The day dawned gray and wet. As I rode to the starting point a few drops plinked onto the helmet and map case. There was quite a crowd, to my eye, at the starting point. I even bumped into a couple from Seattle that I'd seen the week before at the SIR 200K.
Shortly after 7:00 we started, and so did the rain. The Pacific Northwest has had an extremely dry winter. Enough so that the snowpacks are near record lows and we're making plans on how to deal with the drought. With the advent of the brevet series the rain returned.
The PWTC 200K differs from other brevets that I've experienced, for the first eight miles it is a group ride. Through the streets of Portland we rode as a bunch blocking traffic. I wanted to call out to drivers "we are not Critical Mass!" At one point as riders ignored calls of "car back" a guy next to me shouted out, "why do you think they hate our guts?" Wish he would have said "hate our presence." Reaching the downtown fringe traffic light timing split up the group.
At the northwest edge of downtown Portland is Forest Park. It is over 5,000 acres, making it one of the largest urban parks in the nation. Our route crossed a busy street, detoured around a closed gate and started to seriously climb. Tight switchback and everybody standing kind of climb, deep lungfuls of air climb, Michael getting seriously dropped climb. So much for staying with the group and having shelter from the winds I thought.
A bit later a voice called out "hey Michael." It was Del Scharffenberg, a sixty year old guy who rides fast, as in seven hour 200K rides fast. He slowed down to chat with me, describing the two flats he'd had already. Del has had a string of flats this year, in January he was getting one every week while commuting to work. Since I rarely get flats, about one every 1,000 miles or so, I'd given him a hard time about it. Today he'd been fortunate to see Susan France, ride co-organizer, driving by when his tire went soft. He flagged her down and got an extra tube and the use of a floor pump. I was breathing too hard to keep up the talk and Del went on to catch up with his ride buddies. As I continued to slog up the hill I wondered just what is it with Del and his riding that causes so many flats. Maybe it's just a bad section of the random variation, maybe he's jinxed. As I passed the archery range ("thunk, thunk" go the arrows) I noted a bit of bounce in the front wheel. Fifty yards later I admitted the bounce was the squishy ride of a flat in the making.
Now, some riders at a moment like this may think that Del had passed his jinx on to me. He said the same when he called me that night. Being more rational I thought back to my last flat tire on the road. Or tried to. Was it really when I ran through the patch of broken beer bottles last September? I can't remember a flat since then, that was some 2,000 miles ago. So far in 2005 I've ridden over 1,100 flat free miles. One might say I'm overdue for a flat during a ride. Actually, I can only recall changing a flat while on a ride twice before. There's a downside to this good fortune. I'm way slow at tire changing. Where way slow means fifteen minutes or longer. Note to self: practice changing tires, install quick release brake levers so you can get an inflated tire between the brake pads.
It might have also helped had I had glasses with me. I'm farsighted. Riding with uncorrected vision is easy because anything at road distances is in focus. There's a little reading glasses insert in my cycling glasses that allows me to read the cue sheet. It is not enough to see what I need to see for on the road repairs. Things like the location of the hole in the tube, or the inside of the tire casing when I think I've found the cause of the puncture.
As it was a cyclist and his wife were driving up the road and stopped. A little help with doing the change, a lot of help with having a floor pump for the tire, or so it seemed. The cyclist took off on his bike. His wife and I had a tough time figuring out how the valve system on the pump worked. Another cyclist arrived and gave it a try. Pump, pump, pump, pop. Pop? Ouch, the tire popped off the rim. Miraculously the tube didn't burst. Reset the tire and pumped again. Success this time. After profuse thanks to the woman I was on my way again.
