Thursday, December 30, 2010

hernia repair

For several years doctors had expressed concern about my hernia. But I never had it looked into … that is until the last week in November (right before Thanksgiving). Around that time I felt some minor discomfort in the lower abdominal area, and finally decided to follow up on my doc’s referral.

Presented with my cycling plans for Summer 2011, the hernia specialist convinced me to schedule surgery sooner than later. I had to weigh completing a 3rd consecutive R-12 (36 straight months of cycling a 200k or longer event) against minimizing problems that could arise ‘round PBP time (1200 km from Paris to Brest and back next August). I opted for the latter, and scheduled the “hernia repair surgery” on December 1.

The surgeon made it sound like no big deal. Minimally invasive “bilateral laparoscopic” is what he called the procedure, and I was under the impression I’d be back to my old biking self by the end of the month. When a nurse called later with specifics about the operation, and asked “You have scheduled time off work, haven’t you?,” I got the first hint that this was bigger, more time-consuming deal that initially envisioned. The bigger-deal-ness was confirmed when I was later told that I would need to be driven home from the hospital afterwards, and that I should have someone stay overnight during my first evening at home.

before surgery
Originally uploaded by tangocyclist
Three good friends (Amy, Cynthia, and Megan), all of whom have busy lives of their own, ended up playing tag team in order for someone to be with me throughout the procedure, plus the first night at home. I originally planned to bicycle to the hospital, but instead just biked to work, from where Amy picked me up and drove to St. Vincent’s Hospital. Check in took a while, as did preparations for the surgery. Amy was still there as they put me under. And when I came to (a couple hours later), there was Cynthia, prepared to load me in her car.

preparing to leave
Originally uploaded by tangocyclist
“Coming to” (in the more complete sense) didn’t happen quickly, though. So it was still a few more hours before I could be stood up and walked to the car. In fact, by the time I was released, Amy had returned to the hospital, and took me home.

It was painful to get in and out of bed, and in and out of a car. Other than that, I was basically okay, as long as I didn’t lift anything. After a couple days of Vicoden, I switched to Advil and Ibuprofen, which I continued to stay on for quite a while, especially after Laurel Leverton convinced me that it was important to control was inflammation in order for healing to occur. I returned to host the Sunday tango practica on December 5th (but only as host and DJ, as Megan taught the lesson), and to work on Monday the 6th. I tried bike-commuting to work about a week later, but the lower right abdomen felt a little funky afterwards. Many nurse-type friends put the fear of God into me about not aggravating things prematurely, saying that the messiest procedure is often the second surgery, to repair a first one not taken care of.

a tradition continues
Originally uploaded by tangocyclist
During the last third of December, five family members visited me for the holidays. I still had to take care with lifting and such, although I managed to bring home a Christmas tree via Xtracycle. Total cycling mileage for the month was less than a mere 14, though. So the consecutive monthly 200k randonneuring ride streak ended at 35. And the healing process looked to be closer to six weeks rather than three.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Skyline-Vernonia-Scappoose 200k

Come November, I was basically done with big rides for the year. But I still was looking for a 200k to keep my 3rd R-12 in tact. I thought about riding an SIR permanent out of Centrailia, but when Ed Groth expressed interest in joining me if the ride started close in, I selected the Skyline-Vernonia route that starts in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland.

After posting my intentions on the Oregon Randonneurs e-list to do this ride on Saturday the 13th , Lynne Fitzsimmons and David Parsons joined up. Lynne lives close to me, and offered to drive me to the start. Riding to her home sounded easier than riding and/or taking the Max, so I accepted. When the two of us arrived at Starbucks in St. Johns, Ed, David, and Ed's friend Adam were already there. Departure time was scheduled for 7:00, but is was closer to 7:25 and quite drizzly when we actually left.

riders writing
Originally uploaded by tangocyclist

The route ascends through Portland's Washington Park on the way to Skyline Blvd., and then goes over to Old Cornelius Pass Rd. I was feeling a bit on the sluggish side and lost sight of the other riders between Helvetia and North Plains. But we regrouped at Maggie's in Forest Grove.

On Timber Road on the way to Vernonia, Adam and Ed discoved an abandonned ATM machine below the side of the road. Adam actually took the time to call the 800 number on the machine, found out that the Southern California bank it belonged to wasn't interested, and then discovered the machine had already been gone through. In the meantime, Lynne, David, and I forged on through the drizzle.

21st & main
Originally uploaded by tangocyclist

After lunch at Black Bear Coffee in Vernonia, we continued over to the Scappoose-Vernonia Hwy, which ascends for most of nine miles before heading back down to Hwy 30. David, Lynne, and I lost track of Ed and Adam at this point, and did our nocturnal exploration of the farmlands between Scappoose and Sauvie Island as a trio. Back on Highway 30, we found Ed while warming up at a local Texaco station, and trusted that Adam found his own way back. (Adam wasn't doing the ride for rando credit.)

The four of us were headed back on Highway 30 at a pretty good clip when my rear tire started to soften. While Ed, Lynne, and David forged ahead, I stood up in the pedals for the last five or so miles to lessen the weight in back, thus avoiding changing a tire in the rain, and losing only a few minutes of time to the other three.

After celebrating strong rides all around, and the completion of my 35th consecutive 200k or greater monthly rando ride, Lynne drove me home ... and in the process ... got her first tour of my place on the westside.

Took a few pictures that are here on Flickr.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Columbia River Run 400k (Oct 2010)

Super Seattle Randonneur Geoff Swarts organized a couple of late-season 400k brevets out of Wenatchee for October 22nd and 23rd that peaked my interest. The first reason they got my attention was there would be new territory to see. But more significantly, if I finished another 400k this season, that would mean having completed the equivalent of two Super Randonneur series (in addition to the Oregon Blue Mountains 1000k) during the 2010 season, something that I didn’t think was in the realm of possibility a couple months earlier.

The first 400k was called the Eastern Washington Loop, and would leave East Wenatchee at 12:01 AM on Friday the 22nd, heading out to George, Lind, Ritzville, Odessa, Ephrata, and back. The second 400k was called the Columbia River Run, and would go from East Wenatchee up to Tonasket and back, leaving at 6:00 AM on Saturday the 23rd. I thought this pair of rides was a brilliant idea for anyone in the market for 800k with a proper night’s sleep in the middle.

But I was only in the market for 400k, and the latter suited my schedule better. Susan Otcenas was also interested in riding 400k, as she hadn’t done that particular distance yet this year. Also, the 23rd was her birthday, and what better way to spend it than pedaling your new Sweetpea for 250 miles.

Susan and I tentatively agreed to carpool. But a few days before the ride, I got a most interesting conflict … the opportunity to pick some grapes up at Syncline Winery near Lyle, WA on Friday morning. After Susan and her partner Jeff agreed to pick me up in Goldendale on the way to Wenatchee later that day, the extra little gig was on! (Harvesting grapes has always been on my wish list, and this was a serendipitous opportunity.)

Originally uploaded by tangocyclist
So on Friday morning, I took an extra half day off work and headed up to Syncline to lend a hand in picking syrah grapes. After a couple hours of filling buckets, we were treated to an informative tour of the facilities by winemaker and founder James Mantone.

From there, I drove to Goldendale (via Centerville, on the route I missed during the Bikenfest 200k earlier in the month). I checked with the Goldendale Chamber of Commerce for a safe place to leave my car, then established phone contact with Susan and Jeff just before they arrived. After loading my LeMond, Jeff drove the remaining 2 ½ hours up to Wenatchee.

