Sunday, February 1, 2009

Over the River and Through the Woods to ...


Today’s little jaunt started from the Garage at about 8:30 am, a very civilized hour indeed. John Vincent agreed to slow down enough to keep me company for a trip out to Raymond and back via Brooklyn.

I am planning to ride Lacey-Raymond-Lacey Permanent next Saturday (more on that later) and our purpose today was to pre-ride the section I know the least about. What I did know was based on a few recent first hand reports and a couple tall tales from the past. Now I’ve ridden it and let me tell you…!

This route goes through Brooklyn, a place typical of many little spots around out state that are the remnants of a rich past, when logging was king. If you’re interested in more than just where the potty is and getting your water bottles filled in the places you pass through, you can learn more about the Brooklyn Tavern here:

Sunday arrived at the window with a typical February sky. The dirty grey clouds scudding low across the Black Hills appeared as old dishrags, too worn to hold back two hours worth or rain, never mind a whole day’s worth. It appeared that the chances were good that we were going to get wet. The weak winter sun did all it could to break through old man winter’s shroud of cloud and fog. At one point I actually saw a bright spot. Come on sun! (it was cold all day)

The ride started innocently enough; the South Bank road takes you over the Chehalis Bridge and then on to Garrard Creek road. The river looked like any meandering, muddy river in winter, making its way to the ocean.

To see it now, you’d never guess that it had rumbled like the passing of an 8 hour buffalo herd, covering the farms and fields in the lower Chehalis valley just a few weeks ago. The heating contractor comes on Tuesday to replace the ducts under my house, so it is easy for me to remember.

Just a few miles up the Garrard creek road, be prepared for a trio of energetic dogs from a secluded farmhouse on the left. They respond well to the water bottle squirt.

The unpaved section presented on cue, but there were a couple surprises:
What better timing to attack an unpaved road Then just where the grade turns up. A little more troubling was the “ROAD CLOSED” sign and barricade.

But we’re randonneurs right? Road closed is almost an attraction. Well, we couldn’t turn back without at least seeing what the story was.

About that hill: My friend Brian never told me that the Brooklyn road goes over a mountain. I am here to tell you, it does. Meet the first law of rando physics: What goes up, must slow down. On the way up the road was in excellent shape: Hard pack, no washboard or ruts, and almost no pot holes. John and I agreed that getting up this with 23mm tires would not be a problem.

My one caveat is this:
If you have had a few flats on that rear tire recently, or if you’ve been thinking of putting on new tires, I strongly recommend you do that before you attempt this ride. This is no place for worn out tires.

The road is closed for good reason. There are two major slides. The first one runs down the hill for 800 feet, maybe more before it swings around a little ridge. It looked like it went a lot further.

There is room to walk your bike around this, but be advised it is both muddy and gravelly so you may want to bring your Swiss Army Knife with the Cleat Cleaning attachment. I rode most of the way from there to the top without being able to clip into my right pedal. Not a problem, it was a plod.

The second slide was not so bad, they have not yet started work on it and there is plenty of room to walk around. A little insight here into why these things sometimes happen:

Do you see that tall stump, (two actually) in this picture (click the picture and it will enlarge)?

They were buried in the fill when this road was built back in the last century. That is by all accounts bad practice. The Cat skinner who was building the fill knew it, but apparently whoever was supposed to inspect the work didn’t make it out to the job site that day. So, Bud the cat skinner saved himself a days work pulling the stumps. He also saved his boss a bucket of money in the process. I’m sure he was thinking he’d be long gone before the problem popped up. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is long gone, this road has been here a long time. There were probably other stumps and slash in the fill. This stuff rots and in time it causes the road to fail. Logging is like most other manufacturing: There is good practice and there is bad; unfortunately bad practice usually results in short term economic gain.

At the top, I was one big grin thinking I would get a fun, long descent on hard packed gravel road with no traffic.

Unfortunately it was here that the second law of rando physics kicked in: What goes down MAY speed up. Note the emphasis on the word may. If you've ever ridden over the North Cascades Highway from east to west, you probably know that there is a cruel west wind that will often force you to pedal, hard, to keep your forward progress while going downhill.

The culprit this time was not the wind, it was the road surface. The first half mile or so is steep and like many steep gravel roads, this was really chewed up. Heavy equipment (log trucks, gravel hacks etc) almost always spin their wheels to some extent on short steep pitches of gravel road, and this was a classic example. It was grab a fist full of brake and look for the best line. I was glad I had the Jack Browns on. After this stretch, the grade slacked, the surface got nice and it was a joy to be bombing down the road, I felt like I was on the right equipment for the conditions.

But this ‘joyous’ stretch only lasted for a mile or two, Around a corner we came to a stretch that had just been graded. It was a mess. Like riding a freshly plowed hog wallow.

This was really about as ‘unfun’ as riding gets. Try hard to stay in a truck wheel track. If you wobble and get onto one of the long rows of four inch deep slop on either side of the wheel track you were likely to either slow to a stop or tip over. I got off into the muck but was able to keep it upright and rolling, John was not so lucky. He went down and when we regrouped at the start of the pavement he looked like he’d just ridden some Belgium Cyclocross.

The road out to Hwy 101 was fine. We passed the Brooklyn School (when was the last time you saw a neat, clean brick school house with a white picket fence) and the Brooklyn Tavern (closed).

Arriving at Hwy 101 we made a strategic decision that turned out to be fateful: Instead of going left down to Raymond we went right to Artic. I knew the Artic Tavern was just a mile or so up the road.

