incredible to have the dry, sunny air flowing around me. The morning chill was disappearing as the sun rose overhead.

I was joined by two other riders and we pushed hard through the first small towns in an informal paceline. By the time we got to the first control, our group had split up by a minute or two. We followed a beautiful road along the river until we made a turn west on Hwy 22 to Toppenish. The morning breeze had turned into a full on headwind at this point. Alone and exposed, I struggled to maintain speed and motivation on the open highway. There weren't any trees in the way to block the view of Mt Adams a hundred miles away. Finally I was joined by what I thought was a large pacline I could see gaining distance from behind me, but instead, there were two equally tired riders working in the wind. I joined them, relieved to rest behind someone. After a short eternity, we reached the western edge of the route and stopped to refuel and refresh in the sun at Safeway.

Three of us left the turn around and headed a short distance north to ride back on the other side of the river for the way home. The moment we headed east we were blessed with a stiff tailwind. We started making the time up from what we lost in the morning as we cruised through the wine and fruit country. The farms on this side of the river provided us with more interesting scenery than the way out. As the hours passed, the day warmed up and the layers came off. Finally I was down to just the jersey and I could feel my skin warm in the sun. I began to tire and dropped back from the two I was with. Part of me wanted to curl up in the sun and nap, but I took some Endurolyts and pushed on. Back in Prosser I stopped at a Starbucks and was glad to have some caffeine for the last push back.

I had heard rumors about the winds shifting directions midday in this area, but I thought we were in the clear with only 35 miles to go. But I was wrong. Riding alone from the control, I turned east and was taken aback by a stiff headwind. The flags on the porches were all blowing at me. I groaned, turned up my music, got in the drops and pushed on. After a few hours of riding in the wind, I came to the conclusion, that riding in the rain is still harder than riding in the wind, but the wind sure does take a mental toll. The sun was still shining and the air was still dry.

So far in my rando career, I haven't been too concerned with my finishing time. The focus was always to enjoy the ride and keeping going. The mentality has worked out well, and always been fast enough to not get cut off by time, but there are many advantages of going faster. When I heard about how flat and dry this 200k was going to be, I pulled out my times from other 200k brevets to see if I could get a little faster on this ride. As I was spinning up the last big hill on the ride, the only thing I could think about was the 9:08 time I had to beat. In fact, I wanted to push even harder and see if I could break the 9 hour mark. I had 25 minutes and about 4 miles to go to hit sub 9 and it was time to see if I could do it. Back in town it was not only about how fast I could bike, but also how many lights I got stopped at. It reminded my of being late to work on my commute into town. The bike gods were with me and and made it in with 3 minutes to spare. This was my fastest, and flattest 200k to date. I got a cold drink and laid down in the sun and enjoyed it.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Spring 100k

A year ago, the spring 100k was covered in snow. This year we had cherry blossom petals snowing down on us. We couldn't have asked for a more perfect day. The populaire marked the first organized ride of the season and it is always exciting to see old and new faces again. The morning started with a fiery red sunrise against the horizon as we gathered to drive to the start in Renton. Coffee and donuts waited at the sign-in table and there were more people in wool jerseys than rain jackets. I managed to get my bike cleaned and all put back together after getting the new frame straightened. As we gathered for a pep talk, we were surprised with a serenade from a bagpiper as we started off. Over 100 riders decided to try the 100k course instead of the ever popular Chilly Hilly.

The forested and farmed hills around Renton didn't make for incredible sweeping vistas, but the sun shining through the trees on the spring flowers was equally rewarding.

All day, conversations abounded as we got to hear about how many rainy rides everyone did last winter. Plans started to be formed for the summer as people talked of the many big rides offered in our area this year. In best SIR form, there were incredible controls. Cookies, drinks, and smiles greeted us at the major controls, all good things even on a "short" ride. Also in SIR tradition, there were plenty of hills to find in the area. We even found some extra ones not on the course with some "bonus miles". It's so easy to miss a turn when chatting with friends.

