Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Year in Cycling

Well, it's New Year's Eve, and it's pouring rain, so I think it is safe to say that I have done all the riding I am going to do in 2009. Thus, it's retrospective time, complete with ridiculous statistics.

This was the year in which I set myself a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal, for those readers fortunate enough to have avoided attended the kinds of meetings where people talk about "stakeholders" and "envisioned futures"). Anyhoo, my BHAG was the Gold Rush Randonée, a 1200 km painfest held every four years in Northern California. I met that goal, and it damn near killed me. Whether it made me stronger is still up for debate.

This is what else I did:

Miles ridden: 9407
Hours in the saddle: 717-ish
RUSA Awards: Super Randonneur; 5000 km distance; R-12
Calories Burned: I have no idea
Calories Ingested: Again, I have no idea, but enough to gain 8 pounds despite all that riding

Here's to 2010, and not living up to past accomplishments . . . .

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

And Miles To Go Before I Sleep

It started, as most things seem to do these days, with a Facebook status update: "Sunday night Solstice Ride ... Redmond-North Bend-Leschi-Redmond. Ride all night to greet the winter solstice on Monday morning. How could anyone pass that up? Like Mark says - 'Leave good sense at home. Won't be helpful.'"

I had already planned to take a vacation day on Monday and never being one to pass up on a bike ride, especially one that involves leaving my good sense at home, I immediately signed on. As it was, I not only left my good sense at home, but I bound it with duct tape and chains and locked it in the basement.

The plan was to begin riding at 9:00 PM. Redmond is a good three-hour drive from my Portland home, and I would need some faffing time once there, so I figured I would need to leave home by 5:00 PM. We had tickets to a holiday concert on Sunday afternoon, but I figured it would be over by 4:00, leaving me plenty of time to make myself a good pre-drive, pre-ride dinner, load the bike in the car and get going. I spent Saturday afternoon cleaning and prepping my bike -- an astonishing amount of road grit had built up inside the fenders --and packing gear bags. I went to bed at about 10:00 PM, and woke up at 2:30 AM. I lay in bed for three hours before giving up on getting back to sleep. I should have taken it as a portent, but instead I just got up and started to do chores. Sleep deficit, thy name is rando.

The concert was scheduled to begin at 2:00 PM, but it was 2:15 before the Chorus took the stage. The late start, a longer-than-usual program, and a whole lot of speechifying meant that we did not leave the venue until after 4:30. Cripes. By the time I got home and packed the car, I was able only to choke down a cup of left-over plain couscous. Not exactly fortifying. I promised myself I would stop somewhere along the way to Redmond for a "real" dinner. That, of course, was not destined to happen. But you, dear reader, knew that. After all, what news value would there be to my telling you about how I prepared for a bike ride by getting ample sleep and sufficient fuel? On second thought, I guess that would be newsworthy in a "man bites dog" sort of way, wouldn't it?

The drive to Redmond was uneventful, but slow. I had budgeted three hours, but the rain had other plans for me and I arrived at the designated start (Peet's Coffee, near Whole Foods) a little before 8:30, not having any chance to stop for food along the way. Five or six riders were already inside the shop enjoying hot drinks, and more arrived as I was gathering my gear from my car. I was starving, so I trotted over to Whole Foods and snagged the first suitable portable edibles I could find: a banana and two vegan doughnuts. Back at Peet's I asked the barista to put some hot water in my thermos and made some tea, to which I added some Gatorade powder. By this time the rest of the riders had arrived. I never made an official count, but I think we started with 14, maybe 13.

Our friend Vincent was running late, so we faffed around outside the coffee shop for a while waiting for him, remarking on the fact that it was not actually raining on us at that moment and wondering if the dry break would last. I felt a little chilled as we were standing around, and I began to worry that I had not worn enough layers. Oh well, there was not much I could do about it at that point.

Randos at the Start

Vincent finally arrived and we took off as a group a few minutes after 9:00 PM. All the Seattle riders seemed familiar with the route, so my goal was to try to keep up with at least one other rider so that I would not have to resort to trying to read my cue sheet in the dark. At first this was not a problem, as we rode on some flat city streets. Our pack began to split up, however, as we started with a grinding climb up through Redmond Ridge (at least I think that's what it is called) to Novelty Hill Road. The stronger riders surged on ahead. I did my best to keep up, but the bandanna I'd put on under my helmet started to slip down my forehead, threatening to obliterate whatever slight vision I had, so I had to stop to make adjustments.