When we arrived, (about 12:30 or so) the tavern was closed! On Superbowl Sunday! I’d brought a sandwich and invited John to sit on the porch with me and share while we discussed our options. We were both not at all excited about the prospect of riding back the way we came. It would have been much harder because almost all of the climbing would have been on really bad road, seriously hard to ride. We talked about other routes but I thought that continuing on Hwy 101 to Montesano and on to Elma would add a lot more miles.

I was just about to do a little GPS slight of hand and plot the course going that way when a truck pulled up and a guy got out with an armload of what looked like Tavern supplies and headed for the door. I asked if they were going to open and he said yeah, he’d open up in a couple minutes. (I am blessed!) We went in and had cokes and coffee, the warmth alone was fantastic.

In casual conversation John asked how far it was to Monte, “10 miles” came the answer (more blessings!). This changed things. I often ride out to Monte for lunch at the Bee Hive Café. We’re just 10 miles from one of my regular rides! This seemed like an excellent alternative to heading back to the hog wallow.

So off we went. I had a flat on the highway, couldn’t find the hole in the tube or anything in the tire, so just put a new tube in. You do know this will lead to trouble down the way, right?

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful; of course the wind was blowing through the Chehalis Gap. I think of this as my own personal Mistral. It’s not a wicked wind, just fickle. You can be pretty sure that the wind will be blowing, but you can’t be sure which way.

I checked the NWS last week and it indicated there would be an onshore flow (tailwind for the ride home!) through Sunday, but that it should turn and become an off shore flow Monday. I guess Monday came a day early, dang! Riding a trail wind the last 30 miles or so would have been great. Oh well.

About Satsop, the front tire went soft. I decided that this had held up pretty well for close to 20 miles so rather than replace the tube I just pumped up. John was pretty impressed with how much air big tires hold. It’s a lot of strokes with the little Topeak Road Morph. I’m thinking of getting a Mtn Morph. I run these tires at about 75 psi so high pressure is not an issue, it’s just about the volume. As it turned out, I had to do so two more times on the South bank road.

And then we were done: about 75 miles in about 8 hours. I was done, this is the hardest 75 miles I have ridden in some time.

I rode this route with my Jack Brown Green tires from Rivendell: 33 mm wide at about 75 psi. They were great for the conditions, John rode Conti Gator skins, 28 mm, and they handled the route pretty well too. John feels strongly that 28mm is the absolute minimum. I’d say you could probably get through the worst parts with 25’s but I think 23’s might be a little but foolish. Also, if you are thinking of squeezing in a little bigger tire will fit under your fenders, rethink that. On this route, on this day both John and I picked up a lot of crap that ran through or hung up in the fenders. It’s a messy route this time of year.

But Logging roads change, always. If you ride this in the summer the road will surely be different, if you ride it next weekend, it might be different, but probably not in a good way.

Tortoise, Hare, ... and Hounds
So, it appears that Lacey-Raymond-Lacey is suitable for even a tortoise to get around the course within the time limits. That sets up an interesting dynamic for Saturday, February 7th. I will be riding this route (with a few other South Sound randos). We’ll be starting out on this course at 6:30 am. I’ll go as fast as I can but I’ll probably finish in around 12:30, certainly anchoring the Tortoise classification.

Meanwhile, later that morning another group, with a few speed merchants will launch on the course, (take up the chase), at 8:00 am. Will they be fast enough to overtake the early starters?

At about 8:01am we will be magically converted from turtles to rabbits, and the 8:00 am hares will instantly become hounds to the chase! Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t any kind of ‘throw down’. That would be sheer folly. But I’m happy to oblige if the peloton feels the urge to ‘reel in the break’ as it were. Yeah right, “break”: streaking across the countryside at 10 miles per hour! It’s embarrassing I tell you.

But I’m looking forward to this brevet for a couple reasons:
  • It’s in my neighborhood! Thanks to a collection of stalwart south sound randos, we are seeing a growing number of perm routes that don’t necessitate a long trip to the start (for us anyway).
  • Though I’ll have to drive about a half hour to get to the start, the route passes less than a quarter mile from my back door. Perhaps I’ll stop for a bowl of warm soup enroute (but probably not).
  • There is a stretch of unpaved road. Oooh, spooky! Actually at the club meeting last fall I asked if riders would be interested in a brevet that incorporated a little more wild and wooly routes. It was no surprise that quite a number of hands went up, and this area (the Capitol Forest) and several others came to mind as suitable ground for part of such a route.

It would be fun to be up in Seattle riding the winter training series ride, but that’s a way for me to go (farther than this event) and I’m committed to trying to get my monthly 200K out of the way early in the month! (I read a great story about that recently) And besides there is a winter training ride planned for every Saturday in February so I figure it’s all the more reason to get this thing out of the way early.

To show a little solidarity with the winter training series, no one will be issuing cards at the start for riders who might decide at the last minute to show up for the ride. Do that and you’ll be riding for the fun of it, not for ACP or RUSA credit.

PS: This route covers a leg of my commute on the way out and will carry riders past THREE Osprey nests! So far I’ve seen no activity on these nests though the resident bald eagles are now actively courting and nest building (not on the route). Send me a note if you are interested and I’ll give you a heads up using the route sheet as a guide. Here’s a picture of another nest at the Marys River bridge going into Montesano, that nest is a lot bigger than it looks.

No comments:

Post a Comment