The ride ended at the Dog and Pony Alehouse with good food and lots of beer. The Olympic gold medal hockey game was in full swing on the TV. We enjoyed meeting a few new faces over a few pints and burgers as we waited for friends to finish their ride.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I wasn't going to let a broken frame ruin my 23 month streak of riding 200k rides, but time was running out for free weekends. Luckily we had a 58cm Bianchi Volpe on the sales floor. I got approval from the boss and went about doing a frame swap. With a new color scheme, and a mismatched fork, I set off on another 200k ride. This was another first "ascent" ride through the rural roads along the I-5 corridor. It's amazing how quickly the traffic dies down just a few miles from one of the busiest highways in the US. Josh, John, and myself celebrated President's day by breaking in this route (hopefully no more breaking for me). Josh was busy in the morning, so we decided on a 12:00 noon start.

It was another beautiful dry, but cloudy and cool day as we made quick work of the flat roads out of town. We fueled up in Centralia with an extra sandwich to anticipate not finding much food in the next 100 miles. The day was beautiful and the afternoon sun warmed us as we climbed the Alpha Centralia road. Mt Rainier poked out below the clouds and many of the trees were starting to show the first signs of spring. Along the way we got to make up the informational controls for the new route. It's always fun to joke about putting down questions like: "How many trees can you see from this intersection".

The hilly section around Mayfield dam made us work hard, but the quick descents were enjoyable as well as being on new roads. The exploration is one of my favorite parts of the ride. Adventuring down new roads on a bicycle is thrilling. After a few months of difficult cold and wet rides, I was relieved to have good weather and fun company. As we crested another hill, Mt Saint Helens poked it's flat top out of the clouds.

After pedaling through Mossyrock, the daylight began to end just as the first drops of rain began to fall. It must still be February in Washington. The drops turned into rain and we put our heads down and pedaled hard in the dark and rain. This did give me an opportunity to check out my new light in the rain. I just upgraded to the new Supernova E-3 pro Asymmetrical beam and enjoyed the wide beam it cast on the road. We worked through a pace line without much talk until we reached the final control in Adna. The hills were all behind us, just 30 flat miles to home. I was glad to get more calories in my body and ate a sandwich and Snickers.

After leaving the store, we had the pleasant surprise of cloudy skies instead of raindrops. We cruised back into town at 10:30 pm finishing another 200k lap around Olympia. I was exited to finish my second R12 without any more frames breaking.


Some people ask why we decide to spend hundreds of hours riding our bikes to strange far away places like Concrete, Farmer and Brooklyn, Washington. We eat more food a gas stations than is recommended by any nutritionist and drink more Perpetuem than most people can stomach. Well the answer is: the little shiny awards. Like grown up Boyscouts, we work hard to build up our miles just for the shiny little trinkets to show off to our friends. 

For 2009, I decided to tackle the award for the "ambitious randonneur" and complete the American Randonneur Challenge. I wasn't going to let the fact that I hadn't finished even one 1200k ride, let alone 2 1200k rides get in my way. After a busy and successful summer, I earned the award after completing both the Gold Rush and the Last Chance 1200k. 

To prepare myself for these events, I decided to ride as many brevets as possible. These miles brought me to the total of the 8,000 km. Anxiously awaiting the post man ever day, a box finally arrived for me and now have a new spot on the bookshelf. 

Ups and Downs

To celebrate my 24th month of consecutive 200k rides, I decided to ride the Brooklyn 200k, the same permanent I did last year for my first R12. This beautiful scenic ride is one of my favorite loops out of Olympia. The cloudy but dry morning promised a good ride with relatively warm temperatures. The sun even came out as we started our ride on the flat roads to Littlerock. We made good time out of town and I was looking forward to the gravel roads that were approaching. I was feeling strong and was excited to steam up the climbs.

