Sunday, June 08, 2008

I'm Soooooooo Tired

As I mentioned in my last series of posts, I have been working my way toward a Super Randonneur award from Randonneuring USA. I had to ride a series of brevets in one season in lengths of 200, 300, 400 and 600 kilometers. After completing the Kings Valley 600 on Memorial Day weekend, all I had left to do was a 400. I planned to take care of that with the Oregon Randonneurs Covered Bridges 400, scheduled for June 14.

Although I have pretty good recovery powers, I was a little nervous about doing the 400 on the 14th, because I am running in a fundraising 5K on June 21 (sponsor me now!), and I was not sure my muscles would recover enough over week's time to do the run. My friend Andrew came to the rescue by suggesting that he and I do a "workers' ride" of the course on June 7, instead. He had a scheduling conflict for the 14th and so the only way he could get credit for the ride would be by doing a workers' ride. It's always better to have company on such a ride, and he asked me because we ride together often and have compatible styles (except he always has to pee more often than I do). Because neither Andrew nor I had completed a 400 before, Susan, our RBA, suggested that we find someone to go with us who had done one. We pondered with whom we would want to spend at least 24 sleepless hours of riding, and decided to ask John Henry Maurice.

John Henry Shortly After the Start

John Henry had not ridden a 400 km brevet before, but he is a very experienced endurance racer, having competed in events like the Furnace Creek 508 and Race Across Oregon. We figured he'd know how to stay awake, or at least know how to sleep and pedal at the same time.

Although the "official" ride will start at 6:00 AM, we could start our ride at any time. I lobbied hard for an 8:00 AM start, so that I would not have to get up at some ridiculous hour (not that I don't always get up at some ridiculous hour, thanks to the early-rising corgis). John Henry would have preferred a dawn start, but he gave in to my whining. As it was, we ended up starting a little late, because one of Andrew's gear bags exploded, and he need to do some quick repacking.

Maybe They're in My Leg Warmers.
It was sort of like "Bicycle Part 52 Pick Up."

After getting our cards signed by the hotel desk clerk, we rolled out at 8:03 and headed east into the prairies. On our way past Champoeg Park, we saw quite a few cyclists riding in the other direction. They were the vanguard of the short-course riders on the Pioneer Century. One rider that we waved to expressed his concern that we were "going in the wrong direction." We assured him we were on a different ride.

The official ride information page describes the course as "relatively flat." The word in that phrase to focus on is "relatively." It's no Torture 10K, but it's no pancake, either. More like an aebleskiver, perhaps. But without the lingonberry sauce. The overall elevation gain for the course was only 7038 vertical feet over 400 km, and maximum altitude is barely over 1100 feet, so on paper at least it IS relatively flat. And, to be honest, there really are not that many climbs, it's just that the few climbs that are there are significant. The first part of the course, from Newberg to Silverton was indeed pretty flat and, I must admit, not too scenic. Or maybe I have just become too accustomed to beautiful views on Oregon rides.

Our first stop would be the Gallon House Bridge between Mt. Angel and Silverton. It would be the first of seven covered bridges we would visit that day, each of which was to be the subject of an "information control." Information controls are a way of ensuring that riders do not take shortcuts when there are no nearby businesses to serve as regular controls. One of our tasks on the ride was to come up with the question (and answer) for the information controls. This slowed us down fairly significantly, because each time we stopped we took the opportunity to waste time on things like picture taking, eating, and generally just standing around.

From Gallon House Bridge we turned south toward Silverton, Sublimity, Stayton, Scio, Sweet Home and beyond (for a while it seemed we would be only going only to towns that started with "S"). Starting in Silverton, we began climbing very gradually; just enough to slow us down, but not enough to raise our heart rates. The low heart rate problem was resolved by our encounter with Cole School Road outside of Scio - 2 rollers, one of which clocked in at about 15%, the second at 18%. The last time I was on that road, I had to walk the last few yards to the top of the second hill; this time I made it, but I had to rest at the top for a while. Andrew and John Henry were behind me; when they reached the top, Andrew once again questioned my choice of gear ratios (he has been telling me since he first saw my bike's specs that I don't have low enough gearing). I felt obligated to point out to him that (1) I made it to the top, didn't I?; and (2) I made to the top before he did . . .

