Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Oregon Outback, 2015 Edition

It's hard to even know where the story begins.  Do I start with last year's ride?  No, no one wants to hear about last year.  What about the taste of fame I enjoyed afterwards?  Or my team for this year?  The emails, team meetings and exhaustive preparations?  Our team Shakedown ride?  Nah, that's its own story. How 'bout on the way to the train station Thursday morning.

I stopped at Missing Link to say goodbye and wish their Outback team good luck.  I swung by Seven Corners, where Cory cautioned me about my worn out cleats.  I rode by People's, where a goggle of bikepackers were hanging about.  I didn't recognize any of 'em: out of towners!  These guys, who lacked a team name, rode to Portland from Winnepeg on gravel and back roads.  I led them downtown to the station, which felt like having six not so tiny ducks in a string behind me.  A passerby shouted "Have fun on the Outback!" as we crossed the Hawthorne Bridge together.
The hubbub at the station, the bikes, the people (so many cool people from all over the place), the SWAG, the hugs, the gear geeking - all of it just lit me on fire.  I met a gentleman who looked like he'd walked right out of Handsome Guy magazine.  Turns out he was tweeting for Bicycling Magazine, and writes a blog called Everything Will Be Noble.  He gave me a postcard filled with stickers, one of which read "Route Feminent"! If you know of my fixation with rando riding, and my disappointment at being marked out as an F on my R12 listing, you'll know this sticker blew my mind.
Amtrak let us roll our bikes on this year instead of boxing them.  What a treat.  However, they didn't put us all on the same train car, so that diluted the party atmosphere.  But things still felt festive, especially in the bar car and later on at the pub in Klamath Falls.

The mood the next morning was a bit quieter, probably due to the early hour.  My team was scheduled to meet in front of the Maverick hotel at 6:55am.  Two of us were missing and we wouldn't see either of them again (on the trip).  Eric, the Shitkicker, handed me a cool embroidered Oregon Outback patch.  Everyone exchanged high fives and took pictures.  Donnie wasn't there to say "don't die" and he was missed.  7am came and off we went.

Day One: Klamath Falls to Sprague River

The first day was super fun.  The path was crowded.  I sailed through a small regatta of cows mid-morning, just before the rain started.  It had been misty, a sort of dry rain, but soon it was undeniably wet.  We ducked into an old horse barn from the OCE trail and watched riders go by.
I couldn't help but think of my trainer, Shawn, as I pushed my rig back up the steep embankment back to the path.  Sure, my team name was "Training Is For (Expletive Deleted)" but I cheated.  Just then, a rider slowed and asked "Are you Maria?".  "You're the reason I'm here!".  I about fell over.  Dennis had brought his team of five roadie friends, Team HardRoads, all the way from San Francisco, after hearing the interview with Donnie and me on the KBOO Bike Show last year.

I recalled saying something about being a roadie, not a mountain biker, and telling listeners that anyone can ride the Oregon Outback.  Sure, you'll need the right gear and preparations, but this adventure is open to anyone.  Dennis and his friends heard me, and they came.  Suddenly the rain wasn't bothersome at all.

Later on, riding with my teammates again, we agreed to match our pace to the hour.  I think it was around 9:30am then.  At 10am, we rode 10mph.  At one, we stopped at the Sprague River cafe.  I learned from some locals that Sprague rhymes with vague, not mosque as I had previously thought.  The nice man at the cafe told me last year 's Outback created his biggest revenue day of the year and he was disappointed he hadn't prepared for us this year, because he didn't know we were coming. 
We made our camp along the river in a tight little cluster of fir trees, with features like soft beds and a place for a hammock and tarp.  It felt like a fairyville in the forest.  We were each dry and comfortable and could see each other from our little haunts.  We even had a visitor, Nick (there was no shortage of Nicks!) , who sat under my vestibule on a pillow.  Quite cozy.  We shared our team's signature cocktail, Fire And Ice, and were soon off to la la land.

Day Two: Sprague River to Silver Lake
Gal-dang it, I love a trip with numbered days. Keep in mind though, that some riders, including a chap named Billy Truelove, were done by lunchtime on this day.  In any case, today was race day for the team, as we were due at the Cowboy Dinner Tree by 4pm. To make it on time, I tapped into my inner rando and carefully kept track of miles and time cut offs.

