Thursday, October 4, 2012

Designing a 600k is long and complex

So how do you build a 600k epic?  It turns out that you do it very slowly.  So many decisions to balance: safety, ease of travel, services, scenery, control distance, climbing, pavement...  The list becomes daunting and the one this that is for certain is that no matter how hard you try, someone will be upset, but hopefully most will be pleased.  

Things I thought were "must haves" on the route included:
  1. Scenic 61 on Lake Superior
  2. The Willard Munger Trail - at one point the longest paved bike trail in the country
  3. The Duluth Lakewalk and the Lift Bridge
  4. The St Croix River
  5. Sunrise, birthplace of Richard Widmark (hey, I love 40s film)
Things that were going to be challenges on the route:
  1. Getting across an entire downtown.  How many brevets go through the downtown area of a major city?  Duluth has 80,000 people in it and was built 100 years ago before modern urban planning
  2. A serious problem with having limited 24 hour controls
  3. Most of Hwy 61, the obvious route up to the start of the Munger Trail, was a dead boring ride with 55mph traffic.
Just picking a start took a month.  I knew that I wanted the start to have lots of places to stay and to have a 24 hour place to sit down and eat at the end.  In Minnesota, that's a challenge right there.  I finally settled on Stillwater.  There, I found a cluster of inexpensive hotels next to a Perkins.  Stillwater itself is also quite historic and charming, despite the fact that Michele Bachman lives there and she and I are something like Jesus and the anti-Christ (if you live in Minnesota, feel free to pick which one you think is which).  Stillwater is one of the first towns in Minnesota, right on the St Croix River and, like Duluth, has a working lift bridge.  It also has some very charming neighborhoods and parks.

There are about 20 different routes in and out of Stillwater and I quickly settled on one that would avoid taking riders down the enormous bluff it is built on.  But there are still quite a few beautiful and historic houses.  The best ice cream stand in the town is also on the route for the return.  Yes, I think of such things when doing a route.  I also wanted to avoid busy streets like Main St/MN95.  Though the view of the lift bridge is nice, the lights and chaos are not so good.  I was able to capitalize on a fl├Ęche route from a couple years previous and use backroads along the St Croix River from tiny Taylors Falls to Sunrise and avoid much of busy 61 using quiet Government Road, which has technically been a road for over 140 years.  These towns are all mom and pop, not a chain in sight and have interesting architecture.  They harken back to the days when Minnesota was fur trapping territory, the true frontier.  No busy roads and smooth pavement - so far so good.  The first 200k was done.

The Munger Trail went from Hinckley 70 miles to Duluth.  This was an easy pick.  Towns abound on the trail, cell phones work due to the proximity of I35.  Sure you had to get to 35 to find anything 24 hour, but that works out okay going up.  Off route 2-3 miles isn't unreasonable for the way back, that would only be an issue for people trying for a sub 24 and this wasn't going to be a great route for them to start.  The trail takes an old railroad bed down into Duluth, a gentle grade when every other option is quite steep.  Perfect and scenic - this was to be a big highlight of the ride.

Getting across Duluth turned out to be a months long process of experimentation.  I did this section over and over bringing different people with me.  Big thanks to Gary, GearBob, and the only other Minnesota Randonnuese to ever complete PBP, Lara.  It was really quite interesting to see how the different people had different priorities.  GearBob and I tried Lara's very direct route through downtown.  Some quite nasty sections that conceivably could lead a sleepy randonneur onto I35 on the return gave us pause.  Gary and I did another route that while nice and direct, went through a crack neighborhood.  I saw 2 drug deals, a guy getting arrested and a guy crushing for a prostitute all in about 6 blocks.  Gary noticed none of this, but I have to admit the cue sheet would have been simple.  I saw myself sitting at a traffic light in the dark and decided that rider safety would overrule.  We would have missed the Lakewalk too.  The Munger Inn, right at the end of the trail, would make an excellent overnight keeping most of the night riding on a bike trail.

So in the end, GearBob's route prevailed.  We avoided most traffic lights and kept off the major streets to get to Canal Park and the lift bridge.  From there, a ride right on the boardwalk next to a still running old time train and spectacular views.  The cuing was exceedingly difficult though.  Getting every cue to be concise and clear took a huge amount of effort.  Not perfect and speed demons would be annoyed, but there you go.  The turnaround, at Two Harbors, would have ample supplies.

The return, I reasoned would be exactly the same up to Hinckley.  There, we would opt for straight down 61.  This gave me the requisite 600k and provided 24 hour services in Pine City and North Branch.  Not as scenic, but pretty flat and on day 2 everyone is tired anyway and wants to get home.

I reasoned many might want to pre ride parts of this route, so I chopped it into 3 parts of about 200k each and submitted them as permanents.  That was in May and the route was ready to go 4 months before the ride.  Plenty of time for me to do several trial runs and triple check the cue sheet for clarity.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Many Faces of the Munger Bungo

About two years ago, I decided that those of the major things missing from randonneuring in Minnesota was an epic ride to the North Shore of Lake Superior.  This area is one of the most spectacular in the state, not just for the unique and historic lake, but for the transition from what is essentially an oak savanna, in the south, to the boreal forest in the north.  My first impressions of the state were in the city of Duluth, an old city perched right on the shore, forever at the mercy of a lake that can be as powerful as an ocean (anyone hear the song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald ?)

So I took it as a project to create that epic ride.  There are countless sights and attractions on the way there and on the way back.  Fitting them in, along with really showing off the state and not just gas stations along an interstate, was a huge challenge.  Getting the route to be close to 600k is even harder since towns are few and far between and paved roads can be in short supply.  Truly, this route was an odyssey, a personal challenge and an ongoing adventure that is still continuing, for whatever we think about how well controlled our world is, Mother Nature has a habit of asserting herself.

This blog entry, and those that follow, is somewhat less a ride report, than a chronically of the Adventure I have come to know as the Munger Bungo (an epic name coined by no less than IronK herself, who is also epic).  Friends were made, friends were lost and Minnesota Randonneuring will never be the same.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ride in a Blue Moon - The Crater Lake 1000k Pre Ride

This ride had been on my bucket list for a long time.  So when Ron a friend from Seattle called me up and asked to help organize, how could I say no?  Having been to the Seattle area a few times, I looked forward to completing a 1000k and getting in some serious scenery.I'm no speed demon, Ron is a faster climber.  We had few issues with this ride, save one and still finished in about 69 hours.  One of our big goals was to have time to actually see Crater Lake - a sight of special magnificence.  Also, IronK would ride the drop sacks to the 3 overnights; her degree is in geology and just driving in Southern Oregon was to be a special treat. Fairy godparents Dan and Terry hosted us before the ride. So we got to see friends and sample some wonderful Mexican food before the ride (where the hostess fruit pie becomes haute cuisine).
Of course, no ride fails to have bumps.  I had an 82 hour work week the week before followed by running support for a Minnesota 600k of my own design.  I was already still getting over sleep deprivation at the start.  Ron had similar challenges.

Day 1:  Bremerton to Pacific City, 400k
Started: 9:00 pm Finished 6:00 pm

We started from the ferry and wound our way through town for a couple of miles before emerging onto a short stretch of freeway and then ducking off onto more quiet roads.  Of note in this section was the blue moon (second full moon in a calendar month) which cast shadows everywhere.  The moon was to be a constant companion on this ride and I found myself singing "Blue Moon" to myself frequently.  The stretch along the Hood Canal was especially nice with the cool, white light reflecting in the wat
er.  I 
have never seen this area before and it has the feeling of being almost a step out of 
time compared with busy Seattle, only a couple of hours away.  We passed through
Belfair and pushed on.

Pre rides are always somewhat of an adventure.  The first Info Control question was what brand of propane was for sale at a closed store in Matlock.  Unfortunately, the tank is freshly painted and it is no longer obvious what kind of propane is for sale.  We spent quite a few minutes riding around and looking for another good question.  I snapped lots of pictures.  I have lots of pictures from this ride of street signs and gas pumps.  There were virtually no cars around.

As we passed through towns, we checked signs and turns.  First control in Raymond, was a very small gas station and I got extra food just in case.  In Naselle, the cafe name had changed.  Wanting to get over the Astoria Bridge, we decided to press on.  Bad move, should have stopped here.  There really were not any cafes in Astoria and the lack of breakfast was not fun; should have stopped in Naselle.  We stopped to check our tires carefully before crossing and we passed the bridge easily.  Especially since it was down to one lane due to an accident.

Once in Oregon, we stopped for water at the visitor center at Lewis And Clark National Park.  No food, but there was plenty of water and the sun was out so we shed clothes.  I ate a bunch of My extra food and felt better.  The park itself was really very nice and we actually saw an owl fly through the air and burrow its way into a bush.  The next few miles, off the 101, are rolling with some nice views as you approach Seaside.  We stopped there for a bit more water.  But Cannon Beach was the control and only 10 miles up the road.

