Tuesday, March 31, 2009

fast guys host a wet one

(124 miles … in constant rain … from Forest Grove to Vernonia and Birkenfield, then back)

The picture I wish I’d taken during the Berkie 200k brevet (but didn’t) is one of Sam, Del, and Mike at the Vernonia control. I mean, how often do NW randonneurs get to see these guys all in one place in street clothes?

Another fast guy, Seattle’s Brian Ohlemeier, did the SIR Spring 200k the previous week (March 21) in 7 hours and 25 minutes. He comes to mind cuz he’s also done hosting duties. In fact, he waited patiently in a hotel in North Bend, WA last May for me to finish a 400k in 26:52, just 8 minutes under the limit.

Okay, I’m a little obsessed with fast guys (particularly, for some reason, the ones who do their share of volunteering) … but I’ll get over it. It’s just that I have no idea what it would be like to live in the body of one of these riders, and to be able to do 200k in, lets say, under 8 hours.

As far as last Saturday’s Birkie brevet was concerned, I had a hard time getting up for it. I had already done a 200k earlier in the month, and felt like I desperately needed some down time. But on the other hand, my March mileage was down. So I told myself that if I could get to sleep uncharacteristically early the night before, I’d make a go of it. After all, my new jacket almost makes me look forward to riding in the rain.

I got up at 4:10 on Saturday morning, left my place at 4:50, and rode the 3 miles Goose Hollow. The first Max train of the day arrived there at 5:20, and deposited me in Hillboro 45 minutes later. After five more miles of riding (it’s really dark between Hillsboro and Cornelius), I arrived in Forest Grove with 15-20 minutes to spare … just enough time to check in, pay some dues, eat a muffin, and douse it with coffee.

Once the ride commenced, I managed to miss just about every signal on Pacific Ave. But once on Gales Creek Road, I ended up tagging along with Peg, Lesli, and Sara. On Timber Road, I was passed by a few riders who must have started later (including RB). And by the time I was heading back on Keasey Road (from the info control), there were still a dozen riders behind me. Most of them caught up in Birkenfield while I washed down a pbj sandwich with a house mocha.

Country Store
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

But it was back at about the 50-mile point (16 miles before Birkenfield) where I started having serious misgivings about this ride. I felt finished. Perhaps undernourished. I wanted to be anywhere BUT where I was (pedaling along Highway 47) … somewhere that involved lying horizontally … home … the acupuncturist’s … anywhere. Despite a brief respite at the Birkenfield Country Store, this feeling persisted all the way back to Vernonia (mile 88). Odd, because riding along beautiful riverside roads is one of my favorite things to do (even when it’s wet). But my body didn’t care. It wanted out.

I made quick work of the return Vernonia control … visited an ATM and public restroom, and downed a GU energy gel. Surprisingly restorative.

And lucky for me, I met up with Greg Olson for the last 36 miles. Greg is a fast rider who started 40 minutes late (which is often his habit). Later on, his tire pump broke as he was repairing a flat, and he had to wait 40 additional minutes for a rider to come along. With this 80-minute handicap, we ended up leaving Vernonia at the same time.

Greg seemed quite content to pedal at my 12 mph pace for the remainder of the ride. He was chatty and had lotsa stories, all which had an energizing effect on me. Of course, maybe it did have something to do with his not wanting to be stranded without a pump again.

At Glenwood, I had a craving for a corn dog, but the closest thing the Shell station had was a $1 BBQ burrito. It hit the spot, and gave me gumption for the final 12 miles back to Forest Grove … (helped by a nice tailwind!).

Upon arrival at the McMenammin’s lodge, I didn’t look at my watch, nor check the time that Sam wrote on my brevet card. But according to time stamp on a picture of Greg checking in, it looks like we finished in 11 hours and 22 minutes. It felt slower, and harder than that. ‘Twas about an hour more than my time two years ago, and 15 minutes more than last year. Doesn’t look like I’m getting any quicker.

I didn’t stick around the finish too long, as Brad Reher and Ed Groth (the latter of whom did the entire ride on a fixie) were departing to Hillsboro. I tagged along. Five miles later, the three of us found Adam George already waiting for the Max.

