Thursday, July 26, 2007

6/30/2007 to 7/2/2007 -- Glacier 1000k

Day 1 -- Troutdale to Connell

Degree of difficulty as it pertains to randonneuring: still an imperfectly understood concept, apparently. My friend Philippe and I arrived at the start of Oregon Randonneurs' Glacier 1000k a few minutes after 5, and were lazily pottering around for a 6 am start, when it got to be 5:40 and no one else had arrived yet. Knowing the drill, I asked, "where is everyone else?" Didn't really need to hear the answer; the ride start was 5 am. *Sigh*

Phil and I saddled up and ventured off into the foggy morning, up the familiar Columbia Gorge scenic highway. We rationalized our error by telling ourselves that we would probably catch many of the riders in front of us, and we would have a chance to chat with a bunch of folks that neither of us would usually see on one of these rides. We soon found ourselves at Crown Point where Michael Rasmussen signed our still-pristine brevet cards, and we whooped as we sailed down the empty, perfectly smooth road. The scenic highway snaked down the hillside through the trees, through carved cliffs and past freshening cascades.

We soon caught up with our first fellow randonneur, James Yee from California. He was ambling along, just past Multnomah Falls when we overtook him. We chatted for a little while, and then Phil and I pressed onwards. Given Mr. Yee's pace and how little ground he had yet covered, Phil and I pegged him as a likely DNF candidate. But you never know in randonneuring -- there are hares, and there are tortoises.

In any case, Phil and I were no longer the lanternes rouge, and we had more and more opportunities to chat with people that we overtook. That resolution fell by the wayside pretty quickly. Phil and I tend to egg each other on to keep those pedals turning -- whatever the attraction of randonneuring esprit de corps, the gravitational pull of the evening's control is greater for us. We reached Cascade Locks, and crossed the Columbia, taking up SR 14 on the other side of the river in Washington.

We would be on SR 14 for the lion's share of the day's miles. The road would take us from the cool shade of the Douglas Firs of the Cascade Range through the desert landscapes of The Dalles and Maryhill to the irrigated fields around Umatilla. We passed 2 dams, an aluminum smelter, the Maryhill Art Museum, a World War I memorial, and numerous small towns. We took breaks at Bingen, Maryhill, Roosevelt, and Patterson. Our stop in Roosevelt was particularly nice, as we had the company of a half-dozen other randonneurs, and the velo-supportive storekeeper there has a guest book for cyclists to sign.

Finally, late in the hot day, it was time for Phil and I to leave SR 14, turning north on Plymouth Road. I was feeling the heat and the almost 300k we'd done to that point, and started lagging somewhat. Plymouth Road was also one of those desert climbs that are broad and go up to a vanishing point on an unbroken horizon, which gives your mind nothing to latch onto to gauge what kind of grade you're working on. I hate those; I always feel like I'm working harder than I should be on them. However, it also appears that in spite of that, I also go faster on them than I think, because we made pretty good time up to the summit, and then we had a fast and fun descent into the tri-cities. We met Phil's mom and several other randonneurs at a Subway in Kennewick and had some well-earned dinner. I was caked with salt and was looking forward to a rinse that evening.

After dinner, the two of us wound through Kennewick and Pasco, and headed north out of town along some railroad tracks. We went right by the Pasco Hump Yard, where manifest freight trains are broken and reformed -- a switcher pushes each car over a hump, and gravity takes the car to the correct train by means of a series of track changes coordinated by the control tower. We caught Bob Koen at this point, and rode with him as the sun went down and the switching yard became farmland. But now I had eaten, and I could smell the barn. I put myself in front as we left Pasco, and I gradually upped the speed, feeling like I wanted to drag us into Connell so I could get that shower ASAP. We lost Bob, but caught Tracy Barill. Then we lost Tracy, and caught a couple riders just 3 miles before Connell. In our eagerness to finish, Philippe and I dropped them on the downhill into town and were the 6th and 7th riders into the control, meaning we finished the day where we probably would have finished in any event.

Day 2 -- Connell to Plummer

Phil and I agreed to sleep in the next morning. Because of that, I laid in bed for much longer than I really needed to. I was plenty awake and ready to go at 5, and we weren't planning to leave before 6:30 or 7. I got up, took my time eating breakfast, and got my bike ready to go for the day. I was in the hotel lobby enjoying a cup of coffee, when who pulls up but the last person I expect: James Yee. I give him some applause and a pat on the back, and I point him towards the control so he can get his card signed and his room assignment. Phil and I shook our heads in amazement, and then hit the road.

The road out of Connell rolled up along the edge of a desert coulee, and then dove down to the bottom. At the floor, the irrigated farmland provided a welcoming counterpoint to the dry, jagged cliffs around us. We pedaled through the towns of Kahlotus and Washtucna, stopping in the latter for a break and a snack. We caught up with my friend Nate there, and though he left before we did, we caught him again a little further down the road. We had a really good time conversing together, and only had to back off a tiny bit to make things comfortable for Nate, so we decided to stick together.

