Saturday, June 20, 2009

exploring duane’s d’world: an SIR 600k report

modern bridge
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
The good news: I finished the Seattle International Randonneurs 600k last weekend (June 13-14). The route started in Auburn, and went through Tacoma, up to the Hood Canal, out to Westport (on the Washington coast), back inland to Morton (via Centralia), up to Enumclaw, and finally back to Auburn. It took me 37 hours and 57 minutes.

On a more dubious note: I have been the last finisher in every 300k or longer brevet I have completed in the last three years. This includes five 300k’s, two 400k’s, and now two 600k’s. (A couple of minor exceptions involve riders on fixies or missed turns due to errors on a cue sheet.)

But in randonneuring, that’s okay. (Or so I’m told.) Finishing is more important than placing high. Results are posted alphabetically. But still, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t pay attention to his or her times, and uses them to gauge their improvement. It can also be good to know how you fare in comparison to others. Some people are so interested, though, they’ll copy and paste the results of any given brevet into Excel and sort by time.

One interesting comparison for me originated from Mark Thomas’s pre-ride report of this 600k. On the difficult XTR 600k a week earlier, he noted his “moving average” was a mere 11.8 mph. But on the SIR 600k, it improved to 14.4 mph. Well guess what, folks. I did the flatter, milder 600k at the same tempo he did the hellishly hot and steep 600k (and he wasn't feeling well, either)!

A little over a year ago, on the Seattle International Randonneurs’ “Three Passes” 400k, I finished with a measly eight minutes to spare. It was then I first heard of Duane Wright. I think it was Peg Winczewski (she and Lesli had their bikes and bags packed and were headin’ out) who commented on my Duane-like finish time, and told me about his reputation for repeatedly completing brevets just under the deadline.

I then heard of Duane a few more times, but didn’t actually meet him until last April at the finish of the Three Capes 300k. He chose to ride his fixed-gear bike on this 185-miler (which I think is insane, and I have two fixies), and admitted to me later how surprised he was to have finished so close to ending time.

For some reason, Duane rode a fixed gear bike on both the SIR 400k (last month in Eastern Washington) and on this 600k. I think he’s pushing the limit. He finished the 400k (but not quite in time), and abandoned the 600k in Cosmopolis (about 237k into the ride). As he put it later, he had a great weekend. It just didn’t involve 600k’s of riding.

It’s not my intention to take up Duane’s mantle. But on the other hand, my motor just isn’t that powerful. I feel like one of those small Honda engines with valves the size of dimes, sharing the road with cyclists equipped with larger bore engines and superchargers. But eh, I finished!

As John Kramer pointed out in a recent blog, the advantage of being faster is that it gives you more options. You can choose to ride slower for the social aspect, or ride faster in order to take longer breaks and naps. He also pointed out that slower riders often ride alone. I can vouch for that. (Fortunately, I seem to have a high tolerance for “aloneness.”)

I certainly like having options in other areas of my life, so it would probably be good to build up a little more speed so I can introduce options to my cycling life as well.

As for the SIR 600k itself, the ride was pleasant weather-wise and control-wise. My plan was to take it easy on day one way to insure I had enough gas for day two.

Originally uploaded by tangobiker
I rode some with Narayan through Tacoma, enjoyed Amy’s cheeriness (and coffee) at the control in Ruston, then eventually caught up with Duane somewhere near Yukon Harbor. We proceeded to hopscotch to Waterman Point, where Eric Vigoren worked the control, and then onwards through Port Orchard and beyond. By the time I got to Belfair, though, I would not see Duane for another 30 hours. And I wouldn’t see another 600k rider till Centralia.

My main problem with this brevet was stopping too often, and too long. But my body seemed to demand a lot of intermittent rest. In retrospect, I could have taken less time in Union (at the SE end of the Hood Canal) and again in Matlock. But in Matlock I was craving an ice cream float, and managed to construct one in my mouth with Coca Cola and an ice cream bar.

I rode in the drops quite a bit from Matlock to Brady, as my hands were becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the hoods and other upper handlebar positions. I just wished my drops were a little less dropped (more like on my LeMond).

After checking in at the Chevron station in Cosmopolis, there was visceral evidence in Aberdeen of how hard the economy’s been hit. An entire shopping mall, complete with a Sears, JC Penneys, and a cinema complex was totally vacant. Not good on a late Saturday afternoon.

Westport (as the name would suggest) was the western-most point on the journey … hence a control at the local Shell station. As usual, I took too much time figuring out what I wanted/needed. But since daylight was now used up, I didn’t hurry up. Continuing on to Raymond, I could often hear the ocean. But the only things that could be seen were those that were either self-or-E6-luminated.

4:40 AM control
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
‘Twas a little difficult to figure out the Rainbow Falls State Park control at 4:30 in the morning. Around the point where my computer indicated it could be, there was a blinky light with a little “SIR” sign. Upon closer inspection, I noticed an arrow on the sign pointing onwards. But it didn’t indicate just how far onwards. I figured it was late enough that the control might have packed up, and the sign indicated to go on to Centralia. But low and behold, a few miles later, there was John, Shiela, and Paul camped out alongside the road, with boatloads of food, and a ton of encouragement.

