("Geez, Cecil, could you be a little MORE heavy handed with the foreshadowing?"
"Hmm, I don't think so, no.")
Anyhoo, as I was saying, it seemed like a good idea. After my forced "rest" period, I needed to start upping my mileage on the bike and I needed to do so pronto. I had not ridden a full century since January, and my quads were starting to look and feel decidedly slack. Given that I had recently celebrated my birthday, and given that Team Bag Balm has an informal tradition of "birthday rides," I figured I'd organize one for the weekend of May 22-23. Weather dependent, of course. I chose the "Bridge of the Gods" route because it is a TBB favorite (and one of my personal favorites), and sent out the call to the herd. The Usual Suspect was, of course, the first to respond. Dave E. chimed in, but the rest of the herd were otherwise occupied. I e-mailed friend Steve, and he quickly signed up, and said he'd bring a friend or two.
I still had not decided whether to ride on Saturday or Sunday. The weather the preceding week was less than optimal for riding. Buckets of rain, and howling winds. But by Wednesday all the forecasts were in agreement that Sunday would not be bad. Only a 30% chance of light rain in the morning, cloudy and upper 50s in the afternoon. Heck, for Oregon in May, that's practically sunbathing weather. I made the call: On Sunday we ride.
Blast-off time was set for 9:30 Sunday morning from the front entrance of the McMenamin brothers' Edgefield complex in Troutdale. Lynne would ride from her house near Beaverton to my house in SE Portland, and together we would ride the 13 miles from my house to Troutdale. That way she would put in 200K for the day, and I would have my century.
Saturday evening brought with it multiple e-mail exchanges with Lynne: Which bike: the heavy, fully-fendered randonneuse, or the lighter, fender-free speedster? Bulky rain gear, or lightweight windbreaker? Long johns, knickers or shorts? Winter boats or sandals? Fleece socks or wool?
After reviewing multiple weather reports and radar images, I chose the light bike, and the light clothing. No fenders, no extra socks, no extra gloves, and the lightest rain jacket I own. The one concession I made to the elements was to pack a pair of Endura waterproof gloves, mainly because they helped fend off Raynaud's symptoms on cool mornings. I was feeling lucky.
Lynne arrived at my house just before 8:00. She, too, had chosen the non-rando bike and minimal gear. After some last-minute faffing, we rode off toward Troutdale. As if on cue, it immediately began to rain. But it was a very light mist; the kind that it more refreshing than troublesome, so we did not care. We wound our way east on side streets as long as we could, then hopped over to SE Division, 182nd and Halsey. About a mile from Edgefield we rolled over some glass, and I shortly perceived that squishy "yep, I'm going flat" feeling in my rear tire. Dang! Well, I'm pretty good at changing flats. and it was only 9:15, so I was not concerned. I neglected to realize, however, that I had not yet had a flat on this bike (it is less than a year old) and the tire was pretty much welded to the rim after almost 2000 miles of riding. THREE tire levers and a lot of swearing later, I finally popped the tire off the rim and changed out the tube. It was MUCH easier to get the tire back on the rim, and we were soon on our way.
We reached the designated meeting point shortly before 9:30, and Dave E., Steve, and Steve's friend Tim joined us shortly thereafter. Steve told us that another rider, Jeff, had said he would join us, but he did not know where Jeff was. He also did not know what Jeff looked like, or what kind of car he drove, because Jeff was actually only a friend of a friend. Steve did have Jeff's cell phone number, however, and so he started calling and leaving messages. Just as he was leaving an "Okay, we're starting out west toward the I-205 bike path if you want to try to catch up with us" message, I saw a rider coming toward us from the lower parking lot.
"Are you Jeff?"
"Great! You can ignore all your voice mail messages!"
And then we were six. Giddy-UP!
We headed east from Edgefield on Halsey, turned north on Graham toward the Troutdale airport, looped around the airport and headed west on Marine Drive toward the I-205 bridge over the Columbia River, occasionally dropping down to the levee bike path to better avoid heavy truck traffic. We had a wind assist, and clipped along fairly quickly. The I-205 bridge crossing is never fun; the path runs down the center of the freeway and it is loud and dirty. And it's long, over two miles. I am always relieved to drop back down into the woods on the other side. The bridge is a slight hill, so our group separated a bit, but we met up on the other side. Once were all together, it was time to turn back east.
