Sunday, March 22, 2009
Rite of Spring
Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but I am pretty sure my lungs are lying on the road somewhere between Enumclaw and Kent, Washington. "How is that?," you might well ask. Well, I'll tell you . . .
In what could easily become a Spring tradition, this weekend I drove up to the Seattle area to participate in the Seattle International Randonneurs' Spring 200K and Chili Feed. Last year was the first time I rode the course, and I had such a good time despite some incredibly foul weather that I penciled it onto this year's ride calendar as soon as the date was announced. I arranged to take Friday off from work (let's hear it for paid "Personal Business" days!), and made sure my brother would be in town so that I could spend Friday night at his place, so as to make for a less than 1/2 hour drive to the start, rather than the 3 hours it would take to get there from my home in Portland.
Driving to the start of a ride is ever so much more complicated than riding to the start. When I ride to the start, I have to immediately decide what I am going to wear, and then put it on. Driving, I find myself packing clothing for every possible weather contingency, only to leave almost everything in the car when I get there. But I just KNOW that the ONE time I don't bring the thicker gloves or thinner cap is the one time I will really need one or the other. So I pack, and pack, and pack.
There's the bag with the clothes to wear at my brother's house. There's the bag with my bike clothes. There's the bag with my OTHER bike clothes. I have both my Keen cycling sandals and my Pearl Izumi cycling boots. I have my Gore-Tex overshoes, and my Castelli wind booties (which I would not recommend by the way - the soles were shredded after only two rides). Three pairs of wool socks. Thin gloves. Thick gloves. Thicker gloves. Leg warmers. Arm warmers. Chemical hand and foot warmers. Sunglasses. Sun block. Helmet. Batteries. More batteries. Snacks. More snacks.
An additional order of business this time was a trip over to Showers Pass HQ in SE Portland to pick up my stuffed rabbit ride buddy in his new Showers Pass rain jacket.
Some time ago I had blogged about how he had to wear a NY Times bag when all the rest of my rider buddies had Showers Pass jackets. The good people at Showers Pass offered to correct that inequity. I dropped him off at SP HQ for fitting and last week they let me know the jacket was ready. I rushed right over to SP HQ to pick him up, so he could join me for the ride and show off his new duds. At this point the forecast was for light showers throughout the day, so I was glad he was prepared.
After meeting Greg for lunch at BeWon (vegetarian japchae, yum!), I hit the road. It normally takes me about 3 hours to get to my brother's house in North Seattle, but traffic was particularly bad between Olympia and Tacoma, so it took closer to 4 and 1/2 hours. Fortunately, I'd loaded the CD player with Sonic Youth and the time passed in a cloud of happy noise. Once I got to Kevin's house, I was ready to eat again, and we drove over to Judy Fu's Snappy Dragon, so as to continue my pan-Asian eating theme of the day. I devoured an entire plate of Moo Shu Veggies with only some guilt. As my sister-in-law correctly pointed out, at about 10 AM the next morning I would be very glad I'd loaded calories the night before.
As soon as we got back to the house, I thanked Kevin and Tammy for their hospitality, told them I'd see them again in August when I came up for RSVP, and went off to bed. They are getting used to my drive-by (cycle-by?) visits at this point. I set my alarm for 4:30 AM (half an hour LATER than I usually get up, I might add), popped some Valerian, and soon went to sleep. When my alarm went off a few hours later, I lay in bed and listened for the sound of rain on the skylights. All I heard was silence. I breathed a sigh of relief and hit the snooze button. If it was not raining, it would take less time to dress. Eventually I had to get up, though.
Once I got out from under the covers, I realized that it might not be raining, but it was damned cold. I sorted through my bag o' stuff and pulled out my wool knickers, wool camisole, wool jersey, wool knee socks, wool arm warmers, wool cap, full-length leg warmers and thick wool gloves. For shoes, I went with the Keen sandals under booties. I was one big blob of merino by the time I was dressed. Although it was not raining, I put on my jacket for warmth. On top of all that went my new reflective "belt" that I had found at the fitness store next to BeWon.
I hauled the rest of my gear out to the car, where I noted that my left rear tire looked a little, um, flattish. Not flat, but definitely not fully inflated. The night before it has seemed low, and Kevin and I had discussed whether it needed air - I could tell now that air was definitely a necessity. Le sigh. Fortunately, there was an Arco station near Kevin's house with a compressor.
I plopped my 3 quarters into the machine, took the pressure up to 51 psi, crossed my fingers that it would stay there, and hit the road. I stopped at the Starbucks near IKEA for a caffeine infusion -- nasty Tazo tea, but it was all they had that seemed close to drinkable (I hate coffee). At least it was hot. I'd brought a breakfast roll and banana with me from home, and I counted on that combined with the enormous amounts of food I'd eaten the day before to get me as far as the first contrôle. The radio weather forecast was for a cold morning and a sunny day. That cheered me up immensely.
The ride was scheduled to start at 7 AM. I reached the start at about 6:10, and there were already quite a few riders there. As the minutes past, more and more arrived. Nothing like the promise of good weather to bring the riders out in droves. I had been able to register quickly, but there was soon a long line. By the time we rolled out, there were well over 100 riders.