Cannon Beach was packed with people and I had a big lunch with chicken salad, yogurt, juice and a candy bar - nothing tastes so good as when you are on a brevet and had a Hostess Fruit Pie for breakfast.  We eventually spotted IronK in the teaming crowds; she loves the ocean.

The next 100k to Pacific City were flat out gorgeous.   The 101 winds up and down huge hills with stunning vistas of the coast.  It almost looks like a museum display with boulders, waves and sheer drop offs.  Ron was faster than I was on this section; I kept losing myself in the ride and paying more attention to the scenery than my speed.  We caught back with each other in Nehalem and picked up our pace with a big tailwind!  Pacific City finally appeared and IronK was waiting with food laid out in the room.  I laid my clothes out quickly, ate like a pig and was off to sleep.

Day 2: Pacific City to Roseburg, 330k
Start: 10:30 pm  finish 6:00 pm

We elected to ride this pre ride under the ACP rules that all controls are timed, even info controls.
So to keep time in the bank, we left at 10:30, 2 hours before Pacific City closed.  The next info control was at Slab Creek and closed at about 1:00 am.  When we found the turnoff, we also found a big sign ROAD CLOSED and a smaller hand painted one saying "Bikes can't get through either".  Time to pull out the cue sheet and the GPS.  At this point, a car came down the closed road.  Two locals with very detailed information, it appears a bridge is out.  Detour will be in the final ride to make up for the lost 8k.  We collected lots of information, took pictures and moved on.

There were still lots of ups and downs over the next miles, but the presence of the ocean, it was still easy to lose yourself.  I discovered that watching Ron's cadence hit some strange wavelength of my brain and found myself almost hypnotized as we pedaled.  We stopped in Newport for a late night breakfast and did a few off the 101 backroads to various info controls.  A fog descended on us just before Waldport.  The moon was especially nice in this segment.  The Otter Creek Loop was also very nice.  Again, the full moon was a companion in the night and a gentle fog made this section almost ethereal.

At dawn, we crossed into Waldport and continued on the coast to Florence.  This was somewhat of a strange part of the ride.  I road a little slower to give myself a chance to eat since, again, no services in Waldport.  After about 5 cookies, a banana, and a 500 calorie oatmeal cream pie, I was nearly in a sugar coma!  Besides, there is nothing more inclined to make one introspective than the ocean.  The big craggy hills were magnificent and I found myself again inclined to lose myself in my thoughts and the scenery.  Ron eventually offered me a sandwich in addition to the food I had.

At Florence, we called IronK to give her our ETA at Roseburg so that she could sightsee as much as possible, but I was also having my traditional dawn lull, particularly nasty after the long night on the road.  I had some cookies and got water as well.  Only a few miles to Reedsport, where we would turn away from the coast.  The next few miles were among my best climbs and I remember the final descent down into the river valley with the ocean in the background as one of my favorite views.

At Reedsport, I got a giant coke at subway, got a sandwich to go and ate some other food.  Ron caught up to me and we rested a little before heading for the final 100k of the day.  As I left, a girl leaned out of a pickup truck and yelled something like, "you aren't going up that pass?  It's really hard".   Hmmm, I did note a summit listed on Camp Creek Road at 2100 ft.  Of course, we couldnt be very far from sea level at the moment, being on the coast and all...

But Camp Creek Road turned out to be another big highlight for me with a narrow, twisting lane next to a picturesque mountain stream.  Kids played in the water from the many primitive camping spots.  It was still early afternoon and I was thinking things were going fast.  Then came the hill.  Frankly, this is the hardest hill of the ride, it made Crater Lake the next day look like a piece of cake, very happily that was seriously comforting even at the time.  About 4 miles long at about 10-13% with some crumbling pavement and frost heaves to keep you on your toes.  Still offered some nice views.  About .2 from the top, a guy passed me on a scooter and asked how I felt.  I asked him how I looked.  He zoomed off.

I got to the top and got off my bike. We needed a control question at the top of this.  The question was "turn around, what do you see?". I counted the things after that I saw:

1.  My liver on the ground quivering
2.  Shattered remains of other cyclists who climbed this hill
3.  A 747
4.  Ron, pedaling up the hill

The descent was on gravel.  We had to use brakes enough to require stopping once to cool rims.  The view was spectacular, but we soon passed from the pretty forest to a large logged area that looked like the set of Space Invaders.  It made me think lots about forestry policy.  Finally, we crossed the Umpqua River and cruised along the rest of the way to Roseburg.  Again, we arrived at 6:00 pm.  Seemed to be a recurring theme.

Day 3: Roseburg to Klamath Falls
started 10:15 pm Finished 5:59 pm (hey the one minute seemed important at the time)

Ron elected to get up early at 9:30 saying he felt that he needed the extra time.  After the previous night's sleepiness, I wanted a full 3 hours.  So Ron got up early.   In truth, in a single hotel room, one person getting up is everyone getting up.  So I didnt get as much as I wanted but I at least got a REM cycle in.  Ron departed about 20 minutes before I did.  I drank about half a quart of Kefir, ate a banana, packed a bunch of food including 6 bananas, a Starbucks Doubleshot, 2 sandwiches, cookies and some extra gel and shot blocks.   100 miles to the Crater Lake Control on the rim, all uphill.   I was out the door pedaling hard at 10:15 to catch Ron.  

The first few miles are big roller especially through the town of Glide, where I had a run in with some unruly teenagers, really who hangs out on a dark road at midnight who is not up to no good.  This was rather unnerving and I wondered for the next few miles if they might not come after me.  But finally, I was pretty sure I was okay.  

The next 35 miles were among my favorite ever.  The full moon above reflected on the Umpqua River, full of rushing whitewater.  The effect was absolutely magical, one I will never forget as long as I live.  Ron eventually came up behind me and I told him I was having one of my best night rides ever.  Not sure he quite understood me and i let him pass, not wanting to waste a moment of the serenity.  I paused several times to look up at the sky and marvel a how distant civilization was at this point.  I think maybe one car passed me the whole time. Unbelievable.

At 50 miles, I hit the Info Control at Umpqua's Last Resort. Here I was to leave the magical river behind, but was greeted by fresh pavement. Too new to even have had stripes painted. They must have just finished laying it down. At this point it was about 3:00 am. I hadn't been moving very fast, well on purpose, so I decided at this point to pick up the pace and catch Ron. I had a sort goal to reach the rim by noon too and that seemed quite achievable as it was but 45 miles away. It was at about this time that I noticed that first, the temperature had plummeted from a balmy 67 degrees to about 40 degrees and second, I had ploughed through all 6 bananas and much of my food; I downed my last sandwich. Amazing how much food it takes to stay toasty warm. Now catching up was also serving to generate some heat! I forged ahead and picked up the pace. After about 2 hours, still no sight of Ron and I was climbing hard. This section is all uphill and the stars were beautiful. I alternated between looking for his taillight and looking at them.

My thermometer read down to 34 degrees and my hands were numb as the sun finally started glinting in the sky. I realized that I was facing south at this point, my computer said I had already passed Diamond Lake, the only food. I stared for awhile and realized it certainly had to be off, but the dawn is my most tired period and I was suddenly exhausted. Time for 5 minutes of roadside meditation.

5 minutes later voices called out in alarm. Two guys had pulled up, first car in ages, and were alarmed to see me mediatating. Okay, it isn't every day you see some woman prone on the ground with crossed hands on the chest 80 miles from the nearest town, but it is the 21st century...

I thanked them for their concern and asked them about how far back Diamond Lake was. "It is about quarter mile up the road", was the answer. Oh happy day! I was certain Ron would be there; he loves breakfast.

Sure enough, the turn was but a quarter mile away. I sped down the hill for what seemed like a really long time. I passed a dock and signs, the lake was very pretty in the rising sun too. A shame most might miss this. Then I realized, breakfast was nowhere to be seen. I must have done this wrong. I turned around and went back. I found a bike trail near the boat put in and sure enough, there was another turnoff I had missed to the resort. I walked in looking for Ron, not there. Hmmm, he must have already left. I sat down and ordered blueberry pancakes, coffee, orange juice and drank all the coffee creamer. Maybe I was a little bonked too, maybe a little blue in the face, maybe not looking my very best. I inquired if they had seen a man in a yellow jacket with a helmet like mine. "Where were you staying last night?". When i said we were riding from Roseburg she looked at me as if I had suddenly declared myself in danger of going into labor. "We haven't seent anyone like that. We'll send someone to look for him right away!". Horrors, my somewhat slow brain grated into conversational mode, "no, no, you do not need to do that, he has done this many times. I must have just gotten ahead of him." That did not help things. Clearly, I needed help with delivery. I settled for my food and devoured it along with the tub of butter. Looking back, maybe I should have left the butter alone and just ordered eggs too.