We climbed up out of the coulee again on SR 26, and at the top made a turn onto a parallel road that would take us into the day's first control in Lacrosse. Lacrosse was like countless small towns that I rode through in Eastern Montana and North Dakota, and we took a short break in the city park where one of the ride volunteers was giving out cold V8 and other snacks. We left town, did a short climb, and then had a fun slalom descent back down to SR 26. A couple rollers put us in Dusty, where we topped off our water, and then a little further on 26 and we made a right turn on Sommers Road.

We had been consistently traveling east all day, with a slight northerly component, and the vegetation had been getting more and more lush. Around the time we turned onto Sommers Road, we were in the characteristic soft green rolling hills of the Payouse. The contrasting shades of tan and green on the ground and sapphire blue in the sky made for a series of striking vistas. We later learned that the wheat farming in this region was done without irrigation, as storm systems hit the Bitterroot Range and dump all their water on Eastern Washington.

More rollers, and we were eventually dumped via a steep and winding descent into charming Colfax, a reasonably sized town with a mainstreet lined with 2 story brick buildings. Our merry trio stopped in the Subway for lunch, and were soon joined by Susan France (our esteemed RBA) and David Rowe and the people he was riding with. After lunch, we had to climb up out of town on US 195, and back into the familiar rolling green hills. We finally got to leave the major roads behind for the day by turning onto Hume Road, but as we did, we saw a cyclist backtracking towards us. It turn out to be Linda Bott of California. She caught us as we went around Steptoe Butte, right near Oakesdale, and then we were a foursome.

The splendid Payouse scenery continued as we pressed on to and through Tekoa, with the added interest of mountains on the horizon; the Bitterroots were going to be tomorrow's treat. Leaving Tekoa, we zoomed down to a plain below the mountains, right on the Washington-Idaho border. The cue sheet warned of an easy-to-miss gravel road near some silos, and our group saw a couple randos on a seriously unimproved road at roughly the right mileage so we followed them. This turned out to be a wrong turn, and Phil picked up a nail in his tire on the detour for his trouble. Not realizing what had happened, I went ahead, and picked up the stateline preme before turning back to see what had happened to the others.

We were soon back on the right road, a kind of unpleasant mile-and-a-half long stretch of gravel. Once the gravel subsided, the pavement's grade gradually steepened until we were pushing up our steepest grade of the day, climbing up the foothills along the Idaho border. At the top we joined US 95 for a quick 4 mile descent into Plummer, Idaho. Six of us took a nice long rest at the Plummer grocery store, eating and refilling water bottles. Then we ambled over to the trailhead and made ready to travel the segment of the ride that many of us had been looking forward to the most.

The trailhead mentioned above was the start of the Trail of the Couer D'Alenes. Formerly a mining railroad whose ballast was comprised of mine tailings, the entire right-of-way was paved over to prevent heavy metals from leeching into the groundwater. Conveniently, this also makes it a lovely, smooth multi-use path (any cracks must be sealed to maintain its effectiveness as environmental remediation.) The first 7 miles out of town were a fast, non-technical downhill through thick pine forest. "I want one!" I cried out as I flew easily along.

We regrouped at the bottom of the hill, and then paired off into a couple groups as we found our own paces on the flat section beside the lake. I chatted with Linda about her experiences riding double centuries in California. The miles sailed by easily, and we had covered 35 of 54 miles on the trail before it became necessary to turn on lights. I ate a peanut butter sandwich while we waited in the twilight for the others, just a few minutes. We made our way through the dark the last few miles into the control in Kellogg together. I ate some pasta, drank some fluids, took a shower, and crashed. Phil and I agreed to get up no later than 5, but if either of us got up earlier, we should feel free to hit the road.

Day 3 -- Plummer to Whitefish

Another abbreviated night's sleep, the product of a hard mattress and a quad-occupancy room. I was up at 4, knowing that further time tossing and turning would not be time well spent. I made my way down to the lobby for breakfast and that randonneur's nectar, coffee. I learned that Phil was even more of an insomniac, and had risen at 3 to leave at 4. I was still a bit bleary, but I figured the cool morning air plus my exertions would shake me free of that. I was just going over my bike, getting ready to hit the road, when James Yee arrived. While his arrival the day before was kind of a shock, his appearance this morning was no less welcome or satisfying. I was getting a deep respect for the man, especially after hearing him talk to Susan and calculate the amount of sleep he could afford to take and still stay ahead of the control closures throughout the day. Mr. Yee was tackling this epic ride without stringing together more than 2 uninterrupted hours of sleep at a time! Duly inspired, I hit the road at 5.

