Sunday, October 05, 2008
Bing[en]ing in the Rain
"Hey, Steve, what does the 'R' in 'R-12' stand for, anyway?"
Steve Davis had come down from Tacoma to ride in the annual Bingen Bikenfest 200K as the last brevet in his quest for an R-12, and he was calculating that it had rained for most of the brevets he had done to satisfy the requirement. I am guessing that quite a few of the riders Saturday morning were also working on R-12s. Why else would anyone drive all the way to Bingen, Washington for what was guaranteed to be long, cold and wet day of riding? Well, yes, there was the promise of a beautiful (if difficult) course, but beauty can only get a person so far when drowning while riding is a distinct possibility. To be perfectly honest, were it not for the fact that I was three-quarters of the way toward my own R-12, the sound of the rain that was pounding on my roof when I awoke at 4:00 that morning would have convinced me to pull the covers up over my head and go back to sleep.
But going back to sleep was not an option. I needed a 200K for October, and my schedule is pretty crowded - I could squeeze in a perm if I had to, but an organized brevet would be easier. So I hauled my self out of bed, plugged in the electric kettle for tea, and started sorting through my wet weather riding gear.
I had been following the weather reports for the week, and the forecast was for showers. However, the "showers" were linked to a pretty vigorous storm system, so I was anticipating something a little more persistent. I did not think it would be too cold, but then again when I get wet I get cold. This called for a wool undershirt, wool jersey, leg warmers, heavier shorts, rain pants, arm warmers, fleecy gloves, waterproof over mitts, wools socks and booties. I decided I would still wear the Keen sandals, because what water got in could drain out.
Over it all would go a Showers Pass jacket. A NEW Showers Pass jacket, because my old one managed to slip free from the strap holding it to my pannier somewhere on the ten-mile stretch from my house to my bus stop on my morning commute last Wednesday. I am assuming it was spotted and picked up by another cyclist who recognized it for what it was and figured he or she won the cycling gear lottery. One very expensive telephone call to Team Estrogen later, a new jacket was on its way to me, guaranteed to arrive in time for the brevet. I would not be the only one sporting SP, of course . . .
Lynne was home for a brief break between business trips and needed to squeeze in an October 200 as well, so we arranged to car pool to Bingen, which is about a one and one-half hour drive from Portland. We'd take her van because it would comfortably hold both bikes inside, out of the rain. By 5:45 I was dressed and the bike was ready. I had a bag of dry clothes to change into, and extra socks and gloves in my pannier. I debated bringing my winter rain pants, but decided that they would be too warm. Cue ominous music . . .
It rained pretty hard as we drove east, but the sky SEEMED to be a little less overcast the further east we got. Perhaps it was just wishful thinking, however. When we arrived at the start point we were pleasantly surprised to see that almost everyone who had signed up had shown up. We registered, signed the obligatory "not worth the paper its printed on" waivers, got our brevet cards (John printed them in pink just for Lynne, or so he said) and cue sheets, and faffed around for a few minutes, per usual. Peter Beeson took the time to campaign on behalf of Eric Vigoren's quest for a seat on the RUSA board, and the rest of us took the time to tell Peter that if he sent us one more e-mail about the campaign we would break his legs. Of course, most of us had already voted for Eric anyway . . .
And then we were off. Last year's Bikenfest was a low-elevation, high wind edition; this year John plotted a route that promised a lot more climbing and, maybe, a little less wind. The climbing started early, with a short steep pitch from Bingen to White Salmon less than half a mile into the ride. Nothing like a 9% grade right off the bat to wake you up in the morning. Because climbing steep hills is one of the few things I can do better than many riders, I was at the front of the pack for about a mile, at which point the bigger, stronger men caught up with me and passed me, never to be seen (at least by me) again. It was also at this point where I lost sight of Lynne, who I would not see again until the end of the ride.
The route was, as promised, beautiful. It was also wet. For a while we rode along the White Salmon River, which was quite high from the recent rains. By the end of the day, I assumed it got higher.
It rained intermittently for the first 50 miles or so, but was otherwise uneventful. I was riding with four other randos - Lesli and Tom from Eugene, Paul from Portland and Steve from Tacoma. We were all riding at about the same pace and it was nice to have company. We paused shortly at the first two controls in Glenwood and Trout Lake, but tried to keep moving to stay warm. Occasionally the sun would break through the clouds and we'd start to warm up, but then the drizzle would start again. It never rained hard enough to be disheartening, but I could have done without it nonetheless. At one point Paul and I did see a lovely rainbow, but then the clouds took over again.
