Monday, June 21, 2010

Countdown to the Cascade 1240

I'm now down to counting the hours until the start of the Cascade 1240. This Saturday at 6:00am about 80 of us Rando-whackos will set off on a 1240 km tour of Washington. The riders will come from all over North America with a few from Europe and even a couple from Japan. We'll have 93 hours to finish the ride. Seeing as how I've never done a ride longer than 600 km, I have no idea which levels of hell (or heaven) I'm likely to visit along the way.

I've been trying my best to guess at how fast I'll be riding the various sections so I can figure out how much time I'll get for sleeping each night, if any. I think I'll probably average about 15 - 16 hours a day on the bike. If I don't lolly-gag too much at rest stops along the way, that should give me an opportunity to get a decent amount of sleep each night. But there's no telling how fast I'll be moving when my legs turn to clay somewhere during day 2 or 3.

In case you're wondering, 1240 kms translates to about 770 miles. That's pretty close to four times the length of the STP route but with 15 times the climbing. Below you can see the route broken into four sections by day.

Day one - Monroe to Naches - 223 miles.

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Day 2 - Naches to Quincy (with a side trip up Chinook Pass) - 214 miles

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Day 3 - Quincy to Mazama - 180 miles

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Day 4 - Mazama to Monroe - 162 miles

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I've been going back and forth between really excited about this ride, and scared shitless. But the bottom line is that events like this are what got me into Randonneuring. For some sick reason I love heading off on a ride not knowing whether or not I have what it takes to finish it. There's so much to be learned from success and even more to be learned failure. Still, I'm hoping for success. Wish me well.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

SIR Four Passes 600k

While life has been getting in the way of blogging lately, I haven't completely let the daily chaos keep me from squeezing in a long ride now and then. For instance, on June 5th and 6th I rode the SiR Four Passes 600k. This is a ride I've heard about and wanted to do for a while. In the typical SiR fashion, the route meandered through some of the most gorgeous parts of the state, on both the west and east sides of the mountains. Also in the typical SiR fashion the route did it's best to avoid any flat easy riding. Most of the time we were riding either up or down a mountain pass.

The ride started in Issaquah and headed up and over the Sammamish plateau on it's way to Sultan. From Sultan we headed east on Highway 2 toward our first big climb up Stevens Pass. From the start until the part where Hwy 2 starts tipping skyward, I rode with a fast group consisting of Brian Ohlemeier, Kole Kantner, Erik Andersen and Allan deCamp. We made great time, and I really enjoy riding with all of these guys. But before this ride had even started I had decided I was going to do this one at my own pace. I wanted to find out if it's possible to do a long tough ride like this without a lot of suffering. So, somewhere around Index, I dropped off the back of the group and found a nice comfortable pace for the long grind up Stevens pass.

For a few short but precious miles the route left noisy Hwy 2 to travel the old Cascade Highway that parallels Hwy 2. The old road is an amazing little stretch of bicycling paradise with no cars and beautiful glimpses of waterfalls. I rode this stretch alone and took my time, smelling the roses along the way. Far too soon, the route dumped me back on Hwy 2 with semis whizzing by.

I was taking my time climbing up Stevens Pass because my stomach was mighty angry. Generally I can get away with eating just about anything, but the mini-mart jalapeno cheddar object that I ate back in Skykomish had crossed a line. At this point in the ride the only people who were ahead of me were the four I had been with at the start, but with my stomach problems I had to slow down so that a couple other riders passed me on the way up the pass.

By the time I got to the summit, my stomach was starting to feel better so I was able to enjoy the trip down the east side of Stevens. It wasn't as fast of a descent as I had hoped for due to a bit of a headwind. I got passed by a couple more riders on the way down in to Leavenworth and spent a little while riding and chatting with Charlie White who I had ridden with briefly on the 400k last month.

Charlie and I pulled into Leavenworth around lunch time to find several other riders at the Subway, wolfing down calories, smearing on sunscreen and getting ready for the next climb up Blewett pass. I took a few minutes to enjoy a sit down lunch, actually sitting at a table rather than on the sidewalk for once.