As we started down Novelty Hill, I glimpsed a traffic sign that appeared to state that there was a 15% grade. I told myself "Naw, it said 5%, not 15% - 15% would be SILLY," and settled in to enjoy a nice, fast, 5% descent, passing some of the other riders who appeared to be more cautious about hills. As I sped past Mark Thomas, he called out to me that the road could be pretty steep.

Boy, was it. Let's just say it's a VERY, VERY good thing that I had taken the time on Saturday top replace my worn-out rear brake pads. Not only was it steep, but there were some nifty tight hairpins. It would be a tough descent on a dry, daylight ride; on wet night, it was a jaw (and other parts) clincher. Even with working brakes, I came very close to running off the edge of the road more than once. When I finally reached the bottom, I turned to Mark and said, "So, that sign back there really did say '15%,' didn't it?" "Yep."

It was raining again by this time, and I realized that not being able to read my cue sheet was going to be the least of my problems. My glasses were fogged from my exertions and also covered with rain drops, and the refraction of the lights on our bicycles and bodies was practically hallucinatory.

I was also feeling particularly poorly fueled. In my bag I had a few boiled potatoes, a small amount of smoked tofu, the doughnuts and an energy bar, but none of that appealed to me. I was regretting not having stopped somewhere for a pre-ride burrito. It is not a good sign when less than 10 miles into a ride I am already bonking.

The first thirty miles took us through what I think were farmlands (I could smell manure) and up to Snoqualmie Falls (I could hear the rushing water). By the time I reached the Falls I had been dropped by all but one of the group -- Steve Davis was just ahead of me, and he must have been reading my mind, because he pulled over for a rest at the lookout. I happily joined him, pulled out a doughnut and practically inhaled it. We were less than ten miles from a grocery store control in North Bend, but at the pace I was riding, that 10 miles was going to take close to an hour.

After a few minutes of rest and another half a doughnut, I was ready to move on. Steve told me that he had just ridden this part of the route the other day, but that there was a tricky point where we might miss a turn. Sure enough, we missed it, but realized that we had before it was too late (right after we missed the turn, we started going downhill-- have you ever noticed that whenever you go the wrong way on a bike, going back requires going uphill?). Anyway, we were quickly back on route and eventually found our way to the North Bend QFC, where I got a banana and a Diet Coke, which I promptly forgot to drink. My receipt showed my arrival time as 12:01 AM. Everyone else was back by the (closed) coffee station, dripping. It would play out thusly for the rest of the night. The fast riders would reach a control and stand around waiting for the slower riders (um, that would be me) to show up. We would all then start out on the next leg, I would fall behind and meet up with them again at the next control. Kind of like a big Slinky made out of people and bikes. I was never completely alone, however. The aforementioned Steve rode with me for a while, as did my new pals Dan and Dominique.

From North Bend, we wended our way through Snoqualmie, Fall City, and Issaquah to the next control in Newcastle. It had stopped raining (briefly) and I was warming up. All the trees in the town parks had been strung with holiday lights, and it made for some quite beautiful sights, none of which I took a picture of. Dominique played tour guide for me, explaining that this used to be a big coal mining region (hence naming a town Newcastle). I bought yet another banana and ate some potatoes. I still had some hot tea, which was quite welcome. Indeed, other riders were coveting my thermal bottle.

From Newcastle we rode to Maple Valley, where there was an info control. About 5 miles from the control I bonked big-time. Dan and Lyn were ahead of me, and I called out to them to keep going, I was just stopping for a snack. Dan stayed to wait for me, anyway. In addition to the bonk, my lungs were starting to act up and I developed a hacking cough. I was also having difficulty swallowing. The result was that great deal of smoked tofu ended up being sprayed onto the road instead of getting to my tummy. It occurred to me that I had forgotten to take my preemptive Benadryl. This was not good. I have noted that ever since the Gold Rush, my bizarre allergic reaction to exertion has manifested earlier and earlier into a ride. Fortunately, I had some Benadryl with me. When I got to the Maple Valley control, I took some (after Dominique opened the pill box for me, since my cold and wet fingers were not working properly).

I had assumed that everyone else had reached the Maple Valley control before me, but we quickly realized that Lyn was nowhere to be seen. Vincent, Dominique and Robin volunteered to backtrack and look for her. It turned out that she'd flatted not far from where I had bonked; Dan and I must have ridden right past her without realizing it (sorry, Lyn!!). Vincent reported back (cell phones - concept!) that they were fixing the flat and would soon rejoin us. The rest of us decided that we should take off, because we were all starting to shiver a little (or a lot). We figured, correctly, that they would catch up to us once Lyn had two working tires.

