Friday, March 18, 2011

Birkie 200k Report (2011 Edition)

The Oregon Randonneurs regularly put on the “Birkie 200k” near the beginning of each season. The organizer(s) change(s) from year to year, the refreshments at the first contrôle in Vernonia vary a bit, and the weather is inconsistent at best. But the route always stays the same: Forest Grove – Vernonia – Birkenfeld (via a detour to Keasey Rd) – Vernonia – Forest Grove. This year’s version was my 5th Birkie. Last year I pre-rode and organized. This year (on March 12th) RBA Susan France did all the hosting duties.

There seemed to be a little more “energy” this time ‘round, perhaps because it’s a PBP year, with a corresponding number of riders you might not see otherwise. But what made this ride special for me was that my coach decided to come along. Mr. Brian Abers is not a randonneur. In fact, his email address has the word “kilomonster” in it, with no reference to multiple k’s or anything of the sort. His main bases of operation are the gym and the velodrome. Nonetheless, he was determined to get a firmer grasp on the nuances of long-distance cycling. Thus, he signed up, joined RUSA, and rode 200k with me.

The weather this year was a bit on the wet side … not oppressively so … but wet enough that Brian was wringing out his gloves after the first 36 miles to Vernonia. I was wearing a pair of SmartWool liners underneath mine, so that while my hands were wet, they were still warm enough, and I could still reinsert my fingers into the gloves as needed. In addition, I happened to bring a backup pair just in case the first pair got unmanageably wet. I gave those gloves to Brian for the remainder of the ride. Evidently, they did the trick.

cruisin' by tangocyclist
Abers cruisin' a photo by tangocyclist on Flickr.

I was able to give Brian a running commentary about various riders and bikes along the way. “Oh, there’s Ed. He rode out to the start from St. Johns; last year he rode his cargo bike out here and served everyone fresh French press coffee in ceramic mugs.” Or “There’s Joshua. He built that nice traditional-looking bike with 650b wheels.” After Vernonia, we rode with PBP veteran Joel Metz for a while, listening to his 2003 PBP hallucination stories about being chased by dinosaurs. And a few miles out from Birkenfeld, “Oh, that must be Ken Bonner. He came down from Vancouver, Canada. He’s really fast.” (Of course, Brian’s really fast, too, but on a very different playing field.)

After a couple small purchases at the Birkenfeld General Store, Brian and I headed back along the river-hugging Nehalem Hwy towards Vernonia. As we approached the town, we agreed stopping at the Black Bear Café would be prudent. Inside, Joshua B., Michael J, and a few others were seated down for a proper lunch. After a couple futile attempts at using Brian’s and Joshua’s phones (I had left mine, complete with un-memorized phone numbers and email addresses, at the start in Forest Grove) and two cups of cappuccino, we were on the road again. The temperature in Vernonia at this time was 46 degrees, only 6 degrees warmer than four hours earlier.

Brian and I tagged along with Joshua’s and Michael’s group for a while on Timber Road. This was probably the most pleasant part of the ride, particularly when the sun finally came out. The group gave some nice protection from the wind, and also offered some nice eye candy (in particular, Jeff Moore’s new Ira Ryan). It seems as though more and more randonneurs are investing in beautiful purpose-built bikes.

A Rare Dry Moment by franco650b
A Rare Dry Moment a photo by franco650b on Flickr (used with permission)

At some point on Timber Road, Joshua and his group momentarily pulled over while Brian and I forged ahead. We caught up with Mike Richeson of West Seattle, with whom we hop-scotched the rest of the way back to Forest Grove. Brian was quicker up the hills around Timber than me, or more accurately, he was physically unable to ascend as slowly as me. But aside from the hills and a few pulls, Brian was basically on my wheel the whole 200k. (He’s really good at that.)

We made relatively quick work of the Glenwood contrôle on Hwy 6 (as did Joshua’s and Michael’s group a few minutes later). Then it was Gales Creek Rd back to Forest Grove. Brian and I shared pulls for the last dozen miles, with Mike R. in our wake. According to Brian, I really pushed hard for the last 3 or 4 miles. Guess I could smell McMenamins Grande Lodge, and on some level, knew exactly how much energy there was to expend. Brian would say later that I was spinning fine, but that he had to resort to mashing a bigger gear in order to maintain speed on that last leg.

Cards signed, ride done (in 9 hours, 50 minutes), bikes put away, it was time for beer, food, and an assessment. In the McMenamins bar, Brian shared some good observations, notably with regard to my shifting, the way I approach hills, and my tendency to periodically surge.

