Newsletter - 2011 Archive

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The good, the bad, and the ugly
And the nearly perfect
A tale of two vastly different ultra distance bike rides
by Bob Koen

Okanagan – Okanogan 1000 Sept 4 – 7 2010

Day 1 – The ugly day

This ride started off about as well as any long ride ever has. The weather was good and Alex the organizer teased us with the prediction of tailwinds for the entire 1000+ kilometers. For most of the first day I thought that he just might be right. A significant tailwind pushed us to Hope in record time. A quick refueling there and then it was up and over the Coquihalla Summit. This is usually a long and unpleasant slog for me while I watch all the other riders go past and disappear up the road. But not this day. Perhaps it was the still significant tail wind that did the trick, but I arrived at the top with several strong riders still behind me. After a long descent into Merritt and some more fuel it was time to tackle the second major climb of the day. From Merritt the route turned east up the Okanagon Connector Hwy, went across the high empty plateau at the top and then went down, down, down to Kelowna for the first overnight. By the time I left Merritt things were going so well that I was daring to hope that I might make it across the plateau before full darkness set in. I really wanted it to work out that way because the high country up there really is high, at least by BC standards. The road stays above 1500 meters for 40 kilometers and tops out at 1740 meters. I knew that it would likely be pretty cold up there at night in September. By now it was late afternoon and the weather was still good and amazingly the tailwind seemed to shift from Southerly to Westerly just as the road turned from North to East at Merritt.

Partway up the initial long steep hill out of Merritt I came upon Tracy and Barry staring disconsolately at Tracy's bike. The chain, derailleur, and rear wheel had conspired to create an unholy mess that Tracy was just starting to come to grips with. I have had more than my share of experience with such problems in the past, so I stopped and tried to help. The derailleur hanger had broken in half so Tracy was faced with having to convert to a single speed and then ride up another 800 or so meters to the summit. None of us had ridden this road before so we weren't sure if it would be feasible to do so, even for a rider as strong as Tracy. Eventually Tracy urged me to carry on after assuring me that everything was under control. I later found out that everything was NOT under control. Tracy did get the bike put back together only to find out when he started pedaling that he had also broken his crank. When I grow up I want to be strong enough to do that too. Imagine being able to do that much damage to a bicycle just with leg power. When I had a similar incident a couple of years ago I didn't managed any more than just ripping my derailleur off my bike. How embarrassing!

I carried on into the now dwindling daylight as I ground up some long steep inclines interspersed with some level ground and a couple of disheartening 100 meter descents. There were also some dark clouds starting to appear. At some point my upward progress along the road intersected with the downward progress of the cloud layer. Around 1400 meters it started getting slightly wet. It wasn't rain so much as simply that I had ridden up into a wet cloud. I put on some rain gear and carried on. As I went up it just got wetter and wetter. And the temperature dropped from the mid twenties in Merritt, to 16 degrees when I was trying to help Tracy, to a meager 2 degrees when I reached the beginning of the plateau. I was at 1600 meters by then, so I expected it to be chilly. I hadn't expected a full on rainstorm though. I stopped and put on most of the rest of my clothes and rued the decision to send my booties ahead to Kelowna in my drop bag. After all, there wasn't any rain in the forecast.

Mark Benyon arrived just as I was about to set off again. I hadn't met Mark before this ride. I had ridden with him for a bit in the morning and chatted briefly before he flatted and dropped back. He suffers from a severe hearing loss and the batteries in his hearing aid had died by the time we met up again. It was a very good idea for us to stick together through the high country and that's what we did. It soon got dark and with the darkness the temperature kept dropping. Very soon after we got going the rain turned to snow. As we rode along the snow started getting heavier and heavier until after about an hour we were riding in a blinding snowstorm. Those few vehicles that went by were slowed to a crawl during the heaviest part of the storm by their inability to see the road through their headlight beams. I couldn't see the road either for that matter. My eDelux headlight took this opportunity to quit on me. I think that the problem had to do with the extreme wetness. I suspect that water got into the contact between the light and the generator. My hands were so frozen by this time that I couldn't try to fix the problem. So I rode along in the dark, in a blinding snowstorm, freezing, and with a partner that I couldn't discuss the situation with. Not that there was anything to discuss. There was nowhere to stop. Going back was no better than going on. I would certainly have accepted a ride at this point if one had been offered, but that didn't happen. And hitchhiking wasn't an option either because of the visibility and dearth of traffic. So we rode. Eventually I hit some rumble strips straight on. Ordinarily this is not a good thing. In this case though it was a good thing because the vibration jarred my headlight back to life.