About 3 miles from that climb, I heard a loud sound coming from my bike. I had just tuned up my bike and knew that nothing should be making this clunking sound coming from my bike. I stopped and started going down the check list of potential problems. First, the easy fixes: loose pump, loose water bottle cages, nope. Crankarms, bottom bracket, chainrings, chain, rear derailleur, cassette, rear hub, front hub. Nope. Was I hearing things? I got back on the bike and as soon as I put pressure on the pedals it started again, clunk, clunk, clunk with each turn of the pedals. This wasn't good. I stopped again for a closer look. In the back of my head I knew that the only problems left were really bad. After wiping away the dirt, I found the problem, and it was really bad. A clean crack through my frame on the drive-side chainstay. I quickly caught up to Rick and Don who were riding with me and showed them what the problem was. I borrowed Rick's cell phone and began the slow pedal back to cell reception. Keep in mind that we were about as far away from anywhere as you could get in western Washington.

The sun was shining and and the weather was warm. A perfect day to slowly pedal back to town. Just outside of Oakville I was able call Corey just before he went to work. As a fellow Randonneur (and friend and coworker) he dropped everything and saved the day.

A few days later I contacted Bianchi and they are shipping a new frame to me as the old one was covered under warranty. Just another thing to add to the checklist of crazy things that happen on brevets. This was my second DNF for 2 years and 40 events, both due to mechanical failures. The frame (a Volpe) had somewhere between 17,000-20,000 miles on it in the three years I've own the bike. Hopefully it will keep serving me well.

Monday, February 1, 2010

January Rain

Then new year didn't bring any new changes for riding weather for us last Sunday. We picked the wrong weekend day to go riding. Saturday was warm and sunny, but Sunday had a few showers...10.5 hours of rain. Rick, Steve, and I decided to try a new permanent route out of Lacey. This is a shorter version of the 300k I did in the freezing temperatures in mid December. We got our coffee fix at the start at Starbucks and then headed west to Capitol Forest. It was a beautiful morning with the sun just peeking over the horizon and a glimpse of snow on the Cascades to the east. It was only an hour into the ride when the first drops started hitting our jackets. By the time we crested the steep hill on D-Line, it was a full out rain. I couldn't believe my luck with another wet ride after such beautiful weather the day before. At least I had company to suffer with on this ride. At Porter, we refilled our bottles, grabbed a few bites to eat and pushed on through the water.

We found out that the rear mudflap Steve had on his fenders was not long enough. After scraping road grit out of our mouths, Rick and I decided to pull our paceline south to Adna. I was glad to have my new fenders on my freshly tuned bike. My previous stainless fenders finally bit the dust and cracked at an attachment. I also changed to fresh tires for this ride. I decided to give the wider tires a try and changed my 28mm Continental 4 season tires over to 32mm Panaracer Pasela. The wider tires made the chipseal covered road become much more enjoyable, even if they weren't able to stop a metal wire from giving me a flat. After a quick change we were back on our way.

We stopped briefly in Adna to get our control cards signed but continued on to have lunch in Chehalis. We briefly entertained the idea of stopping at McMenamins in Centrailia but decided that we probably wouldn't want to leave after a beer and burger. After a sandwich, hot drinks and fried mystery meats from the hot case at the grocery store, we ventured back out into the rain. Our route detoured out to the Centralia Steam Plant, a massive building set away from any other development. The Tono Hills were the last challenge before the flat trails home.

The Yelm Tenino Trail and the Chehalis Western Trail link the small towns south of Olympia to Lacey. Usually this trail is busy with kids, dogs and cyclists, but this evening we only passed on other wet cyclist. Just a few miles from the end, Steve got the second flat for the day. We changed it in the dark, shivering and dripping. We pulled into Starbucks and rushed the counter for some food and hot drinks, thankful to be finished. I am also finished with January, making this my 23 consecutive month of riding 200k rides.

