Monday, September 18, 2006

9/16/2006 to 9/17/2006 -- SIR 600k Brevet, 400 miles

I did SIR's (Seattle International Randonneurs) 600 kilometer brevet this weekend. I rode it straight through, with no breaks for sleep.

It was the hardest thing I've ever done. No joke.

My original plan was to ride to the overnight control, get 5 or 6 hours of sleep, and then finish up the ride the next day. As the overnight control was about 380k into the ride, I figured that would end the first day well before midnight, giving me plenty of sleep time. I could then get up before dawn and knock out the remaining 135 miles pretty easily.

I talked with experienced randonneurs, though, and they suggested going straight through. As it turns out, I will be doing an ultracycling race in 3 weeks, The Furnace Creek 508, and they thought it might be good for me to get a feel for what I'm in for.

So I showed up at the start planning to make a straight shot of it. There were about 35 of us gathered there in the Motel 6 parking lot in Tumwater, and I was the only one on a 'bent (my brevet-configured Aero). Six o'clock rolled around, and we pedalled off into the cold, foggy morning.

We negotiated a couple of quick turns, but soon found ourselves on Littlerock road, which took us out into the country surprisingly easily. The road was flat and true, and took us to an un-named suburban community between Olympia and Centralia. Beyond that, the route put us on small back roads that did more winding around (and especially over) hills. The thick darkness tentatively let go of the morning, replaced by a thick fog. The winding road took us through charming, lush nooks and hollows, past green pastures nestled in the trees between hills, and along quiet brooks.

On the outskirts of Centralia, the Tolkien-esque landscape was replaced by broad, flat agricultural vistas. Over a few more rollers, and I found myself in Winlock, Washington, home of the world's largest egg. From there, it was south on the familiar StP route to Vader, location of the first control. A rest, a snack, a stamp, and I was on my way.

From Vader, the route continued on roads that were quite characteristic of the coastal mountains here in the northwest. Lush green valleys and forested hillsides with the occasional clear cut. I was on backroads to Pe Ell, where I got on SR 6, which was a more major road, but still very quiet, and with a decent shoulder for most of its length (the shoulder did disappear a few times, though.) I crested an easy, early summit, and pushed through some inconsequential headwinds all the way into Raymond, the location of the second control, where I took another break. I considered briefly that I had done 112 miles on the day, and what was in front of me was still longer than the longest ride I had ever done. Then I tried not to think along those lines any more.

I had to deal with a flat tire on my way out of town, but soon found myself rolling south along Willapa Bay on highway 101. The country for this section was rolling, as I was crossing rivers and streams that drained into the bay. There were also frequent stretches that put me right up next to the water. My favorite section of road was right after the junction with SR 4, a lonely section of highway near the Willapa Bay Wildlife refuge. The combination of the water, the hills, the trees, the distant islands, and the solitude of the place was terribly atmospheric. The miles into the third control, Long Beach, went by easily.

In Long Beach, I got some more food, and took another break. I definitely knew that I had done something that day. I was starting to feel some fatigue. But my joints and muscles felt pretty good, and I felt comfortable that I was doing a good job staying on top of my eating. So, I ate some more, got back on the bike, and pedaled on out of town.

South to Ilwaco, and then east along the mouth of the Columbia River. Lewis and Clark country. World War II era coastal defense country. Along the riverside, past the Astoria Bridge, and then inland to Naselle, through a sweet and tidy coast range valley. Up over the inscrutably named K-M Mountain, and then down to Cathlamet. There was supposed to be a feed stop before the climb, but I was too fast; they set up after dark, and it wasn't until Cathlamet that night had really fallen on me, so I took a stop there to eat. The road after Cathlamet wound along the riverside, on a narrow ledge. At one point, I looked to my right, out over the river, and saw a freighter heading up the channel close enough to touch! She was going almost exactly the same speed as I was, 17 or 18 mph, and so we traveled together for several miles. I think I even saw a crewman out on the deck looking my way, trying to discern what my strange configuration of lights signified.

Other than that, the stretch between Cathlamet and Kelso was a lowlight (no pun intended). Darkness had fallen, but it wasn't late enough yet that the traffic had really fallen off. Plus it was a narrow winding road, making for some nervous riding. Still, I pulled into the overnight control just after 10, feeling none the worse for wear.

It was really cooling off, and the folks at the control were angels. Unfortunately, I had just eaten at Cathlament, and wasn't really at a good point to eat much again yet, so I didn't really take full advantage. I did call my girlfriend Jennifer, though, and let her know that I had made it, that I was all right, and that I was feeling good. She was clearly worried about me -- she could hear the fatigue in my voice -- but helped me get up the courage to plunge back out there into the thick, cold night.