The three of us checked in at the “East Wenatchee Inn at the River,” then were joined by Geoff Swarts and Lyn Gill at a local Mexican restaurant. It was then off to sleep before the 6:00 AM start.

lake chelan
Originally uploaded by tangocyclist
There were a grand total of eleven riders at the start, and within one mile we had crossed the Columbia River on a pedestrian/bike bridge. I kept up pretty well with other riders for about 20 miles (till around the town of Entiat), then I started to fade on the Navarre Coulee Rd grade up to Lake Chelan. Vincent Muoneke started on the slow side (as he was experiencing tendonitis after the previous day’s 400k), then passed me shortly after the first contrôle on Lakeshore Dr. The rest of the ride (except for the last 5 miles) would be solo.

linear trees
Originally uploaded by tangocyclist
After Pateros, I was truly in new territory, as the Northern Cascades 600k route six weeks earlier turned off at this point towards Twisp and Winthrop. This time, though, I was riding along the varying Northern geographies of the Columbia and Okanogan Rivers. Kind of desert-like, but well-irrigated desert. (Agriculture’s big up here.) After Brewster, I stopped for some warm protein at the KFC in Omak. Twenty-three miles later, I arrived at the turnaround town of Tonasket (which is almost spittin’ distance to the Canadian border). From that town’s Shell station, I texted the following to my Facebook friends:

     in Tonasket, WA with 2 1/2 hours in the bank.
     215k down. 185k left back to Wenatchee.
     No leisurely riders on this 400k, so it looks
     like another lanterne rouge at this distance.
     Left hamstring/quad/thigh is pretty sore.
     A lot of time in smaller gears.

nocturnal whirring
Originally uploaded by tangocyclist
The return trip took some slightly different (as in quieter) roads between Omak and Brewster, but still essentially parallel to the Okanogan River. It got dark well before Omak, and started to rain around Brewster. South of Pateros (before Hwy 97 crossed the Columbia) there was a State Patrol Officer detouring traffic because of a prior fatal accident. The officer waved me through, and by the time I arrived “at the scene,” the last barricades were being removed.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the ride happened well after the town of Orando, about 5 miles from the finish. There was a quasi-familiar car pulled over to the side of the highway with its flashers on. Nothing registered initially, but I finally figured out that the driver calling me over was Jeff Mendenhall. Turns out Susan was in the car. At first, I thought they had driven out along the route to see how I was doing. (Quite unnecessary, I thought!) Then Susan asked me if I wanted company for the rest of the ride. What I didn’t realize was that Susan had seriously bonked a couple hours earlier (to the point of nausea), and that Vincent had called Jeff to drive out, warm her up and revive her. By now she was ready to continue the ride, and my late arrival on the scene gave her the final impetus to finish it off.

jeff and susan
Originally uploaded by tangocyclist
The two of us rolled into the East Wentachee Inn at the River at 5:59 AM, one minute under 24 hours. Jeff greeted (or re-greeted) Susan with a small birthday cake he had bought in Leavenworth (and pedaled back with). Both Susan and I finished later than anticipated. I could reason that two 600k’s within the previous six weeks had slowed me down. But Susan’s experience was clearly more scary and dramatic.

I’m glad to have done that ride, and completed two “super randonneurs” for the year. And I’m really grateful for Susan’s and Jeff’s lift from Goldendale to Wenatchee and back. Also, many thanks to Mr. Swarts as well for putting this ride together. I don’t know how those monster-mileage SIR guys do it.

Pictures are here on Flickr.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pacific Coast Hwy 600k

For some reason near the end of September, I got a bug in my head to ride another 600k this season. And lo and behold, after a little researching, I discovered the PCH Randos out of California were putting on just such a ride. It would take place on October 9-10, and head southwards from Salinas to Moorpark via the Pacific Coast Highway.

This ride became particularly intriguing because it was an opportunity to bicycle on some fabulous roads that I had only ridden by motorcycle decades earlier. It would also be an opportunity to hang with some of my family, whom I hadn't seen in a few years.­­

It took some planning to make this happen. But thanks to some flexibility in my sister's and niece's schedules, the travel logistics came together rather nicely (particularly if one doesn't mind spending a lot of time on I-5).

I drove down to my sister Bunny's home in Vallejo, CA on Thursday, October 7th. My niece Melissa happened to be in Vallejo as well, and the two of us drove down to the Salinas the next day. We checked into the motel from where the 600k would commence, and found Jim Verheul already there. He had bicycled up from Orange County!, which means he would cycle

riders meeting
Originally uploaded by tangocyclist
a PBP-length 1200k or so by the time the weekend was over.

Bunny drove down to meet Melissa and me in Salinas for dinner later that evening. The two of them then witnessed 34 of us cyclists taking off in the wee dark hours of the next (Saturday) morning.

dawn over the coast
Originally uploaded by tangocyclist

The whole of the Monterey-Salinas Hwy was dark, as was the town of Carmel. But by the time we had a few miles of the Cabrillo Hwy underneath us, a beautiful dawn over the Pacific Ocean emerged. The first contrôle was in Big Sur, where my stop coincided with that of an English gentleman named Terry, who had come up from Running Springs (in the San Berandino Mtns.) to ride this 600k. Thirty five miles later in the coastal hamlet of Gorda, PCH Rando volunteer Patricia Thompson "manned" contrôle #2. From there it was seventy-some-odd miles of beautiful California coast to San Luis Obispo. On the way, I made a brief stop in Ragged Point (near San Simeon and Hearst Castle) for some overpriced refreshments.

The San Luis Obispo contrôle was at the home of a gentleman named Lance (not Armstrong, although he was in a Mellow Johnny's yellow t-shirt). Excellent spread! Real food! Then onwards to the overnight in Lompoc (via Pismo Beach and Guadalupe). I rode much of the dark part of this stretch with recumbant rider Dana Lieberman and one other gentleman. Once in Lompoc, we elected to ride the next segment, a 50-mile nocturnal loop to Buelton and back, before konking out for a not-long-enough nap at the Motel 6.

Originally uploaded by tangocyclist
One interesting rider I got to know a bit was Mel Cutler of Century City, CA. (I worked for a couple years in Century City back in the 80's.) He bike commutes down to Hawthorne, and was astonished to hear that one of the things I was most looking forward to in California was having an In-N-Out Burger. Well, he passed me on the Sunday morning ascent out of Lompoc (having gotten more sleep than me), but not before we managed to get a little more chatting in.

taken while riding
Originally uploaded by tangocyclist
Once over the Gaviota grade and onto Hwy 101 (El Camino Real), it was onwards to Santa Barbara. This was perhaps the most sentimental part of the ride, as the route passed through Goleta, Santa Barbara, and Montecito, which is where I spent two Summers at the Music Academy of the West, back in the '70's (and a few seasons commuting to the Santa Barbara Symphony a decade later). Ah the beaches! The art fairs! And the memories!

at long last
Originally uploaded by tangocyclist
Lotsa little bike trails leaving Santa Barbara County. I stopped for coffee in Carpinteria, then proceeded on new-to-me Rincon Rd. Back on Hwy 101. About 12 miles of beachside freeway later, I arrived at the Bicentianl Bike Path, which took us into Ventura. Hmmm. Lotsa construction. Lotsa confusion about how to exit and continue on the path. I had to ask directions how to get to Harbor Blvd. But in the meantime, I found an In-N-Out Burger establishment, right there in Ventura! Great meal!

Upon leaving Ventura for Oxnard, though, I was mis-directed way beyond Gonzales Road (where I should have turned left towards Oxnard proper), and ended up with a 10-bonus-mile detour beyond Channel Islands Blvd.

finish in moorpark
Originally uploaded by tangocyclist
Once back on Gonzales Rd, and having gotten a receipt at the penaltemult contrôle (a Texaco station on Ventura Rd in Oxnard), there were about 40 ascending kilometers left along Pleasant Valley and Santa Rosa Roads before the finish in Moorpark. I pushed it fairly hard for the last couple hours, arriving at Lisa and Greg Jones' home at 8:36 PM, with a finishing time of 39 hours and 36 minutes. With only 24 minutes to spare, I was about 10 minutes in front of lanterne rouge Vickie Backman.

I had phoned my sister Bunny from Ventura to tell her I'd be arriving by 7:30 PM, but had to call her again from Oxnard after my 10-mile mistake. She was at the finish to greet me, as was long distance Orange County finisher Jim Verheul, who was about to embark on an additional 80-mile ride home.

After some delicious pizza and refreshments at Greg's and Lisa's, Bunny drove me to my niece Melissa's home (in Sylmar), where a mini-family reunion of sorts commenced with my sisters Meredith and Bunny, nieces Tiffany and Melissa, and Tiffany's husband Alex. We even made plans to get together again, during the Christmas holidays, at my place in Oregon!

I think the most astonishing thing about the PCH 600k was to be reminded how undeveloped the rugged California coast is. Hwy 1 between Carmel and San Simeon has to be one of the most stunning roads in the country.

Many thanks to Greg and Lisa Jones and the rest of the PCH Randonneurs for organizing this.

Lotsa pictures of the PCH 600k are here on Flickr.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bikenfest 200k (2010 version)

I like John Kramer’s Bikenfest 200k. He changes it up a bit every October. This year (on the 2nd), it started at the Heritage Park-and-Ride near White Salmon (on the Washington side of the Hood River Bridge).

Unfortunately, I was already running late when I missed the turn onto the bridge from Hwy 84. (Confusing signage due to construction.) So after driving a few extra miles to Mosier and back, I started the 200k about 20 minutes after everyone else.

The route headed East on Hwy 14, where, after a few miles, I found Nat Beagley walking along the side of the road looking for a pedal. Hmmm. The roadside was doing an excellent job of hiding this fallen-off bike part.

