Thursday, June 26, 2014

Losing My Cookies in Bridgeport-How I DNF'd the Cascade 1200

Easy Pass wasn't on the Seattle Randonneurs program
More Photos Here

The Cascade 1200 has held my interest for many years.  It's one of the closest Grand Randonees to my home. It's put on by the Seattle International Randonnuers (SIR) so I know it's going to have first class support, and I've read numerous ride reports and heard first hand experiences from many randonneurs about what a fantastic and hard ride it is.  But I also had some major concerns.  The ride is in the 3rd week of June.  At that time of year I am far from peak fitness, and the route goes into Eastern Washington, where temperatures typically far exceed what I am acclimated to this time of year.

Logistics and schedules worked out in 2014 for me to sign up for the ride.  I set my own brevet schedule to help me train, but I was only able to get a 400K in 2 weeks before the Cascade 1200. I was taking quite a jump from a 400K to a 1200K.  Normally, one would want at least a 600K under their belts in the same season as a 1200K.  I just figured I have ridden many brevets in the past without maximum fitness and got through them. I'd just ride slow and grind it out.

As I would come to realize, my lack of preparation could not be overcome.  The Cascade 1200 is not a ride you can fake your way through-especially a big rider like me that's bad at climbing even when I am fit. The Cascade 1200 does nothing but climb...and then climb some more...and then adds a dose of heat just to make things interesting.  That being said, participating in this ride, even with the stench of failure sticking to me afterwards, was an amazing experience that will only make me a better cyclist and randonneur.

DAY 1:

One ride preparation that I did get right was to get plenty of sleep in the days leading up to the event.  I went to bed early on Friday night as well and had no trouble getting up at 4 AM to get the final preparations done and head over the to start.  It also didn't hurt that Washington is in the Pacific time zone, so I gained an hour coming west.

Riders gathered at the Guest House Inn in Monroe, Washington and after a few appropriate remarks from SIR RBA Mark Thomas, we were off though the rolling countryside of Western Washington.  I held back, planning to ride slow and steady on the first day to hopefully save some energy for the demanding second day. After cruising in a big group for a while the field started to string out.  I got reacquainted with Gary Smith from the Tri-Cities in Washington. I  met Gary on a 300K brevet in 2009 out of Richland, Washington. We rode together most of the day until the climbs split us up (Gary is a much better climber than I am), and we hooked up with Peter Donnan from Australia as we rode through Morton and Randle to the foot of Elk Pass.
The Mt. Ranier Scenic Railroad in Elbe-pretty cool old steam locomotive in operation.

After a nice food break at the Mount Adams Cafe in Randle, we entered the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.  The climb to Elk Pass was nice for me.  I didn't go fast, but I was not in the red zone, and the grade undulated somewhat.  At the top a small group of riders gathered, putting on their cool weather gear and getting their lights ready for a chilly, long, and darkening descent.  A few twists and turns revealed a very close view of Mt. St. Helens.  I was glad to see it before daylight completely disappeared.
Mt. St. Helens
It was very dark when we got to the Northwoods control.  I was starving and ate just about anything I could get my hands on.  SIR support was out in full force as we wandered around in the dark.  After we left Northwoods, we started to climb to Old Man Pass.  A shorter, but more unrelenting climb that was made tougher by just being in the dark.  A small group of us gathered at the summit, including Peter Doonan, Ty Ngyuen, Shan Perera, Andy Speier, George Winkert, and Bill Watts, and perhaps one or two more (hope I have all these names correct-my memory for names is terrible and worse when softened by sleep deprivation and fatigue).  We dropped like stones from Old Man Pass all the way to Carson where the first overnight control was waiting for us.  223 miles were done, and it was a little after 2 AM.  The SIR and Oregon volunteers led by Susan Octenas manning this site had hot food, plenty to drink, and led me to a motel room.  I tried to sneak quietly into my room, where three earlier randonneurs were already sacked out. It didn't work, I woke a couple of guys up briefly and felt bad about that.  After a shower and organizing I was in bed at 3 AM with a 5:30 AM wake up call.

