Sunday, April 5, 2009

SIR 300k Brevet: Seattle-Clinton-Bellingham-Arlington-Mukilteo

It was another Big Day. In the days leading up to Saturday I'd been riding (or not riding), eating, and sleeping in preparation for the, just like 50+ other randos who were planning on the ride.

The Route

In the screenshot from Garmin Training Center you can see the exact route I took. Seattle to Mukilteo, ferry ride to Clinton, ride up Whidbey to Bellinham, and then follow Highway 9 down to Arlington. After that we took the Centennial Trail to Snohomish, and then took backroads to get to the finish back in Mukilteo.

The machine: Ciocc with dynohub/E6 light, 28c Grand Bois tires, frame pump (I made a pump peg out of a zip-tie & electric tape), and a brand-spanking new drivetrain.

The Ride To The Ride

I set off from the apartment in Seattle at 4:15 or so, already running 15 minutes behind schedule, but what else is new. As some of you know I have a knack for arriving really close to when the brevet starts, or when the ferry launches. Sometimes I make it, and sometimes I don't..

And with that in mind I set off at this crazy hour, headed for a crazy ride with a bunch of like-minded crazies. The forecast was looking to be clear but chilly, something anyone who's ridden in the cold rain can appreciate.

At that time of day, there's little traffic on the roads, and everything is quiet. It's one of my favorite times to ride. Here's the Ciocc at the University Bridge in the U-district, at about 4:30 in the morning:

After an hour or so of pedaling, I realized that I was cutting it close. I was averaging about 25 km/h, which was good, but even so it was 5:25 (ferry was at 6) and I still had 20k to go! OK, time to pick up the pace a bit.

As I turned off of 76th/Meridian onto Aurora, I made sure to keep the pace up and keep an eye on the time. The last thing I wanted to do after all the preparation that had gone into this was to miss the damn ferry!

After about 30 minute on Aurora, I found the turn for the "Mukilteo Speedway." Not exactly an enticing name for any cyclist, but this was the only way to the ferry dock. On Google Maps I'd found a little (Lake Rd) shortcut that would take me around the 88/525 interchange that looked scary even online.

After finally getting on the Speedway, I hauled ass with 15 minutes to go. I knew it was more or less downhill to the dock, but that didn't mean I could coast! With five minutes to go I was still hauling ass, with no water or ferry in sight. Damn was I happy when I came around a bend to finally see both, although I think it was 5:59 by that point. I bought a ticket and made my way to the ferry, once again the last person on the boat. Not the way I'd planned to get to the ride (the plan was to take it easy), but I was super happy to be on the boat.

Ciocc + other bikes riding the Mukilteo ferry in the early morning, heading to Clinton, Wa:

Looking back towards Mukilteo, you could see the changing color of the sky, as the sun was rising:

Now in Clinton, we had about 30 minutes to kill before the 7 AM start. So I snapped some postcard shots like this:

After signing in, chatting, and generally itching to get rolling, the pre-ride talk began. John Wagner was there, the original organizer of this brevet in 1994. He said a few words and we were off.

Like all ferry docks in the area, there was little climb to get away from it. And as any hills split up a pack, the peloton of 60+ was of course shattered by the incline. It seemed to be a gradual 2% grade for a few kms after that, which further splintered the field.

Here's the front half of the group spread out over a few hundred meters, in the first few k's of the ride.

Although I'd had a million thoughts of "pacing" on this ride, I couldn't help but just cruise at what felt comfortable, which seemed to be about 32 km/h at this point. So I passed some people, passed a few more, and then couldn't see anyone ahead of me. I knew there had to be at least 20 riders up there somewhere, but I wasn't planning on catching anyone.

But after a few minutes of riding alone, kind of wasting energy in the wind by myself, I saw a pack of 7 or 8 riders up ahead, offering the promise of a fast draft like an oasis in a desert. The only problem is that you have to go faster than them to catch up... so I decided I would "catch" them, and proceeded to go more or less all out. (By the way this was about 30 minutes into the ride, so much for pacing!)

I figured that on the downhills I couldn't push much faster than them, but perhaps I could make up some ground on the uphills. So I attacked as much as I could, and finally bridged the gap that had seemed like an eternity before.

Matt Newlin greeted me to the pack, and introduced himself. I was almost too winded to talk, but eventually recovered and enjoyed the next few hours of rolling in well-organized pack, a great tool on a long ride like this.

Bob Brudvik was leading the charge, keeping riders in check and making sure we stayed together. That's Bob on the right in the FC508 jersey - how's that for intimidation factor!

Bob & Mark are experienced randos, and a lot of fun to ride with. Also in the pack was Duane Wright Wayne Methner, Dan Boxer, and maybe one or two others. Thanks to all you guys for tugging me around the sound for a while!

Besides the draft effect of the pack, it also serves other purposes. Pacing is much easier if all of you are keeping an eye on the pace. When you're riding alone, it's easy to dig yourself into a (slow) hole, and end up spinning in your smallest gear when you could be more efficient. Navigation becomes easier in a group as well, since the chances of all eight of you being wrong about the route are low (although it's been known to happen). And instead of only taking in scenery, you have others to talk to. All of this means that sometimes it can be worth it to do a little bit of extra work to get into a group.

