Friday, August 31, 2018

Portland Century, 2018 edition

We arrived at the start line venue to the usual excitement and hub bub of pinning on bib numbers, throwing back coffee and breakfast goodies. There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes of these events.  I know the organizers and staff have been hard at work for the weeks leading up to the event, and had their alarms set for 3am this morning.

I rolled out, expecting to take Stark Street down hill to the Stark Street bridge over the Sandy River, but instead we made our way north to Troutdale proper and took the other bridge.  This is what I get for not reviewing the route, but I do like surprises.
The next surprise was taking a left on Woodard Street.  Woodard is the descent after the hill option on my French Toast ride, and I'd never ridden up it.  My legs were fresh, the temperature was perfect, and it was a fun climb.
Soon I saw one of the unobtrusive but widely available SAG drivers go by.  The driver slowed, looking for my thumbs up and was easily recognizable by the black and yellow striped tape on the vehicle. 
Women's Forum made the perfect venue for our first full rest stop.  Fresh fruit, lots of friendly faces and plenty of photo ops!
Quite a bit of Bull Run climbing later, we arrived at this lovely lunch spot.  I enjoyed a cheese and pickle sandwich with a ton of mustard.

More climbing ensued and I encountered a rider whose pauls had been crushed, right near Paul Road!  I called in for SAG relief for the paul-crusher and continued on.

Arriving at the turn off for 75 vs 100 miles, I thought I'd take the short way.  Just then a gentleman I'd met at lunch came along and said "you're not flaking, are you?".  So I took the long way.

Many very trafficky highway miles later, passing through Estacada in the heat of the day, with yet more hills ahead, I decided to call it a day and head home.  I still rode 80 miles, but between the smoky air and heat, I surrendered.

Friday, July 27, 2018

My Ride to Defeat ALS

(Also published on Bike Portland, 7/27/18)

I'm not sure whether to feel terrible for Lou Gehrig because he died young from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), or because his name has become almost synonymous with this debilitating and often fatal disease instead of for his illustrious career as a talented professional baseball player.  He seemed to have a good attitude though and is quoted on Wikipedia as having said:
"I intend to hold on as long as possible and then if the inevitable comes, I will accept it philosophically and hope for the best. That's all we can do."
I didn't know much about ALS before joining the Ride to Defeat ALS last Saturday.  75 miles gave me a lot of time to think about the privilege of good health, and the struggle of the folks diagnosed with ALS, and their families.  ALS is a motor neurone disease, weakening the victim's muscles until eventually they're unable to breathe.  A diagnosis usually means the patient will die within five years.

That five year mark is especially meaningful to me.  I'll never forget the day my best friend called to tell me he had tested positive for AIDS and just wished to live five years.  That was the early 1990s, before the HIV-fighting drug cocktail was invented.  He died almost exactly five years after his diagnosis, at age 30.  This may seem like a tangent from ALS, but 22 years later, I still live with the grief of losing a loved one. 

Vision Zero also comes to mind.  Our aspiration to prevent tragic traffic deaths is highly fueled by the fact that these deaths are preventable, and unnecessary.  We all deserve our full chance at hanging around this strange sapphire-colored sphere for as long as we'd like.
This year's local Ride to Defeat ALS raised over $167,000, exceeding their $150,000 goal.  These funds go to supporting programs and care services so they may be provided for free to ALS sufferers and their families.  Pretty inspirational stuff.

I've participated in many charity rides over the years, and of course, they're all worthwhile.  However, the Ride to Defeat ALS really set itself apart in my mind.  First, there was the army of ALS Association volunteers setting up at 5am on event day, so that riders could enjoy breakfast, get a bib number and slather on some sunscreen before heading out into the heat of the day.

The course was planned and marked by our amazing local event organization, Axiom Productions.  These are the fine folks behind our beloved Petal Pedal, Portland Century, Worst Day of the Year Ride, Tour de Lab and many more.  The route was absolutely stunning, featuring those stiff rolling hills and country roads we all love.

On course, one could see several motivational notes.  Each team had a roadside sign cheering them on.  Each huge hill had a series of white signs.  The first said something like "Fighting ALS", then "Is like climbing a hill", finally near the top "Don't ever give up!".  It reminded the riders why they'd worked hard to raise funds, and why they were pedaling all day.
As designated sweeper, my job was to hang out near the tail of the ride and offer medical, mechanical or moral support to any riders who needed it.  The trick here is not to reveal that you are the sweep, as no one wants to know they're in last place in a ride that's not a race.  I had the privilege of assisting one gentleman, who was riding his first event ride ever.  He'd purchased new shoes to try clipless pedals and couldn't clip out on either side.  I was able to catch him, get his cleats tightened and his pedals loosened.  Just a few small turns of an allen key, but he was grateful.