At Maple Valley we crossed onto the first of two multi-use paths on the route. This one was the Cedar River Trail, a lovely, wide, well-paved and, at 3:00 AM, empty path that we would follow for just over 10 miles to Renton. From Renton we made our way north along Lake Washington toward the next control in the Leschi neighborhood of Seattle. I was bonking again, and wondering how I was going to find another 30 miles in my legs. The sky was beginning to lighten, but the rain kept coming back to remind me that I was miserable (in that happy miserable way that can only be understood by other randos). I am thinking that on a warm, sunny day, the scenery would have been very nice. All I really remember is a lot of gray.

The Leschi control was a Starbucks. I really, really wanted to take a nap. Instead, I drank TWO large soy cocoas and gnawed on a surprisingly tasty eight-grain roll (after asking the counter guy to let me read the ingredients list). As I ate, I eavesdropped on the conversation of two extremely conservative middle-aged men sitting at the next table. Actually, "eavesdropping" would suggest that I had to make an effort to hear them. That would not be the case. They were talking loudly enough for everyone to hear. Their topic of choice: how pleased they were that health care reform might not pass. They do not know how lucky they were that I was too tired to lift my cup of cocoa high enough to accidentally spill it on them. Plus, I couldn't spare the calories.

All to soon it was time to go. Dominique had started from Leschi the night before, and so he split off. Something about a dental appointment. The rest of us swarmed through back streets and alleys toward UW, at which point we picked up the Burke-Gilman Trail, our second MUP of the ride. I was very grateful that Geoff S., the ride's organizer (instigator?), stayed with me to give me turn-by-turn instructions. Otherwise I would have gotten hopelessly lost. Once on the BGT, I began to recognize some landmarks from my past RSVP rides. I realized at one point that I was less then a mile from my brother's house. I fought back the temptation to detour for a nap. The rain was alternating between mist and downpour, but lightening up more and more as time passed. We began to pass, and be passed by, bike commuters. many looking quite grim. At one point we were overtaken by a guy on a training ride who was anxious to get past our little peleton. Robin and Vincent decided to chase him down, just for the heck of it. They gave him a good run for his money until, BAM!, Vincent's rear tire decided it was not interested in racing anymore. Fortunately, he had a spare tire with him.

Vincent and Robin

It was still raining, so it took a little longer to change than otherwise. I didn't mind, I needed the rest. We stood around and supervised the tire change, and took the opportunity to wring out our soggy garments. It occurred to us that perhaps there was a use for all that stored water.

Now, THAT'S Rando

No. He did not drink it. Then again, no one double-dog dared him to, either.

And then we were off once again, this time cutting over to the Lake Sammammish Trail (not to be confused with Lake Sam-I-Am-ish, where they stock the green eggs and salmon), which would take us back to the start in Redmond. Toward the end, we detoured around some road construction, which resulted in cutting off some distance. Consequently, we later took an extremely random circuit around the shopping center while Geoff watched his odometer. Finally, 12 hours and 19 minutes after we started the ride, we returned to our point of departure. I am sure the Peet's Coffee employees were overjoyed to see a dozen or so soaking wet cyclists slosh into their shop; even more so when they saw what their restroom looked like after we used all the paper towels to dry ourselves off.

I was beat. I was also starving. I had made arrangements to meet my brother for breakfast at a vegan cafe he had found near his house. I changed into my dry clothes, loaded the bike in the car and called Kev to let him know I'd be at the restaurant in about 30 minutes. He and I pulled up in front of the place at exactly the same time - a weird sort of sibling connection at work once again. I had the "Seitan on a Shingle": herb biscuits with sauteed seitan and mushroom gravy. It was fabulous! All too soon it was time for me to start the long drive home. I was pretty tired, but felt alert enough. Nevertheless, I found that I had to slap myself hard on the face repeatedly to complete the stretch from Tacoma to Olympia without passing out. From there on, I stopped at every rest stop, got out of the car and did jumping jacks to wake myself up. I finally reached home at about 2:30 PM. Greg helped me unload the car, because I was pretty much useless. I stumbled to the bedroom, crawled under the covers and passed out. Three hours later, I got up and made dinner--pasta with broccolie raab and soyrizo followed by TWO pieces of cake -- and then passed out again. Two days later, my wet clothes are still in a pile on the bathroom floor, and I am preparing the bike for another ride. This time only 100 kilometers, though. During the day. Without rain.

Happy Solstice, Everyone - from now on the days can only get longer, sunnier and drier!

My First, and Perhaps Last, 1200 km Medal

Evidence of My Participation
Originally uploaded by cecilanne

I am trying to finish my blog post about my very wet Solstice Ride, but in the meantime you can enjoy this picture of the medal I earned for completing the Gold Rush Randonnée in July. The medal arrived yesterday, along with my completed brevet card. Was it worth a trip to the emergency room? Oddly, yes.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Blow, Winds, and Crack Your Cheeks!

