Monday, June 15, 2009

Auburn-Westport-Auburn 600k: From the City to the Coast and Back

This weekend was Seattle Rando's 600k starting in Auburn, about 25 miles south of Seattle. After completing the 200k, 300k, and 400k's from earlier this year it was time to take on the next challenge. When you complete all four of the "series," you then qualify for the Super Randonneur award, and of course I want it! Last year it took three tries to nail down a 600 and the SR award, but this year I was hoping to get the first one done.

I think the 600k is where the randonneuring really starts - on the 200k-400k distances, you can get away with ill fitting gear or bike, inadequate nutrition, minimal training, and/or lack of sleep and planning. You can get away with those on a 600 too, but it's a long time to spend if you're not happy.

It's not that the 200-400 are small rides, but they are just practice for bigger rides. Such as the 600.

Gear For The Ride

I chose to ride the Ciocc for this ride, which doesn't have a ton of space for gear, but since it was warm enough outside I could get away with a small saddlebag and a ton of Shot Blox/food in my jersey pockets. I caught some flak from other randos for traveling so light, but it worked out. It's nice to have everything you want, but sometimes you can get by with just what you need, or something close enough to it.

My packing list was pretty short compared to normal; without a large handlebar or saddlebag, I left out a few things usually brought along: spare socks, leg warmers, arm warmers, extra tools/parts, a bunch of tubes.

For some reason I was confident that I could "get away with" going ultra-light. Luckily, I was right!

I just had to do a few modifications to the Ciocc to get it ready for the 600:
  • Changed out the Bianchi race saddle with a Brooks B17, a much wider saddle that really is the best one I have. (As a side note, I've decided I don't like the Brooks Pro model, it has a weird convex shape)
  • Put on the dynohub, and attached the Schmidt E-6 headlight
  • Slapped on a rear "race blade fender" - all it does is protect your butt from spray.. my plan was that if it rained I would just go to the back of the pack (if applicable), and prepare to suffer for a while. If I recall correctly it's been a long time since a cyclist and their bike has melted from the rain in June.
  • Put on two rear LED lights, one as a backup
  • SIR short-sleeve wool jersey, light poly base layer
  • Ibex wool shorts
  • medium weight wool socks
  • Jacket for night or rain
Yup, that's it. No spare socks, shorts, or arm warmers, etc. Just the basics, just enough to get by. I figured at worst I'd be dirty and uncomfortable - two things that are just temporary, I can deal with that. Lucky I only ended up dirty, not really uncomfortable due to my clothing choices.

  • Shot Blox "fastpacks" - about 10 packs. Those things really add up in weight, and were tugging at my jersey pockets at first. But the great thing about food is that it disappears into your stomach eventually. Finished with two packs left over.
  • Shot Blox gels - a few fruity ones, some with caffeine. I wanted to save the caffeine ones for when they really counted; at night or on the second day. In the end, I only used one of them, a caffeine one. I should have left the others at home.
  • Two burritos - Kira offered to put together two of her great burritos for the ride - sweet! Beans, cheese, avocado, salsa. I ate them throughout the first day, and it was great to have solid food anywhere I wanted, and also to skip long lines at food stops.
Of course that wasn't enough food for the whole trip; it was supplemented along the way by gas stations, controls, etc.


  • Tools - 5mm allen for bike adjustments, 4mm allen for SPD cleat adjustments, FiberFix spare spoke, spoke tool, chain tool, spare batteries for rear lights & headlamp
  • Backup front light (Cateye LED, pretty weak by rando standards), backup rear LED
  • One tube, and a pack of Park quick patches. Yup, just one tube. It was my dirty little secret along the way, many randos would have scoffed at the low number.

The Ride To The Ride

Lucky for me the commute to this ride wasn't quite as epic as the last brevet. With the brevet starting at 6 am 25 miles away, I could wake at 3:30, leave the house by 4-ish, and keep at least a 12.5 mph average speed. Should be doable even with a possible flat tire along the way, and it's really flat along all the way.

