Monday, August 23, 2010

'Just' a ride report

(better take a deep breath this got long) ....

If you are familiar with Blogger you probably know about post labeling. You’ll find the label at the bottom of the post and these labels can be used to find all posts related to the topic. One of the labels I created for my blog posts was ‘Ride Reports’ which lets the cool kids know that this post is a report of a recent bike ride. I have not looked lately but I am sure that my frequency of ride reports is off from past years. I don’t post a report every time I swing a leg over, but then again in the last couple years I have not been riding as much as I used to. There are a few good reasons and a whole carpet baggers satchel full of excuses, ... but that’s fodder for another post somewhere down the way. Perhaps I need to add another label: Excuses.

On Saturday, August 21st I rode the SIR summer 400K. I rode my bike well January through April, but then was sick for a little over two months in April, May, and June. Though I have been on the bike since July, this was the longest ride I have ridden since PBP 2007 (I think). I have not checked, just relying on my tattered memory, a chancy endeavor in itself.

It’s more than just a few miles that differentiates 200Km from 400Km (and beyond), and I have the numb toes and sore butt to prove it. Still, there are threads that run through these long rides that tie them together. Sort of like when you look at pictures of family members:

you can see resemblances, either in particular features or in the overall similarity.

If those bonds don’t please you in some way, don’t bring out some sense of satisfaction, accomplishment, or dare I say it, joy, then you probably won’t go back to the well, because we all know you don’t get to the ’good stuff’ without having to navigate a little ‘bad stuff’ somewhere along the way.

Often a ride report is a point to point recounting of what the rider experienced, starting at the start and ending at the end. Sometimes it’s more methodical, reporting on watts, miles, heart rates, miles per hour, or personal best’s on a particularly challenging hill or Mountain pass. When I am riding I often think in terms of a story. Isn’t that odd? I’ll see a scene and stop for a picture knowing that if I can get a decent image it will fit right in with my idea of how the story will unfold. For example:

I got this picture of the moon rising behind Whitehorse Mountain just outside of Darrington. It was dramatic and cost me some time (I’ve got nearly a dozen more shots, this was the best) but there was just no riding past without at least getting something to commemorate it. In fact, that little photo session nearly cost me the chance to fuel up in Darrington.

As I approached the IGA entry, the young stocker boy was just locking the doors. “Closed?” I asked. “Yeah” was his reply “But you can come on in”. I asked where I’d find the Starbucks espresso shots, he told me and I went about getting water, the caffeine fix, and a banana. It’s often like that in small towns. The checker lady delayed closing a little longer as we had ”the conversation” at the cash register about where I had been, where I was going, and how long it would take. She mentioned that I had a headlight so I was probably well prepared. Only later as I sat out on the bench in front of the store eating my banana did I realize that my head lamp had been on while we were talking. As you can tell by now, this isn’t going to be a point to point narrative but I’ll try to get it back, generally on track.

The ride originated from my friend Dan’s house in Rural Whatcom County. Like me Dan lives some distance from Seattle, the nerve center of SIR and so Dan undertook this season to sponsor a number of rides in the northern part of our ‘territory’. Starting a few rides outside Seattle offers riders a chance to see other parts of the state (and rural riders a chance to skip an OhDarkThirty drive before the ride) and Dan has done yeoman’s work in that regard, I could take a lesson. Dan and his gracious wife Marguerite (and sons Tom and Paul) opened their home to a large collection of riders. The summer 1000Km brevet started there on Thursday, and then our 400 km adventure started Saturday morning at 6:00am

Both events ending at their house late Saturday or early Sunday morning according to rider’s abilities.

That morning riders were readying themselves for what was to come, in and outside the house as Dan prepared pancakes, bacon, and coffee for all. I was reminded of a 1000Km event Dan and I had shared years ago. It was a late summer 1000Km and Dan had decided to have a breakfast of waffles in the early afternoon (these long events change all the rules about eating). The waffles were good but Dan felt the need for something a little more substantial and so ordered a small bowl of chili. A couple hours later at the next control Dan looked to be a little under the weather and confided that the chili and waffles were warring for digestion supremacy. As I was getting ready to leave he mentioned that this might be the end of his ride. I left him with a couple heavy duty (for the time) prescription acid neutralizers and advised he take them and wait a bit before making his final decision on whether to continue or pack it in. About midnight, and another control down the road, Dan showed up looking good as new (well, as good as can be expected out in the desert country of eastern Washington at midnight). Thus was born the nickname “Chiliwaffles”.