Most of the team was ahead of me, so imagine my surprise when I pulled in to see only Clod.  By the time we sat down, Shitkicker and Emocrush slid in with us.  That still left four open seats.  Soon, we saw a friend from the Komorebi team and her riding partner and asked them to join us.
This restaurant is a cultural center in my mind.  Although the food is the real draw, people come back for the genuine homesteader atmosphere.  We enjoyed the crazy onslaught of delicious food and I was happy to have skipped lunch.  Grinda showed up, an hour late, but still enough time for steak.  Tears flowed almost as quickly as the strawberry lemonade.  NoNickname was two hours late, but seemed satisfied with leftovers.
Earlier in the day, I noticed a car and a u-haul trailer talking with some bikepacker-looking folks.  Then I saw it again.  And again, when it parked in the grass at Silver Lake's quiet city park.  This is what brought the sheriff out late at night with his flood light and booming voice.  Instead of being put out, he was inquisitive about the ride and confessed his own plans to try it one day.

My hackles felt hackly.  Cars help bike adventure in so many great ways.  But driving along, on dirt and gravel, on our "fully self-supported" trip, just felt like buzzkill to me.  I sincerely hope this self-supported adventure doesn't become a SAGathon, at least not during the event week itself.  Luckily, the buzz was not killed as they were gone when we awoke and we never saw them again.

Day Three: Silver Lake to Sand Springs
The buzz was alive and kickin' as we rolled into the Fort Rock Tavern the next morning.  Within the tavern, we met a posse of guys who all looked like they'd just stumbled from the pages of Cute Bike Boy magazine.  One of 'em was even on a tall bike.  We drank beer and ate fries, then rolled north on Pitcher Road.  They stopped after a while to share face paint.  I opted for colored hearts on my cheeks. I don't know if they had a team name, but to me they were the California Clown Posse.
Soon it was Red Sauce time.  This is the section of super loose sand we'd all been dreading.  Especially me.  But, behold!  The red sauce had been magically transformed into a much more ride friendly surface, which I would like to anoint The Brown Gravy.  Gravy like bike messengers get as opposed to the greasy brown condiment.  Soft and reliable, and not as hot feeling since it wasn't as bright red; it was the perfect example of how terrain changes with time.
This was our only night with a campfire, which I extinguished with poop.  Just kidding, I extinguished it with water I took out of the Sand Springs spring, which was otherwise unusable.  Still, I couldn't resist scrambling down to the hidden little pond-like spring.  Just to sit and hear the silence there felt good.

Day Four: Sand Springs to Prineville
The ride to Prineville was punctuated with rolling hills.  Just when I thought I couldn't go on, much less go any faster, James panted up next to me, on his brand new Gravity fat bike.  We raced to the top.  Exhausted but in high spirits, we kept the small sprints going all the way to Prineville.

The reservoir wasn't quite as blue as I remembered, but it was still beautiful.  The water was much lower this year and not easily accessible beach-side, so we searched for a spigot at a campground.  If the Prineville Reservoir Visitor's Bureau asked me, I'd advise they put a giant spigot with a big sign at the entry to the reservoir area.  After all, this is the first water in almost eighty miles, and something to celebrate.
The patio at Dylan's Grill in Prineville is one of my favorite places.  Sun and shade, burgers and beers.  These treats, along with the first shower of the trip, felt downright glamorous.

NoNickname, who rode a $45 Craigslist Schwinn he described only as "purple", broke a spoke just outside of Prineville.  This was pretty lucky, since The Good Bike Co had announced on facebook they'd be on call for Outback riders.  Sure enough, the nice gentleman agreed to meet NoNick at the shop and even brought pizza and beer to share.

Day Five: Prineville to Antelope
This is the hardest riding day of the entire trip, but it's offset by the scenery.  The Ochocos and Trout Creek are simply beautiful.  Beautiful isn't even the right word.  Spectacular.  Pristine.  Rustic.  Sublime.  Where God goes to practice making heaven.
One of my teammates, nicknamed Mr Dithers, is no stranger to endurance cycling.  An accomplished randonneur and a prolific creator of a ton of permanent routes (many with gravel) creator, I had no worries at all about Mr Dithers' abilities.  We soon learned that he'd never been camping.  Never been loaded touring.  So, why not dive into the deep end and learn how to camp on the Oregon Outback?! 

