Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bremerton-Klamath Falls 1000k...Forgettable Pain, Unforgettable Scenery


Time for another cycling milestone. This time, my first 1000k. I wanted to do a 1200 this summer, but it didn't fit into my schedule. Oh well-the most scenic 1000k I could imagine would have to do. I won't go into too much detail about the route specifics-you can get that by reading the pre-ride report by the organizers. It's a good description-except the part about the route not being a killer...several of those I rode with commented that this was the hardest 1000K they had ever done.

My fitness is better at the end of the summer (as with most cyclists) and I prepared for this long ride by riding my Hollowtop 200k permanent, most of my Beartooth Pass Permanent (see previous blog post), and my 300k Martinsdale Mailrun Permanent on successive weekends. My legs felt strong and I was ready to go for the 12:00 a.m. start out of Bremerton, Washington. More Photos Here.

Day 1:

Right out of the chute I found myself in a peloton of 20+ riders-cruising along the arterials out of Bremerton on wet roads in off and on light rain, where even at midnight there was some traffic, and lots of road debris too-a likely place to get a flat. I was praying to the tire gods to spare me...and they did. I didn't want to miss out on the draft 20 guys would provide and I didn't want to try to navigate my way out there by myself.

A large group stuck together, though it got a bit smaller as a couple of riders shot off the front, and a few more fell off the back. We were cruising along in the dark of night, sometimes over 20 miles an hour and making incredible time. I was beginning to think this ride was going to be a breeze. After descending upon the first open store like a hoard of locusts 79 miles into the ride in Montesano the group size diminished. We also had to reduce our double pace line to single file as the logging trucks were waking up and demanding their space on the road (we weren't going to argue with them).

Later on in the morning, the peloton now completely dissolved, me and five other riders approached the mouth of the Columbia River and set to cross the four mile long Astoria Bridge. I've driven over before so I knew the bridge had a very narrow shoulder and significant traffic. However, we had no trouble. It was a very amazing experience crossing that bridge.

I worked with Eric from Chicago, who was riding the 400K, as we entered Oregon and rode to Fort Clatsop where Lewis and Clark rested after making it to the Pacific. These back roads were quiet as we climbed and descended. I was really tired from this morning's effort and probably should have stopped somewhere to eat. As we reacquired the busy Highway 101 and a headwind in Seaside, I had to let Eric go.

I slogged through Cannon Beach to Nehalem on my own, going up and down some big, big rollers (who said sea level was level!). All the while dealing with heavy traffic on the highway. Eventually Eric Ahlvin's wheel came along and pulled me into Tillamook-greatly increasing my speed and the prospects of getting me to Pacific City and the first overnight before sundown. After a rest stop and some food at the Tillamook Safeway I was sufficiently recovered to pull a little as Eric and I made it to Pacific City at around 7 p.m. and 19 hours for the first 400k (not bad). We even saw a small black bear on the final descent into Pacific City-unfortunately he scurried off before I could get a picture.

I was greeted by fellow Montanan Ken Billingsley at the motel. Ken would be riding the 600k which started at 3:00 a.m.

After clean up, organizing, and a bite to eat from some stuff I bought in Tillamook I was out like a light. A bed never felt so comfortable!

Day 2:

I woke up in what felt like about five minutes...but in reality my alarm was just about to go off. Time to get going. I think I hit the road about 2:15 a.m.-choosing to set off on my own into a damp, foggy morning-with the roar of the ocean a short distance away. It's not that I'm anti-social. It's just that I had no idea how I was going to go and I needed to spin easy alone for a while to wake everything up.

Just before Depoe Bay I was caught by Gary Prince. Gary's wheel was just right and I drafted it into Depoe Bay in search of breakfast. The cafe we were hoping for was still closed so we, joined by Kevin from Seattle, ate our own snack and carried on towards Newport.

The fog had lifted and a near full moon made the waves of the Pacific Ocean sparkle as they crashed into the Oregon Coast. It made leaving that comfy bed in Pacific City worth it. Later when the sun began to rise over the coastal range it lit up the surf brilliantly. The sunrise photo above was taken in Newport.

Still in search of breakfast, we were caught by some 600k riders, including Ken. A fast pace line resulted which brought us into Newport where we came across the Shilo Cafe and a much needed sit down. In retrospect I should have eaten more, but the sausage, eggs, toast and coffee hit the spot. The staff at the cafe was really nice and speedy too.

