Monday, July 02, 2007

And Now . . . The Larch

[Picture Hint: Click on the photos for larger versions]

Chuck from the Far Eastern Pastures was in town last weekend, and he had sent out a call to the Herd for a ride to remember. As if Team Bag Balm needed an excuse to ride herd. After tossing around a few ideas - Bridge of the Gods? Tour de Frank? - we settled on an old stand-by, the "Falls and Fries" route from McMenamin's Edgefield to Multnomah Falls, and back. But to make sure that C from the FEP did indeed get "a ride to remember," we decided to throw in a trip up Larch Mountain.

The plan was to leave from the Edgefield parking lot at 9:00 AM. As usual, I planned to ride from home - I figured the distance to be about 20 miles, give or take. Neighbor Nat sent me an e-mail Saturday night suggesting we ride together and leave his place at just before 8:00. By my calculations, that meant we would have to average 20+ miles an hour to get there on time - I figured Nat could do that, but not I - not at that hour of the morning and not while I was still feeling the effects of Saturday's run. Instead, I headed off on my own at about 7:15 - I figured Nat would probably end up passing me on the way. I went my usual route to Troutdale (the only one I know - or knew) - over Mt. Tabor to the I-205 bike path, north to Marine Drive and then east on Marine Drive to 257th/Graham/Halsey. 20.5 miles all told. I didn't meet up with Nat until I arrived in the Edgefield parking lot at 8:45. He had been there at least 10 minutes. I was dumbfounded until he explained that he took a more direct route that was only 12 miles. Live and learn . . .

The herd was out in force. The usual suspects (Nat, Richard & Nance, Diane, Nora, Michael G., Ron, Chuck (from the FEP), Don, Andrew, Amy, Tweety, Edna) were there, as well as many new-to-me faces. Nanci from Salem had come up with Chuck and Don, and there was a group of recumbent riders, as well. Some folks planned to do the whole route, others had time constraints that would prevent them from tackling The Larch (or so they claimed). After some minimal faffing around and group photo shots, we were off.

We started off through Troutdale to the Historic Columbia River Highway and started climbing up to our first re-group point, the Portland Women's Council Forum (or whatever it's called - all those words are in there somewhere). Somewhere between Springdale and Corbett we caught up with Dave Van Gundy, who had started from his home in SE Portland. The weather was perfect and the view from the Forum incredible. At this point we parted ways with our friend Ron, who was out on his first significant ride since hip surgery. He looked great, but he wasn't going to push it.

Then it was down, down, down, past the Vista House on Crown Point (going too fast to stop, and it would be there when we came back up) to Multnomah Falls. ODOT finally got around to repaving the HCRH last year, and the smooth pavement was a joy. I was following Nat and Don down, but they outdistanced me pretty rapidly - they knew the road well, and this was my first time down it on a bike. There were the usual collection of mutants in pickup trucks and RVs on the road, but we could all take the curves faster than they could, so we were always well ahead of them (coming back up would, of course, be a different story).

Another regroup at the Falls - hordes of tourists, as usual, many of whom were fascinated by the recumbents. A couple of "real" Biker Dudes (as in scary guys in black leather vests, heavy boots, and do-rags) posed for photos next to a couple of 'bents as if they were theirs. We augmented what portable calories we had brought with salty, greasy food from the snack bar. The Polish dogs (as in floor polish, I believe) seemed quite popular - I stuck with potato chips. Don got a cookie as big as his head, but size was apparently all it had going for it. I believe the flavor was "particle board."

Then it was time to leave - Larch Mountain beckoned, at least for some of us. Richard & Nance were already on their way, as well as the 'bents. We were down to a subgroup of me, Nat, Diane, Don, Nora, Michael, Chuck, Andrew, Amy, and Nanci. A & A were on the tandem (much discussion of whether Amy was turning into a "tandem slut") and had time restraints, so weren't sure how far they would get. Nora and Michael also had time restraints - their plan was to ride up the mountain for exactly 1 hour and 45 minutes before turning around (I wasn't there, but I have it on good authority that when they got to that point there was some debate as to whether they should extend the ride up for just "5 minutes more.") Chuck's plan was to "see how far he'd get." (He promised not to complain about the climb if we promised not to complain about how long we waited for him at the top). The rest of us were going to get to the top if it killed us. After a quick stop for the restrooms at the Vista House (and magnificent restrooms they are) and a short period of making fun of the bicycle racks that had been donated by a local bike club (the design was completely ineffective and no one used them - bikes were parked everywhere BUT in the rack) we were off. We met up with Ron again at the turn off to Larch Mountain Rd. - he declined our invitation to join us. Smart man.

The climb up to the top of Larch is 14 miles of grind. It's never THAT steep, it's just loooooooooooooooooong. As usual, Nat took off like a mountain goat. How he does what he does on a double is beyond me. I spent most of the ride in the granny range - and still had to stop a couple of times to nibble on my portable calories - mmm, Paley's Liquid Sunshine. The 'bent riders whizzed past on their way down - the temptation to turn around and follow them was great. But I kept pushing on, and two hours later I was at the top and out of food. Richard & Nance were just heading out for their descent as I pulled into the parking lot - Nat had arrived about 30 minutes earlier than I, and was hanging out soaking up the sun. After a short while, Diane, Nanci & Don arrived - and then came Chuck! He had made it to the top, and didn't look that bad at all.

TRFKAF, on the other hand, looked like hell. Or maybe that was just because of the bungee cord wrapped around his neck.

Once we had all caught our breath (and once the Larch "virgins" had hiked out to the viewpoint), it was time to jet down. And I do mean jet. One nice thing about the Larch descent is that there are very few sharp turns, so you can go full out for very long periods of time. I was ahead of the rest, so didn't see when Nat developed a speed wobble that took him off the road - but he didn't crash! Just a few scrapes and bruises to show for it. I had developed "a touch of the bonk" by the time we regrouped at the Women's Forum, but Chuck saved the day with his stash of Rice Krispy Treats and Pay Day bars. Note to self: bring Rice Krispy Treats on next weeks 300K . . .

The last leg was a long, easy descent into Troutdale - we were running on empty, but the thought of the "real" food that awaited us at Edgefield kept us going. Nat and I scored a table outside while the rest of the gang stowed their bikes in their cars and then it was down to the serious business of eating. We ordered some sweet potato fries to start, and they came soon enough (by McMenamin's time) but not so soon that Nat wasn't seriously considering mainlining ketchup from the condiment tray. Nat and I still had at least 12 miles to go (if we went his sensible way, rather than my silly long way) so no beer for us, but we each inhaled a Commie Garden (the Communications Breakdown burger with a gardenburger instead of beef). I sort of regretted that about 6 miles into the last leg home . . .

So there we were, peacefully eating our dinner, recapping the high points of the ride, when Don suddenly let out a yell and jumped up from his seat, almost spilling his beer in the process. We all assumed he'd been stung by a bee. But no, it was "just" a cramp. What away to end the day.

And a fitting way to end this report . . .


Anonymous said...

Oh man does this bring back the best memories of when I lived in Portland and worked at River City Bicycles. I would do this same ride 1-2 times a week but would leave out of SE Portland. I am bookmarking this page as I will be coming back to it often to look at all the old memories I have. Thanks for the post.
Sam Kaufman

Cecil Anne said...

It is one of my favorite rides. My work schedule keeps me from doing it quite that often, but some version of it or other is in regular rotation.