I’ve been on rides before where I didn’t know if I’d be able to finish … but I don’t remember one where I experienced such second thoughts in the middle of the ride about doing it at all ... even during the 600k last Fall. But it all seemed to significantly wash away once I soaked in the tub at home afterwards.

Michael Johnson's report
Cecil's report
Lesli's pictures
my pictures

Monday, March 23, 2009

SIR Spring "Chili Feed" 200k

Initially, I did not plan to ride the SIR Spring “Chili Feed” 200k, as I have so little down time any more. But when Joshua Bryant posted a request for a ride to Kent on the Saturday morning of the brevet, I decided otherwise. After all, even though the ride was real tough for me last year (seat and knee problems), I had fond memories of the carpooling and “chili feed” parts.

Joshua met me at my place in SE Portland at 3:00 AM. After some French toast and tea, we loaded his bike and were heading north on I-5 by 3:30.

We would have gotten to Kent in plenty of time except for an ill-timed restroom/coffee stop somewhere between Olympia and Lacey. The only open business was a Sheri’s restaurant, selling rot-gut coffee for over $2/cup. We also had a hard time finding our way back to I-5 north, but with the eventual help of a convenience store clerk, finally righted our course.

We pulled in behind a long line of parked cars in Greg Cox’s neighborhood, and immediately set off on getting dressed and registered. I stopped a little too long to admire TRFKAF’s (Cecil’s stuffed rabbit’s) new Shower’s Pass rain vest, and ended up starting about 4 minutes after everyone else. Nevertheless, I caught up with a number of people fairly soon, and had company all the way to the first control in Dash Point.

Eric Vigoren caught up with me somewhere around Auburn , and we hopscotched a bit to Black Diamond. It was fun for me to learn more about Eric … not only that he’s working on an R-40-something … but also about his non-cycling (UW) exploits.

I brought along a couple of peanut butter jelly sandwiches, so I wasn’t into the bakery thing in Black Diamond. However, I am into espresso machiattos (my favorite control beverage), but that drink wasn’t in the barista’s repertoire. Her approximation was pleasant enough, though.

Originally uploaded by Seattle Randonneur

If not speedily, I at least rode steadily up to Greenwater, a big improvement over last year. A bike fitting and a few orthodics later, last year's knee pains thankfully stayed away for the most part. I tried to take pictures of a lot of the riders returning down Hwy 410, but my camera wasn’t behaving well. The old point-&-shoot Coolpix rebelled against my shoot-&-hope tactics.

My less-than-a-full-night’s-sleep the night before caught up with me in Greenwater. There were about 18 bicycles parked there when I arrived, and none when I finally left. But I really needed to sit down with my 2nd pbj sandwich, which was accompanied by a V8 fruit juice concoction. I was hoping for something a little more nourishing, but the inventory of that general store caters more to motorcyclists' diets rather than bicyclists'.

There were still a dozen or so cyclists heading up to Greenwater during my descent. A little before Mud Mountain Dam Road , I starting leap-frogging with Paul Whitney and another gentleman (whose name escapes me now) all the way to Enumclaw. Since this was my 2nd time on this brevet, I was able to navigate to the Circle K control much more efficiently this time ‘round. I arrived at 4:20 PM, and decided to make quick work of Enumclaw, and try to make it back to the finish in under 11 hours (which made the last 20 miles a bit of a push). One hour, 35 minutes, and one rainstorm later, I succeeded.

As I approached the Cox’s home, I noticed Joshua’s bicycle already mounted on the back of my car. What I didn’t know was that he was napping inside the back. He had already had his fill of chili and veggies.

My final time of 10:55 was 2 hours and 3 minutes better than last year’s painful 12:58. Other benefits of coming in sooner were 1) I had daylight all the way!, and 2) the party at the Cox’s was a lot more active than when I arrived last year. Not only that, it was still daylight during the drive down I-5 almost all the way to Centralia!

Things that worked well this ride:

  • Bolted on fenders! Since my bike has doubled as a cyclocross bike, I cycled all of last year with rubber-banded (easily detached) fenders, which were prone to rattle quite noisily. Ah, blessed silence!
  • Wardrobe: My new Showers Pass jacket (the most expensive article of clothing I own) in combination with my first ever wool jersey (newly acquired Woolistic “Oregon Randonneurs” model) were quite comfortable and effective.

