Monday, September 14, 2009

SIR's Windy Ridge 600k 2009 - Another Great DNF

Of course I went into this ride with a determination, or at least some kind of afterthought, that I really needed to complete this ride this year. It's a tough course, not just in terms of time/distance, but also in terms of terrain. (Check out the profile here) Four major climbs: Paradise, Windy Ridge, White Pass, Chinook Pass. And extra challenging this year also in terms of sleep deprivation what with the 9 PM start.

If this is rando school then this 600k brevet is certainly an advanced course, not for beginners. Even as an intermediate rando at some points I feel like I'm over my head a bit on this ride. This is truly advanced suffering. But like they say shoot for the stars and you just might hit the moon, right? (e.g. I always figure that even if I DNF these big rides they at least make for a good story & photo set)

This year at least my camera's batteries were fresh, so once the sun came up I had plenty of opportunities to take some shots.

The Ride

After some pre-ride notes from Jan, the group of about 11-12(?) of us set off From Enumclaw into a clear summer night. Nice and warm, no need for a jacket or leg warmers yet. Seemingly within meters of starting a few riders were already way up the road, their red rear lights getting smaller and smaller - for some reason it always seems like they're on a motor scooter since you can't see their feet moving, and they seem to move away so fast.

The group of about 10 of us congregated and settled into a nice speed - I have no idea what that speed was as I was saving my Garmin's (15-hour) battery for closer to the start of the Paradise climb. Night riding can be a drag sometimes (well, most of the time for me), but in a large (and fast-ish) group time seems to fly and if you aren't conversing maybe you can listen to others and generally enjoy the ride.

Somewhere before Eatonville Chris & I noticed that Robert wasn't in the pack anymore. (read his ride saga here) Had he suffered a flat? We had no idea but were hoping we'd see his light behind us catching up at some point. Looking back, I kind of wish we'd waited but in the rush of the first few hours I think we were happy to be sailing along in the group.

Then, a Disaster of Sorts

I forget which road it was on, but some time in the first two or three hours I hit a large pothole (the kind that seemingly grabs your front wheel for a moment) that sent my handlebar bag into the top of my Schmidt E6 front light, knocking the whole casing of the lamp onto the ground. I heard the sound of plastic hitting the ground just after the pothole, looked down and saw my front wheel in darkness, which was bad since the light normally partially lights up my front wheel.

So I cursed loudly and slow down, hoping to recover the light and get it back working. After all it was maybe 11 or 12 at this point, so we had a good deal of night riding remaining in (not to mention the second night of the ride). Once the lights were out, and the group had quickly gone up the road, I realized how utterly dark it was on this road. As I was turning around I saw a bright bike light up ahead, and was relieved to see Chris roll up asking if that was my light that fell off. Indeed it was.

I found the light casing, screwed it back into the mount and spun the wheel. Nothing. Shit. Then Chris asked a great question - do you have a spare bulb? I didn't think that the bulb had fallen out altogether. The advantage of riding with someone else (especially at night!) is that when your brain isn't really working maybe theirs is.

In fact I did have a spare bulb, even if in the rush of this little disaster I'd forgotten it was stuffed into my handlebar bag. I was more than relieved when slapping it in there and it did the trick. Nothing like the feeling of fixing something broken, especially when you're depending on it to move forward.

Only thing was that part of the plastic mount the E6 on had broke off, so it wasn't mounted quite as solidly as it used to be. It was jiggly but stayed in place. I rode for an hour or so with it pointed way too low, only maybe 20 feet of light in front of me when there should be 100+.. I was too impatient to mess with it since it was at least partially working and Chris' LED E3(?) more than made up for my lack of light.

The thing about this handlebar bag was that I usually don't use it on this bike just for this reason - it comes down too low for how I mount the E6. So this time I thought I'd be slick and tie it around my brake/shifter cables instead of the bars, thus raising it a few inches - though this stopped working as soon as the weight of the bag was pulled down onto the light by that damn pothole. So after fixing the light I flipped the handlebar bag over so that it sat on my stem - an odd-looking position but it was the best I could do to help the light stay in place. It got the job done.

