Sunday, March 29, 2009

Rain? Check. Wind? Check. Cold? Check. Let's go for a bike ride!

The weather report for Saturday, March 28, was less than promising:


Vernonia just happened to be the town our 200 K brevet scheduled for the day centered on. And Vernonia is no stranger to torrential rain.

But I am no stranger to rain, either. Regular readers will have noted that I seem to spend a lot of time riding in the rain. Indeed, if riding in lousy weather were truly as character building as they say, I would be a cast of a thousands by now.

Nevertheless, when I ran into my friend Keith Kohan on Friday morning at the Salem Breakfast on Bikes and he told me that if he woke up to rain on Saturday morning he was not going to ride, I was inclined to agree. I did not "need" this 200, after all; the Seattle ride I did last week satisfied both my need for a March 200 for my second R-12 and for a 200 toward a series. Even so, because the 90% chance of rain meant that there was a 10% chance that it WOULDN'T rain, I went ahead and put all my gear together that night, just in case. Into the regular mix of snacks and supplies, I added a pair of waterproof rain pants, two extra pairs of heavy gloves, and two extra pairs of wool socks. I didn't think I'd need the rain pants - in the past I'd done just fine with full-length leg warmers over my wool knickers and Gore-Tex overshoes over my Keen sandals with wool socks (a combination that had worked to keep my feet completely dry and the rest of me damp but warm on the Snooseville Populaire two weeks ago)--but thought I might as well take them, in case of a deluge.

I woke up to my usual 4 AM hormonal alarm (now I know why my Granny was always up at 4 AM - nothing like a searing hot flash to pop a middle-aged woman out of bed in the morning), and listened for the sound of water dropping on the roof. Silence. So far, so good. I geared up, packed the car for the drive out to Forest Grove--it's still too early in the year for me to tack on a 40-mile ride to the start--ate my traditional pre-ride oatmeal, and headed out. As soon as I reached the freeway, rain drops started to hit my windshield. It was too late, I was committed, there was no turning back. I drove on into the gathering storm.

By the time I reached the start, the raindrops had turned into a persistent heavy drizzle. It still wasn't quite a "real" rain, so I decided not to put on the rain pants from the get-go. It's not really a plot spoiler to tell you now that I would later regret that decision. Because it was pretty chilly, I decided to wear my ski gloves for at least the first few hours. They are not waterproof, but they are very warm even when wet, especially when used in combination with the liners I had actually remembered to bring along. I tossed my other two pairs of gloves (the Ibex Climawools and Descente Wombats) in my gear bag, along with the extra socks.

There was quite a crowd of riders gathering, many of whom I had never seen before. As it would turn out, there were a number of riders for whom this would be their first randonneuring experience. Among the riders I did know was Keith.  Apparently he had not heard any rain on his roof when he woke up, either. Waiting for the signal to start, I overheard a group of riders on plastic, fender-free bikes discuss the chances of their finishing the ride in less than 6 or so hours. [editor's note for hypersensitive riders of non-steel bikes- the description of plastic fender-free bikes is a JOKE] .  Personally, I was hoping for an 11-hour finish. Even though the course was relatively easy, the weather was sure to slow me down.

Once we got started, the group quickly spread out. A combination of poorly timed traffic signals through Forest Grove and a very slight uphill grade for the first 10 miles or so helped to sort the riders out by speed group in short order. As usual, I was somewhere in the middle of the hunt. I rode along with Ray Ogilvie all the way up Highway 8 through Gales Creek to Highway 6 and then to the turn off at Timber Road. I stopped at the turn off to strip off my wool arm warmers, as I was starting to heat up despite the steady hard drizzle. Ray kept on going, but he later stopped for a "fluid exchange" and I passed him by on my way to the summit.

I rode the next 24 miles alone. I could tell that I was getting a significant wind assist on the way to Timber Summit, because my speedometer was not only displaying double digits, it was displaying double digits in the upper teens. Trust me - I cannot ride 19 miles per hour on a 2% incline without some help from the elements. Toward the top of the climb, some streamers tied to a tree were blowing horizontally in the direction I was headed. I tried not to think what this might mean for the return trip.

It had begun to rain a a little harder, and with the wind blowing it the water seemed to be coming up from the road into any opening in my clothes that it could find. My feet began to feel cold, and I could not tell if they were wet or just feeling the wind. My seat (the flesh one, not the bike one) began to feel squishy, and I debated stopping to put on the rain pants. I decided that would be too much of a hassle, and decided to wait until I got to the staffed control in Vernonia to undertake major wardrobe adjustments. And I reminded myself that it could be, and has been, much worse:



I kept repeating to myself, "I'm wet, but I am not cold. I'm wet, but I am not cold." That worked quite well until I began the descent from Timber down to the Highway 26 crossing, at which point my mantra became, "I'm wet, and I am effing freezing. I'm wet, and I am effing freezing." Except, of course, I was not saying "Effing." At the intersection of the Vernonia-Timber Road, I met up with Scott Peterson who had stopped to take care of something but was finishing up just as I came along. He quickly passed me by, however, and I was once again alone. My feet were now quite definitely wet, and my knickers' chamois had developed a really disturbing squishing noise. By the time I reached the contrôle at Anderson Park, I was channeling Mary Jo Kopechne, and it was not a pleasant feeling.

