Monday, July 26, 2010

Road Pixie R&R - That's Redemption in Rochester

This July 24th marked the date of the Rochester 600k.  This ride was a huge thing for me.  Last year, it was my second brevet ever and, at that time, I rode it nearly solo in 38 hours and 40 minutes.  During that 38 hours, I nearly passed out from an electrolyte imbalance, created a major problem with tendinitis in my left knee and finished hacking some kind of unidentified, solid stuff out of my lungs: it was really great but I always left feeling like the ride beat me.  This year was payback time!  Completing this ride well was a big deal.

I had also stopped at the overnight (210 miles) for 4 hours in which I never really slept and I had always wondered if I would have avoided problems by just riding through the night and taking a cemetery nap.  In reading many sources, it's recommended to do a sleepless 600k because it is much harder than taking a traditional break and prepares you better for the completely obscene fatigue that is part of a 1200k.  Having now done it both ways, I have to agree with everything said.

Finally, this ride went from important to near must-complete status after failing to complete all 1000k in the Cascades.  I still had a major injury and with 21,000 feet of climbing, this 600k has as much climbing as the Cascades.  I had not, and still have not, fully healed; that will take many months.  So no sprints, no sudden jarring, no heavy duty pedal mashing.  Failure to heed such rules might mean permanent damage.  The rule is that if the hamstring starts to hurt, the ride is immediately over.

So on to the ride...

The ride starts at the Walmart parking lot in northern Rochester, Minnesota.  It's 6:00 am and I am there with Paul, who rode in my fleche team earlier in the year.  It turns out that his wife really likes him to ride with people as much as Kathy likes me to ride with people.  Must be a spouse thing.  We had a tacit agreement to ride through the night as long as nothing horrible was going on at the overnight.  I did insist on stopping for long enough to rinse the outer layer of salt and grim off and change clothes.

The forecast had been everything from a massive heat wave to thunderstorms to glorious during the 10 days before the ride.  Turns out, the ride started after the thunderstorms had moved through.  We didn't even have that much wet pavement.  At the start were 12 people including Kenny from Chicago (who I remembered from last year), Ralph from Missouri, Bob from Madison, Paul and myself.  Also present were Martin, who may be the fastest long distance rider I have ever seen, and Mike the RBA.  Martin is a rider that I see 3 times on this brevet.  First, I see him at the start.  Second, I see him as he passes me on the way to back to the overnight.  Third, I see him as he passes me again on the way into the finish after I have ridden all night long and he has had a full 8 hours sleep, probably seen a movie and had a 5 course meal.  The guy is amazing.  It's always a bit of a race to see how far I can get before he passes me for the third time.  We leave right on time and immediately, the group splits into 2 groups, the fast guys and the scenic pacers.

The weather is still quite grey as we head down US 22.  It's gently rolling and the pavement is good.  It is, however, very humid from the previous night's rain and my rear view mirror actually fogs up.  Paul, myself, Kenny, Ralph, and Bob all introduce ourselves since we will all be more or less keeping each other company for many miles.  What a difference from last year when there was only me.  This picks up my spirits enormously, I won't be listening to my IPod continuously for 30 hours.  We roll through Stewartville, still no sun.  But everything is incredibly green.  This summer, we've had so much rain that the normal fried look is nowhere to be found.  Even the cows look relaxed.
Ralph and Paul on the way to Chatfield
By the first control at Chatfield, I am ready to refill my bottles.  I'd been noticing a little strain on my hamstring, so I pulled off my shoe to put another plastic shim under the cleat.  To my horror, 2 of 4 screws are missing!  Fortunately, I have one extra so at least I can ride with 3 instead of 2.  Ralph loans me a screwdriver since my new cleats (I just switched to Speedplay) use phillips and it turns out my multi tool doesn't have one.  I decide to really torque down the rest of the screws just to be sure.  This winds up being an error (Speedplay pedals don't work that way).  It puts a bit more stress on the knees since the float is comprimsed by the torqued down screws.  I grab bananas, drink some V8 and chocolate milk and off we go.
Kenny (in the distance), Bob, Me, and Paul

The weather continues to be gray with temperatures now in the low 70s.  Perfect weather, at least for me; there are some more threatening clouds to the north, but none to the south (which is happily where we are going).  I spend time chatting with Bob, who crewed last year's 1000k.  I always say that the best part about randonneuring is the people you meet: Bob is one of those super nice types.  His girlfriend, Melissa, is driving support for the ride.  How cool is that?

