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My Cascade 2018 Cascade 1200
Ride dates: June 23-26, 2018
by Gary Baker

Numerous folks who were following riders on Cascade 1200 have been asking me just what happened that so many riders DNF’d, me included. This is what I wrote in my journal. GB

Wow, it’s said that it’s the surprises that makes Randonneuring so additive and appealing. I sure think so!

Doing the 2018 version of the Cascade 1200 has been on my ‘radar’ screen since I walked away from the 2016 event, for no rational reason I must add. This year I was fit and ready with over 5000km of wheel time in since March. I had tapered and was rested. The bike was prepped; new tires, tubes, cables, and chain.

The plan was to do one last short leisurely ride before driving to Seattle to be sure the bike was ready. Off I went for a cruise through the campsites at Cultus Lake (where I live) …..“Ping, Twang”……What was that! First ‘rando’ surprise, as a spoke nipple snapped on my rear wheel. No big issue as there are two very good bike shops in Chilliwack where when I show up the staff have never said, “ Your emergency is not our problem!”; and there is Guywires Mobile Cycle Tech ( Peter) who operates from here now. As Peter had built up the 650b wheels when I converted my bike from 700s to the 650b he was my go to problem solver. Thinkfully he was in the area and the repairs were quickly done.

Friday AM Barry Chase and I headed to Seattle with quick stop at Ship Happens in Sumas, WA to pick up some new tires. At the hotel, there were lots of familiar faces, fellow riders from BC, WA, OR, and CA lined up for the obligatory bike check and milling about waiting for the also ‘obligatory ‘pre-ride orientation (a full 60 minutes). Those duties dealt with there was the little issue of getting the car to the designated parking area during rush hour. The 1km drive expanded to 5km and the better part of an hour.

The ride started at 5AM at the base of the Space Needle, in the rain. Humm…There was no rain in the forecast. We were to experience rain showers for the next 150km, nothing serious though.

There were no route surprises on day #1. I’d ridden all 360+km to the overnight stop over the past 2 yrs. on BC, SIR, and NWTR events before.

Off we went descending quickly to the waterfront (Seattle is hilly) picking up one of the designated bike routes (a mix of shared roads and bike paths) south through the downtown core, past Boeing Field and into the southern suburbs. We didn’t hit our first ‘real’ hill until Eatonville (a 1 1/2 km steepy). I’d have liked to stop there as there was a huge ‘Shine and Show’ car show filling most of the downtown.

Exiting Eatonville we climbed over our first pass, a very small one, towards Elbe (site of a railway museum/motel). NOTE to self: I should stop and walk through all those old railway cars and engines someday.

Leaving Elbe we headed for Packwood over the first ‘real’ mountain pass on the route. The average grade was less than 3% so no real concerns; just the same, the steady tailwind was appreciated.

Packwood is at about 150km so a good spot to fuel up as in approximately 25km the real climbing up to the Cispus Center and over Elk Mtn. and Old Man Pass begins. That tailwind into Packwood was now in our face for 25km.

There was a staffed control at Cispus where sadly we met up with Paul van Wersch) who had somehow torn the derailleur and hanger on his recumbent bike to pieces (been there, done that!). Tough to fix. I learned later that was where his ride was to end.

Up and over Elk Mtn from Cispus is approx. 50km (25 up, 25 down). There were services at the bottom (Northwood Camp) but we had been told they closed at 8pm. We rode into the parking lot at 8:05 anyway to find numerous riders enjoying wide assortments of food. Glad we checked, as it turned out they intended to stay open to feed slower riders.

Things were going well, as I was a good 90 minutes ahead of my anticipated schedule. The climb from Northwood to the top of Old Man is approx. 13 with a good 8km at 7/8%+. Thankfully it was starting to cool down. I’ve ridden up/over this pass four times, 2 times in the mid afternoon when the temperature was in the high 30sC, ugly.

The one section of the ride on the first day I was just waiting for was the descent down from Old Man. It was repaved about 3 yrs. ago, is smooth as silk, steep and twisty…what a rush!!!!!!

The overnight in Stevenson was a reminder of a wonderful DNFs I had there several years ago (See: Our Klamath Falls 1000 in the Newsletter 2014 –Archives) and why I prefer to book a motel rather than share a gymnasium floor with dozens of my snoring randonneur friends and buddies.

