After feeling pretty good about how the Birkie went for me last month, I started thinking an even longer distance was possible and maybe even could be kinda fun, so I watched the weather and decided to toss my cycling cap into the ring for the Oregon Randonneurs Three-capes 300K. I've been wanting to ride to the beach for years, and since you gotta get back somehow, I figured why not ride the round trip. It's just a bike ride, right? A long bike ride.
But when the original date (April 3) approached, I was getting cold feet. Turns out they could have been even colder. School & U.P. homework had me buried, short on sleep, and missing family time, so when the forecast was cold, wet, windy, with probable snow on the coast pass, I admit I was plain scared to tackle this. Fortunately, the ride was postponed. Turns out that was a good decision.
I still didn't get enough sleep the week before, but left myself a cushion Friday and turned in just after 9 for the 4 A.M alarm. And I couldn't sleep. Despite the glass of wine, the homeopathic tranquilizers, the sleep deficit, by 12:30 I was getting frantic. Then the alarm went off and I went on pre-ride autopilot.
There was a group of 40+ready to roll from the Grand Lodge at 6 and I headed out with the pack into the frosty predawn, all blinky lights and Locomotive Breath.
I thought it was kind of cool how our pack of around 15 hung together pretty much to Timber Road - it might have been the cold and crosswind we were catching from the east that had us huddled together. Once we started climbing to the first control, of course, things spread out. I was a little worried about overriding the turnaround for the first control, but as there was a staffed table with coffee & donuts, it was pretty obvious. I arrived in a group of 8 and since I had tanked up on tea and juice, had to take a little walk into the trees after getting my card signed. When I returned to my bike, I was alone, and had to chase hard if I didn't want to ride alone. Fortunately I caught on to the back half of the group before we reached Hwy. 8, and we swept up some others as we started heading up over the coast range.
I had started the day determined not to allow myself to get caught up in any macho hammerfest - "I'm just gonna ride my ride" I told myself. But on the other hand, when the company is pleasant and riders are willing to work together taking turns at the front, it can be easy to push it beyond comfort for a spell and tell yourself you can drop out anytime. Plus, with a tailwind pushing us up toward the pass, it was fun watching the miles roll by, and easy to shut out the voice telling me I was gonna pay for this later. We were able to maintain a fairly intact group of around 10 riders clear up to the coast summit where I snapped a quick rolling picture and we launched into a speedy decent through the sweeping curves down to the Wilson River.
There was a little frost on the shoulder, but It wasn't a worry. Many many years ago - before I switched my major to English, I was an electronics engineering major and took a physics class. The instructor was an avid cyclist and mountaineer, and frequently included his avocations in his lectures. I remember him telling us that - counter-intuitively - skinny tires get better traction on ice - it's something about the sublimation coeficient of the hydrogen molecules... or maybe I saw it in a Wallace and Gromit cartoon. Anyway, I told myself it's not the ice you slip on, it's the thin layer of water you create with your tire on the ice. Therefore, if you go fast enough, you can't slide, right? Anyway, we stayed upright and about 7 of us were still together when we got to Tillamook. A longish stop at Safeway included my first coffee of the day, and I decided I needed to slow it down if I was going to survive the other 2/3 of the ride. Apparently that's what my comrades were thinking too because we rolled out along the bay and up to Cape Meares at a more leisurely and sustainable pace. The climbs up Cape Meares and Cape Lookout were stiff, but not too long, and the scenery, of course, spectacular.
We still had a group of 7 riders when we reached Pacific City and Grateful Bread, where More Coffee, a big scone and some lounging in the sun got me ready for the next leg which turned inland - and into the wind. It was never outrageous, but it was to be a presence for the next few hours. The route up the Little Nestucca river and over Sourgrass summit to Grande Ronde is really a splendid ride. The grade was never steep, the traffic so light we took the lane nearly the whole time, and the mix of river canyon and farms just delightful, especially by bike.
Our group thinned a bit after Grande Ronde, though we picked up JD (?) at the store. He asked us why we were so slow, and Michael Johnson told him we had a plan. Apparently, our plan was to suck JD's wheel for the rest of the ride. He led MJ, John D, and I out of town and through the tricky transition to Yamhill River road (take the exit, apparently), but I think maybe he decided our company wasn't stimulating enough after the last "zip-tie" control so the three of us were left to finish the evening. This was the part I was most worried about ahead of time. On paper the route finding seemed tricky - so much so that I had printed maps of most of it (which I forgot at home, naturally.) I was imagining myself lost in the dark as I tried to navigate the turns through Sheridan, Dayton, Amity and Lafayette. So I was glad for the company and glad it was still light when we hit the home stretch. With about 15 miles to go and our pace dropping, John mentioned the temperature drop I'd been feeling as well. I think the three of us must have had some kind of telepathic powwow to the effect of "stop and put on a layer, or ride harder?" MJ apparently realized that if we pushed the pace a little, our finishing time might qualify us for some special Rando-Ninja designation, so harder won out over layers, and we launched into the final miles at a good clip, pulling back into Forest Grove with a smidge of light still in the sky. Whew.