I spied the same farm stand I had stopped at for strawberries during the Petal Pedal, this time there were one pound bags of blueberries on display.  I ate as many as I could without getting sick, and tucked the rest away for later.  Roadside farm stands are a favorite roadie delight.
Hop fields make me thirsty for beer
The finish line offered quite a bit of fanfare.  First you pass through the great red arch, and there's a team of folks ringing bells and whistling and cheering.  You can't help but smile.  Then a nice lady runs up and hands you a cold wet washcloth.  As you enjoy that, another lady approaches and hands you a school-lunch-sized box of chocolate milk.  Finally, they put a small medal around your neck.  
The finish line feast, which was served within the Mt. Angel Community Festhalle, included more dishes than I can recall.  There were at least five types of sausage, and many pickled things.  I ate more bags of kettle chips than I'll admit in writing.  And, of course, there was beer, and souvenir pint glasses, for everyone.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Pedalpalooza 2018

June is a magical time of year in Portland, Oregon, where cyclists own the streets, and can be found roaming them in packs.  June is Pedalpalooza.  Bike fun abounds.  Anyone can organize any sort of ride and put it on the calendar.  Rides range from unicorn-themed to rolling foosball to casual centuries to protest rides - you name it!
I had the honor of leading the KickOff ride this year, which attracted a crowd of 1200 people.  It was scheduled for the day after the Northback ended, so I had to get all of my ducks in a neat little row before leaving for that trip.  It was a good chance to practice my social media pre-publishing skills, creating hype and setting expectations for the ride.

Right off, there were concerns about my route being 15 miles long.  I made it clear to all that there were three rides, and three distances, and three park stops, and three chances to create your own adventure.  The first, "child friendly" would take us seven miles to Normandale Park.  The second, "teenager ride" took us three additional miles to Wilshire Park.  Finally, the "grown up portion" took us to Overlook Park.

I added a tall bike detour, in part because I wanted to give the complainers something obvious to complain about (which worked well), and in part because I wanted to take riders over the cool curly-cue pedestrian overpass that the French Toast ride used to frequent.
It was a special treat to have this huge community trust me to follow me through the streets of Portland.  One of my favorite parts was the heart-shaped loop we took through Ladd's Addition, which led to the head waiting for the tail to cross.  What a delight!

Another highlight was seeing five (!) of the nine Northback riders, one of whom I hadn't seen since the fateful day two.  Yet another highlight was how smoothly the evening went, the lack of crashes requiring ambulance intervention, and how so many riders came to me to say thank you.  My very favorite part was being accompanied by new friend Sole, leader of the Corvidae bike club, and having her in radio contact with the rear guard to ensure all went well.

There's no photo evidence, but I joined the Rocky Butte Sunset Dance Party ride, and that was pretty fun.  One of the best parts is the "race to the top" and I enjoyed going fast up the little hill that is Rocky Butte.  The dance party was fun, too, although I'll admit I really missed the disco ball.

The next Pedalpalooza ride I attended was the Wonder Women ride, which was led by a lady from my bikey networking group: the Portland Society.  Riders dressed as Wonder Women, and there were lots of different versions and interpretations of what that meant.  I wore bike shorts and a red jersey, silver shoes and golden arm gauntlets.  I started out with a black tutu as well, but had to ditch it due to leg chafe.  We rode to several parks, and splashed about in fountains.  At our last park stop, we enjoyed a water balloon tussle.
My eighth annual Swim Across Portland went swimmingly.  Nine riders came, which was a huge relief.  I had worried we'd have a giant number, more giant than the pool lines can accommodate quickly.  A rider from previous years sent me a laundry list of complaints about the ride including that it was too fast and that climbing the biggest hill in Portland wasn't fun.  Considering I'd be climbing up to Silver Falls during a century ride the day before, my sympathy ran shallow.  

It's always a surprise when people invited to a bike ride complain that there's an actual bike ride involved.  Realizing I'd better be very clear in setting expectations, I sent a long list of warnings to potential pedalpalooza riders with items like "sorry we go so fast (10 mph), sorry it's a drop ride (maps provided), sorry there's a 500' hill".  I then invited my personal friends with a completely different warning list "sorry we'll ride so slow (remember it's a social ride), sorry it's such a short ride, sorry it's almost completely flat".  Different strokes for different folks!
Popina Swimwear generously hosted an after party for us, with free beer and a discount on fancy swim suits.  One of the riders asked if I was miffed that there was another swim ride on the Pedalpalooza calendar.  I was the opposite of miffed and excited to hear of it, and we took off to join the Dock O'Clock ride, which took us to three Willamette River swim spots and a beach bonfire party.  All in all, I rode 45 miles that day and went swimming 6 times!  I'm kind of starting to feel ready for my triathlon. 