It was hard to go out again into the night, and even harder when I found that I had another flat tire. Like this needed to be any harder. But I patched it, and made sure my spares were in order (didn't want to be waiting for a patch to dry in the event of another flat!), and set out. It was drizzling as I pushed north on SR 411.

I could give you a play by play of what I remember of each turn and every hill in my night ride, but I don't think that would tell very much. It was generally uphill (including a couple stiff climbs) to the control at Toutle, and then there was some descending and drainage crossing down to Toledo, and finally a major prolonged climb up to a summit above Morton that ended with a screaming descent down into town. That doesn't really capture what I was up against, though. Riding alone at night, in the cold, in the drizzle, through the woods and wilds, with not a single other soul for company is paradoxically both soporific and existentially terrifying. There is very little that communicates the reality of an uncaring universe as effectively as being out on an empty highway, passing through tiny towns where all the lights are out and everything is closed, in pitch blackness. The night was mostly overcast, so I didn't even have the stars for company. And at the same time as my own cosmic insignificance was being bludgeoned into me, my body's response to the late hour and the low light was to make it almost impossible to stay awake. It was like being sung a lullaby by your executioner.

I did finally make it into Morton, a much smaller person than I was when I left Kelso. It was right around 6 AM when I pulled in, and it was easy to find an open mini-mart. I ate a breakfast sandwich, I sat in a booth, and I let myself doze off for a few 10 second naps. That was all the sleep I could manage under the circumstances, but between that and the lightening sky, I found the energy to get back on the bike and keep it pointed straight. I headed out of town on SR 508, which wound through the Tilton River Canyon.

I felt better, and I had elevation to burn. SR 508 did not disappoint on that score; though there were a couple climbs as the road went along the hillside, the trend was quite discernably downhill, and my speed and ease of travel was commensurate. I covered the next 20 miles in a hurry.

I then turned onto the Alpha-Centralia Road, which announced its intentions right away by beginning with a short, steep climb. The road's 20 miles into Centralia were generally descending, but punctuated by long, sharp drops into drainages, followed by climbs up the other side. Not typically terrain that I shy away from, but my body and spirit were in no shape for this kind of tussle. I just kept pedaling, that was all I could do.

Centralia finally came, and my spirits lifted. Feeling comfortable with my ability to estimate my final arrival time, I stopped at the train station to buy a ticket from Olympia back home. Then I pressed on, heading north on the comfortably familiar SR 507, back on the old StP route through Bucoda and Tenino. In Tenino, I got onto Old Highway 99, and wound through the forest, farms, and residential areas south of Tumwater. Around the airport, and back onto wide (though empty, at this hour on a Sunday) streets, onto the I-5 frontage road, and back to the Motel 6. I signed my brevet card and turned it in, knowing for the first time exactly what it takes to earn the designation, super randonneur.

I completed the ride in 28 hours, 49 minutes, finishing at 10:49, Sunday morning. Official course distance was 375 miles, but navigational errors and the ride to the Olympia train station after I completed the event added enough additional mileage to get me to 400.

Details about the ride and a complete cue sheet are available at the Seattle International Randonneurs' site, here.


Blogger Vik said...

Nice report. Congrats on completing the 600K without sleep.

12:33 PM  
Anonymous Carolyn said...

yep, that qualifies as a long haul.
glad you're home safe and sound...

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congradulations on finishing. When you made the comment in Raymond about the mileage you had left was longer than any ride you've done, I was skeptical. I kept expecting to see you overtake me due to the winds I was beating against, since your 'bent is "immune" to wind. Glad you you made it back safe.

See you on other rides and good luck on the 508

Brian Ohlemeier

2:54 PM  
Blogger JoeK said...


Bon report!!

A 600K isn't twice as hard as a 300K as folks told's so much more than that. Glad you were successful and got a taste for sleep depravation. Luckily, you didn't have any hallucinations....those can be a bit scary yet interesting.

Bon Chance at the 508. Looking forward to your interesting reports. You do have a flair for writing.. such as "...I did finally make it into Morton, a much smaller person than I was when I left Kelso."

Ride Long And Prosper

4:31 PM  
Anonymous Alan B said...


Congratulations on a fantastic result. I very much enjoyed your report. Godspeed in the 508!!


12:21 PM  
Blogger Greta Goes Solo said...

Hey Michael,

It was great meeting you at the overnight control on the 600k! Congrats on finishing the ride - quite an accomplishment!

Good luck at Furnace Creek! Hope you have a great race!

Best wishes,

greta olson

11:21 PM  

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