As it turns out, this was my fastest 200k, and only my second one under 10 hours. (Actually, I did a 213k out of Olympia, WA last July in 9 hours, 54 minutes. So that one’s average speed was slightly higher.) If Brian hadn’t come along though, I’m sure my time on this Birkie 200k would have been significantly more.

And the reason for this madness? I wanna finish PBP! Preferably with some sleep! And also without the hallucinations of last June’s OBM1000k.

More pictures here on Flickr
Lynne's report
Lesli's pictures
John Henry's report
Tom Quinones's report

Saturday, March 12, 2011

lanterne rouge in the dirt

I first heard about the Dalles Mountain 60-miler (which happened on March 5th) from Ed Groth, who was organizing carpools and sleepovers for this fire-road-populated cycling event about 90 miles East of Portland. But if I was gonna do it, it would be spontaneously. After all, with hernia repair recovery going slower than anticipated, and a “Bike Tattoo Day” (put on by my cycling team) supposedly happening the same day, my options were staying open.

Well, “Bike Tattoo Day” got cancelled, and the hernia irritations were being mitigated by ibuprofen. So I managed to get my ‘cross bike somewhat prepped and out to The Dalles in time for the 9:00 start. The only thing I neglected was swapping the 32mm slicks for some cyclocross tires.

announcements by tangocyclist
announcements a photo by tangocyclist on Flickr.

The Dalles Mountain 60 was put on by VeloDirt, apparently a loosely organized trio of Portlanders who like to ride their bicycles on dirt roads throughout the rural Northwest. What I mean by loosely is that there was no sign-in sheet and no registration at the local coffee shop in The Dalles from whence the ride started. However, there was a riders’ meeting to describe various aspects of the route, and there was a stack of cue sheets pre-stuffed into plastic baggies!

In addition to Ed, some other people I knew at the start were his friend Steph (who didn’t ride this event), Theo (a randonneuring fleche teammate last year along with Ed), Rob A. (another friend of Ed’s who I’ve rando-ed with), and Nathan (the trainer with Brian’s House of Pain, where I work out). ‘Twas looking like quite a diverse group of riders, most of whom I didn't know.

After crossing the Columbia and heading East on Washington State Hwy 14, the route turned up Dalles Mountain Road, which was the first big gravel road climb of the day. I had fallen behind most of the riders a few miles up when my rear tire flatted. Local Portland bike builder Rob Tsunehiro and a friend stopped to make sure I was okay. Sure wish I’d taken a picture of his bicycle with a really nice front rack and headlight mount. Farther up the rode, a rider on a Salsa ‘cross bike had broken his rear derailleur, and was fixin’ to coast/limp back to The Dalles.

rob by tangocyclist
rob tsunehiro a photo by tangocyclist on Flickr.

If I was slower than the others uphill, I was much slower on the rutty, muddy downhills. I’m sure those wide-ish slicks didn’t help. Ed later noted that the while the roadies had a speed advantage going uphill (cuz of lighter weight), the mounting bikers could descend considerably faster. Meanwhile, my descents on the muddy roads were super cautious and hardly any faster than my ascents.

Things flattened out on the back side of the mountain, and after a combination of some more gravel and pavement, I turned onto Hwy 97. A few riders (including Rob T.) were doing a return chug back up Mary Hill Loop Road, having found the road closed further down because of an un-forecasted car event. I joined these riders on the descent down Hwy 97 to the Shell station near Hwy 14. At this refueling break, I bought batteries for my camera and was able to take my first pictures since the start in The Dalles.

In anticipation to the possibility that Mary Hill Loop might be closed, there were alternate directions from Hwy 97 on the cue sheet that directed riders East out to Stonehenge Dr. But none of the riders that I left with from the Shell station went that way. Instead, they flew down Gore Rd. for a shorter trip to the bridge crossing into Biggs.

I, on the other hand, visited Washington’s version of Stonehenge for the first time. It’s a miniature version of prehistoric monument found in England, and built as a memorial to World War I casualties. The road from there is also a nice descent to Maryhill, then Biggs Junction.

end of old moody rd by tangocyclist
end of old moody rd a photo by tangocyclist on Flickr.

The next gravely ascent was up Old Moody Rd, which starts where the Deschutes River runs into the Columbia. There were sections where I was barely able to keep pedaling. But pedal I did, until able to coast down to Fifteen Mile Rd. From there, it was mostly rural pavement all the way back to The Dalles.

At 4:00 PM I arrived at the coffee shop from where the ride started. There were no other cyclists, nor cyclists’ cars, nor evidence of any cyclists having been there … except for one passerby who asked me, “Was there some bicycling event going on here earlier today?”

On the drive home, I stopped half way in Stevenson, WA at the Walking Man Brewing, where I was serenaded by bagpipers during a well-lubricated dinner.

More photos are here on Flickr.