And, so, that was my Pedalpalooza for 2018.  I didn't attend many rides, because I was off in the valley riding fred centuries a few of the weekends.  And, now, to Afterpalooza!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Petal Pedal 2018

covered bridge from the outside
covered bridge from the inside!
When I first moved to Oregon, I thought the Century Farm was one giant conglomeration of farms dominating the countryside of the rural Willamette Valley.  I learned later that's just what they call farms that have been in business for a hundred years.  Anyway, rode sweep for a century ride Saturday and passed a lot of Century farms.

Sweeping a century, or hanging out toward the back to ensure all riders are doing fine, reminds me of a short story by Stephen King, where time rushes up behind the present to swallow everyone and everything.  That's what sweeping feels like to me.  As I arrived at each (bountiful!) rest stop, they were dismantling the tent, parsing out left over food and getting ready to go home.

The century I rode is called the Petal Pedal, and it took us through the stunning countryside all around Silverton and Silver Falls.  I gasped and wowed as we passed field after field of lavender, searing orange blooms, soft pink patches, pale green mystery blossoms, pear trees, apple trees, orchards of all sorts - all with scents to delight.  We saw raspberries, strawberries, hops on strings, and a giant daisy patch (which I got to pass twice!).  Neatly planted rows of crops dazzled with their orderliness. 
photo credit: Sarah (fog credit: Sarah's sweaty back pocket)
It was mostly cloudy all day, and the climbing didn't feel like climbing at all.  I rode with two of the Swift Summit 200 finishers from last year, and knew the race director would be proud of the community of riders he connected.  We swapped tales of our Swift strategies and I learned that last year Sarah taped a cheat sheet to her top tube with a detailed list of the tops of hills.  Chris shared that he was determined to scratch but the nice people at the control simply wouldn't let him.

I lost them in the afternoon after stopping at a farm stand.  I grew up on a strawberry farm and eating a whole pint of freshly picked strawberries took me right back.  I had an opportunity to chat with the farmer, who told me Oregon is known for its strawberries.  My fingers red and sticky, I continued on.
cemetery rest stop
Two dudes wearing teal were ahead of me, and it looked like they were lying down on the tarmac.  The sun and the miles can play tricks on your eyes, but as I got closer, I could see that they were scrambling up and out of the road.  I pulled up next to them and asked if they were ok.  They were both shaken up and one had a bleeding finger.  An oncoming vehicle was being passed and the passer hadn't seen the cyclists.  The front cyclist slammed his brakes on and the back cyclist hit him.

We ate some berries together, discussing different ways fingers can get dyed red, when the passing driver who caused the crash pulled up.  She was extremely apologetic and concerned that the riders and their bikes were okay.  It was nice to witness some humane treatment from a motor vehicle operator instead of the hateful harassment we are often faced with as vulnerable road users.

I hung back with the two teal guys and played my music loudly, alternating between riding fast and slow.  Some call those intervals, others call me a yo-yo.  Whatever it is, I like it.  I arrived at the finish line just in time to drink one of the last beers and enjoy prime rib with all the trimmings.  Everything was delicious and that's not just the miles talking.  In addition to the finish line feast, each rest stop offered a thoughtful variety of snacks, one with a full lunch of chicken sliders, cole slaw, chips and pasta salad. 
we're not in Portland anymore
The Oregon Garden is likely the very best venue for anything in the whole state of Oregon.  The grounds, the resort, the big festive hall where riders ate breakfast and pinned on bibs and returned to celebrate after finishing - all if it was sumptuous and welcoming.  It was an amazing event with top notch support, beautiful countryside and a fun gang of riders.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Northback

Nine of us started off from Bend on the first ever Northback.  Only one rider opted for the planned 65 mile route on day one, with the rest running from the rain on a shorter "cheater" route option.  We had quite a cast of characters:

Cosmo, aka Guru Greg
Handsome James

Quit Quitting Keith
Jason of Team Biscuit

Side Quest Eric (Nylon in background)
Bicycle Kitty

Linda the Fisher
We ran into private property on what was supposed to be a public gravel road taking us off of Alfalfa Market Road.  So we stayed on Alfalfa Market Road, and stopped at the Alfalfa Store, which is not called the Alfalfa Market for some reason. Reservoir Road was pleasant and offered lots of gravel offshoot options for exploration.  We intersected with the original Outback route, and headed north to the Crooked River, landing at Cobble Rock Camp to settle in for the evening.