I watched my altimeter like a hawk all through this stretch. I had never bicycled this road but I had driven it before. I knew that the high point was at 1740 meters and hoped (I didn't really remember) that said high point was at the far end of the plateau. There were several false summits but finally after about 2 hours on the plateau the altimeter finally registered exactly 1740 meters. And there was a downhill section right after that. A huge downhill in fact. The road proceeded to drop 1300 meters in about 20 kilometers. The snow stopped by then and before long the road started to dry out. But by then I was shivering so badly that it was difficult to control my bike. The bike developed a severe wobble at times that I could only control by braking. I was really really glad that I had gone with disk brakes for this bike because they were easy to apply with useless frozen hands.

I finally got to Kelowna around midnight and found the overnight motel. I learned that 5 of the original 12 riders were now out of the ride. 3 including Tracy and Barry had not gotten far enough to experience the snow storm. 2 more had managed to find an alternative to riding a bicycle through a blinding snowstorm at night on a deserted and remote stretch of road.

Day 2 – the good day

I was so wired from the adventure of the night ride that I wasn't able to get any sleep at all. So after a couple of hours of wishing that I could sleep I got up, got dressed, and left by 3 am. I am not much of a night owl and my party days are pretty much behind me now. I was therefore very amused to encounter the late night party scene in Kelowna as I rode away from the motel. The streets were filled with young folks coming out of the clubs in the area. And since I don't get out to the clubs much, maybe someone can fill me in on the rules. I would like to know if there is a uniform required to get into the clubs these days? The guys were dressed pretty much alike. But every single girl I saw on the street (there were lots) was wearing a black party dress. Don't they let them in if they wear a red party dress? Maybe they were having a black party dress contest, sort of like the wet T-shirt contests I remember so fondly from the old days.

Day 2 of the ride was pretty uneventful. This turned out to be the good day of the three. The roads were dry, the day warmed up nicely, and there was a tailwind for quite a while after the sun came up. Good progress was made through southern BC and across the border into Washington State. Around noon I found a nice piece of grass under a tree and took a 10 minute power nap. That didn't seem like enough so I stayed where I was and had another 10 minute nap. I woke up from that feeling much better and went to the local grocery store to get some food. When I came out I encountered Gary and Rick. We then rode together for the rest of the day and into the night until we got to Leavenworth for the second overnight. It was a good ride with alternating headwinds and tailwinds. I came up with various theories while riding about how there can be alternating winds in the same big valley. I can see how a weather system can move in and cause a wind shift. But headwind, tailwind, headwind, tailwind, ad infinitum? It makes no sense to me.

After dark we all stopped while Gary fixed a flat. I helped Gary and Rick took a quick power nap on the shoulder right by his bike which was leaning up against the guard rail. We got going again quickly and soon after that a police car pulled up alongside Gary and a rolling conversation ensued. Eventually Gary convinced the cop that we were OK and the cruiser took off. Apparently a passing motorist had phoned the police and reported a bicyclist laying on the road.
We got to Leavenworth without further incident. It was a long day in the saddle and the longest day of the three. This time I had no trouble sleeping.

Day 3 – The bad day

I got a few hours sleep and headed out an hour before dawn. Rick and Gary were determined to get as much sleep as possible so I was on my own again. My overwhelming ambition was to get the ride over with and get a reasonable nights sleep before dragging my sorry butt into work the next day.