DAY 2:

The other guys in the motel room began stirring about 4:30 AM or so.  It didn't bother me, I had ear plugs and an eye shade. I was awake by 5 AM, so I decided not to wait for my wake up call.  I was one of the last riders out of the control that morning, and those that were out later were faster than me.  I was beginning to realize that I was going to be in trouble if I didn't have a really good day.  Out of Carson we rode along the Columbia for a while.  It was flat and really nice.  As I rode, I actually saw a few riders, even though I was sure I was the absolute slowest rider in the field.  I caught Peter again at a rest area where we both peeled off a layer as the day began to warm up.  I saw even more riders at a little grocery store in Klickitat where the staff was really friendly.  Seeing other people on the road who didn't seem to be worried about being at this point at this time was an encouragement.

And then the day's climbing started.

We hit a big climb cut into the side of a hill out Klickitat that went on forever as it got hotter and hotter.  By the time I got to Goldendale I was alone on the road, but found some randonneurs at the grocery store. After some deep fat fried goodness from the deli and other refreshments, I set off toward Bickleton.  The cue sheet said Bickleton's elevation was 3000 feet and Goldendale's was 1600 feet.  These numbers did not sound intimidating. I live at 4450 feet for crying out loud!  What I didn't realize and didn't recall from the route profile is that the 3000 foot elevation at Bickleton would be gained then completely lost, then have to be gained again.  I was feeling really good as Keith Moore, Andy Speier, Norm Carr, a couple on a tandem, and a few others were in the vicinity.  Then we hit this ridiculous descent where all our hard work for the day would be lost and then needed to be regained again on a twisty-curvy road going up into the sun filled sky with nary a shade tree anywhere.  It was quite demoralizing.  I climbed, then walked, then climbed again to what I thought was the top.  The grade softened, but there was no top.  We kept climbing and climbing as it got hotter and hotter all the way to Bickleton-which I was beginning to wonder if it even existed.

I did get to Bickleton, but I was starting lose my expectation of ever finishing this ride. In fact, a lot of riders did call it quits here-as the heat and climbing were so, so tough.  But after a sandwich and some cool drinks I did get going again, but only with the promise that the road had to go down since the next control at Sunnyside was only at 600 feet of elevation.  Keith Moore caught up to me and we rode and chatted as the terrain dropped. It was a welcome stretch for sure.  We met up at the Burger King in Sunnyside with Ron Himshoot and Gary Smith and took a break.  I was feeling really low, but glad that there were still some riders around. Gary and Ron were about as experienced at they come and they didn't seem too worried.

I was off the back again out of Sunnyside, but as the sun went down and the temperatures fell, I rallied.  I "zipped" up a big hill and then dropped into Vernita on Ron's wheel with Gary and Keith's headlights behind me (I had overtaken them when they stopped to put on their night gear).  I had put my cue sheet in my back pocket because it was flopping in the breeze and bugging me, and was just absentmindedly following Ron as we cruised down an excessively busy highway toward some big blinking power lines.  After a while I noticed that Gary and Keith's lights were no longer behind me. Either they stopped...or we missed a turn.  I asked Ron if he knew the route and admitted I hadn't been looking at my cue sheet for quite a while.  He stopped and checked and sure enough-we were off route.  It was a dumb mistake on my part, I should have been paying closer attention to my own navigation.  Ron doesn't get rattled by these sort of things, he just took it in stride and soldiered on. But my mental state was beginning to crack and losing an hour going off route was a hard hurdle for me to overcome.  All of the good feelings I had at Vernita had vanished and I began to feel terrible. Most concerning-I had a hard time eating anything at the control.  My stomach just didn't want anything.