A wet start to for the first 200k of 2010 makes me look forward to the warm summer months ahead. When it's cold and nasty outside it's easy to plan epic rides. I signed up for the 2010 Cascade 1200k ride, excited to finish the ride after a mechanical problem stopped me 2 years ago.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sun in January

When the sun breaks through the rain clouds in January, one must act quickly to take full advantage. Within 20 minutes I was changed and ready to ride for a short training ride. I've been looking at setting up a 100k training route around Olympia that might look something like this. I decided to go scout out Steamboat Island and see how it would look to ride for a permanent. This was the first ride I have done in months that didn't require a rain jacket. It was a little windy down along the water, but it just offered a fast tail wind on the way home. The Olympics and Rainier were both out (not obscured by clouds) and the sun was just setting over the Black Hills as I reached the bridge onto Steamboat Island. I got back into town just at dark feeling reminded that spring will come eventually and the sun will shine again. Hopefully I can get the details of a 100k permanent together so the south sound rando riders can have a ride to boost some miles and get in shape for the busy coming year.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Wet Day in 2009

I had one more day to tip the scales of total bicycling kilometers for the 2009 year. One day off and the last day of the year. So on the eve of the new year, I set off for one last 200k ride. With thanks to Josh, Olympia had a new unexplored Route 750. I set off on a warm (40 deg) and dry! morning riding down familiar roads out of town. It felt incredible to comfortably cruise along after a few weeks off for Christmas holidays in the midwest. The perfect day of riding quickly disappeared as the sun crested the horizon and was quickly swallowed by rain clouds. The drops started falling before I reached Shelton and had no intentions of stopping. I grabbed some hot liquids, a sandwich and took advantage of the hand dryer in the bathroom to warm up dry out my wet clothes. Even though I knew they were going to get soaked the moment I stepped outside again, the dry seemed to provide lots of relief.

The drizzle that chased me into Shelton had turned into a full-on winter rain on the way to Union. The last time I had been in Union, the sun was shining and there were fresh sandwiches at the general store. Today, I could hardly make out the shore on the other side of Hood Canal. I put on another layer of gloves and pushed on in search of the next dry spot. On this rainy day, I broke my rule of not stopping except at controls and found myself at a McDonalds in Belfair. The idea of hot food was too tempting and I wasn't sure what services were going to be available until Gig Harbor. I ordered up lunch and hot chocolate and took advantage of another hand dryer. As I left, I noticed a growing puddle under my seat and realized why I was getting some odd looks from other people in the area. Warm and less wet (not dry) again, I set out with fresh energy.

Many times the winter rains in Washington will come in waves and have some moments that are wet and then a few hours break and then more rain. This was not one of those days. After a few minutes of riding, a steady stream of water was running off my helmet, on my face and dripping down my jacket. Before I reached Port Orchard, I had the strange sensation of water sloshing around in my waterproof mittens. It took me a few minutes, but I realized that I hadn't tucked all of my mitten under my jacket sleeve and water was running down my jacket and filling my mitten. I switched to warmer dry gloves and continued on completely tucked this time.

The afternoon miles pass uneventfully until I reached an area that I recognized from the spring 600k. In the back of my head I remembered going over some steep hills during this section. All I could focus on was the hot coffee that awaited me in Gig Harbor. I appreciated my low gears (30/32) and ground my way up the steep pitches. I pedaled into town and stopped at a city park for a bathroom and water break (and another meeting with a hand dryer!) and then searched for coffee. I got to the first store just as they were closing early for New Year but found another just a block away. Late on a rainy day, it's easy to waste time in a dry area. I had spent around 3 hours drying off today. I ate some more food and dressed for night riding.

A few turns later found me riding over the immense Narrows Bridge and into Tacoma, only 30 miles away from home. Riding at night in the rain isn't easy for a few reasons: it's difficult to see the road, and to read street signs, and light refracts into star patterns on the drops on my glasses. Navigating the many turns through Tacoma took over an hour. I felt completely turned around, but managed to stay on course. Soon, the street lights disappeared and I reached Fort Lewis on the other side of the city. The base was dark and mostly quiet. The Nisqually River valley was filled with patches of fog, making it even harder to see where I was going. I missed the last turn but soon found myself on familiar roads and quickly got back on track and home at last. One last adventure for 2009. The year wasn't going to let me go easily, but I managed to hit my 8,000km goal for the year, just at the buzzer.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Just plain Cold