Onwards, the route headed up Old Hwy 8 and used Syncline Winery (one of my favorites!) as its first contrôle. (How cool was that?) Then back to Hwy 14, I missed the turn out of Lyle towards Centerville, and mistakenly rode Hwy 142 up the Klickitat River instead. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this until I was over 20 miles up the road. I was ready to abandon (and head straight to Glenwood) when I saw a sign that said 11 miles to Goldendale. “Hmmm,” I thought. “If I hustle, I can still make it before the contrôle closes.” And that's just what I did, arriving just as the last of the other riders were leaving. With three extra bonus miles cuz of my mistake, I called John to let him know where I was, then continued the journey towards Glenwood.

I passed half a dozen riders on the next segment, then met up with Ray Ogilvie, Lynne Fitzsimmons, Susan Otcenas, and Scott Peterson in Glenwood. ‘Twas the first time I’d seen Scott on a diamond-framed bike. I rode mostly with Lynne and Susan to Trout Lake, then after a few pictures of their beautiful Sweetpeas, I took advantage of momentum and continued onto White Salmon alone.

I rode some of the final leg with Alaskan Bill Estes and his son Theodore Eugenis (who lives here in Oregon), and reached the finish a little before Lynne and Susan. Lynne was particularly enthusiastic at the end, exclaiming, “it’s still light!”

Kramer said I may be the only one who’s ridden all four Bikenfest 200’s. A little research seems to have born that out.

Pictures are here on Flickr.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Woodburn-Heartburn 150k

Near the end of September, it looked like I was getting pretty close to 5000 rando kilometers for the year (for which RUSA gives out medals of recognition). In fact I figured I'd be 150 kilometers short if I kept doing a monthly 200k for the remainder of the year. Hence, I decided to ride the "Woodburn Heartbun 150k" on September 25 from Forest Grove to Woodburn and back.

It's a nice distance that's not commonly done ... longer than a populaire ... but shorter than the monthly requirement for an R-12. Since I managed to complete the SIR Northern Cascades 600k earlier in the month, 150k seemed just the ticket, especially since it included a number of close-in roads I hadn't been on before.

unharvested guy wires
Originally uploaded by tangocyclist

I left the McMennanmin's Grand Lodge in Forest Grove at 8:30, and proceeded down foggy yet familiar Spring Hill and North Valley Roads. Made a brief coffee stop in Newberg, then proceeded on Champoeg, Butteville and Crosby Roads towards Woodburn. Stopped to get a few pictures of freshly-harvested hop fields before crossing I-5, then headed directly to the far (East) side of Woodburn for a contrôle receipt at a local bank ATM. I then returned to Woodburn's quaintish "downtown" area lined with a large variety of small Mexican eating establishments (quite a contrast to the Factory Stores along I-5). I surmised it was probably here that this 150k acquired its "heartburn" moniker. I ate relatively lightly, though (soda and an fish taco), before heading back towards the start.

menu in woodburn
Originally uploaded by tangocyclist
I had to backtrack a mile or so to correctly answer the contrôle question along Butteville Road, then proceeded to Wilsonville, where the route used the I-5 bridge to cross the Willamette River. From there, a newish (to me) selection of back roads took me to Sherwood. Crossing Hwy 99 and then onto Roy Rodgers Road, I was now back on relatively familiar territory ... except that I missed the left turn onto SR 210 (Scholls Ferry Rd), because there was no Hwy 210 sign. Once over Bull Mountain and onto Farmington Road, territory once again became again familiar (Rood Bridge, Burkhalter, Tongue, Golf Course, Lafollett and Geiger Roads) for the trek back to Forest Grove.

Once at McMennamin's Grand Lodge, I purchased a bottle of Hammerhead Ale (for the final contrôle receipt), which I enjoyed that evening with a lovely Amy-prepared meal.

Half a dozen photos from the ride are here on Flickr.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

North Cascades 600k

I initially planned to ride Michael Wolfe’s "Willamette Headwaters" 600k in late August, and was very much looking forward to it (even though i knew it wouldn’t be easy). But a conflict came up. A conflict called the OBRA Masters Track Championships. Now I’m not a "velodrome jock." But I do spend a fair amount of time at the Alpenrose track. And my coach is a track jock. And he wanted me to do this event.

Enter a 600k option from the Seattle Randonneurs, a mountainous ride starting and ending in Arlington, WA two weeks later (september 10-11). Joshua bryant’s friend Robert Higdon was putting it on. And even though it would involve a bit of a drive, the route would introduce me to some significant new territory (a good thing).

Ed Groth expressed interest in riding this 600k as well, so the two of us ended up carpooling to Seattle the day before the ride, and onwards to Arlington the morning of.

The ride commenced from the Arlington Motor Inn before sunrise, and headed East and Southeast towards Sultan. I fell off the pace of the main group (as it were) about 10-15 miles in (‘round Granite Falls), then proceeded to miss a turn onto Bollenbaugh Hill Road (around mile 32) which cost me about 5 bonus miles.

eastbound summit
Originally uploaded by tangocyclist
A lovely feature of this ride was the use of Old Highway 2 up to Stevens Pass. Robert, wife Jane, and friends Chris and Emily operated at a secret contole at the first turn onto this scenic and lightly traveled bypass. A footbridge further up ensured there was little car traffic. Upon reaching the summit, I texted to Facebook that "Stevens Pass (elev 4061 ft) hasn't gotten any easier! Leavenworth here I come!"

Leavenworth (34 miles past the Stevens Pass summit) has now become a familiar controle town, complete with cutsey signage on even the mainstream businesses. Once again, I ate and had my card signed at Subway and its adjoining convenience store.

Just before hitting Wenatchee, the route headed North along the West bank of the Columbia River on Alt Hwy 97. Now I was in new territory!, heading towards Entiat as the sun ducked behind the mountains on the left. Several hours later (but before 11:00 PM), I arrived at the controle in Pateros (fabulously manned by Joe Platzner and Vincent Muoneke) with over four hours in the bank. I then proceeded on the noctural journey towards mean Winthrop.

I was still dark when I arrived at the overnight controle, but the cooks had already switched over from chili to pancakes. There was still some of the former left, though, so that's what I ate before a crucial two-hour nap. By the time I left Sunday morning, I had used up three of my four precious hours ... 1/2 hour on dinner, 1/2 hour on breakfast, and the rest in bed. None of that time would be made up on the second day.

westbound summit
Originally uploaded by tangocyclist
After a gentle climb out of Winthrop, the last 16 miles up Highway 2 to Washington Pass were ... well ... long. Any spring I may have had in my pedal stroke the day before all but vanished. But eventually, the summit arrived. And with it, rain. Steady rain. For most of the way to Marblemount. No fast descents for this country boy!

The town of Newhalem arrived later than anticipated, as did the controle in Marblemount (after some ups and downs along the Skagit River). But now, Arlington was less than 100k away.

I stocked up on caffeine at a convenience store in Darrington (first cell connection since Pateros), then found the energy to "hoof it" the last 28 miles to Arlington. Arrived at the motel at 8:59 in the evening, one hour and one minute before the 40-hour deadline, and eight minutes before the laterne rouge. Was checked in by cheery Chris and Emily (in a motel room full of pizza), and greeted by Ed (who finished an hour and a half earlier).

Without lingering terribly long, Ed and I drove back to my friend Barbara's house in Seattle, where we were fed a lovely steak dinner. We rode a few warm-down laps around Greenlake the next morning, then drove the rest of the way back to Portland.

Thanks to Robert Higdon for organizing this memorable 600k, and to the SIR for this opportunity to complete a "super randonneur" series in 2010.

Pictures are here on Flickr.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

RSVP 2010

The 2010 “Ride from Seattle to Vancouver (BC) & Party,” (August 13-14) like many of this year’s longer bike trips, came rather quickly. Oh sure I pre-registered sometime last Winter (it’s a popular ride that sells out quickly), but then a lot of stuff pushed its way to the front of my consciousness, leaving preparations for RSVP to hibernate till a couple days before the ride.

And then I freaked out. How am I gonna get back to Seattle? How am I gonna get my bike back to Seattle? Will I be able to find a place to sleep in Bellingham?

When going through my packet a day and a half before the ride (which had languished under a pile of paperwork for a couple of weeks), I discovered a bike pass for the trip back to Seattle. Whew! As for the overnight in Bellingham, I’d take my chances. Fortunately, the overnight stay in Vancouver wouldn’t be a problem, as I have some accommodating tango friends there.

Unpreparedness extended to the morning of the first day, when I didn’t get out of Portland till 4:00 AM. I arrived at the start in Magnusun Park in Seattle a few minutes before check-in closed, dropped off my overnight bag, then unloaded my bike and suited up for the ride.