Ron and I set out on the final stretch of the day to the "overnight" control in Ephrata.  We had 50 miles to go. Suddenly, I began to feel very sleepy and had to bid Ron a good ride as I had to stop for a nap. Ron gave me a caffeine pill and some good advice on resting and then set off into the night.  I found a post office-I think it was in Beverly (but I'm not sure) and laid on the floor for a few minutes.  I thought I heard a noise outside and investigated.  It was another randonneur taking a rest next door.  I'm not sure who it was, possibly George Winkert?  I laid back down for 10 more minutes or so and then got rolling again.  We were along the Columbia, so I figured I would be climbing again soon.  I was right.  We had to get over a big hill, then lose all the elevation gain, then climb back over another hill to get to the valley that held Ephrata.  This stretch took forever.  I could see Ron's tail lights, miles away on the hill on the other side of the valley.  I was feeling weak and had to walk the bike up some of the steeper sections.  I was looking for another place to take a nap, but none was available.  I figured if I could get to I-90 I would be okay.  But where the heck was I-90?!  Well I finally did get there and went to a c-store in George where I pulled in for a coffee and to try and eat something.  If there had been a motel here I probably would have checked in and called it quits. Instead I snoozed at the table in the store and tried to choke down a few bites of muffin-to no avail.  My stomach still wasn't having it.  There were 20 flat miles to go to Ephrata and a bed.

After an endless flat stretch that was pure torture because of my slowness and inability to not keep looking at my odometer, I finally did get to the Best Western in Ephrata-452 miles into the ride.  It was 7 AM.  I still had 2 hours or so until the control closed but I was sure the SIR staff would want me to bag it.  I had to be the slowest cyclist on earth at this point.  All the other riders would be hours-or days ahead of me.  What's the point?


I was shocked to hear nothing but encouragement to continue when I arrived at the motel.  Mark Thomas calmly told me to go get some sleep and make a decision about continuing after waking up.  I was led to a room that I got all to myself, because the previous occupants had long since left.  I stripped off my clothes and fell into bed-not even bothering to shower.  I was awoken at 8:45 with a knock on the door.  I told the staffer who knocked that I was quitting, called my wife and said I was quitting, and then sat on the bed and began to argue with myself.  I knew I had finished the two toughest stages of the route and today's stage was "only" about 140 miles.  I wasn't injured and I could still ride.  So I ventured downstairs to get some advice. To my surprise, Gary Smith and Ron Himshoot were just getting ready to leave-they weren't hours and days ahead of me. Mark Thomas informed me I only had 30 miles to get to the next control in Farmer and almost 4 hours to get there as the control times stretch out in the second half of a 1200K.  I sheepishly reversed my decision to abandon, tried to down some food and orange juice, took a quick shower, packed up my stuff and headed out of Ephrata into a bright sunny day.

I'm familiar with the route out of Ephrata.  I had ridden these roads on a 400K with the Seattle Randonneurs back in 2009.  I knew there would be a big climb right out of town, but then some long downhill into the Moses Coulee.  The one big difference between now and 2009 was the time of day.  In the early mornings the Moses Coulee is quite chilly, but by 11 AM it was scorching.  I didn't bring any extra water along other than the Hammer Heed in my Camelback-I "only" had 30 miles to go afterall.  But I was gagging on the Heed and I could not swallow any Endurolytes capsules so now bonking was a big concern. I found a man mowing his lawn in the coulee and asked to fill a water bottle from his sprinkler hose.  The water was nice and cold and tasted really good.  With that I got out of the Coulee and to Highway 2 and yet another big climb.  I still had time to get to Farmer, but it was going to be fairly close as I had to walk up part of the hill again.

As I approached the old grange hall at Farmer I saw a rider just leaving. It was Ty Nguyen.  Joe Llona and his son Jesse, Eric Vigoren, and Steve Davis were there and they had ice, pop, and food.  There was also another rider there (I missed his name) who had just abandoned because of the heat.  They filled my bottles and Camelback with ice and water, gave me a variety of salty snacks to nibble on, and encouraged me to keep plugging away.  I was now the last rider on the route, but that didn't seem to matter so much anymore. I really just wanted to take a nap.  So after the volunteers left I laid down in the shade next to the building and snoozed for about 45 minutes. I figured I'd wake up refreshed to take the hills before descending to the Columbia again.  I was wrong.  I woke up feeling light headed and my stomach was as queasy as ever.  The day was intensely hot-approaching 90 degrees, and there was nobody around.  I began to worry that I was in serious trouble.  I began thinking about heat stroke-what exactly was heat stroke?  Was I in danger?