The day started out well, but that was to be expected on the dry side of the Cascades. The weather forecast was for significant quantities of embarrassing dampness on the west side so I was taking what I could get while the getting was good. And the getting stayed good all the way over Stevens Pass and down the other side. Other than having to deal with some heavy holiday traffic the riding was pretty good all the way to the lowlands on the west side. It started raining around noon and wasn't too bad yet by the time I stopped for lunch in Monroe. I briefly ran into Jeff here. He was just leaving as I went in. By the time lunch was finished and I was back on the road the rain had settled in. It just rained harder and harder as I rode along. But at least it was rain. I have plenty of experience of riding in the rain. It was unpleasant but not really a problem.

It was still raining hard when I reached Sedro Wooley and stopped at the often used AM-PM market to get my control card signed and take on some more fuel. At this point a very nice looking woman came into the store. She spotted me and started up a conversation. She wanted to know where I was going, where I had been, etc. It turned out that she was from Bellingham and not only knew about randonneuring but also knew a BC randonneur. Pretty soon I was being offered a bed in Bellingham along with a soak in the hot tub. I was starting to think about how if you are going to DNF a ride you may as well DNF in style But then I thought about all the suffering that went on in the snowstorm and didn't want that to be for naught. So I thanked her for the kind offer and headed back out into the night. The rain had pretty well stopped by this point and the rest of the ride was pleasant.

But not without incident. I flatted at the 999 km mark with another 20 km still to go. I fixed the flat easily enough but then discovered that one of the connectors from the eDelux that slips over the tab on the generator hub had broken off. I was without a headlight once again. I was still in rural Washington and the roads were deserted, so riding by headlamp alone was sufficient. It reminded me of my first year of randonneuring before I had a generator hub where I did all my night rides with completely inadequate lighting. It was kind of fun.

Crater Lake 1000 Sept 24-27 2010
The nearly perfect ride

Day 1 (actually night 1, day 1, and part of night 2)

Next up was the Crater Lake 1000 organized by the Seattle Randonneurs. I had been looking forward to this ride for months as it promised stunning scenery. I had serious doubts about it though after the snowstorm debacle on the Ok – Ok 1000. Crater Lake is nearly 2000 feet higher than the Okanagon Connector. No way was I going up there if the weather wasn't looking good. Not only is Crater Lake much higher, but the road also stays high for at least as long as the OK Connector. Initially the long range forecast didn't look that good. But as the ride drew near I became encouraged. The forecast for the Northwest still wasn't that great, but the forecast for Southern Oregon was much better. In fact, the forecast for Crater Lake on the day we would be there was for sun and a high temperature of 77 degrees F.

The ride started at midnight on a Thursday night in Bremerton, Washington. Not really an ideal time to start a brevet but necessary in this case in order to make the return trip connections work out. More on that later. It was damp to start but not really raining. The roads were wet but the air was not, and the temperature was mild. The initial 100 km went by very quickly thanks to a really brisk pace set by some of the Seattle folks. After that I dropped off the pace a bit and settled into a more manageable rhythm. Gary Sparks joined me and we carried on across the Olympic Peninsula and then turned south on Hwy 101 at Aberdeen. Most of the riders stopped at a McDonald's in Raymond for breakfast but Gary and I went on a few more kilometers to South Bend and found a restaurant there. We had some very good food accompanied by the worlds worst coffee as we watched the tail end of the peleton pass by.

After a leisurely breakfast we got going again. The morning weather improved steadily and we were soon riding in sunshine and never saw any bad weather for the rest of the trip. By mid-day we reached the Columbia River at one of the more amazing bridges that I have ridden across. The river is over 6 kilometers wide at this point. The bridge goes on forever. After this the ride started getting more and more beautiful. We crossed the northwest corner of Oregon on rural roads and arrived at the coast in late afternoon. Here we encountered one of the many challenges of the ride, that being trying to get across the Oregon Coast Hwy. It was wall to wall traffic for as far as the eye could see. Fortunately the ride organizers had routed us onto side roads wherever possible so the traffic didn't turn out to be that big of a problem. At least not after we finally got across the road in the first place.