The nice thing about riding to the ride is that you don't need time to get ready once you get there. You can just get your brevet card and go. No threat of a low tire, missing helmet or shoes, no need to warm up. The ride down is the warm up.

The Ciocc in Renton at about 5 am. Making perfect time down to the start.

I took Rainier Ave down to Renton, from there taking E. Valley Highway which turns into Auburn Way or something like that. A pretty straight-forward and flat route, and with no traffic and the sky starting to turn pink, it was a great ride. I was familiar with it since most of the ride down was the same as to the Chili Feed 200k a few months ago.

Got to the start of the ride at about 5:35 or so, plenty of time to get my card and say hello to a few folks.

The start at a hotel in Auburn:

The Ride

Our route started in Auburn, Wa - just south of Seattle, then took us west to Tacoma, from there over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and north to Port Orchard. From there more or less southwest to Westport, on the coast. Then from there south for a while on the coast, then head east to Centralia. From there north-east back to Aubrn. Nothing too hilly, but of course it wasn't flat either. Here's the bikely route:

The rollout at 6 am on Saturday of about 60 riders. The guy right behind me in this shot was on a fixed gear, and finished in about 24 hours I heard. Whoa, that's a whole other level I don't think I'll ever be on.. he's prolly doing Raam or something, and using my "epic" ride for "training". Just goes to show there's always somebody out there stronger/faster/better than you:

The fast riders like Ryan Hamilton went off the front soon into the ride, probably doing 23 mph while we were doing 20. I sat with the pack, about 20 or 30 of us rolling through mostly empty morning roads. Oh if only we could have kept that peloton intact for the whole route, it would change the ride. But we all knew the first big hill would break it up, and from there on out it was pretty much either on your own or in smaller groups.

The first control broke up the pack pretty well, with some riders stopping for water and others continuing on. I rolled out pretty quickly, and was riding with Chris, or perhaps it was Robert. Eventually all three of us were together, and we went over the bridge towards the rest of the ride.

The Tacoma Narrows bridge:
I hear the crossing for cyclist on that bridge used to be a different experience - a narrow lane and small divider between you and traffic.. these days it's a nice wide bike lane, inviting cyclists to cross it frequently.

Then on the peninsula we headed up to Port Orchard, through a bunch of backroads that pretty much all looked like this - which isn't a bad way to spend a few hours on the bike:
I'm glad I'll never get tired of views like that, since you get a lot of them on rides in Western Washington.

Now heading down the Hood Canal, I think:

We hit the next control, and Eric Vigoren was there offering all kinds of goodies and water. Got a refill and ate a few cookies, but before I knew it I'd spent too long there, and our small group of 5-6 had left me behind while I visited the porta potty.

After a 10-minute chase at 22+ mph, with the pack eventually in sight though far away, I finally got up to them. In a ride like this I've learned that sometimes if you let a group go you may never see them again. On the other hand, sometimes you end up seeing the same people even though they're ahead of you. But I didn't want to risk it, so I figured the extra effort would give me saving later in the group.

Before I knew it we arrived at the Union control, a general store where I got some iced tea, water, and ate some burrito. We sat on the porch for what seemed like quite a while, but I guess we weren't in a hurry. We had hours in the bank already, and I for one felt good but didn't want to push too hard. I'd rather go too slow than too fast and blow up, so I try to pace it well on these rides though it is hard sometimes.

After the Union control we got on a really nice backroad, our little group of five or six intact. Joe, Andy, Robert, that one guy and a few others maybe. A good medium-pace group to ride with, and conversation always makes the ride go faster, even if you're just listening to one.

But on the turn onto Highway 101, we hit an incline and Robert started falling off the back. I hung back with him and we slowly watched the group fade away. It's a harsh reality that in the end we're all out here to ride our own ride, but sometimes I just can't let someone ride by themselves especially if they aren't feeling bad. We all have bad days, and it seemed like Robert was having one.