I am not sure which of we two was the Mad King, and which the Fool, but on Sunday last my friend Vincent Muoneke and I demonstrated that neither of us has the common sense that the gods gave a goose. Naturally enough, our folly involved a bike ride. This time it was 202 kilometers in sub-freezing temperatures and gale force winds. Okay, maybe not gale force, but strong enough to knock me across the road more than once, and steady enough to drop the wind chill down to the low teens for the entire day. That may be old news to randonneurs in Saskatchewan, but we Pacific Northwesterners are more used to being waterlogged than frostbitten. For those who care, here is how the story unfolded.

As regular readers will know, I have been chasing my second consecutive R-12. I needed one more - December's - to complete the streak. My calendar being a bit crowded these days, it appeared that the 6th was going to be the only day in which I could afford to be on the road for 12 or so hours. So I e-mailed a few friends to see if they would join me. In addition to Vincent, Joanne H., Elise R., Ray O., Ken M. all signed on, and so it looked to be quite a party.

This time of year the weather is less than predictable. Not that PNW weather is ever completely predictable. At the beginning of the week, the forecast was for partly cloudy skies, with temperatures in the low 30s. Not bad. As the week progressed, however, the meteorologists started muttering things about "arctic cold fronts" and "Canadian wind chills." Weather Underground forecast steady NE winds of 15 mph, with occasional gusts of 25 mph plus. I started inventorying my wool layers. Luckily, the annual Bike Craft show was being held on Saturday, and I was able to pick up a new pair of S'Mittens from Natalie and a matching pair of Helmuffs.

When I woke up at 4:00 on Sunday morning, I could hear the wind whooshing through the cedars in my back yard. I looked out the window to see them bending in the wind. Mind you, these are ENORMOUS cedars. If they were bending, then I can guarantee the wind was stiffer than 15 mph. I checked the thermometer outside the kitchen window. 27 degrees. Nice. I ate an extra serving of oatmeal, and filled my thermal carafe (fits in a bottle cage!) with a mix of hot tea and Gatorade powder.

Life Saver

I then proceeded to dress myself for a bike ride of Shackletonian proportions. Starting from my toes and heading upward:

Wool socks
chemical toe warmers
Pearl Izumi Gore-Tex winter boots
Ibex wool knickers
GoreWear leg warmers
Shebeest capris
Ibex wool camisole
Icebreaker L/S wool undershirt
S/S wool jersey (felted)
L/S Craft winter jacket
Bontrager wind vest
Specialized "Equinox" gloves
Wool S'Mittens
chemical hand warmers
Smartwool beanie
Wool helmuffs

It's a wonder I was able to move my limbs freely enough to walk, let alone ride my bike.

Having suited up, there was nothing left to do but load the car and head for the ride start in Newberg. I had chosen the "Three Prairies" permanent route, which is usually a pretty safe bet for a winter ride. It is a double-loop course with very little elevation gain, and the roads are familiar to me. Unfortunately, because it is on the flats of the Willamette Valley, it is not the best route choice when the wind is up. And the wind was most definitely up. I could feel it buffeting my little car as I drove south.

We planned to start riding at 7:00. I got to Newberg by 6:30, and saw two trucks in the parking lot with bicycles in the back. One was Ray's, and I guessed the other one was Vincent's. I could see Ray sitting in the front seat of his truck, but there was no sign of Vincent. I got out of my car and walked over toward his truck, and saw through the rear window a form huddled in the back seat. He was taking a nap. He told me later that he had done the same thing a few hours earlier in a rest stop near Winlock.

It was freaking freezing, so after saying "Hi" to Ray, I got back in my car to try to warm up. I took the opportunity to install my chemical digit warmers, not that I was too optimistic that they would work. It felt about 5 degrees colder in Newberg than it had been in Portland. I drank some tea. That helped. I had brought a heavy wool sweater with me to put on after the ride, and decided that perhaps I should bring it along, so I bungee-strapped to my rear rack.

A few minutes later, Joanne drove up. She got out of her van, walked over and said, "I'm not riding in this." Elise had already bailed, and Joanne did not want to fight the wind. Ken did not show, and Ray began to equivocate about riding, as well. He made it as far the Thriftway on 1st Street, our traditional opening contrôle (a distance of 4 blocks), before deciding that he was not going to ride after all. And so it was down to me and Vincent. Well, that's one more than has been on my last few rides, and I was happy for the company.

