Monday, September 7, 2009

Hollowtop 200-Norris, Montana never looked so beautiful!

One of the most gratifying things about this summer is having other people come out and ride my permanents. Recently, Jim Moores of Boise got in touch with me about riding my Hollowtop 200 route. Jim's family has a cabin in Gallatin Canyon, he is in the area frequently, and is looking to do some cycling when he is here. Jim's blog is here.

We planned to do the ride on Sunday of Labor Day weekend-hoping that everyone was camped at their holiday destination and not on the road. I let Karel Stroethoff of Missoula know that Jim and I would be riding and that he was welcome to join us. Even though he had ridden this route with me on August 16th, Karel took me up on the offer and drove to Belgrade from Missoula in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Karel has had an amazing year-putting on mega miles on his bike-and even more miles on his car getting to the rides. This ride would help him keep his R-12 streak alive (the R-12 is a prestigious RUSA award given for riding at least one 200k or longer randonneuring ride in every month of the year). I've got a modest R-12 streak going as well, but I will probably end up letting it lapse when the snow starts flying. Karel and Jim cruising on the frontage road into Whitehall.

We had a cloudy, but fairly comfortable morning heading west on the Frontage Road through Manhattan and Three Forks. As we rode Jim and Karel got reaquainted-as they had ridden a 400k brevet out of Driggs, Idaho in 2007.

All was going great until we got to Sappington Junction (MT 2 and US 287) which is being completely reconfigured. As we approached the torn up road it was obvious that Jim, who had nice fat tires on his bike, was going to get over the mile or so of gravel and dirt much faster than Karel and me. As he rolled ahead, I told him our road (MT 2) would just go straight. Well-three weeks ago when Karel and I rode through here our road did go straight. But not anymore. The new configuration of the intersection now keeps the main traffic on US 287 heading towards Ennis while those of us going towards Whitehall on MT 2 have to make a right turn. Signage is very sparse at this stage of constuction with only one little orange sign pointing towards Butte. Jim, following my flawed advice stayed on 287. He was pretty quickly way out in front of us-but on the wrong road. I yelled and waved, but it was no use-Jim was a blip on the horizon-getting through the construction and heading up Harrison Hill to what he thought would be our first checkpoint in three or four miles-oblivious to the route mishap. So what to do? There's no cell phone service out here, and I wasn't too keen on trying to chase Jim up the hill-knowing he had at least a mile head start on me. Before long a pickup came by so I flagged it down. Fortunately it wasn't a redneck cyclist hater-just a nice friendly couple who pulled over for me. I asked them if they wouldn't mind telling the cyclist up the road that he needed to turn around. They said they'd be glad to and headed on up the hill. After a little while Jim came cruising back down the hill after almost making it all the way to the top. Oh well-at least he got to enjoy the downhill on the way back. I felt bad for my direction mishap-but was pleased with myself for successfully flagging down the pickup. It all worked out just fine...except Jim burned a few matches he would need later.

The rest of the ride to Whitehall was wonderful-with nice temps, very little traffic, and even a light tailwind at times.

The second half of the ride got much tougher starting with the hills of Highway 359 and then the wind-which was in the weather forecast-kicked up out of the south-southwest at 15-25 mph. The last few hills on 359 and and the hilly 10 miles on US 287 between Harrison and Norris were brutal. We just had to put our heads down and slog through it. The little c-store in Norris was a beautiful site to behold and our oasis as we sat on the leeward side of the building, ate a snack, and watched the flag on the post office across the highway whipping in the gale.

The good news was we turned east-northeast at Norris on MT 84 and the formerly vicious cross-headwind wind became a quarter-tailwind ally. The final 38 miles went relatively quickly as the wind helped us through the canyon along the Madison River and over the rolling hills back to the Gallatin Valley.