But he was in good spirits and we continued on together, soon getting on familiar roads from the 24 hour fleche back in April. More great backroads that were almost all flat. We made slow but steady progress forward, which is all that counts on a brevet. Going slow is a lot better than not going at all.

In Matlock, which is really just about three or four buildings and a general store, we caught back up to Joe & Andy, and stopped to get some water and whatnot. I saw this little PSA inside - just had to get a shot:
I guess they've had issues with that lately. Man that must be embarrassing when you call 911..

Robert & I continued on, past the Corrections Facility and through tons, and tons, of woods. Or clear cut woods. We were soon joined by Mike Richeson, who once helped me through a 600k in Oregon. A great randonneur who is really steady and good to ride with. We continued on with him for miles until a few hills put him in front of us. We caught back up to him and eventually turned onto that one road that heads west to Montesano.

I don't remember what road that is, and honestly I don't want to! First of all it's just about the worst chipseal on the ride. Only five or six miles of it to Montesano, but it was so rough that my handlebars were bouncing around as if I was riding on cobbles. Second of all we turned into a fierce headwind coming from the coast.

It was the kind of headwind that demoralizes you and makes you feel like you're going backwards. I decided I wanted to spend as little time on this road as possible, and sprinted into the headwind, if only to go 20 mph it meant I would be done with it that much faster. It was good that I was alone at this point - looking back I couldn't even seen Robert & Mike any more - since I was cursing out loud at the wind. All you could hear was the roar of the wind in your ears, it was really brutal.

Before too long I was in Montesano, and took a left on Main Street to head towards Cosmopolis, just as we'd done on the fleche. I pushed on at a snappy pace, faster than I'd done earlier in the ride. Caught up with another rider but then lost them when I stopped for a nature break in the woods on Blue Slough Road. While in the woods Robert & Mike passed by, and I quickly caught up to them. So much for my breakaway!

The three of us rolled up to the control is Cosmpolis, and finally caught back up to Andy, Joe, and the rest of the group we'd been rolling with before. They were taking a break and we had time to sit down and eat some chips, get some water, but made it short so we could leave with the group.

We rolled out quickly after the group did, and caught up to them just after we went through Aberdeen, a small town that was even smaller than I thought it'd be. We got on a road with a wide shoulder, and the group was rolling efficiently.

At some point, I think it was an uphill, I just kept pedaling at whatever felt good, and before I knew it was ahead of the pack. Then looking up the road there was a rider way in the distance. Nothing like a "rabbit" to entice you to chase! I for some reason gave chase, and opened it up more than I had before on this ride. For once I was actually getting faster as the ride went on, instead of the opposite.

Caught up to the rider eventually, I think it was Joe Llona. We rode over a little bridge on a bay and it was finally time to see some water. I grew up surrounded by water so I always have an affinity for it.

And then we were at the Westport control, just another gas station in the middle of nowhere. But at least they were close to the water.. I made this a quick control, got some water and munched on the burrito. There was a Subway inside but I wanted to stick with what I had and keep the stops quick from now on.

As I was leaving Robert and the crew were rolling in, but I pressed on. If anything I figured I'd be seeing them at some point or another, and indeed I did, though not for quite a while..

I turned on the Garmin unit here, since it only lasts 15 hours so I wanted to see just how slow/weak I am after 15+ hours on the road.

Interestingly what felt like 300 watts was only 150.. it seemed I could only put out 250 at most on the climbs whereas when fresh that's closer to 450w. Part of that is obvious - as time goes on you just can't keep up the same power - but I wanted to measure where I come in on these long durations. Not to compare to others' data, but to compare against myself in the future.

Leaving Westport

After going through Westport at about 6 PM, I left my friends behind and started a solo journey that would last just about the rest of the ride to the 400k point, which ended up being about six hours away.