(For what it's worth I also had a backup light, but it was a weak CatEye LED I use for commuting - a true last resort that I luckily never had to break out - not something I would have wanted to descend a pass with, for sure)

Moving On To Paradise

We passed through the tiny town of Elbe, which I've passed through quite a few times this summer on various rides, but never at night. Water supplies were fine (had 2.5 bottles on the ride, 1.5 left at this point maybe), so it didn't matter to us so Chris & I just pedaled through.

At the Rainier National Forest Entrance I decided to finally fix up my light which had been pointing too far down. Chris was nice enough to stop and wait while I fiddled with it. I was hoping Robert would still catch up to us but still he was not to be found. Eventually my light was pointing straight again, hooray, I could climb & descend the mountain with confidence.

Paradise Climb

I always enjoy this climb and was excited to do it again even though I wasn't expecting to see any scenery since it was so dark out. It never gets overly steep, and this year I felt a little quicker up the mountains than last year's version of this ride (last year was on the Surly Pacer, which weighs about 10 lbs more loaded, and more importantly isn't as stiff as the Ciocc).

At one point we turned a corner and were met with what seemed like a blast of furnace air. Weird. It felt like riding into 12-noon out of nowhere, but it didn't last long and the temp got back to the 50-ish it was before (I assume).

To my shock we bridged up to Dan Boxer soon after Longmire - he's a pretty amazing climber and usually drops me on climbs of length. Seemed like he was a little tired and was happy to have company. We stuck together and the three of us got to the summit before too long.

Oh, and on the way up we could see Mt. Rainier's peak in the moonlight! A sight I'll never forget.

The Ciocc atop Paradise (4,000+ft) at about 4 in the morning.

Dan took a 10-minute cat nap (Chris might have as well) up at the top, and another rando was up at this control (Barry?) sitting down and possibly also napping. After all it was 4 AM.. I was antsy to roll but at the same time didn't feel like descending into the night alone, most likely to have them catch up later anyway.

The four of us left eventually, and the descent down was a blast, albeit a bit risky at times I suppose. I led it out and was pushing it on some of the initial straight-aways, trying to spin out my 53x11 gear. Before too long there were three small lights behind me, off in the distance. Soon we hit the stop sign and they weren't too far behind me so we continued together.

Sometimes on a sharp turn my E6 lamp (which doesn't have the widest beam) didn't quite cover the whole road - so I was either going off of moonlight to see or maybe the riders' lights from behind. It was a rush though, I loved every second of it!

On To Packwood

After the descent we took a right on Highway 123 (Cayuse) and got a nice little downhill for the most part to Packwood. By this time it was starting to get way colder and I donned my leg warmers & long-fingered gloves. It seemed odd that it was getting coldest at sunrise or so but that's the way it was.

I had a breakfast "burrito" here at the store, and refilled my water bottles. So far, so good. I think we'd done about 100 miles at this point and while we weren't breaking records we were moving along.

This section on US-12 & a backroad we got to Randle the last place we could buy food or water for something like 90 miles. Next up was the climb up to Windy Ridge, just 30 miles away. Sometimes 30 miles can seem like an eternity, especially when the overall average speed approaches 12 mph not to mention this is a mountain climb.

Climb to Windy Ridge

In fact this portion of our ride encompassed the High Pass Challenge, a century+ put on by Cascade for the last few years that was my first intro into mountain climbing on a bicycle. Funny how things have progressed since then, though I still wouldn't say the HPC is an "easy" ride.

The difference with our approach to the Windy Ridge takes us up a slightly smaller & steeper road, FS-26. Leave it up to SIR to find an even more challenging route than the "Challenge."

I felt stronger here than last year, as I remember being dropped by our little group early in this climb then. I stopped for a photo-op/rest opportunity shortly after reaching FS-26, and let Dan and Chris go ahead. After that I felt invigorated and found myself climbing in the big ring (well, part of the time), hoping to catch back up to my companions before too long.

Eventually I caught them, though they'd taken their own break so that certainly helped.

Dan on FS-26, a Forest Service road heading up to FS-99 and Windy Ridge. It's got some nice kicks up towards the top, I think this was where they started.

Up towards the end of FS-26 it seems to just go straight and no more switch-backs to help you with the grade, the engineers decided 10%+ was OK for the last mile or two. Ouch, that section hurt with a 39x27 low gear, but I somehow made it. If nothing else a good workout in itself.