Thoughts: I was really bummed when my schedule kept me from this ride last year, and determined to make a stab at it this time. All in all I think it went great, and while 2 years ago I would have said no way could I ride that distance in a day, now I know it's possible - and possible to do it enjoyably. My low point was just after 200K when my back and shoulders were aching and my left knee pinging a bit. Surprisingly, that eased off and I felt better physically at the end than I did several hours earlier. I love having the Acorn Boxy Rando bag and the access it gives me to food, camera, etc while riding. I also brought the Minnehaha saddle bag I just got cheap from Restoration Hardware, mainly because since I'm riding 27" tires, I wanted to bring a rolled-up spare since I doubt I could depend on anyone else bailing me out if I suffered a slice. Probably overkill, though. For food, I brought the large fig bars, a bag of raw nut/dried fruit trail mix, a couple clif bars, a small bag of dark chocolate and black licorice, and a hefty PBJ on homemade sourdough. Along the way I bought 2 coffees, a scone, and 2 bottles of juice. I never felt low on fuel, and returned with about half the fig bars and trailmix, and never touched the Clif bars. I don't want to cut myself short, but there's room to trim.
I'm also happy with how the bike did. Part of me is kind of smug that I did this in a 25+ year old production bike that cost me barely more than $100. Not that I don't see changes I'd make in a custom rig. But I realize that while a lighter and better fitting rig would be nice, it's the trip, not the bike, that makes the experience worth doing. 400K now seems within the realm of possibility, if I can figure out a cheap bright headlight option. And hanging out after the ride, grabbing a beer and some fries, and chatting about the day as others wheeled in was a much better way to end the ride than packing up and rushing home.
to trade pulls down the Nehalem on a splendid day.
A year after my longest ride ever, I got the chance to repeat the feat and see what the Birkie Brevet 200K is like without the cold and wet. Wonderful, it turns out. I'm not sure, but it seems like there were less riders this year. Not enough suffering in the forecast? Hmmm. We started in the calm almost dawn with patches of frost on the side of the road and cold hands and feet for the first stretch to Vernonia. I fell in with a group of seven guys somewhere in the mid-backfield, and we stayed more or less intact for the duration of the day, which was kind of cool. I may shed my anti-social tendencies yet. A couple of them seemed to know each other, but as I'm still a newbie at this, and don't really know anyone, I figured I'd just play it loose and ride my ride and not sweat it with trying to stay on anyone's wheel. The whole thing just seemed to play out organically. Someone would pull over for a pee break and the whole peloton had a male bonding experience, controls were casual chatty affairs, then someone would stretch and mount up, and pretty soon everyone was rolling and taking turns again pulling the train. Fluid and very comfortable. Well, except for that 20mph pace for several miles into Birkenfield. But we got that out of our system and part two passed more calmly.
Rest stop at Birkie
last year it was the wood stove
this year it's the sun
Preparing for the ride with all the school/university stuff was a little stressful. On Thursday I decided to pull the 6-speed freewheel to drop some lube in and when I took the rear skewer off I found this:
For the record, that's a rear axel and it's supposed to be in one piece. Lord knows how long it's been broken - thank God for skewers, eh? If it had been a bolt-on I'd have dropped my wheel. On second thought, if it had been a bolt-on it would have been a solid axel and it would take the torque of a tank to snap one of those. I didn't have time to make it to a bike shop, but fortunately was able to cannibalize another 126mm rear axel and everything was fine.
Back to the Birkie, by the time we were over Timber Rd. the second time our group was splintering, and I got dropped on the downhill curves but was able to chase back on before the highway and three of us finished out the ride into Forest Grove, our time a quite decent 9:10 - and that included some long-ish rest breaks. But here's the funny thing - and I vowed that evening I will never do this again - I didn't get the names of the other guys I finished with; I just know them as Orange Ira Ryan and Blue Kona JTS. Looking at the results I see that their names were Gene and Stephen, but I'll be damned if I know which was which.
Of course - and this may sound sexist but I think I'm right - if we'd been women, we'd have known one another's names (and a whole lot more) before we hit the first control. Guys are funny sometimes.
I was feeling kind of guilty about being gone from kith & kin for a sunny Saturday - and the first day of spring break - so I checked in and high-tailed it home, later regretting I hadn't sat for a burger and beer with my comrades for the day. Next time.