The first inkling of how bad the previous night's storms were is evident going down the hill into Rushford.  There are blasted bits of tree everywhere and when we get to the control, it's closed.  It turns out the power has been out for hours and virtually nothing is open in town.  Fortunately, Pam's Convenience Mart is open.  Still no power, but Pam has a calculator and is taking cash and signing brevet cards.  We buy supplies and I realize that I left my patellar tendon strap back in Rochester.  I quickly make a temporary replacement with a bungee cord and an arm warmer.

The climb out of Rushford is a very long one.  Basically 6-8% with occasional spikes into 9-10.  It's about 3-4 miles long.  Since this is the first major climb of the day, I fall back quickly wanting to protect my hamstring.  I climb at my own pace which is slightly faster than Kenny.  Bob, Paul, and Ralph go on.  This stretch, Rushford to Harmony, is possibly my least favorite stretch of road ever.  Most of it is just fine.  But it is long and uninteresting and full of rollers.  It also has a 4 mile stretch at the end of some of the worst pavement ever laid down by MnDOT.  I also find myself fighting a substantial northwest wind that up until now had been a friend.  I don't catch Bob, Paul, and Ralph until the Harmony control.  Kenny rolls in about 3 minutes after I do.  At this point, we are quite near 100 miles and it's just past noon.  I am certain to eat well here: sandwich, V8, cookies, chocolate milk, bananas.  I take food for to road too.
Ralph and Kenny taking off from Harmony
The next 40 miles to Decorah, Iowa are mixed.  Outside Harmony is the only stretch of the entire ride that you can argue is kind of flat (the rollers are pretty benign).  Turning onto Pole Line Road, the rollers return to full strength and then descend into a river valley near the town.  Red wing blackbirds usually dive bomb cyclists here, but I fall back into conversation with Bob and don't really see any.  By this time, the clouds have rolled out and the sun appears.  The wind is, once again, a friend and we fairly fly into Decorah.  It's at this point that we realize that our average moving speed is over 15 mph, quite fast for those riding in our little group.  We roll into the control at about 2:45: a sub-9 hour 200k.  At this point, the temperature goes up into the 80s. 

Looking Down: At this point, we have averaged 15.1 mph for 147 miles
Decorah is a nice town.  This weekend turns out to be the town festival so the main street (our route) is blocked off and filled with food stands, music and other entertainment.  We get yelled at for riding in the festival. However, it doesn't really sink in fast enough to do anything so we decide to just finish getting through town and not do it again.  We ride through anyways, at this point, I am searching for a pharmacy to attempt to get a real patellar tendinitis strap.  Finally, I spot it on the corner.  Racing in, I ask and they have an entire wall of various straps, but no patellar tendinitis strap.  Just as I decide to settle on an ace bandage, I notice an elbow strap that looks similar.  I pull it off the wall and sure enough, it fits my knee.  Now, I'm not exactly Kate Moss so I marvel that anyone's elbow can be as big as my knee.  I ponder the question of obesity in America for at least 50 miles.  But my left knee is very happy.
Bob and Paul with some nice rock cliffs
The climb out of Decorah on CR9 is about 3 miles long and for the first time all day, it feels hot.  That tail wind is just not a friend when climbing.  Finally we reach the top and turn onto W42 for the final 25 miles to West Union.  This stretch is really quite pretty with wild flowers and some nice rural houses.  I manage to drift off the road and and cross country for a few feet, losing my bottle and eliciting lots of laughs.  We wind our way up and down until finally coming into West Union at mile 180.  From here, we have an out-and-back to Elkader and est Union is the official overnight.  We see Melissa at the control and she leaves Bob a key for the room.  We will have a place to shower!

The ride to Elkader is a fun one.  We join up for the night with Ralph, who has been riding a couple minutes ahead of us for miles.  I really enjoy this particular part of the ride.  It's early evening and the sky is full of nice clouds.  Just outside Elgin, we see Martin (#2) on his way back in.  It's about 6:30 pm.  I take pictures and we cruise along to the control, the Cross Roads Convenience .  Elkader sits at the bottom of a somewhat hilly valley.  We see Kenny's wife there as well.  Actually, it turns out we have seen her at every control, but I have just not really be with it enough to notice that the woman with the dog is the same one every time.  Must be blood sugar, I think so I eat 2 servings of mashed potatoes, a can of V8, a bottle of chocolate milk and take Powerade for the road.   The mashed potatoes taste fabulous, even the unidentified chewy parts!

On the way back we are treated to a great sunset.  It's about 9:00 pm and spirits are really good.  I am looking forward to the night ride.  We get back to West Union at about 10:30 and head for the ahotel.  We spend an hour there showering, changing out gear and talking to Mike and Melissa.  Mike vows that the next time I see him he will be "in shape", I laugh because even out of shape, he rides much faster than I ever will.  We only have 165 miles left when we pull out of West Union at midnight.