About the time I finished. The waitress announced that they had found Ron in the Cinnamon Flats. That not being on my cue sheet, I inquired further. 5 miles back! I did somehow get ahead of him. What a puzzler, it wasn't like there were any wrong turns to take. I paid the bill and left, got lost again, apparently I have become addicted to cue sheets and can't find anything without one. After some milling and the realization that I my computer was missing (I later found it by backtracking to my meditation spot), I finally found the climb out and ran into Ron coming down the hill.

"What's the deal, they sent 2 people after me! You aren't supposed to alarm the locals!". Really, they alarmed themselves, I assured him. he told me to go on without him since he was stopping for breakfast.

I later found out they sent people after him because they were concerned that I was alone and didn't look good.

Okay, major aside here, there is no way to annoy a lesbian randonneuse more than to suggest that she needs a man to ride. It isnt that we dont like to ride with our male counterparts, but they arent mandatory - look at Martyna Navritolova, she didn't need male tennis partners! This type of chivalrous behavior is something I, and my randonneuse friends, all struggle with when we ride alone. Of course the men never notice it, because it doesn't show up until they are not there... Furthermore, I defy anyone to look great after riding 500 miles in 57 hours.

Full of calories and with temperatures rising quickly, I picked up my pace and cruised into the part at a bit past 8:30. I had to wait in line for awhile and was temporarily horrified that I had spent all my cash on breakfast, how was I going to pay to get the park? Fortunately, the park service now takes credit cards. The ranger asked if I had enough water, that it was 9 miles to the rim village. I did not have the heart to tell him that I just rode here overnight by myself for 80 miles with only what I had on my bike. And I had forgotten to get water at Diamond Lake with all the rukus. Oh well.

I kept waiting for the big climb, but I quickly sped across what looked like a very long flat area. I even had a bit of a tailwind starting so I was making great time. I stopped to take off the rest of my cold weather stuff and tackled the climb. After Camp Creek Road it was so benign I was laughing. I go to the rim around 9:30 and stopped at the first overlook to eat the very last of my food, GU and some shot blocks. I had arrived!

Crater Lake is one of the most impressive places I have EVER seen. I marveled and took pictures, had my picture taken and generally loafed. I'd have gone for a hike but for my shoes. I proceeded along stopping at every overlook to take more pictures and marvel. There was more climbing too, but it passed easily. Okay I might have overdone it. I took about 2 hours on the rim and at the rim village. I listened in on a geology tour, getting finally to the control at 11:30. The people at the lodge were wonderful and were way impressed that someone would ride 550 miles on a bike to get there.

I finally found IronK in the parking lot of the Rim Village. She had a ton of food with her and we sat down and had lunch together. She had not seen Ron yet but would keep and eye out. I started down the mountain for my final leg at about 1:00 or so. Only 70 miles to go and much of it downhill! I had about 11 hours to do it in too.

I got partway down the rim and had to use the restroom. After seeing IronK and riding alone for so long, I was really feeling like finishing with someone. So I waited a few minutes for Ron, who then dusted me on the descent. We all now know how he will eventually die - at about 50 mph. I am a somewhat dull descender, not enough weight and long chain stays do not help.

The last 40 miles to Klamath Falls we're pleasant enough, though the pollen bothered the asthma for a while and we had stop and eat. By day 3 of riding like this, it seems like the tank is nearly always waiting to be filled. The final info control at a lakeshore in Klamath Falls, was sort of bittersweet. One one hand, the last control and 5 miles to go. On the other hand, the view is not really great there.

We rolled into the Olympic Best Western at 5:58 pm. For some silly reason, I was in a state over time and made them record the time on the big, fancy clock visible at the door. IronK had already checked in and was waiting. Done with 6 hours in the bank. My fastest grand randonnee ever! Of course, I really have to thank Ron for being so picky about the clock and keeping time in the bank. Experience tells.

This route was absolutely breathtaking from start to finish. I got lost in the ride so much, I felt much more like I was sightseeing than anything else, though I suspect my meandering might have irritated Ron a couple times ... I think about 9 people did the final ride with all finishing but one. I watched the weather carefully and made sure that all the reservations I had set up worked well. SIR has run this ride for 3 consecutive years and I suspect they will give it a rest. They have so many wonderful rides to choose from, I look forward to doing them all!

Post Script: How did I pass Ron on a road with no side roads? I found out later, somewhere in the construction zone with the new pavement was a porta pot! He had stopped for a nature break and I had ridden right past, completely fixed on the road ahead and not looking for his bike standing off to the side. He had then had a broken chain in the dark, further hindering progress as I got farther and farther ahead. I still have to laugh at the thought.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Susan Plonsky for President!

It's been a bit of recovery to ditch the pneumonia, but Road Pixie is back to scheming to do more rides.  She has also become philosophical about how she managed to finish the Cascades.

As a result of these deliberations, it is time to honor one of the great minds in randonneuring today, Arizona RBA Susan Plonsky.

Why should Susan be honored as such?  The reason is simple, she has a sacred gift for picking dates for her rides in which the conditions are so incredibly difficult as to defy reason.  All this in a state where, during the cycling season, the weather is nearly always perfect.

Her Arivaca 400k which sure has only about 4,000 ft of climbing, has all of it continuously in one long 125 mile starting stretch.  Sure it ain't Colorado, but in 2011 when a real 50 mph headwind got added to that 125 mile gradual climb and a sleet storm topped off the finish, it was the single greatest challenge I have ever had on a bike; it was tougher than that 200k in the snowstorm here in Minnesota.  And she manages to pick a date like this almost every year - this year's Tombstone literally was my Tombstone.

Many have asked how I managed to finish the Cascades 1200k with pneumonia in the rain at 36 degrees on the summit of Washington pass.  The answer is simple, I was ready for it.  As I was riding up, I knew I had gotten through worse before and survived and I would this time as well.  I had already been strung out on asthma, no sleep, bad weather, heavy wind, etc.   I had the clothes, the bike, and most importantly, my thoughts focused.

So if you really want to finish a 1200k (or any long ride), the best thing to do to prepare is already experience the worst of conditions.  And you can count on Susan to pick a date 1 year out that will undoubtedly challenge you.  Horrible wind, driving rain, blowing sand, hail, sleet, burning heat and endless irritating, yet invisible, hills plus Mt Lemmon with a nice 25 mile ascent are the keys to success come the day of your 1200k, when you will look back fondly on those rides and know that whatever the mountain dishes out, you can take it.

So Road Pixie tips her hat to her favorite RBA, Susan Plonsky.  Some may call it a curse, but I say it's a gift.  Everyone should ride in Arizona.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Road Pixie and Noble SIRS vs The Cascades Dragon and other things that go bump in the night


This was an epic ride of epic proportions.  It has been said that there are really only 7 epic stories.  This might count as an eighth.

The Cascades 1200k is a mighty dragon of a ride.  Everyone has their demons/low moments to face.  This particular dragon was definitely a multi colored one (hot, cold, rain, wind, other weird stuff).  The weather was on the cool side (40-60 degrees), unlike many previous runnings which tended to be red (just darn hot).  I had payback for the route, it slew my hamstring in 2010.  This was my year to conquer!

Of course no noble dragonslayer goes into battle without allies.  I had lots of allies on this ride - in fact, they made the ride.  I have spent lots of time trying to convince those on our local board that just because randonneuring states that each person is on their own ride, that does not mean that riders don't band together like so many men/women in tights.  That is particularly true with my experience with SIR.  So many strong riders that value the camraderie of the sport more than a fast or strong finish.

So I began this ride, despite a questionable forecast, certain that this would be my chance to overcome some real personal demons and have a fabulous time.  Of course, some new ones showed up too - in the form of the Black Lady Pneumonia.

Some of the cast of this epic battle assembled at the Monroe Guesthouse on June 23 at 6:00 am.
  • Road Pixie, DragonSlayer
  • Rondalf the Grey and Hi-Vis Yellow
  • Fair Deirdre, Lady of the Brake
  • Conan the Rhode Island Barbarian
  • Andy the Whistling Bard
  • Jan, Warrior Cyclist
  • Sir Stephen, Wielder of Canadian Tire Fire
  • Sir Christian of DC
  • Tweedle-Bob and Tweedle-Graham
  • A band of Japanese Samurai
  • An Army of SIRs and other noble knights in tights
Standing support, Dan and Terry, fairy godmothers, along with Jennifer and yet a second army of knights to cheer, fill bottles, feed, and point us in the right direction.  Really,  SIR has the best support of any ride I have ever been on.  It makes me want to move to Seattle.  Finally, I have a special thank you to Bob, Renee and the others that helped me at the epic finish.  And to Bill D and Steven who drove me back and forth from the airport.