Day # 2

Leaving Stevenson the route proceeded east along the Columbia River (Washington side) for approximately 50km. What a beautiful ride. The route then turned NE up the Kickitat Creek Valley. The next 150+km is for the most part a constant climb. I just love the first 50km up this valley. What follows is not so nice, the Bickleton Hwy. The dive into the Rock Creek Canyon is a rush and visually stunning followed by a torturous 15km climb back out. This climb is the source of the infamous ‘Bickleton Massacre’ that happened in the 2016 Cascade. This canyon faces south and is blisteringly hot midday. Thankfully the organizers had a H2O station halfway up this time.

When I reached Bickleton there was a gaggle of fellow riders enjoying a rest and food at the local eatery. The owner and staff were wonderful.

I was riding well although I was beginning to experience some GI issues, darn. I’ve experienced similar problems on past 1200s. My stomach says, ”No food!” my brain says,”Eat!”. The stomach won, not a good situation.

I had experience a weird chain suck earlier in the day that impacted how my front derailleur worked. I tried to fix it but couldn't as my multi tool configuration was such that I couldn't get the needed tool head into the screws I needed to adjust. (I now have a different tool). The problem was intermittent, I’d sometimes miss a down or up shift on the front chain rings. I could live with it.

At the Mattawa control (292km into the day) the stomach was still in revolt and I was struggling to ‘hang’ with a group that was speed compatible. I did manage to get some food down and starting to feel better. Leaving Mattawa the group was moving at a good speed as we followed the Columbia River north for about 14 km before starting another steep climb up Beverly Burke Rd. Down in the valley we were not exposed too much wind, but within a kilometer up the climb ….WHAM….where did that wind come from! What a lousy time for the derailleur to malfunction and I dropped the chain. By the time I fixed the problem a substantial gap had opened up between me and the group. I attempted to chase the group down but a combination of the grade and the wind was too much. That was the last I was to see those riders.

The wind was really wild, lots of lightning as well. I was all over the road, shoulder to shoulder. This was getting bloody dangerous! I caught up to Kitty Gousoule, a rider from California who I’ve ridden with many times. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic but she was at the very minimum frightened silly, insisting we find shelter and hunker down. One problem, there was no shelter anywhere so we soldiered on. At the top of a short steep hill we came upon Tom (a rider from Montana) sitting on the shoulder of the road. He could hardly stand up. He had stressed a knee on a steep climb before Mattawa and was done. I recall him saying, “I don’t want to be alone out here.”. It was in the early morning hours, and we hadn’t seem a vehicle since leaving the valley floor. I felt for him.

Kitty is a friend and I didn't want to abandon her (in her state of mind) and Tom was clearly in distress. I suggested we climb into the ditch on the lee side of the road to seek shelter. Although the temperature was likely 12+C the wind-chill made it actually feel a lot lower and Tom said he was cold. I ride cold so I always carry extra warm clothing. I was OK so I gave him my wool jersey and a space blanket to wrap up in. He was still COLD so I ended up in a 'spoon' position with him to provide him with some more wind protection and body warmth. The conditions were UGLY. I don't know how long we were there before a rescue sweep vehicle arrived ( GPS trackers were mandatory on this ride) but it seemed forever. When we climbed out of the ditch the wind was still howling.

In hindsight, with Kitty and Tom safe I think I could have made it to the next control at George (approx.. 12-15km) and reached Quincy (the overnight control) with time to eat, clean up and get a power nap before the control closed. But also upon reflection the probability of going down (and I'm recovering from two recent, serious shoulder injuries and reconstruction) seemed way too high. I'm actually surprised that no one did get hurt out there during that storm. I feel very strongly that at times we, as randonneurs, are so fixated on the finish/ the goal that we lose some of our humanity and fail to offer help to others in need.

When we arrived at Quincy faster riders were starting to depart. They were oblivious to what have befallen us slower riders while they were sleeping. There was talk that some of the riders were intercepted by a local Sherriff out of Mattawa who directed riders to shelter in a local Post Office building. Those monitoring riders I’ve learned were puzzled to see a cluster of stationary GPS trackers, clearly slightly off route. That Sherriff was a good soul!

Finishing this ride was REALLY important to me; I’m sad I didn’t. That said, I'm comfortable with my decision to stop, to help others and to put personal safety first.

I had a goal to complete a 1200 this year. I’ve registered to ride the 3CR -1200. In California in August.

Stay safe out there!

Go to: Cascade 2018 Results
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July 17, 2018