I averaged about 30 km/h for the next hour or so, after that I stopped keeping track. That was higher than normal but from looking at the elevation profile it turns out a lot of that was slightly downhill! But I was making good time either way, and probably better time than I ever had on a ride this big. It's really easy to bog down as you get bored/tired, but I was trying to avoid that.

You could kind of smell the ocean, but couldn't see it yet. Just a few houses, and one with plywood nailed up all along their fence, apparently trying to hide a broken house, with a patched-up roof. Interesting neighbors I'm sure.

Eventually the road (Hwy 105) finally hit an open view of the Pacific for a few miles, this was pretty much the "goal" of the ride for me. It was so worth it!

After a mile or so I hit another spot I just had to stop and get a picture of:

I've always wanted to ride from the city to the coast and now I've done it, though in a round-about way. Woo hoo!

On the next stretch it started to get dark, and the lights came back on. I kept expecting to see the group's lights coming up behind me, but they never did. I also never saw anyone in front of me until I got to the Raymond control, a little corner store. There I had chips and water, and stocked up for the next 30 miles or so until the Rainbow Falls control, where Dr. Codfish and others would be waiting with good cheer and snacks - I was really hoping for a Cup-O-Noodles, and that thought helped me through the next stretch.

At one point my E6 headlight started to flicker - not in a rapid, predictable fashion, but seemingly at random, and not just when I hit bumps. I was really weird, and kind of disconcerting. It was 11 pm or so at this point, and about as dark as it gets. I had a backup light, but it was so small I'd be embarrassed to use it on a brevet (it's more of a be-seen light). After stopping and unplugging the connection to the dynohub and then pluggin it back in, it seemed to work again. Weird.

A few riders passed me when stopped, and I eventually ended up passing them after a long while. It was like the tortoise and the hare, but you know who won that one..

After a while I saw a sign that said "1/2 mile to Rainbow Falls" - sweet! That meant food and rest was not far off. Soon I saw the expected blinkie, a SIR tradition for controls that are generally out in the middle of nowhere and in the dark. Rolling up to the blinkie there was an empty field and a road on the left. Hmm.

Well what not take the road on your left, right? I mean the cue sheet said this is where the control was, and there was a blinkie so... I rode down the road for about 1/2 mile, but didn't see anything but dark houses. Nothin.

So I turned around and headed back to the blinkie, what the hell was going on? Upon getting back to the main road, I looked at what seemed to be a tiny sign stuck to the real road sign. Hmm, looking really closely I could see what looked to be ball point pen scribbled arrows (e.g. hard to read at night) pointing forward. Hmm, this is not SIR tradition to give you tiny clues and riddles, but I figured something must be up that way so I trudged on.

I was kind of irate at the situation, and I heard others went further down the road (like 10 miles further) and were ever more upset than I was. But by the time I rolled up to the tent on the side of the road that ended up being a mile or two up the road, I was just happy. How could I be mad at smiling volunteers offering a Cup-O-Noodles? I sat there and snacked, talked, and rested. With shorts on it was either keep moving or get chilly, though the space heater they had set up was great. It was an excellent control, thanks!

Robert and crew eventually caught up here, but I was about to head out. It was only 20 or so miles to the overnight control where a lot of food and a shared bed was waiting. The plan up to a few hours ago was to ride through the night, but at this point (a tiny bit of) sleep felt like a better option.

I rode through the dark solo, and ended up going on that one road from Chehalis to Centralia that the STP uses. Got to Centralia before too long, and rolled up to what seemed to be the biggest operation in SIR control history.

Centralia Overnight Control

A bunch of rando bikes at the 400k "overnight" control in Centralia. Of course, the riders that wanted to finish in 24 hours or so rode straight through. I got in at about 2 am, and slept until 4:30. Ate a bunch of pasta and salmon. Wait, salmon?! Yes, they went all out for this one. And even promised a custom breakfast burrito in the morning. An ever-smiling Vincent M. was there offering positivity and calories. An also smiling Peter Beeson led me to a room where I could get a few hours of sleep.