Finally, in the center of everything, my trusty steed, the Princess, a custom Waterford frame with brand new HED wheels and 28mm Grand Bois tires.  I had taken these tires on the advice of my framebuilder, Vince.  I was very fortunate that they functioned very well.  This was one of the more comfortable rides I have ever had.  No pain anywhere - except one place and it wasn't in contact with the bike...

Day 1 - The Dragon's Tail Through The Ancient Forest

Low, the knights rode forth through the dampness.  Dark clouds boil an the dragon belches bits of glass throughout the ancient forest of ferns, trees an flowers.  In the distance, the mighty moutain waited for their approach...

Clouds, wet roads, the adventure begins
I arose expecting nothing but rain all day long.  Instead, the roads were merely wet from the rain of the night before.  However, the morning was actually dry and pretty with lots of foxglove flowers in bloom along the road.  I rode alongside Rondalf, Deidre and Sir Christian for quite a few miles as we passed the small towns in the foothills of the Cascades.  We must have passed at least 7-8 riders with flat tires in the first 20 miles.  I haven't seen this many flats on one ride since Cycle Oregon, when 500 people parked their bikes on a field of goathead thorns for lunch.

Christian an I were ahead when I had my first, an it turne out only, flat tire - a piece of glass.  He rode ahead and Ron and Deirdre stopped to give me a hand finishing up.  They then went ahead while I finished pumping and checked the other tire. 
Thus, came the first commandment of the quest:  Thou shalt not ride in the gutter without puncture proof tires lest yee be left to fend for thyself and catch up!

Blue sky appears on Day 1
Yet unexpectedly, the sun and blue sky emerged this day, which considerably lifted my spirits.  Riding alone now, I resolved to rejoin my comrades as soon as possible and picked up my pace.  Jasmine from Wales and a couple other riders were behind me temporarily, but I was riding well and even though there were quite a few hills, I had little difficulty moving along.  This area, through Issaquah and other towns is down in a valley which was beautiful as the sun poked its head out.  I passed an old friend, Matthew from California, doing this on a recumbent (only his third ride ever on the bike after breaking an ankle 12 weeks earlier, impressive).
Cumberland Control, Road Pixie's Steed,
The Princess, in the very front
Cumberland came along quickly, the end of the sharp hills now only a distant memory.  This control, manned by  Jennifer and several others, had homemade cookies so good that I was forced to eat 5 of them.  Ron, Deirdre and Christian were all there.  Ron and Deirdre having arrived about 30 seconds earlier were drinking chocolate milk and eating.  I made for a quick stop and the 3 of us left a few minutes later, Christian caught up a little later.
The four of us were together for quite some time.  This section flattened considerably and though there was a slight headwind, we moved along well to the town of Buckley.
It was at Buckley that the rain began.  As we turned off the road towards Orville, we stopped to don the raingear (honestly, we did look armored).  Shortly, it was raining hard, not the hardest I have ever been in, but a fairly cold rain.  At least there was no thunder, just rain.

Thankfully, I had suited up that morning in my winter tights over my shorts.  They have a fleece lined neoprene on the front and are incredibly warm without being too warm if it isn't raining.  I also had my heavy duty Showers Pass raincoat with a full hood.  It wasn't cold enough for full gloves, so I left them for later in the day.  Go Minnesota - we rule when it comes to bad weather!
I remembered this section as being just beautiful the last time I had been here.  Especially Orville Road along a long lake looks like something out of a movie.  It still looks like it belongs in a movie, even in the rain.  I did feel very guilty that my Berthoud rear fender didn't have a mudflap, it made it hard for others to draft off me. 
We got to Eatonville and stopped for Subway, lunch spot of champions.  It was just past 1 pm and considering the amount of rain, this was okay for me.  We drank coffee and hot water and ate .... lots.  I had been eating along the way and was glad of it.  I've done enough cold riding to know it is even more important to eat when it is cold.

One of the Japanese riders came in just behind us, looking a bit bedraggled, but happy.  She was even faster at controls than we were and was in and out in a flash.
Skate Creek Road
It was still pouring rain when we left and fortunately we had lots of climbing which soon warmed me up.  The next few miles usually give a few glimpses of Ranier, but today, it was too cloudy.  But gradually, the rain began to let up and that was a cheery thought.  If you don't like how your brevet is going, wait 5 minutes and see.  I was quite excited at this point because the route had changed and Skate Creek Road, through Mt Ranier National Park, seemed like it was going to be a real treat.  The three of us kept pedaling, pausing momentarily a couple times.  We passed another Japanese rider in a long, green tunnel like section of Hwy 7. 

I felt very good at this section and tended to float ahead of the other two.  The streets were still wet and I was conscious of the fact that riding behind me was not fun.  We were together as we cruised onto Skate Creek Road.
The Fair Deirdre rolls into Packwood
That road was a big turning point in the day.  The clouds began to thin and as I came up to another couple of SIR riders, the sun came out in force!  The day began to warm and my clothes started to dry very quickly.  Skate Creek Road, though it was uphill, was a wonderful climb and the 5 of us chatted and moved along easily.  The fast 10 mile descent was even more fun, beautiful and with the sun it was a major highpoint of the ride.

Ron, Deirdre and I stopped for a sit down at a cafe for a dinner of chili and mashed potatoes.  Delicious, I felt so much better.  Ranier was peaking through the clouds, unbelievable majesty.
White Pass is a long climb, but so scenic that it is easy to ignore it.  I had to switch batteries for my GPS, but caught up easily.  We got to the summit at about 8:30, quickly donned warm clothes and blasted down White Pass.  I lost sight of both Ron and Deirdre and stopped for a moment, worried I had missed the turn.  But no, we regrouped and rode into the Clear Lake Control just as it got dark.

Jennifer and others were ready with warm blankets, cups of noodles, hot chocolate, the works.  I did manage to burn the heck out of the roof of my mouth, but it tasted sooo gooood.  It's hard to leave when you are that comfy, but we at last got moving.  There are a couple of climbs along the lake, by this time it was dark.  I once again got ahead and as we turned back onto Hwy 12, got into a line with 4 others.  At this point, a car threw a large cup of ice cubes out the window at the lead rider.  Of course, the cup hit the person at the back - me.  I saw it spinning at me and it hit the bike right on the fork spraying cubes everywhere.  I stayed up, but was shaken and resolved to stick with the guys. 

I got behind Albert from SIR and we screamed down the hill at about 25 mph.  What a rush!  We had a big tailwind and coupled with the downhill, we flew into Naches at record speed.  We got to the control just before midnight.  Half an hour ahead of when I had gotten there 2 years ago (okay, we had gone 20 miles less, but the weather had not cooperated this time).  I had pre-organized everything to make sure that I wasted no time.  I had my bag open and everything out in minutes, wet clothes laid out, shoes stuffed with newspapers, in 10 minutes.

Ron and Deirdre were eating at this point too and we agreed on a 4:30 departure.  I was sleeping at 12:20.

Day 2:  Road Pixie Beats the Demon Hill

And so the knights continued along their quest, again they ride forth into wetness and cold, across the desert to face the demon that lives near the Mighty Columbia and beyond.  The Dragonslayer readied her steed and shield to face the stuff of nightmares.
Day 2 was a big day for me.  This day, I got my nickname for the ride, the dragonslayer.  2 years ago, my first climb out of the Columbia River Valley on L had actually ripped my hamstring, an injury that took 8 months of physical therapy to heal.  I had a big score to settle.

I awoke without a wake up, which I did every day.  At breakfast, I got a big hug from Terry, my fairy godmother.  Though most could not possibly understand, nothing beats a good hug from a gay man.  There's a reason for the term "Family" - this was also Pride Weekend by the way.  It was so good to see him and he came bearing delicious blueberry pancakes, syrup, and sausages.  Glory!

Lodgepole Control
Next, was the 45 miles to Lodgepole campground on Chinook Pass.  There is always a huge headwind going up the moutain, the result of cold air on the top rushing down to the lower reaches.  I was ready for it mentally and this climb, while long, was pretty decent.  I was very careful not to blow myself up on the wind however.  You can't beat the wind, best to just strike a balance with it and make steady progress.  After a 5:00 am start, a little late, we got to Lodgepole a bit before 9.  I was feeling good and looking foward to the now tailwind and a good, dry ride through the desert.  My chain was making squeaking noises, but the TSA had lost or confiscated my lube for some reason.  We cruised down the mountain, pausing briefly to ditch clothes.  I had my favorite sun outfit for the day, all white.  "It's the Lady in White,"  yelled some others as they passed.
Road Pixie in White, note overuse of facial sunscreen
We made some good time back along Old Naches Road.  The sun was out and the temperature was perfect.  This section is full of cherry orchards and the strange weather had them in early.  I really enjoyed this section and also caught up with Ed, from Oregon, whom I had give space in my room to back in Monroe.  A SIR volunteer oiled my squeaky chain and notified us that the cue sheet was wrong and that we needed to turn left.  We rolled into Fred Meyer at Fruitvale at around 1:30.  We spent 45 minutes eating and reapplying sunscreen.  The Rattlesnake Hills awaited.

