Sunday, September 18, 2011

If there was any doubt ....

Yesterday’s SIR Fall 200K was proof that it is no longer summer. Oh sure, according to the calendar, the astrologists, the almanac … all the official sources make it clear that this was officially the last weekend of summer but my rando gauges and indicators, every one of them, were pegged way over on the ‘not summer’ side of the readout. Summer is lounging blissfully on the deck of a luxury cruise ship somewhere in the Pacific, heading south for my friends in Australia.

As I sat in the kitchen slurping my hot coffee at 5:00 am contemplating the day ahead I thought, maybe I should switch from shorts to knickers. Given the weather prediction it was clear that we would get rain at some point. The forecast suggested that this would likely come near the end of the ride. There was a 10% chance up until about noon, and then it jumped to 20%, and worked up to 40% by about 6:00 pm. In these parts 10% means you may or may not get wet. 40% means you will get wet and probably real raincoat rain, just a matter of when and how much. Not that bib knickers will keep me dry, but managing rain on a ride is more about temperature than moisture control. A day of bike riding is all about decisions; can I make that light? Does this cue sheet mean the next chance for coffee is (or should be) here? Or 8 miles down the road? In hindsight, that quick change to knickers was a great start to the day. 

30 or so rides were milling about in the Safeway parking lot when I rode up. Being a ‘local’ I knew that Vic’s Pizza, the official finish was just a couple blocks up the road so I had parked there. It would be dark and I would be wet at the finish, and after the post ride pizza gorge and cool down, I knew I wouldn’t want to roll back down to the Safeway. Two good decisions in a row and we’re not even out of on the course yet, wooo hooo!

One of the things I like about our far corner of bicycling is the rituals we go through. The pre-ride chat is one of those rituals; Catching up with friends, the weather, and of course on this morning hearing stories of the recently completed PBP filled the air.

Soon we were off, heading for Steamboat Island. I let the crowd roll out and then followed along behind. No sense getting in the way of the faster riders as I knew I would spend the day at the back of the pack, or in racy rider parlance, ‘off the back’.  My friend Brian elected to ride with me, he’s been suffering low back pain and figured taking a little speed off the ball might be a good formula for going the distance. It was a nice gesture and though I am sure he could have finished sooner than me, we rode the whole day together. 

I know the first part of this ride well, when I lived in Oly a ride out to Steamboat Island was a regular route, and if I wanted to spice it up, mixing in the Gravelly Beach loop was a great way to combine scenic vistas of Eld Inlet and Squaxin Passage with some serious hill repeats. I saw Gravelly Beach on the cue sheet but mercifully, Millison had spared us most of the ups and downs.

It was about 8:45 as we started the drop to Steamboat Island that felt I the first faint drops of moisture. This could be just a little mist coming in off the water, we were after all surrounded by water, or it could be the start of something more. Rain? Highly unlikely, the weather wizards had assured us that we had a 90% chance of being in the clear until at least noon, … right? By 9:00 am my spirits (not to mention my feet) were dampened as we rode through a full on, drops dripping off your nose, rain. Was this it? Had the 3:00 rain come to find us some six hours ahead of schedule? Were we in for a ‘rain ride’ or was this just a cell passing through?  We know about rain rides, we know what is in store but we prefer the wade in not dive in approach.  Particulalry in as much as the long range forcasts call for another winter of La Nina.   I’m happy to report that by 11:00 the rain had abated and ‘The Orb That Shall Not Be Named’ made an appearance, shadows and all.
We stopped in Shelton, and noshed. I had a particularly delicious pizza pocket (I wonder if one would be arrested and thrown in a dungeon if caught with one of these things in France?) and some convenience store coffee. (I’m sure this version of ‘coffee’ would be grounds for deportation in Italy!) The cue sheet said we should provision as it would be another whole 25 miles before we arrived at the next (SIR supported) controle. 