Outside of Sublimity we rolled past a dairy farm. We rode past many dairy farms on the route, in fact, but I remember this particular dairy farm because of the dead cow lying in the field near the road. It must have died not too long before we rode past, because it looked intact and didn't smell bad - in fact, were it not for the very interested buzzards encircling it, one would have thought it was only sleeping. Nature red in tooth and claw, and all that jazz.

We rolled into Scio at 1:30 PM. We were supposed to go to the Covered Bridge Cafe for our control there, but the cafe is now closed on weekends. We made a note of that for the organizer. As we approached the cafe, we saw someone with a familiar face standing on the street pointing a camera at us. It was our friend and fellow randonneur, Nate Armbrust, who happened to be in town visiting his family (Scio is his home town). They had been out driving and had seen us on Cole School Road; he calculated when we'd be reaching town and was there to meet us (he and his family had just finished eating at the restaurant across the road). He signed our cards for us and took our picture as further proof of our presence.

After the Scio rollers, the course flattened out again (relatively). We would have no more intense climbs, but there were two or three of the long, boring, grinding low-grade climbs that I find even more annoying than the steep, nausea-inducing variety (nausea passes, boredom doesn't). As we groaned our way up one such climb, we heard popping sounds up ahead. I figured we were coming up on a rifle range; they're plentiful out in the Oregon boonies, As we turned the corner, however, we came upon two men busily bulldozing an old drive-through espresso hut into a roaring bonfire. Of course we had to stop and watch (and take pictures).

Caption Contest!!!

At abut 5:30 we stopped for dinner in Sweet Home. The Thriftway there is another control, and they have a deli at which you can purchase enormous sandwiches and they come conveniently packed in a sturdy zip-lock bag. We each ate half a sandwich and saved the other half for later.

Mmm, Veggies.Sweet Home Sandwiches

From Sweet Home we continued on south toward Mohawk, which was the southernmost point of our route. The store there was another control; we reached it right at closing time. We purchased a few more snacks and water and got our cards signed. The sun was setting, so we donned our reflective gear, turned on our head and tail lights, and turned northwest toward home. At this point we had been on the road for over 13 hours and had gone just over 136 miles. We had another 112 or so miles left to go before we were done, and less than 14 hours left on the clock. We had a very slight headwind, and we would inevitably be slowed down a little by the difficulties of riding after dark, so time management would be the key to success. That, and luck. If the weather held, and if we didn't have any breakdowns (mechanical or nervous) or flats, we would have no trouble getting in on time, if not a little early. I tried not to think too positively though. Hubris and all that . . .

All day the weather had been good; slightly overcast and pleasant temperatures. By nightfall the sky had cleared completely, though, and the temperature quickly fell into the low 40s. We had all brought some warm layering clothes, and we stopped to put them all on. I probably could have used one more layer, because every time we stopped pedaling I would start shivering, but as long as we were moving I was okay. We had left all the covered bridges far behind, and it was too dark to really see much of anything. As we rode along McKenzie View Drive toward Coburg, I could hear the McKenzie River off to my left, but never saw it. We stopped in Coburg so Andrew could take a nature break. While we were waiting, a guy drove up and stopped to chat. He had seen our taillights from a distance and could not figure out what kind of vehicles were ahead of him. He asked where we were riding to, and was duly impressed when we told him where we had come from and where we were going.