The first section of the ride on the Washington side follows Old Highway 14, above the railroad grade and below the present highway. We are talking some truly bad pavement here. Cracked and pitted cement, potholes filled with grass, loose gravel - all sorts of fun. At Camas we turned off the old highway and wound our way through town around the super stinky pulp mill to the new highway, briefly stopping at the local Burgerville first. Okay, not so briefly. Snacking and rest room visits took more time than I thought it would, but we eventually got back on the road.
East of Camas we started the first "real" climb of the day: the long slog up to Cape Horn. The weather had so far been cooperating; just a little mist every now and then, nothing to be alarmed about. Our group pulled apart on the climbs as Steve and Jeff zoomed on ahead. Dave and I played leap frog for awhile until I pulled ahead of him, and Tim and Lynne brought up the rear. Because it was Sunday, traffic was light, but every once in while a car or truck would pass too closely and remind me of how narrow the shoulder really was. Somewhere around Washougal we passed a guy sitting out in the median under a tent with a sign "Book for Sale: 'America in Crisis.'" I did not stop. Given the location and sign graphics, I had a pretty good idea that the "crisis" in the title probably had something to do with the New World Order and/or the gold standard. I have to read enough of that junk in the habeas appeals I get at work; no need to go looking for it.
As I noted earlier, the weather had so far been cooperating. That ended just as we reached the summit above Cape Horn. One second it was dry, the next second it was raining so hard that I could not see 10 feet ahead. I struggled to pull my jacket out of my Barley bag and haul it on before I got too wet for it to make difference. Lynne and Tim were still climbing the last few hundred yards, but I quickly realized that if I did not start riding again soon, I would turn into a Cecilsicle. So I jumped back on my bike and roared off down the hill. We were a good 15 miles from Cascade Locks and the rain showed no sign of letting up. All we could do was ride.
And by "all," I mean "ALL." It was raining so hard that my brakes were non-functional. I could not stop. Fortunately, there are no intersections on the descent from Cape Horn, and no sharp turns. So I just held on tight and hoped for the best. At one point I sailed past Steve, who apparently had been able to slow his bike down. How, I do not know. I was really regretting my lack of fenders, as the water was shooting off my back tire and straight down my pants.
Back to the flats, we rode hard past Beacon Rock and North Bonneville toward the bridge and the promise of lunch in Cascade Locks. As we passed the dam, I could hear the "bang" of cracker shells being set off to drive away the sea lions dining at the all-you-can-eat salmon buffet at the base of the fish ladders. When I reached the Washington end of the B of the Gs, I waited for Dave, Lynne and Tim to catch up so that we could cross en masse. Safety in numbers. The metal grid bridge bed is bad on a DRY day, on a wet day it is nerve-wracking. I took some pictures of Dave while we waited for Lynne and Tim, to commemorate his first B of the Gs crossing.
Steve and Jeff were waiting for us at the base of the hill on the Oregon side. Steve told us that the deli we usually had lunch at was no longer in business, but they had seen a pizza place a little ways down the street. At this point we were so cold and wet, I did not care where we went. I just wanted shelter from the storm.
We lined our bikes along the side of the restaurant and ran for cover. None of us had brought a lock, but there was a large table right by the window, so we could watch out for any potential bike thieves. Unfortunately, the table was right by the door, so every time someone came in or out, a cold breeze wafted across our wet bodies. Lynne had developed an interesting case of the shivers, somewhat reminiscent of her one and only DNF to date. In another room there was a faux wood stove that gave off a wee bit of heat. We placed our gloves and hats around it in a vain attempt to dry them out, while we downed cups of cocoa and bowls of chowder. Well, the rest of the group downed cocoa and chowder. Ms. Vegan here had tea and a very strange onion and bell pepper sandwich (my guess is that the version with cheese was less odd). Everywhere we went in the restaurant, we left a trail of water, forcing the wait staff to follow behind with a rag. I don't know about the rest of our party, but I left an ENORMOUS tip.
After spending far too long sitting around, we reluctantly concluded that we really had to keep going or we'd still be out after dark. The rain had actually let up while we were in the restaurant, but just as we made ready to pull out, Steve pointed to what lay directly ahead of us.