Much of the early part of the ride is along the Seattle’s Burke-Gilman trail. I didn’t linger much, but was still passed by quite a few riders. Hmmm. A bunch of hares, I suppose.

lynne's new sweetpea
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
My first real stop was in Arlington (about 50 miles into the ride), where I found Cecil and Lynne lunching at a healthy food café … with (of course) their shiny Sweetpeas right behind them. This was my first time to see Lynne’s new rando bike, and (of course) I pulled my camera out for its first pictures of the journey.

About 40 miles later, while stocking up on liquids and pizza in Bow, I ran into randonneur Nat Beagley and a couple of his friends from Richland, WA. The headwinds that greeted us as we headed North towards Chuckanut Dr. and Bellingham were memorable.

Nat, Jason and Brian
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

It was along this stretch that my rear tire flatted. I had a heck of a time getting the bead of the Gatorskin back over my fairly new Velocity Fusion rim.

I ran into another randonneur, Albert Meerscheidt of Seattle, at the Samish Bay overlook. Had to stop for a couple pictures there.

One needn’t have worried about housing in Bellingham … that is if one doesn’t mind a room with a lot of residual smoke. In my case, I adjusted quickly, falling asleep shortly after an efficient Mexican dinner, and departed not that long after sunrise.

A bi-annual trip across the Canadian border accounts for all my “international” travel of the last four years. Northbound customs at the Aldergrove Broder Crossing was a breeze, mostly because of preparations made by the Cascade Bicycle Club. Show your passport. Get your name checked off a list. You’re good to go!

modern bridge
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

After the fairly lengthy rest stop in Ft. Langley (it was hot), the route took us over a new, modern bridge over the Pitt River that replaced the Albion Ferry. Continuing on, it was a bit of a trudge to Burnaby (perhaps cuz I didn’t stop at the rest area in Pt. Moody). The Frances/Union Bike route then provided a good quasi-suburban transition into Vancouver proper.

Originally uploaded by tangobiker

Once at the finish (at Vancouver’s Coast Plaza Hotel), I doused the complementary hamburger with an expensive (but ordinary) beer, then was picked up by tango friend Wendy and taken to the Granville Island brewery (recommended by Canadian track cyclist Jamie Shankland). Then after a shower and power nap, it was off to a tango dinner/dance in North Vancouver.

Bike and I got safely onto the first bus back to Seattle Sunday morning. Southbound customs back into the States took a lot more time than the previous day’s Northbound crossing. The rest of the trip, though, was mostly (and pleasantly) uneventful. Almost forgot to pick up my drop bag at Magnuson Park, though, before driving home.

Good ride. Maybe I’ll do it every other year. I find Vancouver intriguing. Plus, there are some good friends who tango there.

My pictures from the ride are here on Flickr

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

3 Volcanoes 300k

I had a choice for the first weekend in August: ride 400k out of Wilsonville on a route that featured some of Oregon's illustrious historic covered bridges (a route I had ridden a few months earlier), or ride 300 mountainous kilometers on roads through the Gifford National Forest that I had never seen. As someone who doesn't even like to drink the same beer twice in a row, I chose the latter.

The "Three Volcanoes 300k" started in the small town of Packwood, WA (about a 2.5 hour drive from Portland), which serves as a gateway of sorts into the Cascades (about 50 miles south of Mt. Rainier). The ride featured many narrow-ish, scenic national forest roads, and about 10 miles of gravel. Because of this last detail, I elected to take my 'cross bike, which accommodates wider tires than my LeMond. The last time I rode a cyclocross bike on a rando ride was Michael Wolfe's "Alsea Falls 400k" about a year earlier. (After that ride, my Shimano generator hub was converted for use with my LeMond.) On this ride, I used my old Nite Sun battery-powered handlebar-mounted light, which turned out to be problematic on the final mountainous descent of the ride.

Amy Peiper put out an email a couple days before the ride that a cabin room in Packwood became unexpectedly available before and after the ride. Four others and I signed up, and I drove up from Portland pretty much straight from work on Friday afternoon/evening. 'Twas nice to wake up in the town from which the ride commenced.

chris, john, & david
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
From the local Shell station, the ride started out briskly enough, with plenty o' pacelines from Packwood to Randle. Things spread apart a bit after the first contrôle, (at the Iron Creek Picnic Grounds), but I ended up riding the next 15 or so miles with the likes of Chris Heg, John Perch, David Rowe and Jon Muellner.

Originally uploaded by tangobiker
After watering up at the Blue Lake Creek Campground, I rode solo for most of the remainder of the ascent to Baby Shoe Pass, which included a fair amount of gravel for the last 5 or 6 miles. At the summit, I arrived at about the same time as bike builder Dan Boxer, but before I left, several other people arrived (as evidenced by this group picture).

A few more miles of gravel on the descent, then some fast pavement to Trout Lake. Lotsa riders stopped here for Huckleberry Shakes (which included a long wait), but I elected for a shorter contrôle stop at the Trout Lake grocery store (as did Dan Fender).

The next section included section of Kramer's SxSW 200k (that was held in July 2009). Some hills, some drops, a few spots of gravel, and finally a well-attended contrôle at Northwoods .

From there, the final ascent up to Windy Ridge and Elks Pass was challenging. And then there was the descent. A moist and foggy descent. My Nite-Sun didn’t illuminate things in a very confidence-inspiring way, and I ended up being passed by a few people on the way to Randle, including "Levis on Litespeed" Steven Barnes. After the right-turn-onto­-smaller-roads back towards Packwood, Steve started to fade a bit. The two of us basically finished at the same time with a far-from-lanterne-rouge time of 18 hrs and 15 minutes.

Three hundred kilometers, 12,000 feet of climbing, 10+ miles of gravel, and 3 passes over 4000 feet. What co-organizer and tandem pilot Amy Pieper later described as “truly the full meal deal of brevets.”

Some excellent photos and description of the ride were posted here by Chris Heg.

John Muellner has a detailed account here.

The rest of my pictures are here on Flickr.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A tale of two rando rides [out of Olympia, Washington]

100k (July 8, 2010)

When Paul (Dr. Codfish) Johnson described the Seattle International Randonneurs' populaire on July 8th as a good introduction for non-initiated friends to the sport of randonneuring, I thought, "Hmmmm. Maybe Amy could take her recently-acquired Surly Crosscheck on a 62-mile romp through central-Western Washington." Never mind her longest ride to date had been about 10 miles, and that she dislikes hills with a vengance. At least now she had a bike better suited to this sort of adventure than her garage-sale Huffy.

We arrived in Olympia on that Saturday morning just in time (sort of) for Paul's pre-ride announcements in the parking lot of Olympia's Fish Tale Brewery. Once the ride commenced, Amy and I promptly took our places "off the back" from stream of 40-some-odd riders. A few early rollers had Amy wondering if this was really a good idea.

cookies in rainier, wa
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
The first contrôle was in the small, smelly town of Rainier. WA. Amy and I got our brevet cards signed at a little cookie shop (the shop was small, not the cookies), and Amy considered hanging out there for the rest of the day while I would continue to the finish, then go to fetch her. But fortunately, she continued on instead.

This 100k ride was relatively flat (especially by SIR standards), but the ensuing hills did not agree with Amy's respertory system. It was like an athsma attack would happen every time the road angled upwards

encouragement ...
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

The half-way point was at the Skookumchuck River dam, where John Vincent and Millison Fambles manned the controle. Amy was hoping to catch a ride from one of them back to Olympia, but instead they encouraged her to continue, saying the worst of the hills were over. In the meantime, fashionably late starters Robert Higdon and Jane Hudson arrived!

Amy's actually a strong rider when the terrain is flat. And when she gave herself "permission" to walk her bike up hills, things went fine. We leapfrogged Robert and Jane, then donned "Cyclos Escargot" jerseys at the Scott Lake Store contrôle (~10 miles from the end). We took off before Robert and Jane, thereby making it likely they would receive "lanterne rouge" honors.

robert and jane
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

Nice welcoming crew outside the Fish Tale Brewery. Amy ended up pleased that she stuck with it through the end. 'Twas quite an accomplishment for her first rando adventure. In retrospect, I wished I had ridden a fixie (as Robert did), but of course didn't think of it in time.