Stopping to gather water at the creek, we experienced a great Mr Dithers moment.  While we filled our bottles and bladders, he unpacked a padded manilla envelope from his pannier.  Inside the envelope, he revealed a brand new water filter, still in its packaging.  Maybe he thought it would lose its value if it wasn't in the original box.  He held it up and asked if anyone knew how to use it.  Classic Mr D.
Later that day, after passing Ashwood and starting a series of endless-feeling climbs, a big truck went by us, on its way downhill.  The driver slowed way down but I was too tired and pushing too hard to stop and say hello.  A little while later, I heard a truck coming up behind me and saw it pass.  I looked up just in time to spy two of my teammies sitting in the truck bed with their bikes and a pair of gigantic grins.  I laughed so loudly, I may have offended our new friend.

This helpful truck driver was a local farmer, who'd been witnessing the outstretched nomadic habits of bikepackers over the past several days.  He seemed harmless and friendly, even offering us whiskey along with his warning "You won't make it to Antelope".  It was like something from a movie.
He did mention a movie to Mr Dithers, after inviting him in for a glass of water. The movie is called Deliverance and the detailed description that the farmer offered was enough to light a fire under that particular rider, who we didn't see again until Antelope. Yes, we did make it to Antelope.  A haunted feeling place.  We didn't see a single soul.  Those same morning doves from last year were coo-cooing hysterically and sent us off to sleep.

Day Six
A riot of birdsong woke us up the next morning, our last day on the road.  I felt sentimental during our nine mile climb to Shaniko.  Seeing the same gang from last year added to my mistyness.  They recalled my post office delivery from last year and asked if I had champagne and chips to offer again.  This was Team Leisure, made up of many members of last year's Whiskey And Wheelies gang.
On to Grass Valley.  First, we had to find the left onto Haggerty and off of I-97 with its adrenaline of double long semi trucks and RVs rushing past, just hairs away.  C'MON HAGGERTY I yelled several times.  Finally, back to our territory: the off-road serenity of gravel roads south of the Columbia Gorge.

There's a time during Spring in the Pacific Northwest when the sun is so high, it's hard to tell which way is south.  Mesmerized by heat and pebbles, I continued heading west.  I just put my head down, while my phone blared LeTigre loudly from the chest pocket of my pink cowboy shirt.  Which reminds me, if you haven't stopped at the Western Shop yet, make a point of it next time you're in Prineville.  I obtained a genuine cowboy shirt there this year for my nephew's 13th birthday.
Seven bonus miles later, I rolled up in front of the Grass Valley Cafe.  The image of a fresh cobb salad, topped with all good cobby things, disappeared quietly, like a picture in a book being slammed shut.  Not only was there no salad, there were no friends.  Not a soul.  My team would cross the finish line without me.  I sighed and started eating candy.

A flutter of rainbow flag caught my eye.  Nearby a neon open sign looked lit, so I headed over.  Cold drinks!  Crazy crystals!  Tons of riders reclined in the grass.  Bathrooms.  A water spigot.  I was elated.

We split up again, a few opting for pavement.  I don't like the trucks, so I tried my luck on gravel again.  Then another split up as some of us detoured on Van Gilder, which should be renamed van GLIDER.  We started to turn left and noticed Grinda coming up the hill from our right.  She was on her way from Moro. The undulation of the team felt like a snake getting longer, then shorter, head and tail far apart, but then close together again. 
The Fulton Canyon offers some of the longest, gentlest descending you'll find anywhere.  And just a gentle breeze.  That's right.  Although the Columbia Gorge is known hereabouts for dishing out a nasty gusty headwind, the kind of heartbreaker that makes riders push hard downhill to maintain 10 miles per hour, the wind was nowhere in sight today.

We were no longer on the ride, we were on the home stretch and it was a celebration.  We screamed and yelled and waved our arms around like lunatics.  Rolling into the park, our finish line, was one of the better moments I can ever remember living.