The sun rose between Rainbow Falls and Centralia. Some of the roads around Chehalis were familiar from the Dart I rode with Cecil and Andrew 15 months earlier. But I didn’t have a lot of gas on the last leg before the “overnight” [ha ha] control.

Peter Beeson was a particularly enthusiastic “concierge” at the Centralia control, and his crew most helpful. They woke me up after about an hour nap and fixed me an ample burrito before sending me on my way. One of the crew members suggested I had plenty of time to arrive back in Auburn in good Duane-like fashion. Hmmm.

A couple people warned me (Eric V. being one of them) that the stretch from Centralia to Morton wasn’t as easy as the pre-ride reports suggested. That’s probably true, as my cardiovascular system got some good workouts along that stretch. I also ended up taking an impromptu brunch about halfway to Morton. Between that and lengthy stops in Morton and Elbe, my off-the-bike time was really building up.

Orville Road between Eatonville and Pioneer Way E (to Buckley) was pretty if not a bit rough (as in coarse pavement). It hugged a couple of serene lakes (Ohop and Kapowsin), although I can’t say the drivers in that area of Pierce County are as serene (particularly the youngsters in pickup trucks). It felt a little like redneck country.

Upon leaving Enumclaw, I noticed that I’d break 38 hours if I hurried. So I hurried. I actually pushed it pretty hard for the last 18 miles, enough that I felt it in my left knee the next day. But I beat 38 hours by three minutes. I might have come in a little sooner had I not lost confidence that SE 368th Street was part of the correct way to get to 212th Way (all nice roads between Enumclaw and Auburn). But I was happy that I had enough in me to push at the end. Perhaps it was the little bottle of Ensure that was given to me in Centralia, but that I waited till Enumclaw to drink.

Originally uploaded by tangobiker
At the motel in Auburn, I ran down the hall to Albert’s room to get checked in, and lo and behold there was Narayan (who had arrived only 25 minutes earlier) and a gentleman from Montana (who was gonna sleep over before driving home). I enjoyed some beer, pizza, and a badly needed shower. But before I started in on a nap of my own (before my drive back to Portland), in comes Duane Wright…in street clothes! I didn’t recognize him at first. He was there to give Narayan a ride home. He was full of good cheer, didn’t seem disappointed about not finishing this particular 600k, and congratulated Narayan and me on our finishes.

All 17 photos from this ride are here on Flickr.

Friday, June 12, 2009

nocturnal 200k to Dallas (OR) & back

8:00 pm takeoff
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
Not to be confused with the big city in Texas, nor The Dalles (about 80 miles East of Portland on the Columbia River) … Dallas (Oregon) is in Polk County (George Dallas was VP when James Polk was President). The town is about 15 miles west of Salem.

When Marcello Napolitano put out the word he was riding one of his own permanents from Hillsboro to Dallas, I thought this would be a good way to get my R-12 ambitions out of the way early in the month of June. Ray Ogilve must have though so, too, as it was the three of us that took off at 8:10 PM from Marcello’s home in Hillsboro.

It was still light during our first contrôlée in Forest Grove, but then gradually darkened as we headed South on Spring Hill Road. North Valley, Ribbon Ridge, and Kuehne Roads were all familiar, even after dark in the opposite direction than we usually ride them. But then, we blew by Abbey Road and took what amounted to a six-mile detour to Carlton. A local constable suggested to Ray that the quickest way to Layfayette was to return a mile or so back to Mineral Springs Road, which we did.

After a little fueling at a convenience store contrôlée in Dayton, we rode the familiar route through Amity and then Perrydale Road to Dallas.

1:57 AM
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
Usually in Dallas I stop at the Starbucks inside Safeway, which is situated on the East end of town. But as this was my first time in Dallas after dark (or more accurately after business hours), I got my first tour of “downtown” Dallas, complete with two one-way streets and an impressive looking (at least at night) county court building. Marcello knew that the only business open in Dallas after 1:00 AM was a convenience store at the West end of town, and it is there that the three of us re-fueled.

We debated returning via McMinneville rather than Dayton, because we knew there’d be a least once 24-hour market (or a Shari’s) open. But we elected instead to return via the original route, confident we had enough fuel to make it back to Forest Grove. An ATM in Dayton sufficed for the contrôlée there, and birds started to announce that it would be getting light in the next hour or so.

Past Lafayette, the transition from Abbey Road to Kuehne Road is not a problem in the Northbound direction (kind of like a funnel). We negotiated the left turns onto Ribbon Ridge and North Valley Roads without a hitch, but I started falling off the pace a bit on Spring Valley Road. That section sure was purdy during those early AM hours, but I was too anxious to get a caffeine fix in Forest Grove to stop for any pictures.

‘Round 6:30 AM, we stopped at the McDonalds in Forest Grove, where I tried my first espresso drink (a mocha) from that establishment (my most expensive purchase of the trip). Ray got some milk, and Marcello waited patiently for the two of us before our last 9-mile jaunt to Hillsboro.

chicken in the house
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
Ah, the lovely smell of bacon! Ray says he normally can’t eat right after a long ride, but the breakfast that Marcello’s wife Cathy had waiting for us at the finish must have changed his whole body chemistry. ‘Twas a great ending to an 11-hour 30-minute nocturnal 210k. It even included a show-and-tell of the Napolitano’s four chickens by daughter Anna.

The rest of my pictures from the ride are here on Flickr.