Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Oregon Coast 600k (2011)

Six hundred kilometers on a bicycle within 40 hours is a challenge, no two ways about it. Sure, there’s the opportunity to take a nap in the middle of the route. Sure, this course in question didn’t include three or four mountain summits over the Cascades. But nonetheless, 600k’s need to be taken seriously. Can’t fall out’a bed with minimal sleep on the front end and expect to finish. At least I can’t.

Last year I DNF’d the Oregon Coast 600k (my only DNF of the season). I went on later in the year to finish the Oregon Blue Mountains 1000k (barely), plus two other 600k’s (one in Washington, the other in California). But this year, I was determined to return and conquer this particular brevet.

I was a little bit at a disadvantage from having completed a 360k flèche the weekend before. More significantly, though, my knees weren’t being terribly cooperative from this season’s Three Capes 300k and Eden’s Gate 400k onward. As a result, my goal shifted from “setting a really good time,” to hoping for more than a minimal sleep at the overnight contrôle.

I had three houseguests (Theo, Asta, and Taylor) on the eve of this year’s 600k, all of whom pedaled to Forest Grove from my place in Beaverton (about a 17-mile journey) in the early AM hours of the start. Even though I don’t ride as fast as those three, I too rode to Forest Grove (a bit later on), but with a little help from Trimet’s line 57.

nehalem hwy by tangocyclist
nehalem hwy, a photo by tangocyclist on Flickr.

The brevet started promptly at 6:00 AM from McMennamin’s Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, and soon traversed the entire length of the Banks-Vernonia Linear Park/Trail. After getting a quick ham and egg muffin at the Shell station in Vernonia, I rode mostly with a group that included Lesli Larson, Michal Young, Kevin Brightbill and Dan Jensen. I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry in Birkenfeld, so I continued 30 more miles to Olney before refueling. The above-mentioned quartet passed me during that last section. Nonetheless, I still managed to ride the first 100k’s in 4 ½-hour hours.

The second 100k (to Seaside…via Ft. Stevens) took an hour longer. Even though I was gravitating toward the back end of the riders, I was feeling relatively okay. But then there were coastal hills, in particular, a couple big ones between Cannon Beach and Manzanita. While I actually managed to pass a couple riders on one of them, the toll on my left knee would manifest though much of the remainder of the ride.

Steve Williamson (with his nice 650b Periera) and I ended up riding significant portions of the 600k together, including steep/messy/rainy/dark Slab Creek Rd (before Lincoln City) as well as much of the route between Siletz and Dayton on the second day. After Slab Creek Road, we arrived at the overnight contrôle in Lincoln City at about 2:30 AM, where I slept about half of a 2 ½-hour layover.

steve by tangocyclist
steve, a photo by tangocyclist on Flickr.

I was passed the next morning by the speedy Del Scharffenberg in route to Siletz. Turns out he had an eight-hour layover in Lincoln City! (Del’s sister lives there.) When I conveyed that information to Joel Metz at the Logsden contrôle, he said something like “I hate Del. He’s too *** fast!”

Ed Groth and Joel overslept in Lincoln City, caught Steve and me in Logsden, then dropped us on the gravel road towards Blodgett. I was working really hard on this segment, knowing from last year that getting to Blodgett before closing would be essential to finishing this brevet. (That’s where I abandoned last year because of being way behind the clock.) This time I made it … by 25 minutes. Ed had already moved on; Joel was still there, right on schedule for his 38-hour completion goal. Steve and I enjoyed a slice of pizza while talking about some of the crazy weather we were experiencing.

I was under the misguided impression that things would be easier from Blodgett on out, and that the roads would all be more or less downhill. My knees knew otherwise, though, and became steadfastly displeased with the ascending halves of all the rollers between Kings Valley and the Eola Hills.

Organizer Susan Otcenas provided some impromptu and welcomed roadside encouragement along Hwy 223 before Dallas. Once in that town, I got a little turned around before finally finding the Safeway with the singularly friendly Starbucks inside. After downing a shot of espresso and getting one of my water bottles filled with Frappuccino, I dealt with the stiff side-winds and rollers of Perrydale Rd. Did I mention that my knees were not happy with rollers?

Bethel, Zena, Spring Vallley and Hopewell Roads through the Eola Hills wine region reminded me of Joshua Bryant’s flèche route of 2009. Oh yeah, he did design this route last year. Didn’t he? I particularly liked the “back door” approach to Dayton via Webfoot Road.

Steve Williamson and Will Goss were in Dayton when I arrived, and hoofed it outa’ there while I was fueling up. There were almost three hours left to ride the last 27 miles; under normal circumstances would be quite doable. But did I mention my knee?

With the help of a lot of ibuprofen, I actually rode pretty hard to Lafayette, and then again on familiar North Valley Road towards Forest Grove. Once at the finish at the Grand Lodge, Susan France offered me pizza and checked me in with a time of 39 hours and 35 minutes. While I was a little discouraged not to have made up any time on the second day, I was happy to have the last piece of PBP qualification out of the way.

Now I’ve got three months to get this knee thing figured out!

More pictures from the ride are here on Flickr.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

"Asta y la Vistas" conquer 2011 Flèche NW

Last year’s (2010) NW Flèche with Marcelo Napolitano, Ed Groth, and Theo Roffe was fun, so much so, in fact, that when it came time to decide whether or not to do the event this year, there was a lot of interest. However, the 2011 version was scheduled the weekend before Oregon’s PBP-qualifying 600k, which thwarted some enthusiasm (unless the route was gonna be really flat and not a kilometer over the minimum 360).

