Sunday, May 13, 2007

4/14/2007 -- Three Capes 300k

My new mantra for randonneuring is: you don't get points for degree of difficulty. This seems to be a conclusion that I understood imperfectly until the Oregon Randonneurs' 3 Capes 300k.

I stayed at the McMenamins Grand Lodge the night before the ride, under the unassailable reasoning that, because the ride started from there, it would allow me to maximize my sleep and still not rush around at the last minute. I got ready for bed at a decent hour, set my alarm for 6 am, and settled in for a semi-decent night's sleep. I woke up well before six, but tossed around a bit more to try to milk out a bit more rest. Then my alarm went off, I got up, got a cup of coffee, and ambled out to the start to socialize with the other riders as they got their bikes ready.

...only, the parking lot was remarkably empty.

"There you are," said our RBA, Susan France. "Do you know what time this ride starts?"

"Uh, not 7 am?" I replied, with a sense of foreboding.

"The ride started at 6 am."

Crap! I hastily put down my coffee and put my feet on the pedals. I jetted out of the parking lot after the main pack, who had a 20 minute head start on me. Included in that bunch was my pal John Climaldi, whom I had made arrangements to ride with. I really wanted to catch John, as it's more fun riding with someone than it is riding alone, and it's way more fun riding with someone who's on the same bike and is of similar strength. In spite of the fact that my hasty departure didn't leave me any time for breakfast, I pushed my effort level up to the red line to try to make up some time on them.

I did fine with the lights through Forest Grove, and then it was out Pacific/Ritchey/Stringtown, which carried me north up the west side of Gales Creek Valley in the damp and misty morning. I had covered about half of Stringtown when a dude in a Prius shouted something at me as he passed by going the other direction. I didn't catch what he said and didn't really care -- I was feeling pretty single-minded about not being the lanterne rouge.

Then the dude in the Prius showed up again, on my left, driving the wrong way. He hailed me again. He wanted to know about my bike. I responded politely, though I was both annoyed and bewildered that this guy didn't think anything of bothering me when I was trying to concentrate on my exertions. To say nothing of his driving in a way that was pretty dangerous to both of us. I warned him of an oncoming car, and he fell back behind me, then pulled alongside again after it had passed. He asked how far I was going, and I replied 187 miles. "87 miles?" he replied, incredulous. "No, 187." "187?" again, incredulous. Finally, he left me, and I can't say I was sorry to see him go.

Back on Gales Creek Highway, I started overtaking the stragglers. This made me feel better. I knew intellectually that I was too fast to be at the back all day simply for spotting everyone a 20 minute head start, but it felt good to have gotten to the point of being amidst other riders so soon. I overtook 10 or so riders, then turned onto the Wilson River Highway, and high-tailed it for Timber Junction.

This year, the 3 Capes route included an out-and-back that went a couple miles up the road to Timber. I figured that this would be the perfect place to see how much time the lead pack had on me, assuming that they hadn't already finished it. I went a couple miles up the road, and didn't see any returning riders. So far, so good.

Then a couple things happened. I overtook a fellow I knew named Andrew, riding a Bike Friday. We chatted for a little while, and I asked if he had seen John. Then, I saw my friend Keith by the side of the road, fixing a flat. Keith had ridden up from Salem that morning to do the ride, and was going to ride back after it was finished. I said hi to Keith, and John came flying around the corner with the main pack. I called out for him to wait for me at the coast range summit, because I figured I would probably make up some time on the climb, and that would reduce the amount of time he had to wait for me.

Further encouraged that the main pack was only a few miles ahead of me, I pushed on to the first control. At the control, I got my card signed and drank a Starbucks Frappucino to try to get some calories and caffeine in my system. I took enough of a breather to say hello to John Henry Maurice, a fellow FC 508 veteran. His riding companion had lost his brevet card. D'oh! Every randonneur's nightmare. I learned later that he dealt with the problem with high character: he just decided to keep riding the ride for the fun of it.

Then I was flying back down Timber Road, and before I knew it, I made a hairpin right back onto Highway 6. 7 miles of gradually steepening uphill to the coast range summit. I overtook a couple of riders, who commented on how my recumbent was climbing. Past the Gales Creek overlook, around a couple more corners, and I could see John waiting for me at the top.

