Monday, July 30, 2018


This was the original program:

10 FOR X=1 to 3
40 END

For my non-nerd friends, that just means that RandoGirl and I drove to the north end of the Olympic Peninsula this weekend to do the 19-mile climb from Port Angeles, WA, to the top of Hurricane Ridge. The route has over 5,000 feet of elevation gain, and is one of the "must do" climbs in the United States.

RandoGirl would do it once. I planned to do it three times. Why? Because we're going to France for a bike tour in September, and at the end of that tour I plan to try to climb Mount Ventoux on each of the paved roads there. That route looks like this:

So to test my fitness, I wanted to do this:

It's a few more miles and a little more climbing, but I figured that if I could do this route in 12 hours then I should be able to do the Ventoux routes in 12 hours, which is about how much daylight I will have in mid-September.

And so, Friday after work, RandoGirl and I drove to Sequim via a very circuitous route complicated by the fact that EVERYONE was trying to get out of Seattle for the weekend (since the forecast was for temperatures near 90) and NEARLY EVERYONE was apparently trying to go to the Olympic Peninsula. Thus, we didn't get to our hotel until after midnight, which meant we were still a little tired the next morning when we got up to drive to Port Angeles and start climbing at 8 am.

But, like I said, I just wanted to see if I could climb this thing three times in 12 hours. Easy.

It was cool in Port Angeles, so RandoGirl kept that jacket on for most of the climb. After the first mile, I pulled off those arm warmers ... right after I realized that I was missing my left glove.

The road for the bottom five miles was under construction, and that's also where the steepest stuff is. But the steep stuff there was rarely in double-digits, and I've been riding a lot of really steep stuff around Seattle lately, so it was rarely hard enough for me to even get into my 28-tooth gear on the back. I paid $15 for a pass at the gate and made sure that it was good for the whole day (it's good for a week), and then took a break about halfway up before entering the first of a series of three short tunnels.

I also turned on my rear light here, since there were a good number of cars. Most of them passed properly, some passed a little close, and quite a few passed with a wave and/or a thumbs-up.

Just before the last tunnel I passed a touring cyclist, and then I passed a couple of other cyclists a mile further. One of those looked to be a guy in his 70s, but he was still churning along. The other fellow was much younger, and he passed me back about another mile further on. Part of me wanted to kick harder to stay with him, but I told myself to take it easy since this was a "for the long haul" kind of day.

Nearing the top, a couple of fellows on bikes came zipping down, "Woo-hooing" all the way. Pretty soon after that, I first saw the ridge.

About here you begin to see people hiking along the top. Then you come around the corner into a parking lot full of cars.

I felt pretty good at this point. My goal had been to do the climb in three hours, and I'd managed to finish in under 2.5 instead. The worst part had been the incessant biting black flies over the last eight miles. I snapped a quick picture of my bike under the sign and started down.

On my first descent, I rode the brakes so much that my hands began to hurt. Frankly, this is one of the carry-overs from my mishap in Andorra a year ago: I tend to be cautious going down any hill the first time. I saw RandoGirl after five miles or so and yelled "hello," and then loosened up a bit to have fun again ... until the bottom five miles. As I said earlier, that part is steeper and under repair, so controlling my speed and dodging holes kept my busy. After hitting a few holes and skating through a couple of gravel patches, I was glad to be done with the descent.

Back at the car, I topped off my water bottles with ice and Gatorade, ate a couple of bars, and started back up. As I climbed the bottom section again, I started to modify my original program.

10 FOR X=1 to 2
40 END

My thinking here was that maybe I should just climb this thing twice, and then come back to the gate and not have to descend the steep bumpy section again ... plus not have to climb it again.

About a mile before the gate, more cyclists came down. One of them stopped and asked me something, and I recognized him as the fellow that had passed me on the way up earlier. He repeated his question, "Do you want to use my pass?" I said, "No, I bought one the first time up." Then he looked at me strange and said, "Oh, yeah. I remember you." By then I was past him, but I'm pretty sure that he was thinking, "What kind of masochist does this thing twice?"