We rode on through Seaside and Cannon Beach and headed south into increasingly gorgeous country. We also started encountering the famous Oregon 'capes'. I always thought that a cape was a piece of fancy clothing only worn in recent times by Pierre Trudeau. In Oregon however it's another name for a hill. I think that in order to qualify as a 'cape' it needs to be a hill next to the ocean. In Canada we have all kinds of different names for snow. In Oregon they have all kinds of different names for hills. And with good reason. They have as many kinds of hills as we have different kinds of snow.

By late evening the route turned inland for a while on Miami Foley road. By now the stunning scenery was becoming routine, but this stretch still made an impression. It was pastoral instead of oceanic, and the road was quiet. By the end of that stretch it had gotten dark and we were dumped back onto Hwy 101. The road flattened out here and we made good progress to the overnight control at Pacific City. We arrived at about midnight, 24 hours after leaving Bremerton. We were sharing a room with Jeff and Keith. They had been there for hours and were sleeping peacefully when we arrived.

Day 2

Too little sleep and a round of doughnuts provided by the hotel, as well as several cups of hotel coffee prepared us for the second day of the ride. We left in cold but clear weather and soon did a jaunt inland on another back road. This one didn't manage to skirt a cape as we rode up a significant hill and then back down the other side. Shortly after that we got to the mandated breakfast restaurant in Depoe Bay. This place was so good that it was listed on the route sheet and was raved about in the organizers pre-ride report. So we stopped and greeted the other riders who were all just leaving as we arrived. Then we had another leisurely breakfast. The food was as good as promised, but the coffee was the same horrible swill that we had been drinking yesterday. So I asked the waitress “say, what kind of coffee is this?” It was Maxwell House. Enough said about the coffee.

One interesting thing about this ride was that not all controls had opening or closing times. The next timed control after the overnight in Pacific City was at Reedsport, at the southern end of the coastal stretch of the ride. This was a little over 200 km from Pacific City, and still about 100 km from where we currently were. It seemed like there would be lots of time to get there. Then I did the math and discovered that our leisurely breakfast had put us in a serious hole. We were now about an hour and a half outside of the time window and were facing riding at an average of 20 km an hour over an unknown number of capes in order to get to Reedsport on time. I had been riding in a kind of pleasant fog for the whole first day and a half of this ride. Somehow I couldn't get my head around the concept of overexerting myself on such a beautiful ride. But now the party was over. Gary and I proceeded to put the hammer down from there on. We motored up one cape and down the next, all the while enjoying the incredible scenery without hardly ever dismounting our bikes.

At one point we were grinding up a cape with Gary about 100 meters ahead. I heard a truck coming and looked back to see a beat up pickup truck approaching. While I was looking a huge cloud of black smoke belched from the tail pipe. I thought that the truck must have blown its engine just then. Not so! The truck kept going and passed me and then passed Gary, all the while emitting the most vile cloud of black smoke I have ever witnessed, right into our breathing space. Shortly after going by Gary the black smoke suddenly stopped and the truck rumbled off up the cape. The only conclusion I can come up with for this incident is that the driver had somehow modified his vehicle to dump oil into his fuel mixture at the flick of a switch so that he could produce such a cloud of smoke and pollute the hell out of all those damn cyclists that were annoying him by riding on his road. He probably figured that he would get in trouble if he ran over us, but there was no law against him polluting us to death.

After clearing our lungs we got back to the business at hand. We rode up and down several more capes and then went through Florence and on through the Oregon Dunes. Florence was once the home of the now gone but not forgotten Lawrence of Florence camel riding operation. Unfortunately there wasn't time to look around to see if there were still any camels in the area. We were on a mission to cover the next 30 km in record time or miss the control cut off. We weren't alone in this mission either as we started to notice a few more stragglers peddling steadily south. In the end we made it with 45 minutes to spare.

