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.