At the gate, there were almost 50 cars stacked up waiting to be allowed in. I rode past them to the booth to see if I needed to wait in the line. The Park Ranger asked if I had a pass, so I showed him mine and said, "Yeah, I bought it when I came through the first time." "The first time?" "Yeah, I went by here about 9 am. There weren't as many cars here then." "They're waiting for parking spaces up top to open up." "Okay. Thanks. I'll see you again in a couple of hours."

As I rode on, I'm pretty sure that he was looking at me then about the way that the cyclist had been earlier.

By the time I got back to the parking lot before the tunnel, I was tired.

The fog had lifted from Port Angeles, and it was getting pretty darned toasty on the mountain.

I paused to read the placards this time.

But eventually told myself, "it ain't getting any cooler. And the top ain't coming to me." So, off I went.

The flies were now impossible. The first time, it had been a little cooler and there weren't as many, but now they were swarming. Worse, I didn't have the legs to regularly sprint away from them, and had not thought to bring any bug spray in the car or "Off" wipes in my pockets. So my only recourse was to swat them out of my face and smack any that landed on me ... mostly on my backside, where they could more easily bite me in the butt through my sweat-soaked shorts.

Just before I lost cellular coverage, I got a text message from RandoGirl that she was done and heading to get some lunch. It was just after 2 pm when I summited for the second time.

This time I took a break. I finished off my second bottle, ate my other bar, and walked around the visitor's center for a bit.

As I started down, I thought about whether I wanted to go to the gate and start back, or if I should head for the car.

10 FOR X=1 to 2
60 END

To be honest, I'd proved my point. It took me seven hours to do the equivalent of the Malaucene and Bedoin climbs -- the tough ones -- up Ventoux. I could have gone back to Port Angeles, eaten lunch, bought a bottle of Off spray, taken a nap, and climbed back up again in the five hours of daylight that I had left. And, yes, the mistral winds blowing around Ventoux might make me descend even more slowly that I was on Saturday coming down from Hurricane Ridge. But you can't foresee the weather -- you can only train for something to the best of your ability and hope that the plan comes together and your program pays off.

I pressed Y, and was back at the car around 3 pm.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Racer's Edge

I was a kid when I first heard about STP.

But it was probably only a few years ago that I first heard about the other STP: Seattle to Portland. You can do this 205-mile ride as a two-day event, but doing it in a single day sounded interesting in the same way that Cross-Florida sounded interesting when I lived down there. So, for some insane reason, even though I haven't even done a 200K this year, I decided to ride STP this year. Worse, I decided to do it fast enough that I could finish before sunset, so that I wouldn't need to bring lights.

My plan was to keep this low-impact. I didn't want to have to drive a car up to the start at 4:45 am, and I certainly didn't want to make RandoGirl get out of bed to drive me up there then. After the ride, I wanted a simple way to get back home.

So Friday evening I carried a backpack with a change of clothes and toiletries over to the University of Washington campus and put it on the truck for Portland. Then Saturday morning my alarm went off at 4:30 and I left the house on my bike just after 5 am.

The streets were mostly empty, of course, as I passed over the Duwamish and through Georgetown. Just east of I-5, my Wahoo GPS popped up with a warning that the battery on my electronic shifting was low. I had just plugged my beloved Bianchi in two days earlier to top off the battery, and decided that this must be an error ... some kind of mis-calibration.

(Cue ominous foreboding music.)

I hit the route just south of where the "real" route left the Lake Washington Loop, my shortcut from home shaving almost half a mile from the full course. Although my legs were thus much more fresh than those of my fellow riders, many of them continued to pass me as we headed into the sea of traffic lights known as Renton.

There was a broad array of skillsets and fitness on display here. Large groups would zoom past just to get caught at the next traffic light. Wide bunches would weave about the lane chatting about their grandkids or listening to bluetooth speakers bolted to their handlebars or just churning and chuffing and offering up their suffering like supplicants in hair shirts.

(If you look closely, you can see Mount Rainier in this picture.)

It would have been nice to sit in on a good group here. It would have been nice to sit in on a good group at any point during the day. However, such respite remained unavailable to me. Maybe I'm too picky, or maybe I missed the "good" groups, but any time a bunch of riders came by that appealed to me I would join them for a mile or two and then we would suck up some squirrelly miscreant that would start surging or couldn't hold a line or would run a stop sign to the obvious ire of the screeching tires and blaring horn of a loudly cursing nun.