We got to a "control" where a lone volunteer had been sitting in the sun and signing brevet cards and handing out water all day. Though I had enough water to get by it was nice to munch on some chips and get some ice in my bottle. Huge thanks to John(?) that sat out there forever helping us out.

We started the ascent and were now in the blast zone, taking in all the scenery. Almost too much to take in at once: St. Helens crater in the distance, Rainier behind us, Adams and Hood over to the left. Wow. It just doesn't get much better than that.

The only thing I hate about this climb is that a) I can never tell where the end is, at least based off visual clues, e.g. all those turns look the same! and that b) there's a good deal of down along with the up, so on the way back you're not always descending. Ugh.

Finally, the Windy Ridge viewpoint! At about 12:00 PM we reached the viewpoint of the blast crater and Spirit Lake. Here's a shot of Dan & Chris taking in the scenery, and enjoying some off-bike time.
(As a side-note, I learned yesterday on my return visit here with Kira that there's a much better view of St. Helens at the viewpoint just before Windy Ridge - next time around I'll stop there for a photo op too)

We didn't take too long here and before too long were rolling again. We were well within the time limits and I felt decent, though was looking forward to some "real" (e.g. hot) food back in Packwood, which was hours away.

We went back to the mini-control and I had a Sprite that really hit the spot. Chips also hit the spot as did some pancake pieces that were offered. I'd been running off Clif Shot Blox/Gels, and some peanuts I bought in Packwood, but I didn't bring any real food and was depending on resources to fill in that void. Possibly a mistake but it's worked on other rides..

We set off and started the (annoying) descent/ascent back to US-12 and onward to Packwood. I actually felt pretty strong on US-12 heading back east and we had a nice tailwind so I geared it up and got it going - then a big truck came by and gave me an extra woosh, so I geared it up to 53x11 and got it really going. Only for a few seconds probably but it feels good to do that ~20 hours into a ride. Dropped my companions but I knew I'd see them again in Packwood which was only miles away.

Back in Packwood, I had two orders of mozzarella sticks, a piece of Dan's burrito - which hit the spot, but looking back I should have had more food here. Also, I probably shouldn't have doused the burrito scraps in "Taco Sauce" that ended up being spicy.. I like spicy but not on long rides.

I caught a case of the hiccups here in Packwood that lasted, off and on, all the way to the overnight control at Rimrock Lake which was something like 30 miles away. In fact the hiccups even re-surfaced a little the next day, weird. Rando rides do strange things to your stomach, this much I know.

Climbing White Pass

Leaving Packwood I started to feel less and less "good," and the ride started to be less and less "fun." Also, food/drink seemed less and less enticing. Uh oh. These are signs of either dehydration or inadequate fueling.. I probably should have had a real meal at some point along the way. I was thinking about calling it a day/night at the control if possible. The ironic thing is that Chris was feeling a bit ill up to this point and was saying the "D" word a lot, but I kept silent and hoped we'd both get past our ill feelings toward the ride at that moment.

On one hand this was "the big brevet" for me this year, but also I didn't feel a great sense of urgency to carry on for some reason. I'd already accomplished Super-Randonneur for this year so that wasn't an issue I guess.

Now climbing White Pass (4,500ft) at about 7 PM or so - the sun was setting and we were nearing the "overnight" control - the mile markers seemed to take forever to tick down, we "only" had 12 miles to the summit or something like that. Just a few 6% grade stretches for 2-4 miles and some slightly less steep stuff and we're home free. We'd covered about 370k (230 mi) at this point.

Chris said we were holding about 6 mph and I was happy with that, it was faster than it felt. It was a pace we could all live with, and we reached the summit at about the same time. It was getting darker and colder now, and Dan & Chris stopped to add some more layers for our descent to the cabin at Rimrock Lake.

I just wanted to get this section over with and only donned arm warmers for the descent, I didn't feel like digging out my jacket or leg warmers even though I might regret it. So I set off and told them I'd see them soon, most likely at the control.

An Early End

I made it to the overnight at about 8 PM and was extremely happy to be there but still not feeling good about the rest of the ride. We'd get maybe an hour of sleep and then need to set off or else be in danger of getting close to the control closing times. I felt like I needed about four hours of sleep in order to tackle Chinook at this point - things just weren't adding up to me finishing.

