|Easy Pass wasn't on the Seattle Randonneurs program|
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.
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|
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|
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.