Last time, I got lost and wasted time in Yakima on the bike trails and getting on 24.  This time, I remembered the way exactly, and sure enough, when we got to 24, a group of SIR folks were puzzling over the cue sheet.

This group stayed together up until Mattawa and it was one of the funnest afternoons of riding I have had.  In the group were Andy, whom I knew from PBP who whistles like a pro.  So much fun to have music on the ride.  Also with them was Jan, whom I had never met, but was a former racer and had thighs of steel ( I appreciate thighs like that).   Last time, it had been 95 degrees, this time it was 75 and we had a tailwind too!  The Rattlesnake Hills had been defanged for the day by the lovely weather and good company. 
Left to Right:  Conan the RI Barbarian, Andy the Whistling Bard, Jan Warrior Cyclist, Road Pixie, Sir Steven Black Knight
We stopped at Vernitas to lolly gag around, take pictures and rest before the big climb.  David, another rider from Japan, was also enjoying the afternoon.  I psyched myself up for THAT Hill.  I have had nightmares about THAT Hill.  Especially the part where I had stood on my pedals and managed to rip my hamstring.  And this year, my 36 tooth cog was the size of a shield.  This time, I was going up.

I had to laugh at the bottom.  The road was covered in the carcasses of thousands of 3 inch grasshoppers!  Others jumped out on the road to eat the bodies of their comrades.  They must have been trying to climb this hill when they fell.  Thank god, I had eaten an extra sandwich at Vernitas, I'd hate to have to eat one of my fellow riders to get up this thing.
At least one person took pictures of me yelling in triumph at the top.  I sprinted up the last bit yelling "BOOO-YA".  It was just one of those moments in your life, when you accomplish a goal that you have set and finally achieve.

Columbia River at Sunset
The big group rolled into Mattawa around 8:00 to sandwiches and delicious homemade coconut cookies.  We had only 42 miles to the overnight and we got going around 8:30, descending along the Columbia in the golden light of the setting sun.  Of course, this area is perfect for cadis flies, who must also have been hanging out for the view.  Millions of them rose from the road in from of Ron as he led the line.  I kept inhaling them which slowed me considerably.  I dropped off the line, realizing that I also really should have used the facilities back in Mattawa.

I caught back up at Beverly Burke Road, but climbed more slowly than the others and fell back.  For a few miles, I enjoyed the dusk and noted the big irrigators on the fields on either side of me.  We had a severe cross wind and many were beginning to turn on.  I didn't know it at the time, but this was possibly not a good thing.

I caught up to some of the riders who were changing a flat, but went on figuring they would easily catch me and continued.  A minute later, Jan caught up and we road together pretty much the rest of the way to Quincy.  Really enjoyed the company.  I was feeling a bit tired and as I looked up into the night, I could see tiny droplets in the beam of my headlight.  It stank, really bad.  It appears that irrigation in this part of the country is loaded with cow manure and sometimes pesticides or other fertilizer.  I started coughing a bit and resolved to breathe only through my nose.  That slowed me yet a little more.

Jan and I caught up to Ron and Deirdre just outside George at around 11.   The 4 of us then cruised through the wind the final 10 miles to Quincy.  We got there just after midnight.  Terry once again took care of my bottles and got me food.  I also got to see Stephen, whom I knew from Arizona.  He's a fast rider, normally I wouldn't really get to talk to him.  "You have a line of fire coming out from behind your wheel," I joked.  We all laughed.

I corrected yet another mistake by bringing flip flops for the walk out to the gym to sleep.  I brought my inhaler with me this time as my chest was a little tight.  But it had been cold, I reasoned, and there had been lots of grass (which I am allergic to).  I used it once during the night, but otherwise slept well.

Day 3: Winds, Climbing, and a Loup Loup

And the winds whipped into a fury and darkness fell upon the knights as then continued their quest and the wolves approached in the distance. And in the shadows lurks the Black Lady.

This was a part of the ride I was very excited about since I had DNF'd at Quincy 2 years earlier.  I felt pretty good that morning, though a little stiff.  Must have been because I left my pillow in my drop sack.  We left and got going for Ephrata at around 6 am.  The day was grey with some splatter rain, nothing bad.  But the wind was screaming from the north, I was somewhat surprised as I had somewhat expected the westerly wind to have continued.  We chugged along at about 13 mph, "I hope this isn't our top speed for the day," remarked Ron.

At Ephrata, I filled my camelback since it was a quite a haul.  We put more rain gear on as the rain started in harder.  The forecast had been for 82, it was about 52.  The next few miles turned directly into the wind and Ron did most of the pulling in what I can only way was supremely impressive.  As we passed Soap Lake, we gained a line of riders behind us.  Big rollers along this valley in the wind really busted some people up.  I have ridden in so much wind it didn't phase me and I easily kept up with Ron.  But I decided to climb a little slower as we approached the big climb to Dry Falls.  This day just wasn't my climbing day, I thought.  My chest continued to be a little tight.
Ron and Deirdre at Dry Falls

Dry Falls was an incredible sight.  Cut in just a few days when an ancient ice dam gave way and dumped a huge lake down the valley.  It was worth ogling for a few minutes.  And drinking gatorade and eating a bunch of potato chips.  I got the info control answer from the control worker.  We rolled out again again to the north.  At least the big climb was over.

Boulders in the middle of Barley Fields
Well, the big climb wasn't over.  It was just beginning.  Up and up we went on a road with some very nasty traffic.  Ron and Deirdre got ahead of me and I wondered if the barely fields appearing next to me might be bothering my asthma.  At this point, I finally stopped and got out some food.  I'd gone through a bar and a gel when Deirdre came up to me.  She was concerned about our progress (which had been negative going up the hill) as Ron was also a little faded after his giant pull earlier.  Fortunately, the gel made me feel better and we were soon moving at a much better pace.  We even turned west to get a little relief from the wind which was finally dying.  Large erratic boulders punctuated the landscape.  Very cool.

Mansfield was a fun control.  Terry and his partner Dan were both there and they took my camelback.  It wasn't hot enough to make it necessary and it was hurting my back.  I ate as much as I could and got some gummy worms at the store (in case I wanted to fend off another bonk).  We left the control and fell in with Bob and Graham, also from BC like Deirdre.  Graham is also a friend of the Minnesota RBA, small world eh?  The 5 of us had lots of fun joking about who would room with who that night.  Especially who would get to sleep with the lesbian.

The next few miles were lots of fun and more fun due to the massive descent into Bridgeport.  We stopped at the foot of Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia.  It's larger than Niagara Falls, quite a sight.  We got going after a quick pit stop and moved on to cross the Columbia again Brewster.  These are poor towns, lots of agricultural workers, lots of odd smells, probably fertilizer, I hope.

Graham and Bob pacelining to Malott
We climbed again out of the Columbia River, trading off on the paceline all the way until Malott.  The warm sun felt good and I was still riding strong, but near the end, my chest tightened even more and I realized that I probably needed to use my inhaler.  I have enough experience to know that when I am riding, my body produces steroids, those steroids keep my asthma in check to a large extent.  When I stop, I generally get worse.  The last big challenge of the day was Loup Loup Pass (meaning Wolf Wolf).  Having read lots about how hard this hill was, I resolved to move very quickly through Malott.  The others would certainly catch me anyway since I would have to climb a little slower.

Loup Loup Summit - reflective gear
does not help photography
Sure enough, I started coughing as soon as I stopped pedaling.  Rats.  I explained the situation. So Ron gave me a sandwich and I got directions and started off.  The coughing stopped within a couple miles.   The first couple kilometers are steep, but I've done so much worse (thank you Nelson's Folly).   I saw a huge storm blowing around on the top of the pass, and stopped to put a vest on.  Loup Loup was not that bad of a climb.  Alone, I really enojoyed the greenery and the peace as the day started to wind down.  In many ways, it was my best climb.  Some started passing me near the top including Deirdre, who had developed little wings late in the ride.  The 3 of us all got to the top at nearly the same time.  It was about 9:00 pm and we had a big descent and 24 more miles to Mazama.  The storm had passed but the roads were wet, what luck to have missed it.  But it was getting cold so all my clothes went on including a wool undershirt.