These long rides become shared experiences and you find that acquaintances morph into friendships that hinge on a broken spoke, or a particular meal, or borrowing (or lending) some seemingly vital item of clothing or bike equipment. Years later you regale others with tall tales. This camaraderie is perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of our sport, the ‘oral tradition around the campfire’ that reinforces our frail will to continue whenever the challenges seem insurmountable.

Did I say back on track? A freeway (or jet plane) takes the most direct route, but a bike path meanders, please allow for this inefficiency.

Whatcom and Skagit counties have diverse geography, economy, and communities.  They stretch from the Cascade Crest to the shores of the Straight of Juan de Fuca.  In my time I have lived in both places and though the metro centers have changed drastically, I am pleased to say that the rural parts look pretty much the same as they did in the 1970’s.
These are surely not the same cows, but the ground fog, the mountains and early morning sun could be from a distant time.   Likewise Drayton Harbor at Blaine.

These places remind me that ours is a very pretty place to live and seeing it from the seat of a bicycle is a gift not to be taken lightly. I should do this more often!

My early ride was predictable: I rode with the group for a bit and then they drifted ahead, out of sight. Something is going on in my lungs and it always seems that the first few hours of a ride I am hacking up something that never really comes. I use an inhaler to calm things down and usually after a couple hours, and so long as I stay on top of the situation (I re-use the inhaler about every two hours) this situation is manageable.

I had dressed well, a long sleeve wool jersey, with a jacket on top, and bib knickers. I’m trying to keep the sun off my skin as I’ve got a skin ‘condition’ (another form of ‘overuse’ injury, my whole body seems over used) but this served me well to the first control at Blaine, by which time I had warmed up enough that I removed the jacket, but still cool enough that the LS Jersey felt good.

South from Blaine to Cherry Point and Fairhaven in Bellingham I crisscrossed through the farmland and wind coming in off the water. The cooling breeze and scent of salt water was refreshing but of course not without a price. There was never a serious headwind, but it does not take much to force you to pay attention to keeping your speed up, and the vibe shifts from riding a bike to doing work on the bike.

At Fairhaven I took a break and changed from the LS wool jersey to a lighter weight SS wool jersey. These lightweight wool garments really are wonderful for a wide range of applications. I feared I would get too hot but I was mostly fine for the rest of the day. I filled bottles, drank a bottle of milk, and ate half a sandwich from the cold case (the other half into the H-bar Bag for later). I chatted with an older fellow (probably my age, perhaps a little younger) who had come to the store on his cargo bike to do his shopping and have coffee and a doughnut. He asked about my rearview mirror. This could have been me I thought: When I attended Western (the local college) years ago I imagined myself living in Happy Valley or perhaps out on Lummi Island and teaching locally, Just another alternate reality that didn’t materialize.

As I finished my sandwich I gazed across the street at the trendy bank housed in the historic brick building and recalled a time 35 years ago when I sat a barstool in that very same building slugging back 25 cent schooners of Rainer. At that time is was known as the Kulshan Tavern.

Cruising down Chuckanut drive I began to hit my stride. It is a funny thought because I was leapfrogging with a young couple on fully loaded touring bikes (panniers front and back with rear racks piled high) but this was the start of what I hoped might develop: Sometimes I get a little stronger as a ride progresses, and though my pace was not significantly quickening, I felt easier on the bike and found a sustainable effort I could hold on the hills. I stopped for the obligatory self portrait:

and the young woman, called out asking if I wanted her to take my pic as they rolled on by. Across the Skagit flats the winds and sun were kind and I rolled into La Conner ready to refill bottles and move along.

At the Pioneer grocery ice cream sounded good so I went in search. I noticed hand dipped advertised at the espresso bar, a small one scoop cone seemed just right (coffee flavored ice cream!) and particularly more appetizing that the commercial fare in the cold case. I ordered and the Barista said I could go to the register and pay and she would bring it over to me when she was done.

“The conversation” at the register ensued as I askd for initials and the time:  “How far?! Where will you sleep? Riding through the night? …. In the dark?” (“well yes, it usually does get dark at night” I thought) And so I exited the store with a HUGE scoop of ice cream balanced on a tiny cone. I thought better of protesting or complaining about too much ice cream. I sat on the curb outside and ate my ice cream. Sometimes we must suffer in silence.

