Originally emailed on Tue, May 19, 2009 at 11:30 PM under the Subject, May Ride Report (kinda long, sorry)
My original goal to ride a century ride in every month of 2009 has been completely subsumed by my new found obsession with the wacky sport of Randonneuring. I'm now shooting for the "Super Randonneur" designation for 2009. To be a Super Randonneur you just have to complete a series of four rides 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km in length. Each ride has to be completed within a set time limit. If you do that, you win the right to buy yourself a medal. Woo hoo! I already reported on the 200km and 300km rides in March and April. Last weekend I completed the 400km.
The 400km route started in Ephrata, about 180 miles east of Seattle. The route was to head North from Ephrata up the Methow Valley to Twisp, then over Loup Loup pass to Omak, down to Grand Coulee and then back along Banks Lake to Ephrata. I drove over to Ephrata after work Friday night, getting stuck in traffic on my way out of town. I got to the camp ground I was staying at about 10:30, so by the time I got situated it was pretty late. The ride started at 5am and I needed to ride the three miles into town to the start, so I got up at about 4am and geared up. It was a bit chilly, but I knew it was going to warm up so I dressed light and shivered on the ride into town.
About 60 of us set out from the Ephrata Travel Lodge. The first 20 miles were through rolling wheat fields and sage brush. The wheat was young, green and tender, and the sun was just coming up. The road climbed gently, gaining about 1,000' in the first 20 miles. The riders were starting to spread out, but at this point I was passing people and being passed as everyone was trying to settle into a pace that would work for 400km.
The first big challenge came about 20 miles in where the road turned to deep gravel with chunks of bigger sharp rocks. It was borderline unrideable and several riders actually got off and walked it. The gravel lasted for about 4 miles. The great thing about biking a road like that is how it makes pavement feel so wonderful when it's over. Somehow I came through without a flat and continued on on Hwy 2. Ten miles later I arrived at the first control at Farmer, a town with a grange hall, a silo, a cemetery, and apparently no living people. The ride organizers had some hot coffee there which made me very happy.
When I pulled out from Farmer, there was a group of riders about a quarter mile ahead moving pretty fast. For a minute I thought about going after them. As the gap increased, I decided to let them go since I would definitely have to burn some matches to catch them. So as the group ahead pulled off into the distance, I found myself completely alone. You can definitely travel faster as a group but there's something to be said for the peace and solitude of riding alone on lonesome roads with no cars. As it turned out, I wouldn't see any other bikers, other than way off in the distance, for the next 100 miles or so.
After Farmer the road continued to climb slowly up to McNeil Pass (which I'd never heard of before) at 3,011 feet. From McNeil pass, you get about six miles of screaming descent with grades up to 12%. It would have been easy to hit 50mph or more, but I kept it to about 45 not knowing what the turns were like.
The route then followed Hwy 97 along the Columbia River. The scenery was beautiful, but hwy 97 is a little too busy for my taste. I arrived at the control in Pateros at about 10:30. From Pateros I started up into the Methow Valley with a nice little tail wind to help me along. I pulled into the next control near Twisp at around 12:00. The organizers had sandwich makings and other snacks there. So much for "unsupported" riding. At this point I was still maintaining a pace that worked out to about 4 hours per 100k, which would get me to the finish at about 9:00pm. Ha. Folly.
Immediately after the Twisp control, the climb up Loup Loup pass starts. It never gets super steep, but after 10 miles of consistent 6% grade it gets old. It was also starting to get hot with temps in the 80s. Something about the climb and the temperature sort of messed up my 4 hr/100km pace. On the climb, I could see a group of three other riders keeping pace with me about a 1/4 mile back. These were the first other riders I had seen on the road since Farmer. The volunteer at the Twisp control told me it was about 12 miles to the summit, so the summit came 2 miles before I expected it. :) I'm sure he did that on purpose. After the summit, it's nearly 20 miles of coasting down into poor, depressing Okanogan and slightly more upscale Omak. The group of three caught me on the descent and we rode together into Omak.
From Omak the route goes through the most desolate stretch of the course. This is also where the 20 mph headwinds started. I decided to stick with the three riders that caught me on the descent. With the four of us taking turns breaking the wind, we averaged about 10 - 12 mph for the next two hours into the wind. At that point the wind started dropping off a little, and I was having some leg cramp problems, so I let the others go. It was still 20 miles to the next store and I was getting low on water, but I figured I could make it. I was really hurting on this stretch of road by myself. But just when I was about to pull over and take a nap beside the road, I came upon a "secret control!" The support volunteers had hot Cup o' Noodles and Ibuprophen which surely saved my life. Thanks guys!
After the secret control there was a brutal 8% - 10% climb for about a mile. But I was feeling so restored by the Cup o' Noodles and the vitamin I that it didn't bother me too much. And somewhere near the top, I came upon a big old full grown black bear about 20 ft off the side of the road. We stared at each other for a while and said our Hullos and I kept riding.
The desolate road finally came out on Hwy 155 near Nespelem where the route heads south, finally back in the direction of Ephrata. After an hour or so on Hwy 155, the sky and my mood started getting dark. Hwy 155 has these nasty expansion joints every 20 or so feet, so you're constantly riding along going, "bu-bump... bu-bump... bu-bump..." Eventually I pulled in to the final control in Electric City. I sat far longer than I should have at Electric City, probably a half hour at least which made getting back on the bike tough. The sun was down now so I turned on my lights, put on all the reflective gear I had and pulled on my arm warmers. I think it was about 8:30 when I left Electric City.
This is where I entered completely unexplored territory. E City was about 200 miles into the ride, and I had another 55 miles to go. This was my first time beyond 200 miles, and my first time doing some serious night riding. The next four hours were a bit of a blur. I was completely alone, not many cars, on very lonely stretches of road. I talked to myself a lot but I wasn't very interesting to talk to. Every few minutes I'd start thinking about how far I still had to go and how slowly I was moving and how easy it would be to just lay down on that nice little piece of pavement between the highway and the guardrail. And then I would tell myself, "come on, it's not that hard. All you have to do is just sit here and pedal." That became my mantra, "just sit here and pedal." Somehow 50 miles became 40, then 40 became 30... then eventually I found myself just sitting there and pedaling into Ephrata at 12:30am.
It turns out I was the 9th to finish out of the 60 who started. One group of 3 finished about 15 minutes before me and another group was 15 minutes before them. And one other solo rider finished TWO HOURS before me! The two groups ahead of me had both been together for the whole ride. So the first finisher and I were the only riders of the first nine who rode solo most of the way. The next rider behind me was nearly an hour back.
It was a very tough ride, but also incredibly beautiful with some wonderful cycling roads. The organizers did a fantastic job. I was hurting at the finish, but I had enough left in me to have a beer at the Travel Lodge and then pedal back to my campground three miles out of town.
By the way, sorry for not having pictures. I meant to bring a camera but forgot.
Some other stats:
Distance: 264.26 miles
Time: 17:56 in the saddle, 19:32 total
Dead rattlers on the road: 1