Sunset on the way from Elkader to West Union
Up until now, Bob has theorized that my bad hamstring has been making us go faster than normal.  Sound odd?  His reasoning seems sound.  Because I am forced to not push it up hills, we are riding at a more stable pace.  Since we have for the most part stayed together, the theory is that no one tires on the hills and everyone is ready to get in a group and ride faster on the flatter sections.  There are 4 of us now and as we leave West Union, which is a nice size for a night group (more lights=more visible=safer).  We mistakenly think Kenny has stayed for a sleep in West Union when he actually is ahead of us.

The moon is a waxing, gibbous one and the stars are out as well.  The temperature hovers around 64 for most of the night.  It's possible one of the best night rides I've ever done.  At Decorah (400k), we stop at 2:30 am for food.  It turns out this is a college town and bar close is at 2:00 so the streets are packed.  The police are investigating goings on at the pizza place and there are 20 surly people hanging out at the Cenex station.  Strangely, this turns out to be the only place we actually don't feel comfortable leaving the bikes alone.  I eat well here, a sub, some Mountain Dew, and a cup of mandarin oranges.  But I also only have to refill one of my bottles.  This is the beginning of trouble, even though I didn't realize it at the time.  We pull out at 3:00 am, headed for Cresco, 20 miles away.
Sunset with Reflective Gear
There is a long climb out of Decorah and it goes slowly.  I continue to climb slowly and the other's lights disappearing up the hill makes it seem a little more lonely.  Paul goes ahead, but Bob hangs back.  Ralph is getting tired and having stomach problems.  It is the dead of night and I find myself sleepy.  I take a caffeine pill to stay up.  That makes my stomach not so happy as well.   Our pace gets much slower.

It's about 5:00 when we finally pull into Cresco (mile 270), passing an unidentified rider in the dark that turned out to be Kenny.  At this point, I am approaching the time of day that I usually wake up (yes, I am an early bird).  That's when I am the most tired and unintelligible.  I tell Paul that I really need a nap and flop down, face first, onto the pavement.  I am instantly asleep.  Sleeping face-down on concrete in front of an all-night Kwik Trip is generally not seen; this turns out to be the best picture I didn't take for the ride.  I at least got enough sleep to convince myself that I felt refreshed.  I think the others napped as well.  At this point, it's 5:30 am, the sun is up and Paul is anxious to leave.  Here I make the biggest mistake of the day.  I rush things.  I don't eat hardly anything.  I'm feeling cold from the concrete so I get a small cappuccino and a Starbucks double shot knock off. I haven't even finished a quarter of my fluids from Decorah.  I should have taken 15 minutes, eaten a sandwich, drank more fluids, and fully woken up.  As it was, aside from forgetting to eat and drink, I forgot to change GPS batteries, stretch (another huge error) and buy food for the next section.  Note to self: self, print a laminated sheet of everything to do at a control and use it as a checklist when sleeping face-down on concrete. 

It was a really nice dawn as we rode out of town.  The lack of food and fluids for so long hit me in the 15 miles between Cresco and Harmony and I asked Bob to stop there even though it wasn't a control.  Even so, by this time, I found myself unable to eat and rushing.  I had gotten through half a bottle but was still fighting back sleep.  The next 30 miles (of my least favorite stretch of road) were pretty un-enjoyable.  I rode mainly alone with the others in the distance.  I finally caught them in Highland where I silently wished I could stop at the cafe for a piece of pie.  Instead, we rode the final 12 miles into Rushford. Another rider, not Martin, passed us.  He had chosen to stop and sleep but not the full 8 hours. By this time, tired or not, I knew eating was critical and I forced myself to eat a small sub, a cup of fruit, a V8, and a chocolate milk.  I should have pushed even more fluids, but I did start feeling better.  We left at about 9:30 am with only about 70 miles to go.  It had gotten hot and sitting out in the sun, the thermometer on my bike had soared to 113.
The climb out of Rusford is dead ahead
The climb out of Rushford is a long, hard one.  I did it alone again knowing the others were waiting at the top.  I had a brief wave of nausea and finally settled into the climb.  At the top, the others were waiting and calling spouses.  I called Kathy only to find out she didn't feel well enough to come to the finish.  Though I understood, it was still kind of tough to hear.  The next 20 miles to Chatfield, I started getting frustrated with my lack of sprinting and did some fast, hard pedaling.  Fortunately, nothing too bad happened, but it wasn't wise.  We made it to Chatfield (mile 330) at 12:15.  My stomach was still unhappy and I drank a coke and had a banana.  We had one major climb to go out of Chatfield and again, I slowly mustered up while the others got to the top and took a break.  Nearly at the top, my knees were hurting badly and I finally got off the bike, cranked up my seat, took 6 endurolytes and took off as fast as I could.  I waved at the others who got on their bikes and followed.

