Tuesday, January 22, 2008

An Open Letter to the Good People at Showers Pass

This is me:
Can We Go Now?????

These are my friends, Lynne and Jason:
Helmet Cover, Shmelmet Cover

This is my friend, Rickey:
Ready for Rain

We ride.

A lot.

Thousands of miles a year.

And we do it in Oregon, which means that many of those miles are in the rain.

Consequently, we have a vested interest (pun intended) in seeking out the most effective cycling rain gear.

As you can see, we have all concluded that the Showers Pass Elite jacket is the best item on the market, and have further concluded that no one who rides in the Pacific Northwest should be without one.

Which brings me to my dilemma.

This is TRFKAF.
TRFKAF is ready to ride

TRFKAF is my riding buddy. Where I go, he goes. He's not the greatest stoker, but he keeps me company. Sadly, TRFKAF does not have a rain jacket, so he gets very wet and cold. He would love to have a Showers Pass jacket of his very own, but has been unable to find one in a size extra-extra-extra-extra-small.

So, dear Showers Pass people, this is our query - what are the chances of you coming up with a line of rain gear for rider's mascots? Inquiring rabbits want to know.

Because until then, it's the ignominy of the New York Times bag . . .

Sunday, January 20, 2008

One Down, Eleven To Go

One of my goals for 2008 is to complete a randonneuring R-12. In order to do so, I must ride one (at least) brevet or permanent of at least 200 kilometers per month for 12 consecutive months. I was on my way to an R12 in 2007 until I blew out my left hamstring and calf, which kept me off the bike for a couple of months. But by last week I felt healed and strong enough to start the process all over again, so I recruited Lynne (never TOO difficult) and we signed up to do the Scio Covered Bridges permanent

Marcello and Lynne

Two other Oregon Randonneurs, Bill Alsup and Marcello Napolitano, decided to join us and we agreed that we would leave the start in Wilsonville, Oregon at 6:30 AM on January 19.

At the beginning of the week, the weather forecast wasn't too bad; for Oregon in mid-January, that is. Partly cloudy, mid-40s. Perfectly reasonable winter riding weather. As the week progressed, the forecast deteriorated. By Thursday, the forecast was for showers, with temperatures in the upper 30s. Still reasonable, as far as I was concerned, assuming I had the proper gear. Hmm. Gear. One never really has enough gear, does one? As I pondered the state of my winter apparel, I decided that a new pair of unpadded thermal tights might be a good thing to have. I decided to call Team Estrogen and chat with one of their experts. Mind you, this was at 11:00 AM on Thursday morning and I would need the tights by Saturday at 5:30 AM, which was when I would be leaving my house for the ride . . . but TE is in Hillsboro, Oregon and in the past everything I have ordered from them has arrived at my house the next day. I was counting on that to hold true this time. As it turns out, so was Lynne. While I was busy ordering tights, she was ordering a new long-sleeve wool zip-T. Anyway, I decided to get the Craft "Storm" tights, and sure enough they were waiting for me on the porch when I got home from work on Friday.

I spent most of Friday evening making sure I had everything I needed. I knew we would be in the dark for at least an hour in the morning and possibly another 2 hours in the evening (I was estimating it would take us about 11 hours to complete the route). The bike I am currently riding isn't really designed for distance riding, and so everything was just a wee bit jury-rigged. The handlebar bag that I use for longer rides prevents me from putting headlights on my bars, so I strapped the two lights that I use the most to the front fork with pump straps, instead. One of the lights, an astonishingly bright DiNotte, has a rechargeable battery pack, which also had to be strapped to the front fork and in a way that it did not interfere with the signal for my wireless computer. It also involved working around the straps for my temporary fenders, but with a little patience I was able to make it work. Another reason that I will I be glad when the new rando-specific bike is done . . .

The next task was to make sure the bike bags were packed. In the seat bag I have bike tools, spare tubes, patch kits, first aid kit, baby wipes, extra batteries, extra lights, and a lock. In front I carried my camera, my keys, my food and some more baby wipes.

Once the bike was kitted out, I needed to make sure I was kitted out. Thermal sports bra? Check. Wool zip-T? Check. Wool Jersey? Check. Shorts with long distance chamois? Check. Thermal tights? Check. Wool socks? Check. Extra wool socks? Check. Gloves? Check. Extra gloves? Check. S'Mittens? Check. Wool beanie? Check. Reflective vest and leg bands? Check.
Reflective helmet with map-reading light? Check. Winter cycling boots and shoe covers? Check. Showers Pass rain jacket? Check.

Time for bed.

Up at 4:30 for a hearty breakfast of peanut butter and banana on a pumpernickel bagel, and out the door at 5:30 for the half hour drive to the start. I hate driving to the start of rides, but riding to and from the start would have added another 50 miles and 4 or so hours to the day, and at this time of year I wasn't quite ready for that!

