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.