After a ceremonial picture, we whizzed down the mountain.   The last 24 miles really seemed to go on for an eternity.  One rider was in front of us and I kept waiting for his light to disappear turning into the control.  On and on we went.

Finally, we got to the control about 11:45 pm.  I dismounted the bike, grabbed my inhaler got my card signed and went for the food.  The coughing was pretty bad this time and I had a hard time getting it under control.  Ed, who had DNF'd, got my bag with my oral meds which I downed.  I asked if it were possible to be in a room alone, I would be coughing for sure.  Asthma is a pain in the butt, but I really wanted it only to spoil my sleep.  Terry and Dan got me some rice with cheese and a bunch of chocolate milk.  That was good, though looking back, I should have avoided dairy.  Oh well.

Ron, Deridre and I got put in the same room.   I slept on the floor rather than keep Deirdre awake in the bed.  Probably should have propped myself up, but I did choke lots of stuff up during the night.  I took that for a good sign.

Day 4:  The Day of Reckoning: Road Pixie battles the Dark Lady Pneumonia

In the end, all must face the dragon alone.  But sometimes, there are crueler and darker demons in the dark places. It is at these times, when all hope is lost that we have the opportunity to show the very best sides of our natures.

We were down at breakfast at about 3:15.  Good thing, there was confusion about when it started.  I didn't bother with the shower.  I hadn't slept great and suited up with my warmest clothes once more.  I ate as much as I possibly could, but really wanted to get out as fast as possible.  I worried about the climb up to Washington Pass.  74 miles to Marblemount and only about 9 hours.I ran into Mark R, the ride organizer, and asked about the weather. 80% chance of rain on the pass. Gulp! But I have done much, much worse.
Still a couple miles to the top, note the road spiraling above

At 4:30 I was riding out of the control.  For the first 13 miles, I made good progress.  At 7:00 am, I was 2/3 of the way up.  What a relief.  It wasn't all that bad.  Cloudy and not a nice day.  It then started to get colder and colder and I could see the snow on the road above.  I wish I had taken more pictures, but in retrospect I am lucky I took what I did.  My thermometer read 36 degrees as I rode past 10 ft snow banks.  It began to rain.  I had only 2 miles to go.  Unfortunately, I started slowing.  It took almost until 8:30 to get to the top.  I went down Washington Pass and realized I had forgotten to put my second hat on.  I stopped at the bottom, put it on and wrapped myself up. And headed up to Rainy Pass - easy climb.

The big descent started and I saw Ron at the top saying he was stopping to use the restroom.  The agreement was to stop at Newhalem at the bottom.  I started down and just cut loose.  I descended as I did not want to stay up and get chilled.  Down, down, down.  I was curiously never really cold (thank you Minnesota), but my glove liners (food gloves from Subway from Eatonville) were in bad shape.  I was getting harder and harder to breathe as I kept descending and I turned down an offer of cookies from  a Prius and stopped at Newhalem, bought a Hostess Fruit Pie (500 calories) and ate a bar too along with coffee and a little chocolate milk.  I also bought some rubber gloves.  Deirdre showed up very worried as she could not find Ron.  We were 15 miles from the control and it was 11:00.  2 1/2 hours to the control close.

Ron finally showed up and I could feel coughing coming on so I continued on.  I rolled alone through the rain, thankful that there was enough downhill to make it an easy pedal.  I got to Marblemount at just before noon. 

There I ate another fruit pie, more chocolate milk and said hello to many volunteers who were on their way back to the start.  Only 85 miles to go and I had 12 hours to do it in.  I was considerably cheered by the thought, but I didn't want to let my guard down, after all it was raining and 40 degrees.  At least I was from Minnesota, I know how to ride in this kind of weather.

So I took off again and eventually got in a paceline of guys moving at about 18 mph.  My legs were great, but soon I was huffing like crazy.  I thanked them and dropped off to ride at my own pace.  Turning onto 530, I had 18 miles to Darrington.  For awhile, I stared at my computer and counted my breathes.  Now I had a burning sensation, hmmm, that hadn't happened before.  Then a dry cough started.  But I was back in the forest and I made steady progress.

At about this time, a voice came up behind me, I turned to see Conan the Barbarian riding next to me in shorts.  His name was actually John and he had helped me put my bike together back at the start.  From Rhode Island, he had been in the Ken Bonner set years earlier and he offered to give me a pull at whatever pace I could manage.  We would wind up finishing together and I have to say that it takes some real balls to ride up a pass in the rain in shorts and the thinnest raincoat I had ever seen.  He'd bought his gloves at a grocery "It's my second pair".   Really fun to listen to him too.  I've always had a fondness for accents (I have several degrees in linguistics).   His fenders were as bad as mine and I appreciated his company so much after riding nearly by myself all day that I didn't mind eating a little road grit.  We finally made it to Darrington and stopped at a gas station for hot fluids.  He didn't want to cool down any more than I did.

A couple other riders came in behind us and sat down.  The clerk made a comment that her friend said it was sunny in Arlington.  "We are going there", I cried,"let's cruise, though we may burst into flames like vampires if the sun is really out".  Our exuberance was slightly dented by a guy with an an iPhone outside.  It was at least "cloudy".  So we cruised, passing Ron, Deirdre and several others on their way to find food. 

We cruised down the fast road now with a tailwind, stopping to give assistance to another BC rider who had had 6 flats and was out of CO2.  John gave him his pump and we agreed to stick out the rest of the ride together.  On we pedaled, though the coughing got worse and worse.  Finally, my breathe started to actually hitch up as we got to Arlington.  At least the rain was stopped.  We went into a Chevron station and I sat on the floor and did about 20 hits off my inhaler.  John got me some chocolate milk and I did feel better.  This had to qualify as the worst asthma attack ever.  I was surprisingly hot too.

We were just 32 miles from the end, but they were rollers.  We started back out and I found myself struggling on the simplest of hills.  John encouraged me to go on.  "Take your time, we still will be in by dark".  I did hit after hit on the inhaler to keep myself going.

It seemed like a long way, but we finally made it to Granite Falls.  The clerk there put a fan on my coat to dry it.  John got something at McDonalds, but my mouth was now raw from the inhaler (for those of you who haven't used them, the air is cold coming out).   I had some Muscle Milk and bought some dry gloves for under my rubber gloves.  The clerk was unbelievably nice.  Her younger sister had given her a special four left clover for luck that day.  She gave it to me for luck.  I put it in my brevet card and zipped it into my vest pocket.  Who knew there were leprechauns in Granite Falls?

We took off just as Ron and company got there.  Only 22 miles to go.  The hills were really modest, but I finally got to the point where I was starting to feel cramping.  Perhaps I hadn't gotten enough electrolytes today.  John gave me a few endurolytes.  I had some more, but figured 5 would do for the finish.

Then about 10 miles from the end, my chest just cramped and shut down.  I stopped the bike, got off and just sat on the ground, breathing like a little terrier.  Another couple hits.  John laid my bike down and I pondered what to do.  At this point, I realized, this was NOT just an asthma attack.  That was a truly frightening thought.

Then, the saving army showed up.  Ron, Deirdre, and about 5 others.  They gave me some salt, a gel, a payday bar and I did some more hits off the inhaler.  They wrapped my chest in a space blanket, leaving the silver excess trailing out the sleeves like big silver wings. We can all make it, even if we walk up the hills was the consensus.  They did call ahead to the finish.  I got back on the bike and John literally pushed me up the hills to the finish.  Did I not say he was Conan the Rhode Island Barbarian?  Others shouted out cues and I pedaled for all I was worth (which granted wasn't much).  But the final hill into the Safeway Parking Lot, I did on my own.

I remember stopping in front of the Guest House and leaning over the handlebars gasping for air at 9:32 pm just as the light faded to complete darkness.   There are no pictures, but I am told that it was a sight to behold.

Post Ride:  The Dark Lady Reveals herself

And the dragon lay slain beneath them and the rejoicing was great.  But some other demons lay in defeat as well.  Tis' but a scratch, said the knight!
The Cascades Finisher's Pin:  Big long Dragon, tiny little head

I think i must have done another 20 hits in the hotel lobby, but gradually the worst past.  The guys from SIR were awesome.  Several were physicians including a guy named Vinnie, who I really tried to smile for.  Another woman, Renee, who I owe a ton to, was a massage therapist and did somethings that really helped relax my cramped chest.  She stayed with me for a couple of hours to make sure I was okay and wondered if I might have a fever; I took some pain reliever to keep that down.  I called my mom to tell her I had finished, but I left out the part about being in such shape. 

The next morning, I was marginally better, but felt a bit whacked.  I still went to the breakfast and talked to Andy and another John about flying.  I really wanted to make my flight that day and get home.  It was great to see everyone that morning celebrating the end of such an epic ride.   Steven, one of the riders from Day 2 had not finished, but still had a great time and Andy from Alaska and I took him to lunch before he drove us to the airport.