Riders in the fast pack - taking the lane over Deception Pass:

Matt N. taking in the scenery:

After this part we made into the flat area on the way to Chuckanut. After a brief stop at a gas station off of highway 20, the group started rolling as I was tying up my jacket. Of course when I needed it to happen quickly, one of the straps wouldn't cooperate.. Dan offered to wait but I declined, I didn't want to hold them up. After 30 seconds the jacket was tied up, if sloppily. But the group had crossed the highway already, and I was stuck at a red light.

I really wanted to get back into the group! Another rider must've had the same thought, and went through the same yellow-turning-red light to join up with me.

We eventually got a chance to go, after what seemed like ages at the light, the group a little dot in the distance it seemed, and I sprinted away as the beginning of my chase. It wasn't very windy, but I knew they were doing at least 32 km/h so I was pushing 35+, or whatever I could, just to catch them. Once again I was not pacing in order to get into a group so I could pace with them, if that makes sense.

As luck would have it, after a few minutes of pushing hard to make the catch I finally caught them - just as Duane's Wayne's saddle bag had fallen off.. You mean I could have taken it easy and caught them anyway?! No big deal, I was happy to pick up Duane's Wayne's bag and begin resting again. Before too long we were off again, the mini-mechanical fixed.

There were a number of other riders on this road just before Chuckanut, I think it was another organized ride. It was a great day for a spin, and the area was super scenic. Whether you were doing 20 or 200+ miles, it was a day to get out there no doubt.

I was feeling hungry by this point, and the few sips of Ensure I'd had so far along the ride were good, but not enough. So I broke out my bean/ride/etc burrito, which was a pain to unwrap on the go. I downed about half of it, didn't want to overdo it; the taste of real onions on a ride quite refreshing.

On Chuckanut we enjoyed the ups and downs, and got to see a few drivers risk theirs and others' lives by passing us on blind curves, etc. Hey, whatever floats your boat I guess... I mean if people are getting off by living on the edge and doing crap like that, then go for it. We were keeping a good pace, but before too long Bob was somehow gone from the group. Where was our leader? Dan wasn't sure either.

This shot was just before I decided to peel off from the group, after about four or five hours with them. Just as I'd entered their group silently, I made my exit without a word on the top of a hill on Chuckanut.

It wasn't that I was tired of riding with them, I was just tired of riding. Having started this whole adventure at 4 AM, now that it was 11ish I was feeling a little fatigued. While there are a million advantadges to riding in a well-organized group, the downside is that you have to pay attention, and lots of it. Following a wheel in front of you is easy, but you have to keep an eye on it. Taking pulls at the front is of course a part of the game, but requires you to keep the pace at what it was before (I tend to shoot off the front, need to work on that).

So anyway it was just time for me to close my eyes for a minute, take a deep breath, and relax. Sometimes the mind needs to go on standby for a little bit. And what better place to do that just off Chucknut, in the woods on a little trail?

After about five minutes of relaxin' in the woods, I rolled off again, this time alone and at my own pace. Entered Fairhaven before too long, some familiar roads from rides past. Somehow I ended up thinking I was lost along the way in Bellingham, and decided to turn around and "get back on the course."

This was off 11th st, which turned into State or something like that, but I ended up taking two rights and getting on Garden St, and heading south. Turns out I was already on course, but read the cue wrong and thought I was lost, which in turn almost got me lost (this is where a group helps..)

So after about 5 kms of "bonus" riding, I got back on 11th and started turning the pedals in confidence again. When I think I'm off course, or not sure, I usually end up kind of soft pedaling; which of course slows you down even more..

After a few blocks on a dicey road that reminded me of something out of Bellevue, I made it to the Bellingham control, a quaint little 76 on a five lane road. Apparently the clerk wouldn't cooperate with the ride organizers, so a volunteer was posted in front. I forget the guy's name, but he was really nice and is organizing a 300k later this year. Thanks guy for signing cards and sitting in a parking lot for hours!

The next stretch out of Bellingham heading east was quite nice, and mostly downhill. As in, 20km of more or less downhill it seemed, and although I was still alone here I made good time. Played leap-frog with a woman on a Softride, and generally just enjoyed the views.

Views like this:

From this point on it was essentially Highway 9 for 50 miles or so, so routing wasn't an issue. There was a control in Demming, where I had something called a "pizza stick" that was a sorry excuse for calories. There were some riders lookin pretty rough here, but I felt pretty good, if not fresh.

Highway 9 has a lot of different views, and is relatively flat the whole way down to Arlington. Views like this dotted this portion of the route:

Along this stretch I passed a few riders, trying to catch a paceline up ahead, but eventually settled in with a nice guy named Bob who I rode with just about the rest of the ride. We rode and chatted, and were luckily riding at about the same pace. Sometimes even a group of two is enough to keep the pace at a good level, and not slow down too much. We held a good 30-32 km/h pace on this stretch, and made great time.

