Newsletter - 2012 Archive

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Cascade 1200 - Day 3
"Mine's a Puppy Chow": A Lesson from the Big Dogs
June 23-26, 2012
by John Oswald

In four parts: Day 1 - Day 2 - Day 3 - Day 4

I awake in a panic...

Who the #€$! is grabbing my arm?!?

I am blind and a lack of audio feedback makes me feel like I am underwater. I swipe the eye mask off and thrash against the hand on my arm. A Cylon's red optical sensor singes my retinas and I hear muffled words before he moves on to the next 4am wake up call.

I pop out the ear plugs that couldn't keep out the noise of some binner helping himself to an outdoor bottle receptacle last night (but somehow kept me from hearing the wake up guy) and gather up my sleeping kit. I stumble through the void of the windowless combatives room and out into the sodium light of a high school parking lot.

I have decided that since I ended so strongly yesterday and since this is the shortest ride between overnight controls I will try to hang with the big dogs today. After breakfast I tentatively approach Keith Fraser and ask if I could try riding with him and Nigel Press to start the day and he simply said,"Sure, let's go."

As we leave the building and clip in I realize I haven't started my GPS so I have to stop while the satellites are acquired. Nigel and Keith roll out of the parking lot and I sprint to catch them at the end of the street. Although it is still dark just before 5am, we are not the first out. As we bump along the backroads northeast of Quincy we begin to pass some of the veterans in the field who know they need to depart before the strongest riders like Nigel and Keith in order to make the controls in time.

The cross/headwind begins to pick up and I notice that Keith is sitting in draft on an angle like I've read about in magazines and seen pros do on TV. I have to remain focused though--I'm trying to hold my line, point out the obstacles and take my share of pulls at a brisk pace (I usually try to start rides slowly) Essentially, I'm riding on my best behavior lest I disappoint the cream of the Cascade 1200 crop. Although I would soon discover that these are two of the nicest guys I'll meet in the Rando world, at this point I feel like an interloper and am determined not to let my new ride partners down.

When we turn directly into the north wind on Basin street in Ephrata I take a good pull and try to position myself to give the guys maximum shelter. I am feeling pretty good but in preparation for what could be a challenging day, I begin to eat earlier in an effort to avoid bonking. Turning into the Moses Coulee at Soap Lake, the pulls get shorter and much more intense. The winds were swirling now and when we cross the lake on a causeway we are almost blown over. It's the first time in my life I actually have to lean into a crosswind to prevent being blown over. I am grateful to be with an experienced rider like Keith who provides advice and models proper technique and positioning.

Nigel set a pretty good pace on the climb out of the coulee up to Dry Falls and then I pull through and do everything I can to maintain the group's pace. This is the best tempo I've had on a climb all year. I am stoked to be riding this strong with the Best of the Best but as the road levels off and the Visitor's Centre comes into view Keith takes over and I pop off the back. As I soft pedal into the parking lot I try to reasure myself that I took the foot off the gas when I saw the control. Glancing at my computer I see there was still 200km to go! Nice going.

This is gonna be a long day.

Dry Falls is a cliff basin (Hanging Valley? I really should know this stuff...) formed by ice age meltwater kajillions of years ago and there was a sign in the display case (that looked like it came from a coloring book for kids) reminding visitors that all fossils in National Parks,"...belong to The Man." After cramming in a pb&j out of the wind we pulled back onto the road and the tailwind kept the group together for a few minutes until we switchbacked almost 180 degrees on Hwy 2 and began climbing. It became apparent that the deadness in my legs before the control was clearly not an illusion. When we got off #2 onto WA#17 the road continued upwards and I began a pattern that would hold for the rest of the day: falling behind on the climbs and tucking/hammering the downhills to catch up. Once I'd re-joined the guys I'd ride at my limit for the flats and (on Keith's suggestion) take short (1-3min) pulls.

It began to rain at this point and, despite working pretty hard just to hang, the wind chill meant I was getting pretty cold. As I sat up on a downhill to put on my jacket I looked up (I'd been staring at Nigel's back tire for almost 20min!) to see miles and miles of glacial erratics dotting the fields outside of Mansfield.

The rolling hills and irrepressible crosswinds continued for the next 20km until we reached the first manned control of the day in town.

"I'll take ham and swiss on whole wheat. I need to pump my tires and get out quick so I can drop these two," I said to the volunteers as we rolled up. "They've been sucking my wheel all morning!" We heard that we were the first guys through and then shared the weather report about the winds in the Moses Coulee. I was worried there'd be some DNF's there after people had fought through rain day one and heat on day two swirling cross headwinds might be the last straw.

After some outstanding pasta salad to follow the sandwiches and cookies we were back on the road. When the terrain started rolling again I had to lost contact with Nigel and Keith and told them to go because my legs just weren't feeling it at this point. I figured I'd be alone for the rest of the day (150km) but an extended downhill into Bridegport allowed me make up the kilometer or so that I'd lost in the rollers so I was back in the group.