More walking up every hill.  I began checking my phone for cell service.  Will I have to call the paramedics? I couldn't drink anything at this point.  Anytime something touched my lips I gagged.  Thankfully, I finally got to where I could see the route would go downhill, so I held off calling for help or flagging someone down and kept riding/walking.  Finally I dropped down a big hill to the town of Bridgeport and a well placed c-store. The air conditioning felt great at first, then I got the chills as I ate some potato chips and drank a huge fountain Pepsi.  For some reason I could drink fizzy drinks at this point.  I filled my water bottles and started to prepare to leave.  For some reason I took a sip of water and that triggered a reaction that caused me to lose my cookies all over the back of the building.  Fortunately, I was around the back and nobody saw. After one more spewing session my stomach felt a little better.  But I had just lost all the calories I had just attempted to take on and I didn't want to try eating again.   I knew the route got a little flatter for a while and it was starting to cool off some, so I started riding through town.  A little grocery store advertised ice cream, so I thought I'd give that a try.  It wasn't bad, and it stayed down.  I had several hours to get to the next control in Malott 27 miles away with no significant climbs in the way.  But again I had to walk up any incline. I was just getting slower and slower.

I crossed the Columbia again on the big bridge at Brewster, and thought I was almost to the control at Malott-I guess my brain wasn't working too well by then.  I misunderstood the cue sheet, thought I had missed a turn and turned around. As I was doing this, Steve Davis pulled over in his car with a bike rack to see how I was doing. Malott was the other way and I still had 15 miles to go. With that I fell on my sword-time to load me up.  Sitting in Steve's car was the best feeling I had experienced so far that day. It was impractical for me to continue. Even if I had made it to the control under my own power there was no way I was going to make it over Loup Loup Pass and to the overnight control-no way in the world!  Steve hauled me to Malott where Bill Gobie and his wife (sorry I forget her name), and Millison Fambles got me a cup-o-noodles. I was able to down a small amount of noodles and some other goodies.  I was cramping in my hands and thighs.  The good news for the volunteers is my abandonment saved them from a lot of mosquito bites as the little buggers were out in full force.  The wait for me at the control would have been long and excruciating. I ended with about 540 miles-including the bonus miles.

After eating, we packed up the control, and I rode with Steve to the overnight at Mazama.  We passed several riders along the way, with the slowest still being at least two hours ahead of me.  We found Mike Richeson leaning on a guard rail a ways up the Loup Loup climb.  He indicated that he was sick as well and needed a ride.  We loaded him and his bike up on Steve's two bike racks and headed to Mazama.  I was relieved to be done riding and very tired.  I dozed most of the drive.  We finally got to Mazama, showered and went to bed about 1 AM.


The west side of the Northern Cascades
After four blessed hours of sleep and a great breakfast, which to my relief I was able to keep down, I almost started to feel human again.  I learned that several riders had to DNF on Day 2-mainly because of the heat. A couple of others, like Spencer Klassen had mechanicals.  Spencer broke his crank on the climb up Loup Loup.  He was riding on a fixed gear bike!  I can't even comprehend doing that-on this or any other route.  It was a real shame for him, but his attitude was friendly as ever-as was everyone else's.  The riders were heading out of the control knowing they had a couple of cool wet climbs and descents ahead, but also knowing that they were only about 174 miles to being done.  I wasn't jealous in the least at this point.  I did not have any desire to get on my bike and ride-none at all!

