Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It could have been worse, I suppose

It could have snowed . . .



Monday night, November 10 - the message light on my phone is blinking. It's Lynne. "Call me," she says. She doesn't sound happy.

Ring, ring . . . "Hello?" She still doesn't sound happy.

"Hey, Lynne, what's up?"

"Have you seen the weather report? Tomorrow is supposed to be the worst day ever."

"Well, I saw one weather report that said that. But I saw another one that said that WEDNESDAY would be the worst day ever, and that tomorrow would just be, well, wet."

This mattered, you see, because the next day Lynne and I, along with our friend Bill, were scheduled to ride #11 in our series of 12 monthly 200K-plus brevets in our ongoing quest for an R-12. Yep, #11 on 11-11. Nothing like a little numerical alliteration to appeal to the OCD crowd. Not that cyclists have a higher proportion of OCD diagnoses than other groups. Yeah, right. It's a wonder any of us can finish a ride we spend so much time double-checking things.

But I digress. Back to Monday night's conversation.

I really did not want to have to reschedule the ride, because my schedule is pretty complicated these days and it's not like the weather improves as the year gets older. I also really did not want to ride in a monsoon. So as we talked, I surfed around the Net checking the various weather pages. All the ones I looked at guaranteed rain and wind (100% chance of rain, winds of 10-20 mph) but not a LOT of rain and wind. Lynne's websites were more dire. Weather Underground didn't look so bad, though, (don't tell Sarah Palin!) and after much hemming and hawing we decided that we would at least go out to the start and decide then if the weather was too bad to go through with it. After I hung up the phone, Greg asked if we were riding - he couldn't tell which direction the conversation was going. "Oh, we're riding," I said, knowing full well that once we have our gear on we rarely turn back. More brawn than brains, sometimes.

We had chosen the "Prairies and Wetlands" permanent, which starts in Newberg, about 45 minutes (by car) southwest of Portland. As Lynne pointed out, if the more dire weather reports were correct, the "wetlands" part of the route could get interesting. In order to maximize daylight, we decided to start at 6:00 AM. In theory that would mean we would have about 1 hour of darkness at each end. Of course, in theory, the day would not be overcast.

I was up at 3:30, and could hear the rain pounding on the roof. Sigh. But by 4:30 it had slacked off to a drizzle, and it's not like I haven't ridden in drizzle before. So I put the bike in the car, checked that I had all my various water-resistant layers, and headed out the door. As I drove south on the freeway, the rain stopped for a brief period but started up again shortly after I turned off on the exit to Newberg. Not too hard, though. I could still see where I was going. Sort of.

I had discovered on our last ride out of Newberg that the Thriftway there was open 24/7 and that it is has an adequate restroom (which would be more than adequate if it weren't quite so hidden away and if the stalls actually had doors on them, but it's clean and warm, which is more than I can say for many of the blue rooms I've used on rides). It also has a hot chocolate machine, fresh-baked bran muffins and friendly check-out clerks. All told, this makes for a very convenient control. So, as agreed, we met in the public parking lot by the library shortly before 6:00 AM, geared up and headed the few blocks to the Thriftway to get our first receipts and signatures on our cards.

It was dark. It was wet. It was also relatively warm. Almost too warm; we were in danger of getting as soaked from sweat as from rain. I was wearing wool S'mittens under my not-at-all waterproof rain mitts from Mountain Laurel Designs (DIGRESSIVE PSA -- DO NOT BUY THE MLD OVERMITTS - THEY ARE AWFUL) and my fingers, although damp, were toasty. I did have to wring the S'mittens out on occasion, but they never got as heavy or cold as my other winter gloves have in the past.

The first loop of the route was the "Prairie" part - a meandering journey through French and Howell Prairies to Mt. Angel, with a stop at the Gallon House covered bridge, followed by a more direct return across Howell Prairie to Newberg. For the first 40 miles or so we battled not only the rain but a stiff headwind. That's par for the course out on Howell Prairie (or as my friend Ray calls it "HOWL Prairie") - no matter which way you go, it's into the wind. I began to despair of ever seeing a double-digit speed again, and we reached the Mt. Angel control with very little time to spare.

In Mt. Angel we found some shelter out of the wind and rain, and ate our lunch. Bill and I had our traditional PB & J sandwiches on Dave's Killer Bread, and Lynne had something rolled up in a tortilla. She was experimenting to see if tortilla wraps were more easily chewed and digested. I never learned how that experiment turned out.

On our way back to Newberg we were disappointed to realize that the wind that had appeared to be in our face all the way out to Mt. Angel was not at our backs but, rather, more of a crosswind. But at least we were not battling it directly, and our average speed had improved from 11.4 mph to 12.1 mph by the time we reached the midpoint control (once again, the Thriftway). A diet soda, 2 small bananas and some cheap cookies from the bulk bin served as a second lunch, after which we repaired to our cars to refill our water bottles and get dry gloves.

The day was winding on, and we still had 60 miles or so to go; the first six of which were on Highway 99W through Dundee, quite possibly the least-enjoyable section of road on which to cycle in the entire state of Oregon. The road surface is crap, and the traffic is terrible. Add to that the fact that a significant percentage of the drivers on that section of road have been wine "tasting" (more like wine-guzzling), and even on a good weather day it's a treacherous ride. In fact, on a good day it's even MORE treacherous, because the sun brings out more wine drinkers and drivers. Needless to say, I try to ride that stretch as quickly as possible.