I had a contemplative moment here. It was mid day, and I was 100 miles into my 250 mile ride. I was reasonably certain that barring misfortune I would finish this ride. I was riding with about one and a half hours of time ‘in the bank’. I was not adding to my bonus time, but then I was not loosing time. I knew that I would be slower at night, everyone always rides a little slower in the dark, it’s inevitable. I felt ‘confident’ and this was one the things I had come looking for on this ride. Do I still have ‘it’. Would ‘it’ still be fun, or would this be something else, other than fun.

Before I headed up to Dan’s on Friday afternoon, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to pull even this ride together. I had originally planned to ride the 1000Km event which started earlier in the week but there was just no way I could pry my work schedule open enough to wedge in a 1000K event. As an alternative I considered sitting home and writing a ‘PBP” post. PBP 2011 will begin on August 21, 2011 and I had thought something of my reminiscences of PBP’s past and the kick off of a PBP countdown calendar could be a decent addition on the day, one year prior to the start of this big event. Instead, here I was riding a brevet, essentially alone but making my way around the course, confidently.

This ride isn’t a PBP qualifier, but it may enhance my chances of a selection if I choose to ride PBP next year. I thought about that, about how much bigger PBP is than a summer 400K in 2010, how different they are but also how through ACP, RUSA, SIR, and Dan Turner, these two things are connected. I thought too about the similarities between the people here in the small towns of Rural Washington and the people in the rural towns of Brittany and Normady and how they treat bike riders. It was a pleasant moment, but only a moment. I still had more miles to put under the wheels.

From here I made good time. This next leg can be a tough stretch. I have ridden this when the prevailing winds seemingly do all they can to push you off the bike. Once, on another long ride here (a different 100km brevet) I had one of my best rides, thanks to two friends who pulled me through the last day. I rode with all I had on that ride but still if not for the efforts Wim Kok and Wayne Methner (riders much more experienced than I) I would never have achieved my best time ever for the distance (63:33 in 2006!)

As I rode along I began to encounter the 1000K riders on the final leg of their journey, now less than 100K from their finish. I shouted my support as they went by, some had no idea who I was, others recognized me and returned the encouragement. One face seemed familiar and the next morning at Dan’s, who would I encounter but Wim! It was great to see him.

Along the way I had been watching for my good friend John. I had suggested some time earlier that perhaps this 1000Km was the ride for him, and he took the bait, so when I backed out I felt a brief pang of guilt (and frustration) that I would not be on the ride with him. A few miles outside of Arlington I saw him coming, unmistakable on his sleek recumbent bike. I pulled over and started snapping pictures.

He was a little confused until he got near enough to recognize me and then it was all smiles and chatter.

John had encountered a rough patch a day earlier and was considering packing it in. He called Dan to let him know that he was going to abandon, and apparently Dan had given him a somewhat stern lecture on the virtues of perseverance, along with some excellent advice: He told John he had several hours before the next control closed, to clean up, cool off, get something to eat and take nap, then when refreshed to rethink his decision. John took that advice and upon reconsideration got back on his bike and began to ride. Though recumbents are low to the ground, when I saw John he was about a foot higher off the ground than normal, it was obvious that he felt great about his decision to continue on.

And so it goes: someone helps you through a bad patch and you pay it forward. Hearing John’s story, I could not help recalling the chiliwaffles incident. I am sure Dan would have offered John great support and encouragement anyway, but I also think our experiences inform our behavior and so I have no doubt that someday in the future John will know just the right thing to say to some rider who may be having doubts about continuing when the road ahead looks a little too challenging.

A little later I controlled at the Hagans Supermarket in Arlington and again the kindness of strangers surfaced. The checker had seen lots of Randonneurs that day, some heading out on their 400K adventure and some closing the 1000K loop. I may have been the last but I was treated well. He helped me find the hot soup (I had a cup of clam chowder and a couple small slices of French bread, fabulous!), he opened my bottle of coke (the smaller 10 oz variety comes in bottles …with caps), and then helped to carry my booty to a table. We talked and learned that we had lived in similar places; He had taught in the Forks grade school, though not at the time my kids were in school there, and he had lived in Centralia so knew where Oakville was. Soon it was time to head out. It was early evening on a beautiful late summer day, and I was standing squarely at the half way mark (in kilometers) of my ride, with a little bit of a time bonus on the clock. My next control was Marblemount, though I did stop in Darrington which I believe I have already mentioned.