Thing that doesn't work well:

  • My bike still shimmies when I let off the handlebars. It seemed more pronounced on this ride, as I was carrying less weight in my handlebar bag than usual. I may start experimenting with different forks, as I know my bike is too short and steep for optimal randonneuring.

Many thanks to Greg and Mary Cox and all the SIR volunteers for a wonderful event.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

soggy snooseville

It didn’t start raining … until 5 minutes before the start.

Thirty-eight hearty souls pedaled off from the Cornelius Pass Roadhouse at the designated 8:00 AM time on what was to be a wet and windy two-wheeled ramble through rural Washington County. The attrition rate was high for a ride of this length; only 30 riders finished. The good news, though, is that the other 8 starters were all accounted for by ride’s end. I think a number of them of them just weren’t having fun, probably due to cold feet and hands. The extremities are a challenge to keep warm when it’s windy and wet … even for more experienced long-distance riders.

Originally uploaded by tangobiker
Most of the finishers, though, seemed exhilarated at the end. Chatty and relieved, many seemed to have enjoyed the workout. ‘Twas a ride well done by all of them.

Particular kudos go to the volunteers on this ride … Ray, Barbara, and Susan at the Snooseville/Fern Flat Road. turnaround … Joshua at the now not-so-secret control at Strohmayer Road … Gregg in Forest Grove … and Ken & Rose at the finish.

Joshua was my hero of the day, as he bicycled all the way to the secret control (about 8 miles beyond Forest Grove) from his home in SE Portland, and then waited over two hours for the 30 riders to pass through. It’s definitely easier to stay warm when you’re pedaling than it is when you’re working a control without shelter (no car or building nearby). But the spot seemed so perfect a week earlier, a day that was forecasted similarly to the ride date, but ended up so different. Fortunately, I was able to text Joshua when the last four riders turned right onto Mountaindale Road from Dairy Creek, which helped him know when his shift was over. A shift done without carbon footprint.

Gregg’s carbon footprint wasn’t much larger. He drove his SmartCar out to Forest Grove (it’s funny when he straps his recumbent to that thing) and then “set up shop” in front of Maggie’s Buns. This ended up being the most thoroughly photographed control I have ever seen. When Gregg returned to the Cornelius Pass Roadhouse, he showed Susan & me dozens of pictures (from his laptop). I don’t think he missed any riders. Plus he got a few Portland Velo cyclists, and also some ambience from Forest Grove. His pictures are here on Picasa.

One of the nice things about all the volunteer help this year is that it freed me up to take quite a few pictures of my own, which can be viewed here on Flickr.

Thanks to all who came out and participated in this year’s Snooseville Populaire. ‘Twas a pleasure to organize.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

snooseville pre-ride report

The Snooseville 100k Populaire, the first organized ride of the Oregon Randonneurs 2009 season, is six days away. (on March 14)

Yesterday, four of us pre-rode the course (which is identical to last year’s). The weather cooperated better than we thought it would. And for me, it’s quite an improvement to have the help (and company) of volunteers this year.

Three of us (Joshua Bryant, Gregg Berkholtz, and I) took the Max out to Hillsboro, then rode up the couple of miles to the Cornelius Pass Roadhouse. Ken Mattina joined us at the nearby Starbucks at the scheduled 8:00 departure time, and the ride commenced.

Originally uploaded by tangobiker
‘Twas a bit blustery at the outset, but entirely manageable. A few street signs appeared to be missing, most notably Meek Rd at its intersection with Sewell. (Be mindful of your mileage at that point, and turn left at the T.)

Gregg ...
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

We scouted new info control questions at Greener Road (the Snooseville turnaround) and later at Jack Road (where it intersects Cedar Canyon Road). Between the two, we stopped briefly in Banks (where I ate most of my pbj sandwich). We were also on the lookout for a new secret control location, and Joshua eventually found what I believe will be an excellent one.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

We took a long (25-minute) break in front of Maggie’s in Forest Grove, during which time Gregg posted a photo of us on Twitter from his I-phone.