Here we were, a ragtag hodgepodge of a team that had come together to conquer the challenge of the Oregon Outback.  Some thought they might not finish.  Others were confident but cautious.  One had never been camping before.  But none of that mattered, because we did it, and we did it as a team. 
That was going to be the end of my story, but it turns out there's just a little bit more.  Terrible news was awaiting us when we returned.  It has nothing to do with the Outback, except that it offers some serious perspective.  Two cyclists were killed by cars in Portland while we were out joyriding in the desert.  Another lost a leg just before we left.  Safe Streets and Vision Zero are two movements I'd like to see spread as far and wide as the Oregon Outback.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Meet The Beavs

Eight ladies descended on Champoeg Park, expecting to ride through slog and hail on our Fourth Annual Tour de Beavers.  We headed south through the sunny Willamette Valley, stopping on the way to drink champagne and pose for silly pictures, eat and drink and be merry in Salem, and finally relax at a posh hotel in Corvallis.  The next day, we woke up to do it again in reverse, the entire time reveling in our meteorological good fortune.

There was Trish, light and fast.  A physical therapist and smart cookie, she gave me helpful career advice.

Then Susan, also speedy.  Susan and I share similar hair and she announced she had finally figured hers out, then helped me figure mine out. 

Sherri was absent due to injury, so we poured some out for her at the start of each day, and also at the champagne stash; hidden behind the same tree from the first Tour de Beavers.

Heidi spins a good yarn and even brought her knitting along.  She told how she recently learned to pee off the bike, without stopping and without making a mess.  True story.

Jennifer, young but so strong, and good to draft.  I need to make her a buddy flap so I can follow her around Portland. 

Michelle, steady atop her orange CoMotion, complete with couplings.  She's a kitchen sink packer and the yin to my minimalist yang. 

Linda led.  Also on my Outback team, Linda was our head planner and champagne stasher.  We'd be lost without her, quite literally.

The scent of a passing clover field in bloom reminds me of meeting MaryJean, several years ago now.  I quizzed her the next day on this reminiscent scent and she knew the right answer right away.

We started out as friends and acquaintances and even strangers, but all ended up as fast friends.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Ride Around Clark County

The Vancouver Bicycle Club's annual Ride Around Clark County century felt like coming home.  My involvement with this spectacular local club has fallen by the wayside, a casualty of so many other rides on the calendar.  Many people recognized me, and I grabbed a lot of hugs from a lot of good old friends, which felt great.  But it's not just the people that make it feel like home.

It's the roads.  These roads beg me to ride them.  They beckon me to push my personal speed limit.  Rollers seem to be everyone's favorite type of road, and there are no two alike.  The many variables include sight line distance, tarmac quality, length and angle of climb, etc (lots of etcetera).  But they all have one thing in common - they all go up and they all go down.

I stopped midway up one hill because my gears were clunking and my breath was panting.  I shoved a candy bar in and heard some dude say "slowpokes" as he rode by.  What the heck is wrong with people?  I remounted and wound Spooky up to catch this jerk.  Thanks to this lovely ti bike, I spun up quickly and caught them quite handily.

"Oh, it's you guys".  The Texan, and Derek from the Wheelmen.  Of course it wasn't some stranger calling me a slow poke.  Guess I have a hair trigger when it comes to accusations about bike speed, or lack of it.  Derek mentions he's going to shift down and let me go ahead, because he's out of shape.  My hair trigger rears its head again and I challenge him to race me to the top.

We match each other's pace for several breaths.  The hill would not relent, and neither would he.  He was slowly slipping ahead of me.  It's maybe twenty more yards to the top, maybe more; emotion and fatigue color measurement.  I had a tiny moment of awareness that I could push just a little harder.  So I did. And I caught him.  Passed him quickly and turned back in time to see him grimace.  I returned the look and stuck my tongue out and continued up.  Damn, it felt good.

The whole day felt good.  Looking down to check which ring I'm in, I see the blur of the asphalt underneath my pretty ti frame, and my standard cockpit with bell and computer and basket and sparkle sticker atop the stem.  Everything looked crystal clear and extra colorful.  There were many of those magic little moments that I always try to save up for a rainy day.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Why East

I arose at eight on Saturday, bathed til nine, and arrived in Troutdale at ten.  Almost the entire trip there is made up of bike paths, empty except for the odd roadie or dog walker.