Instead I tried to make myself useful, picking up garbage and helping pack up the control.  Steve and I headed up the road and I snapped a few pictures of the riders climbing Washington and Rainy passes.  Then we parked at the rest stop set up by SIR at the other side of Rainy Pass to warm up the riders after a damp and chilly descent. It was an amazing perspective for me as I've never worked a rest stop on a ride before (I'm always the one riding). I think the one big difference between all these riders on their way to finishing and me was their attitude.  They were smiling, joking about being half frozen, grateful for the service, and determined to get done even though many had trouble throwing their leg over the saddle to get off and on their bikes. It was a contrast to my attitude-especially at Ephrata, and it's clear I have a lot of mental aspects to work on as a randonneur. Everyone was also sympathetic to my plight as many had been there before.

After all riders passed through the rest stop, Steve and I headed back to civilization.  We met up with my wife Brenda and my Aunt and Uncle at the penultimate control at the Big Rock Cafe outside of Mount Vernon. Brenda had fun signing brevet cards for the riders who came in and it was fun to see the excitement building as they were into the last 100K.

I think my DNF can be most attributed to my lack of miles this year.  We've had a long winter and a cold spring. I haven't hardly ridden without arm and leg warmers. The Cascade was just too much of a ramp up from what I've been doing. And this is the first time I've ever gotten sick on a bike ride. I didn't really know how to handle it. I got a lot of good advice, but I didn't have the mental acuity to process that information and implement counter measures in time. I just ate one scoop of ice cream and kept trying to ride-which obviously didn't work. And finally, my mental toughness needs some work, especially for a ride this hard. I need to learn how to get out of my own head.

The effort wasn't all in vain. I learned a lot-skills that will help whenever I decide to try again. I enjoyed so much of this event, meeting so many neat people, both riders and volunteers, and the amazing scenery-especially the four volcanoes, Rainier, Hood, Adams, and St. Helens which we got to see at numerous points on the ride.

A huge thanks to SIR, the Oregon Randonneurs, and other volunteers who put on such a first class event. Thanks for getting my drop bag to Mazama, and my bike back to Monroe. And a huge thanks to Steve Davis for hauling my sorry carcass from Brewster all the way to Mount Vernon where he handed me over to my wife. It was so fun riding with him and watching our cyclists do their thing. Congrats to everyone who participated-finishers and those who had to bow out for whatever reason. Any person with the audacity to try and tackle the challenge of the Cascade 1200 deserves respect!

Maybe next time...we'll see.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A traffic-less 400K? Almost with the Koocanusa-Yaak 400K

Karel and me at the Dirty Shame in Yaak.  Great burgers!
Karel's 400K and 300K photos  My photos  Results

I had some huge concerns when mapping out the Koocanusa-Yaak 400K Brevet.  Chief among them was the potential heavy traffic on narrow shouldered roads on US Highway 93 near the start, and US 2 near the finish. Also, this was the most likely Montana route to produce a Bigfoot sighting, or to be accosted by some mountain people Deliverance style.

I needn't have worried.  After the first 25 miles on the very pleasant Farm-to-Market road from Kalispell to north of Whitefish we got on US 93 and we were pretty much all by ourselves.  There was an occasional car or truck, but all gave us plenty of room.  Then we encountered some road construction and had the joy of riding on brand new pavement for almost 10 miles while the cars and trucks were slowed to 35 mph by a pilot car.  It was wonderful.  By the time we got to Dickey Lake, the road widened as the traffic finally started waking up.  It was smooth sailing for the first 100K to Eureka. And not to be a spoiler or anything, but despite the squatchyness of the route we saw no bipedal critters other than humans, and those humans were nothing but nice-no banjos or pig squealing or anything-not that there's anything wrong with banjos.

Karel Stroethoff was the only other randonneur to join me on this day. Ken Billingsley was planning to join us, but his knee was acting up-and a 400K is not a ride to be messing with a sore knee if you can help it. Though Ken was missed, Karel and I have ridden thousands of miles of brevets and permanents together-and we have never run out of things to talk about as we chug along.  Lucky for me, Karel did come out-unlucky for Karel-he probably shouldn't have...but more on that later.