Joshua, with his personally built bike with fairly wide 650b tires, was the fastest rider amongst us. Ken, Gregg, and I fell in at various distances behind him. Joshua, though, didn’t appear to be in too big a hurry, as we all arrived back at Imbrie Hall within 15 minutes of each other.

I’m planning to have the finish check-in at Embrie Hall. When you arrive at the Cornelius Pass Roadhouse off of Imbrie Drive, please continue to the end of the parking lot, where a nice path will then take you to the restaurant.

While the route is the same as last year, I think the ride will be improved, thanks to the volunteers. In particular, Gregg will be on hand in Forest Grove to help riders get through the control there.

My photos from the pre-ride are here on Flickr.
Gregg's photos from the pre-ride are here on Picasa.
Photos from last year's ride are here.

Looking forward to seeing you next Saturday.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

self-demoted to cat 8

or … why i’m giving up on road-racing

My first bicycle road race was back in February 2006, seven months after my 51st birthday (which was when I became a committed cyclist). It was the first race of the season, called “Cherry Pie” (something to do with the prizes), and happened near Harrisburg (north of Eugene), Oregon. I suppose I did it as a bit of a lark, but it was also part of my exploration of all things bicycle. Back then, I didn’t even know what a peloton was, and I can’t say I learned any more about them that day either, except to be scolded about momentarily drafting a passing group of cyclists from another category.

“Cherry Pie” moved to a different location in the Willamette Valley in subsequent years, and I did two more, in Feb ’07 & ’08. Each time my category (Masters 50+ one year, Cat 5 the other) dropped me within a mile or two of the start. So, like the majority of my road races, they became long solo training rides.

I did a few other road races, and probably had the most “success” at the PIR Monday series (Portland Intl. Raceway). At PIR, they have a Novice category, which newcomers are encouraged to do before doing a real Cat 5 race. In ’07, I actually managed to stay “more or less” with a Novice peloton for one race, and I congratulated myself by saying I was finally a Category 6 rider. But in ’08, I wasn’t able to duplicate that feat, so I demoted myself to a Cat 7. (Keep in mind Cat 5 is the lowest category).

This year, I passed on “Cherry Pie,” and instead did the “Sublime Sublimity” race (southeast of Salem) as the first one of the season. I became a bit disheartened after this one, as not only did I lose all the Cat 5’s by the 2nd mile, I was passed by the Woman’s 4 & Masters 40+ categories (they started 5 minutes later), and then lapped by the leaders in my own category about midway through the second lap (each lap being about 13 rolling miles), and THEN a little later by the Cat 1-3 women (who had started 5 minutes earlier). That meant that my “race” was over at the end of the 2nd lap, and was officially given a DNF. Afterwards, I no longer felt like a Cat 7.

The real problem with road racing, when you’re unable to keep up with a peloton, is … you cease to exist. You lose your support, you become an ordinary tourist on the road, and you are often ignored by the scorekeepers.

This is not the case in cyclocross, or at the track, or in time trials.

In the mudfest they call cyclocross, you can almost always find someone to race, even at the back. Still, I count my successes there by how few times I’m lapped. But still, the general silliness and the party atmosphere make it more about participating and having a good time rather than actually being competitive.

And at the velodrome (particularly on Tuesdays and Fridays at Alpenrose Dairy here in Portland), you can almost always find someone with which to engage in a pursuit or a match sprint.

With a time trial, cyclists race against the clock instead of directly against each other. Usually after the Cherry Pie roadrace (and this year after “Sublime Sublimity”) I participate in the Jack Frost Time Trial. This was my 4th consecutive year to enter this race. It's a good meter of one’s progress (or not) from year to year.

I actually improved this year over previous attempts. My times on this 12.4-mile out-&-back course are as follows:
  • 2006: 39:24.08
  • 2007: 39:38.00
  • 2008: 41:40.00
  • 2009: 37:31.17
In 2008, I must have ridden a 200k brevet the day before. But this last time round, it felt good to have a personal best, particularly after my way-off-the-back experience in Sublimity the day before.

I still plan to work on getting faster, if for no other reason so I can take longer breaks on long randonneuring rides. And also to have more options in general while cycling.