The next control was in Harrisburg. We arrived there after 11:00 PM and the sidewalks and been rolled up for hours. Fortunately, there was an ATM where we could get receipts to show we had been there. From Harrisburg we turned onto Peoria Road and headed for Albany. Peoria Road is long; we were on it for a t least an hour and a half. I kept asking John Henry if that was Albany I could see in the distance. "No." "No." "No." "No." "No." I was starting to get anxious. I was beginning to feel a slight pressure in my bladder, and I knew from the fleche that there were no public restrooms (or random blue rooms) in Albany. Then I had found a secluded spot in Bryant Park, but I was hoping that there might be something less exposed somewhere on Peoria Road. John Henry and Andrew both thought there was a wayside park somewhere en route, but there was no guarantee it would have facilities. When we finally came upon it, I was thrilled to see that there was a blue room there (it's not that often that I am thrilled by the sight of a port-a-potty, but these were desperate times). I also took the opportunity to pull on a second pair of wool socks; I was wearing my cycling sandals and my toes were a wee bit numb. I had stuck chemical hand warmers in the wind pouch of my gloves, so my fingers were plenty toasty. While we were stopped, a sheriff's deputy drove up to make sure that we were okay - he wanted to know if there were more of us out there that he should be checking up on. He did not think it was at all odd that we should be riding hundreds of miles in the dark without any ride support. After ensuring that we had everything we needed, he drove off and we turned toward Albany.

Andrew was almost out of water and was beginning to wonder where we might find services. Our route would take us through the part of downtown Albany that shuts down early - I knew of one bar off of 2nd Street, but everything else would be off-route out by the highway. It was already about 2:10 when we reached the outskirts of town, so if we were going to get to the bar before it closed, we would have to pedal a little faster. We followed the sound of drunken hubbub, and got to the bar just as they were kicking everyone out.

Bike Bouncers - Independence, Oregon

I pleaded with the bouncer to let us in to fill our water bottles and he obliged after another round of "You're riding how far?? You're crazy!" John Henry then had the good sense to ask the bartender if he knew of any 24-hr restaurants nearby. "Well, there's Pop's - it's open. Just go down this street about a mile, then turn right on Madison and go another half mile."

24-Hours Worth of Breakfast

Although skeptical of his mileage estimates, we decided to try to find it. We were tired and hungry and, as John Henry pointed out, all those drunk people that were leaving the bar were headed for their cars and perhaps it might be a good idea for us to be off the road for awhile. As it turns out, some of those drunk people were at the restaurant with us. Two girls with somewhat vacant eyes approached the table and asked us how far we were riding and the just stood there saying "You're crazy" over and over.

Pop's may not be haute cuisine, but the servings were large, the service friendly, and the bathrooms clean and warm. After 19 hours of riding, that was good enough for me. I was starting to get pretty punchy, and Andrew was falling asleep on the cushioned bench.

Delirious With Lack of SleepCat Nap

We finished our breakfasts--well, I finished mine and also ate most of Andrew's pancakes and some of John Henry's hash browns; they just picked at theirs -- and it was once again time to hit the road. Our next stop, and our last control before Newberg, was Independence, 18 miles away. Again, there was an ATM that we could use to record our time, but we assumed that there would be no shops open for services. I was not worried because I figured we could get water from the tap in the public restroom on Main Street. When we rolled into town shortly after 5:00 AM we discovered, however, that the bathrooms were locked. Rats. Not only were we short on water, but I once again was feeling a little pressured in the region of my bladder. Fortunately, the guys discovered a set of blue rooms down by the river on the other side of the park. Whew. As an extra treat, the sun was rising over the river and the view from the blue rooms was lovely.