200k (July 22, 2010)

The brevet two weeks later also started in downtown Olympia, in nearby Sentenial Park, and headed almost due South. I was able to latch onto some relatively fast pacelines most of the way to Centralia (averaging nearly 18 mph!), and didn't linger long at the first controle. The route continued on Alpha-Centralia Road (which was also part of the SIR 600 route 14 months earlier), then South to Mayfield Lake and Mossyrock.

don and elaine ...
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

By that time, my average speed had crept down to 16 mph (still good by my standards). Warm weather created a large demand for ice there at that mid-way controle. From there, the route continued back West-Southwest to a rural-intersection info contrôle, then up to Chehalis, Centralia, and finally Olympia. I rode mostly solo for the remainder of the brevet. And even though my average speed continued to decline, I kept pushing. I wanted to break the 10-hour barrier for the first time on a 200k, which was made more difficult, not only by the heat, but by the fact that this ride was actually 213 kilometers (which I didn't realize till North of Centralia). It was also made more difficult by leg cramps that occured around 90 miles and again 110 miles. After walking them out and then continuing, I finally arrived at the Fish Tale Brewery. "Did I make single digit hours?," I asked organizer Josh Morse. "Yes," was the answer. My time was 9 hours and 57 minutes. Average speed: 13.5 mph.

Seems like I'm doing a lot of Seattle International Randonneurs rides lately instead of ones put on by the Oregon Randonneurs. Trust me, it's just timing and scheduling (juggling work, tango and velodrome events). But it also means that my next 300k and 600k will happen North of the state border.

Rest of my SIR 100k Populaire photos are here on Flickr.
Rest of my SIR 200k Brevet photos are here on Flickr.

Monday, July 12, 2010

rough around the edges

A report on my first 6-Day races at Alpenrose

About a month or so ago at the local velodrome, I naively asked my cycling coach (who primarily works with track racers) if there was gonna be a novice category for the upcoming Alpenrose 6-Day races. (The centerpiece of the 6-day is the madison, a two-person-team event that involves hand/arm slinging your partner around the 45-degree banked turns of the track on alternating laps.) Rather than give me the concise and later-obvious answer of “No,” Brian offered to be my partner.

After a couple sessions of practicing madison exchanges, we showed up (along with 12 other teams) at the Alpenrose Velodrome on Monday evening, June 28th for the 1st day madison pursuits. These timed pursuits (with two teams on the track at a time) established a ranking which was used to group riders into categories. As it turns out, there was an A group (fast boys with qualifying times within seconds of each other), a B group (all of them faster than me), and a Women’s group (all 8 ladies students of Brian). That evening’s pursuits were followed by the week’s first madison. We survived! … cleanly making most of our exchanges. And I went home thinking that Brian was going way beyond the call of duty as a coach.

cat B exchange
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
The 2nd night of the 6-Day started with a couple omnium events for each group before their respective madisons. One of the races for the B’s was “point a lap”, which is really not my thing … racing against 9 other faster guys who are motivated to finish each lap as quickly as possible. I remember yelling up to Jen Featheringill (who was in the stands) something about not knowing what I was doing here, and she’s said “You’re there to suck wheel!” During that evening’s B madison, I remember being passed on the inside by one of the Godfrey brothers on the final approach to the finish line. ‘Twas kinda like being on an L.A. freeway.

The 3rd night was kinda like the 2nd … two mass-start races for each group before the final madison. For the first two races, I basically tried to simultaneously go fast while staying out of people’s way. And during the madison, there was one time when I was in a crowd of multiple exchanges that felt a bit dicey. But things basically went okay.

Nights 4 and 5 (July 1st and 2nd) were rained out, so Saturday’s start time was pushed up an hour so racing could begin with an additional (and rather memorable) morning madison. About 3 or 4 laps into that first “B” race, my front tire slipped in turn one, and I was suddenly down. Not only that, 3 other riders fell as well, including my coach. Whistles blew, and I somehow moved (too quickly, according to Luciano Bailey) to the infield, not knowing if I was okay or not. Turns out all my limbs still worked. Brian, however, had a messy broken finger, for which he stayed amazingly un-phased (even smiling at times) while it was treated. My turn in the medic’s chair was next, and I more-or-less assumed that my 6-Day was over. (Everything I thought was “more-or-less” at that point.) After my more obvious abrasions were treated, Bike Central mechanic Dean came over and told me my bike was ready to roll. I asked him how damaged it was, and he said all I needed to know was that it was rolling straight and ready to go. What I learned later is that Brian had asked Dean to put a new rear wheel on my bike, cuz he wanted me back on the track. This also meant that Brian would be riding again, as I sure as heck wasn’t gonna be doing the final 45-minute madison without him.

Turns out my helmet was cracked, so I borrowed team-member Emily Charbonneau’s for the next B group (mass-start) race. Don’t remember what kind of race it was, except that it was a relatively short one of 10 laps.

And then the final madison … this one 45 minutes long! Brian and I finished, although during it we had to alter our exchanges so that I pulled on Brian’s left wrist rather than his hand. I missed a couple of exchanges, but was most bummed on the two laps when Brian took off like a bat-out-of-hell (he is a master sprinter) and I wasn’t ready in time for the subsequent exchanges.

Brian was amazingly upbeat and cheery through the whole day’s events, even though I knew he was riding (and coaching) though considerable pain. He’s gotta be the most tough-as-nails guy I know. But on top of that, he’s also always strategizing and thinking big-picture.

post race conversation
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

Brian’s assessment while cooling down after our last race was that I was “a bit rough around the edges”, but that I did well. About the crash, he said that I was probably going a little slow in turn one, and that when I made a little steering correction, the wheel slipped. At the end of the day (after the A group’s final one-hour madison), Brian asked what I thought about the 6-Day, but then quickly added that it would probably take a week of processing to come up with an answer. Well, that was nine days ago, and I’m still not sure. I do know that the 6-Day became as big a deal as the 1000k rando ride three weeks earlier, even though it’s at the total opposite end of the cycling spectrum.

Another memorable impression from the 6-Day is how kind and encouraging several of the B riders were afterwards. Of those, Eric Nachtrab of Portland Bicycle Studio was particularly friendly all week long.

Brian had said earlier that one always comes out of a 6-Day a better rider than before. I hope that’s true. But I also know by bike handling skills still have a lot of room for improvement (as does my still under-powered motor).

As I write this, the bruise on my left waist and hip area is still sizable, and the abrasions on my right side fairly sore. But getting in and out of a car (or in and out of bed) is finally getting easier. Ironically, pedaling hasn't been a problem. In fact, a leisurely 100k ride last Saturday felt just fine.

Big congratulations go to teammates Camille Hook, Heather VanValkenburg, and Zak Kovalcik for impressively winning their respective categories at the 6-Day races.

More photos by my friends Amy and Michael from the last day of the 6-Day are here on Flickr.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Oregon Blue Mountains 1000k Ride Report

I finished. All 622 mountainous miles ... with 13 minutes to spare. Don't really have words to describe the range of emotions and sensations experienced in this 74-hour 47-minute ordeal. But among them is a sense of relief that Paris-Brest-Paris may actually be feasible next year.

Prior to this ride, I failed to write about my previous two significant brevets. Before last month, I documented every randonneuring event I've ridden since the Desert Rivers 600k back in September, 2008 (which has meant a report at least every month since then). But recently, I’ve been so involved with moving, housewarming, continued unpacking, and busy-ness at work that blogging has taken a back seat. But in this report, I'll play catch up, by dedicating a paragraph each to the previous two brevets.

Eden's Gate 400k on May 1st was a pleasant if not headwindy tour of the Willamette Valley and several of its covered bridges. It started and ended in Wilsonville. Initially, I had plans of significantly improving my time for this awkward distance. As it turns out, I did set a PR, but simultaneously "lanterne rouged" it (with three others) as well. I was doing okay mid-ride (which means while not setting any self-powered land speed records, I was still tracking for a decent time), leapfrogging some with Dan Jensen and his friend Richard Hornung. I then joined a pretty good paceline near the southern-most point (around Coburn), but then flatted. In Harrisburg, I caught up with Dan, Richard, and Amy Pieper. We had some pretty good pacelines heading up into Albany (with Dan doing most of the pulling). After Albany, Amy's stamina began to falter, and we slowed down momentarily to walking speed to recover. Around Salem, we were passed by other groups of riders, but by then our quartet had formed enough camaraderie that it seemed best to ride with them to the end. We finished what Amy called “the most difficult easy 400k she’s ever done” with a time of 23:28.