Up the hill, on my own, miles behind everyone in the rain. At least I enjoy riding in the rain. The park was quite scenic and enjoyable at the slow speed. Right up until I felt it again. Squish, squish from the front tire. This time I was by the turn off for the zoo, here there were logs that would function as a seat and bike lean-to. This time it was raining harder. Off came the tire. A troop of runners in some organized event, they all had numbers, went by. A woman called out "bummer, but at least you're at the top of the hill." "Top? No, I'm about to ride Skyline." "Good luck." This time I took a very careful feel of the inside and outside of the tire. Not finding any puncture culprit I decided to chance using my spare tube and not patching the one that had flatted. Perhaps we'd messed up the presta valve with all the pump mucking at the first flat. Perhaps not. Wished I'd followed my usual procedure and carried two spare tubes and three patch kits. Thought about where there might be bike shops to buy an additional tube. About this time Marvin Rambo pedaled by. Marvin is the RBA and ride organizer. He asked about my mechanical and rode on assured that I had everything I needed. Fixed the flat by using the new tube and remember to make sure the tire was well seated before using my Zefal pump. This worked well. I got the tire up to reasonable pressure quickly. Thought some more about where bike shops along the ride route and decided that the one I could recall was farther off course than I wanted to ride. Hopeful that I had the tire issues fixed I wrung out my gloves and started out.
I didn't check my time. The truth about elapsed time would not bring good cheer. On top of my slow ascent and time lost to repairs I was about to ride on Skyline Boulevard. Skyline is a route favored by local hammer heads for hill training.
There's good news and bad news at this point. The "good" news? The climb up to the zoo area, and then up to meet Skyline were the real climbs in this part of the route. The "bad" news? Now I was riding on an exposed ridge where the wind could do its will. This was a cross wind section. Cross enough so that the sensible rider keeps to the middle of the highway lane. That way the sudden gusts only blow you over to the edge of the road, not into the ditch. Drivers were very tolerant of bikes. There was no horn honking or close and fast passing. Perhaps they were admiring the grit of anyone out pedaling on such a blustery, wet, grey day. Or perhaps they feared the insanity of anyone riding in these conditions.
Skyline provided expansive views across the valley when the cloud cover lifted high enough to reveal them. It also eventually unrolled onto a road, Old Cornelius Pass Road, that entered that valley. The challenge of cross wind rolling hills was replaced by the challenge of head and cross winds on the open prairie area. At a turn where I needed to stop I checked my time and distance. 22 miles, 3 hours. Ouch. At this rate I might pull off an 18 hour finish. This dispirited thinking was a side effect of the grinding ride into headwinds. Perhaps I should have checked my rolling speed average. Might that have provided some reassurance that progress was being made?
A benefit of riding in your home area is that you know the lay of the land. As soon as I crossed Highway 26 I knew there'd be no more headwinds for forty or fifty miles. There might even be a section of tail wind. I plugged along, reminding myself that I was out for a ride. I was out here to get some hill training and some adverse condition training. I was getting what I asked for, wasn't I a lucky rider? Besides there were nice views thrown into the bargain. The road now passed the fields were nurseries grow ornamental trees and shrubs for landscaping. No matter what the conditions, the view always contains some beauty and surprises. I settled into pedaling along.
At the forty mile mark I checked the time. 11:30? Yow, it is late. But the deficit is shrinking. Is that good? None the less the right thing to do at a time like this is to call home and let Jennifer know not to expect me until late. This way she could go enjoy a movie, knowing that I wouldn't be home for dinner. I make the call, she is supportive and hopes the ride "gets better." As I'm getting this good will wish the call waiting tone goes off in my ear. I say goodbye to my wunnerful wife and switch to the other line. "Hello, this is network operations in Richmond, Virginia . . . " uh, oh. I'm being summoned to work. I don't need to be there until the evening. But I do need to be there. A quick calculation shows that if the expected headwinds exist in the last 30 miles of the ride I'll be something like an hour too late for work. uh. oh. I can turn back, grab the rail line into town. That means I have a severely truncated ride. That also means that volunteer Susan France, who has homemade turkey soup, and dry clothes in my drop bag will be waiting at the 72 mile mark. I don't know of a way to reach her. I decide the thing to do is to ride on to that point, in the town of Vernonia, and get a ride back to the start with her. I'm the last rider on the course, so her support activities end with me. This sounds good, I'll get in another 30 miles or so, travel on some backwoods roads that will provide more hill training, and not be too much of a quitter.