Ken, Gary, and I set out into the dawn across Newport Bridge and on to more quiet back roads. This was a nice time to spin easy and trade randonneuring war stories-one of the more pleasant stretches of the whole trip.

I felt pretty strong as we climbed more big hills along US 101. We were also met with temptation when we came across a mattress lying beside the road-hmmm to take a nap or not??? We ultimately decided to keep plugging away.

Somewhere before Florence breakfast burned off and I dropped off Ken and Gary's pace. I met up with them soon at the Safeway, but they were ready to go and I needed to sit a spell. A half pound of some sort of noodle salad, chocolate milk, and a cup of coffee got me back on the road. A second lunch twenty miles down the road (after some more big hills) at the Reedsport Subway also recharged me.

We finally got some tailwind as we headed inland toward Roseburg along the Umpqua River. I was on my own and slowing down when the wheels of Hugh Kimball, Wayne Methner, and Noel Howes came along (I didn't know who they were at the time, but I recognized their mud flaps from the previous morning peloton). Their pace wasn't too fast for me to hang on to and I sucked their wheels into Elkton where they stopped to take care of a mechanical issue. Meanwhile, I set out up a big ramp on Highway 138 and over some monster rollers by myself. Night fell on me as I finally got over the biggest hill and cruised into the Roseburg Travelodge and overnight number two at about 8:22 p.m. It was a long day. More ominously, organizer Geoff Swarts didn't sugarcoat what the next day was going to be like. It would be 30 miles shorter than today, but take us at least as long because we would be climbing for the next 100 miles to Crater Lake with tired legs. Yikes!

I turned on the TV in my motel room-saw Auburn was playing South Carolina-and immediately fell asleep.

Day 3:

Up again before the alarm I got out of the motel and headed over to Denny's for a big breakfast. I also had them make me a sandwich for later on-as there are virtually no services until Crater Lake (100 miles away). I dropped my bag at ride headquarters, and organizer Vincent Muoneke gave me and a couple of other riders a great pep talk about how well we were riding, the great scenery we would enjoy today, and the awesome weather forecast (Vincent and three others pre-rode the route last week in constant rain-tough guys). He said he really wanted to grab his bike and ride with us-the conundrum of a volunteer. His enthusiasm really set me off on the right foot that morning. I'll be forever grateful.

I was passed pretty quickly by a 600k rider who needed to be in Klamath Falls by 7 p.m. (the time cut off is sooner for brevets 600k and under), and then the same three wheels that sped me along yesterday picked me up once again. At first I just sat on as Wayne, Hugh, and Noel did the work-not knowing if I could hold their speed. Once I was comfortable that I could I started filtering up the pace line and did some short pulls. We made great time for the first 100k, but the grade was starting to increase noticeably. I thought for a moment that maybe Geoff was just trying to scare us and this climb wouldn't be so hard after all...then we passed the 1500 foot elevation sign. I almost cried. We still had 6000 feet to go-in about 40 miles.

After the info control at the Dry Creek Store we climbed, and climbed, and climbed...and then climbed some more. It was just endless. I started out feeling pretty good, but eventually blew up and had to slow to a crawl. A stop in the trees to eat my sandwich and rest my head in my hands helped me refocus. I was passed by a few riders and I saw them duck off the road toward Diamond Lake. Though I was getting low on supplies I thought I had enough to make it so I kept going. Diamond Lake was .7 miles off route and I didn't want any bonus miles.

I finally entered Crater Lake National Park, knowing there was still about 1500 feet of climbing to go-and fourteen miles to the Rim Village where I could finally get some food and take a break.

I rode to the brink of Crater Lake rim with Hugh who had caught up to me after stopping in Diamond Lake for lunch. We had a nice chat as we slowly climbed up the very steep rim road along the lake. Hugh was kind enough to give me some water as I had just ran out-it was a life saver. I got into the Rim Village Lodge on fumes, but I made it. The food there was way overpriced, but at that point I didn't care-I just started grabbing stuff and shoving it in my face!

I was joined at the Lodge by Gary, Noel, and Ian Shopland (who I leapfrogged yesterday and today-Ian was always passing me...and then passing me again). We got another tourist to take our picture in front of the lake and then dropped off the mountain to Fort Klamath where we stopped again at a little deli for some delicious coffee.

