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.