The ride out from Darrington to Marblemount was incredibly peaceful. There is a stretch were you ride through what seems like a narrow gash in the forest canopy. I tried to take a few pictures of the moon, it shone so brightly it lit up the road like some strip of blue neon luminescence running through the woods. The camera was not up to the task, but it is a pretty thing to recall.

Along this stretch I started to get sleepy on the bike. Sometimes in this situation I will stop for a ‘ditch nap’ but I was too far from the finish and my ‘time in hand’ was not enough to risk a nap. Instead I opted for a caffeine tablet, a Prilosec, and an energy bar. It took about 15 minutes but soon I began to reap the benefits of performance enhancing drugs. Caffeine pills I generally do not recommend, mostly because they affect everyone differently, including me. There have been times when these things have ruined my stomach but luck smiled on me this go round and I made good time and happy thoughts all the way to Marblemount.

At Rockport, sight of steelheading victories and defeats from my earlier years, I turned north up highway 20. The air was cooler with the breeze off the Skagit River, moonlight reflecting off the ripples. I got into Marblemount a few minutes before midnight, and as the song goes, “not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse”. I snapped a picture of my computer display,

and the false front of the only hamburger joint in town, closed up tight as a drum

and then filled in the info on my brevet card. There is a post office in Marblemount and I probably could have gotten a post card there and mailed it to Dan, though I doubt it would have been post marked at 11:57pm on August 21st, 2010.

I plunked down on the well lit pump island of a Shell gas station and fished out the second half of that sandwich I had bought back in Fairhaven. As I was eating, a car pulled into a house behind the gas station. A woman got out of the car, hesitated, and then called out to me “Are you lost?” I chuckled, if one were to arrive in Marbelmount how could one possibly be lost? There are very few ways in or out. “No” I responded. “Are you OK?” she again inquired. I considered saying that I thought I might die if I did not get a cup of hot coffee in the next eight minutes, but instead I replied:” Yes thanks, I’m fine”. She went on in to her house; I finished my sandwich and thought about a farm stand I had stopped at in Western Brittany all those years ago for a fresh cup of hot coffee offered cheerfully in the middle of the night by the farmer’s wife. People are indeed a very special breed of people.

The next stretch, the long roll from Marbelmount to Sedro-Woolley was imposing. As I looked at this route and guestimated my times the day before, I thought this might be where I encountered my low point. I knew it would be deserted, night, probably riding solo, and it is just a very*long*way (50 miles) from point to point.

It wasn’t exactly a low point but it was long, dark, and solo. I passed by the location of the old Baker River Ranger station where I had worked, the Dalles Bridge road that led to the little cabin on the farm where I had lived, past Cape Horn road where my old pal Steve (long gone now) and I had survived many a night of home brew parties. And I did get sleepy again.

The last caffeine pill I had taken worked well for me for about three hours. I decided to hold off till about 3:00am before taking another. These thing tend to dry out my throat and all my mucous passages, plus I figured if I took another pill at three, it should be wearing off about 6:00am, when the sun came back around the earth to light my way and give me that natural solar powered boost.

It began to drizzle about 2:00 am, my drive train started auto shifting into the granny going up the climbs about the same time. The demons were conspiring to bring me down. I stopped, leaned against a guard rail, took my caffeine pill and dug out that caffeinated energy drink I had bought back in Darrington at 9:00pm. The drink was (I thought) a Starbucks mocha espresso double shot. It turned out that it also had a lot of other stuff in it, Guarana, etc, it was not just coffee and it tasted bad. It was also huge but I had been packing it along in my seat bag for 45 miles and over 5 hours, and I was almost out of water so I sat there and choked it back. Together with the pill, it did the trick and in short order the big horse and I were galloping down Hwy 20 towards ‘Woolley’ (upriver slang for Sedro-Woolley, ‘back in the last century).

Before turning onto Hwy 9 for the final 50 miles I was determined to find water, I stopped at several closed stores, found outside water faucets but all were nonfunctional. I didn’t want to resort to a residential raid and just as I was edging towards desperation, there was a 7-11 store beckoning me: It was open, I got water A CUP OF HOT COFFEE (!) and even a slightly stale breakfast sandwich. Bonanza. Watered up and ready, I headed off for my last bit of adventure.