Would I be able to even stay there at the cabin? Since there's no SAG wagon, would Kira even be up for picking me up and taking me back to Seattle? How much would a taxi back to Seattle cost anyway?

Ryan generously offered chili, minestrone, cheese, water, all kinds of good stuff. Mostly at that point I just wanted plain water, which I hadn't had in hours since all of mine had Nuun-tablet flavor in it, which I was now sick of.

I picked at my chili and couldn't really get much of it down, and the hiccups were still off and on. I didn't feel necessarily sick but didn't feel like riding over a pass in an hour or so either. The options were clear: sleep for an hour, get up at about 11 PM and head up and over Chinook Pass in the night, or stay here, sleep in, and hope Kira would pick me up in the morning.

I was relieved when Ryan said I could stay there overnight no problem, and even more relieved when I called Kira and she agreed to pick me up the next day. Thanks baby! That was a huge favor). My ride was over and I couldn't have been happier, at the time. Though of course in the back of my mind I already knew I'd regret it, but oh well. It's just a bike ride.

When Ryan woke Dan & Chris up after their hour-long nap, I was soooo glad to be curled up in bad and able to just stay there.

My incomplete control card - a memento for motivation for next year.

The Next Day

Kira came and got me from Rimrock Lake pretty early in the morning, and since it was such a long drive I figured we might as well make the trip worth it for her and visit some of the local sights. We went back up over White Pass, stopped at the scenic overlooks and headed out to Windy Ridge.

Kira had never been there so we figured this was the time to do it! And even though I was there the day before it would be fun to visit Windy Ridge as a passenger and take in the sights. (She posted some cool photos from our mini day-trip here)

I kept thinking about how if I'd continued on I'd still be riding at that moment - which was hard to imagine after having slept in and now going on a road trip. The latest one could finish the ride was 1 PM Sunday morning, and had I continued on I'm sure I would have been close to that. It was more riding than I was ready to deal with I guess.

Chris said later that he and Dan took three "ditch naps" on the way up Chinook Pass, and got up to the top at about sunrise. Wow. Kudos to them (and everyone else that finished!) for being strong and sticking it out - I'm truly impressed. Hopefully I can join the club next year, but until then this will just have to be another one of my growing collection of epic DNFs.


Mars Girl said...

Wow! I miss climbing mountain passes... the views are spectacular!! Nothing like it in the world.

I know the feeling of having to quit and it sucks even when you know you've got nothing else to give. 'Course, I've never done the miles you've done in a single ride. Admirable that you got as far as you did. I love reading these posts of your randonneuring adventures! (Even the uncompleted ones.)

Robert H said...

Thanks for posting this Matt. You are always a fun read. I want to continue riding through the winter, so let me know if and when you are up for anything.

Laurent Guex said...

i tip my hat to you. indeed.
hope to see you next year at seward or some other races.

Steve said...

Nice report, Matt. Certainly no shame in a DNF on that ride. Finishing the first 400k is a huge accomplishment. I almost gave up myself, but by the time I thought of it, quitting would have been more difficult than riding on.

CurioRando said...

Good insights! I had flirted with attempting this ride, but I don't have much mountain experience so opted out.

Glad I did, but...your description fires me up all the more for next year. Beautiful pics!

Dr Codfish said...

Two things about the E6:

1. the lense is fragile, I have broken them off numerous times (I just broke mine leaning the bike up against a guard rail last Saturday), and

2. When ever the lense comes off the bulb (almost) always falls out.

Good news is easy to fix, though I had to order the lense from Peter White as SVB is out and this part is now a special order for them. We're using lights that are so, 'last year'.

Yur Pal Dr C

Unknown said...

I just wanted to say thanks, you really have created an excellent site. I have spread the work to all my cycling friends. It has increased my enjoyment of cycling no end coming up with brillant challenging routes through some beautiful country side.

So a big thank you to you


Anonymous said...

Stop eating so much on rides and your stomach problems will go away. Ultra-101. On big rides (ultras) your body switches over to using your fat stores instead of food processing. You don't need so much food; some small amounts of food are ok. Store bought junk food? fat and sugar? are you serious? study-up grasshoper.

Anonymous said...

600K! you have some serious issues to work out in your head. seek counseling.