At Wahkeena falls
a giant salamander
the only traffic
The Birkie was the beginning of Spring Break, and I had sent out feelers a couple weeks earlier to the team inquiring whether anyone wanted to join me for a jaunt out the gorge past Multnomah Falls to the Oneonta tunnel. I emphasized that I was On Vacation, would be riding my Touring Bike with Handlebar Bag and Triple Chainring. Read: No rotating-paceline-sprint-to-the-next-sign hammerfest. A couple indicated interest so Catherine, Jeff and I met at Bipartisan Monday morning and headed out Marine Drive in light showers. Catherine had raced Sunday so she was just looking for a spin and turned around at Troutdale, where Jeff and I headed up the Sandy, taking Woodard Rd. for some "gratuitous climbing" before reconnecting at Springdale.
Despite Spring Break, traffic was super-light and we took the lane nearly all the way from Crown Point to the tunnel. With all the recent rain the falls were all in full flow, the frogs and birds nearly as loud in some of the dells, and everything green green green.We turned around at the tunnel, stopped for coffee at the falls, and
headed back up up up to the point, then down to the Stark St. bridge and had a quick zip home.
Overnight bike date
Edgefield gardens budding
my hand rests in yours
T had a gift certificate for a night at the Edgefield,with a little left over for food and whatnot, and asked me if I wanted to join her on a kid-free date. Now, I love my kids. But I loved her first, and time away together is as rare as a tasty school lunch. So Yes, please. And with a nice forecast we decided to bike there. Riding is a great start to any date, plus it would give the new sale panniers ($27 each @ Restoration Hardware) a test run.
We called ahead to make sure they could accommodate our steeds, and they even switched us to a suite with a "sitting room" (bike lounge?). Sweet.
Edgefield is tré Euro, with no TV, the
baño down the hall, and grounds that encourage mingling. I even ran into Joseph Rose, who had also biked out with his family for a little R & R. So T and I ate, walked the gardens, ate, visited the soaking pool, ate, did some wine tasting, and ate. I slept like a baby that night.
The next morning - after breakfast in the Black Rabbit, of course, and another leisurely garden stroll - we decided to take the long way home. It ended up being a little longer after we got turned back at the Stark Street bridge by an ODOT flagger who took his responsibility to keep defenseless cyclist from being crushed by big scary dump trucks very seriously and would not, despite our assurances, believe that we could safely walk our bikes up the shoulder of the road where the repaving was taking place. Ah well, we detoured back to Troutdale and up to Gresham and we were on the Springwater and had a quiet ride home. For a mini-vacation, this was about perfect, and good for my soul in a way I hadn't realized I needed.
I'm putting in 10 hour days on a regular basis now, just to stay on top of things and avoid bringing school stuff home to grade, which I'm mostly successful at. It's good, and I'm enjoying myself, but there's never enough time in a day, is there?
A couple of weeks ago I decided my head and heart would be happier if I avoided traffic at the end of the day and took the long way home. When the days were longer I liked ending the week by riding the Springwater trail home on Friday. I can access it in Gresham just blocks from school, connect to the 205 path near Foster, and jump off close to home, making for about 12 traffic-free miles. It's a dark ride in winter, without street lights, and since it's home - literally - to some pretty dodgy folks without visible means of support but plenty of needles and 40-ouncers, I'll stick with the streets until the lighter months. But along about the end of February there's enough lingering light that I can get on at 5-ish and make it home before dark.
I've seen some interesting stuff, though. I stopped and picked up a big Buck knife with a duct-taped handle right next to a homeless couple loudly airing their dirty laundry in the middle of the trail. not sure if it had been thrown and missed the mark, or accidentally dropped, but they didn't argue when I rode away with it, hoping I'd helped avoid the fight getting truly ugly. A couple days later I thought I'd scored another free bike down in the blackberry bushes below the trail - until I noticed the woman lying next to it. I stopped to help, of course, figuring she'd drifted onto the soft shoulder and taken a tumble. The slur of her embarrassed apology reinforced what my nose was already saying. It takes a lot to be too drunk to ride in the daylight, but she was there. I helped her up to the trail and after she assured me she was just scratched and was going to get on Max, I left her standing there, her helmet still looped over her handlebars where it was when she took her tumble. I saw her again today sitting beside her bike, reading a book in the sun by the trail. The same day I helped her I came up behind a half dozen saggy-pantsed young men, out for a stroll. Normally I ring the bell to let people know I'm coming and slow to allow them to move to the side. But sometimes the gut says stealth is better and giving warning will just put me at a disadvantage. I put on a little speed and was by the rear guard before they could do anything but shout. the lead guy, however, gave chase for a few strides, and shouted out if I knew where Powell Butte was. Um, it's that big hillside looming over you on the right? I suspect he knew that, but wanted to see if I was dumb enough to actually stop to answer his question. Not today.
Mostly, though, it's a really lovely ride. The wild cherrys and old abandoned apple orchards are in bloom, Johnson creek is full, the red-winged blackbirds are perched on dry cattails and calling their girlfriends, and get 10+ miles of brake-less and car-free riding to clear my head and heart.