My tire started going soft in the last four miles. After pumping up with my wimpy pump and only going another mile, Karel used his much better pump to get more air into the tire. It worked-we made it back to the Town Pump in Belgrade with air to to speak. Jim, who fought leg cramps for about 80 miles, had to drop his pace, but came in only 13 minutes after Karel and me. I was very glad that my cue sheet brought him home with no trouble.

So other than our little route mishap-courtesy of the economic stimulus funded road reconstruction, the brutal winds between Harrison and Norris, and Jim's leg troubles, it was a pretty nice day. Going on Sunday was a good decision as traffic was light and trucks were very few and far between. Karel kept his R-12 streak going, Jim will get his name in this year's RUSA results publication, and best of all-I got to share my route again with fellow randonneurs. Yep-it was definitely a nice day!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Surfing and Turfing in Washington-600k Brevet


After a summer of riding...short rides, long rides and slow rides, I set off to the Pacific Northwest for the "Surf and Turf" 600k (374 miles with a 40 hour time limit) Brevet (pronounced-bruh-vey by the way). The ride is organized by the Oregon Randonnuers but takes place in the State of Washington-starting and finishing in Centralia. A bonus for me-and the reason I planned all year to do this ride is also to see my daughter Stephanie who moved to Portland this spring to work and and go to college. So after walking all over downtown Portland on Thursday, Stephanie and I drove the scenic route to Centralia on Friday-scouting out part of the course I would be riding. Friday was a very rainy day-and we saw several touring cyclists near Astoria dealing with it. Yikes!

A small group of riders set off from Centralia at 6 a.m. Saturday morning, August 29, 2009. There were nine of us doing the 600k route and three others riding the 1000k route. The 1000k guys would be riding the same route for most of the day, diverging about 30 miles from Centralia to add another 20 miles or so.

I felt great and though the roads were wet, the rain had pretty much stopped. On the way to Ilwaco, Washington on the coast I got in a pace line with Bruno George from Los Angeles and Pat Leahy from Seattle. We were cruising along-sometimes well over 20 mph all the way to Raymond. In the back of my mind I was thinking this is a nice pace for a 100 mile ride-but maybe a bit too much for 374-but I was having so much fun I didn't care. Bruno didn't have fenders on his bike, but Pat stayed right on his wheel anyway-looking like a jockey on a muddy day. I stayed relativly clean behind Pat's fender and mud flap. My race blade fenders with homemade plastic notebook cover mud flaps must have been doing the job-Bruno was still looking pretty clean after riding behind me.

Our pace line broke up after Raymond as Bruno stopped to engineer a mud flap of sorts off his rear rack from a plastic cup found along the road. The route also became much more hilly. I was alone for a while, but Bruno, Pat and another rider from California, Albert Kong, came along soon after I stopped to stuff a bland turkey sandwich in my face that I had carried with me. Bruno and I continued working together the rest of the way into Ilwaco where we found the market which served as our checkpoint and lunch stop. Albert was in and out of the store in a flash and Pat showed up before long as well-but took a little more time.

Bruno and I set off to the mouth of the Columbia River on US Highway 101. The road through here was busy and a little bit narrow-but not too bad-except for a tunnel that required us to hit a button to activate a flashing light to warm motorists of our presence. Fortunately, we got through without anybody overtaking us. The weather was cool and cloudy, but the rain was staying away and the roads were drying out-so no problems for me drafting off of Bruno-who was proving to be extremely strong and punching a nice hole in the wind when he pulled.Bruno along Highway 101 with the Bridge to Astoria, OR in the background

We met Albert in a grocery store in Naselle-he was on his way out as we were going in. We came across him a few minutes later just finishing up fixing a flat. Albert leapfrogged us again in South Bend when Bruno and I took a longer break. I would see him a ways up the road just before Pe Ell but didn't catch up as Bruno and I stopped for a short break before parting ways as he had a few extra miles to ride for the 1000k.