The ride starts off with a 5-mile descent; the steepest of the day, in fact. Because there had not been enough time for the pack to disperse, this made for some very tricky maneuvering as those of us who like to bomb down the hills tried to jockey around the more cautious descenders. Even so, I was able to hit a top speed of 45 mph (had I been alone, I guess I would have maxed out closer to 50). Then it was flat for a mile or so before the climbing began, with a 2-mile slog up Reith Road. By this point, I had fallen in with a fast gang, and I wanted to stay with them. I have some advantage on hills, since I am relatively light (my bike, on the other hand is relatively heavy) and have longish legs. I still had to work to keep up with the group, though, and found myself sucking more cold air than I should have. At the top of the hill I could taste blood in my mouth when I breathed, which is never a good sign, but that passed quickly and I forgot about it. We then proceeded to descend and climb, descend and climb, and descend and climb for another 14 miles or so, as we skirted our way around the Sound to the contrôle at Town Center Market.
It was still chilly, but warming up, so I took this opportunity to change to my medium-weight gloves and eat a banana. A thick fog bank had settled in, but I did not mind that because it meant that there was no wind. It did mean it was a little damp, however, so I left my jacket on. While I was thus engaged in faffing, the fast group with whom I'd been riding took off. Fortunately, a fellow Oregon Rando, Greg Olson, was leaving the contrôle at the same time as I, and he rode with me for the next 20 miles, all the way to the contrôle at the Black Diamond Bakery.
Greg is normally a much faster rider than I, so I have not had much opportunity to ride with him. But he slowed down for me and we had a great time riding together. He regaled me with stories of some of his more hellish riding experiences, which made me question his sanity. Then I remembered some of my more, um, "interesting" rides and decided to stop calling the kettle black.
From the Town Center contrôle to Black Diamond the course was a mix of climbs and flats, with 8-plus mile flat stretch on Green Valley Road followed by a steep little climb just before Black Diamond. About halfway down Green Valley Road, a pace line caught up with Greg and me, and we latched on for the final few miles to the contrôle. By the time we reached Black Diamond, the sun was starting to cut through the fog and I was hot from all that fast riding and hill climbing and I could feel the salt caked on my face from sweat. So I decided it was time to start stripping off layers. I also wanted something to eat. Greg was ready to push on, so he took off without me and I went inside to check out the doughnut selection. On rides I drop all (well, almost all) attempts to be strict about my diet. I had my tofu, but needed to supplement it with grease and sugar. One small doughnut and chocolate milk later, I was ready to go, but not before first engaging in many discussions of my new brass fenders and TRFKAF's new jacket.
At this point, I was a little less than half done with the course and it had taken me less than four and one-half hours. I was on target for a sub-10 hour finish, but I was not making any plans to celebrate that quite yet. The next leg was a long slog uphill to Greenwater, and I knew there would be a headwind coming back down, even though I could swear there was no tailwind at all on the way up. I also knew that my capacity for wasting times at contrôles was still too strong.
From Black Diamond to Greenwater I was alone for the most part. I played leapfrog for a while with a couple on a tandem, but they eventually outpaced me. Because this was an out-and-back leg, I began to see the much faster riders on their return. By my count, there were at least 65 riders ahead of me. Of course, this meant there were 40-some riders behind me. Much better than last year, when I was one of the very last riders to reach Greenwater.
I was very hungry at this point, even though I had been snacking throughout the day. Plus, the sun was very warm. So I pulled out some more snacks and joined other riders basking in the sun like pinnipeds hauled out on raft.
Okay, maybe not quite as blubbery. But definitely basking.
Six ounces of tofu, some organic energy chews, and a candy bar later, I was ready to go. I knew it would be chilly on the descents, so I pulled up the socks and armwarmers that I had rolled down on my way up and turned back the way I had come. Directly into the wind. I swear I had not felt that I was getting ANY wind assist on the way up, but it was certainly pushing back against me on the way down. Ugh. A couple miles later, a group of three riders pace-lined past me, and I latched on. They were all pretty skinny, so did not punch much of a hole, but it was more than I could punch for myself.
They pulled me all the way to the turn onto Mud Mountain Road, at which point they stopped for a "nature break," and I pressed onward. I took my only wrong turn of the day on Mud Mountain Road. To be more precise, I missed a turn. I missed the same turn last year - the cue sheet is a little ambiguous at that point. THIS time, however, I knew that something wasn't quite right AND I had my new GPS with me. So I was able to figure where I needed to go before I clocked too many bonus miles.
There was one more contrôle at the Circle K in Enumclaw, where I wasted a little more time. We had less than 20 miles to go, and I was still on target for a 10-hour finish, which I thought pretty good, considering the terrain of the route. But then the weather stopped cooperating. About 10 miles from the end, it started raining. Not hard, but enough to slow me down. In addition, I had developed a nasty, hacking cough. All that cold air I had sucked in on Reith Road in the morning had done a number on my lungs, and my old friend reactive bronchitis had come to visit. I was beginning to sound like Camille on her deathbed. That, plus two more short but stiff climbs took me past the 10-hour mark, and I ended up finishing in 10 hours, 15 minutes. Even so, it was still daylight and that most of the other riders were still at the post-ride party. Again, a vast difference from last year!
I took a hot shower, changed into my clean clothes, ate a whole lot of food, chatted with a whole lot of people, picked up a new SIR wool jersey (a new shipment had just arrived and Mark had brought them to the ride), and then headed for home. The sun had not yet set, the rain had stopped, and it was a beautiful evening.
If it weren't for the damned cough, it would have been the perfect end to a perfect day.
The rest of my pictures can be found here
Bill Alsup's pictures are here
Preliminary results are here