Monday, November 21, 2011

An Imperfect Storm

Late November, the weekend before Thanksgiving; most people’s thoughts are somewhat removed from riding a bicycle.  For randonneurs however, it’s just another day for a bike ride, provided they can sidestep all the responsibilities that have been previously shirked in favor of ………. going for a bike ride.

This day (Sunday, November 21st) we are offering the first edition of a series of monthly populaires.  A populaire is a randonneuring event of 100Km or less.  From a purely practical sense the notion that people will willingly come out, just after sunrise to ride their bikes in what is more than likely to be somewhat hostile weather conditions is an iffy proposition.  In these parts late November is often fraught with ferocious storms out of the north Pacific that deliver howling winds and prodigious rain dumps;  Decidedly unfriendly bicycling weather. 

Getting a populaire on the calendar requires preplanning:  For it to be an actual sanctioned event it has to be put on the calendar a minimum of five weeks before the event date.  I’m a local, and I would no more attempt to predict the weather in late November, five weeks in advance, than I would predict whether or not the Congressional budget super committee would come up with three trillion in budget cuts.  Actually, I’d bet against Congress before I would make the weather call.  (Old news I guess, as might be obvious I was writing this while waiting for riders to finish yesterday)  As it happens, we are between storms.  Saturday it snowed, warmed through the day enough to melt much of the lowland snow, and that night it froze. 

Sunday morning I woke to ice on the windshield, frost everywhere and spots of ice on the roads.  The ride starts in Woodinville which makes for a 2 hour I-5 cruise for me.   The drive was uneventful (for me) but I did pass three wrecks, one pretty bad (two left lanes closed).  I had been worrying about road conditions for the riders for the previous week watching the weather forcasts.  The possibility of snow, ice, or possibly both had me over thinking this for the last few days. I personally know three riders who have gone down on slippery roads and suffered hip fractures as a result.  All were eventually able to get back to riding strong but that’s a forced time out I would hate to see any one suffer.

I arrived early, it was just starting to get light, but as dawn crept in people began showing up.  Some however said it was a little too sketchy and they would elect not to ride.  I consulted with our club president who let me know that the ride organizer has the option of postponing the ride start if conditions warranted.  My compatriot and co-organizer Narayan and I put our heads together and decided to postpone the start for one hour.  Here is the logic:

  • From a safety perspective, it couldn’t hurt and might result in additional thawing, icy roads being the primary concern.
  • Riders would still be finishing before dark, which was also something of a safety concer safety concern.
  • Riders would still be finishing early enough that it should not cause problems with post ride plans, (you know, dashing out to mow the frozen grass just as the sun goes over the hill) and 
  • It would ease my anxiety: Nothing like a catastrophe to serve as the instant buzz kill for your big idea, first ever event.

This news was met generally with little disagreement.  A small group of non-member riders decided they’d just head out and ride their own ride, and so they did.  For the most part, the rest of the riders drifted away, ostensibly to Tully’s (local coffee house) and I was left wondering if we had just fire hosed the event; we’d know in an hour.

I stood around and kicked at the gravel with a couple of riders and my cohort Narayan.  It was cold but we had good talk, mostly about PBP.  Narayan still had his PBP high going on and told fantastic stories.  In short order, a group of riders came back from Tully’s, and then another group showed up, and before you know it we had a pretty good crowd milling about waiting for the start.  We gave them one last warning about the icy conditions, admonished them to ride safe and then like pigeons they flew the coop.

I had to move out smartly to man the first secret control, about 13 miles out on the route.  The riders got there faster than I anticipated,

apparently the chill air was motivation enough to keep them moving right along.  As they came through I asked about the road conditions and everyone said there had been no problem to that point.  I was happy to hear it but was a little concerned about the next little stretch, an east facing slope with lots of twists and turns through woodlots that drops down to the Snoqualmie river valley. 

The last of the riders came through in no time and then it was fold the tent, saddle the camel, and head out to find a largish grocery or drug store.  My hearing aid batteries were dying (one had already pegged out) and without aid I am pretty close to deaf.  Then zip back to Tully’s which would be the ride finish.  The four non-ride riders showed up about 45 minutes later, they were fast but they were riding their own rides.
And in the ensuing couple hours all the riders made it back to the finish without incident.  A pair on a tandem DNF’ed due to a serious tire problem but otherwise everyone finished with nothing more than wind burned cheeks.  A couple riders mentioned that they thought the one hour delay was a good move, and those who may have been put off by it were polite enough not to complain. 

I asked a few of the newbies if they would mind completing a survey I had cooked up the night before.  Nothing scientific, I was mostly looking for information about how they had learned about the event and randonneuring, what if anything they thought could be done to improve the ride.

I think for mid November we could say it was a success; I collected cards from 24 finishers, and with the 4 or 5 non-ride riders and the two DNF’s, that totals over 30 riders willing to come out on a frosty Sunday morning.  The drive home was without incident; I took I-405 to avoid the post Seahawks traffic-pulooza in downtown Seattle., and was happy to find myself back in the sticks where I belong.

Today we continue with the imperfect storm; It poured rain all day and the wind is howling, something we affectionately refer to as a pineapple express; warm (for winter) onshore flow with a continuous progression of wet storms.  This creates a rain on snow event in the mountains and portends some flooding in the lowlands of Western Washington for Thanksgiving if it does not let up.


  1. "A populaire is a randonneuring event of 100Km or less."

    You might want to check that def'n.


  2. Right you are Skiffy, I mistyped. Meant to say 200Km or less.

  3. Only distances less than 200k. 200k is a brevet. #pendantic