The Oregon Coast 600k on May 22-23 was really nice (if not hillier than expected), at least the 2/3 of it I did. The main pack pulled away fairly quickly not far from the start in Forest Grove. Nevertheless, I felt like my pace was pretty good through Birkenfield and Warrentown.
When I flatted (twice!) near Ft. Stevens State Park, I was a little surprised how quickly Roger and Ali (from BC) and Narayan caught me. My flat-changing skills still not being up to snuff, I was quickly put in the position of fighting the clock. And in case you're wondering, Highway 101 between Seaside and Lincoln City isn’t flat. By the time I got to the overnight contrôle (at 6:00 AM), my average speed had decreased to the point where I had no time in the bank. Nevertheless, I continued along the attractive Siletz River to Logsdon. But because I was continuing to lose time, and with a significant hill in the distance, I decided to call it quits. Then while continuing at a very slow meander, organizer Joshua Bryant drove past (directly witnessing my disappointment). As soon as he got a cell phone signal, he called my friend Amy to pick me up in Blodgett. The disappointment of dnf’ing lasted a few days. But in retrospect, maybe it wasn’t all bad. Maybe the conserved energy helped three weeks later with the OBM1000k.

June 12th seemed to arrive rather quickly, so much so that I didn’t obsess much about the upcoming Oregon Blue Mountains 1000k. I had pre-registered in early Spring, and had for quite some time established it as my main goal for the 2010 season. But it wasn’t like I spent a lot of time analyzing the route and becoming familiar with the details. Sure, I printed out the 36,000-ft net gain elevation profile, but those lines don’t mean the same thing on paper as they do when you’re on the bike.

blown apart rim
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

The day before embarking on this potential 75-hour adventure, I took the LeMond into my LBS for a final once over. Lo and behold, when refilling the rear tire with air, the rim blew! (The walls of the rim had become excessively thin from a lot of braking.) So, I embarked on this particular rando journey with a hastily borrowed (and noisy) rear wheel from the Beaverton Bike N Hike. Hey … it worked!

My friend Amy drove me out to The Dalles on Saturday morning, getting us there within a half hour of the start. Once the ride was underway, most of the riders hung together through The Dalles, but began to separate on the Hwy 197 bridge over the River Columbia. Eastbound Highway 14 out towards Umatilla didn’t have the favorable tailwinds that swiftly pushed the riders of the Desert Rivers 600k 21 months earlier. Nonetheless, the first 200 kilometers were mostly free of the hills that defined the remaining 800k.

I intermittently rode with a couple other riders during the course of the 3-plus-day brevet, but hop-scotched Peg Winczewski and Lesli Larson for almost the entire event. The two of them tended to climb a little faster than me, but they also tended to take slightly longer food breaks at the contrôles. What was most remarkable about them, though, was their unflappable steadiness despite never accumulating a lot of time in the bank. If they were ever concerned about not finishing in time, I would have certainly never guessed it.

lesli and peg
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

The first major climb was Eastwards on Hwy 204 out of Weston, and lasted about 30k (19 miles) to the summit in Tollgate. Prior to this climb, Peg, Lesli and I had stopped for dinner at a café in Athena. I arrived and left there a little before the two of them, assuming they would catch me on the long ascent. While the sun was setting (and afterwards) during the climb, I would occasionally hear Peg’s and Lesli’s voices approaching from behind. But surprisingly, I arrived at the contrôle at the top before them. There at the Tamarack Inn volunteers served warm soup and made-to-order sandwiches before sending us out on a long dark 35k (22-mile) descent to Elgin.

The next contrôle was 33k (20 miles) after Elgin on the outskirts of La Grande. What was remarkable about this major Eastern Oregon town was the amount of major pre-dawn freight train activity. I must have waited for or ridden along 3 different 100-plus-railcar trains in my brief stint there.

Dawn and a very beautiful sunrise occurred in the rolling hills between the contrôle in Union and “overnight” stop in North Powder. After a few pieces of pizza at the North Powder Motel, Paul Whitney steered me to a room for a 90-minute nap. By the time I was up and about, there were Peg and Lesli again, having breakfast.

Jim Hinkley passed me going South on Hwy 30 to Baker City. I drafted him a little bit, but that was short-lived. Baker City was hosting a rather large Harley-Davidson convention during the weekend. In fact, every motorcyclist in Eastern Oregon appeared to be out on the road on this particularly bright and dry Sunday afternoon.

The next series of serious hills happened on the Sumpter State Hwy between Baker City and Prairie City. John Kramer marked the elevations of the summits on his route sheet (5118 ft, 5117 ft, 5268 ft), so I had some “fun” (as it were) with knowing how much vertical ascent I had left on any particular climb (with help from Garmin’s altimeter function). Between the 2nd and 3rd passes was a contrôle at the Austin House, where Alan Woods was departing at about the same time Lesli and Peg settled down for a proper meal. I purchased only a milkshake, and after pouring much of it in one of my water bottles, headed to the 3rd summit (this one on Hwy 26), then Prairie City.

I missed Logan Valley Road out of Prairie City, and instead took an extension of what was marked as Bridge St. (which zigzags out of town, and which I understood “ran into” Logan Valley Rd.). This unfortunately cost me an extra 11 kilometers. But it cost Alan Woods a lot more, who independently made the same wrong turn 20+ minutes earlier. Alan was understandably perturbed. I was thankful, though, that he saved me from further bonus miles. With somewhat diminished enthusiasm, the two of us rode together 15 miles up to Trout Farm, a nice little campground with fresh water and the cleanest non-porta-potties I have ever seen. While doing a wardrobe change, Lesli and Peg caught up with us. The four of us then continued together to the next summit (5,950 ft) and onward an additonal 15 miles to the contrôle at Parish Cabin Campground. Well, actually, I lost Alan, Peg, and Lesli about a dozen miles shy of the campground, their taillights disappearing into the distance. This section of the journey was unexpectedly difficult, and was where I came closest in the whole 3+ days to abandoning. My bike suddenly felt very ill-fitted (I’ve had the fitting on my LeMond fine-tuned three times!), and I ended up walking up a couple of the rollers on the way to the campground. I finally got there with 5 minutes before the contrôle was scheduled to close, about 15 minutes behind Alan, Peg, and Lesli. There I plopped down next to a campfire and was fed a warm cup-o’-noodles and 1 ½ sandwiches. Alan thankfully had some ibuprofen that he shared with me, so that when we finally left, I was relatively good to go.

Alan was anxious to get going (a little more so than Lesli and Peg), but he was also concerned about my safety. He accompanied me during the entire 28-mile descent to John Day, during which we were able to make up considerable time (despite the darkness and the cattleguards). Once on Highway 26 (heading westwards), Alan took off at his own pace, and was napping in Scott Peterson’s van at the Dayville contrôle when I arrived. Once Alan left, I took over his space in the van. Peg and Lesli arrived a little later, and took naps in the pleasantly heated park restroom.

kole and vincent
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

Thirty-eight miles later (after the scenic river-hugging John Day fossil beds) was the 2nd “overnight” contrôle … in Mitchell. But in that 38 miles was another summit that took me forever to climb. Peg and Lesli passed me while I stopped to remove some layers of clothing, and I never saw them again (until Mitchell). Once I arrived, the place was swarming with attendant volunteers (including speedy Kole Kanter, who obviously I’d heard of before, but had never met). The rooms in the Oregon Hotel in Mitchell are quite charming, and warrant a future visit … longer than the 90-minute nap that Vincent Muoneke woke me from.

girds creek rd
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

Fueled and somewhat rested, I headed northwards towards scenic Girds Creek Rd. Lesli and Peg once again passed me during the ascent, and I passed them on the descent to the John Day River. Once on Rowe Creek Rd, they again passed me, and I would not see them again till Fossil. In the meantime, there was significantly more climbing, and a few miles of chip seal to deal with (problematic only during the descending portion).

Once in Fossil, Peg and Lesli were finishing lunch at a charming local café when I arrived. Rather than shorten my stay in order to hang on with them, I elected to have a proper sit-down burger. The benefit was I got relatively well-fueled. The downside was I’d be riding solo (as lanterne rouge) all the way to Antelope.

Six miles out of Fossil was the next summit (3,710 ft), up to which I steadily churned, followed by a long descent to the John Day River (again), this time at Clarno. The actual final approach to that river crossing was uphill, and happened during blinding sunset. On the far side of the bridge waited roving Paul “Dr. Codfish” Johnson, who had been busily offering valuable impromptu aid and encouragement to all the riders throughout the entire event.

This crossing of the John Day River was perhaps my most pivotal moment in the whole 1000k, as the next contrôle (in Antelope) was 15 miles away, the first 8 of those miles being literally straight uphill. Paul’s advice was to keep pedaling. My solution was to lessen the pressure on my handlebars (push on them rather than pull, thereby lessening the tension in my shoulders), and to find a cadence that I could steadily maintain for two hours. It meant not letting up for 120 minutes of ascent at a 4 mph pace. I didn’t even stop to turn on my lights until the summit, but rather switched on the helmet-mounted lights while pedaling. My legs (and palms) got sore during the last two miles, but I finally made it. After adding layers of clothing and reflective gear at the top, I descended into Antelope, where I found Dr. Codfish, Dave Read, Peg, Lesli, and some more warm soup!