John had stopped for 10 minutes to wait for me, and had cooled down quite a bit. The weather at the summit was a bit better than it had been in the valley, with intermittent blue sky, but still cold. We roared off down the hill, enjoying the downgrade and reeling in riders for the next 10 miles. John got a flat at pretty much the same place that he got one last year, and a bunch of the folks we had just seen went by us, but we were back on the bikes in no time. The weather seemed to improve as we headed west, and as we passed Joel Metz, I told him that there were awesome chocolate chip cookies at the River's Edge Grill at milepost 7. A few miles down the road, John and I made a stop there, and I realized that it was actually milepost 6. I hope Joel forgave me, I know that vendettas can grow out of such soil.

John and I followed the river out into the open Tillamook Valley, which drains 5 rivers. The sky was as blue as the landscape was green. It seemed that the day was turning in our favor. The noise my chain was making was turning from a whisper to a cough, though, so I suggested we make a quick stop in town for some chain lube. Randonneuring forces you to use a different metric for bike maintenance; the distances and conditions involved make you take pre-emptive action much earlier than other cyclists have to.

We headed west out of town for the first of our three capes, and just as we turned onto Bayocean Road, my tire went kaput. Serfas Urbanas, not 3 months or 500 miles old, and the sidewall was shot. I'd had nothing but heartbreak since mounting them. Fortunately, John had the foresight to carry a spare tire, so I wasn't forced to go back to the bike store and pray that there was a demand for 650c tires in Tillamook. The ride over Cape Meares was sunny and beautiful.

We took a quick stop at Netarts, and I finally started to feel like I'd caught up on the food intake. We were in high spirits as we rolled along the edge of Netarts Bay -- the sun shone down and warmed us, and what breeze there was was at our backs. In the woods, the road started winding up over Cape Lookout. We made a brief pause at the hang glider launch partway up, and then finished off the climb before plummetting down the other side. As is so often the case on the Oregon coast, the other side of the cape brought entirely different weather. It was cool and misty again as we rode past Sandlake and when we made the short climb over the last of the three capes, we found that it started raining gently.

Photo: Nate Armbrust

In Pacific City, we got John's friend at the Anchorage Hotel to sign our cards, took a quick break at the Shell station, and then started heading inland. And then the rain really started coming down. Fortunately, both John and I were feeling strong, and more importantly, both of us remembered our fenders. We climbed up to Sourgrass Summit pretty easily; it went faster than I remembered from last year. The stretch up the Little Nestucca is quite pretty, and the one lane bridges remind me of New Zealand, which features such bridges on some pretty major roads on the south island.

At the top, the weather changed again, back to sunny blue skies. Welcome to Oregon in the spring -- as the Crowded House song goes, four seasons in one day! We flew down the hill, happy to be back in the watershed that drains into the Willamette. By the time we hit Grand Ronde, I was starting to feel a bit like my fuel reserves were depleted. We stopped at the store for a break just as David Rowe and the folks he was riding with were pulling out. Some sugar, a short rest, and a tailwind, and I was a new man. A couple miles on highway 18, and then the route took us onto the Old Yamhill River Road, which then took us to the highway 18 business loop. A distinct improvement over the old 3 Capes route. We caught David again between Willamina and Sheridan, and barely caught the turn south onto Ballston Road, making it by the skin of our teeth.

Ballston Road was another welcome new addition to the route. When we heaved about and changed our heading westward, the wind filled our sails and the bikes loped along at 30 mph for miles and miles. We rocketed through the town of Ballston with barely enough time to register the information for the control. We were in Amity before we knew it, but there I discovered a big fork sticking out of my back. My exertions at the start of the ride plus falling behind on my eating had caught up with me. I had a snack at Amity, but it was too little, too late.

John let me sit on his wheel for much of the remaining distance, to Dayton and Lafayette, and then north on Fern Hill Road. I wasn't exactly slow (though I certainly wasn't fast!), I just didn't have any real pep. I had bonked, and now I was in survival mode. The miles just sort of crawled by. That our tailwind had changed to a pretty fierce crosswind didn't help. Finally, just outside Gaston, the last can of Ensure I drank hit my system, and I felt good enough to put some zip back in my riding. John and I covered the last 5 miles strong, finishing with plenty of daylight. I bought my friend dinner at the Grand Lodge, and we enjoyed the camraderie of a successful team effort.