We stopped in Dayton for another information control, and then rolled on through Lafayette to the longest single stretch of road on the route - 22 miles on Highway 47. The last time I rode this route, we had a significant headwind on Highway 47; this time we had a tailwind, but not much of one. Highway 47 is a very busy road, and there is not always a lot of shoulder room, but it was not nearly as bad as Highway 99W. We rolled through Carlton, Yamhill and Gaston, past many more wineries; a new one seems to pop up each week. How many bottles of pinot noir can this world accommodate? I was beginning to fantasize about the pizza parlor in Forest Grove. I was also beginning to bonk. This was surprising, because I had been eating and drinking more than usual. I think that fighting the wind and rain was taking more out of me than I had expected. If I didn't get something more substantial than an energy bar to eat soon, I was in danger of fainting. I really hoped the pizza joint would be open.

We were not quite sure where to turn off of Highway 47 to get to downtown Forest Grove, and ended up turning one street too soon. Fortunately, that road ended up connecting with the road we were supposed to be on, and soon enough we were leaning our bikes up against the sheltered window of the open (hurrah!) pizza parlor. We dripped our way in, and my glasses immediately fogged up from the warmth of the ovens. I debated getting two giant slices of pizza, but settled for one pretty big slice, a small salad, and a ginormous sugar cookie, instead. I think I took less than 5 minutes to inhale the entire meal.

We had made up some more time on the 47, and were on track to finish the ride in about 12.5 hours if we could keep the same pace, but it was getting dark and we knew we would ride more slowly in the dark. It was hard to leave the warmth (and dryth) of the restaurant, but we had less than 25 miles to go and had dry clothes waiting for us, so we pulled ourselves up, hauled on our wet gloves, and once again hit the road. The temperatures seemed to have dropped slightly, or maybe it was just because the restaurant had been so warm, but either way I was chilled. Fortunately, the next 25 miles or so involved just enough climbing to warm me back up, without being too arduous.

It was getting darker, and I could no longer see Lynne behind me, so I called out to her to switch her head light on. She had been avoiding using it because the additional drag from the generator hub would slow her down. We had a very slight wind assist, however, so switching it on was not as much of a problem as usual. I had left mine on all day, but I don't notice the drag as much, apparently.

It was raining harder now, and there was a lot of oncoming traffic. Many of the cars refused to turn their brights down for us, and so I was often riding blind. I tried staring down at the white fog line, but sometimes it would be covered in mud or leaves, and then it was hard to know where the edge of the road was. The roads we were on were all familiar from other rides, but I still was hesitant at some intersections. Fortunately, Lynne always had a good sense of where we were. Spring Hill Road seemed to go on forever, and when we finally got to our turn-off onto North Valley Road, there was so much oncoming traffic that I could not see the intersection. So I just stopped and waited for all the cars to go away before moving over for the left turn.

There is a one-lane bridge on North Valley Road, with a stop sign at each end. Vehicles are supposed to stop before crossing the bridge, but I have yet to see a car do so unless oncoming traffic is right on top of it. When we got to the bridge, I could see a car coming in the other direction. It was still quite far from the bridge, and so I started to cross over (after stopping first, of course). I was about halfway across the bridge when the car reached the stop sign on the other side and, of course, continued through - I yelled to the driver to stop and she did, but in the meantime I lost my tire grip on the slippery wooden bed of the bridge and hit the ridge in the middle -- the next thing I knew I was going down hard. I managed to unclip, and I didn't hit my head, but I smacked my elbow. Damn! That hurt!

The good thing is that my bike fell on its pannier side, so it was a little bit cushioned. I scooped myself up and hobbled over to the side. My chain was off, and the derailleur wasn't completely cooperating, but with a little help from Bill I managed to get rolling again. Everything seemed to be in working order. We continued on and very shortly thereafter were working our way through a counter intuitive series of confusing turns that would takes us from the Newberg town limits back to the parking lot where we had left our cars. I know that there has to be a more direct route from Tangen Road to the intersection of Blaine and Hancock Streets, but apparently not a shorter route, and in randonneuring it's always the shortest distance between the controls that counts. So we turned left, and then right, and then left again, and then left again, and voila, we were back to where we started. We hit the Thriftway control one more time - Lynne went through the checkout line with the same checker we'd had for our October perm, who thought we were nuts (they usually do). I, on the other hand, had a checker who did not think we were nuts at all. Of course, he told me that he runs marathons, which I think is nuts.

We'd all brought dry clothes with us, and agreed to repair to the local Burgerville to change and chow down on overpriced but tasty fast food. I monopolized the women's restroom and peeled off layer after layer of wet clothing, and checked my elbow - a small set of scrapes, but nothing to worry much about. No bruising at all (and still no bruising as I write this two days later). Warmer, drier, and more presentable, I ordered my meal and it appeared in extremely short order. I ate it in even shorter order. Sweet potato french fries . . . mmmmmm. I should not have gotten the ice cold soda, though. After drinking it, I developed a set of shakes that required an infusion of hot cocoa to cure.

11 down, one to go. Then I can relax. Until January.

Lynne's report is here

Postscript - there are no pictures because my camera finally died after being dropped from the bike one too many times. I have a new one on order . . .

And yes, I realize that I used a Dylan clip the last time I wrote about riding this route. What's frightening is that I did not realize that I had done so until I went back to read that write-up after I had already finished this one! What can I say; the man is a topical genius.

1 comment:

beth h said...

Monstah.

Please don't tell me you're going to do this all over again in January....?
At least give yourself a month or two off.
Yikes.

You rock.