From Antelope, I rode with Lesli and Peg to Shaniko, then to Bakeoven Road. On that infamous stretch of road, I fell behind the two of them, needing to eat something and rest. When I got going again, it wasn’t in a very determined way. In fact, what transpired was one of the most surreal and hallucinogenic experiences I’ve ever encountered on a bicycle. I had no way of telling where I was. For all I knew, I could have been in the middle of the Florida Keys surrounded by water … on some canopy-covered roadway. My headlights were playing tricks on me. I felt like I was operating a pedal-powered delivery cart, and I kept getting off the machine (my bike) every five minutes to make sure the road was still passable. How I kept going, I don’t know. The last thing on my mind was the brevet card in my back jersey pocket that needed to get signed in a place called Maupin.

Eventually (after a cold bit of eternity) Bakeoven Road turned and descended into Maupin, whereupon some energy and lucidity returned to my body. For some reason, though, I was expecting signage directing me to the contrôle, and didn’t realize how far I needed to ascend the other side of river to find it. So I wasted several trips back and forth over the bridge before I gave up, taking a picture of the Maupin City Park sign to prove my existence there. I called Dave Read with the intention of letting him know where I was (wasting more time looking for a cell signal), when he told me the contrôle was further up the road. When I finally found it, Ian Shopland and Alan Woods were leaving. Peg and Lesli would leave a few minutes later, and Dr. Codfish (who seemed very happy to see me) tried to get me to leave as soon as possible. But it wasn’t gonna happen until I downed a warm cup-o’-noodles. The order in which the five of us departed Maupin would determine the order in which we finished in The Dalles 46 ½ miles later.

The headwinds on the grade out of Maupin were worrisome, but The Dalles-California Hwy (US 197) finally flattened out into the Tygh Valley. Then the last big challenge, a 6-or-7-mile climb to Tygh Ridge, appeared as a swoopy ascending multi-lane asphalt ribbon with no immediate end in sight. I started to get woozy on the bike ‘round then, and quickly ingested a 2-ounce bottle of “5-hour Energy” that Dr. Codfish had given me way back around Clarno. That foul “sugar free – Only 4 calories” substance seemed to do the trick as I re-started pedaling up the grade. In fact, I actually spun pretty freely, and even managed to stand up in the pedals and mash it a few times (which I thought was remarkable after 71 hours).

The Eightmile Road turnoff from Hwy 197 occurred much later than I anticipated, though. Supplemental batteries weren’t recharging my Garmin properly (so it was turned off), and my Cateye Strada was set to the metric system. Basic math had become challenging at this point in the ride, and I was considerably worried that I had missed the “Easy to Miss!” turnoff. I even stopped to ask a couple highway workers where Eightmile Road was, and was quite surprised when they said 6 or 7 miles further.

Rural Eightmile Road is an exquisite way to approach The Dalles at the end of a journey such as this. And even with headwinds, I was no longer worried (short of a mechanical) of finishing in time. At the last contrôle (junction with Fifteenmile Road), I stopped to call Amy to see if she had the time and would be willing to drive out to The Dalles to pick me up. Turns out she was already in The Dalles, breakfasting at Dennys, and watching the previous four riders come in. I took it easy for the last five miles, even keeping an eye out for a store from which I could purchase a little symbolic red light bulb. No such luck, though. As I finally turned into Motel 6 parking lot, it was moving to see John Kramer, Dave Read, and “Dr. Codfish” so happy to see me.

Mark Thomas (a three time PBP veteran) told me afterwards in the motel room that this was harder than Paris-Brest-Paris. I think that’s encouraging, although I’ve decided that any ride in this league will be considerably more enjoyable if I can gain some more speed, thereby enabling longer naps.

This ride was memorable; I still get emotional just writing about it. It was also quite a feat of organization. Many thanks go out to John Kramer (who told me he probably drove the entire length of the route three times in preparation), Dave Read (who coordinated a terrific crew of volunteers), and Paul “Dr. Codfish” Johnson (whose timely acts of encouragement were invaluable). And while this ain’t the Academy Awards, I also want to thank Alan Woods for his Advil, his company from Parish Cabin to John Day, and his saving me from additional bonus miles outside Prairie City. I also want to acknowledge the steadfast cheerfulness of hopscotch partners Lesli Larson and Peg Winczewski. Thanks also go to coach Brian Abers for believing I could do this, even after DNF’ing the 600k three weeks earlier. And finally, to Amy for getting me out to The Dalles and back (thereby allowing me extra sleep in each direction!).

The rest of my pictures are here on Flickr.

Kramer has links to many other reports and pictures here on his blog.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Flèche NW Report

It was during the preride of the Birkie 200 last month when Ray Ogilvie mentioned Marcello Napolitano’s intention to organize a flèche team to ride from Hillsboro, OR to Olympia, WA in mid-April. “Sure. I’m interested,” I told Ray.

Cycling-wise, a flèche is a 24-hour randonneuring team event of at least 360 km. Each team designs its own route, and they all finish at a common end point (in this case, Olympia, WA). Most of the teams in this year’s Flèche NW came from Seattle. (There were a dozen, I believe.) There was one team from British Columbia, and Marcello’s team from Oregon. And there was a mighty fine brunch at the finish where all the teams got together to share their experiences.

Ray ended up not riding after all. But fortunately, Ed Groth and Theo Roffe did, making Marcello’s team a compatible foursome that left Marcello’s home in Hillsboro at 7:00 AM on Saturday, the 17th. I had ridden over from Beaverton earlier that morning, and found Ed and Theo already having breakfast. They had in fact ridden over the previous evening and stayed overnight with the Napolitanos. It wasn’t until Marcello handed us our brevet cards (while I was digesting biscuits and gravy) that I discovered our team name was “Not All Who Wander Are Lost.” A true meanderer’s motto, I thought, appreciating not having been involved in the naming process (with my recent move, work, training, tango, and all that).

ed and marcello
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
I was also not involved in route design, which suited me just fine. From Hillsboro, Marcello’s route headed to Forest Grove then continued on familiar Gales Creek and Timber Roads to Vernonia. The server at the rando-friendly Black Bear Café knew exactly what to do with our brevet cards without being asked.

The next section to Birkenfield went by unusually quickly.

headin' to astoria
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
From Birkenfield, Marcello initially intended to cross the Columbia River on the ferry between Clastskanie, OR and Kathlamet, WA. But because a lack of confidence in the Westport Ferry’s schedule and frequency this time of year, we instead rode West from Birkenfield over to Astoria.

Anyone who knows me knows I like good Northwest microbreweries. Well, there’s a reputable one in Astoria called Fort George.

a break in astoria
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

After some discussion with Marcello, Ed, and Theo along Highway 202 (and then figuring out its address and how to get there), we decided to do lunch at said Fort George Brewery. Even though Marcello isn’t into beer, he was happy to stop there, thereby potentially shortening the time we might have to spend in some small shut-down town in the middle of nowhere, WA at the 22-hour contrôle. Well, the beer was good … but the sausage that Marcello ordered, less so.

I was surprised how clean the 4-mile 2-lane Astoria-Megler Bridge was. Last time I traversed it (over 2 years prior in the other direction on the Clatskanie-Cape Disappointment 200k permanent), it was full of debris. Hubcaps and other miscellaneous stuff, mixed in with large caked-on tarry patches of gravel often pushed me out into the traffic lane. But this time ‘round, there were no issues. And boy is the mouth of the Columbia ever wide!

The Oregon portion of our journey was intermittently (and pleasantly) drizzly. But once we got to Naselle, (where Marcello flatted, then where lightness went away), the precipitation got more persistent. The next 30-some-odd miles up Highway 101 to Raymond seemed to go slowly, with lots of rollers, the tops of which offered glimpses of a thickly starry sky, and the bottoms of which descended into thick fog. The typical team scenario during this stretch was for Ed, Theo and me to pause at the top of a roller and wonder where Marcello was, only to have him speedily pass us on his recumbant trike during a number of wet descents into the fog.

Someday I might get to see Raymond and vicinity in the daylight. But not during last Spring’s SIR 600, and certainly not on this ride. But the shabby yet well-patronized Chevron convenience store provided a recognizable frame of reference, and served as our contrôle.

We continued Northwards to Montesanno (which I remember remarkably little about) then East towards Elma and McCleary. Elma’s a big town (relatively). McCleary is not. But McCleary’s the dimly-lit town where the highly-anticipated (or was it dreaded) 22-hour contrôle was. Absolutely nothing was open in McCleary at 5:00 AM. But we did find a credit union ATM that provided us with a receipt. We needn’t have worried about lingering there.

