. . . or, The Longer the Ride, The Longer It Takes Me to Write a Ride Report
A couple of weeks ago I rode the Oregon Randonneurs' "Covered Bridges" 400K. This was the third in a series of increasing long rides that that I must complete to qualify for the Gold Rush Randonnee in July. A number of other riders are also planning on riding in the Gold Rush, and the weather forecast for the day was favorable, so a pretty large group of riders showed up at the start. I had ridden the course last year, but as a workers' pre-ride, and I was hoping to improve on my time. Last year, I took almost 26 hours to finish; this year I hoped to be done well before the 24-hour mark.
After two weeks of unusually unsettled and wet weather, including a spectacular storm the previous weekend that had forced our pre-riders to abort their mission, the skies were completely clear and, despite the early morning chill, the forecast was for a sunny albeit breezy day. After so many months of rain-soaked brevets and permanents, I was reveling in the fact that I did not have to pack rain gear. For one thing, it meant I had more room for Scooby-snacks.
As I waited for the signal to roll, I surveyed the field of riders. The only other women were my friends Peg and Lesli, a couple of hardcore randonneuses fresh from a stint in Rando Hell. I knew most of the other riders, as well, and knew that they would all set a much faster pace on the course than I. In other words, it was clear to me from the get-go that I would be spending most of the day (if not all) riding alone. I have noticed that, at least in my admittedly limited experience, the longer a brevet course gets, the fewer "slower" riders show up. Even though the time allotment is in theory sufficient for even a plodding rider to complete the course on time, in practice it seems only the fast riders show up for anything longer than a 300K. Well, the fast riders and me. Hence my knowledge that I would be riding alone.
With the group start, I got swept up in the pack. I managed to keep pace with the lead riders for about 6 miles, at which point they dumped me like a bag full of unwanted kittens. The last I saw of them, they were riding off into the morning mist somewhere around Champoeg State Park.
I poodled along on my own, stopping for a few minutes to visit with some donkeys,
and stopping again to get some more water at the Gervais Market. While I was at the market, three more randos passed by; once I was pedaling again I quickly caught up with them. The four of us would play bicycle leapfrog for the next 12 hours our so, until they would finally leave me behind just south of Coburg.
The Covered Bridge route is billed as relatively flat. "Relatively" being the operative term. Compared to the upcoming 600XTR, the 400's course was flatter than the flattest pancake. But with close to 8000 vertical feet of elevation gain over a distance of just about 250 miles, there was still a decent amount of climbing involved. And some of that climbing was not trivial. 48 miles into the day, we had to tackle Cole School Road--home of one of the most wicked sets of rollers I've ever dealt with. At least this time I did not have to walk my bike the last 200 feet of the second roller (which tops out at an 18% grade). It helped that I was not carrying a ten-pound U-Lock in my pannier like I was the first time I attempted the climb.
As should be obvious from the name of the event, its central feature is a tour of various covered bridges, most of which are in the vicinity of Scio (Sigh-Oh), the "Covered Bridge Capital of the West." Each bridge was an "information" contrôle point, whch meant stopping at each one to answer a question on our brevet cards. Setting up the information contrôles is one of the tasks on the workers' ride, and the time I spent arguing with my friend Andrew about the color and number of zip-ties to use at each bridge was one of the reasons we took so long to complete the ride last year. This year I only had to answer the question, so my time at each bridge contrôle was much shorter. I still took the time to take a picture of each bridge, but they all started to look the same after a while.
After circling around Scio for a while to take in the bridges, our course took us south. Near the Crawfordsville Bridge, I realized that my cue sheet, which I had downloaded from the OrRando website the night before, was missing at least one line. I have noticed in the past that, when printing the Excel files that some of the websites cuesheets are on, lines get dropped at the end of pages. I still have not figured out if the problem is with my printer or the spreadsheet. In any event, I was standing at the intersection of Crawfordsville Dr. and SR-228 trying to figure out why the mileage legs looked funny, when a rider coming from the other direction (not a randonneur, just a guy out for a ride) stopped and asked if I was with "those other riders that took a right turn up on Brush Creek." Ah! Why, yes - yes, I am! Whew. Thus reoriented, I pedalled off, turn right and began the long (7-mile) climb to Marcola Summit and then on to Donna, a town which inevitably brings out the Berger in me . . . . fortunately no one was around to hear me singing on my way up the hill . . .