After Eureka we would be on the most quiet paved roads I've ever ridden.  For the next 100 miles we could have probably counted the number of motor vehicles that passed us on one hand.  Why this place isn't an absolute cycling mecca-I'll never know.  The local businesses seem to be more interested in motorcycle riders for customers.  If they ever figured out how to market this area world-wide to cyclists they'd have a gold mine on their hands.  It's not that some cyclists don't know this area.  There's a popular spring 2-day ride called STOKR that takes place on some of these roads, and there's a growing Gran Fondo later in the summer as well.  But with the scenery, challenge, and extreme lack of traffic on these paved roads-this place should be overrun with road cyclists.

We crossed the beautiful Lake Koocanusa on what I learned is the longest and highest bridge in Montana (with no traffic in sight).  Lake Koocanusa was created by the Libby Dam plugging up the Kootenai River.  It was built in the early 1970's which seems incredibly recent for a major dam project.  I thought we were done doing those by the 1950's.  The lake goes all the way up into Canada.  The name Koocanusa is broken down as Koo for Kootenai, can for Canada, and usa for USA!  Neato!
Lake Koocanusa Bridge-photo by Karel

After Koocanusa we entered one of the most remote areas in the lower 48 states-known locally as The Yaak. Yaak is an Indian word for arrow.  The region is known for the Yaak River which is a pretty popular whitewater float.  I always heard that the Yaak is a place where people go who don't want to be found.  It's a little bit spooky.

We had a long, hard climb on the narrow, but nicely paved forest service road.  It went on forever and the grades got really steep at times.  This is no engineered highway grade-this is a logging road-though an extremely good logging road.  Logging roads can get really steep.  Karel and I both took a couple of short breaks, but the reward at the top was nice view of Mt. Henry. Then it was a super fun and twisty descent to the Yaak River on the other side.  We couldn't really let it go though-as the extreme lack of traffic meant tree branches were hanging across the road in places and at times the pavement was very rough.

It was about 100K from Eureka to the small village of Yaak with pretty much nothing but a few shacks and cabins in between.  We were out of water and seriously in need of food.  A sign in front of the World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon said their food was better and cheaper-so Karel and I decided to give them a shot. The special for the day was a 2/3 pound double cheeseburger for the price of a 1/3 pound burger. That sounded just right-and Karel and I both took advantage.  Along with the huge burgers we got a big plate of fries and all the coke we could drink. On top of all that the folks at the bar-both staff and customers were really friendly and normal-not scary at all like I sort of worried about.  It was just a nice little place out in the middle of nowhere.

After Yaak we had to climb out of the valley...and climb we did.  I kind of underestimated this climb-though I saw it in the car on the pre-drive a couple of days ago.  I suppose being loaded down with a huge burger and greasy fries didn't help, but both Karel and I really struggled going up hill.  It took forever and we were hurting.  But over the top is was 24 miles of downhill all the way to Libby.  Thank goodness!

Another food stop at Libby-at the McDonalds and then on more quiet roads-the Haul road along the railroad tracks, and the Fisher River Road back into the forest.  It was getting dark so we stopped to gear up.  The temperatures also dropped from the 70's to the 40's in a matter of minutes after the sun went down. 

The Fisher River road goes against the Fisher River, but it was a pretty easy grade.  That all changed when we switched to the McKillop Creek Road-which was all brand new pave.  It was eight miles to US. 2 and 7 of them were up a what I would guess is a 6 to 7% grade.  And again-not a car or truck to be found anywhere except those parked off the road at a few campsites along the way.  I figured the only thing that could ruin our quiet riding bliss was if we came across a high school keggar-and this area would be perfect for a keggar-but none were to be found-thankfully...either that or Bigfoot!

At this point Karel was really starting to feel the ride.  Now Karel normally eats 400K's for breakfast, but this season he's been working way too hard at his real job (Math Professor at the University of Montana) and not getting in enough riding, or enough sleep.  He hadn't turned a pedal since our 300K two weeks ago.  He was starting to get really sleepy.

I waited only a couple of minutes at the junction with US 2 for Karel to come along.  It was dark and very cold-temps in the low 30's at times as there were lots of lakes in the area and lots of cold air pockets.  After our penultimate control at Happy's Inn we had 50 miles to go all on US 2-one of the main highways in this region...except that it was midnight and the road was totally empty.

