Mark Janeba's Covered Bridges pre-ride 2009


John-Henry Maurice and Mark Janeba pre-rode the Covered Bridges 400 on a day with torrential showers

May 3, 2009: Dangerous Ideas


It had been a dangerous idea. I've been riding ultra-stuff and randonnees with John for several years. Both of us were experienced tandemists - but riding the ORR 400k pre-ride on a tandem? That's a dangerous idea.

John wanted to do this year's ORR Covered Bridges 400k, but he couldn't do it on the scheduled day, so he arranged with the organizer to do a pre-ride a week early to check out the course. John couldn't find many people interested in joining him - only me, in fact, so it was going to be a very small group. We had both done previous incarnations of the ride, but never in the same year. Ten days before the ride, remembering it as much flatter than it was, I emailed John: "Dangerous and crazy idea - let's do it on a tandem."

John and I had never tandemed together before. If you've followed tandeming much, you know that tandem partners either fit perfectly, almost telepathically anticipating their partners' moves, or they want to kill each other. Picking up this idea only ten days before the ride was crazy. OK, I'm in. Onthe Three Capes 300k, Gary(?) had told me his rule was "never try something new on a big ride." That's really good advice, but if you always follow good advice, your life might lack"excitement." It's time for an adventure!

A week before the ride, we did a test on John's Meridian tandem with me stoking (that's the rear-seat/co-pilot/electronic weapons officer role). The 46-mile ride went fine, and we climbed well together, but I was cramped on the back of his bike despite its fairly long rear top tube. The next Monday night we did about 8 miles with me in front, and settled on that arrangement.

The Gathering Darkness

The forecasts alternated all week - would it be dry, would it be torrential. By Wednesday or so, we decided it wasn't going to be dry. John put some fenders on the bike, and we plotted. Then I got a cold starting about Thursday night. Friday I came home early, gathered equipment, clothes, and ride food in my "ride box," and generally dithered. John called to see how I was feeling and declared me "sounding chipper."

The Day begins…

Lying in bed at 3:30 a.m. hearing it pour on the roof. Get up, pull on riding clothes, check the weather radar - a band of heavy rain had just passed through, and was moving away from the course. No further rain on the radar. Having set out everything the night before, I had a few spare minutes, so I threw the tandem-capable roof rack on our car, "just in case." John was punctual at 4:30 and we arrived at the Newberg Travelodge parkinglot at about 5:20 - lots of time. The roads from Salem to Newberg were uniformly wet, but that raid had passed through, right? We fiddled with the bike. It's amazing how a full, big "ride box" empties into the nooks and cranies on the bike and one's pockets. I mounted my headlight, and stapled (!) a mudflap extension onto the front fender. John mounted a small pannier and his Arkel trunk pack. Then we were off for the McDonalds for a bathroom break and to have our Brevet cards signed.

It was sprinkling gently as we left the Travelodge parking lot at 6:00. South on Hwy 219, the shoulder was recently repaved and quite nice - until we got to the bridge. The sky was lightening as we turned toward Champoeg State Park, and retraced achunk of the Salem Bike Club's Monster Cookie ride - backwards. Another potty stop in Gervais at the market ("no public restrooms in Gervais, except sometimes at the baseball field"), and then on toward Silverton. It started to rain at the Mt Angel turnoff, so I put on my rainjacket and rolled down the chaps. Shortly after the L on Hook, we saw a porta-potty on the edge of the golf course (note for next week's riders), and found our way to the Gallon House Bridge and the first info control. The rain, which had started pretty vigorously, had eased off almost immediately, and by Gallon House it had stopped.

On to the Cascade Hwy rollers. Well, they're actually a sequence of hills with a few whoop-de-dos in between, but we went over them without incident. I was learning how to shift John's Meridian. The large cog was a tad finicky, and the front derailleur was very different than mine, but it was coming together. A few miles north of Sublimity, rain again. Back on with the rain gear. It didn't ease up quite so quickly, and we stopped at the Stayton Safeway, which has a nice wide "porch." John got some goodies, introducing me to "Muscle Milk," while I took off my rain gear.