Ten miles of gentle uphill on the bike path brought me to Wallace, where I missed the turn onto 6th street the first time through, and had to turn around. The road that was supposed to take me up to Dobson pass looked as nondescript as Saltzman Road off of US 30 in Portland does. There were a number of other randonneurs on the road with me, and I soon found myself matching my pace to Sue Barr's, of Vancouver. We had a pleasant conversation on the steep grades up to the summit, but I had to make a pit stop shortly before we crested the top, and she kept going. The descent on the other side was off the hook; steep grades, hairpin turns, and off-camber pitches. I blessed my front disc brake. I rejoined Sue a few miles down the hill, and we rode together on the approach to Thompson Pass, but then she begged off the pace, and so I pressed on alone.

It wasn't too long before I reeled in a couple more riders, though. They turned out to be Sam Huffman and Mike Bingle, who were consistently getting into the overnight controls nice and early. These were the people to ride with! Sam and I were well matched on the steep grades up to this second pass, and we kept Mike more or less in sight. Upon reaching the top, I took some pictures. Sue Barr caught us, caught her breath, and then it was off to the races. From our fleche team, I knew that Sam descends like a bowling ball dropped out of a 4th story window, and you have to get on his wheel or you'll never see him again. Sure enough, he pulled away, and opened up a huge gap. I caught him when the grade slackened a bit, though, as I don't think he was as aggressively tucked as usual.

At the bottom, the four of us took a break in Thompson Falls at the familiar Montana Cenex station. Their convenience stores are almost the size of our Fred Meyers'. Leaving town, the group put me out front to see what would happen. I was feeling punchy or something; maybe it was that we finally got a tailwind. Whatever it was, between my irrational exuberance, the rollers, and the tailwind, we dropped Sue and then Sam in short order. Bingle sat on my wheel pretty much the whole way to Plains. It was a gorgeous bit of classic Montana scenery along the Clark Fork River, but I was too interested in hammering to take my hands off the controls for long enough to snap a picture. One more Subway stop in Plains let Sam catch us again, but he seemed to suffer on the 5 mile climb out of town, so soon it was back to me and Mike.

The early morning had been lush alpine fir forests, the late morning had been characterized by the white water of the Clark Fork River and the pines and rough rock of the surrounds. As we climbed out of Plains, we ascended through some dry pine forests which opened up into high plains. We managed a few miles of rollers, and then the road plunged down to Hot Springs and Lonepine. The wind was still favorable, so we took advantage, and roared across the desolate landscape. Kathy Napolitano caught us at Lonepine and refilled our water. We went north a little further, but soon we turned east and into the wind. Plus, we found ourselves on another deceptive broad climb up to the ridge around Flathead Lake. The combination was rather demoralizing to us, but we took turns pulling, and finally got to the top.

The descent to the lake was an all-too-brief respite. The route carried us onto US 93 on the west side of flathead lake. Lousy shoulder conditions, high traffic, and tough rollers were the order of the day. We took a stop in Rollins, but otherwise gritted it out. Finally we arrived in Sommers and we had flat land, with a bike path and good shoulder the rest of the way into Kalispell. In Kalispell, we wound through side streets, crossing Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana Streets in the same order that we crossed the states. Then we turned onto a country road that ran through farm, field, and forest and took us to the very edge of Whitefish. Another mile, and we pulled up in front of the motel where the final control was. We signed our cards, turned them in, and had well-earned pizza and beer while sitting in the grass telling stories.


I had one more night of quad-occupancy lousy sleep, and got up at around 5 to find some coffee. I was sitting out front enjoying my beverage when it suddenly occurred to me to wonder what the cutoff time was for the ride. 74, 75 hours? Plus the change in time zone...let's see. Another 75 minutes or so. Fifteen minutes later, James Yee pulls up with Mike Norman. An hour to spare, plenty of time. The lesson is: persistence is more important than speed. The world's fastest DNF is still a DNF, whereas if you keep pedaling, you still have a chance to finish until you are DNQ'ed. Awesome. Thank you, Mr. Yee.

Pictures from the ride can be seen here.


Anonymous Sam Huffman said...

Nice writeup Michael -- the only thing I would change about that ride -- well, aside from those interminable rollers around Flathead Lake -- was the quad occupancy sleeping arrangements!

Otherwise, that was an awesome three days. Too bad we only hooked up on the third day, though to be honest Mike and I were trying to push the pace on day 2 because we were sure you and Phil were right behind us :)

9:12 PM  
Anonymous beth h said...

Michael: thank you for your ride report. Three days before I leave for MY big ride of the season I am inspired to read of your adventure, and of the intrepid Mr. Yee. Fantastic storytelling. Inspiring riding. Cheers, and best of everything at PBP, you insane animal.

10:58 PM  
Blogger Lindsey Smith said...

Bonne chance puor la PBP

10:05 AM  
Blogger Vik said...

Great ride report Michael. Enjoy The French Ride. I'm sure your write up will be very entertaining!

ride safe,


4:22 PM  

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