Thursday, April 15, 2010

Three-Capes 300

Frost on the summit
Lingering at Grateful Bread
in fine company

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.

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