Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Oregon Eden's Gate (Covered Bridges) 400K Brevet

More photos HERE. Route map HERE.

Fifteen riders, including myself, left the LaQuinta Inn parking lot in Wilsonville, OR in the pre-dawn darkness on a quest to complete a 400k brevet. After a short stretch on I-5 to get across the Willamette River, the route gave way to the smooth quiet country roads of the Willamette Valley. There was no traffic to speak of so I could play "guess what crop that is" as we passed field after field (they grow a huge variety of stuff in this part of the country!)

Through most of the first 200k I felt absolutely great-actually holding myself back so as not to blow up on the last half of the route. I don't know what it was-the 800 miles I did in July, the pleasant temperatures, the smooth almost traffic-less roads, or the low elevation (most of the route was less than 500 feet above sea level)-likely a combination of all of these had me in a great mood. I even relished the sharp but short climbs on Cole School Road near Scio-the steepest of which, pitches up to near 20% for a short ways. Since I'm a bigger rider I climb hills while seated hard on the saddle while pulling up on the handle bars-unlike the small guys who stand and "dance on the pedals". Due to that steepness, my climbing method caused the front wheel of my bike to come off the ground with each pedal stroke-an odd and disconcerting sensation.

I rode the early part of the route with Alan Woods-who saved me from a bad navigation error in Silverton. We were briefly joined by Greg Olson at the Gallon House Covered Bridge (photo below). Greg disappeared over the hills on the Cascade Highway after Silverton. He ended up finishing about 2 hours ahead of me.

The first 200k finished up with a miles long steady climb to the Lane County border and a "nuclear free zone"-so we had that going for us-then a descent into the Mohawk Valley. The descent was marred by a new chip seal surface that severely scrubbed speed-which was a bummer. The new black surface also radiated quite a bit of heat. Other than that the day was very pleasant-it sure could have been a lot hotter. With the exception of a few miles of chip seal here and there, the roads throughout this route were nice and smooth. I wish we had more roads like that in Montana.

Our last covered bridge on the route, the Earnest Covered Bridge shown below, came just before an extended stop at the Mohawk General Store-a nice little place seemingly off the beaten path, but plenty busy. A patron told me the store was just days away from being 100 years old. The clerk at the store was very friendly and said they appreciated all the business we bikers sent their way (there was us randonneurs-Ted Lundin, Alex Kohan, and myself- plus bikers of the motor variety relaxing on the store's front porch).

After Mohawk we were half-way done, but facing a strong and steadily increasing headwind-that the locals tell me always happens. Too bad-the last half of the route trends flat to slightly downhill-with no wind we could have really made time. I fought the wind on my own all the way to the next stop in Harrisburg, where I was once again joined by Ted and Alex at the Dari Mart for another extended stop (the photo below shows Ted on the left and Alex on the right). Alex and Ted were with me at every control-and without exception while Alex was in the store someone would come up and talk to Ted and me about his recumbent-it really got to be pretty funny-our boring diamond frame bikes didn't elicit a single glimpse next to Alex's machine. Another nice patron at the Dari Mart told us he had a friend at work who rode bike all the time-rides of 50 miles...and maybe even farther! We humbly stated we were on a 249 mile ride. I'm not sure the poor guy could even get his head wrapped around that (I'm not sure I could either). But lets face it-we randonneurs do get a charge off people's reactions to what we're doing-it's a big part of the"fun".

After Harrisburg Ted and I started working together-sharing pulls into that nasty headwind. Much of the route is in open country and the wind was relentless. We would get a bit of a respite from an intermittent grove of trees now and then, but the road always seemed to meander back into the open where we were exposed to the full effects. Working with Ted saved a bit of energy for both of us and we made better progress together than we could have alone. After a little while we came across Alex on the side of the road on his cell phone-he quickly rode up and drafted in our slipstream the rest of the way into Albany. I didn't know at the time, but Alex wasn't feeling well and had been discussing abandoning.

After an egg salad sandwich, chips, and a quart of chocolate milk in Harrisburg, I wasn't in need of anything other than water in Albany, but Ted and Alex were ready for another store break-and I sure wasn't going to argue. We sought out an A&W/C-Store a short distance off the route. After downing a root beer float, Alex spectacularly ralphed it all back up in front of the wide eyed customers going in and out of the the A&W. All the while Ted and I were calmly tending to our bikes-both no doubt thinking "there but for the grace of God go I". Actually, I have yet to puke on a bike ride-maybe that means I have an iron stomach or maybe I'm not trying hard enough? In any case, the store clerk was really cool about it-bringing out a bucket of water to wash the 'stuff" away with the calm reassurance of "no worries". Alex was quite the trooper-saying he actually felt a bit better after puking-climbing back aboard and heading out with us toward the next control in Independence.

The wind relented as the sun started to set, but it was still there as we cruised along on more quiet country roads. The store clerk in Independence reported that Greg had been through a long time ago while enthusiastically signing our brevet cards. He said it made him feel like he was part of the ride! I agreed that he was indeed a very important part of it.

Now dark-Alex's distress paid big dividends for me. Under normal circumstances I'm quite sure he would have been much too fast. But with his stomach acting up he stayed with Ted and me-guiding us on somewhat sketchy roads going into his hometown of Salem. It also helped to have an extra headlight as it was very dark and the roads were pitch black with no fog line in some sections.

Before the ride I had set a tentative goal of finishing in under 20 hours. I don't know why-I guess 19 hours and some minutes sounds better than 20 hours? Doing the math in my head, I saw that my goal was still intact despite the headwinds and extended rest stops. Dosing my effort early in the ride also paid off, as my legs still felt pretty good considering they had over 200 miles in them at this point. So I pulled Ted and Alex out of Salem at a brisk pace-throwing caution into the diminishing but ever present headwind. After 10 miles of pulling on the slightly busy River Road we turned off on the dark and deserted Keene Road where I finally sat up and spun easy. Ted and Alex were doing fine, but they knew of my sub 20 hour goal and bid me to go on ahead. I decided to go for it-hoping I wouldn't get lost. Fortunately, the cue sheet was accurate and my lights were good enough to read the road signs. Before long I was on the home stretch-I-5, across the Willamette, into Wilsonville, and back to the La Quinta where Keith Kohan (Alex's Dad) checked me in and where Greg was still hanging out. Ted and Alex came in not long after I did and only one minute past 20 hours, and Alan-who I ridden with early on-made it in as I was about to head back to my daughter Stephanie's apartment in Beaverton.

I leave this ride feeling better about my cycling. After a slow spring and early summer where I struggled on longer rides, I completed this one with no obvious low points. Perhaps I'm finally finding some fitness? Note to self: don't get so out of shape over the winter! I spent about 16 hours and 33 minutes on the bike-so that means about 3 hours off-not very efficient, but the rest stops were quite welcome.

Many thanks to John Henry Maurice, Keith Kohan, and the other Oregon Randonneurs who put this ride on. It has to be one of the iconic randonneuring routes in the USA. I really enjoyed it.