Lynne was already at the official "start" (Wilsonville City Hall) when I arrived. It took me a while to unload the bike and make sure everything was in place. I spent another 10 minutes or so fighting with my new shoe covers and new riding boots. The boots have a thick lugged sole, and it is difficult to get a cover around it - but then I realized (far later than I should have realized) that because the shoe cover had an open bottom, I could slip the cover over my foot and up my calf before I put the boot on, and then pull the cover down over the top of the boot. Duh.

By this time it was 6:30, and we had not seen either Bill or Marcello. We figured that they, having a little more sense then we did, had decided to skip the ride. We saddled up and headed for the nearest Starbucks, in order to get something hot to drink and a time-stamped receipt. While we there, Bill showed up and then we were 3.

The beginning of the ride was less than fun - we had to go onto Interstate 5 to cross the Willamette River. 1.1 miles of debris-filled freeway shoulder in the dark is not my idea of a good time. It's not my idea of a good time in the light, either, but at least then I had a better view of the debris. Fortunately, we all had good lights, especially Lynne.

Once we were off the freeway, we headed east toward Canby and then turned south toward the first control in Scio - 50 miles away. At this point it was dark, and it was cold (somewhere around 32 degrees), but at least it wasn't raining. And I was so well-covered that, except for my toes, nose and cheeks, I was warm as toast. Lynne was TOO warm - she had to stop and remove one layer.

Those first 50 miles were, um, miserable. We were climbing steadily (I am questioning the route description, which claims a total elevation gain of only 3000 feet), and into a headwind. Our average speed was a sluggish 11.4 mph, and three hours into the ride I began to panic that we would not make any of the controls in time. Based on the time we left Wilsonville, we had to reach Scio by 11:51. Outside of Scio is a set of rollers that are nothing less than evil. Extremely steep, but with too much room at the base to allow you to use any of the momentum to help you up the next slope. I was ahead of Bill and Lynne and waited for them at the top of the first roller. When they pulled up, they asked if I had seen the cyclist ahead of us. I hadn't - I guess I had my head down as I struggled up the hill. The next roller was even worse. Just before the top, it pitched just a little too much for me, and I had to get off my bike and push it the last few yards. I can't think of the last time I had to walk my bike up a hill.

We reached Scio with literally no time to spare. My receipt from the market showed 11:51. As I rode up to the market, who should I see but Marcello. He had been at City Hall at 6:30, but must have been at the other side of the parking lot. He figured we weren't coming, and so he set off on his own. He had been the rider ahead of us on the rollers, and he admitted that he. too, had walked on the last one. After a short rest, we all four left Scio together. Marcello was faster than we were, however, and he quickly left us behind. It was still cold - 33 degrees- and it started to rain. Well, drizzle. The new tights were performing admirably, though, and I never felt wet.

The next timed control was in Salem. We had to get there by 3:55. The road had flattened out a bit, and we had turned out of the wind, but we again ended up getting into town with no time to spare. At this point I was very concerned that we would not make the cut-off time at the end in Wilsonville. It was still drizzling and it was getting dark - two things that would slow our already-slow pace. Add to that the difficulty in just getting the heck OUT of Salem. It is not a particularly bike-friendly city, and we had to detour around construction at one point. But we finally got to the edge of town and got our speed back up.

By this time it was very dark. Fortunately, the roads on this part of the ride were very familiar, because they are all in one ride or another that I do on a regular basis. I am not saying I can ride them with my eyes closed, but I can ride them with very little illumination . . . the rain (drizzle) finally stopped, and it seemed a little warmer, which I think helped us to pick up our pace. By my calculations, we had until 8:04 PM to reach Wilsonville (13 hours and 24 minutes after we started) and I was alternating between checking my watch and checking our mileage. We were definitely making better time and barring no mechanical issues it looked like we'd finish in time. I stopped panicking.

We had to go back on the freeway bridge to cross the river. The shoulder on this side was even worse than on the southbound side. I rode as quickly as I could to get the heck off, and waited for Bill and Lynne to catch up before heading back to the Starbucks from which we had begun the ride 12 hours and 58 minutes earlier.

Reflecting On A Good Day's Ride

All told, it was a tough ride. But on the plus side, most of the roads were lovely, and there were all sorts of cute baby animals at the various farms we passed. I was surprised to see so many lambs so early in the year, but Lynne explained that sheep are in season no matter what the season, and so lambing can take place year-round if the farmers let it. In addition to sheep, we saw many horse (some wearing raincoats), some alpaca, some pygmy goats, and one lonely emu. I'll try it again in the summer, perhaps . .

Total ride time: 12 hours 58 minutes
Saddle time: 10 hours 9 minutes 6 seconds
Distance: 127.5 miles
Avg. Speed: 12.5 mph
Calories burned: 6041