For the next 7 miles I sprinted at between 22-24 mph, all the way to Stewartville.  In retrospect, it was really not a very smart move.  We pulled into Stewartville at about 2:00 pm, even with the big sprint it still took 1:15 to go 15 miles.  I stared into the cooler and suddenly had an overwhelming desire to drink water.  I bought a bottle (should have bought a whole gallon).  Then Martin finally caught us.  We chatted for awhile.  He wasn't there for very long, but it was a sort of marker point in the ride.  Only 30 miles to go.

The next 20 miles had some tough pavement.  Lots of cracks that seemed to be somehow much worse than last year.   At this point, it manifested by making me a little cranky and paranoid.  The other 2 finally went ahead and it was on the big rollers before the last control that my hamstring suddenly went boom.  It was really hot and I was alone on a climb when I cramped severely in the side of my leg.  Though it was not in exactly the same place as before, it was so painful that I couldn't really say where it was.  Only 10 miles to go!  I took 3 more endurolytes, realized I hadn't drunk hardly a thing for 10 miles and downed half a bottle of sports drink.  Then I got back up, walked carefully to the top of the roller and realized it was all downhill to the control.  I coasted down and rode one-legged into the gas station.  The other two were there resting; it was very hot in the afternoon sun.  I told Bob to just go on with Paul and that I needed to go at my own pace or just stop now; I was really worried that I had actually severed my hamstring.  He and Paul convinced me to try and stretch it out.  I had another coke and some chocolate milk, but they didn't have V8 unfortunately.  I took the rest of my Endurolytes and tried to lay down and stretch.  After about 5-10 minutes, the cramp began to subside.  I told Bob and Paul that I was either going to get up and ride out, or the heat was going to start cooking me alive.  So we got back on the bikes.

Happily, there is about a 3 mile downhill outside Byron.  There were a couple of climbs, but by the time we got there, the cramping had subsided enough so that I could definitely tell that it was my IT band and not my hamstring that was causing all the pain.  That made me feel so much better, at least I was only mostly maimed.  We finished at 5:08.  35 hours and 8 minutes from the start.
The 3 of us at the finish: I am really working hard to smile here, 600k is always a long, long way
At the finish were Melissa, Kenny, Paul's wife Karen, and some others.  Mike had had some issues and stopped outside Rushford.  I think 2 others were still out when we left.  We changed quickly and Karen drove both of us back to the Twin Cities.  I iced my knees because I promised my PT that I would, but my legs really felt very good once the cramp was gone. 

Looking back on it and comparing with my original ride and the Cascades, I realize just how much harder it is to ride through the night than it is to just take 4 hours off and sleep well at an overnight control.  I am oddly more pleased with last year's ride since I had always wondered if I should have skipped what I thought was a useless sleep stop.  Even though I didn't sleep, I still rested enough so that in terms of moving time, I rode a little faster last year than this year.  I also think that spinning up hills slowly really made my overall pace faster.  For me, I suspect it was because I was ready to take off at the top when normally I am wanting to take a break.  A valuable lesson.

As usual, this was a great ride because of the people I was with.  It was great to ride with Paul again and I really hope that I see Ralph, Kenny and Bob on other rides in the future.  I hope I was at least an amusing sight (on the pavement and on the bike) so that they will want to ride with me again.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Road Pixie Rehab: 200k in Iowa

After tearing my hamstring in the Cascades, I saw every possible health care professional I could think of: chiropractor, MD, physical therapist, massage therapist, master bike fitter, and acupuncturist.  Since this is an area of which I knew nothing, I figured each of these would have a piece of the bigger healing puzzle.  Opinions varied on how long it would take to heal, it wasn't like I didn't still have lots of rides that I really wanted to do.  Most agreed that it would be months - it takes a long time to heal a muscle and my tear was quite deep.  Happily, after the acupuncture, which I had never tried and really was amazed at the results, I got some good news: "you can ride this weekend", Dr Thuy said, "but no hills, no sprints, DO NOT TEAR THE TEAR!"

So this weekend's Iowa 200k was officially a rehab ride.  Chris Balser, the bike fitter, refitted the princess in PT mode with a very short stem and a fit that took pressure off the hamstrings.  I also managed to talk our friend, Barb, into coming along.  Barb is a surgical nurse, how better to do a rehab ride?  It was her first brevet as well and she is probably the first person that I have ever managed to convince that this riding is actually a good idea.  Her husband may never forgive me.