I was on my own for the last 30 miles from Pe Ell to Centralia as the sun set. Traffic was pretty much non-existent, temperatures were pleasant, and I just soft pedaled and enjoyed the scenery-getting back to the motel at 8:50 p.m. where I found our organizer Marcello Napolitano applauding me as I rode into the parking lot.

Now it was decision time. I could just keep going-probably finishing up sometime mid-morning. I could sleep a little while, or given my earlier than expected arrival-sleep most of the night and set out the next morning. Not knowing much about the second segment of the route, I decided not to try the all nighter. There were no big towns along the way and it's doubtful there would be any services available if I needed food, water, or whatever. I set the alarm for 3 a.m. and planned to leave around 4 or so. However I was awake at 2:30 a.m. and decided not to start another sleep cycle. I took my time getting ready and after considering and finally deciding to strap on the fenders and go back for my sunglasses I was off at about 3:30 a.m. As I was getting ready to leave another rider was just coming in-the poor guy wasn't going to get much of a sleep break.

Riding up the Centralia Alpha road in the middle of the night was a bit of a spooky and surreal experience. I could hear critters rustling in the bushes along the road-raccoons? deer? Sasquatch? Actually, my biggest fear was a stealthy farm dog taking a chunk out of my leg as I rode along. After a while I saw something up the road-it was out of reach of my lights, but it was alive! It turned out to be a coyote trotting down the road. I shooed him off and kept going. Seeing the coyote actually made me feel a bit better-coyotes don't bother cyclists but make short work of roaming farm dogs.

Roosters were crowing as I made my way to the small town of Morton on a hilly road. I was definitely feeling yesterday's effort, stopping a few times to take short breaks. The sky was lighting up a little, but damp fog was settling in and it was chilly. One very positive thing about riding in the middle of the night-I went 30 miles without a single vehicle passing me.

The sun finally burned off the fog as I got into Randle where I was craving a real breakfast. Fast time be damned-I stopped into the Mt Adams Cafe and ordered up some bacon, eggs, and coffee. Boy did that hit the spot. I kept an eye out the window as I ate and talked about the Mount St. Helens eruption with a couple of locals-before long Albert went cruising by-looking to me as fresh as he was yesterday.

After Randle we headed into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest before returning to the outbound route. I met Albert on his way back as I was headed to the last information checkpoint-he was about 6 miles ahead of me. A little while later I met Pat at about the same location as I was headed back. They were the only riders I would see all day.

The ride back to Centralia on the same roads I came out on was a tough slog. I had headwinds and crosswinds most of the way, and the hills which I couldn't see in the dark were presenting quite a mental challenge during the day.

The entire route was up and down-with very little flat. On the first day-the hills felt like gentle rollers, easy to climb and fun to descend. On the second day it was just one &^%* up hill after another, with much less downhill-how could these road builders manage to construct roads that went mostly uphill both ways! I was incredulous. It's funny how fatigue can change one's state of mind.

I finally made it back to Centralia at 5:45-some 35 hours and 45 minutes after I started. Stephanie and Marcello were at the motel waiting for me. Albert had come in a while before and Pat showed up as we were driving out of the parking lot. Stephanie drove my tired, but victorious, carcase back to Portland. The next day-Monday-I drove the 12 hours back to Montana-a car ride that in many ways felt harder than the bike ride the previous day.

So with that-in 2009 I successfully completed a 200k brevet (Casa Grande, Arizona), 300k brevet (Richland, Washington), 400k brevet (Ephrata, Washington), and 600k brevet (Centralia, Washington)-my first full brevet series! My main goal for 2009 has been accomplished. The goal for 2010-a 1200k Grand Randonnee (it's only twice as long as the 600k-so no problem???

I didn't take many pictures on this ride-due to the rain on the first day and tired crankiness on the second day, but what I did take are here

A special thanks to Marcello and the Oregon Randonneurs for putting on the ride. It was an excellent, scenic, and challenging route. Most of the roads were smooth, with good shoulders, and light traffic. If you want to get in a little rolling hill work-this is a route for you!