I saw my asthma doctor the very next day.  I had had more shortness of breathe on the plane and another attack during the night.  A chest x-ray later, the diagnosis was official: I had pneumonia in the upper and middle lobes of my right lung.  My lung volume was down to 38% of a normal person.  I had a temperature of 102.  The doctor believes the final cramping was probably the result of the fluid buildup on the lung.  Who knew?  But antibiotics and lots of rest will completely cure me.  I am paying attention to my doctor (I'm not that crazy).

It's a big question mark how I got this.  I had had walking pneumonia 7 weeks earlier but it had been cleared up completely (I had ridden over 1500k since then with no ill effects and had had a thorough exam before attempting the Cascades).  The best guess is that my weakened immune system was ill-equipped for something I probably encountered in the irrigation on night 2.  Next time, I will just bring a face mask and be done with it.

And yes, there will be a next time.  I will be returning to Seattle in the fall for the Crater Lake 1000k and I will be back to the Cascades 1200 again.  The north Cascades is beautiful, I at least have to do the ride until I can see it in the sun...

A huge thanks to SIR and all the people who helped me finish.  There were many, many strong riders who rode well, yet could not finish.  For me, I had planned no other way out than finishing, it was all in my head and in the excellent company I kept. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Little Randos on the Prairie

In keeping with the mystique of last year when I did a 400k 3 weeks before Paris Brest Paris, I thought it was an idea to do the same thing for the Cascades.  I would pick an easy 400k in Iowa and use it to test ride the bike configuration. etc.  I verified the easiness of the route by asking SpinBob, who had done the 300k.  "Pretty flat and easy", was the assessment.  He was going to the 400k too so this was another opportunity to ride with old friends.

So of course in the 3 days before the ride, the forecast called for hotter and hotter temperatures and higher and higher winds.  By the night before, the forecast was for 95 degrees with a 30 mph south wind starting at about 9:00 am.  No worries, the route was supposed to be mainly east west with the longest southern section first. 

So we met the night before in the trusty Super 8 Motel (national hotel chain of cheap randonneurs).  One thing about warm temps in the day is the warm temps at night.  Very comfortable.  I decided to leave my jacket in the hotel room bringing only knee and arm warmers (which I would never use).

13 riders had gathered at the Quality Inn (national hotel chain of classier randonneurs) for the 400k.  Included was another woman, although a closer examinations showed that she was built like an olympian and obviously fell into the classier and faster rando set.  Not someone I was likely to chat with on this ride.  Also at the start was a young randonneur named Scott who was on his first 400k ever.  He'd ridden with SpinBob before on the 300k and the three of us decided to do a trio for the day.  We would play Jedi Masters to the young padawan (okay, we were cheap and less classy than some other Jedi Masters, but we did both finish PBP).

So off we went at 6:00 am riding straight into the beautiful Iowa sunrise outside Ames.  As promised, this was a flat route with very gentle rolling farmland.  Maintaining a 16 mph pace was easy.

I like to say that I learn something new on every single ride I go on.  On this ride I finally and positively learned how to identify pot plants.  SpinBob is a master gardener (of a different type, but a plant is a plant and he was around in the 70s) so he pointed out the endless wacky weed lining this section of the road.  I envisioned pot dealers doing emergency dumps of the stash during traffic stops as being the reason, but no, it seems that hemp was a popular thing to grow in the 20s.  The remnants remain.  I was advised however that smoking roadside wacky weed will give you a headache.  See, I can now speak intelligently on a subject that I used to truly know nothing about.

There is a lot of prairie in Iowa.  In fact there may be more than Minnesota, but the endless prairie flowers in the ditch were really something to behold.  Purple, yellow, orange, and every other color were lurking at every dip in the road.  Corn was already knee high.  There was no wind (yet).

So we pulled into the first control at 37 miles at about 8:30 with almost all the southern route done and the wind beginning to pick up.  At the control, we ran into Dan and James, two people that I know.  In fact, when I was creating cycling software for the local bike club, James had been my first total failure to read someone's handwriting.  I had been sure that someone named Jamn Fug had joined the club.  So I joked with him about it.  "Well, it was probably after the ride, I often look like jamn fug after a brevet", was the comeback.  Ah, another Oscar Wild wit on a brevet, music to my ears.

It must have been the later heat, but I can't seem to remember hardly any of the control towns.  As we left this one, James and Dan got sidelined by an obnoxious cadillac and missed a turn.  Bummer - bonus miles for them.  More prairie and a surprising number of vistas of the green hills follwed until we turned onto the Raccoon River Trail.  At this point, the wind and the heat were increasing fast.

We ate like complete pigs at the 75 mile control.  I figured in a short time, the heat would be too great to really pig out so I downed more than usual including a hefty wrap, a Naken Protein Shake, chocoloate millk, a big cookie and V8.   Not sure where I put that except it took about 30 minutes to forget it was there.  Scott was eating less so we Jedi masters sent him back to the swamp for a sandwich.

The next 40 miles were a struggle with high winds and hills that appeared out of nowhere.  The temperatures climbed and climbed until my thermometer was up to 92 in the shade.  We cruised for about 20 miles and stopped for an ice/ice cream brake in a small town (Guthrie Center, I think).  I put ice in my lap, around my neck, in my mouth and in some other places.  I also lamented not bringing a sports bra for once (an ice chest is a beautiful thing in the heat).  This was a really refreshing stop.

Road Pixie chilling out

We left with 25 miles to the halfway point feeling much better.  This was when the heat and wind really cranked up.  James and Dan had caught up and we could see them on the giant rollers in front of us.  But we kept getting closer and closer which was strange.  My drive train started getting unpredictable and I dropped the chain, for a moment thinking it had broken.  This stretch had a head/cross wind that evaporated any sweat instantly.  I can't remember a ride
  that I never felt at all wet even though I was crusting over.  It left a nasty heat rash too, despite enough sun lotion to simulate an eclipse.  The wind was so strong it nearly blew us over and squelched any momentum going down the rollers.

At the turnaround, I tried futzing with my barrel adjusters but gave up as sitting in the sun at the gas station was like sitting on the surface of Mercury.  At this point, James and Dan caught up.  Dan looked terrible (which I didnt tell him at the time).   He had decided to DNF, the heat was just too much.  James asked to ride with us since we were the last riders.  We tried our best to make Dan feel better reminding him that all of us DNF from time to time.  But that still doesn't make it easier to watch your friends ride off without you.  SpinBob even brought up on of his own past experiences and mentioned our "Never look at your own butt during the ride" rule.  Of course, we were still in Jedi Master mode too (they don't look at their own butts either).

The next 11 miles were brutal, my chain refused to stay on in the small chainring and I finally gave in and did the rest of the big rollers in the big one.  Thank goodness for all those squats.

FINALLY, we turned north.  Now with a 30 mph tail wind, we started making time.  I had taken a calculated risk and not eaten much solid food at the 125 mile mark.  When it is that hot, I just do better on chocolate milk.  But another 40 miles was a long way.   I supplemented with salted pecans and gels.  These were fun miles and with conversation and lots of high speed descents.  We stopped at Coon Rapids for some extra water and were passed by Greg, the RBA, who had picked up Dan.  He was checking up to make sure the rest of us were okay.  Really super guy.

We pulled into Scranten at about 8 and I was just on the verge of bonking.  But the heat was finally over and I got another good meal along with lots of electrolytes.  That made me feel a ton better.  This was a long stop.  Scott got sick to his stomach and another rider, Dave, showed up who had fallen asleep in a park and was looking a little worse for the wear.
We were invited to a party by the locals (why do they always live somewhere in the opposite direction?).  I also attempted to revive my wit and be cheery by pointing out that at this point, I had the nicest ass on the road all for their staring enjoyment.

We left as the light failed all feeling much refreshed.  This was one of the best night rides I've done in some time.  Never even cool enough to change into arm or knee warmers.  The wind finally dying down a bit.  Beautiful stars and we exited the hills for the flats once more.   Lots of fun talk including the statement that when you are a man, the world is your urinal (okay, maybe you had to be there for that one).  But after a long, hot day and the inevitable caffeine hits, what else can one expect.  A bunch of drunk guys in their back yard treated us to "Hey Look, Martians!" - I've been called many things on a bike, but never a martian.  Obviously these guys did not watch Star Wars.

We had a bit of southerly road for about 15 miles and Dave dropped off for another nap (he later finished).  The wind had picked up again and this wasn't necessarily fun.  There is a fantastically lit bridge that the ride passes over near the end, it wasn't lit but was still a beautiful ride.  The last control is a bit fuzzy, I was tired and James gave me half a sandwich, I hope I get the pleasure of riding another brevet with him sometime.  I even did part of a 5 hour energy, I figured we were 2 hours from the end so I drank half  for 2 1/2 hours of energy.

