Thursday, April 30, 2009

not-for-credit flèche

or … my 2nd bike ride to the coast in two weeks!

The "Spokespersons"
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
If someone would have asked if I was interested in doing a circuitous 225-mile 24-hour bicycle ride to the coast and back, featuring some nocturnal riding on cool roads in Clackamas County, an excellent lunch at a Pacific City brewpub, and a beautiful and long (and challenging) riverside road back to wine country, I would have said, “yes!”

But the question that was asked was “Are you interested in doing a flèche?” Or more precisely, “Are you interested in joining a flèche team? … something that includes a bit of elevation gain but a moderate pace … thinking 375-420 kms, keeping stops brief (30 mins or less and infrequent).” To which, I answered … “yes!”

The main differences between the two are 1) a flèche has time constraints, and 2) you’re expected to meet those time constraints with you compatriots. Or as Susan France put it last Sunday, when you’ve given up on the flèche, but still riding, it’s called touring.

Joshua Bryant designed a lovely route with lotsa backroads with minimal traffic. The team was good, too. Ray Ogilvie and RB Buschman are veterans of other flèches. Joshua is a strong yet easy-going rider. I was the slow one of the group, and was happy there were four of us, just in case I didn’t maintain the required pace.

The ride started at the Hopworks Urban Brewery in SE Portland at 7:00 Friday evening (April 24), and headed out Woodstock and Foster Roads to the Springwater Corridor. It got dark at about the 30 km point in Boring. Between there and Silverton, we enjoyed star-filled rural skies and some challenging hills.

Silverton was where the ride went awry. Right away it was a challenge to find a business that was open at 1:00 am that wasn’t a bar. It’s even bleaker at that time of night than Independence. (I know, cuz two years ago a curious policeman in Independence signed Ken Mattina’s and my brevet cards at the same hour.) While I put in an extra mile in Silverton looking for an ATM, Joshua, RB, and Ray entertained (or were entertained by) the local inebriated rowdies. And then while Joshua changed batteries on his taillight and I put on my gloves, RB and Ray took off. It was the last time Joshua and I were to see them for the next 32 hours.

The route out of Silverton is obvious (so I’m told) if you’re familiar with that town. But Joshua and I stayed on Hwy 213 too long, while RB and Ray did something else. Consensus was everyone made wrong turns. But as RB pointed out last Sunday morning, it only takes 50 feet and a turn to lose someone.

With help from Joshua’s iPhone mapping function, he and I got back on track a few miles out of Silverton, and after some deliberation, continued on to Salem. The problem with Salem is that there are many all night businesses that can serve as checkpoints. We chose an AM-PM market on Market St … waited an hour … exchanged cell phone numbers (the obvious omission between the four of us six hours earlier) … then split up looking for RB and Ray. By the time we finally left Salem, we were well behind schedule.

In the meantime, Ray and RB had continued to McMinnville. Of course, I would not learn this until eight hours later. The hardest part of the entire flèche was not knowing where RB and Ray were … for nine full hours. When Ray finally called me (I was on Little Nestucca Road approaching Pacific City), my heart sank to learn that he and RB had abandoned in McMinnville after waiting for Joshua and me for nearly two hours. After all, they had waited well beyond the printed closing time.

It was well into daylight by the time Joshua and I arrived in McMinneville. After Willamina, Joshua went on ahead to try to reel in Ray and RB. When I got Ray’s phone call, I in turn called Joshua. By the time I got to Pacific City, Joshua was already considering alternate plans.

Joshua’s wife Britt offered to drive out to the coast and pick us up, but Joshua and I really wanted to ride Nestucca River Road between Beaver and Carlton. Neither of us had ever been on that road; it was one of the main attractions of the flèche route. On the other hand, we were already familiar with the roads from Carlton to the Forest Grove. So Britt planned to pick us up in Carlton eight hours later.

This allowed Joshua and me to enjoy a relaxed meal at the Pelican Brewery in Pacific City before heading back out over the Coast Range. One beer sampler later, the significant disappointment of getting separated from Ray and RB, and in not finishing the flèche, washed away. The tour was still on!

Nestucca River
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
I had little preconception of Nestucca River Road, expect that it might be similar to Little Nestucca River Road. Boy was I wrong! The summit over the range is much higher on Nestucca River Road, and the approach is relentless. It’s also full of illusions and false summits. There were many times that the only way I knew we hadn’t arrived at top was to watch the river flow continuously toward us. Visually lovely, but physically challenging, the road included a 2 ½-mile rocky dirt/gravel section, and also a couple of steep sections that begged us to dismount and walk.