Disgruntled about duty, northward goes the pedaling. It's raining more now. My upper body, with a rain coat and two layers of wool, feels fine. Below the waist I'm wearing one pair of lycra knickers, two pair of wool socks and sandals. It's about 50 degrees (10 C) with a brisk wind and constant rain. I can feel cold with my legs, feel the cold on the surface. But other than that I'm surprisingly comfortable. Booties would be nice, but I'm doing OK. This feels good. I stop at a store to top off a water bottle and feed the jonesing for some caffeine.
After the stop we're on the main road to the coastal town of Tillamook, best known for the cheese from its dairy cooperative. The road has a wide, smooth shoulder and I'm buzzing along a some of the highest sustained speeds of the day. Moods brighten and I'm looking forward to the control. The first control for this ride is at the 50 mile (80 km) point. A sign appears saying "Passing Lane One Mile". In these parts that means I'm a mile away from an extended climb. And so it is. The first part is substantial but not steep, maybe four or five percent. After that the grade tapers off but continues. The last six miles to the control is all uphill. I note how quickly the freshet in the ditch is running. The creek next to the road is mostly whitewater, with brown undertones. I climb.
There's a store up ahead, with a sign that says OPEN. Right below that in smaller letters it says "Soon". I imagine the rider who believes the control is in sight getting excited and then puzzled and then checking the cue sheet and odometer. As a local I know the real control is a mile or so up the road. I arrive at 12:54. The closing time for the control was 12:20. This is a first, DNFing on the first control of a ride. Whether work had called or not, this is was not a stellar day in my riding history. I relax, eat a corndog, wring the water out of my gloves and set out for a ride on the portion of the route that's totally new to me. It's on a road called Timber. It goes through forests and past clear cuts and beside tree farms with young trees planted in neat rows. People have warned me about this road. "I wouldn't ride on that. It's narrow, winding and has no shoulders," said one co-worker. I find that all these statements are true. It is also quiet and lightly traveled. You can hear a vehicle coming long before you could see it. It's easier to ride than the roadway I was just on with a wide should and lots of traffic.
This section is also gently climbing. Mostly. When you see a sign that indicates switchbacks with "10 mph 1 Mile" underneath you might think it is a hint of climbs to come. You might consider shifting into the small chainring right now. Both the thought and the consideration are well taken. The first hairpin is 170 degrees and the pitch rises dramatically. An inward smile spreads. I'd wanted some hill training, here it is.
This is also where I experience something new. A fire and ice sensation in the thighs. Fire from the burn of the effort of climbing. ice from the rain plinking on the thighs. This feels much better than just having the thighs burn on the climb. I ride harder than I normally would due to the cooling effect of the rain.
The rest of the ride was through forests. I'm surprised that after this climb and its descent there are no more hills. Not even small ones that could be considered rollers. Twelve miles through backwoods forest on the flats. I start to look forward to control #2, with my dry clothes and the hot turkey soup. Since I'm going to get there after the control closing time I think that maybe, just maybe, Susan will backtrack the route looking for me. Dry clothes and hot soup all the earlier! I don't see her van. Arriving in Vernonia, I look around for her. I find, much to my surprise, that this town of 2,200 people has more than one city park. None of them that I find has Susan and the van. Ooops.
OK, plan B time. I pedal over to the house of a coworker. Have I mentioned that it's beneficial to be a local? He's home and agrees to drive me to public transit so I can get home in time to get to work. I'm wearing soaked clothes, so the heater in the car is cranked up. On the ride we talk about the used bookstore his wife is planning to open in that small town. I mention that Jennifer and I have some books he could take back with him. He agrees to drive me all the way home.
As it turned out, Susan didn't have anyone's numbers, or a cell phone connection in Vernonia. She drove back to the start of the ride and got my home phone from the registration sheet. Called my house. I was able to pick up my drop bag from the start. She'd saved some turkey soup for me too. So I was able to get that. Ride completed. My first abandonment of a brevet route.
The ultimate bummer came after Jennifer and I had dinner. I called into the network operations center. We discussed the work that needed to be done. I raised the question of physical access to the building. I don't have a card key for the facility in question. Oops. I can't get into the building to do the work. I don't have to work after all.
This report is from Michael Rasmussen's bicycle blog.
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