I meet Scott and Luke and we continue east, along the Sandy River.  We head south into Bull Run.  A short stop at Waterworks and we're climbing again.

Then Shipley, and Marmot.  Those names are like a poem to me; a poem that recalls the start to so many adventures and triggers each rider to tell their eastbound tale.  Shipley's pavement is shitty, but that's ok.  It's quick to Marmot and my favorite meadows just west of Mount Hood.

"Wy'east!" I like to yell when I first see the mountain.  I slaughter the Indian fable to the Texan, but he doesn't seem to mind.  The mountain hides behind some trees that seem too small to hide a mountain.  Flirtatiously at first, then boldly, she shows herself to us.

A roadie in a green Belgium jersey zips by silently on vintage Mercx.  I would've been annoyed but some people are just naturally fast and there's nothing for it.

Brightwood is a bustling little two corners in the woods that features both a tavern and a store.  We learn there that the man in green, Eric, is training for his first one day Seattle To Portland.  Well, he climbed more hills Saturday than there are in six STPs.

Like unwinding a tensioned spring, we spend the afternoon undoing our morning miles.  Back to Marmot.  Down Shipley.  The ti bike feels like tailwinds all the time.  Even so, some of these hills begged me to walk them.  I refuse give in, except to stop twice and shove some candy in or change the song to a faster beat.

My riding partners, strong and stylish gents both, gave me the gift of wait; each time denying they had been there long.  This is a skill I long to practice, but rarely get the chance.  Everyone is just so blazingly fast.

We descend into the Sandy River Valley, along the new french toast route, over the Stark Street Bridge and back to the car at Otto Miller Park, which felt a lot like cheating.  Until our leader opened the trunk to reveal a cooler of finish line beer.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Oh La La French Toast

When last we visited, dear reader, your authoress had waffled over riding more permanents.  And, since then, the idea that nothing is permanent has been reinforced by a sudden change of scenery.

But, alas, like so many things that seem bad at first, change just serves as a reminder of the temporary nature of life and possessions.  And a reminder to me of what's really important: bike rides and the people that enjoy them.

Eight such people came to my house recently and ate some french toast.  We took a small journey eastward, one of my favorite directions, on an easy forty mile fiesta.  Playing plays a large part in happiness, and this day didn't skimp on it.

Six ladies and three men: a rare and novel gender ratio.  Fast riders and medium-paced riders.  All wearing smiles all day.  It felt like a tailwinds all day. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Sun Sets

I don't care to complain.
Or echo negativity.
I won't live a vindictive life.

My passion is pedaling.
And spreading it. 
My goal: fun.

I've been bullied before,
By better bullies,
They are their own victims.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Our Won

Everything started out fine.  Oatmeal.  Coffee.  It was a bit chillier in Eugene than it had been in Portland in the days leading up to this second attempt of the Alsea Falls 200K permanent.  So cold that puddles were frozen over.  So cold that I took turns putting a hand in my pocket with my little hotties.

My partner, good ol' 7600, mentioned we were going slow and suggested maybe I was getting soft.  That kind of comment usually has one of two outcomes.  Either I get super pissed and slow way down.  Or I get super pissed and speed way up.  I tried to react logically, and without emotion, as our dear friend Mr. Spock might have done.  I mentioned that it was still the first hour and I couldn't feel my hands.  Then I told him to shut up.

Brutal north winds were in the forecast.  And, naturally, we were heading north, right into the southern Willamette Valley, home of "the sitting duck".  There was nowhere to hide, no cover at all.  Just thirty miles or so of headwind to start the day.  Although windy and chilly, the sky was cloudless and the air was crisp and sweet-smelling.  I tried hard to concentrate on these other senses while my kneecap was grinding to chalk.

By the time we arrived at the third control - Dairy Mart in Monroe - my right knee was almost as unhappy as I was.  Pedal, pedal, twinge.  Soft pedal, soft pedal, ache.  Repeat.  I consumed some bizarre milky coffee concoction and a chocolate bar to cheer me up, which worked great for about ten minutes.

We kept reminiscing about our November attempt at this route.  You know, the one where we tried to pop through on Wells Creek Road and instead ended up lost in the woods for a few hours.  I noticed some homemade bus stops I had stopped to photograph last year, as final entries in my annual photo calendar project.