A few weeks ago, I planned to do a ride just after school got out but before I left to the midwest with out my bike for the holidays. I couldn't believe that the weather forecast for western Washington in the winter was for sunshine! Yes, it was also going to be really cold, but a ride without rain in December, what more could l ask for. I felt confident that my years in Wisconsin's frozen winters would prepare me for the arctic blast that was going to be sweeping Olympia. This was going to be my chance to get some more big miles in before the years end and I picked out a local 300k to ride. I started early in the morning so I could do as much of the ride in the sunlight as possible. When I opened the door at 5:30 to ride to the start, the cold took my breath away. It was only later that I found out that instead of forecasted 14 degrees, it was in fact a chilly 6 deg F. I pedaled to the Shell station for the start of the ride. The ride out Johnson Point was incredibly cold. The windchill was unlike anything I had experienced before. The heavier, cold air sinks into the valleys making the descents even colder. When I reached the end of the point, I pulled my cue sheet out to answer the info question and the plastic map cover was difficult to open, not just because of my cold hands, but the plastic was stiffer because of the cold as well. I quickly snapped  a picture and then got back on the road to Olympia to warm up.

Back in Olympia, the sun was shining and the day promised to be warm and sunny ahead. Pedaling up Courthouse Hill isn't usually something I look forward to doing, but on this day, if successfully warmed me up. At this point I had also put on a light down jacket and another layer on my legs to try and keep more heat in. The ride out to Capitol Forest went smoothly although I noticed I wasn't able to pedal quickly. Between my cold muscles and bulky clothing, I wasn't able to maintain a high average speed. When I reached west side of the forest, I ran into the first general store problem. They didn't have much in the way of ready to eat food and they didn't have any hot beverages. In warmer months this isn't usually a problem, but with the numbers of calories I was burning through, it concerned me.

Finally the day started to warm up to a balmy 29 degrees as I made my way through the rural valleys of the southern counties. I was starting to figure out what clothing layers to wear, but on the big climbs I continually overheated. The only solution was to stop and remove a layer before I got sweaty and then stop at the top and put a layer back on for the chilly descent. This became a tedious and time consuming endeavor over the next big hills. On one of the descents, an emergency truck zoomed by, quickly followed by a fire truck. Around the next corner, a house was billowing smoke from every opening. Later I found out that a chimney caught fire and burned their house down. Luckily no one was injured. I spent the next few hours pulling off the side of the road to let a dozen more emergency vehicles pass.

The sun began to set all too soon and I began to think about how much I still had to pedal to finish. Staying warm for a second night was going to be challenging. At this point I was starting to see more snow on the sides of the road. This wasn't a good sign. The last thing I wanted to do was ride on compact snow in the dark. On the next big climb, sure enough, the road was covered in snow and forced my slow pace to a crawl. Descending was also a snails pace at 4 or 5 mph to maintain traction. I had never been so glad to reach Vader and to be back on snow free roads. I grabbed a bite to eat and finally turned home. It was a short ride into Chehalis where I was able to get more food and hot liquids. I also put shoe warmers in my feet. After this warm up, the air felt really cold outside. I navigated north to the final information controls. I was having problems throughout the day with my water bottles freezing. In the night it was an even bigger issue because I was relying on the calories from the drinks in my bottles as well as food. Pedaling down Johnson Creek Rd cold, hungry and thirsty was and endless process. Finally I reached the trail and was home free. I knew I needed to get home quickly because I was getting tired, and couldn't afford to make any mistakes.

One last stop at a gas station and then I was home free. The time was 1:15 am, my longest 300k to date. I started taking of layers and only then did I realize my feet were really cold. I had put my cold feet out of my mind because I had put warmers in my shoes. These warmers weren't working and my toes were cold, not a good sign. I rushed up to the bathroom and started running cold water over them to slowly warm them up. Slowly I increased the temperature and when it was warm enough I got in the bath to start soaking. The heat was putting me to sleep as I tried to eat some food while warming up. Then next morning I noticed that my feet were still cold and a little numb. It took nearly 3 weeks to get all the feeling back into my toes, a close call for sure.