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.