So we went down to Waterloo, IA.  I drive like I am 90 years old so Barb driving probably saved several hours in the car.  After an okay meal at the local sports bar, we had the misfortune of witnessing a drug deal in the parking lot.  This got us a lot of dirty looks from the dealers. We left very quickly.

The weather had been saying all week that there was a 0% chance of rain and that highs would be in the mid to low 80s.  So when we woke up that morning to rain, we were nonplussed.  Fortunately, it ended before the ride started and all we really had to deal with were some wet roads.

At the sign in, I had the distinct pleasure of running into familiar faces.  Nancy and Chad, from the Great Lakes 400k, were there on their first 600k (there were 4 brevets going on simultaneously).  Also, Ken, who I rode with last October, and some of the other Minnesota Randonneurs.  Most were doing the 600k which had the same route as the 200k until the 200k turnaround.  After brief directions from the RBA, we were all off.

The ride out of Waterloo was about 5 miles through the city.  It's really a very interesting town and I hadn't ever seen it.  We rode past farms and a huge John Deere farm equipment factory.  At this point, the sun was obscured by the passing rainstorm and it was about 75 degrees but very humid.  The purple clouds, sun, blue sky and deep green was really pretty.

Barb in the first leg of the ride

It was still very nice with an increasing tailwind when we rode into Oelwein (pronounced OL-WINE).  This is a really nice town, well kept, that had partially flooded the previous week in some stellar rainstorms.  We passed a cemetery with hundreds of flags up which was a really cool sight.  Since the flags were gone on the return, we suspect there must have been a special event going on that morning.
Flags in Oelwein

At the Oelwein control, we saw most of the 600k riders for the last time because about 2 miles out of town we looked ahead and saw three riders clustered around a bike, several others stopped, then continued on before we finally got to the scene.  In the group was Ken, Scott R, and another man.  Scott had broken a spoke and his wheel was unusable.  They were all on the 600k and debating how Scott would get back to Waterloo.  Happily, I had a Fiber-Fix spoke and in a mere half hour, we had the wheel working again.

Typical DOT scene: 2 people do the work, 2 sit around and watch and
one investigative reporter takes pictures

We ran into Scott later in the day, though the fix worked, he wasn't feeling quite right and decided to turnaround near Volga and head home anyways.  I have to say that the fiber fix spoke is a great addition to any rando bag, but a pair of needle nose pliers helps too.

Barb and I made good time to Volga.  This part of Iowa is dominated by gently rolling hills (hence very little elevation change) with many well kept, small farms.

Farms in Iowa: Note the quilting pattern on the barn, this is a uniquely Iowa thing

By the time we hit Volga, it was about 11:30 am and it started getting hot.  After sandwiches at the Volga Convenience Store, we started back.  That really nice tailwind was now a headwind. 

Just outside Volga, we went up the only hill on the entire ride.  It was about 1 mile long and after the Cascades, it didn't really even seem like a hill.  I was true to my rehab plan and Barb beat me up by several minutes as I patiently spun up in the lowest gear I had.  Not one pain in the hamstring.

At the top of the hill, the wind was probably about 15 mph coming from the southwest.  Of course, we were headed southwest for the rest of the ride.  The heat really started cranking up too.  By this time, my thermometer was registering about 96 degrees and it's reliable.  The wind, though it slowed us considerably, was a blessing in that it provided at least some relief from the heat.  No wind and the sweat would have just run instead of evaporating and cooling us.  Even so, by the time we got back to Oelwein, there were several 200k riders at the control, most looking a little heat stressed.  We made it quick since we only had 36 miles to go.

By Fairbanks, only 26 miles to go, Barb was feeling the heat and we made an extra stop for ice, V8, and endurolytes.  This proved to be very helpful.  I put a ton of ice in my water bottle.  This is one time I missed having a Camelback.  A Camelback loaded with ice water has enough insulation to keep water really cold for hours, bottles warm in about half an hour.  My face was caked with salt.  With the wind evaporating the sweat instantly, it's hard to judge how much sodium one is losing.  Both of us felt much better after a bunch of V8 and endurolytes.

In the next 10 miles, we picked up our pace and passed another rider just before the control.  A group of about 6 of us chatted for awhile at Dunkerton about the heat.  Everyone was feeling it.   Barb and I took off only to be caught by two others shortly outside town.  One of them, Tom, we wound up riding with for the rest of the ride.  Being a local to the area, he knew all the turns which saved us from having to think about navigating Waterloo at the end.

At the end, we cooled off before heading home.  I put on compression tights, a rare gimmick that actually works.  Barb had finished her first brevet ever and my legs were feeling fine.   All the riders we ran into along the way made it with plenty of time, some a little worse for the heat than others.

