Road Pixie Random Thoughts

Cascades 700k is a stunning success!

Well okay, there isn't an official Cascades 700k, but I was so pleased with this ride that I feel like the accomplishment is worth the title.  I actually think that my threshold for pain is so high that I could have finished the 1000k, but I might never have ridden another brevet.  Ron Himschott reminded me of some very wise advice to anyone in randonneuring: know the difference between pain and injury.  It's a fine line that must be understood completely if one is going to push one's body to the physical limits.

Make no mistake, I came to the Cascades to finish.  Anyone who rode with me knows it was a miracle I even made it to the start.  I was riding after spending the last 2 months dealing with 2 major lung surgeries and chemotherapy for my spouse, diagnosed with a sarcoma in the last week of April.  The past 2 months were a meat grinder both physically and mentally with the only release coming 10 days before the Cascades began.  "You can do it," my spouse told me, "just think of me when you need to pedal more".

So I wrote and offered to pick people up at the airport since my flight came in a day early (a personal preference for out-of-town rides).  I wound up sharing a room and driving around with Vickie Tyer, who is a great rider and one of those people who just makes you want to ride fast.  She introduced me to many others from near and far.  A great way to start a ride.  I have the distinct feeling that I will see many from the Cascades over the next years as we all meet for the various long rides that we all love so much.

Day 1

The day started quite grey, which I had expected.  Seattle isn't exactly known as a sunny spot.  Plenty of sun coming in the following days.  I was elated to be there and the ride started with almost 100 people tearing down the road at about 18 mph.  I have never ridden in Washington so I found myself out of the main pack at about mile 25 riding alone.  I started getting a chance to look around at some really beautiful flowers.  The big, pink spikes of penstemon were everywhere along with lush ferns.  There were some rollers in here and I met Wolfgang, a rider from Germany, briefly who was puzzling over the cue sheet (it had some tiny type).   We were passing each other on and off for the next two days.

Pretty Roads in Western Washington

At Cumberland, I refilled my bottles, used some facilities and powered on.  I really don't like to spend time at controls.  Sometimes, I don't actually spend enough time at them and leave without enough food or other amenities.  At this point, we were only about 50 miles in and I grabbed some peanut butter cups and was off.  Over the next hour or so, the road flattened and the sun started peeking out.  I rode with Roland, who had a most interesting bike from Kansas (I can't remember where Roland was from, just his bike).  We had some issues getting through a big festival in one of the small towns, but continued on until I had to stop to use the restroom (remember how I fail sometimes to stop for long enough?).  About 10 miles later, I passed a Canadian, Ron, who I wound up riding the rest of the day with.  By this time, the sun was out in force and we both stopped to remove arm warmers and other layers.  Orville Road was simply gorgeous with tall pines, flowers, lakes, and virtually no traffic.  We rode up a long hill into Eatonville and opted for the quick grocery instead of the bakery.  He and I both belong to the "I'd rather sleep than sit" philosophy.  He also introduced me to the idea of drinking most of a quart of chocolate milk at a control.  About 800 calories, electrolytes, and 100 grams of carbs.  Good advice.

We spent the next couple of hours doing lots of climbing up medium sized hills that reminded me a lot of hills in Minnesota.  The views were amazing with the mountains against the now clear sky.  Mt Rainier suddenly came into view at this point and it's the picture I most regret not taking.  I hadn't seen it before so it had that kind of impact that only a first sight can have.  We refueled at Morton at about 3:00 and ran into the sweep vehicle, which was early.  Saying hi, we powered on to Randle.  At this point, the wind became a big ally and we were cruising on this stretch all the way to Packwood.  US 12 was a nice road and I also enjoyed the side trip onto Silverbrook which wound its way through small farms.  We fairly flew into Packwood at about 20 mph at around 5:30 and stopped for sandwiches.  There we met another couple of riders, one from Ireland.  I loaned him some lube, which I carry after having a squeaky chain drive me nuts on a ride once.  At about 6:00 pm, we headed out of Packwood towards White Pass.
View From White Pass

We went a bit slower coming out of Packwood.  I learned a long time ago that if I eat a sandwich, I better give my stomach a few minutes of free reign on the bloodstream or risk some really bad things.  We reached what Ron called the start of White Pass (which wasn't the first climb out of Packwood) at about 6:45.  White Pass was really beautiful and I enjoyed the climb, but it was at this point that I noticed my right hamstring being tight.  That had never happened before and I was puzzled.  I stopped and dropped my seat a couple millimeters.  At this point, a car drove up and some helpful people called out  "Do you need anything?".  I looked at the loaded bike rack on their car, smiled and said, "Well, I could use a new ass!".  "Already?", Ron came back.  We all laughed.  They made a vain attempt to tell us that we were nearly done, but we actually knew we had 6 miles to go.  It's the thought that counts.