Next up was a scenic cruise up the Umpqua River valley. If I ever get the chance to retire to that 5 acre hobby farm with the rows of grapes marching up the sun drenched hillside, then this would be high on the list of places to do it. But there wasn't any time for real estate shopping. We still had to get to the overnight control at Roseburg with some time in the bank for a sleep. So we motored. This was a very gentle trip upriver which offered good terrain for making up lost time. Until we got to the little town of Elkton that is. Here the locals were quite friendly, and they also drove a much better class of pickup truck than the moron with the oil injection system that we had encountered earlier. We chatted with one local (owner of a very clean F-250) who assured us that there were no real hills, other than the one just outside of town, between Elkton and Roseburg. Four significant climbs later I concluded that hills are hard to notice from behind the wheel of a monster truck.

We finally got to Roseburg with about three hours in the bank. We pulled into the motel and found our room. Once again, Jeff and Keith had been there for hours. There were empty cans and potato chip bags strewn about, and a note to help ourselves to the beer in the fridge that they had kindly left for us. Clearly they were having a much different kind of ride than we were. They were on a nice bicycle tour and we were on an epic struggle for survival. Someday I want to become a fast and strong rider and see what its like.

Day 3

Another 3 hours of sleep and we were back at it. The early morning was very cold under clear skies. The road headed east out of Roseburg and continued up the Umpqua river valley. This was clearly going to be the hardest day because of the long, long climb up to Crater Lake. Recognizing this, the organizers had provided us with exactly one timed control for the entire day, that being the finish control in Klamath Falls. All we had to do was get there. There were a couple of non-timed controls to get to first. Getting lost or taking a shortcut was not an option though. There aren't many other ways of getting there from where we were, and certainly none as scenic.

So we went up. And up. And up. Who ever would have thought that it was possible to ride a full century completely uphill? I never would have thought that. Now I know better. If you ever want to set a new personal best time for a century then do this route in reverse.

Late in the afternoon we finally arrived at the lake. The weather forecast had been accurate. We had short sleeve weather for most of the ride after the sun came up. At the top it was indeed 77 degrees under totally blue skies. Unfortunately, we didn't arrive early enough to take the organizers advice to eat in the dining room at the historic lodge. We wolfed down some food from the tourist trap souvenir store and headed down. Not nearly as far down as we had come up though since Klamath Falls lies in a high valley to the east of the main range of the Cascades. During the descent I found myself getting dangerously sleepy so I told Gary to carry on while I had a quick power nap. I did that, it worked, and I remounted and commenced the chase. I never did manage to catch up, but I did reunite with Gary a couple of hours later when I said hello to him while he was riding the other way on the West Side Rd. He had stopped for some reason and then managed to get going again in the wrong direction in the dark.

West Side Rd. dead ended at Hwy 140. Said highway then led us along the west shore of Upper Klamath Lake towards Klamath Falls. Along the way we got to slog up one more long steep hill that seemed to have no redeeming value whatsoever. I wonder if it counts as a 'cape' when it's a steep hill next to a lake rather than a steep hill next to an ocean? As we neared Klamath Falls we skirted around the south end of the lake. This is where the outlet of the lake is. We began to notice a very distinct sewer sort of smell as we rode along. It was really bad. We finally arrived at the finish control with a bit over 2 hours to spare. This time the organizers provided the beer, and it did not go to waste.

The trip home

We had to get up fairly early the next day to catch the train back to Seattle. The train left Klamath Falls at 8:30 am and this was the reason for the midnight start in Bremerton. Starting at midnight meant that the ride finished at 3 am, leaving enough time for everybody to get some sleep and some breakfast and get to the train station in Klamath Falls. The train ride took about 12 hours. It was an excellent way to end the trip. We got to know (and drink beer with) many of the other riders that had done the ride, but who we never would have gotten to know during the ride because of different riding styles and speeds.

This turned out to be one of the best ultra distance brevets that I have done. It was very challenging without being impossible, the roads were good, and the scenery was incomparable. I highly recommend it if it ever gets offered again.

February 1, 2011