I mumbled something about us probably getting soaked. David replied that our real challenge would be the wind. Obviously he had combed the weather reports and as this route, the Olympia Six Fingers rides along the water in many places I could only agree. Little did we know how prophetic this was to be.
I am usually the first one on the scene for these things. Early is in my nature but being the group perm organizer I am also the one who collects the waivers and registrations in return for a brevet cared. I was glad to see that David was ready to go and it spurred me to quicken my pace of final preparations. This ride has the potential to eat time, and I wanted to leave at 07:01.
Eventually six of us gathered, ready for the start. I explained that, likely being the slowest I would leave the passenger side window of the truck cracked and they could deposit their cards that way and not have to wait for me to finish. One last wisecrack about being among a happy group of idiots and we were off.
As I mentioned this ride is along the water in a number of places. If you look at this Bike Route Toaster image you can also see why it is called the Olympia six fingers. The ride takes you out to the end of several local peninsulas so you get to see a bunch of inlets: Totten, Henderson, Hammersley, Budd, and Eld. You even get to cross a little causeway to ride out to Steamboat Island and back. In summer this would equate to lots of scenic water views. On this day it was just lots of exposure to the elements, and Zeus gave us plenty to of exposure.
Olympia Six Fingers was probably a poor choice for a winter permanent. With 10 (TEN!) controls and lots of navigation the route has the potential to eat time. Spend an average of just 6 minutes at each control and you have burned up a whole hour. I can’t imagine waiting an hour to start a permanent. Add in really bad weather, and the fact that this is close to the shortest day of the year, (more riding in the dark) and it just does not make good sense. Why then did I choose this route? Well, it is low elevation which means that there is less probability of encountering frosty or icy roads in the coldest part of the day, and it has relatively little climbing which slows every one down, even the fittest mountain goats.
The ride went well enough through the early parts. Other than the wind and intermittent rain I made decent time to the first timed control in Shelton, about 85 km into the ride. Or so I thought until I checked my watch. At that point I only had 25 minutes in the bank, this is a bad sign. I hurried through the control, guzzled a V8, took some electrolyte capsules, refilled my water bottle and was away quickly. If you are slow on the bike you need to be quick through the controls. I also chewed up some Tums, my usual cast iron constitution wasn’t cooperating.
The next leg took us back to Olympia and then out to the end of Cooper point. Along the way I encountered the faster riders heading back toward town. That’s one nice thing about out and back legs, you get to see the other riders. I also encountered Allan who had a ride ending flat, his tire was destroyed. I loaned him my spare and he was able to continue riding, eventually catching me later in the ride.
From Cooper point it is back to town, along Budd inlet and then right through the downtown part of Olympia. It was pouring for much of this segment and the wind was breezing up from the south making every pedal turn just a little harder than it should have been. I seemed to have timed every light on 4th Ave. Badly.
Finally out of town on East Bay road (the east side of Budd inlet) I am headed out to Boston Harbor, with a little wind at my back. This is more like it. By the time I got to Boston Harbor it was just going dark, Allan was there when I arrived.
This was an interesting control; the Boston Harbor marina used to be pretty much beer and chips, gas and bait. It’s gone up scale and they were having a little wine and cheese event. All of us riders must have fit in like frogmen atop Everest. I got the usual “Your riding where?... and why?”. Fortunately the guy at the counter knew the drill: “you want a receipt don’t you?” And I was quickly away with a Snickers bar which would prove to be a life saver a couple hours down the road. Allen was still outside when I emerged, fiddling with his gear when I left. He said he was OK and I rode off into the cold, wet night. The temps had been mild all day, mid 40’s to low 50’s, but in the dark it was like someone shut the door on the meat locker.
The next leg out to Fishtrap loop has a few ‘rollers’ as we refer to them in the wider cycling community. If you are not a rider you will recognize this as a series of dips which you coast down and then give a little gas to get up the other side. If you are a rider you know that you pedal like hell in to them, only to have your quads screaming as you madly dump gears and pedal to get back out of hell. Hills like this remind me of PBP. If this kind of thing makes you a little screwy, this part of this ride will have you howling in the dark. Allen catches and passes me on this stretch. At Fishtrap it is full night dark and pouring, I struggle to find the answer to the info control question. I think I got it and so turn and head back the way I came, Somehow here Allen and I Leap frogged each other.
Now it is overland to South Bay road and Jonson point. This part includes a stretch on the Chehalis Western trail. A paved rail trail thigh patches of dense woods and the occasional house. It could not be darker, the full tree canopy engulfs; the black asphalt seems to soak up all the light my headlight and head lamp produce. The trail is covered with big slick maple leaves, small Douglas fir boughs and the occasional bigger willow or rotten oak limb which has been blown from the heights in the storm. Normally I would be making great time here but the potential for a bad fall is cause for me to dial it back and err on the side of caution. I’m bleeding time.
South Bay road is not signed when I get to the crossing. My odometer is reading pretty accurately but still, a wrong turn here would be a ride killer. So I turn right and race to the next intersection to find a street sign, just to make sure. Yup this is South Bay road, so I turn and head north for the end of the world some 16 Km up the road.
In hind sight I can see that I was starting to bonk here. As I type this I know for sure that was South Bay road, this spin out to Johnson point was a favorite training ride when I lived in Olympia which has not been that long ago. That’s the devious part of bonking, if you are not familiar with this phenomenon you often don’t pick up on the early warning signs, and then you’re wobbling along muttering to yourself at 6 kph. More on this to come.
The road out to Johnson Point repeats the hill and valley party we had earlier. My legs feel like lead, It is all I can do to keep the bike upright and moving forward on the climbs. I don’t walk. I know I don’t have time for that and I also know that if I can keep riding I will be going faster than if I walk; my lowest gear won’t allow me to pedal at less than 8kph. Allen passes me once again.