We got to the top of White Pass at about 9:00 just as dusk started.  We stopped at the sweep vehicle, put on layers and sped down the mountain.  I have to say that I became a much better descender as a result of going on this ride.  Going down White Pass was just plain fun!  We turned off onto Tieton Road and made our way to the control where we spent about 20 minutes eating cookies, ramen noodles and drinking cokes.  Then it was off again.  We had a couple of pretty long climbs on Tieton before arriving back on US 12 for the final descent to Naches (pronounced NAA-CHEESE, I was informed by a local).
We arrived at 12:30 am.  I had hoped to arrive sometime between 12 and 1 so I was pretty happy.

Day 2

At this point, I realized that I had made a pretty crucial error in my decision to ride the 1000k.  I had assumed that the traditional rule of doing the first 600k in 40 hours would be the same.  Alas it was not.  That meant that to leave the control 2 hours before close, I would have to leave at 4:00 am while Ron would not leave until 7:00 am.  In all honesty, though, it probably made no difference, I woke up at 3:30 anyways (living in the Central Time Zone, I woke up 2 hours before my normal wake up time of 5:30 am).  But I left Naches alone and fought a ferocious headwind for about an hour before really seeing any other riders.  That was when my hamstring really started getting angry.  Vickie and friends blew by in a paceline and said "hop on!".  But at that point, I knew they were going too fast.  Lodgepole was basically a 44 mile climb and sometimes, you just have to take climbs at your own speed.  I got to Lodegpole at around 9:30 am.  5 hours to go 44 miles uphill.

I iced my hamstring for the first time at Lodgepole, taking longer than normal.  Jennifer Chang and her friend Steve showed up a few minutes later.  We started down, but they descended faster than I did.  I stopped at Cliffdell to get another coke and take off some clothes.  It was at this point that I picked up George Moore, a very nice guy from Virginia.  I wound up riding in front from Cliffdell to the Fruitvale control, though George had a goat-like triple setup that allowed him to spin up vertical surfaces with ease (he outclimbed me).  We rolled into Fruitvale around 2:30 pm, the ferns from the previous day replaced by irrigated desert.  I iced my knee again.  We ate some food at Starbucks and ran into Paul Bacho, another 1000k rider.  The next control, Mattawa, was about 60 miles away.  We made it out and managed to lose some time getting lost on the bike trail.  I was amazed at the impact of irrigation.  Big trellises of grapes stood with water pounding down on them.  Everywhere, there were sprinklers of all kinds.  Without these, it would be a scrub desert; I'm really not sure how I feel about this.  The temperature was about 95 degrees on US 24. 
Paul and George in the Rattlesnake Hills

Thus began the Rattlesnake Hills.  At this point, I was feeling quite strange and we stopped in front of a somewhat decrepit looking house with a sprinkler.  Jennifer and Steve rode up and suggested I shower in the sprinkler.  Good advice.  I figured it was the heat, but now I know that it was actually the start of a larger issue in my hamstring.  Jennifer very kindly offered some Endurolytes which I took since I had already taken most of mine.  If only that had been my problem!

The 5 of us fought the Rattlesnake hills for what seemed like forever.  I road behind Paul for a long time until I couldn't keep up then dropped back awhile.  False flats are really demoralizing - even when you know they are false flats.  Three of us finally came over a short climb to find George and Paul under a tree (it was 95 degrees).  "The top is right there 3,046 feet", said George.  A welcome sight.

The descent was long and fun.  Jennifer and Steve continued on to Vernitas while Paul, George and I stopped for water at a cafe.  The idea was that we would skip the rest area and continue on.  We had a climb up to a stunning view of the Columbia River and whizz-bang descent.  We turned at the Hanford Nuclear site and were finally descending to the river when we were buzzed by a red sedan that came dangerously close to hitting Paul.  I took the license plate number; we heard later that a car had been harassing cyclists in the area.

"That Hill" - Note: The tandem climbs with ease

At Vernitas (a green, irrigated square on the banks of the Columbia), there was Ron, resting at a picnic table.  "How'd I pass you?", he said.  I tried to stretch and settled for about 4 advil instead.  We cleared out quickly since we didn't need water.  Then it was up  "That Hill".  My computer clocked a continuous 19% grade and Paul and I both walked it.  By the time we got to the top, George was already there (like I said, his drivetrain could have climbed the Matterhorn).  We rode along the plateau and my hamstring was crying out in pain.

