Sunday, September 14, 2008

SIR's September 600k: Another Epic DNF


If you look at the timestamp on this post, you will either surmise that I was really fast in finishing the 600k, or instead that I didn't finish it.. well unfortunately it's the latter case.

But it wasn't a total loss, and I'd even say it was a great ride. (Although finishing it some day would be fun too - anyone want to make a Permanent out of this route? I'm already itching to give it another shot.)

Anyway here's my story of attempting yet another 600k.

Challenges Before The Ride

From the outset I knew it was going to be a long day. (And by "day" I mean the 22-28 hours of bike riding I expected it to take to get to Naches, about 400k into the ride.)

Just as I'm about to launch for the ~7 mile ride to Robert's house, I realize my cycling shoes are at work! And work is in Redmond.. argh! I tried on some old Speedplay-equipped shoes but they were really uncomfortable and tight-feeling. Could I stand that for 30+ hours? Hell no. I needed my other shoes.

With all the packing I'd done getting ready for the ride, you'd think I would have looked for my shoes too. Should've done a pre-ride "shakedown," but these things happen. Lucky for me Kira was sweet enough to drive me out to Redmond, and then all the way down to Eatonville as well! Thanks, baby!! The ride wouldn't have been possible without you.

Even on the way down to Eatonville we thought we were lost; Our Mapquest directions were basically wrong in the Puyallup area, but a general sense of direction, and optimism that we were on the correct highway, kept us going in the right direction. Eventually we made it at 3:30 or so, with time to prepare.

The brevet start in Eatonville, WA at 4 AM

We started in the dark of course, with all of our lights looking like travelling Christmas trees. I was in the front of the pack at first, until two riders (Bob B & Robin P I think) sprinted past us like a breakaway by one of the French teams at the start of a TdF stage.

It was chilly but not too bad; my arm warmers & wool jersey, and shorts were plenty to shield me. I rode with Jacques from Alaska for the first hour or so, chatting about the crazy races he's done (like long-distance paddling races, snow-biking), and the brevets he's done around the country.

Bob & Robin were still ahead of us, but we kept their tail lights in sight for quite a while, surpsingly. For some reason I decided to ride sans cyclocomputer for this event, so I have no idea what our pace was exactly. But we must have been going at a decent speed, since looking back on some stretches I couldn't see anything, not even the flash of a rando's headlamp.

Upon entering the Rainier National Forest (I think we were supposed to pay at the ATM thingy, but riding through there was no attendant so we just kept riding.. I didn't have change anyway), it was time to ascend to Paradise.

Climb to Paradise

While at this point I was well ahead of most of the pack, I knew I'd be seeing most, if not all, of them at some point further down the road. I took a "arret naturale" and waited for Robert, Jack, and Dan (or some combination of them) to show up. The sun was rising now, and the darkness was being painted with lush green forest.

After only a few minutes Jack & Dan rode by, so I caught up with them. We rode together for quite a while, chatting and generally just enoying the beautiful scenery. Dan climbed quite fast, but was nice enough to wait for Jack & I a few times.

Eventually Andy caught up with us, and the four of us kept chugging our way up the mountain. The view of Rainier was clear, not a cloud in the sky! It was truly going to be a perfect day, at least weather-wise.

Jack looking strong climbing up to Paradise.

Breakfast At Paradise - 69 km, 7:53 AM

On the last three-mile stretch up to the lodge, I was dropped by the pack of three I'd been riding with. My heart rate felt a bit fast all day, and already I felt like I was pushing it too much. When you've still got at least 30 or more hours left in the ride, the last thing you want to do is redline!

I let them go, and just soft-pedaled up to the Paradise Lodge. Mt. Rainier looked extrememly cool, and once in the lodge I spotted a breakfast buffet. Having only had two croissants and a banana before the start of the ride, I was wanting something solid.

Each silver container contained hidden goodies, as if I were opening a treasure chest. Bacon?! Sounds good. Eggs? You bet. Oatmeal? Sure. Hash browns? Oh yeah. Even grabbed a pastry too. Paradise indeed! My eyes were bigger than my stomach, and I regretfully had to leave some scraps behind. I left a $20 bill on the table for my $12.95 breakfast; partially out of sympathy as a former food-worker myself, but mostly because it was time to hurry, no time for change.

The downside to this 15-minute break was that I lost contact with Jack/Dan/Andy/Robert in the process. Time to play catch up. With a full belly, and a renewed sense of strength, I set off to enjoy a blazing descent! I think descending mountains (on a clear day) could never get old.

I rode alone for a good two hours on the way to Packwood, being passed by litterally about three cars the whole time! After the ~5-mile climb up Backbone Ridge, I was greeted by smiling faces providing a refill of water, which was much appreciated. They said it would be a nice pedal down to Packwood from here, but I had no idea how nice! It was pretty much all downhill from there to Packwood, about 20 miles away.