I should note here that this route was put together by a ‘new comer’ to our part of the world. In fact Millison is not a new comer, he’s lived in the area for years but as we all know, anyone who arrives on the scene much more than 5 minutes after you is a new comer. It is roundly agreed that Mill has contributed enormously to the improvement to randonneuring in the south sound by all of us ‘old timers’ (the 5 minute plus crowd), He’s probably quadrupled the number of permanent routes but more than that, his routes put us on roads I’ve never ridden before. It is a special treat to be able to explore new country and it usually means a long drive to do so, but with Millison on our team, we get to explore close to home. How do these ‘new guys’ do that? Us locals thought we knew everything there was to know.

Into Shafer State Park (one of those not slated for closure due to the State’s current budget crisis) we found Millison and Ian ready to serve. Pay close attention to this next little bit, it’s exemplifies another of our traditions that I especially hold dear. Rolling up to the picnic shelter Ian takes my bike “Go have a seat, I’ll take care of your bike”. Millison asks what we want to eat, “where’s your control card I’ll get it out and sign it” Ian is quick to get the coffee going. Millison is now filling our water bottles. We are 120 Km into a 200Km brevet and getting treatment as if we had just come 600Km through the mountains; attention to assistance far exceeding our needs, but the standard is high, and of course being the dead effing last riders they’ve already done plenty of work here, but we get the same treatment as the speedy riders. This sense of voluntary service to the riders always gets me. I’ve ridden long rides and come into controles so tired and nearly delirious that I wasn’t sure I could dismount the bike without tipping over, and I’ve also been the guy there to help riders in similar straits. All volunteers are great, but a special bond is created when riders serve as volunteers for other riders.  We linger a bit, savoring the coffee and ham baguettes, (nice touch on the heels of PBP) but the clock is ticking and so we mount up and head off to Satsop.

A few miles down the road we roll into the site of the defunct Satsop nuclear power plant. Anyone who is a strong proponent of new-cue-lur power should come out here to our neck of the woods: We have a little field trip that may give you pause.

FS:  One nuclear power plant - Never been used!

I’ve been here before, the site has been repurposed as a local business park, but on a Saturday, with no one around it is slightly spooky, and slightly depressing.

Now down off the hill to Malone. At this point I am way closer to home than the finish but home is not even tempting, we are just over 40Km from the finish and already we can smell the pizza. The Korean shopkeeper at the little rural market is exceedingly gracious and thankfully has a pot of coffee ready. The coffee, (see a trend here?) a microwave Philly cheesesteak sandwich (surprisingly good or I was more hungry than I athought) and I am about ready to go. It has started raining again so back on with the raincoat. Just as we are about to roll out the shop keeper asks if we need water. I am down a bottle but actually expect that I’ll absorb enough water along the route that I can get by with one bottle. Ah well more water would be smart  and I want to be a good patron so I say yes and head back in to the store. He dashes in and gets us a liter bottle and gives it to us, no charge. He knows that we are the last of these riders in the rain and perhaps he’s thankful for the business of 32 cyclists rolling through, I’m sure others have bought waterday and other treats ahead of us and I'll bet this is a big sale day.  Then again, perhaps he’s just a giving soul, a rando volunteer in spirit.  We hustle out, bundled and ready for the trip through the last of the farm and forest lands and on to the city lights.

Brian and I finish last but there are still a number of riders and the volunteers there ready to greet us and we get hero’s welcomes and winners salutations. Ron Himshoot taught me something once long ago that I have never forgotten: We had just finished a 600K circuit of the Olympic Peninsula I think it was the last qualifier for PBP 2007. The last riders came in on a tandem and they looked a little disheartened at being the last to finish. Ron told them “We have a title for those who finish last, we call them finishers, just like those who finish first.” That has always stuck with me, another sweet rando tradition.  I have to admit on this day, finishing is enough for me, I’ll work on my time but just making the time cut off is plenty gratifying, the pizza didn’t hurt.


  1. Wow, Well said, Dr.

  2. Dude! Don't forget to make those minor changes so we can nominate this route for a permanent.
    It will be great to ride this in the winter
    when all that heavy traffic dies down. I hate it when the car count gets much above a car every 5 minutes or so. Thanks again for putting this together.

    Yr Pal Dr C