Without a drop bag, I just slept in my bike shorts. I kind of wish that I'd had some boxers to sleep in, but it wasn't all that bad. I was only down for two hours, and then hit the road at 5.

Day Two

Once I got up I had a smidgeon of coffee, a huge breakfast burrito, and hit the road with Chris and some other riders that had been ahead of us all yesterday. I'd slept less than them, but it was a sacrifice I was willing to put up with. The finish was "only" 200k away!

It was another dry day, though it seemed a bit chillier. Centralia-Alpha road was looming ahead, and I knew it was going to be some climbing. We were only going to hit about 1,800 ft so how bad could it be?

The Ciocc, in motion on day two.

It was fun riding them for a while, having caught up to someone faster. Though soon I overheated and needed to take off my jacket. Then it was the rest room.. and before I knew it they were gone up the hill. I didn't have the energy or determination to chase, so I let them go.

The road was really scenic, and nothing but farms and forest surrounded us. It was overcast and there was fog in the hills. A tiny bit of sprinkle came down, the only precipitation the whole ride. It was an excellent road to ride on, and I was glad to be doing it during the day so I could actually see it.

Lots of lush scenery like this on Centralia-Alpha road, which went on for 30 miles or so. Nothing but forest, fields, and road.

There were some nice inclines along the way, but nothing too crazy.

Nice little river somewhere between Alpha and Morton or so. Just had to stop to get a shot of these rocks:

This road went on for a while, and eventually I came to Morton, a tiny tiny town east of Centralia. The gas station was up the road and I stopped there to have some more cheese sticks (one of my favorite fried goodies on rides) and water. Oh I also had some donuts along with the cheese sticks, I was loading up for the day ahead.

Met up with Joe P, who I'd ridden with yesterday but had gotten away from. We rode together for hours, and eventually Robert caught up too. He caught up as we were resting and they rolled off while I still wanted to rest. Funny how we jump in front of each other so much on these rides, but I was happy to see Robert looking good again. I got on the road and caught up to them before too long.

Now in Elbe, near Mt. Rainier. Getting closer to the end! I forget how much we had left here, but it was still enough to make me think "ugh, I wish this ride was over."

We went through Elbe, and got on part of the Ramrod route. Didn't stop for anything there, I'm getting better about passing up chances for water if I have enough. We rode as a group on the way to Eatonville, on a tiny road that was hillier than I'd recalled. The cars were getting heavier in the early afternoon, lots of RVs and trucks pulling trailers. Passing on blind curves... hey it's their life, I guess they can do what they want with it.

I started to get tired on this stretch. Finally, after about 28 hours of riding with two hours of sleep, the sandman had come for me. For some reason it was when I was taking a pull at the front of our small group that I'd seem to drift in and out.. without anything to focus on I think I would just lose track of reality and the road. When it would happen I would just peel off and go to the back, where it seemed like I could wake up again.

I ate some caffeinated gel and felt a little more awake. We got to Eatonville eventually and sat down at Subway for a quick snack. We knew it was the home stretch. Plenty of time in the bank, we were in no rush.

Here was my afternoon snack in Enumclaw, about 30 miles from the end. (Jalepeno cheese stick with relish for dipping sauce, and iced tea):

After Enumclaw we got on Green Valley road, a familiar one for SIR training rides and brevets. It's flat and scenic, and went by quick. We kept trudging along, all wanting the ride to be over for sure.

Eventually we turned off of it and were back in Auburn! It was about 4:20 PM. Pretty much the only time I'll ever be excited to arrive in that town..

The final control in Auburn. Hooray!

At the final control we congratulated each other and handed in our cards for final inspection. I couldn't believe it, I finally finished a SIR 600k! Granted, it was one of the "easy" ones but hey I'm not sure you can call anything about a 600k easy.