Paul, it turns out, was a certified athletic trainer.  I told him I was thinking of stopping and asked for an opinion.  We discussed my spectacular crash last February and he offered to take a look at it when we reached Mattawa.  At Mattawa, I iced the hamstring yet again.  Irene was passed out from dehydration (she later finished the ride which is really impressive).  Paul suggested there might still be hope, but I would need to get to Quincy, a mere 41 miles away.

I am a big believer in cosmic karma; what goes around comes around.  There have been many rides that I have slowed to help others or pulled someone through a bonk.  This time, 4 guys (Ron, Paul, George, and Wolfgang) offered to help me make it to Quincy.  They say that camaraderie is the hallmark of randonneuring, what sets it apart from the standard club hammerfests that are so common.  These guys all deserve medals for adhering to what I think is the best part of the sport.  I'd pedal every stroke, but at least I wouldn't be alone; at night it's so much safer to be with a group anyways.  Just being in a line for the first 8 miles after the control saved me from the very nasty wind.  The volunteers at Mattawa went beyond the call of duty.  I shed everything I possibly could so that I would hold up others at a minimum.  But I really felt that I could continue, Kathy, my spouse, has no options, she takes the chemo and smiles no matter how lousy it feels.  Getting to the second overnight became like that for me.

We cruised quite well and hit the first hill on Beverly Burke road.  The full moon was out and the view of the setting sun on the Columbia was magical.  I had to stop and pull glass out of my tire after rolling over a giant glass field, but my Armadillo tires did not puncture.  This section was quite hilly and just when we thought we saw I-90, it turned out to be a line of farmhouses.  I got ahead with George, who was having serious problems falling asleep on the bike.  We set his bike up to take a short nap, but I continued, figuring that to let my hamstring cool down would be deadly.  Wolfgang, Ron and I rode on (Paul stayed with George) and finally made it to I-90.  With only 10 miles to go, I briefly separated from Ron and Wolfgang while Wolfgang changed some batteries.

Everyone caught up to me just before Quincy and we rode in together at about 2:30.  I've never been so happy to reach a control.  It was an accomplishment that I will never forget.  Inside, I had soup, chocolate milk and Paul did some chiro moves on me.  I went to sleep at about 3:00 and woke up at 5:30.  My hamstring was still painful, but I could walk on it (carefully).

George had lost his GPS routes while changing batteries, my bracket had broken, but the GPS itself was usable.  I offered to give him mine (the same model).  "Let's do it the old-fashioned way and read the cue sheet", he said.  That might have saved my leg.

We rode out of town and missed the turn onto Martin Road.  Instead of a nice flat to Ephrata, we headed up a hill.  The hill was about a 4% grade, something I would normally do at about 12-13 mph without thinking twice.  I looked down and, even though I didn't feel winded, I was going 4 mph.  I tried very hard to push, but there simply wasn't anything there.  I called back to the other two, who turned around.  I thanked both of them profusely, but I knew then that I was at the injury line.  I had made it to Quincy and it was time to wish them both the best.  Paul finished the 1000k with about 4 hours to spare.  George DNF'd sometime after Farmer due to sleep issues.  Ron completed the 1240k without issue (though he has done 14 of them and may be the most experienced rando that I know).

I rode back to Quincy (okay we were a mile out of town).  The volunteers there were great.  By that time, my hamstring had seized and I couldn't clip out.  The ironic thing was that other than that, I felt great!  That more than anything else lets me know that it's just a set of circumstances.  I know that the distance is in my grasp and that is a success no matter how far I actually made it on this attempt.

Mark R, Charlie and his wife, Kathy all were great.  They got me back to Monroe and to the hotel where I checked in.  Even the hotel manager was great - she gave me a room on the first floor since I was having a hell of a time walking.  That night, I could barely sleep and I wrote letters to the riders that helped me along the way.  I hope all of them got theirs, I know that Ron did.  It was the least I could do.

I'm already conspiring to return to Seattle and try another 1000k.  I have quite a bit of rehab to do.  I have a slight rupture to my hamstring with some broken blood vessels.  Paul did me a huge favor of pointing out a major hip alignment issue that is left over from a crash in February.  2 MDs and a PT missed it so just finding it is halfway to fixing it.  I feel like I owe him a consultation fee.

Me - Still Strong in Packwood (Mt Ranier in the background)
I always say that I ride to meet great people and see beautiful things.  I can't wait to come back in two years, stronger, faster and wiser.  Then I'm hoping karma will come around and I can be there for someone else.
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