Out at the end of Johnson Point we are in the teeth of the storm, water on three sides, wind from the west, oh, and water coming down in sheets as well. The info control asks for the color of a door on a house address at a certain intersection. Allen and I find the intersection but can’t see house numbers nor can we see door colors in the storm. We ride back and forth, before and after the intersection. We regroup, neither of us has found the house number or the door. I make an executive decision and tell Allen we will roll on and plead our case; I know he was there, and he knows I was there, we’ll see how the rulers play it. We head back, again through he rollers, my quads are screaming. Slowly, inexorably Allen pulls away. His taillight shrinks to a tiny red beacon, and then it is gone, and I am alone.
I don’t feel desperate, I know that I just need to try to maintain whatever pace I can. On South Bay road I am able to ride all the hills but I notice I am so wobbly I need to pay extra attention whenever a car approaches from the rear. And then it dawns on me: I am bonking! This realization is both a frustration and a relief. For those not familiar with this term, it is a condition when you body has used most of the available fuel (glycogen - normally stored in your muscles and liver ) and your muscles (as well as your brain) are now starving for fuel. I’ve done this many times before, and frequently near the end of a ride. You are sort of racing the demon, thinking you might be able to get to the finish before you run out of gas. It is almost always a bad strategy, but in that near exhaustion state, right thinking os oneof thefirs things to go.
Frantic, I look in my handle bar bag and there I find the magic bullet, the Snickers bar I had bought several hours ago. It’s too sweet for me, I would much prefer a mystery meat convenience store sandwich, but I mash up hunks until I can swallow, chasing each bite with the last half bottle of water I have. I’ve been suffering stomach distress for most of this ride so worry that the boiler room might rebel. Fortunately it all stays down. 15 minutes later the brain has rebooted and I’m cruising well on the flats and staying in the big ring on the ups. I don’t know if I will finish within the time limit but there is only one way this can happen, so I put my head down and ride. Back in town I must once again negotiate downtown Olympia traffic. I make a few of the stop lights and miss a few.
Then comes the last climb from the water front up to the top of the hill that separates me from the finish. It is impossibly steep, a classic SIR finish, and there is no way I can ride this. I half walk, half run the bike. At the top I am as winded as if I had ridden it. A half mile later I am negotiating the traffic to get into the Safeway parking lot.
I see Allen loading his bike, he’s already gotten his receipt as proof of passage. I ride my bike right into the store foyer, lean the big horse up against a bunch of empty shopping carts and grab a bottle of water from the cold case. There are a lot of college kids queuing up at the self check registers with their Saturday night provisions: wine, beer, chips etc. I move on past them and find a register with a short line of people with not a lot of stuff, … and wait. My watch is burried beneath soppping wet layers of wool, Gore Tex and glove gauntlets, no chance to check the time but all will be known soon enough. I make my purchase and then head off toward an empty table to check the time on the receipt.
It says 20:53. I needed to be finished by 20:40, so I am 13 minutes outside the time limit. 14 hours and 53 minutes, and 205 Kilometers, after I started, I am DNQ. All for the fun of it, but no glory. Good practice for me, I will need to ride another one of these before the end of the month if I want to keep the string alive.
Outside I ask Allen if he made the time cutoff. He says he rolled in to the parking lot at 20:39, one minute to spare, but that it took him 7 or 8 minutes to get through the line so his receipt is outside the time limit too. I told him I would vouch for him and have made a recommendation to the permanent organizers to grant him credit for his time. He’s honest to a fault and I am sure he made it in time, base only on his word.
Back at the truck I find cards for Annette, and Darby, but none for David and Albert. I had been leap frogging them but had not seen them past Boston Harbor. I check the inside of the truck closely and around on the ground to make sure I have not missed something. A lost card is no card at all.
It was not till the next day that I was able to piece together the story of Albert and David. Albert had had bottom bracket trouble and fortunately the route through Olympia goes right past two different bike shops. He stopped at Oly Bikes and was able to get his BB patched up. And somewhere between there and Fish trap he and David paired up.
They were riding together strongly and were on schedule to finish in time but fate intervened; David ran over one of the wind fallen limbs on the way out to Johnson Point and went down. He was hurt and could not continue. Albert sacrificed his finish to tend to Davids needs. A motorist in a pickup truck (bless the lowly country Cadillac!) who witnessed the accident stopped and offered assistance. He transported both of them and their bikes to the ER at St Peter’s Hospital.
David suffered a broken clavicle and acromion (he’s and Dr so these are his words not mine), two to four cracked ribs and a groin pull. It will be awhile before he is back to the bike. I spoke with him on the phone tonight and seemed in good spirits. I trust he will make a full recovery and when he does I’ll be ready to ride with him again.
In hind sight, my DNQ does not seem so bad. The 13 minutes is somewhat ironic. The last time I rode PBP it was in horrendous weather. Near the end of the ride I stopped to help a rider who had crashed in front of me and was unconscious at the side of the road. I stayed with him until a gendarme and then an ambulance came to attend to his needs. Ultimately I finished that ride exactly 13 minutes outside the time limit of 90 hours. Like many of the back of the pack riders that year I waited in line at the finish to get my card stamped for maybe 20 minutes or more. Upon seeing my final results I wrote the organizers and plead my case for ‘extra’ time. I had spent time aiding an injured rider which is justification for giving a rider additional time. I had also spent a lot of time at the finish getting logged in as did many others.
But in this case, no ‘excuse’ would be necessary if I were faster, and stronger. I’ve lost a lot of strength and gained a lot of weight since PBP ’07. I’m in the process of turning that around and my December 1st DNQ is a good reminder that I have more to do.
Albert and I have already planned a make up ride next week.