So I rode alone awash in a cycling sea of humanity, feeling like an aborigine on a crowded New York subway train. Occasionally I would chat with another rider, but most of our interchanges were along the "On your left" and "Good morning" variety. More often, a string of riders would form behind me, like remoras trailing a grizzled Great White, happily bobbing in my wake as I lumbered stupidly on.

Although STP is a supported ride, I had skipped all of the stops through Puyallup. At the top of the climb past there, however, I made a brief stop for coffee.

Caffeine is the REAL racer's edge.

Just past Spanaway, the route turned onto the grounds of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Signs there warned against taking photographs, with penalties of fines and imprisonment. I looked around and noticed bunches of GoPros on riders helmets, capturing every moment of the ride's epic-ness (epicocity?). But since I'm a rule-player, this picture is NOT from on the base. Honest.

Speaking of rules, the Cascade Bicycle Club was also very clear on riders' use of headphones on the ride. I'm sure that all of the earbuds that I saw jammed into peoples' heads were really hearing aids. Made by Apple.

I had just left the base and was almost a third of the way into the ride when my electronic shifting completely quit. Ordinarily, with Shimano Di2, when the battery is dying it first stops shifting in front; however, I had been big-ringing everything for the past 20 miles, so it had no recourse but to just leave me in the middle on the back and big ring up front. I pulled over to make sure that it wasn't a loose connection, but the little red lights do not lie: My battery was bereft.

Now, I had just been thinking earlier in my mindless musings that this would be a good route to ride on a single-speed bike. The wind was predominantly out of the north pushing me along, and the hills were mostly of the long lumps and/or gentle roller variety. In 2008, I rode my Salsa Casseroll on a fleche that went over the mountains between Tennessee and Alabama, so if I could ride 240 miles through that then surely I could do the next 135 now.

But I was young in 2008, and had all kinds of fitness left over from riding the Rocky Mountain 1200K earlier that month. Could I do the next 135 miles using only the gear to which my lack of juice had sentenced me? Yes. Could I finish by dark? Possibly.

But I want to.

Amazingly, one mile down the road was a rest step. Even better, it had a bike support tent that had been set up by the Montlake Bicycle Shop. I asked the mechanic there -- Gary TeGantvoort -- if he had a Di2 charger. He said no, but that he did have a Di2 battery that he had thrown in the box at the last minute.

So Gary proceeded to finagle the battery out of the seat post on my Bianchi.

And put his almost-fresh one in. Voila! I was back in business.

After profusely thanking Gary and promising to return his battery on Monday, I topped off my bottles and headed back out. In Yelm, we got on a multi-use trail for a few miles.

While it's nice to have these trails, I wish that they would pave them using at least some of the same standards that they use for roads. The lumps from trees pushing up the pavement are always in the shade, and they get tiresome.

In Bucoda the multi-use trail ended, and a few miles later we were at the mid-point of the ride at Centralia College. There were banners and a few folks cheering, and many riders gladly hit the beer garden set up there. It was not yet 11:30, however, and I still had over 100 miles to go. So I headed straight for the food trucks in the back.

I got a pretty good sandwich and an order of fried pickles, seeking to stave off the kind of cramps common for a ride of this effort and length -- not to mention the heat quickly ascending upon us. Chatting with some fellow riders and their families at one of the picnic tables, I learned that some folks had started a little earlier than the posted 5 am time.

This did not surprise me, since I had been passing people all day that did not seem like the types who had gone out too hard too fast earlier and were now spent. Sure, there were lots of those, but there were also a lot of people whom I would not have picked as cyclists if I met them on a bus or on the street ... or at a hot-dog eating contest. I certainly wouldn't have pegged them as cyclists capable of riding a century, much less riding 205 miles.

But I continued to see these people, even after leaving Centralia. They were obviously suffering , particularly on the hills or in long sun-filled stretches. Many of them had loved ones in cars and vans that would pull over on the side of the road and wait for them to come by for support. And maybe some crawled into those cars and vans and decided that today was not their day. But to the ones that I saw who were still out there trying, and to the ones who made it all the way: Congratulations. Your achievements dwarf those of the other cyclists who ride STP.