I headed out from Leavenworth alone and actually looking forward to the climb up Blewett Pass. The weather was beautiful if not bordering on too hot. But as the elevation increased, the temperature decreased and in general it was perfect cycling weather. The climb up Blewett Pass never really gets very steep but it goes on for long time. So I settled into a pleasant pace and just kept grinding away until I reached the summit at around 3:00 pm. Robin Pieper was manning a secret control at the summit and had some of the usual salty and sweet rando snacks not to mention some much needed water.

The ride down Blewett was a fun one, though again a headwind kept the speed down some. The route headed south on Hwy 97 toward Ellensburg. Somewhere along this stretch I joined up with Vincent Muoneke and Geoff Swarts for a few miles. Together we enjoyed the scenery and the rhythm of the ride. Eventually Vincent, Geoff and I caught up to Matt Newlin, Mark Roehrig and Wayne Methner, and the six of us rolled into Ellensberg together looking for some dinner.

After Ellensburg, the route headed south on Canyon road along the ?? river. The sun was beginning to get low in the sky and the bugs were out in force. I consumed enough bugs on that stretch of road to save me a few shot blocks. I rode most of the Canyon road stretch with Matt and Wayne, and eventually we joined up with Mark again and the four of us stuck together all the way through Selah and on up Hwy 12 to the overnight control near Rimrock lake. We rolled in to the overnight just before midnight. There we found wonderful volunteers bearing hot soup and other goodies, and better yet, hot showers and warm beds. We also a few other randonneurs looking very ragged, but happy to be done for the day.

I got up around 5:00am the next morning after a few hours of tossing and turning and unfortunately very little real sleep. As exhausted as I was, the aches and pains that come from 250 miles and two and a half mountain passes made sleep elusive. After some pancakes, I was on the road with Wayne, Matt, and Charlie just before 6:00. Overnight, the weather had definitely taken an ugly turn and it was now raining pretty hard. At the top of White Pass the temperature was in the low 40s and the rain wasn't letting up at all. We all put on all the clothes we had for the screaming cold run down the west side of white pass.

By the time we got to the turn off to Hwy 123 Wayne was so cold he was shaking uncontrollably and was having a hard time controlling his bike. Luckily a couple of SiR volunteers had a control set up with a propane heater and hot drinks. Without them there, we could have been in serious trouble. I was cold, but no where near as cold has Wayne and a couple other riders I saw arriving while we were there.

From the control the route started the climb up to Cayuse Pass. I was happy to be climbing again so I could get warm, but my legs were feeling pretty darn useless by this point in the ride. But somehow I was able to keep turning the cranks up the the summit of Cayuse.

The group I had been with split up on the way up Cayuse, and since it was very cold at the top I didn't stop to wait for them. I wanted to carry some of that warmth generated on the climb with me on the chilly descent. The descent down Cayuse toward Enumclaw was a fun wild ride that went on for a long time. The last time I did this descent was on last year's mountain 600k. That time it was in the middle of the night, my lights were too dim, I hurt everywhere and I was going on two nights with virtually no sleep. This time I felt terrific in comparison and was really able to enjoy the trip down.

I stopped for a quick sandwich in Greenwater and chatted with one of the local boys about the ride. He asked where I started, where I had been and where I was going. When I told him about the route he asked why I didn't just drive it. He had a point.

The rest of the ride from Greenwater was on familiar roads and I was really starting to feel the miles. Every brevet has its stretch where time stands still, and on this ride the temporal distortion was somewhere between Enumclaw and Issaquah (the 'claw and the 'quah).

One feature of this brevet that was either extremely annoying or extremely charming (I still haven't decided) was that it ended with a little victory lap around lake Sammamish. After arriving in Issaquah, about a mile from the finish, you had to do a counter clockwise loop around the lake. I like a bike ride around Lake Sammamish as much as the next guy, but when it comes after about 350 miles it takes on a different flavor. But I did my obligatory victory lap and pulled into the finish at Brad Tilden's house. It was 34 hours and 47 minutes since I had left Brad's house the previous morning. Brad's wife served up a great plate of pasta and tolerated my incoherent ramblings and sweaty wool smells.

So I stuck with my plan to ride at my own pace and really enjoyed the ride as a result. But I also learned that suffering is pretty unavoidable on a 600k ride.