Before dinner, a few of us followed Guru Greg directly up to Chimney Rock.  Scrambling up the steep hillside in my cheap camp shoes may not have been the best decision.  Finally at the top, I took a more-established looking trail to get back down.  It took more than an hour, during which time I was alone and a little freaked out about being lost in the wilderness with nothing more than a hat and a lipstick.  The trail eventually led back down to the road and I walked another half mile to get back to camp.  I expected everyone to be relieved to see me, and on the verge of sending a rescue party, but everyone was making dinner as if nothing had happened.
We left camp on day two full of high hopes for riding through the Ochoco Mountains.  After a shopping stop in Prineville, we headed north on McKay Creek Road.  It was already hot when Nylon got the first of many flat tires.  Soon we were in the thick of the forest, climbing on gravel.  I was alone again, when I saw four of our group coming toward me.  They’d turned back after encountering another private road, one of many that my routing software took us through.  Exhausted, disappointed at not reaching Priesthole to camp on the John Day River, we bedded down in a nice clearing.  I hung my pink bandana as a marker near the road, but two riders never showed up.

Day three was our earliest start at 7am.  We knew we’d have miles to make up and decided together to re-route to the highway to Spray to save time.  It was beautiful riding along the John Day River at last and into a long winding canyon through the Umatilla National Forest.  I ran out of water, even though I’d had 5 liters with me to start.  It was very hot and there was barely any shade.  I waved down a man in a pick up truck who told me he had no water, but pointed to the vehicle behind him and said “but they do!”.  They insisted I take all I could from their 5 gallon jug as they were on their way home and not planning to use it.  I overheard the man say two things to his wife while I was filling my bottles: “This isn’t the city, we stop to help people out here” and “You’d fit right in in downtown Portland”.

We climbed and climbed, passing inviting campgrounds and watching the sun set.  Guru Greg patiently listened to my complaints about the neverending climb.  Soon he was whooping and hollering - we had arrived at a sign marked "summit".  We arrived at the Anson Wright Campground after 87 hard miles.  I went directly to the showers, taking my bike in with me, before finding the group.  Everyone was going to bed and we were now in the dark on the whereabouts of three riders.

Six of us left camp on day four, me without my gloves.  I could’ve sworn I’d left them by the shower, but no luck.  All day I kept “finding” them mentally so I'd stop and ravage my packs to look.  Riding without padding, my hands exposed to the high desert sun was so tough that I’d occasionally don my Swobo full finger wool gloves.
Arriving in the tiny berg of Hardman, I felt good.  Legs strong, spirits high.  The gravel Hardman Ridge Road presented itself and we took it.  It was pretty slow going.  I saw Porcupine Lane and checked my map – a shortcut!  I took it.  A few lines on the map turned out to be a dozen extra hilly miles.

The headwinds turned on high on the stretch to Condon and every downhill required pedaling. This turned out to be only a one cry day, but that one cry lasted at least an hour.  Rolling into Condon felt glorious.  Little U.S. flags lined the sweet homey main street.  There was a drive-in burger joint that looked like it time-traveled here from the 1950s.
My odometer told me it was 5:05pm and the diner’s sign said they close at 5.  It almost became a two cry day but a lady opened the window and said she’d make me whatever I wanted.  Burger and fries and lemonade from heaven, extra large.  The best I’d ever had.  I was exhausted.  I texted the remaining riders that I’d be staying in Condon.  I envisioned getting a job and a studio apartment there and giving up this crazy cycling hobby.

Batteries low, I stopped at a market facing a funny outdoor electrical outlet.  I plugged my phone in, and, still punchy, had to go In the market three separate times to get everything I needed.  An old pick up truck, really old and clunky, pulled up.  In the time it took me to refill my water bottles, the driver got out of his car.  He walked as slow as anyone I’d ever seen.  When he finally came around the car and onto the sidewalk, I got a good look at him.  At least 90 years old.  An old farmer, maybe the son of a homesteader.  He had that homestead rough and tumble, make-it-work look that saturates the area.  I offered him my excess oatmeal packets and he smiled, saying “I eat this all the time!”.  He asked if I’d ridden my bike here and when I answered “everywhere I go”, he told me he’d been a bike rider too.
I don’t recall when I started seeing the turbines.  Tall and massive, but slender, each spinning at its own rhythm, I found them mesmerizing and had to force myself to look away. I didn’t know then that we’d have hundreds of these white giants as company over the next day and a half.