We went into the hotel room reserved for resting/washing, and was greeted by Chris who had gotten in an hour or two before us. Pizza and soda never tasted so good. We all told war stories from the ride and shared our experiences. Even though we were all on the same roads, our experiences varied as much as our bikes do.

Then it was time to head back home - for once I didn't feel like bumming a ride home and actually was excited to complete the 425-mile door-to-door trip.

Results are here. Be sure to check out Robert's view of the same ride here.

The full photoset is here. The photos actually tell a better story than what I can do here - but there are 250+ of them!

Data from Westport to about Raymond (battery went out, I left it on at the overnight)

Entire workout (119 watts):
Duration: 7:00:59
Work: 3096 kJ
TSS: 190 (intensity factor 0.521)
Norm Power: 148
VI: 1.21
Distance: 263.748 km
Elevation Gain: 2612 m
Elevation Loss: 2512 m
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 727 123 watts
Cadence: 15 127 63 rpm
Speed: 0 79.7 25.2 kph
Crank Torque: 0 194 17.9 N-m

The Ride Home

After a celebratory four or five slices of pizza at the end, of course washed down with some sprite, it was time to head home. Just 25 miles back north to Seattle, and it was pretty flat. I was tired, but not too tired to continue on. At some point you just reach a "steady-state" where you can keep riding for what seems like forever, as long as your mind can handle it.

My mind can take it, but just barely. Part of what keeps me entertained along the way is taking these pictures so I can show people what it was like along the way.

Finally back in Seattle, at about 7 PM on Sunday. And of course one of the first things I see is someone with rolled up jeans walking a bicycle.. oh if I had a nickle for every time I've seen that on Broadway... (actually I'm glad they're on a bike, but I do see that a lot)

It was a great feeling to roll on Broadway, knowing the bike and I were now "connected" to roads far, far away. All the way to the coast.

It was a great ride, thank you to Albert for organizing it! And thanks to all of the other volunteers I forgot to mention, it wouldn't have been the same ride without your support.


Mars Girl said...

Great ride report!! You're starting to inspire me to want to actually break my 110 mile in one day limit... I'm now seriously considering attempting this 160 mile ride across Indiana... Maybe not THIS year, but... I dont know... The sky is the limit on mileage, all it takes is the will to do it... And I've proven I've got will... Oh no! =)

Robert H said...

Awesome report. I kept checking my RSS feed waiting for it :)

I was wondering how that small sleep stop would treat you. I considered waking up with you, but when I thought about how hard my Saturday was, I knew that I needed the extra sleep.

Plus, Joe was wanting to roll out together. Then he ditched us! I hate him so much. He is a real jerk... Oh... he probably reads this. Damn

Anonymous said...

Great job, Matt! (and everyone else, too.)

I love reading everyone's recounting of the ride and seeing how different the ride was for all the people involved, even though you all rode the same route.

Someday, the 600k will be mine. This year, the 400k: Baby steps...

Russell said...

Great post, one of these days I'll come try a ride with SIR.

I passed 2 of those rolled jean fixie guys myself on Friday. A not uncommon going up Queen Anne.

Joe P said...

Robert said, "Plus, Joe was wanting to roll out together. Then he ditched us! I hate him so much. He is a real jerk... Oh... he probably reads this. Damn."

Man, that's the last time I give you a Payday bar. ;-)

There was so much snoring going on in that room I thought the mountain was going to blow.

I love the pictures as usual. Good on you for riding home too.

Robert H said...

I think you were just hocked up on that homemade "Xtreme Caffeine Juice" that you whipped up Joe. We were all sleeping very quietly.

I think so anyways. I was asleep.

Filings from the bench said...

Great write up Matt. When we end up on brevets together it seems to last a short while, before you or I fade or zip off the front. I often wonder what happens for you on those nap breaks. Sounds like it did the trick this time!

Congrats on your ride to/from the start/finish. That's some sturdy mileage, yo!