Thursday, August 14, 2008

6/28/2008 to 7/1/2008 -- The Cascade 1200

At the end of the first day of the Cascade 1200, I didn’t know what to do. I was rolling down a river grade towards Naches, the first overnight control. The first day had been hard – really hard: tough climbs in brutal, brutal heat, and sheer distance. And there was plenty more climbing, heat, and distance promised. I was finishing up the first day okay, in good time (it was just after nightfall) and feeling reasonably strong. But three more days of that kind of effort, of climbing mountain passes in the desert in triple figure heat, simply wasn’t in the cards. How was I going to “solve” this ride? What strategy could I take to avoid riding in misery for 3 days, or worse, DNFing? I didn’t know what to do.

I did have resources at my disposal. I had access to my drop bag in a few miles, my Bacchetta Aero is comfortable, fast and has good lights. I was well ahead of schedule, and the next 100 miles were populated enough to provide good services. By the time I rolled into Naches, I had an idea.

I approached Bob Brudvik, who was signing riders in. “I’m going back out there,” I said.

“You are?” His eyes said, “Oh, really?”

“Yep. It’s cool out there; it’s actually a nice temperature to ride in right now. Why waste that? I’m going to eat, clean up, and change clothes, and then I’m riding on.”

“A bold plan. The route comes right by here again; you can have breakfast when you get back.”

So back on the road I went, with some trepidation. I’ve done plenty of night rides, but it still takes a bit of nerving up to leave a control at midnight to ride until the sun comes up and beyond. I tried to talk the other riders into joining me, but while they saw the merit in it, none would brave the dark with me. So I pressed on alone. I would ride through the night, finish the second day early, sleep during the heat of the day, and then get up for the third day while it was still cool, and so avoid riding with the sun at its height as much as possible.

It was a good plan. I caught up with Micah Fritzinger, and we rode up to Lodgepole together to visit Mark Thomas, manning the control there in the moonless night like a mysterious, grizzled oracle. I rode down alone, because the recumbent descends like a rocket sled and Micah simply couldn’t hang on, and I arrived back at Naches with the sunrise. That let me get breakfast from the control, and press on before the day warmed up too much. I covered a lot of ground that morning, and it wasn’t until I was through the Rattlesnake Hills, just outside of Hanford, that the almost thirty hours straight of riding and the heat of the day caught up with me. I limped into the Vernita rest area, with 55 miles to go in the hottest part of the day. It was a good plan, and it almost worked.

In Vernita, I ate my last sandwich and refilled my empty water bottles. I really needed the nap I had been putting off to keep pedaling while the day wasn’t at its hottest. Now, it was just too hot and too bright to sleep. Albert Meerscheidt gave me a Gatorade and a pat on the back, and I was off.

I crawled over the next 15 miles to the control at Mattawa. The irrigated farmland around the Columbia River on a 100 degree day is a working definition of hell if you’re on a bicycle. In order to keep their crops from just drying up and blowing away, the farmers there dump lots of water on them. In the hot air, much of that water quickly evaporates. All that evaporated water stays in the air, raising the humidity, and making life absolutely miserable for creatures like randonneurs who count on evaporative cooling to keep from dying.

I sat in the control in Mattawa for a good long time, contemplating my fate. Just the 15 miles from Vernita had left my water bottles almost completely dry and taken almost an hour and a half. With no services for at least the next 30 miles and the day only heating up, I had no idea how I was going to make it the rest of the way to Quincy. I took in some much-needed calories and tried not to think about it.

Finally, when I could procrastinate no longer, I said to hell with it, and got back on my bike. My refreshed ice sock would be completely melted in 8 miles, and even with 3 water bottles, I would probably be out of drinking water before George. But I wasn’t getting any closer to the overnight control just sitting there, and sometimes you just have to take that leap of faith.

The furnace outside sapped my will to live. I thought about what my ride-through-the-night gambit had gotten me. Even at my current snail’s pace I’d get into Quincy early enough. But the area beyond was not conducive to another night ride – there were almost no services there beyond what SIR were providing. So I was limited as to how early a start I could get the next morning. While I had 55 miles of misery today, I was looking at double that for tomorrow.

All the while, I grew increasingly anxious as the water levels in my bottles plummeted and their temperatures skyrocketed. I was maybe halfway to George, just past the first climb on Burke-Beverly Road. Finally, luckily, an angel of an SIR volunteer drove by and pulled ahead to see if I needed anything. With a fresh ice in the sock and refilled bottles, I limped into Quincy.

And none too soon. I was a grumpy, crabby mess. The heat had stewed my brain for 4 hours in equations whose conclusion was that the next day would be a day of torture. I didn’t see any way that I was going to finish this thing, even though I was in a position that almost every other rider on the course would envy. I needed to cool down, I needed to eat, I needed to clean up, I needed to change clothes. Most of all, I needed to sleep.

In the control, I vented, and made kind of a jerk of myself.

I showered and changed.

I ate something.

I checked into a hotel, and went to sleep at 7:30 PM and woke up at 3 AM. Seven and a half hours. The best night’s sleep I’ve had in 2 years.

The ride the next day went a lot better than I had imagined it would. And I realized that I had forgotten the cardinal rule of ultra-distance riding: things never just get worse. These events are so long, you always go through peaks and valleys. And just because you’ve been suffering for a while, that does not mean that you will only continue to suffer. The hill will end, the wind will shift, that Payday bar will hit your bloodstream, or you’ll take a rest, and you will feel better.

I arrived in Mazama in the early evening, the fifth rider in, to applause. My first words as I rolled up were, “THAT was more the hell like it!”

I didn't take either picture shown here. Thanks are due to the lovely people who did.


Blogger Jim said...


Thanks for posting that great ride report - tough, tough conditions. You and your Aero make quite a pair!

Jim Lay

4:07 PM  
Blogger Duncan Watson said...

Great ride report. For someone getting into randonneuring on a recumbent as I am, this is invaluable stuff.

2:37 AM  

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