Me and Barb at the finish

The forecast was for continuing wind and a warm night with showers and thunderstorms and more of the same the next day.  We are sending the 600k riders good karma vibes.  Hopefully, their ride is going well.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Cascades 700k is a stunning success!

Well okay, there isn't an official Cascades 700k, but I was so pleased with this ride that I feel like the accomplishment is worth the title.  I actually think that my threshold for pain is so high that I could have finished the 1000k, but I might never have ridden another brevet.  Ron Himschott reminded me of some very wise advice to anyone in randonneuring: know the difference between pain and injury.  It's a fine line that must be understood completely if one is going to push one's body to the physical limits.

Make no mistake, I came to the Cascades to finish.  Anyone who rode with me knows it was a miracle I even made it to the start.  I was riding after spending the last 2 months dealing with 2 major lung surgeries and chemotherapy for my spouse, diagnosed with a sarcoma in the last week of April.  The past 2 months were a meat grinder both physically and mentally with the only release coming 10 days before the Cascades began.  "You can do it," my spouse told me, "just think of me when you need to pedal more".

So I wrote and offered to pick people up at the airport since my flight came in a day early (a personal preference for out-of-town rides).  I wound up sharing a room and driving around with Vickie Tyer, who is a great rider and one of those people who just makes you want to ride fast.  She introduced me to many others from near and far.  A great way to start a ride.  I have the distinct feeling that I will see many from the Cascades over the next years as we all meet for the various long rides that we all love so much.

Day 1

The day started quite grey, which I had expected.  Seattle isn't exactly known as a sunny spot.  Plenty of sun coming in the following days.  I was elated to be there and the ride started with almost 100 people tearing down the road at about 18 mph.  I have never ridden in Washington so I found myself out of the main pack at about mile 25 riding alone.  I started getting a chance to look around at some really beautiful flowers.  The big, pink spikes of penstemon were everywhere along with lush ferns.  There were some rollers in here and I met Wolfgang, a rider from Germany, briefly who was puzzling over the cue sheet (it had some tiny type).   We were passing each other on and off for the next two days.

Pretty Roads in Western Washington

At Cumberland, I refilled my bottles, used some facilities and powered on.  I really don't like to spend time at controls.  Sometimes, I don't actually spend enough time at them and leave without enough food or other amenities.  At this point, we were only about 50 miles in and I grabbed some peanut butter cups and was off.  Over the next hour or so, the road flattened and the sun started peeking out.  I rode with Roland, who had a most interesting bike from Kansas (I can't remember where Roland was from, just his bike).  We had some issues getting through a big festival in one of the small towns, but continued on until I had to stop to use the restroom (remember how I fail sometimes to stop for long enough?).  About 10 miles later, I passed a Canadian, Ron, who I wound up riding the rest of the day with.  By this time, the sun was out in force and we both stopped to remove arm warmers and other layers.  Orville Road was simply gorgeous with tall pines, flowers, lakes, and virtually no traffic.  We rode up a long hill into Eatonville and opted for the quick grocery instead of the bakery.  He and I both belong to the "I'd rather sleep than sit" philosophy.  He also introduced me to the idea of drinking most of a quart of chocolate milk at a control.  About 800 calories, electrolytes, and 100 grams of carbs.  Good advice.

We spent the next couple of hours doing lots of climbing up medium sized hills that reminded me a lot of hills in Minnesota.  The views were amazing with the mountains against the now clear sky.  Mt Rainier suddenly came into view at this point and it's the picture I most regret not taking.  I hadn't seen it before so it had that kind of impact that only a first sight can have.  We refueled at Morton at about 3:00 and ran into the sweep vehicle, which was early.  Saying hi, we powered on to Randle.  At this point, the wind became a big ally and we were cruising on this stretch all the way to Packwood.  US 12 was a nice road and I also enjoyed the side trip onto Silverbrook which wound its way through small farms.  We fairly flew into Packwood at about 20 mph at around 5:30 and stopped for sandwiches.  There we met another couple of riders, one from Ireland.  I loaned him some lube, which I carry after having a squeaky chain drive me nuts on a ride once.  At about 6:00 pm, we headed out of Packwood towards White Pass.
View From White Pass

We went a bit slower coming out of Packwood.  I learned a long time ago that if I eat a sandwich, I better give my stomach a few minutes of free reign on the bloodstream or risk some really bad things.  We reached what Ron called the start of White Pass (which wasn't the first climb out of Packwood) at about 6:45.  White Pass was really beautiful and I enjoyed the climb, but it was at this point that I noticed my right hamstring being tight.  That had never happened before and I was puzzled.  I stopped and dropped my seat a couple millimeters.  At this point, a car drove up and some helpful people called out  "Do you need anything?".  I looked at the loaded bike rack on their car, smiled and said, "Well, I could use a new ass!".  "Already?", Ron came back.  We all laughed.  They made a vain attempt to tell us that we were nearly done, but we actually knew we had 6 miles to go.  It's the thought that counts.

