Monday, June 15, 2009

Remote Control

At 6:00 am last Saturday the Spring SIR 600Km Brevet was underway. This, the last brevet of the spring SIR rando series was well subscribed with about 50 riders pre-registering for the event. The ride got a lot of hype as a fast and friendly course, an 'easy' 600, with relatively little climbing. Still, I chuckle at the notion of 'easy' and '600K' in the same sentance, but there it is, thus the fairly high turnout.

For some, this would be a first try at the distance, others would be shooting for a personal best time. For many, completion meant achieving 'Super Randonneur' status (no cape or mask, but a nice little medal!) and possinbly qualification for an upcoming 1200K event. A few were contemplating a first try at 'riding through', meaning riding the route from start to finish without a sleep stop.

As the time drew near, I realized I would be in no shape to ride this event and so offered my services to the ride organizer, Albert. Actually in late winter, Albert had asked for a little help checking out the course and the overnight accomodations in Centralia, a town not far from Rocky Acres.

My preference was to staff the Ranbow Falls Control.

This is about 373 Km into the ride, and about 33 Km before the riders get to the overnight control in Centralia. Ranbow Falls State Park is on a fairly lonely stretch of Hwy 6 (well it counts as a highway if you live out in the sticks). At this point riders had ridden close to 60Km since their last opportunity for any real civilization in Raymond.

Checking the NWS forecast for the Grays Harbor Bar it appeared a mixed bag for the riders. While there was no rain in the forecast, and the temps would be nearly ideal (highs in the 70's lows in the 50's) the forecast predicted a strong on shore flow in the afternoons:

For locals this means only one thing: Headwind through the Chehalis Gap and this route had riders in that local version of mother natures wind tunnel for some 85 Km. I felt no need to be a prognosticator, there's no point in annoucing that riders might encounter a headwind. really there is not much that can be done to prepare for it. Weather is always the wild card in these endurance events, and wind is a cruel adversary; you can't see it, you don't know where it will start, or where it will end, unlike a climb, you can't see where the harder parts are. That big, invisible hand pushing on your forehead. Oy!
Just to show how much the rando scene has changed in the last few years, there was actually a bidding war for rights to staff this control! These kind of controls, places just off the edge of the map, or maybe not even warranting a notation on the map, always got staffed in the past, but there were relatively few people interested in the assignment. I'm not saying that nobody wanted to be 'out there', maybe it's just that there were fewer people into randonneuring in the past.

My inspiration for this kind of volunteering came on my first 1000K brevet through the North Cascades. This is a beautiful but lonely part of the country, I was riding pretty much solo and coming out of the mountains to the west I was really punished on the second day of the event.
Now it happens that during the spring and early summer you have a very good chance of riding into a fierce up canyon head wind riding west out of the North Cascades. This always seems particularly unfair as you do some serious climbing to get over Rainy and Washington passes, thinking you're going to get 20 plus miles of fast fun descending, only to have to pedal on the down hills to get 25Kph, if that.
I had a long way to go to get to Newhalem, and it was late enough in the day that I knew all that would await me there was a vending machine with maybe a Coke and candy bar or bag of chips, and possibly a couple late summer moths flitting about a big sodium vapor light for company. I came around a corner and there was a heavenly apparition: Bill Dussler had a secret control all set up! I plunked in a lawn chair as he prepared me a Cup o Noodles and hot cup of coffee. There was sandwich to go with it, and some chips. He really knew what he was doing. It is just amazing how that little 30 minute respite reenergized me.
With more participants in the Rando scene I guess it just stands to reason that there are more people who can appreciate how much fun and how rewarding working this kind of control can be. At any rate, when the dust was all settled Mrs C. and I with help from John got the opportunity to serve the riders on this last stop befor the overnight control.
It's too bad the bridge across the river into the park is washed out (remember that flood in '07?)

The park has a fantastic setup but now it would be a 5 mile work around to get across the river, so the control was set up at the wide spot in the road that was the original approach to the park entrance.
And therin lie the seeds of a major SNAFU. Because the park entrance was closed due to the washout, there was a sign two miles down the route that announced the detour to Rainbow Falls State Park. We set up where we were supposed to, however the route sheet and the brevet card identifed the control as Rainbow Falls State Park. The route did not indicate a turn, it showed the control on Hwy 6, but at that point along the route almost ALL the riders assumed they should turn at the detour to get to the park.
After the first bunch came through and told of their problem, we quickly made up a sign out of a cardboard box and taped that, with a red blinky light to the sign post. The sign we made said that the control was straight ahead, but still, most riders went off route in search of the state park.
I really feel terrible about this. That far into a ride (or anywhere actually) no one wants to get lost, especially if they think they are following the right route. The problem was confounded by the fact that my cell phone service provider does not have coverage in the area so people could not call and ask us where we were (another new adjunct to route navigation). So, to all the riders and all the other volunteers on this event, I want to apologize. I should have found an effective way to prevent or solve this problem.
We had a decent control set up, the Coleman stove and one of those pop up shelters with a propane heater and an assortment of lawn chairs. We served clam chowder (a hit later in the ride) cup O noodles (a SIR standard), sandwiches of lunch meat and cheese, and PB& J. The fresh watermelon and strawbewrries were pretty well received too. We made a few of the old stand by Swiss Miss mochas and the Starbux coffee was a favorite.

I was really impressed with the riders. Almost everyone who got to our control looked very strong and quite likely to finish the event (I have not yet seen the results). in spite of the headwind leg, all seemed to be in fantastic spirits, well almost all, and the rest were still pretty cheery. Attitude does not seem to be the challenge it once was.

We had a running battle through the night with a local family of racoons who were entranced with the smells of a rando control out in the woods. When we packed up we left a few of those not so popular Costco muffins by way of a peace offering. Randos should always try to leave a positive impression with the locals.


  1. Paul, despite the Snafu the control was a welcome sight and I appreciate the food and support that you and Sheila and John provided. Thanks again for volunteering.


  2. Thanks for everything. Those late night controls are always my favorite. I've never enjoyed cookies and sandwiches more.

  3. Thanks Dr C! Fantastic support. It is soooo nice to see the red blinkey light.

  4. Best Vegetarian noodles ever. What an SIR oasis in the middle of the night!!! It was great to have such a pleasant conversation with you, Sheila and John. And the Raccoons. I have a half a mind to call the Animal Cruelty people, Mr Johnson. :)

    Thanks for waiting for us, and helping us all and putting up with this crabby randonneur.

  5. Just wanted to say thanks as well for the wonderful support on the 600 - as Joe said there is no better feeling of seeing that little blinkie in the distance!

    I'm looking forward to doing my first run as a volunteer on the upcoming 100k - in the future I do plan on volunteering for a bigger brevet, not just leeching off the great support you gals/guys offer.

    Thanks again! See you on the road.