The central feature of the route was a 50-mile loop from Trout Lake through the Gifford Pinchot forest. Normally, the roads we followed were probably relatively low-traffic, but it was the first day of black-powder deer hunting season and, apparently, the last day of bow-hunting. Consequently, the woods were filled with potential Bambi killers, and the roads filled with trucks and SUVs carrying the Bambi killers. The woods were also filled with mushroom foragers. All we needed was a little red wine and we could have a venison porcini stew cook-off contest . . . .
Shortly after I left Trout Lake to head into the forest, the rain started in earnest. As we gained elevation, the rain became more insistent and the temperature started to drop. At the top the temperature gauge on my computer registered 42 degrees. I regretted leaving my warmer rain pants at home. It was not so bad while we were climbing, because the exertion warmed us up, but there were quite a few long, steep descents during which the combination of rain and speed made for some extremely chilly moments. Everyone else stopped to make wardrobe adjustments. I was already wearing everything I had brought, and so kept going in the hopes that sooner or later I would reach civilization and its accompanying hot beverage options. Needless to say, I was thrilled to come around a curve halfway through the forest loop and see David Rowe's car, and a canopy set up over a camp stove on which I was pretty sure hot chocolate was being heated.
Sure enough, I pulled up to find David and control-worker Trudy waiting with cookies, cocoa and instant soup. While I waited for the water to heat enough for my cocoa, I change out of my soaking wet socks into a pair of merely damp socks (they'd be soaked through soon enough, but it was nice while it lasted). I still had 50 miles to go, however, and it was getting late, so I gathered myself back together and headed out. There was one more long climb, 10 miles on a beautiful but extremely narrow and not particularly well-paved forest road. The rain had eased up a little and I was feeling pretty perky after the cocoa.
Once again, however, the higher I climbed, the heavier the rain got. In short order I was soaked through and chilled to the bone. Rats. On the other hand, there was very little wind. After the hell that was the Bickleton Plateau on the 600 two weeks earlier, I took quite a bit of pleasure in that. After about an hour more of climbing (which included navigating through some nasty wet gravel patches) I descended to Big Tire Junction and turned left toward Trout Lake. At this point I was fantasizing about more hot cocoa, and pedaled quickly in the hopes that I would reach Trout Lake before the espresso place next to the gas station closed. It was pretty much all downhill at this point, so I made good time.
The espresso joint was still open when I reached Trout Lake, and I quickly procured the cocoa. The woman who served me apologized that she didn't have one of those cardboard "sleeves" to protect my hands from the hot paper cup. "Don't worry about it," I told her, "I am counting on the cup being hot to warm up my hands!" While I was still there, Lesli and Tom rode up and commented that they wanted to eat whatever it was that was being cooked in grease. I would later learn that they spent a significant amount of time there waiting to be served a hot dog. Apparently the waitress forgot to put in the order. Another reason I avoid cooked food on a brevet.
The 25 miles from Trout Lake back to Bingen isn't all downhill, but most of it is. The rain had finally let up, but now the sun was going down and the wind was starting to pick up, so I was still pretty chilled. It occurred to me that my warm dry clothes were in Lynne's car, and Lynne was probably about an hour behind me on the route. Ruh-roh. Oh well, the final control was a pizza restaurant. I supposed I could always try to sneak into the kitchen and stand by the ovens until I dried out.
Like I said, it isn't ALL downhill from Trout Lake to Bingen. From last year I had remembered a steep little climb near Hussum, but I had somehow managed to forget the much longer climb into White Salmon. I had hoped to finish the route by 7:00 PM, but as the minutes ticked by and the road kept going up I realized that it would be close. I finally reached the top and sped down the last hill (the same very steep one we had climbed first thing in the morning) and reached the final control at 7:03 PM, eleven hours and three minutes into the ride. As soon as I smelled the pizza, I realized that I was STARVING. They hadn't gotten the veggie pizza yet, but that was okay, because it turned out that Lynne had given John her car keys so that I could get my clothes from her car if I arrived at the end before she did. By the time I had gone to the car, gotten my clothes, and changed the pizza would be ready. So I followed John out to his car to get the keys.
At that very moment, David Rowe drove up, with Lynne in his car! Lynne, a DNF? Ruh-roh! Something bad must have happened, I thought, and hurried over to find out what was up. David explained that Lynne was caught in a cloudburst at peak elevation and was so chilled on the descent that by the time she got to his hot cocoa control she'd developed a case of uncontrollable shivers and shakes. They'd tried to thaw her out enough to finish the ride, but it didn't work. She very reluctantly, but very wisely, decided to call it a day. So she and I went back to her car together, changed into our dry clothes and headed back to the restaurant for hot pizza. Lynne wasn't hungry, but I ate five pieces. Urp.
And how did it feel to be done? Well, I'll let Tom Waits answer that question . . .
More photos here