On the Birkie, the Anderson Park contrôle is staffed by volunteers, and for the times I have ridden this course (and last year when I was one of the organizers) there has been an expectation that the organizer will come through with hot drinks and home-baked goods. This year I was pleased to see the tradition continue; Sam and his volunteers provided coffee, hot chocolate, delicious cookies and coffee cake along with the standard bags of chips, nuts and trail mix. There were quite a few riders hanging out in the covered picnic area when I arrived, and more came shortly after. No one seemed in any immense hurry to get back out into the rain.

My primary focus was changing my socks and gloves, and trying to do something about my extremely wet pants. I had not brought an extra pair of shorts, but I stripped off my soaking wet and useless leg warmers, wrung out the knickers and put on the rain pants. I would not be dry, but at least I would be warm. I was so focused on my clothing issues that I almost forgot to get my card signed. If Del had not said something about being available to sign cards, I would have just gone on without it. That would have been bad.

My ski gloves had reached their saturation point, so I pulled out the Clima-Wools and instantly panicked because I simply could NOT get my hands into them. The combination of cold and damp had stripped me of the dexterity I needed just to put on a pair of gloves. Not only that, but my hands appeared to have swollen. Put in pop culture terms, based on those gloves, a jury would have had no choice but to acquit me. Susan France was finally able to help me tug them on, but she questioned what I was going to do if I got a flat tire, or some other problem, that would require me to take them off and put them back on again. "Oh, I said, "if that happens, I'll just kill myself." I was only half-joking. The rain was not showing any signs of letting up, and I knew that if I did get a flat tire or any other mechanical problem, I would be thoroughly miserable.

Once I had adjusted my wardrobe as well as it could be adjusted, I ate a couple more snacks and started off for the next leg up to the Keasey/C. Burns Road info contrôle (same house, same color) and then back to Stoney Point Road to work my way over to the turn-around at the Birkenfeld store. I had company on the way up to the info contrôle and then back to the turnoff onto Stoney Point Road: a woman named Sarah who had never done a brevet before, and another first-timer whose name I never caught. Gary Smith from Richland joined us on that stretch, as well. Gary and I would leapfrog each other off and on as the ride progressed, but he is generally faster than me and so we don't stay together long. As it was, I stopped to take a picture of a curious cow on Stoney Point Road and so was once again alone.

After a few more miles of solo riding (just me, the rain and the sheets of water being flung up at me by passing cars), I came across RB Buschman, who was just about finished fixing a flat tire. He didn't need help, but I stopped to chat and have a snack (any excuse to take a break). RB told me that owner of the house across from which he had stopped to fix the flat had come out to see if he need any help - apparently the guy has a complete bike repair shop in his garage. I made a note of the location for future reference (the bike nailed to his gate was a pretty good landmark). While I was chatting with RB, Joe P. from Seattle rode up. He had been riding alone for so long that he was worried he's taken a wrong turn, so he was happy to see us. Once RB got his wheel centered, the three of us rode on to Birkenfeld together. Did I mention that it was still raining?

There were about 6 or 7 other riders at the Birkenfeld store when we got there, including Ray, who was getting ready to leave. None of us were in any real mood to hang out, so we all quickly took care of basic contrôle business-cards signed, water bottles filled, bathrooms visited--and took off. Ray had waited, so now we were four. Joe was having some energy issues, however, and so he started dropping off behind (entering into his Own Private Idaho, as he out it), so Ray, RB and I pulled ahead of him.

At this point the rain was more of a heavy mist, but there was a lot of standing water on the road, so I was getting a pretty good soaking from below even if what was coming down from above was not so bad. The temperature had started to rise a little, though, so although I was still uncomfortably squishy, I was not cold. We shortly came across Ken Mattina, who was contemplating bailing because he had gotten multiple flats and had run out of tubes. Ray had a tube that would fit Ken's bike, and offered it to him, and then Joe rode up and offered to help him try and discover the source of the punctures (it was also a good excuse to rest and let the calories he's just ingested catch up, he admitted). Between Joe, Ray and RB, Ken seemed to be covered, so I kept plugging along.