The sun was making a breakthrough as we rode through hobby farms spread along the Columbia towards Brewster and I began shedding my hat, arm warmers and long fingered gloves every time I was at the back of the group. I was riding behind Keith now and I couldn't help notice that he hadn't taken anything off. I guess he was waiting for the next control (which I thought was just over the bridge in Brewster). Now, I realize that everyone has their own thresholds for stuff like that but I began to see that I have a ways to go before maximumizing my efficiency with respect to stops, controls and equipment (ie not wasting energy struggling with gear and falling behind repeatedly).

Imagine my dismay when there was only a clothing/nature break instead of a control (I was working so hard to hang that I'd stopped consulting the cue sheet!) after the bridge in Brewster followed by another climb out of the Columbia Gorge. At least Keith and Nigel coasted a little bit longer after the climb and each subsequent roller to allow me to latch back on.

What heros! These two fit and accomplished riders were taking pity on a neophyte in over his head. I was suffering a ton at this point--either I was paying for the previous day's exuberance or I was just worn down after the longest two days of riding this year--or both. Whatever it was I was just glad that Nigel is a machine and Keith is such an accommodating paceline-mate. All the way into Malott (about 25km), Nigel took monster pulls and Keith took standard turns while I did a token two minutes or so each time it fell to me.

The countryside was more familiar now to me now as we moved north--looking more like BC's Hwy 3 east of Ossoyos than Montana to my British Columbian eyes but I was still very happy to sit in Wal Mart camp chair at the control in suddenly windy Malott. Looking for any edge I could, I ignored my own advice again and had my first Coke (I'd noticed Keith had a root beer in Mansfield so I figured I'd give it a try--what could go wrong?!?) on a rando ride as I scarfed down another sandwich and alternated handfuls of Tim's Cascade chips with handfuls of Kinesys SPF 45.

Back on the bike it was time for Loop Loop pass. The approach, including some renewed vigor and spirited pulls at the front for 3km) was brought to you by Coca-Cola but once we were on the main road I soon saw Keith and Nigel disappear around a bend in the road. I doubt I could climb mountains with those two on my best day and this wasn't my best day. Once they were out of sight I focused on trying to maintain a decent tempo but I was feeling ill. It was all I could do to keep the pedals moving. I drank as much water as I could keep down and prayed that I wouldn't vomit away the calories I'd just injested to get me up this pass.

Fortunately, some false flat materialized just when I needed it most and I was able to spin my queasiness away. As the road tilted up again I began to notice that the mileposts seemed to be clicking by at a more respectable rate so I looked at my speedometer and realized that I was climbing faster than I had on Day One. It's amazing how your perception of your performance can change relative to the riders around you. Whereas on Day One I'd climbed away from the group and felt great, today I'd been dropped and was feeling sick but was climbing the hill at a higher speed.

I reached the pass at 3:00pm and I tucked the descent in an effort to make up some ground. As pine trees gave way to hillside hayfields and homsteads I noticed a nice thunderhead coming in across the valley. I shook my head thinking of all those behind us who would have to ride through the storm--the weather gods were not smiling on them.

I'd heard it was mostly flat to Mazama (the overnight control) and, thankfully, this was the case. It was what another cyclist I've met along the way calls,'rivergrade'--pretty smooth with only occasional minor undulations. This suited me fine because when I tried to down some energy chews I got a wicked case of heartburn--this has never happend in my life, let alone on a bike ride.

I'm never drinking another Coke on a brevet!

When I finally reached Winthrop, I found a gussied-up mining town brimming with tourists (including many on bikes) and I realized that I recognized the name from a tour I'd read about in Lonely Planet: Bike Touring US West Coast. As I ws taking a photo of the streetscape I heard Keith call my name--he and Nigel were finishing some ice cream and a lemonade in the shade!

I quickly ordered a mint chocolate chip (apparently Winthrop is a legendary ice cream stop for Randos) to...achem...treat the heartburn, filled my bottles and jumped back on the bike to hit the road out of town and (hopefully) finish the ride with those that I began it.

The thunder rolled as we crossed the bridge out of town and the rain followed shortly after. Nigel and Keith had clearly fully re-charged during that break because we rarely spent any time in the next 22km below 32km/hr. Based on my earlier observations, I knew the would be no stopping to put on rain gear this close to the finish so I just hung on and kept my pulls short. When we reached the cabin-resort in Mazama I told Nigel that he should find out what was in that lemonade and bring it on every ride because whatever it was, it works.

It was pouring now and the thunder and lightning were right on top of us. Mark, the organizer was talking about the forecast for tomorrow (rain all day) and anticipating clearing out room in his truck to carry more DNF'S to the finish. I hoped he was wrong on both counts but I was thankful to have arrived when we did.

It was luxury accommodations on beds 3-4 to a room and I even got in a 15 minute cold soak in the tub for my weary legs after my shower. Dinner was simpler than the previous two days (smaller kitchen) but still filling and I got to bed early after a bit of reading. There was a lot of noise from downstairs as the others came in but my earplugs kept enough out to get to sleep eventually.

All in all it was a pretty good day. I'd learned I wasn't quite ready to run with the big dogs yet but with a little more puppy chow/experience, I might get there some day.


Go to: Day 4


Go to: Cascade 1200 Results
Go to: BC Rider Photos


August 18, 2012