Washington Pass. "Number five," I repeated to myself. "This is hard because it is hard." This was the fifth pass in just over 24 hours and I was ready for a break. My mind began to dream up the perfect breakfast. Hot coffee with cream and sugar, thick slabs of butter melting over fresh waffles. It was a good sign that I was hungry. My body was still open to the idea that food would produce energy. I needed energy and power, not rest. Not yet. There was still a mountain to climb. As my legs continued in their perpetual metronome-ic left, right, left, right, my mind wandered south through the mountains. I wondered how my friends were doing climbing, rafting, and hiking. They would be counting carabiners, securing PFD straps and tying shoelaces rather than counting milage posts. Was that regret passing over my brain, jealous of their sunny trips and my insane decision to ride across the Cascades?
I rounded a corner and could see the end of the shadow ahead. In the mountains pre-dawn and dawn is drawn by the mountains casting their grand shadows across the landscape hiding the morning until the sun rises high enough to defy even their magnificent height. Birds began chirping just ahead, heralding the warmth of the impending morning. The sun slid from the top of my helmet down my back and across my legs as I emerged from the cold darkness into the morning. The new day had begun. I felt photosynthetic as the sun warmed my blood and gave me new energy. I stood out of the pedals and powered forward up the pass and crested past the summit sign. Another mountain climbed. Another stage competed. Not the finish, but one step closer.
I looked back over my shoulder, back down the valley to the mountain peaks that still dominated the horizon. I was briefly amazed by the distance I had covered on my bicycle. The grandness of this landscape diminished all human scale. The thin ribbon of road stretched into the distance and yet I had managed to thread my way through those peaks to this point. The trumpets were sounding my return to the western slopes, back to the warmth of civilization and the finish.
I was relived when I reminded myself that I would finish riding the 600k route today. It was an abbreviation of the 1200k rides I competed earlier in the year. Only two days of riding instead of four. I reminded myself that I started riding yesterday and would be finish riding today. Another simple fact that had been muddled through miles in the past 30 hours. The little sleep, thunderstorms, and heat stretched the hours and rippled them into days of adventure. Six of us started the challenge: Ride 300k across the three major passes on Highway 20, turn around and come back. A simple destination through some of the most majestic stretches of road in Washington. I jumped at the opportunity to ride through the mountains one last time before the rain and snows descended on the Northwest.
Now, only three of us remain. The others turned back by their own challenges of the ride. We aren't riding against each other, but we aren't choosing to ride together at this point. Our speed vary and the busy traffic limits the conversations that kept us awake through the night. Now, we chase the clock back to Arlington.
The waters of the mountain lakes are gemstones contrasting with the muted, dusty colors of the dry eastern slopes. Ferns, trees, and green plants burst from the shores as Western Washington returns to view. One more glance over the shoulder and the last grey mountain top slips behind the bow of the fir tree tops and I bid a farewell. My bicycle is twisted between the forces of gravity and the powers of the wind as I tuck into the wind spinning up the valley. Soon, the trees thicken and break the wind into a softer breeze. The steep mountain sides crumble into foothills. I roll along in satisfaction and begin counting the miles to home.
Last weekend I completed Jan's Mountain 600k variation in 37h 53m. This incredible ride finishes my 10 series of Randonneuring events and 55 consecutive months of riding. Thanks to Jan and Ryan for encouragement and organization and to Brad for endless conversation.