After turning right on Highway 123/12, I realized I was descending the last part of Cayuse. At the intersection of 12, taking a right, I then thought about how we'd be coming back up this way later on, as this was the bottom of White Pass. The next 8 miles were an easy downhill to Packwood. (Which of course translates into an eight mile climb later on to get back there)

Packwood, The First Time (124 km, 10:25 AM)

Much to my surprise, I found my group of four at the gas station in Packwood, getting ready to head out. I made record-time in getting in and out, probably five minutes max. After a short sprint I caught up with this group of four strong riders, and I was glad to be in the company of humans again.

This gas station was right next to where the High Pass Challenge starts. Interestingly, we were about to ride the equivalent of the HPC!

Riding with Andy, Dan, Jack, and Robert on a back road west of Packwood:Resting in Randle, WA - I had no idea how hard things were about to get!

Windy Ridge

One of many washouts we encountered on FS26, heading up to Windy Ridge. Just before this we encountered a SIR sign with an note that we could choose either FS25 or FS26, and that 26 was filled with "adventure" and washouts.

And indeed, it was one of the most challenging roads I've ever done! But also one of the most scenic. Well worth the effort. Jan & Ryan did an excellent job laying out the course, and I hope to see the rest of it some day..Robert climbing in the Mt. St. Helens Blast Zone.

Robert enjoying the ascent to Windy Ridge.

One of many cracks in the road on the way down from Windy Ridge. The advantage to these broken roads was that cars weren't allowed in this section! It made for some very peaceful riding. Blast Zone.
After getting a PB&J sandwich from Jan, we set off to make our way back to Packwood. Jan had graciously lugged a whole trailer of food & water just for us! It definitely helped, thanks, Jan!

Packwood, The Second Time (288 km, 8:46 PM)

I arrived in Packwood at about 8:45 PM, surprised again to spot the trio of Jack/Andy/Dan there. They were about to leave, but it at least gave me a renewed confidence that if we weren't going to make it to the next controle in time, we weren't the only ones. Or that if we were this close to the rest of the ride(rs), we really weren't as far "behind" as it seemed.

Robert & Mark showed up shortly after I did, things were coming together. We'd figured it was going to take about four hours to conquer White Pass (20 miles of up I think), which would put us up there at roughly 1 AM, with 45 miles to go. And the 400k-mark cutoff time was at about 6 AM, so it was doable but the main question was would we get to sleep?

I got my card signed, filled up on water (with an extra bottle jammed in my rear pocket since the next 100k were sans any services!), and downed some food. White Pass loomed in the distance, daunting in the dark.

The End

But as Mark pulled out it sounded like Robert was hurting. Achilles tendon I think he said was acting up, and that he wanted to call it a day. And knowing that Robert has already done a succesful 600k and is a strong rider, I knew he was in serious pain.

And this was enough to give me a way out of something that was actually pretty scary to me: going up White Pass in the dark. I guess we knew all day that this was going to be the case, but now that reality had set in, I took the easy way out.

On brevets I think the unsupported part is what gets me through the ride. If it's 3 AM, you're hundreds of miles away from home, out of cell coverage, quitting might not be a real option. That really helps will power, because at that point it's either sit still or stay on the move, towards the finish and a chance to rest.

But with an actual option of being able to bail, the choice was too much to resist. My lack of motivation got the best of me. Part of me also didn't want to leave a friend alone; while I knew he'd be fine, with Jane & their friend just starting a drive down from Seattle, it was going to be a while before they got there. Would I want to sit alone there for hours? Nobody would.

We sat around and ate a few servings of "cheese" nachos, a few sodas, and lots of phone calls. We estimated maybe $5 worth of quarters in those things..

The locals kept us pretty entertained, and one even gave us this chilling tip: "Don't go to the bar," he said to us after giving us a good look up n' down. He also mumbled something about dog shit after that, and then went inside. I guess he's in the anti-lycra camp?? That is until Sunday football comes on..

Our bikes in Packwood (that's my new Pacer on the left):
Robert's wife Jane and their friend graciously drove down from Seattle to scoop us up (thanks a mil!!). We ended up waiting until about 12:30 AM, and I could only think about the riders that were probably still ascending White Pass.

I got home at roughly 3:30 AM, and I was dead tired. Most of the riders were probably still going at this point, I kept thinking. But I was glad to be home. Congrats to all the riders that finished or attempted this great ride!

I might do the OR 600 starting in The Dalles next week, which would allow me to at least get a Super Randonneur medal for the year. I'll keep you posted!

Ride results are here: link

The photoset on on flickr.


Robert H said...

That would have been a much longer night if you weren't there. I may have pulled out the bivy and camped outside.

Unknown said...

like i told robert, even a half-ride report from you (guys) is much anticipated. i really wish we could've ridden with you to the end. it ended up becoming increasingly epic as the ride went on - andy had to go to the hospital even.

but enough of that. robert and i are already cooking up plans to get beers soon so we can brief you guys on the rest of the ride.