Sunday, June 29, was the LiveStrong Challenge and despite almost drowning last year, Portland Velo had once again volunteered to provide the on-course ride marshals.
This meant that we would ride the same course as the Challenge participants but we would carry tools, extra inner tubes, and extra water in order to be able to assist anyone who needed help. We would also be making sure that riders rode safely, took off their headphones and obeyed traffic laws. At least we would ask them to ride safely, obey the traffic laws and take out their headphones -- sadly I was not allowed to arrest an iPod-people, as much as I wanted to. In addition to providing course marshals, PV would be running the final rest stop of the day.
In order to add some pizazz to our duty, the club volunteer coordinators came up with a "Top Gun" theme. We were divided up into "squadrons" based on the route we had chosen and our average pace. Lynne, Jason and I rode together (surprise!) as "Iota Squadron." We would be toward the end of the 70-mile group. In addition to our squadron names, we were each assigned a call name. Lynne was "Betty," Jason was "Tomcat," and I was "Chipper." They told me it was a reference to my cheery disposition, but I knew better.
The ride started at Nike World HQ in Beaverton - about 15 miles from my house in SE Portland. Lynne's house was on the way, so once again we arranged to meet there for the ride in to the start. Our friend Beth was signed up for the 70-mile course, and she spent Saturday night at Lynne's in order to ride in with us. We had to be at Nike by 6:45, and we would first be stopping by Jason's house to fetch him, so I told Lynne to expect me at her house at 5:50. That meant leaving MY house at 4:50. Joy. I had done a long, hot ride on Saturday, and then was not able to sleep much because of the heat, so when my alarm went off at 4:00 I was less than enthused about getting up . . .but get up I did, and after a cool shower I felt much better. I got myself together, saddled up and went over the hill to Lynne's house.
Because we would need to be carrying a lot of extra cargo, I rode Lil' Hw Jr., Lynne rode Bleriot and Jason rode his Sekine. We figured we would have the heaviest bikes in the field. We would also probably be the most comfortable riders in the field.
In my pannier I packed a bunch of extra inner tubes in a few sizes, some patch kits, a multi-tool, baby powder, chamois cream and a small first aid kit. Later on I would add a few filled water bottles.
Just like last year, we spent almost an hour hanging around the parking lot waiting for the ride to start. Although they had tried to group the different course riders separately, so as to allow for staggered starts, everyone got a little too eager and lemminged up to the front, causing a fair bit of kerfuffle. We got stuck in with a lot of 40-mile course riders and so had to do some tricky maneuvering (and a little cross-country riding) to get back with the 70-mile riders. As a result, we were the tail end of the 70-mile group.
It was not nearly as hot as it had been the day before, and we had a slight tailwind. Even though we were pretty loaded down, Jason and I were setting a pretty brisk pace. Mainly because I couldn't control myself and because Jason was feeling competitive. After dropping Lynne a few too many times, we slowed down and rode at a more sensible pace. Lynne wanted to know if we planned on riding like super-heroes much longer and pointed out that we still had a long day ahead of us. Point taken.
The LiveStrong Challenge is notable for two things (at least as far as I am concerned). One, it is IMPOSSIBLE to get lost on the course (at least I thought it was - more about that later) because every turn is marked with very large yellow signs and almost every turn has a volunteer standing at it telling the riders where to go. Two, there is a rest stop every 10 miles. We stopped at the first one, skipped the second one, and stopped at all the rest. We stayed at the last stop for over an hour (again, more on that later). In other words, we spent as much time at rest stops as we did riding.
The 70-mile course was almost the same as last year - from Beaverton we rode out through Hillsboro and Forest Grove to Hagg Lake, around Hagg Lake, back through the outskirts of Hillsboro to North Plains and then back to Beaverton. The only difference was that this year we went around Hagg Lake counter-clockwise, so as to avoid having riders turning left in front of other riders speeding down the hills. This meant, of course, that we started off the Hagg Lake section with a steep climb.
Halfway around Hagg Lake was another rest stop. It had pirates. Last year it had hot soup. This year there was no need for that.
Up to this point, we hadn't really done much "marshaling." We'd told a few folks to "single up" so cars could get past, and I'd told one rider to take out his headphones. He ignored me. He probably couldn't hear me. But on the back side of Hagg Lake we had our first "real" test. A woman had stopped by the side of the road, and was looking quizzically at her tire. Jason stopped to talk to her, and as I rolled up she was showing him a very interesting lump about 1.5 inches long that had developed on her tire. It didn't look good. We decided surgery was required and removed her wheel.