The southernmost point of the course was the contrôle at the Mohawk Post Store. When I arrived, two of the other three riders with whom I had been leapfrogging all day were there already, and the third arrived shortly after. I was pretty hungry at this point, and so took a little extra time to eat. I also took time to change into fresh shorts. I have learned that no matter how good my shorts are, after about 125 miles I really, really, want a new pair. Fed and refreshed, both nutritionally and dermatologically, I set off once more, but stopped almost immediately to take the aspirin that I had been contemplating taking for the last hour, but managed to forget to take while I was stopped at the store. While I was stopped, one of the three leapfroggers (Ken, I think) passed me. That was the last I saw of him. The other two would pass me in Coburg, when I stopped to use the blue room outside the market there.
After Coburg, I was truly riding alone. I had lost sight of the riders ahead of me and, as far as I knew, there was no one behind me. I would later learn that Peg and Lesli were back there somewhere, but I had assumed all day that they had passed me in the morning when I stopped in Gervais. I was still setting quite a good pace for myself, however. My average speed was near 15 mph, and I was on course for a 20-hour finish. There was a slight headwind, but I knew that it would calm down after the sun set. I also knew, however, that I would slow down as the night progressed. I had no illusions that I would actually finish in 20 hours. But it was a nice fantasy while it lasted.
The stretch between Coburg and Independence was by far the most difficult part of the ride for me. There were some very long and monotonous stretches of road (almost 20 miles on Peoria Road alone), and I was getting sleepy. Once the sun set, my brain went into bedtime mode, and on Buena Vista Road I had to resort to slapping myself in the face to stay awake . Even though I felt like I was still in control, I could see from the way my headlight beams were weaving back and forth that I clearly was not. At that point I had to stop and lie down on the side of the road for a few minutes, just to regain some stability.
I got my second wind on River Road in Salem, about 40 miles from the finish. I'd stopped at the Plain Pantry, and the clerk told me that another rider had just left about 15 minutes before I arrived. From his description, I knew it was Ray O. I drank some hot cocoa and pushed off for the final leg. I did not think I would actually catch up to Ray, but I figured it was worth a try.
Salem at midnight is, um, interesting. Even though I work there, I don't think I've ever been in town later than 7 PM (not counting the night I slept at the office because I was finishing a brief - I did not leave the building then). Downtown was surprisingly busy, and everyone I saw was drunk. I was more than happy to pass through, and then to pass through Keizer, and get back to the loneliness of River Road.
Shortly after leaving Keizer, I caught up with Ray. We chatted for a while, and then I pulled ahead. A few miles later, I caught up with Steve Davis. He was obviously tired, more tired than I, but still pedalling strongly. He thought I was Peg, and asked how Hell Week had gone. He was the third rider of the day to think I was Peg. All three were Seattle-based riders; you'd think they'd know what Peg looked like by now. Anyway, Steve and I rode together all the way to Newberg, chatting about R-12s and other signs of obsessiveness. Steve is working on what he calls a "Double R-12," which is at least TWO 200K randonnees per month.
At 2:14 AM, Steve and I rolled into the finish at the Travelodge, where Michael Rasmussen was waiting for us. He had just gotten back from driving out to Salem and back to check our progress, and told us that Ray, Peg and Lesli were not far behind. I scarfed down some pretzels, chugged a Diet Coke, took a shower, and headed for home. In retrospect, I probably should have taken a short nap before driving, but I got home safely despite the impairment of sleep deprivation.
Next up, the 600 XTR. Who knows, I may even post a report for that ride sometime before next year.
The rest of my pictures are here.