The Sun Teases

As we left the lot, it started to sprinkle again, but it looked like it would pass quickly. As we turned left on the dreaded Cole School Road, the rain stopped. Going up the first of the two steeper "rollers" on Cole School, I was reminded pretty forcefully that tandem front derrailleurs don't downshift well under load. We stood and got up the hill, but we hadn't had much experience standing together, so it was a bit of a rolling wrestling match. For the second, longer steep pitch, I put it in the granny ring well in advance, and we got up just fine.

Dropping down Richardson "suicide hill" gap (there's a hairpin halfway down the steepest part), the weather cleared and the sun came out, just in time for info control #2 at Shimanek bridge. Then a quick out-and-back to Hannah bridge, and it was starting to get warm.

At Scio we stopped in the Bakery/coffee house just south of the supermarket. Anticipating warmth, I shed a layer and gobbled a turnover. I noted that we had come 63 miles in nearly five hours. The last time I did this ride, I had managed to hang with Del's bad boys in the lead group, and had done the first hundred in around 6 hours. I knew this year would be slower, but I didn't want to be riding all through a wet night.

Rolling on Gilkey, John remarked "I thought this road was flat," though we were handling the gentle undulations well. Hungry Hill (Hoffman) bridge, then off to Larwood - oh, and somewhere in there's another info control with questions suggested by yours truly. About a half mile before the Larwood bridge the rains started a bit more seriously, and they didn't look to be going away anytime soon. I stalled, sitting on the bridge, but it wasn't going to help.

The ride gets steamy

Climbing the Meridian Rd. hills in a full rain suit is not a cool experience. It was warm out, despite the steady rain. Unlike in the Birkie's 38 degree icewater, my hands were fine with thin liners under my riding gloves. We were slogging, though, climbing the rollers on Berlin Rd., and I wasn't feeling very strong at all. I think part of it was being "steamed," part of it was not having eaten enough in the first 85 miles of the ride. Part of it was the softening rear tire. John asked me for a stop to check it, but when we looked at it, I couldn't tell if it was soft. On Pleasant Valley, with the wind picking up, we decided the tire was going flat very slowly. After a fairly quick change, I was rolling the bike onto the pavement as John picked up a few bits when the rear wheel locked up. "Damn!" I thought, we'd busted a spoke and the rim was lodged against the brake pad. It took us about a minute to discover the unseated and bulging tire jammed against the rear fender, but John caught it and let out the air before we lost the tube. After that, we slogged over the last hill to Sweet Home, and enjoyed the blazing descent to Hwy 20. Oh, and did I say it started raining again? Fortunately, we stopped for me to put on my heavy rain booties. As we pulled out onto Hwy 20 for the tricky left turn, the heavens genuinely opened. Cars were pulling to the side of the road. With one block to the Thriftway and cover, we hit the gas.

Real food, fake seating

John had persuaded me that the Thiftway's deli had indoor seating. Once I'm wet on a ride, sitting outside in the wind chills me really fast, so I wanted a heated dining establishment. Not that it mattered at the moment I turned into the Thriftway, taking the first friendly haven to avoid drowning. Grocery patrons were pointing and laughing at the rain (from indoors), it was so hard. John wanted soup at the deli, which they didn't have, but got them to heat up some deli-packaged chili. I had a nice sandwich and rotini pasta. I think I needed it much more than I knew. Not wanting to chill (see above), I was avoiding softdrinks for my caffeine, so I asked the deli counter person if they had tea. "Well, we have hot water over there (at the coffee kiosk) and I think they have teabags." I bit, but the teabags were vaporware. Then I bit the bullet and had half a cup of coffee, normally reserved for the middle of the night on fleches. Since there was no indoor seating at the deli, and I wasn't going to go sit in the wind, I found a plastic lawn chair and sat in the wide area near the deli, while John sat on the floor. Perhaps he was feeling guilty for promising seating. We got quite a few odd looks from the customers, but in the bathroom on our way out I was comforted to see that I didn't completely look like a drowned rat. Well, not by randonneur standards, anyway. We left Sweet home somewhere around 3:40 - it was going to be a long ride.