We got to the top of White Pass at about 9:00 just as dusk started.  We stopped at the sweep vehicle, put on layers and sped down the mountain.  I have to say that I became a much better descender as a result of going on this ride.  Going down White Pass was just plain fun!  We turned off onto Tieton Road and made our way to the control where we spent about 20 minutes eating cookies, ramen noodles and drinking cokes.  Then it was off again.  We had a couple of pretty long climbs on Tieton before arriving back on US 12 for the final descent to Naches (pronounced NAA-CHEESE, I was informed by a local).
We arrived at 12:30 am.  I had hoped to arrive sometime between 12 and 1 so I was pretty happy.

Day 2

At this point, I realized that I had made a pretty crucial error in my decision to ride the 1000k.  I had assumed that the traditional rule of doing the first 600k in 40 hours would be the same.  Alas it was not.  That meant that to leave the control 2 hours before close, I would have to leave at 4:00 am while Ron would not leave until 7:00 am.  In all honesty, though, it probably made no difference, I woke up at 3:30 anyways (living in the Central Time Zone, I woke up 2 hours before my normal wake up time of 5:30 am).  But I left Naches alone and fought a ferocious headwind for about an hour before really seeing any other riders.  That was when my hamstring really started getting angry.  Vickie and friends blew by in a paceline and said "hop on!".  But at that point, I knew they were going too fast.  Lodgepole was basically a 44 mile climb and sometimes, you just have to take climbs at your own speed.  I got to Lodegpole at around 9:30 am.  5 hours to go 44 miles uphill.

I iced my hamstring for the first time at Lodgepole, taking longer than normal.  Jennifer Chang and her friend Steve showed up a few minutes later.  We started down, but they descended faster than I did.  I stopped at Cliffdell to get another coke and take off some clothes.  It was at this point that I picked up George Moore, a very nice guy from Virginia.  I wound up riding in front from Cliffdell to the Fruitvale control, though George had a goat-like triple setup that allowed him to spin up vertical surfaces with ease (he outclimbed me).  We rolled into Fruitvale around 2:30 pm, the ferns from the previous day replaced by irrigated desert.  I iced my knee again.  We ate some food at Starbucks and ran into Paul Bacho, another 1000k rider.  The next control, Mattawa, was about 60 miles away.  We made it out and managed to lose some time getting lost on the bike trail.  I was amazed at the impact of irrigation.  Big trellises of grapes stood with water pounding down on them.  Everywhere, there were sprinklers of all kinds.  Without these, it would be a scrub desert; I'm really not sure how I feel about this.  The temperature was about 95 degrees on US 24. 
Paul and George in the Rattlesnake Hills

Thus began the Rattlesnake Hills.  At this point, I was feeling quite strange and we stopped in front of a somewhat decrepit looking house with a sprinkler.  Jennifer and Steve rode up and suggested I shower in the sprinkler.  Good advice.  I figured it was the heat, but now I know that it was actually the start of a larger issue in my hamstring.  Jennifer very kindly offered some Endurolytes which I took since I had already taken most of mine.  If only that had been my problem!

The 5 of us fought the Rattlesnake hills for what seemed like forever.  I road behind Paul for a long time until I couldn't keep up then dropped back awhile.  False flats are really demoralizing - even when you know they are false flats.  Three of us finally came over a short climb to find George and Paul under a tree (it was 95 degrees).  "The top is right there 3,046 feet", said George.  A welcome sight.

The descent was long and fun.  Jennifer and Steve continued on to Vernitas while Paul, George and I stopped for water at a cafe.  The idea was that we would skip the rest area and continue on.  We had a climb up to a stunning view of the Columbia River and whizz-bang descent.  We turned at the Hanford Nuclear site and were finally descending to the river when we were buzzed by a red sedan that came dangerously close to hitting Paul.  I took the license plate number; we heard later that a car had been harassing cyclists in the area.

"That Hill" - Note: The tandem climbs with ease

At Vernitas (a green, irrigated square on the banks of the Columbia), there was Ron, resting at a picnic table.  "How'd I pass you?", he said.  I tried to stretch and settled for about 4 advil instead.  We cleared out quickly since we didn't need water.  Then it was up  "That Hill".  My computer clocked a continuous 19% grade and Paul and I both walked it.  By the time we got to the top, George was already there (like I said, his drivetrain could have climbed the Matterhorn).  We rode along the plateau and my hamstring was crying out in pain.