Behind the conversation, I could hear my knee.  SQUAWK!  Creeeeak.  Squeeeegrle.  Sounds like that.  Well, I still have the other leg, I thought.  Wheat might be cooked, but Shredded still had some miles in it.  (If you haven't named your legs yet, I suggest you do.  And, comment here with their names!).

We climbed the highway this time, instead of forking off on Wells Creek Road.  Pushing up the narrow shouldered highway, rife with blind curves and tons of fast cars and motorcycles swooshing by was not much fun.  Heck, climbing was not much fun in my compromised state.
Eons later, we arrived at the store in Alsea.  This store has their very own stamp that they use on brevet cards.  In all of the perms I've ridden,  I've never seen such a thing at a country market.  It made the stop extra fun.  Along with the giant bag of potato chips, bag of frozen corn on my knee and chocolate bar for dessert.

The next part of the route should have been the best part, if I hadn't been in so much pain.  The worst part of the pain was that it was self-inflicted.  I should have skipped one, or even both, of my boot camp style workouts the previous week.  I should've picked a different weekend to lead a 50 mile shop ride, hop a bus from Portland to Eugene, and hop out of bed to ride 130 miles with empty tanks and tired muscles.

In any case, I hope to do this route again under better conditions, and mostly because of the mind-bending gorgeousness that was South Fork Road.  Climby and curvy, long and narrow, barely traveled by cars, trees everywhere, the river everywhere and waterfalls, too.  One wonders why the route took us up the highway instead of South Fork Road as an out and back.

This time we only had a short stint on Territorial, which should be renamed TERRORtorial.  It's basically a two lane autobahn with no shoulder and barely even a fog line.  Cars and trucks and trailers exceeding 70mph careen by, barely missing us.  Luckily, 7600 was sporting his USA jersey, which seems to soften drivers' moods, and we were not hit.

We made it to the Long Tom Grange info control just as dusk fell.  7600 reminded me that the wind always calms as the sun falls, and he was correct.  So, instead of enjoying the tail wind we had earned, we rode into the still dark, and to the Alvadore store control, where I purchased neosporin to put all over my chapped face and a chocolate bar to put in it.

The rest of the ride is a blur, as I was totally in death march mode.  I know I cried some, and sang some, and cried some more.  As we finally entered Eugene city limits, 7600 exhibited an act of kindness that re-energized me enough to make it to the finish.  A rider was stopped on the sidewalk with her cruiser bike, wheel partially off, and bags of groceries sitting by.  Without hesitation, he stopped and helped her reattach her wheel.  She offered us chocolate bars as we rode away.  .

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Human Powered Rollercoaster

Let's take a trip back in time, to the late '90s.  I am a big fat bike messenger and happy as a clam.  I jump on an aeroplane and land in Rochester, New York, my home town.

I ride to my Grammy's house and spend the night.  She insists I bring my bike into her carpeted living room and work on it there and explain every little thing I'm doing.  She makes me feel so smart, even though all I'm doing is putting the wheels and pedals back on and pumping up the tires and adjusting the handlebars.

Grammy was a Great Lady and the result of an out-of-wedlock conception.  My mother told me the story about the big scandal and how my great grandma ran away with my great grandpa to elope and live their lives far away in shame.  She made one last call home and my great-great grandma, her mother, answered the phone and insisted they come home for a proper wedding.

Back to the 1990s and my date with a certain bike race in Toronto.  I take a bus over the border at Niagara Falls, weekend destination of my childhood.  I meet up with friends at the hostel before riding over to the venue - a large warehouse rented by the race sponsors, Dunhill Tobacco and JetFuel Coffee.  Bike messengers from near and far will be racing in this giant space over the weekend, on a thing called the Human Powered Rollercoaster - or the HPR.

I'll never forget my first glimpse of the HPR.  Built out of plywood and two by fours, it doesn't look quite real.  Or maybe it looks too real.  Gritty.  Not polished or varnished or finished really.  hand-built by a team of I don't know who.  Exposed everything.  A figure eight with a bridge and tunnel.  Small, with tight turns.  A plywood tarmac.  My heart started beating very fast.