The route doubled back to Vernonia for another contrôle; sadly, not a staffed one this time around. I stopped at the gas station just past the bridge into town and got a hot coco and some snack cracker of some sort. I have to admit that I was making all sorts of poor food decisions this day. My second pair of gloves had reached their saturation point, so I pulled out Pair #3, the Wombats. I had held off on these, because they really suck in the rain - they soak up water like sponges and don;t wring out well. But the rain finally seemed to be tapering off, so I decided to chance it.

Gary Smith and Sarah had arrived while I was faffing around at the cocoa machine, and Joe and a few other riders rolled in just as I was leaving. I did not see Ray or RB anywhere, though. No one else left when I did, so I was again alone. As I rode down Main Street on my way out of town, I saw a rider outside the Black Bear Cafe, but could not tell if he was coming or going. A few minutes later, I saw him in my rear view mirror and figured he'd catch up to me (and pass me) shortly. Instead, he paced me for about three miles, until I stopped to take a picture and he caught up. He explained that he had hoped to catch up, because he had ridden alone most of the day and was really craving some company to fend of despair. We introduced ourselves - his name was Adam, he had recently moved to Portland and this was his first organized brevet. He had done distance rides in the past, and had even tried to create his own brevets to get the hang of it. He was enjoying himself, except for the whole drowning in water and despair parts. I could relate.

Adam and I ended up riding the final 33 or so miles back to Forest Grove together. The pleasant company made up for the fact that the weather took a turn for the truly crappy. We had that headwind I had been anticipating ever since the tailwind blew me up to Timber on the way out, and it had started to rain harder than it had all day. The climb back up to Timber Summit was less than pleasant. I stopped at the top to let Adam catch up, but didn't give him much time to rest once he got there because I was in "Just get this over with mode."

All the way up Timber Road, Adam and I had been looking for other riders to catch up with us. Looking down from the top of the switchbacks, we couldn't see anyone. So imagine our surprise when another rider came roaring up behind us shortly after we turned onto Highway 6. It was Sarah. She had had enough of the rain and had moved into full out "sprint for the finish" mode. The three of us stopped at the Glenwood Shell Station for the last contrôle and commiserated. Adam went for the high-fructose corn syrup cola beverage, and I inhaled a Payday bar. I had been starting to get light-headed from calorie depletion on Highway 6--not something I would recommend to the youngsters out there.

And then we were off on the 11-mile home stretch. Sarah clearly had turned on her booster rockets, because she quickly faded into the distance. We could see her red blinky ahead of us for a while but soon even that was gone. Fortunately, the wind was no longer directly in our face, and the road descended ever so slightly, so we were able to keep a pretty good pace. It continued to rain pretty hard; when we passed David Hill Road, I noticed a veritable river running down its pavement. About 3 miles out, I realized that we were on track for a sub-10 hour finish. I figured that if I was going to be working this hard and putting up with such spectacular crappy weather, I should at least "reward" myself with a fast (for me) time. Despite some uncooperative traffic signals, and a "rain pant in the derailleur" moment of terror, I reached the rear door of the Grand Lodge at 4:58. Hurling my bike to the side, I charged into the Rounder Room and threw my card at Sam to sign. Yes, lame and obsessive, I will freely admit it. But dammit, I'd earned that 9:59, and I was not about to let a little water hold me down:

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.

The Big Bag o' Stuff

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.

41 minutes later than usual

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.

Essential Elements

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.

Reflectivity Is A Good Thing

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.

Town Center Foods Control

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 Olson on Green Valley Road

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.

Soaking Up the Sun at Greenwater

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.

Thanks for the Pull!

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!

The Great Rando GraveyardChips, Salsa, and Sweaty Wool JerseysThe Spread

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.

The Drive Home

If it weren't for the damned cough, it would have been the perfect end to a perfect day.

View Interactive Map on

The rest of my pictures can be found here
Bill Alsup's pictures are here
Preliminary results are here

Friday, March 20, 2009

No More NY Times Bags for This Bunny!

Mr. Demille, I'm ready For My Close-Up
Originally uploaded by cecilanne

A while back, I wrote about how TRFKAF was forced to suffer the ignominy of wearing a NY Times bag when it rained, while I and all his buddies had lovely Showers Pass jackets. Well, the wonderful people at Showers Pass took notice, and TRFKAF is now amongst the blessedly dry wearers of eVent jackets. This should come in handy on tomorrow's ride.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rain, I bite my thumb at thee . . . .

Originally uploaded by tangobiker

Yesterday was the Oregon Randonneurs 2009 Season Opener, the annual Snooseville Populaire. It poured rain and howled wind, but I had a good time nonetheless. Adding in my 38-mile round trip ride to the start, and I ended up with an even 100 miles for the day. Okay, 100.03 miles, to be precise . . .

Next up, the Seattle club's "Chili Feed 200K." I am hoping for better weather than last year.