The last 50 or so miles was a nice cruise on some very pleasant roads. There was the Doak Mountain Pass close to the end, but that was a mere pimple compared to what we had gone up earlier, and there was some new roadway without paved shoulders close to Klamath Falls that could have been pretty unpleasant if the traffic wanted it to be, but turned out to be okay. Along with Gary, Ian, and Noel, we were joined up by two strong guys from Canada and we pace lined to the Doak Mountain climb. Ian and the Canadians disappeared over the pass, but Gary, Noel and I cruised into Klamath Falls-taking it easy. Gary stopped to get some food and Noel and I found the finishing motel a few minutes ahead of him. My finishing time was 69 hours and 23 minutes -plenty good enough! A bunch of guys were already there-chowing down on post ride pizza and beer-which really hit the spot. Also there to meet me were my kids, Jackson, Stephanie, and Stephanie's boyfriend Jerry. They drove all the way down from Beaverton to pick me up.


Tired. I was to drive home to Montana from Beaverton on Monday, but there was no way. So I took an extra day at my daughters and went home Tuesday.

Special thanks to Stephanie and Jackson for driving me up to Bremerton and Stephanie, Jackson, and Jerry for driving me back to Beaverton from Klamath Falls in the middle of the night. Y'all did great and I couldn't have done this ride without you.

Now, a few days after the ride, I have nothing but pleasant memories. I'm sure I was miserable, and really hating life-especially on that climb to Crater Lake, but I can only recall the magnificent scenery and friendly fellow randonneurs. It's called "randonesia" and it keeps us going out and doing these crazy rides over and over again. Thanks to Geoff and Vincent and all the Seattle Randonneurs who made it possible.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Kissing the Sky-the Beartooth Highway

The late Charles Kuralt once said that the Beartooth Highway along the Montana-Wyoming border is the most beautiful highway in America...and he didn't even go over on a bicycle!

Ken Billingsley and I took advantage of a recent pleasant weather trend to ride the highway from Red Lodge to Cooke City and back-a pretty typical randonneuring distance of 207 kilometers (129 miles). It's just that this ride has over 14,000 feet of climbing-which is way beyond typical. I proposed this route to Randonneurs USA as a Permanent last year, but extensive road construction delayed any planned attempt to ride it .

We left Red Lodge at 8:00 am on September 12, 2010 and headed up the mountain. The ride to Cooke City went well, but was very slow due to strong and peristent headwinds. I rolled into the c-store in Cooke City with only 16 minutes to spare on our randonneuring time limit-the closest I've ever come to being late to a checkpoint on a ride.

The altitude and headwinds weakend me and I couldn't recover sufficiently even with a tailwind on the way back-slowing to a speed barely above walking pace on the steep sections (which is most of the way). With 15 miles still to get to the East Summit and then the long downhill into Red Lodge looming ahead I decided to fall on my sword and hitch a ride. Ken, who was riding very strong, but was graciously waiting for me was free to fly. It was a good decision for both of us. I probably would have made it back within the 13 hour and 48 minute time limit-but we would have been riding the switchbacks all the way down in the dark-even with lights that's not an enticing proposition.

After being ferried to the east summit in the back of a stranger's pickup I got back on the bike and rode the fun, fast downhill to Red Lodge. After putting my bike in the car, cleaning up a bit, and downing a subway sandwich, Ken came rolling into town-with daylight remaining.

I'm disappointed in myself for not quite getting it done. Unfortunately I'll have to chew on my failure until next summer. The days are just getting too short and it's getting too frosty on the plateau to try it again this fall.

I didn't take very many pictures due to the intensity of the ride and the constant time crunch we were under, but I managed a few. The photo below was snapped by a passing motorist who saw us standing in front of the sign, stopped, and asked us if we wanted him to take a picture. Folks were nice all day-I got a lot of thumbs up from passing cars and very little harassment. I guess people realize there's no need to be in a hurry on America's most scenic highway.

Ken and I at the West Summit. 10, 947 feet above sea level!

Ken coming into the scenic overlook rest area-about 20 miles into the ride

The stark surface of the Beartooth Plateau-well above the tree line.

The Wyoming Border on the way up-still a few miles to the summit. Note the beautifully paved new road. It is magnificent and worth the wait.