Sunrise On the Willamette

We had been able to offload water, but we still had none to replace what we'd offloaded. I remembered that there was a Plaid Pantry on River Road between Independence and Salem, just south of Minto Brown Park. I figured that it was either a 24-hr market or, at the very least, would be open by 6:00 AM. I estimated that we were about 7 miles away from it, so that either way it would be open by the time we got there. So we backtracked down Main Street to the bridge, crossed over the Willamette and headed north toward Salem. The sun was rising quickly, and it was beginning to warm up. The Plaid Pantry was indeed open, and we spent a little bit more time there then I would have liked. I harped at Andrew to hurry up with his tea so we could go; he ended up pouring most of it out. Then, just as we started to pull out, Andrew realized his tire was flat. On the one hand, it couldn't have happened at a better time - the sun was up, he could see, and the PP parking lot was a safe place to work. On the other hand, it couldn't have happened at a worse time - -we still had about 35 miles to go, we were exhausted, and our time was beginning to tick away. John Henry and I decided that we would ride on into Salem and stop at The Beanery for more breakfast foods, and wait for Andrew there. We arrived at the coffee shop at 6:55; it opened at 7:00. Andrew showed up about 15 minutes later, and ordered his own breakfast. We finally got back on the road at about 7:35 or so. We had 28 miles to go, and I told the guys that we weren't making any more long stops until the end. I knew we had plenty of time, but I didn't know whether we would run into anymore mechanical problems. Plus, I was so exhausted by this point that I was not able to pedal very quickly at all. I knew for sure that I would not be able to replicate the sprint from St. Paul to Newberg that I had done at the end of the 600 two weeks earlier . . .

The last stretch from Salem to Newberg was as flat as the first stretch the day before. The sun was well up, and we eventually had to stop after all, so that we could divest ourselves of our arm and leg warmers. And then it really was time for the final gallop for home. We were 9 miles from the end and on track to get to Newberg by 10:00 AM, an hour before our deadline. I was losing steam, and the guys pulled pretty far ahead of me. I made a brief effort to catch up to them and realized it was not going to happen. Plus, I once again had to pee, and I knew from experience that there would be no blue rooms or discrete stand of trees on our route; so when I saw a woman out in front of her house dead-heading her roses, I swallowed my embarrassment and asked if I could use her bathroom. She was very nice and readily agreed. She asked where we were riding at such an early hour and, after I explained our trek, responded with the now predictable "You're crazy!"

I got back on my bike and continued up the road. I saw that John Henry and Andrew had stopped. I thought that they were waiting for me, but John Henry explained that they had really stopped because he had caught himself falling asleep on his bike, and figured he should take a little break. Once we were sure that we were all awake, we set off. We reached the Travelodge at 9:57 AM, 25 hours and 57 minutes after our start. After loading our cars and changing into non-riding clothes, we sat on the grass and chatted until we were sure that we were all okay to drive home safely.

My plan was to go home, take a shower, and take a nap. And that is what I SHOULD have done. But the weather was so nice, and my garden needed weeding. And then the dogs needed walking. And then I found other chores that needed doing. And then we decided to walk over to Hopworks Urban Brewery for beer and pretzels. And then it was time to make dinner. I finally went to bed at about 10:30 PM, at which time I had been awake for 41 hours. I still haven't caught up that sleep. Maybe next Sunday . . . but probably not - I think we're going snowshoeing.


John Henry said...

I have changed what I want my gravestone to read to "He was CRAZY!".

Anonymous said...

Congratulations. I have heard the 400 is harder than the 600 but not having experienced that myself, I can only read these thrilling accounts. Thanks so much.

Gene in Tacoma (Friend of Peg?)

beth h said...

The crazy part was doing all those chores right after you got home from the crazy 400k ride.

Sleep well.... B

Kevin said...

Great write up! Congratulations.

I just don't get rando.....this time of year 400k can be done all in daylight. (16 hrs-15mph avg) Randoneurring throws in all the time eating requirements of getting receipts, answering informational controls, etc. Different strokes for different folks I guess! ;-)
Keep on riding and posting the stories, I love reading them!

Kevin (another kind of crazy long distance rider)

quel-fromage said...

You ARE crazy! But in a good way.

brons2 said...

Great report, I enjoyed it. I am missing my brevet rides!!! Can't wait to get back to them.