I spent so much energy pedaling up along the Nestucca River, my legs had little gas for the descent into Carlton. By the time we arrived (about ½ hour later than forecasted), Britt was waiting for us … in front of a closed Ken Wright Cellars. I was grateful for the fig newtons she brought along; they ended up being my dinner, as I wasted no time falling asleep once I got home.

riders and ORRando folk
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
Part of the flèche tradition is for all the teams to have breakfast together the following morning. Since we were the only team this year, breakfast got moved from Forest Grove to downtown Portland. Felt good to ride to Kenny and Zukes on Sunday morning, where Michael Rasmussen and Susan France treated us to a pastrami hash (at least that’s what I had), and a re-hashing the previous day’s events.

‘Twas a good, difficult, and memorable ride, or tour. Next time, cell phone numbers all around!

photos of the fleche-attempt / tour are here on Flickr.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

annual trip to the coast

Don't think I've been to the Oregon coast in the last 3-4 years, except by bicycle. Each time, it's been on a 300 kilometer bike ride from Forest Grove out to Tillamook and Pacific City, then inland to Grand Ronde, Sheridan, Amity and Lafayette, and then back North to Forest Grove. This ride happens every Spring, and is put on by the Oregon Randonneurs. It’s called the Three Capes 300k Brevet.

This year's version (held last Saturday, April 11) was hosted by cycling veterans Cecil-Anne and Lynne, and started promptly at 6:00 AM. I, however, was not prompt. I am definitely NOT an early morning person, and my day job (ironically) involves getting up every weekday before dawn. So by the time weekends roll around, I'm usually ready to ride again sometime ‘round the middle of Saturday afternoon.

On this particular Saturday, I managed to leave home at 5:30 in the morning, and got to Forest Grove 45 minutes later. By 6:30, I was off and rolling on what promised to be another solo rando ride.

On the out-and-back up Timber Road, there were still a dozen riders returning the other way. Many of them were more than 1/2 hour ahead at this point, so I wasn't gaining much ground on anyone. Had a nice short chat with Cecil at the 1st controle, then continued on Hwy 6 towards the coast.

It's interesting the things I remember from previous years’ versions of this ride, and the things I don’t. For instance, I hadn't memorized the topography (or grades). The summit on Hwy 6 came sooner than I expected. And the tough hills between Tillamook and Pacific City seemed less severe than I remembered (although I'll probably never ride them quickly, or on a fixie).

Upon arrival at the Tillamook Safeway, I noticed two bikes, and then their riders (Brad Reber and Ed Groth), who were doing lunch in front of the market. They resumed their ride shortly after I got checked in. We met up again after Netarts, and rode together for much of the way from there … up Little Nestucca River Road, over Summit Sourgrass, and then to Grand Ronde.

I bought some liquids in Grand Ronde and soon pushed on towards Sheridan and beyond while Ed and Brad elected to have a sit down meal from the market’s deli. Nineteen miles later (at the info control in Ballston), Brad passed me. He was quite determined to get to Forest Grove in time to ride to Hillsboro and catch the last Tri-met train to Portland.

Like last year, darkness fell somewhere around Amity. I ran into Brad one last time at one of the small-town convenience stores; he was surprised that Ed hadn’t caught up with me.

I actually felt pretty strong for the remainder of the ride … up Ribbon Ridge, North Valley, Spring Hill, and Fern Hill roads. My lights and reflective material must have worked well, as most of the passing cars gave me about 10 feet of space.

A little before midnight, as Cecil signed my card in Forest Grove, Lynne announced, “It must be Bill,” and promptly fell back to sleep. After a few snacks and refreshments, Cecil expressed some concern about two riders still out on the course … with no cell phones. She contemplated driving the course in reverse when the ride officially ended at 2:00 AM, but I saved her the trouble by driving out there well before then. As it turns out, it was unnecessary. Duane Wright (who I hadn’t seen during the whole ride) and Ed (both of them on fixies!) finished in time. However, it was too late for Ed to catch the Max back from Hillsboro to Portland, so I gave him and his bike a lift back to Portland.

Cape Mears, Cape Lookout, and Cape Kiwanda are the Three Capes featured in this annual bike ride. I didn’t take as many pictures of the coast as last year, because 1) the skies we more overcast, and 2) the visibility less. However, the pictures I did take this year are here on Flickr. (You’ll notice quite a few are of Brad and Ed.)