Plus, having done this stretch alone at night, I swear during the day with someone to talk to it took half as long to get to Arlington! At the Haggins in Arlington I bought a mishmash of food: Clif Shot Blox, chow mein, and a Whatchamacallit.

Before too long we rolled out, with only about 40km to go. I wasn't looking forward to the boring Centennial trail, but it's not like it's a bad place to ride, just not as stimulating as a road. We were still holding a nice pace, I'm sure both ready to be done with this nutty ride.

Here's the empty Centennial Trail near Arlington:

And here's Bob:

After exiting the trail in Snohomish, we were truly on the home stretch, although Bob warned me that we had to climb "a little" to get back up to Everett and eventually Mukilteo. We were riding in a nice flat valley as the sun finally started to set:

We eventually caught up with Bob (I think) and got to climb a really short-but-steep hill together, with a local looking on in amusement. The hills leveled off, but the road was up and down as we made our way from Everett to Mukilteo via Mukilteo Blvd.

I could feel that I had a little left in the tank, and after accidentally dropping Bob on one of the little climbs along the way, I decided to go all out. Well, all out at that point isn't the same as when you're fresh, but after pushing about 150-200 watts all day, I was doing 250-300 on some parts here. Sure, my legs were burning, but the fact I could even attempt this effort was enough for me.

Of course in randonneuring there's no reason to finish any earlier than the official finishing time, as everyone gets the same credit and there is no winner (and of course about 20-30 people had already finished before me). No, at this point I wasn't competing against others, but against the clock and my own personal best time on a 300k (13:16 from last year*).

By the time I was back on the "Speedway" it was pretty much downhill and I could relax. No better feeling than those last few meters of the ride, seeing that last control sign! And one of the organizers (Ron?) also told me of warm pizza waiting inside. Just what I was hoping for! Pizza at the end of these rides has to be the second best feeling I can think of.

At 8:05 PM I was done, with a time of 13:05 overall (I think, as the results aren't up yet) - a new personal best!

Riders at the finish, telling stories of their day:

Full photo set on flickr. (took almost 100 shots on this ride, and a few videos too)

Ride Data

Entire workout (27.4 kph):
Duration: 11:53:35 (15:00:05)
Work: 6473 kJ
TSS: 490.9 (intensity factor 0.652)
Norm Power: 186
VI: 1.19
Pw:HR: 5.09%
Pa:HR: -5.65%
Distance: 361.3 km (223 mi)
Elevation Gain: 5018 m
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 837 156 watts
Heart Rate: 85 175 133 bpm
Cadence: 15 131 75 rpm
Speed: 0 75.8 27.4 kph
Crank Torque: 0 192.7 19.5 N-m

Official results: here

Huge thanks to Ron & Mark for organizing the ride, and of course all the volunteers along the way. These rides wouldn't be the same without the people that put on the rides and those that help out with them. Big thanks to all the people I rode with along the way, and met along the route.

And of course thanks to Kira, who picked my tired ass up from Mukilteo! I didn't end up riding home - the thought of chugging back up that huge hill up to Aurora, and getting home at 11 PM wasn't sounding good.. riding home from these things always sounds like more fun before I've done the ride.

Sunday Update: thighs are of course sore, but not too bad. Sit bones are a little tender as well, but hey it's all a part of conditioning. Went for a short 40km recovery ride today, and felt pretty good. Made an effort to stay in the small ring up front the whole time, so as to keep the workload light. Since it was almost 70F outside, I broke out (for the first time this year) shorts and just a short-sleeved jersey! There were about a million other riders out on Mercer Island. Not chasing other riders was hard, but I'm getting better at it. Like they say I'm trying to "make the hard rides harder, and the easy rides easier." Now it's time for at few days off the bike, to fully recover.


tripieper said...

Nice write up Matt, thanks. Sadly I didn't make the start as planned but still got out for a beautiful afternoon of riding.

FYI: it was Wayne Methner in your group, not Duane Wright, and by the picture it is also Wayne you caught on the Centennial Trail. Dan Turner was the fine gentlemen manning the control at the 76 station.

matt m said...

Heh that's funny, because I originally thought he was indeed Wayne, but then I thought I heard Bob B. call him Duane!

After a few more years of this I think I'll be able to connect all rando names to faces, we'll see.

Thanks for the info! See you on the road hopefully.

Robert H said...

I saw you in Bicycling, right behind Bikesnob. *high five*

Jansen said...


Would you recommend the route from Seattle to Mukilteo if one isn't riding that early in the morning? For example, would it be safe mid-day? Some traffic is fine for me as long as there is a clear shoulder to ride on.

matt m said...

Yeah the route up isn't bad, at least on 5th ave up to 185th or so. The only real rough stretch is of course Aurora - I wouldn't advise anyone to ride on that five lane highway, but I do it sometimes even though it isn't fun or safe. It's just the easiest way to get up to the "Mukilteo Speedway".

Hope this helps!