The scary climbs

I don't know why, but the hill south of Sweet Home holds a special terror in my heart. That thing is steep and fairly long. It's not steeper than Cole School (perhaps less), but quite a bit longer. To my pleasant surprise, we got over it pretty quickly and I was able to generate some horsepower - much more than I felt capable of back on the Berlin rollers. Another nice surprise after warning John that the worst pavement on the route was coming - Crawfordsvill Drive has been repaved. It's really quite decent, if not downright nice. We stopped in Crawfordsvill at my request to top off the waterbottles, since I decided I hadn't been drinking enough, and also because I remembered the Marcola climb as being much harder. Rolling away from the Crawfordsville store (with the nice "Opie Opossum" coffee mugs - gotta get me one someday), it was clear that the back tire was seriously soft. And the rain was starting again. Back one block to the store and some shelter, and our second full tube change. At the first flat, I had felt inside the tire for the culprit, but couldn't find anything. This time, I found the tiniest pinhole in the tube, and from that John could find a tiny wire in the tire. Ahh, problem solved - we thought. Off we go for the Marcola climb. I was slogging again, at least partly as we had the raingear on again. But the climb was over sooner than I expected, and we blazed down the other side. It was fairly quick to get to the Earnest covered bridge and the last of the info controls. That, and a nice, quiet rolling road off the "main" highway. Then through Marcola and on to the Mohawk store.

That's enough flats, thank you

At the Mohawk store, fortified by such training aid as deviled eggs, chocolate muffins, and convenience-store burritos, we found the rear tire was getting soft again. Did we miss a second piece of wire in the casing? On goes the spare tire and the last new inner tube. It was about 7 when we left. Not much daylight left. The sky looked like we'd had the last of the rain for at least a little while. Pretty much from the second that we hit Coburg road we started flying. That was another reason we'd been making such poor time - we'd been fighting headwinds all day. Now the wind was blowing with us. We were rolling at around 20 mph as darkness approached. The wind appeared to be driving the rain ahead of us, but we were gaining on it. About five miles from Harrisburg, just as I was reaching for the light switch, the rain started, and we hit a rock. Pinch flatted, dark, and wet, we were not happy campers. I don't remember the exact sequence of decisions, but we installed one of the slow-leaker tubes to get us to Harrisburg, and called my wife to bail us out. I suppose we could have done some patching on the porch of the Dari-Mart in Harrisburg, but I think the fear in the back of our minds was that, never having really found the source of the mysterious flats, we'd be plagued by them all night. That, and the fact that while I've made an uneasy peace with riding in the rain (having lived in Oregon for 23 years), I really hate a night rain ride longer than my daily commute. I think John sensed this and humored me by being the first to suggest calling for "rescue."

Karaoke and chicken strips

"How do you feel," John asked when we were rolling again. "Pretty good knowing we only have five more miles," I replied. We agreed to find an indoor (heated) place to wait for my wife to drive down from Salem. To our surprise, there were no open restaurants, but there were a couple of bars. It's nice that Oregon bars are now non-smoking establishments. We were directed from one bar to another than had better food, and had chicken strips and fries while we listened to Karaoke Night. Some of the singers were OK, even pretty good, at least for a verse or two. Others, well… My wife arrived, the bike went on the rook (my, it was light), and home we went.

Warm sheets

We dropped off John and the bike (was it a good idea to leave the roof rack on, or was it just inviting defeat?) and headed home. On the drive home, with the car heater going, my fleecy garments dried out pretty quickly, and I remarked how nice it felt to be dry. What really amazed me was the visceral rush of joy I felt climbing into a warm, dry bed. Maybe I should focus on the summer brevet series… :)"