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. 


  1. Fairy godparents here: Very good writeup. Congratulations on slaying the dragon. This was an incredibly tough edition of the Cascade 1200, and many strong riders were unable to finish for various reasons. Your determination is an inspiration. The support you got from the other riders to help you complete the ride demonstrates what is so cool about our sport. Although we are on an individual ride, we are always willing to help make sure everyone finishes--especially on tough rides like this. Well done! XO Dan & Terry

    1. Looking forward to the adventures of La Randonneuse Bleue. Everyone needs fairy godparents you know : )

      Will see about getting you my email address.

  2. Congratulations, Michelle.

    You were in such obvious distress at Mazama from asthma (and I guess pneumonia as well) that it is a real profile in courage for you to make it to the finish. And it is great that you got such good help toward the end of Day 4. I also got to look at JM's Rhode Island fender a good bit back on Day 1, as he pulled me in the rain, and I marveled at him making it over Washington Pass dressed in summer garb!

  3. HUGE congratulations to you!!!!!!! I heard this edition presented some tough conditions. What an exciting summer, going back out for the Crater Lake 1000K in the fall. That also sounds like an awesome ride.

    Congratulations again!