I was also happy that my company was Vincent, who is living proof that there are people crazier than I. You question that? Well, consider this: the day before our ride, Vincent had ridden an icy 200K in Seattle with quite a few certifiable SIR members, and less than a week before that he was riding a 1200K in freaking AUSTRALIA. The jet lag alone would have kept me from riding in perfect weather, never mind the gale that we were setting off into this day.

Despite the sub-freezing temperatures (25 degrees at 7:00), the first segment of the ride was surpisingly pleasant, because the wind was at our backs. We rode southwest out of Newberg through the Red Prairie to Dallas, passing through Dayton (stopping briefly at the weigh station outside of Dayton to weigh ourselves on the truck scales), Amity and Perrydale along the way.

Our average speed from Newberg to Dallas was well over 18 mph, even though this was the section with the most climbing (fabulous rollers between Perrydale and Dallas!). We made it to Dallas so early that they were still serving breakfast at McDonald's, where we stopped to get receipts and nourishment. Vincent astonished me by drinking a milkshake. Brr.

Milkshake #1

I augmented my peanut butter sandwich with some hash browns, thus demonstrating why I do not lose weight on bike rides.

Healthy, Meet Not So Healthy

We spent more time than we should have at the Dallas contrôle, and our core temperatures that had been so nicely raised by cycling had dropped. In addition, we were now turning into the wind for the return trip to Newberg. What a difference! Not only we were suddenly riding much more slowly (single-digit speeds), but the wind chill was almost intolerable. Both Vincent and I suffer from Raynaud's phenomenon (primary), and the cold wind on our hands quickly became painful. My hands eventually became numb, making shifting and braking difficult. I prefer the numbness to the pain, however. For most of the trip back to Newberg, the wind was directly in our face. But every once in a while we would hit it crosswise. More than once a cross gust blasted me into the traffic lanes. Fortunately, traffic was light. We stopped for a few minutes in Amity to catch our breath and get out of the wind; in protected spots, the sun was quite warm, even if the air was chilly.

We got back to Newberg at about 13:30. I usually use the Thriftway as my Newberg contrôle, but Vincent voiced a preference for a "sit-down" restaurant. The Coffee Cottage is very nice, but it is a time-sucking vortex, so we settled on the Dairy Queen (don't tell Rickey that I was in a DQ!). Vincent got another milkshake, and I got french fries to go along with the other half of my peanut butter sandwich. We were a little worried about our time, because the winds had depressed our speeds so much, so after a shorter rest than we would have like we saddled up for the second loop, which would take us out through the French and Howell Prairies to Mt. Angel and back.

I had thought that we would still be riding into the wind on the way to Mt. Angel, and so was pleasantly surprised to find that we had a tailwind from Newberg until well past Champoeg. At least the surprise was pleasant until I realized that meant that we would be riding into the wind on the way back. In the dark. In colder temperatures. Rats. But we were over 70 miles into the ride, and I was not about to give up. Vincent was inspiring. He had to have been exhausted, yet he kept plugging alone. Indeed, the fact that he was exhausted was the only thing that allowed me to stay with him. He is normally a much faster rider than I am on the flats (I can beat him up a hill, but only because he outweighs me by 70 pounds- at last according to the truck scale).

With the help of the wind, we made it to Mt. Angel by 16:00. The sun was starting to set, and the temperature was dropping. Vincent switched from milkshakes to hot chocolate, and I inhaled a bag of Fritos. The Mt. Angel market has a large Hispanic clientele, and had a number of snack chips in flavors that I had not seen before. But I'd already had my Fritos and could not justify trying the Sabritones con chile y limón.

The sun went down while we dilly-dallied in Mt. Angel, and the temperature plummeted. I pulled on my wool sweater under my reflective vest (which barely zipped up over all my layers) and inserted a new set of warmers in between my gloves and S'Mittens. Once again we were off into the wind. I tried to breath through my nose as much as possible, but my lungs were beginning to react to the cold and I developed an unpleasant hacking cough. My hands began to hurt again, and then became numb. They would be numb for the rest of the trip. Whenever I wanted to shift, I had to look down to make sure that my fingers were actually on the shifter and moving. I was worried that I might push too hard and end up riding a fixie.

The last 28 miles were brutal. Vincent and I rode in silence, concentrating our energies on staying warm and staying awake. The miles clicked by ever so slowly, and all I could think about was how happy I would be to see my car. We rolled into Newberg just before 19:00, and made our way past houses brightly lit with holiday lights to the Thriftway. Vincent's hands were killing him, and so we sat inside the warm store for a while, chatting about how cold and tired we were. But happy, too.

Indeed, I was ecstatic. Another R-12 was in the bag, and I could take a rest for a while.