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
PreludeThis 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
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 ForestLow, 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|
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|
|Cumberland Control, Road Pixie's Steed, |
The Princess, in the very front
Day 2: Road Pixie Beats the Demon HillDay 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!
|Road Pixie in White, note overuse of facial sunscreen|
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|
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|
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 LoupAnd 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|
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|
|Loup Loup Summit - reflective gear |
does not help photography
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 PneumoniaIn 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 herselfAnd 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.