Saturday, July 31, 2010

Rough Stuff

I took yesterday (Friday) off work to ride my bicycle. It sounds so juvenile to say, but there is a sense of fun and freedom in the words. Especially when contrasted with words like ‘work’, and ‘job’ (not a lot of ‘fun and freedom’ there).  Next weekend is the Three Volcanoes 300Km brevet. A little more about that later, but yesterdays ride was something of a shake down in preparation.

Because the 3V’s is very remote and runs over at least one stretch of gravel road I made a few ‘modifications’ to the big horse and wanted to make sure there would not be any big surprises 30 miles from civilization.

Last week I took off the fenders and replaced the 33mm Jack Brown slicks with 28 mm Panaracer Paselas (I took these off the tandem, used but still in good shape). I'm so used to seeing it with fenders, I was uprised how different it looked.

These tires have a smaller profile, but they have tread. On loose gravel wider and tread would be preferred, but in this case I had to pick one or the other. I took the fenders off because it is common for tires with tread to grab and carry gravel up into the fenders and often it gets lodged near the break arms or fender stays. And I am assuming it won’t rain. (judgment is such a fickle thing, like assuming that airplane engine won’t conk out over the wide Pacific)

A well respected local mechanic suggested I should have kept the wider tires on. Isn’t it interesting how often a tiny seed of doubt can grow into a mighty oak of fear, anxiety, and self loathing, seemingly overnight? Well as it happened the shop where that mech works just happened to have a pair of those very same Panaracer Paselas in 32mm width. So now that mech will be able to make another boat payment and I flushed away the mental question marks with shiny new tires!

I learned some time ago, (and to my great dismay) that just buying new, fancier, more expensive equipment does not, in and of itself make me faster, or a better bike handler. You actually have to use this stuff, and even then there are no guarantees, and even THEN, any benefits are disappointingly marginal: “Yes! I think I was two tenths faster on a 75 mile timed course!” … woo hoo!

Friday being a sunny day and a little late to get permission for a 200K permanent I thought perhaps a ride off the back porch out onto logging roads nearby might be a good test. There is a 200K perm that starts in Lacey and runs down here past Rocky Acres then up into the woods and over the hill to the historic Brooklyn Tavern, then south on Smith Creek (more logging roads) to Raymond, then back to Lacey via hwy 101 (or ‘the 101’ as they say in SoCal). I could short cut this, avoid driving up to and riding in and around Lacey, get in some rough road riding, maybe actually have time to stop at the Brooklyn Tav, and not be bothered with time checks, cue sheets, and ATM receipts, just by riding my bike off the back porch. I put out the call and my old friend Brian happened to have Friday off and thought it sounded like a capitol idea. We settled on the civilized hour of 9:00 am for a start, he arrived about on time and we were away.

In this part of the country we often get that ‘Marine Layer’ in the mornings during summer. It’s a cloud cover that hangs on sometimes till 8:00 am and sometimes till 3:00pm. It does not rain and it is not cold, if you’ve ever spent time at the ocean you know what I mean.  It was cool enough that I rode in arm and leg warmers and a vest. All was well; of course no traffic out South bank or Garrard creek roads to the Brooklyn turnoff.
I’ve never really understood this but so often when a road changes from black top to gravel it seems to coincide with a sharp grade break. So it is with the Brooklyn road, it pitches up steeply for the first quarter mile or so after the black top ends.

Prior to our start, Brian and I had agreed to give any log trucks the road if we encountered them. After all this is Friday and they have to work while we were just two pudgy white city guys (Guvmint bureaucrats at that!) out playing around in their office.  Old and yet juvenile. Never mind the fact that they outweigh us a bit and we would certainly be more agile and able to stop etc.

Well sure enough there was log haul and we were about half way up that first steep pitch when the first truck came barreling down the road. We both pulled to the side of the road and once he had passed and the dust had settled we proceeded, or we tried to proceed. The road was dry and dusty, the top course of gravel was loose, and just deep enough that there was no purchase. You wanted to stand to get started but then there was no traction in the rear. Add in the beginning of a washboard effect and well, there was no getting re-started. After repeated attempts the smarter one of us rode down to the black top to get a running start. I however had visions of Sisyphus; continually staring up only to get so far and then having to return to re-start.

So I kept trying, with no success. I let air out of both tires, which helped but not enough. I duck waddled the bike up the road about 20 yards (meantime Brian had passed me and was going around the bend) to a spot where it looked like there was a short stretch of hard pack the trucks had not churned up. SUCCESS! I was once again rolling. Trucks continued to come by, we continued to get out of their way, but we were able avoid convergences of steep/loose/stopped and so made our way slowly up into the hills.