Paul, it turns out, was a certified athletic trainer.  I told him I was thinking of stopping and asked for an opinion.  We discussed my spectacular crash last February and he offered to take a look at it when we reached Mattawa.  At Mattawa, I iced the hamstring yet again.  Irene was passed out from dehydration (she later finished the ride which is really impressive).  Paul suggested there might still be hope, but I would need to get to Quincy, a mere 41 miles away.

I am a big believer in cosmic karma; what goes around comes around.  There have been many rides that I have slowed to help others or pulled someone through a bonk.  This time, 4 guys (Ron, Paul, George, and Wolfgang) offered to help me make it to Quincy.  They say that camaraderie is the hallmark of randonneuring, what sets it apart from the standard club hammerfests that are so common.  These guys all deserve medals for adhering to what I think is the best part of the sport.  I'd pedal every stroke, but at least I wouldn't be alone; at night it's so much safer to be with a group anyways.  Just being in a line for the first 8 miles after the control saved me from the very nasty wind.  The volunteers at Mattawa went beyond the call of duty.  I shed everything I possibly could so that I would hold up others at a minimum.  But I really felt that I could continue, Kathy, my spouse, has no options, she takes the chemo and smiles no matter how lousy it feels.  Getting to the second overnight became like that for me.

We cruised quite well and hit the first hill on Beverly Burke road.  The full moon was out and the view of the setting sun on the Columbia was magical.  I had to stop and pull glass out of my tire after rolling over a giant glass field, but my Armadillo tires did not puncture.  This section was quite hilly and just when we thought we saw I-90, it turned out to be a line of farmhouses.  I got ahead with George, who was having serious problems falling asleep on the bike.  We set his bike up to take a short nap, but I continued, figuring that to let my hamstring cool down would be deadly.  Wolfgang, Ron and I rode on (Paul stayed with George) and finally made it to I-90.  With only 10 miles to go, I briefly separated from Ron and Wolfgang while Wolfgang changed some batteries.

Everyone caught up to me just before Quincy and we rode in together at about 2:30.  I've never been so happy to reach a control.  It was an accomplishment that I will never forget.  Inside, I had soup, chocolate milk and Paul did some chiro moves on me.  I went to sleep at about 3:00 and woke up at 5:30.  My hamstring was still painful, but I could walk on it (carefully).

George had lost his GPS routes while changing batteries, my bracket had broken, but the GPS itself was usable.  I offered to give him mine (the same model).  "Let's do it the old-fashioned way and read the cue sheet", he said.  That might have saved my leg.

We rode out of town and missed the turn onto Martin Road.  Instead of a nice flat to Ephrata, we headed up a hill.  The hill was about a 4% grade, something I would normally do at about 12-13 mph without thinking twice.  I looked down and, even though I didn't feel winded, I was going 4 mph.  I tried very hard to push, but there simply wasn't anything there.  I called back to the other two, who turned around.  I thanked both of them profusely, but I knew then that I was at the injury line.  I had made it to Quincy and it was time to wish them both the best.  Paul finished the 1000k with about 4 hours to spare.  George DNF'd sometime after Farmer due to sleep issues.  Ron completed the 1240k without issue (though he has done 14 of them and may be the most experienced rando that I know).

I rode back to Quincy (okay we were a mile out of town).  The volunteers there were great.  By that time, my hamstring had seized and I couldn't clip out.  The ironic thing was that other than that, I felt great!  That more than anything else lets me know that it's just a set of circumstances.  I know that the distance is in my grasp and that is a success no matter how far I actually made it on this attempt.

Mark R, Charlie and his wife, Kathy all were great.  They got me back to Monroe and to the hotel where I checked in.  Even the hotel manager was great - she gave me a room on the first floor since I was having a hell of a time walking.  That night, I could barely sleep and I wrote letters to the riders that helped me along the way.  I hope all of them got theirs, I know that Ron did.  It was the least I could do.

I'm already conspiring to return to Seattle and try another 1000k.  I have quite a bit of rehab to do.  I have a slight rupture to my hamstring with some broken blood vessels.  Paul did me a huge favor of pointing out a major hip alignment issue that is left over from a crash in February.  2 MDs and a PT missed it so just finding it is halfway to fixing it.  I feel like I owe him a consultation fee.

Me - Still Strong in Packwood (Mt Ranier in the background)
I always say that I ride to meet great people and see beautiful things.  I can't wait to come back in two years, stronger, faster and wiser.  Then I'm hoping karma will come around and I can be there for someone else.