The western parts of Whatcom and Skagit Counties are flat farmland so imagine my shock to discover that Dan had routed us over the Alps! I am sure that first climb out of Sedro-Woolley was not THAT steep, or that long, but my quads were screaming. I checked the time, looked over the computer stats and somehow I was still running on about the schedule I had calculated back between LaConner and Arlington. The drugs did their job, the drizzle let up and I was steaming along at13 miles per as the sun lit up the sky behind the mountains. This last stretch is almost completely on Highway 9 so the weary mind can go on autopilot not needing to be concerned with navigation.

I had been pedaling along literally for hours without seeing any sign that indicated I was still on Highway 9. County roads out in the sticks are like that, but still … With less than 12 miles to go I did finally encounter a sign that let me know that I was on Cooper road. COOPER ROAD? That’s not Highway 9. I resorted to panning and scanning the map on my GPS. I‘m not smart enough to put a route in the GPS but I find the ability to look at roads around me useful when I am in navigational limbo (othes call it lost). Of course, just at that time the gizmo decided to let me know that the batteries were almost dead, and well, I had no spare AA’s on board. I won’t say I panicked, I felt I’d had a good ride and I knew I would ride to Dan’s house, but at that moment I was not sure I would arrive there inside or outside the time limit. What to do? I called Dan’s home (cell phone coverage, a pleasant surprise for a T Mobile user) and let him know I was on Cooper road, about a mile outside of Van Zandt. “Keep riding” Dan said, “Cooper road is Highway 9, get your butt in here for pancakes!” (More sage advice from the Sensei).

Thus reassured, I pedaled on. About 3 miles from the finish, you cross the Nooksack River and then take on a hill to get up out of the river bottom. It was just at that point that my motor ran out of gas, literally and figuratively. Non-riders think ‘bonking’ has something to do with sex, but riders know that when you bonk, you are all through riding your bike until you can get a little more glucose into the bloodstream. I have done this enough that I recognize the symptoms pretty readily though I have known people who lose some degree of self awareness, not realizing the problem or the solution.

I slowly rolled to a stop and rummaged through the H-bar bag. I thought I had another Clif bar on board but no suck luck. I found a Hammer gel single serve packet (caffeinated espresso flavor naturally) and choked this back. For the uninitiated, this stuff is about the consistency of very stiff cake frosting and about twice as sweet.  For me this is a lot like trying to ignite a warming fire with a stick of dynamite, risky to say the least, but there were no alternatives. I choked this down (literally) and then drank nearly a whole bottle of water and then, slowly, began, pedaling. Within 10 minutes I was once again capable of carrying on a conversation and making the pedals go round at a reasonable rate. I turned onto E Kelly road (freshly chip sealed of course) and then onto Dan’s road and before you could say “Ollie Ollie Oxen Free” I handed my card off to Dan for the finish.  I was going to ask for Waffles and Chili,but the pancakes were already on the warmer, go figure.

I have always said that these rides always and only happen thanks to the effort of volunteers. Mark Thomas, veteran randonneur and the hardest working volunteer I know had originally committed to take these rides on, but circumstances conspired to make Marks participation impossible. In no time at all Dan said: ”Me! …Let me invite 35 strangers into my home to eat my food, leave their clothes, bikes, cars, tents, stinky shoes, socks, etc strewn here and there so that I can then chase them about the countryside on their adventure and then feed and support them when they are done!” This while gimping around the house with his leg wrapped in a brace recovering from a surgically repaired broken knee cap. He’s a brave man and we all owe him a debt of gratitude. I suspect we owe the Lovely Margurite a little more than we know. Bon Route Chiliwaffles!

Oh yes, the metadata:

Trip Odom    251.02mi
Overall Ave      9.8mph
Moving ave    11.5mph
Total time           25:30
Moving time       21:52


  1. Great ride report!

  2. I really enjoyed reading the "ride report". I had hoped to read about the 3 Volcanoes a couple of weeks ago, but I'm sure your more disappointed than I am.

  3. Brilliant report. Coming out of Marblemount, Albert and I were suprised to see your lights approaching in the distance. We had a bit of a nap after my minor breakdown at the Shell Station, and I had assumed that in that 40 minutes that you might have leapfrogged us.

    On that long stretch of SR-20, we went up the hill into Concrete to fill up at some karaoke bar because we didn't know that there was an open gas station just another mile and a half down the road. It was quite an adventure!