Shortly after Happy's Inn Karel and I were still riding together when I saw the eye shine of some critters crossing the road ahead of us. I assumed them to be deer-as they were all over the place on this route. Suddenly the side of the road became alive with critters moving around rapidly-but they were much bigger than deer and much faster than cows.  All of sudden they crossed our headlight beams and revealed themselves to be 20 or 30 head of elk!  The herd rumbled right across the road within a few feet of us. It was exciting and a little scary.  If one or a few of them had run into us-it wouldn't have been pretty.  And if a car or truck had happened along just then is would have been total carnage.

The elk scare must have woke me up because I started riding a little stronger on the big, big rollers through this stretch.  As I crested a big hill I realized Karel's lights were nowhere in sight behind me.  Just then a pickup passed me and pulled over.  A very concerned woman said my buddy was a ways back there and he was stopped. I thanked them for their concern and said I would stop and wait for him.  This was no big deal. On long brevets riders often get separated out-of-sight of each other, but a few minutes wait is usually all it takes to get back together. I figured Karel got a flat tire or something-nothing he wasn't equipped to handle.

After just a few minutes, our loyal neutral support volunteers, Brenda and Jackson came along in the car to check on us.  There was absolutely no cell service on most of the route-except at Libby and Eureka so I couldn't check in.  So for safety sake I asked Brenda to come out our way after mid-night to see how we were doing.  I sent Brenda down the hill to check on Karel and I would wait for her to bring me a report.  After a few minutes of shivering I decided to just start riding again-no use getting hypothermia waiting around when I couldn't really do anything anyway.  After riding for several miles, Brenda finally came along and reported that Karel was engaging in that time honored randonneur tradition of a ditch nap.  Brenda had a hard time finding him, but when she did Karel was getting underway again.

After Marion there's a great big 6% downhill.  Normally this is very welcome, but with temps at or near freezing I didn't really need it.  It was excruciatingly cold.  But I was getting closer now.  A few more drivers of questionable sobriety were coming out on the roads so I was happy to turn off US 2 at Kila and get to the Great Northern bike path the rest of way to Kalispell...if I can find the dang trail.  Even though I had driven to this location two days before I had to play my light around for a few minutes to find the entrance to the path-which isn't marked for night riders.  

10 miles of path riding at the end of a brevet is my kind of finish.  No worries about drunks and a relatively flat-downhill grade.  I rolled into the finish at about the same time we arrived for check-in the previous morning. I had been up for almost 25 hours and on the ride for 23:25.

Karel got in a little after 6AM.  He suffered mightily from the cold and lack of sleep and even had to walk on the Marion Hill descent because he was too tired and cold to keep the bike going straight.  He was also very concerned about drunks and pulled over every time a car came by.  He had trouble finding the path like I did, but eventually got on it and to finish line.

I am so grateful that Karel was along on this ride. Riding through The Yaak and on the very dark and spooky McKillop Creek Road alone would have probably led to me abandoning at some point. And this 400K was very important for me.  It's my last big test before the Cascade 1200 on June 21...Lord help me with that one. I hope I haven't bitten off more than I can chew. 

I am also tremendously grateful to my wife Brenda and son Jackson for their support.  Brenda was up with me a 3:30AM to get to the start and handle the paperwork, and they were both out there in the wee hours of the next day to check on us.

Finally many thanks to my brother-in-law Dan and sister-in-law Dori and their family for putting us up and for all the encouragement and sausage sticks that sustained me on much of this ride.  It was also neat to have all the family and guests at their house who were visiting for my nephew Gavin's high school graduation to give me a round of applause when I staggered down the stairs much later that morning for breakfast.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Beautiful Day in Fishtail!

Karel Stroethoff, Mark Liebig, Ken Billingsley, and Jason Karp
More Photos Here         Results Here

There was the ominous sign: "Motorcycle Advisory Road Construction Ahead Consider Alternate Route" It's a sign that strikes fear into the hearts of brevet organizers everywhere-especially in sparsely populated places where there is usually only one paved route to anywhere.  But a pre-ride pre-drive revealed that they hadn't quite got to tearing up the road north of Absarokee before the Memorial Day weekend so we were going to be okay.