"You know," he said, "we could ride to Hood River [20 miles east], and rent a car." Wuss. Jeff suggested going back to the restaurant and waiting the storm out. The rest of us noted that it was 3:00, we still had 35 miles to go, and we had no idea how quickly it would blow over. The majority voted to keep going, and we set out. The first leg of the westbound route is on the GORGEOUS Ruckle Creek Trail, which connects Cascade Locks to Eagle Creek. Very "Middle Earthy" for all you TLOR geeks. The pavement was wet and mossy, so we took it slowly, but that gave us more time to appreciate the trail's beauty (and to get some shelter from the tree canopy).
At Eagle Creek, we connected to the Tanner Creek trail. There were signs warning of trail closure, and lots of signs of construction, but we chose to ignore them, because the only other choice would be to ride on the shoulder of I-84. We'd have to do that shortly enough, but the longer we could stay on the trail, the better. Fortunately, whatever work they were doing did not completely close the path and we managed to go as far as we usually do (the path comes to an abrupt end at an old wooden bridge, so about 100 feet before the bridge we hopped over the guardrail onto the highway shoulder).
Because my jacket was the most visible, I rode sweep. Traffic was fairly light, but it was still raining and we got sprayed every time a car passed. After a mile we reached the exit for Warrendale, where we were able to drop back to the old Columbia River Highway. The rain had begun to let up, and most of us had stopped shaking. The group had split fairly far apart; I am pretty sure that Jeff was trying his best to get away from the rest of us. Lynne and I rode along together, tallying up far worse rides that we had done. Of course, on those rides we had the proper bikes and the proper clothing. When we reached Multnomah Falls, we stopped briefly for a group photo, at which time Steve expressed his appreciation of my weather prediction skills, and then continued on.
One benefit of the past month having been one of the wettest Mays in Oregon history is that all the waterfalls in the Gorge were turned on full blast. The beauty of our surroundings helped to ameliorate the misery of our physical beings. At Latourelle Falls, the road took a decided upward cast, and at Shepherd's Dell our second "big" climb of the day began in earnest. At this point I was riding with Tim, who was telling me about several epic rides he had been on. Our conversation was so interesting that before I knew it, we were at Vista House on Crown Point. Jeff and Steve were there waiting for us, as was an unexpected guest: SUNSHINE. Yes, the sun had come out! Glory be.
In a few minutes, Lynne appeared around the bend, with Dave following shortly thereafter (I could have sworn I saw Dave first, but Lynne tells me that she was ahead of him by a few minutes). We faffed a while, enjoying the sun and using the facilities. And then it was time for the very last climb of the day, a one-mile hop to the intersection of the highway and Larch Mountain Road. In good weather, this would have been the point in the ride when I would suggest a detour up Larch Mountain. This day I kept my mouth shut.
And now we were in the home stretch, a long glide down to Troutdale on the old highway (with a brief detour onto Bell Road, which cuts about 1/4 mile off the total distance but is far less trafficky. It is also far more steep. Not always a good thing when you (and the road) are wet. But my brakes had decided to start working again, so all was good. The rain had returned, and the closer we got to Troutdale, the heavier it began to come down. Just as I made the turn from the highway onto the bridge across the Sandy River, it began to hail. Ouch! That really was completely unnecessary, I thought.
The hail did not last long and the final few miles back to Edgefield were completely uneventful. Uneventful until I reached the parking lot, that is, at which point I stupidly decided to try to go around a speed bump rather than over it, and promptly slipped off the edge of the pavement. Rider down. I was able to unclip one foot, but still hit my knee pretty hard. Sheesh. The bike seemed okay, however, and I still assumed that I would be riding the remaining 13 miles to my house. But I was concerned about Lynne, At the restaurant she had never stopped shaking (when we got on our bikes to leave after lunch her whole bike was shaking) and she had another 8 or so miles to go on top of the 13 to my house. Steve and Tim had been offering us a ride home all afternoon, but we were being our usual "we don't give up" selves (an attitude that both pulls us through trouble and gets us into trouble in the first place). Lynne insisted that she was fine, but my knee felt just interesting enough to be problematic, and it was getting late. After some further arm-twisting all around, we agreed to accept the ride. Once in the car, with the heater on full blast, I decided that sometimes it is okay to be a wuss. Lynne also seemed to have accepted our situation with aplomb.
Finally home, I made directly for the tub. The bike needed a bath, too, but it could wait. TRFKAF was also in need of a bath. But at least HE had the proper rain gear.
I'm thinking of another ride Memorial Day. The weather looks promising. Only a 30% chance of rain.