After deflating and removing the inner tube from the tire, I started to run my fingers along the inside of her tire where the lump had been. "Hmm, that feels interesting. Hey, look! Her tire is totally falling apart!" I turned the tire inside out so she could see where the rubber was delaminating from the casing. Needless to say, she was not happy. While we were working on her bike, a Sag Vehicle slowed down to see if we were okay. "Do you have a tire in there?" Nope-they were medical support. They had Power Bars, if we wanted those. Nah. The driver radioed in for a "mechanical" Sag; it would come in about 15 minutes, he said. So we sat down to wait. We figured it wouldn't be cool to leave her to sit all by her lonesome.
About 15 or 20 minutes later, the van appeared. As they loaded her bike on top, we said good-bye and headed out on our way. Just after we left the lake, we came upon our next distressed rider. A man and his wife were standing by the side of the road; she had a flat tire. I could tell just by looking at them as we rode up that they had never changed a flat before. They had no extra tubes, patch kit or tire irons, but strangely enough they did have a CO2 tire inflator. It had been used, and was lying on the ground next to the bike. I am pretty sure they tried to just re-inflate the tire after it went flat. I am also pretty sure that one reason it did not work was the GIANT staple that I pulled out of her tire and tube. While we were helping her, the SRAM support car drove up. I was being particularly inept trying to reinstall new tube and tire, so gladly turned that task over to the mechanic. And we were off once again.
And now, remember how I mentioned a bit earlier that it was IMPOSSIBLE to get lost on this ride? Well, almost. About 5 minutes later, as Lynne, Jason and I slowed to make the next turn, we watched in amazement as a hammerhead passed us and blew right past the turn. The EXTREMELY WELL- MARKED turn. BIG yellow signs and everything. Jason yelled after him "Hey! Do you WANT to be off course?" No response. "Hey! HEY! YOU MISSED THE TURN!" Oh crap. The way the roads go out in that neck of the woods, it could take him miles to figure out what he did wrong. Good thing I'd been reserving some energy, because it was time to sprint. I chased him for about 1/2 a mile. Yelling the whole time. When I finally caught him, I saw why he hadn't heard us. He had on GIANT headphones, and when he pulled them off to find out what I wanted, I could hear heavy metal blasting out. I should have let him get lost. As it was, I gently explained that he had missed the turn, and guided him back. He asked if I was an "official" rider, and I said I was a ride marshal. "What do ride marshals do?" "Oh, you know, help people with flat tires, chase down lost people, TELL THEM NOT TO WEAR HEADPHONES." He so totally did not get it.
Back at the Fern Hill rest stop, we met up with our friend Beth. She was on her way back from Hagg Lake, but was in a lot of pain from an old knee injury. She was determined not to sag, however; and was on her way to get some Bio_Freeze from the medic. I later learned that she ended up having to sag after all, because of heat exhaustion. But she'd at least gotten to Hagg Lake, which was something she had really wanted to accomplish.
In addition to being course marshals, the three of us had volunteered to be "wingmen" ("wingpersons"?). This meant that we would hang out at the final rest stop until all riders had passed the second-to-last rest stop. We would then slowly ride the remaining 10 or so miles with those last rider, to make sure everyone got in okay. The final rest stop also happened to be the one staffed by Portland Velo members, and the club had gone all out to make it the best stop of the day.
There was a garden house for overheated riders to get a quick cool-down, and a kiddie pool filled with ice in which to soak our hot and swollen feet.
We spent at least an hour at the stop, cooling off, chatting with other marshals, and listening to the hilarious Portland Pep Band (big band versions of heavy metal songs). Finally it was time to head out for the last stretch. While we were waiting, however, storm clouds had started to roll in. As I looked toward the West Hills, which I would have to go over to get home, I could see that in some places it was already raining. At this point we were on West Union Road. If I kept going straight, I would be able to get home in less than an hour and a half. If I continued on to the end of the Livestrong course, I knew that it could be much longer than that before I finally made it home. By now, almost all the riders had completed the course, so I knew that I would not be needed for any further marshaling duties. I decided that I should just go home, and told Lynne and Jason that I would be doing so. I gave Lynne my reflective Sam Brown belt (I really wanted to keep it for brevets, but it was not mine to keep) and waved good-bye to them at the turn.
And then it was deja-vu all over again; I was climbing the same hill that I had climbed less than 24 hours earlier. This time it was much cooler however; it was only about 90 degrees, maybe even cooler than that. There were a couple of points near the top of the hill where I felt some rain drops, but it never came to anything. I sped down the hill and through NW Portland toward home. As I entered my neighborhood, I felt the first real drops of rain. Big, fat, heavy drops - the kind you can almost ride in between. I was less than two minutes from home - could I make it without getting wet? I was sheltered by trees until I got to the alley that runs behind my house, and so it was only the last stretch down the alley that I worried about. I turned into the alley, poured it on, and got to my garden gate just as the clouds burst. Exquisite timing on both our parts.