A bigger challenge, though, would be designing a route. On my previous two flèches, I more-or-less tagged along on teams that Joshua Bryant or Marcelo had put together. But this time ‘round, it appeared to be my turn at route construction. I happened to be in Seattle in February when Ralph Nussbaum conducted a pre-flèche informational meeting. But I really didn’t get the impetus to design a route until hearing about Ed’s and Theo’s train ride home from the Three Capes 300k brevet in late March, during which they laughed themselves silly coming up with team names.

The deadline to register and submit a route was April 1st. I talked with Ralph and managed to get a few days extension, then burned some midnight oil designing a route from Beaverton, OR to Olympia, WA. I thought it would be interesting to go inland (as we had gone to the coast doing the Astoria/Raymond thing last year). By inland, I was thinking east of I-5. Ed and Theo seemed to concur. So I put together a route that headed up into rugged hills northeast of Vancouver and Camas, WA, and then later wound through unmarked roads in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. (By unmarked, I mean the Google Maps showed their existence, but didn’t name them.)

Fortunately, I did two all-night reconnaissance drives that resulted in major route revisions. On the first, I found the roads in the rugged hills NE of Camas passable (before they descended to Yacolt), but they were gravelly and steep … probably not the best combination for riding at night towards Olympia. On the second drive (on which Ed accompanied me), we nearly got stuck on snow-banked fire, logging and 4WD roads northeast of Cougar, WA. Again, not good terrain for spending the nocturnal hours of a long bicycle ride together. Several miles and hours later, we figured out that roughly paralleling I-5 between Woodland and Castle Rock would be unavoidable.

In the meantime, our team had grown to a quintet with the addition of riders Asta Chastain and David Parsons. In fact, Asta became our namesake. We would be called “Asta y la Vistas.”

toutle, wa (2) by tangocyclist
toutle, wa (2), a photo by tangocyclist on Flickr.

The team met at my place in Beaverton on Friday afternoon (April 29th) in time for some homemade borscht, cookies (thank you Amy!), and a 5:00 PM departure. Ten miles later we were on the Springwater Corridor, another 15 and we were in East Vancouver, and at about sunset (58k into the ride) we arrived at the Fern Prairie Market on the outskirts of NE Camas.

Our next stop was at the Safeway in Battle Ground, WA, where we stocked up on enough supplies to weather a few hours of nocturnal riding. Yacolt was buttoned up by our midnight arrival time, so we took photos in front of the local barbershop to document our having been there.
yacolt proof by tangocyclist
yacolt proof, a photo by tangocyclist on Flickr.

Between Yacolt and Woodland, though, we encountered a lot of taxing rollers that weren’t apparent on Google Maps.

After Woodland, there was the predictably steep Green Mountain Road, a portion of which I walked. Ed’s and my homework made our early AM passage through Kelso relatively efficient. Then about 6 miles later, we hit Headquarters Rd…four miles of relentless uphill…on which I began to falter, and worry about making it to Olympia on time. It was on this road that Ed ended up pushing me quite a bit, thus increasing my speed from 4-5 mph to closer to 8. We were quite the two-barreled huffing-puffing machine. I was simultaneously humbled, and impressed by Ed’s gallant show of team-man-ship.

It was light by this time, but the five of us broke up a bit on the descent towards Toutle. After reconvening at that contrôle, we continued to the small town of Ethel, then headed northwest to Chehalis and the back roads of Centralia. After a stretching/food stop in Bucoda, we hit the Tenino-Yelm Rails-to-Trails bike path, upon which we were greeted by Carol Nussbaum and Amy Pieper, the roving secret contrôle operators.
secret controllers by tangocyclist
secret controllers, a photo by tangocyclist on Flickr.

We arrived at the 22-hour contrôle in Yelm with a luxurious 45 minutes to kill, which got promptly eaten up by the most inefficient excuse for a restaurant I have ever encountered. But at 3:10 PM, we were back on the road again, with what we thought was plenty of time for our arrival in Olympia.

Unfortunately, our Google-Maps-influenced route took us on many segments of a “Woodland Trail” in and around Lacey. We took just enough wrong turns and were confused enough to make our arrival at the Red Lion Inn really tight! The take away from the last two hours: “Know your end game.” (or pre-ride that section).

After a difficult final ascent to the hotel from Olympia proper, we were greeted by Robin Pieper, quite a few other randonneurs, and plenty of beer!
finished (2) by tangocyclist
finished (2), a photo by tangocyclist on Flickr.

David then immediately headed to the train station (for a same-day return to Portland), while Ed, Theo, Asta and I checked in to the hotel, ordered pizza, took our showers, and promptly fell asleep.

Brunch was served to the eleven teams the next morning. We saw maps of everyone’s route, listened to everyone’s stories, and were grateful that our route didn’t encounter a disorderly car rally on remote rural gravel roads. We ended up getting a couple awards, including “Lowball” (shortest distance closest to 360k), 2nd place “Drunkard” (most circuitous), 2nd “Youngest” (average age), and 2nd “Largest Spread” (I’m 31 years older than Asta). We also managed to compress the 3rd most elevation gain in our Lowball distance.

The four of us rode about 9 miles to the Olympia/Lacey Amtrak station after brunch on Sunday, and reminisced on the excellent event on the train ride home.

‘Twas lot of work to put the route together; a lot of work to ride those hills; and a lot of work for the Nussbaums to organize. But it was worth it. Excellent camaraderie, not only within our team, but with the other participants as well.

My photos of the flèche are here on Flickr.