Here's where the road washed out two years ago:

Riders know that a swift and swoopy descent is the reward for a hard won climb, but they also know that there are times when it is not all milk and honey and this was such a time. The gravel was just as loose, and the washboards just as bumpy going down and so there was no letting it go with the wind blowing through your hair as you carved perfect turns. I rode the breaks a lot on the way down. My hands cramped, and today my forearms and elbows ache, but still we made it down. The restart of the pavement was a welcome sight. Oddly enough, once we were back on the pavement Brian got a flat. As he was pulling the tire apart he remarked that he could probably be sure it was not a shard of broken glass. As he inspected the tire, what did he find? A shard of broken glass!  Notwe to self:  Inspect tires before the start of the 3 Volcanoes.
A few more miles down the road we came to Brooklyn. This is one of those places that you can tell was once a place of considerably more presence than it is today. There is an absolutely lovely school, it is and suggests that it has been forever the crown jewel of the community. A brick schoolhouse with a white picket fence, literally in the middle of nowhere.

A little further on you find the Brooklyn Tavern, this too is a monument to better days.

The place is decorated with logging memorabilia, kitschy signs, girlie pictures in the men’s room

and a running water spittoon under the brass rail at the bar (a second class version of the elegant running water spittoon in the Brick Tavern in Roslyn WA I might add). I noticed the broad planks serving as floor boards were pock marked with holes left by calked logging boots, better known as ‘corks’.

It was 11:45 when we arrived, the place as not scheduled to open till noon. Brian said he was willing to wait and I was just saying how we’d have to sit on the porch and do our loud, obnoxious urban cyclist impersonations when the proprietor, almost as old as Brooklyn propped the door open and said ‘Come on in boys, the beers cold!”

Interesting parkng lot paving concept:

We spent more time there then we ever would have on a brevet, not because it was cold and rainy out, not because we were exhausted and needed to sleep in a lounge chair, but because this was a JRA ride and Ray was a delightful host and acted as if he was so happy that we dropped by. We asked for coffee and he said sure, I’ll whip some up, and so he did. The menu was spartan, various versions of a hot dog but that seemed just the thing at the time.

Later a couple locals came in and we all talked and joked amiably. This is Ray’s last ‘go-round’ with the tav, he’s hanging his boots up at the end of this season and one of the fellows at the bar is taking over.  he said he'd lokdat retire mentoptions in SoCal.  A woman realtor took him to one of those Del Webb retirement commnities and after the 'tour she asked what he thought.  "It's alright I guess." He responded, "But too damed many old people, I don't like old people, they're too crabby and outspoken!"

I’m not sure how long we were there, too long, but not long enough.

We rolled on down the North River road, talking and admiring the bucolic scenery (occasionally dodging a log truck) another 20miles or so and we arrived at the Artic tavern.

Well of course we had to stop as Ray had requested that we let them know that the beer was colder and better up at the Brooklyn. I needed water and so did Brian. We did not plan to stay long but ended up having cokes and splitting a fabulous club sandwich along with two little cups of potato salad. Again good talk and good folks.

Back out on 101 the miles sailed by and before the descent into Montesano the sun came out and it was time to strip off the warmers. That taken care of we dove into the home stretch. On most brevets and rides a stop in Montesano or Elma is often in order but we were fed and rested, the sun was out, and the wind was at our backs. The run in on the South bank road was a snap, the wind pushing us along at 15 to 18mp. Chairman Meow came out to greet us with a yawn and a squint I raised the garage door. I made a smootie and we sat out on the patio in the afternoon shade 'rehydrating'.

It was a great little ride, about 70 miles, my tires seem to be the right choice and most everything else worked as it should. I think the machine is ready for the 3V’s even if the engine needs an overhaul.

I think Three Volcanoes was first run in 2004, here is a link to that version.  It was not only a new route but a slight change in concept for SIR. SIR has a bit of a rep for riding the steeps so “how much climbing?” is always a question. 3V’s has the hills but it stays mostly on forest roads and part of the route is unpaved. This would be something of a wilderness experience and would take riders from western Washington to eastern Washington and back, and put us in close proximity to some stunning mountains. I think most clubs have a ‘signature’ event, for SIR I suppose that would be the Cascade 1200. 3V’s is perhaps the red headed third cousin. A smaller version of C-1200, but also quirky. In the past it has come on as a sleeper: Not a lot of people do it and then post ride there is all this buzz and many of the riders who didn’t do it begin thinking “I’m riding that next time’. It is not an annual event partly because the roads are not dependable. Forest roads are more prone to washouts and weather damage and much less likely to get fixed in a timely manner due to ‘budget constraints’. If we could just find a way to connect forest roads to terrorism, we’d have it made.

I’m planning to ride it, and I suggest you do too if you can. Be sure to bring an extra water bottle, warm clothes and sun screen, several spare tubes and a spare tire might not be a bad idea. It should be a kick and you never know, a pickup truck load of girls may just flash you as they go by.

Like I said, replete with funny stories, see you out there.

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