The final 6 miles are a scenic tour of Ames.  In fact, it took 45 minutes to get through Ames.  Road Pixie wishes she were so darn tired and unable to see at the end.  Though it was definitely light when we got in.

The Big Finish:  Yup, we all look like jamn fug
SpinBob and I had a couple miles back to the mighty Super 8.  I wished I had stashed more food there.  A few hours sleep and it was back to Minnesota.

Next big ride is The Cascades 1200k - Road Pixie returns to the ride that clocked her hamstring.  It's payback time.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Single Speed Fleche

This was an interesting fleche. My second in 2 years. Like all rides, it had ups and downs. However, I only got onto a team 1 week before the start. I had never ridden with 4 of my 5 team members and though I have been on a 200k perm riding with RBA Rob; riding overnight with someone is quite different. The riders on the tandem, Bob and Lisa, were new to randonneuring and were making a mileage leap from a 200k to almost a 400k (and forming the team appears to have been their idea in the first place). Dave was also making a 200 to 400k leap. Bill is a solid rider, but had his own set of "interesting" issues.

As for me, since I missed most of April, had just really gotten over the pneumonia and had just broken a rib doing something I can't even recall, and the route had 100 miles of gravel bike trails, I decided that this was just not enough challenge so I decided to do it on my single speed that I bought when I was 13 years old. I decided on a 50x18 since I had those gears and Rob assured me that there was almost no climbing on the route, in fact less than 1000'. Did I mention that all my training last week left me with a bad case of saddle sores too? They just finished healing in time, but I was still on antibiotics.

So we started from Rob's house at 6:00 pm. I had to be re-introduced to everyone since I just could not put names and faces with so many I didn't know well. The wind was screaming out of the south at 20 mph and of course the first 110 miles were pretty much south (okay some west too). The wind never subsided either, even during the night. But it was a fabulous night to ride, perfect temperature. I had an awsome run from Red Wing to Lake City.

Dave was having some kind of issue the first night, and kept dropping back (I later learned he likes to do that). Rob eventually gave him a bunch of anti-fatigue capsules. We stopped pretty much on time at our 2 hour layover in Winona on time. I was really tired and with only 2 hours, I goobled 2 bars just before we got there, tossed the bike in a conference room, whipped off my shorts and hit the bed without even taking off my reflective gear or socks. But I slept soundly for 1:40, took a lighting bath, put on a new set of shorts and inhaled breakfast in time to roll out at 2 hours. The others reported varying results, Rob got no sleep at all. Bob and Lisa slept fine, but didn't get much to eat. Dave took some more of Rob's magic stash and it was a beautiful morning.

We crossed the Winona bridge with about 10 mph wind just reving up. First issue was that Rob's route on the Great River bike trail was really rough. In fact, I would categorize it as more of a mountain biking trail, or maybe for goats. At one of the gates, Bob and Lisa (on a tandem), lost balance going around and Lisa rolled off the back of the bike, down an embankment and landed waist deep in a swamp. That has just got to be a first in my opinion. Dry clothes for exactly 40 minutes of the ride.

We then got lost due to the twisting nature of the trail and multiple intersections with bad gravel roads and other nasties. Finally, we found our way out and got on a road headed in the right direction. We were sort of pressing the schedule, but still okay. Then we came to a Y intersection (keep in mind that Rob refused to send a cue sheet to anyone on the team, all we could do was follow him). No clue which way to go. Then a car pulled up so Dave and I asked the driver which way to Trempeleau. "Easy, just go left and take a right in about a mile at the church, that's the main drag of town". Rob called back, "my GPS says we should go right". The driver said that would eventually get us there too, but that it would go through the park. She suggested that we could split up and race (hint, hint). She left and Rob insisted that we go right. Okay, the driver was right. The route through the park was pretty, but it included several miles of 12-15% grade hills. At one point, I was trying to climb by standing and gripping the bars like a barbell to force my foot down. The tandem had a hard time too. We eventually got to Trempeleau about 40 minutes behind schedule and found the trail again. By this time, the heat was starting and we had to peel layers. Rob made some comment about stripping everything off and I had to say "shorts stay on please, it's a fleche not a flash". Who else has such witty reparte after nearly blowing the quads off their legs? I am undecided whether Rob found this funny at this particular point in time.

The next 15 miles of the Great River Bike Trail was horrible to ride on. Grass was growing in the middle, it was unmaintained. At one point, I sunk into sand and thankfully avoided a major accident after recovering and then recovering again from suddenly running into the woods. I really felt for Lisa, I was on 28mm tires; she was on the back of a tandem which as you know, is where all the real bumps are. But we made it to LaCrosse finally and some food was really good. We also looked at a map since we still really didn't know exactly where we were.

The next miles were on better maintained trails and pretty much dead flat. Made the heat really something and having a 20 mph cross wind actually felt good. It was hard on the single speed to modulate speed downwards without hurting my knees so Bill and I were ahead.  The Elroy Sparta Trail is considerably nicer than the Great River but the heat was in full force and much of it was either dead flat or slightly uphill as we climbled along the old railroad bed.  For those who have not been on this trail, it has three historic railroad tunnels through the hills.  The first is 1364 ft long and we had to turn on lights to even see.  The termperature dropped like a rock down to about 55 which felt great with the heat.  But it was also dripping with water and the hand hewn floor was quite slick.  Of course, it was also full of pedestrians.

The heat and everything else really slowed Bob and Lisa, not getting enough breakfast probably didn't help. I swear, people live in fear of hills, but a long distance in the flats is no walk in the park, I'd rather do hills. By the time we got to Wilton, we were ready to eat. Of course, we didn't have much time for that and Rob was fretting that we would not finish by 6. The tandem was averaging about 10 mph; not that I was doing a whole lot better but a single speed is still a single speed.

Of course after Wilton, the terrain got easier with more long downhill sections that favored the tandem. Bob and Lisa picked up considerably and Dave had really come back too.  Really, there is nothing quite like a tandem on a downhill. Rob did a massive sprint into Elroy after we ran into another team (one of whose members kept drafting off me, Rob gave him a speech later).

At Elroy, I got confused and thought we were doing a quick stop and assumed that Rob was still ahead. So I stopped for all of two minutes and went to meet him. Oops, I sat on the trail for about 10 minutes and finally turned back. Found everyone back at the control along with Gary Bakke, who was on another fleche team (same route for about 30 miles) and was having an absolutely miserable ride. That team apparently had bad rapport, incompatible riding styles and one member had already dropped out. He had decided to quit his team and just ride by himself (I eventually talked him into rejoining them).

Bill, at this point, had mechanical problems. His tire had blown off the rim and was out of true. However, his mechanic had supposedly just trued it the previous week. We had another tire, but it was pretty clear that the rim was the problem. Then his rear brake fell apart. 10 miles from the end, he was in that "I just want be alone" state.

We had a half hour to spend at the 25k mark and that was fun. Both teams were at the same place and we talked briefly. The other team then decided to demonstrate their manliness by passing our team. Okay, maybe it was because I really felt for Gary (who is a steady rider like myself) who had been driven crazy be teammates that keep sprinting and then fatiguing and stopping, maybe it was because I was having a great ride and was unimpressed by their testosterone fury. So I completely dusted them. I recall Rob saying something later to them like "So how does it feel to be dusted by a woman on a single speed?"

At Reedsburg, the two teams went different directions into the Dells. Which I think works much better. We got to experience about 3 miles of tail wind on the way into the Dells and were the second team in with about 15 minutes to spare. Much congratulations to everyone.

The other team got lost in the last 15 miles and despite Gary having lived in the area for years and knowing the way in, the other members would not listen to his advice and spent a bunch of time continuing to be lost. They only just barely made the cutoff.

There are several morals to this story.

1. If you are at a Y intersection and you want to go south and have to guess, take the direction that goes south, especially if a local tells you its the right way as well.

2. A fleche is about teamwork, you can have many different riding styles and bikes and everyone can still have their moments to shine (tandems cannon down hills, Rob still sprints better than any of us, single speeds kind of go one speed and no other, etc), but in the end, it's all about making sure you finish with your team mates and are willing to compromise in the small ways that make that happen.

The party at the end was really fun; I got lots of kudos for having the balls to ride a single speed 240 miles in the hills of Wisconsin (my best guess is that the ride had around 8-10,000 of climbing); that was good for my confidence which needed it after the Tombstone disaster. Since I had not been able to commit until very late, the block of rooms was no longer available and everything in the Dells except the $300 suites was sold out. So we had to leave immediately and skip the breakfast. Oh well, maybe next year.