Four randonneurs met at the Walmart in Laurel-including the usual suspects-Ken Billingsley, Karel Stroethoff, and myself.  We were joined by Mark Liebig from Bismarck.  Mark is currently the only registered randonneur from the State of North Dakota-so it was a great honor to have him along.

We set out into a beautiful morning on quiet roads to our first stop at the little country store in Fishtail.  After the out-and-back on the Nye Road to Fishtail and an info control we were back on the highway to Red Lodge.  After Absarokee the road gets quite narrow, but fortunately, the traffic thinned out considerably as well-so we could suffer in relative peace on the big, big hills after Roscoe.  Mark was off the front riding well, Ken and I were riding more-or-less in site of each other, and Karel was back a ways-riding comfortably at his own pace.

Mark met up with his family in Red Lodge for lunch, Ken and I met our dutiful volunteers Brenda, Jackson, and Ernie at the Town Pump in Red Lodge for a break, and Karel showed up in Red Lodge right after we left and met up with Brenda at the Subway.  Everyone was doing well and the weather was very good-though the skies were darkening.

After the short climb out of Red Lodge it's a wonderful 14 mile descent to Belfry-where hardly a pedal had to be turned.  However, after Belfry the road gets wide, busy, and flat.  It was heating up close to 80, the air smelled of road kill, and we had a headwind.  Ken and I found Mark at a c-store in Bridger-where they had ice cream!  Refreshed we made relatively short work out of the flat boring stretch to Joliet in a 3 man pace line.  The headwind didn't stand a chance!

More ice cream in Joliet and then a wonderful ride on the hilly and quiet Joliet to Columbus road.  Mark and Ken, who in my defense are probably both at least 30 pounds lighter than me, pulled away on the hills, but not completely out-of-sight.  Despite being slower, I felt good and was thoroughly enjoying this stretch as the wind died completely, there was no traffic, and the green hills, and purple Beartooth Range beyond was like riding in a postcard.

I found Ken at the McDonalds in Columbus and Mark soon joined us as well after making his checkpoint the Town Pump across the street.  As we rested a fully loaded touring cyclist came rolling off the I-90 exit. He was Dan Clinkinbeard of Missouri-a well known randonneur-who was pedaling to Missoula to meet up with an Adventure Cycling group that was riding to Alaska.  Dan was so excited to see some fellow cyclists and talked our ear off.  He had great stories and a 90 pound bike I could barely lift.  It was a truly cool moment in my randonneuring life.

The last 28 miles to Laurel was flat and familiar-as we went out on the same route in the morning.  Mark, Ken, and I rode together and chatted the miles away on the low traffic frontage road.  In the last five miles the wind kicked up and as we pulled into the finishing parking lot the thunder started to rumble.  It was still light and we were dry and happy.

Poor Karel didn't fair quite so well.  The rain hit him in Columbus and he showed up at the finish dripping wet.  But he finished well none-the-less and he had a nice motel room waiting for him in nearby Billings.

I think we all agreed that we really liked this route.  The hills before Red Lodge were a good challenge, the descent of Bear Creek Hill to Belfry was great fun, and the route was well serviced and on pretty decent roads.  After the road gets rebuilt after Absarokee I will definitely want to do this one again.

Two days later-on Memorial Day, I went for a recovery ride to Bozeman where I crossed paths with Dan Clinkinbeard again.  I rode with him on the I-90 shoulder for 20 miles to Manhattan.  I had the best time listening to his stories-what a treat to come across him again.  Best of luck to Dan on his tour to Alaska!

Now it's on to the 400K.  I sit here typing this at our relative's house outside of Kalispell.  I'll pre-drive the entire 400K tomorrow to make sure there are actually roads there-in what is one of the most isolated regions in in the lower 48.  It will be beautiful-that I can guarantee!