The landscape was shaped like a blanket waiting to be smoothed out.  Each wrinkle would reveal a little white dot, which would become a blade of a turbine.  As we moved across the landscape, more turbines would appear, like an army slowly marching toward us.
Cottonwood Canyon is a place I'd never heard of.  I found it on the map and routed us through it.  It was a marvel of a wind tunnel, with beautifully soft walls enclosing it.  It was so windy there, each campsite had a wooden wall to act as a wind barrier.  As I rolled in, just after dusk, I spied one of the riders I hadn't seen since day two.  Linda, who we'd missed the night before, had found my gloves at the showers that morning, but, thinking we must've been gone, picked them up and left.  I was glad to have them.

Day five was another early depart, and another long climb to start the day.  Another afternoon of windfarms and sagebrush and of course, headwinds.  Grass Valley was ghostly.  The post office and its clerk, who informed me "I'm a trainee!", were like a cartoon from a bygone era.  I picked up my box and packed it with extra stuff, my trash and raincoat.  It rained a little that afternoon, and I felt like I deserved it. 
Descending into the DesChutes River valley is enough to make you fall in love with that river.  It's big and powerful and it rages.  And it lives in the steepest stone-walled canyon I've ever seen.  I gasped and gasped, wowed and awed.  I felt scared, not of falling, or of getting hurt, but of the bigness of this earth and the smallness of me.
Curling down the river, riding upstream but feeling downhill and easy, we started to see little houses on impossibly high ledges.  We'd arrived in Maupin, a sweet little town straddling the river and offering all the creature comforts one could want.  Some riders enjoyed a cabin while the rest of us camped by the river.
We left camp at 7:30am the next day, day six, but we could've left at 9:30am with the same result.  Riding to and from another private, impassable "road" made for 15 bonus miles.  Blood boiled and I began to think I'd have no friends by the end of the trip.
The highway from Mapin was hot and unprotected and full of traffic.  I was thankful to meet flaggers holding groups of 5 vehicles each way, as I could pull aside while semis screamed by, then own the road again for a time.

I'd hoped and hoped for a vending machine at the rest stop, but no such luck.  A lady in the bathroom asked where I was riding.  I said if Bend is the sink, and the high ceiling is the Columbia, River, we'd done a wide arching circle between the two.

Onward and downward, I coasted to a halt by a gentleman wearing a pink t-shirt, leaning against his bike and smoking a cigarette.  He had nothing with him and was traveling to Portland by way of The Dalles.  He asked if I had a Clif Bar to spare, but I didn't, so I gave him a pack of raw ramen instead with the advice to pretend it was Japanese crackers.

I finally saw another rider from our group after entering Madras, but we immediately lost each other so I stopped to buy beer.  The home stretch to Lake Billy Chinook seemed to take forever.  Several times I stopped to check if my tire was flat or if my brake was rubbing or maybe my headset was loose.  The bike was so slow and wobbly.  There was nothing wrong though, just a tired rider.
The descent into the Lake Billy Chinook canyon was just gorgeous.  Our group campsite was huge, and came with free firewood.  Seven of us made it to this final night and we celebrated by the campfire for many hours.
The last day was the most eventful.  Again we started the day climbing up and out, which spread the group out.  The gravel road called Squaw Flat was hauntingly peaceful.  I'm glad I stayed on it because three riders took the planned route, which yet again led through private property, after a long gravel downhill with no dead-end warning signs.
I don't blame them for climbing the fence, but I wish they hadn't.  The land owner promptly called state troopers, who promptly found me and another rider on the public road.  He showed us photos of our friends and asked if we knew them.  I told him of our routing difficulties and he quickly produced a little orange card with instructions on how to download Avenza, which I will use in the future.
We saw the trooper three times all told.  By the third time, we felt like friends.  He was quite charming but warned there may be citations of up to $6000 each.  The worst part was that the landowner requested that I receive one of those high dollar tickets, since I was the route planner. After that drama ended, we found the network of gravel roads slowly leading us to Sisters and the end of our adventure.  I felt sad and already homesick for vacation.  I was also filthy and physically exhausted, with swollen eyes and lips, and glad to be done.
A well-kept homesteader cemetery
Our finish line party took place first at Three Creeks Brewing, then at EuroSports.  We swapped tales of trespassing, of bonus miles and apologies, and of plans to try again next year.