As, frankly, does your belly.

(Classic RandoBoy Snark. Patent pending.)

Leaving Centralia, we wandered briefly into farmland before passing through Chehalis.

I had picked up a few remoras who thought that I knew the route. We got passed at an intersection by a couple of fellows that I could only assume were Mormon missionaries -- white shirts, ties, black pants, and no helmets. They took a left, and for some reason I followed them for about 50 yards until my GPS started flashing red.

"Beware false prophets," I said to myself, making a quick U-turn.

The next few miles had us weaving through lovely fields along the interstate before heading off to Napavine and Evaline. A young lady got on my wheel here, and was one of the few who said something to make her presence known. When I stopped in Winslow to refill my bottles, I realized that she was wearing a long-sleeve cotton shirt and cut-off blue jeans, and that she was riding what looked like a heavy steel commuter bike -- complete with fenders.

Again, however, she had been good on my wheel and was riding strong, and I have little doubt that she was able to make it all the way to Portland that day. "You can't judge a book by its cover," I thought, considering that maybe I shouldn't be so picky about who I'm willing to sit in on. But then, there's a big difference between paying too much for a crappy paperback at the airport and being the third guy in the pileup caused by a conflagration of Freds.

And so I rode on, alone in an ocean of Orbeas. I confronted Vader, and began to sense an eruption in the saddle area as I came even with Mount St. Helens at Castle Rock. When I got low on fluid, I typically bypassed the official rest areas and opted instead for the nearby convenience store. They had ice and a better array of drink choices, and I could grab a Payday candy bar to eat on the road.

Near mile 150, we entered Kelso and Longview. Climbing the Lewis and Clark Bridge, you get your first view of the Columbia River ... and the millions of logs awaiting transformation into trusses.

As you would expect -- it being the only bridge over the river between Astoria and Portland -- the road was busy, and I was ecstatic to reach the other side.

It was now officially hot, and there was not much shade on Hwy 30 in the middle of the afternoon, so I just put my head down and motored as best I could. There were a few official SAG spots along this stretch, and I hit one to fill bottles and use the facilities. I wondered if I looked as tired and beat as the other riders there, sprawled and sweating under the tent.

My bottles were nearly empty as I hit the outskirts of Portland. With over three hours of daylight left, I should have stopped at one of the McDonald's or other fast-food options for a break and to fill my gut, but I kept thinking that if I did that then I might get a flat or some other delay that might imperil my no-night-riding goal. And thus I soldiered on.

I was ecstatic to cross this bridge into the city proper with a group of riders, although at this point I was also beginning to feel queasy. "Should've stopped at McDonald's," I told myself again.

The day had taken its toll by now, and the last seven miles to the finish line were a brobdingnagian effort. After rolling under the banner and waving back at the cheering crowds, I collapsed onto a park bench, half in the sun. A lady selling bicycle jewelry (not jewelry for your bike, since that would be crazy, but jewelry that was cycling-themed -- you know?) gave me three much-needed mini-Tootsie rolls. After a couple of minutes, I was able to stumble over to a food vendor and get a strawberry lemonade and a Diet Coke. Then, I just sat.

Batteries now less drained, I retrieved my backpack from the drop and checked into my hotel a mile away. Pouring myself a bath, I couldn't unzip by jersey because of all of the salt.

Suddenly, the way people had been looking at me for the past few hours made sense.

I walked to a pizza place for dinner, and then picked up a few bottles of water to drink during the night and an ice pack for my left knee. I spent a fitful night fraught with twitching legs and sore joints before checking out of my hotel and going for a doughnut.

It was early enough on a Sunday morning that the beleaguered night people were still about, slowly dissipating as the next shift clocked in driving SUVs on their way to a non-denominational service. I bought one old fellow a doughnut because he asked me to, and a cup of coffee because he needed it. Then I headed for the train station and caught the 8:20 back to Seattle.

I won't do this ride again, at least not in one day. I'm glad that I did it once, if for no other reason than because it is supposedly a core Seattle cyclist experience. But it was the kind of experience for which I am frankly getting to be too old. I obviously still have the ability, but the interest is gone.