Of our quartet, Ed seemed the most determined to finish on time. Or at least he appeared to be willing his teammates onward by jumping ahead. I felt a bit elasticized between him and Theo and Marcello, who were behind me a bit.

finish in olympia
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

This was particularly the case on the 12-mile stretch of Highway 8 heading into Olympia. Once it became light, Ed’s determination really became evident after he flatted on Old Highway 410. I have never seen anyone change a flat so fast. Ever!

Once we found our way to the Red Lion Inn in Olympia, we were greeted by Susan France, Mark Thomas, Marcello’s wife Cathy, and my friend Amy. Ah blessed showers! But precious little time for a nap before the 9:00 brunch.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the brunch before all the teams told their stories. But before I did, Marcello gestured to me to be the spokesperson for our “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” team. Interestingly, we were preceded by the overachieving team that included fast boys Brian Ohlemeier and Jan Heine. ‘Twas interesting cuz I’d never seen nor met Jan before. Sure, I’ve read a few issues of Bicycle Quarterly, and have a friend in Portland who refers to him as “zero-percent-body-fat-Jan.” But to see him in person … well … he seemed a bit taller and leaner than I expected. And I started to wonder if his SIR jersey was really painted (or tattooed) on.

I introduced Marcello, Theo, and Ed to everyone … mentioned our stop at Ft. George Brewery in Astoria … and how long it took to get to Raymond … and how it was Ed’s, Theo’s and my first successful flèche. But on the trip home, and during much of the subsequent week, I rewrote that “speech” (for lack of a better word) many times.

The essence of what I wish I had said about our team but didn’t is:

“I don’t know what might constitute a typical Oregon flèche team, but I would consider our group to be as much a “Portland bike culture” team than a rando team. Take Ed, for instance. He lives bikes, doesn’t own a car, and fulfilled his offer to volunteer at the Birkie 200k last month by pedalling his cargo bike up to Vernonia with all his coffee-making equipment, then serving all the riders French press coffee in ceramic mugs at the first contrôle.

finishers' medal
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

Marcello could be considered a suburban proponent of Portland bike culture … multiple bikes for all family members in his garage … plus who else would serve fresh eggs to his teammates hatched from chickens in the back yard? Theo (to me) was the erudite, articulate, philosophic, wiser-than-his-young-looks kind of guy who can tell you anything you want to know about UC Davis bike culture.”

Perhaps Susan France said it best in a comment after Theo and I subsequently connected on Facebook, “After 24 hrs together you are friends.... that's a good sign ;-)”

The rest of my photos are here on Flickr.
Theo Roffe's pictures are on his Flickr site.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Three Capes 300k Brevet Report

The annual running of the “Three Capes” 300k brevet took place on April 10th. This was my fourth year of riding this particular 186-miler, and for a change, I was determined to improve my time.

The brevet starts in Forest Grove, and after a couple small detours, heads out Highway 6 to Tillamook. From there, it goes on a hilly scenic tour of Cape Mears, Cape Lookout, and Cape Kiwanda before heading back to Pacific City. The next piece is charming Little Nestuca River Road, and then the towns of Grande Ronde, Willimina, Sheridan, Ballston, followed by Amity, Dayton, and Layfayette. The last leg hugs the reputable Ribbon Ridge (North Valley Rd) on the way back to Forest Grove.

I rode out to the start with Joshua Bryant in the wee, pre-dawn hours of that Saturday. Joshua actually rode out from SE Portland, and his route happened to pass very near my new place in Beaverton. So I joined him for the last 16 miles, and we ended up beating Michael (the organizer) to the start in Forest Grove by about 20 minutes.

Once the ride began, I was able to keep up with a relatively fast group of riders to about Stringtown Road. They were still in sight on Gales Creek Road when venerable Del Scharffenberg pulled up along side (on his decades old red Schwinn Paramount). For some reason, he started a few minutes late. We chatted some, and he allowed me to draft for about four miles. Eventually my thighs started burning as he picked up the pace. He then gradually faded in the distance in pursuit of his faster buddies.

Between the Timber cutoff and the summit on Highway 6, I basically played leapfrog with Mike Richeson (of West Seattle) and Holden Hughart. (Holden wears a lot of loud reflective gear and rides a bike with flat handlebars and disk brakes. He and I also leapfrogged a bit during the Bikenfest 200k last October).

On the way up to the Highway 6 summit, another venerable rider, John Kramer, passed me. I cranked things up a bit to stay with him as we caught up with Richeson. The three of us shared 6-minute pulls during the 28-mile descent into Tillamook. It was a lot of work keeping up with the two of them, but it was also my quickest arrival in Tillamook by a long shot.

evidence ...
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
Instead of going to the local Safeway (which is what I’ve done in years past), the three of us visited a smaller Shell station/convenience store for the contrôle (which probably shaved off a little time).

Kramer and Richeson passed me on the Cape Meares Loop as I double checked an info-contrôle question on my brevet card. From that point all the way to the Sourgrass Summit, I rode alone. (I figured I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with Mike and John even if I had caught them. It was actually amazing how quickly they disappeared from sight while I was just putting on my gloves.)

narrow bridge ...
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

I stopped at the Stimulus espresso shop in Pacific City (another almost-annual ritual), and was tempted to ask the servers if they offered any “stimulus packages” (like a bagel/cream cheese/latte special). But instead, I just chased a small mocha with a $2 bottle of water (the $3 bottle being just too over-the-top).

Soon after Little Nestuca River Road and the Sourgrass Summit, I was caught by a rider on a Specialized cycle wearing a Seattle Randonneurs jersey. Turns out his name is Will Goss. He and I ended riding the remainder of the brevet (the last 70 miles) together.

We stopped briefly in Grande Ronde, but not long enough to buy anything, as the line in the convenience store was way too long, and the help way too short-handed. Instead, we rode 26 more miles to Amity before seriously “re-fueling.” Between Grande Ronde and there, we missed the “OR” sign for crossing over to Yamhill River Road (thereby riding Hwy 18 for longer than was pleasant), but got back on track for the now-familiar towns of Willimina and Sheridan.

Originally uploaded by tangobiker

Zip ties provided the answer to the info-contrôle question in Ballston. The novelty for me, though, was that the sun was still shining … and that its angle was still many degrees above the horizon!

In Amity, Will and I caught up with John Kramer, and were joined by Jim Hinkley (in full 2010 orange Team Oregon regalia). While “refueling,” I checked my cell phone, and discovered a text message from my coach. (Yes, I now have a coach, as I figured I’d never be able to successfully complete 1200k PBP left to my own devices.)

       Brian, Apr 10, 2010 17:47:20 “Hows it going?”

       Me, Apr 10, 2010 18:21:59 “36 mi 2 go”

       Brian, Apr 10, 2010 18:22:37 “Kill it”

And my next thought was, “With what?!”

Kramer elected to linger a bit longer outside Amity. But fortunately for me, Will and Jim seemed willing (if not knowing) accomplices to “the kill.” Will and I traded pulls to Dayton, Layfayette, and North Valley Road. Then Jim took over with a vengeance when it got dark (before Spring Hill Road). Fortunately, he reeled it in a bit to allow me to keep up. It was kinda exciting doing the paceline thing after dark. Don’t think I’ve ever done that before. Sure took a lot of concentration.

Unfortunately for Jim, he flatted about one mile from the finish, just before the right turn onto Highway 47. He graciously sent Will and me on our way, allowing me to record a personal best 300k time of 14 hours and 53 minutes. That’s about 2-3 hours better than all my previous attempts at this distance.

After checking in with Michael Rassmussen and company, I headed to the bar for a Hammerhead ale and completed the following text correspondence with my coach:

       Me, Apr 10, 2010 21:09:55 “U mean ‘Kill Bill?’
       14 hrs, 53 min, pers best
       nuttin like paceline after dark (last 12 miles)
       I’m really sore”

       Brian, Apr 10, 2010 21:12:24 “Bill rocks! Nicely done
       Tiny gear hr or 2 tomorrow”

       Me, Apr 10, 2010 21:16:50 “tiny gear back 2 Beaverton?”

       Brian, Apr 10, 2010 21:17:55 “As small as you’ve got”

It would have probably been prudent to take the bus or Max back to Beaverton. Alan Woods even offered me and my bike a ride. But something in me wanted to be able to say, “I biked to the coast and back from my home in Beaverton.” And so I did, even though it was a sketchy-tired spin in the smallest chainring all the way back home.

A couple more picture of the coast are here on Flickr.