Inside one loop of the figure eight: a band.  Very loud.  Inside the other loop: spectators, racers, fans.  I found the line for registered riders and queued up.  I was in Canada so I had to queue up instead of wait in line impatiently like Americans do.  When I mentioned earlier that I was a big fat bike messenger, I meant it.  I was pretty hefty at that time, nowhere near the svelte self I've worked so hard to sculpt out of that other big and burly, but powerful, body.
The HPR Alley Cat Scramble jersey, which I still own and even wear occasionally, was quite tight and exposed every little bulge.  Self-consciously, I stripped down and started over, this time putting my jersey and shorts on first, then covering it all with a black jumper dress that was my favorite thing then.

I pre-rode the track, which wasn't really a track.  It was more of a roller coaster.  I was on a fixed gear, as was the fashion then.  The banks and tight turns were unforgiving and my little KHS frame, you know, the one with the curved seat tube, had some pretty extreme toe overlap.  It made for an adrenaline-filled experience.

One of the organizers waved me over.  "You can't wear anything that covers the jersey".  Sentences that begin with "you can't" don't sit well with me now, much back then in my hyper punk rock rebel f the police days.  I asked to talk to the main organizer, head honcho, top guy.  I was escorted to an office in the back of the warehouse.  There was a very official looking official dude, I think he might've been wearing a suit, or maybe it just felt like he was.  He was on the phone and waved for me to sit down.  After a heated discussion with whoever was on the other end, he asked me what the problem was.

I went ahead and tried the honest route.  I told him I felt really fat-looking in the jersey and wanted to wear my jumper over it.  I modeled for him to demonstrate that the sponsor logos still showed beneath the jumper's straps.  He nodded at me and said with a smile "of course you can wear your jumper over the jersey".  Then he asked if I planned to race in the black chunky heeled loafers I had on.  Yes.

One of the other ladies in my heat crashed.  She wasn't badly injured, but it enabled me to move on to the next round.  I won again, but that was the last time and I was happy to get off of that scary track.  Many talented riders ate wood that weekend.  There was blood on the track, and that's no story.  One dude, piled headfirst into the bridge support and was taken out in an ambulance.  He came back later with his jaw wired shut, drinking beer through a straw.
I have been lucky many many times in my life, and part of that luck is getting a front row seat in events that are later heralded as historic.  Months later, someone sent me a clipping from a Toronto magazine.  I was named as having won "Best in Show" because of my outfit.  That was the first I time I had heard of it, but it helped explain the small box of goodies I was given at the event.

An apparent tradition at this event, for this was the second time it was set up, was for the racers to tear down all of the vinyl banners to take as souvenirs after the last race.  A security guard wrenched the banner from my hand, bent my arm behind my back and escorted me outside.  I was enraged, but within seconds, he got a call on the radio.  He let go of me, apologized, and handed back the banner.
A seamstress friend made the banner into a jumper dress to wear in the Cycle Messenger World Championships (CMWC) in DC the following year.  I didn't win anything, but that same friend made the filmy silver supertar dress that won me "Best Dressed Messenger" at the CMWC in Barcelona in '97.  The CMWC continues to this day, in a different country each year.  This race is completely organized by that city's messengers, who volunteer many hours to put on an event that includes not just a race, but alley cats and film festivals and art showings and concerts - all showcasing the talent stockpiled within the bike messenger community.

The Human Powered Rollercoaster, sadly, is no more.  Some sort of Canadian law was introduced that prohibited tobacco companies from sponsoring athletic events, and that was that.

However, not all was lost.  Lifetimes later, here in Portland, Oregon, a local company known as Portland Design Works housed a very tight-turned round wooden track, reminiscent of the HPR but in a figure zero.  They named it Circulus and it was thrilling to watch racers on BMX bikes ride around and around and around this very steep-banked, tiny and tantalizing little track.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Palmer Mill Expedition

There's a riding posse called "Where The Pavement Ends".  The group description reads like a poem: 

Adventure Base Miles
Sometimes hammering but never opposed to the cafe stop
Situations where 28c just doesn't cut it
Racers training and training racers
Roads closed
Hopping gates
Hardpack, singletrack, gravel, pavement
Exploring the back roads of Portland one at a time

The organizer emailed me saying this is not a Velodirt ride.  I'm not sure what to make of that, but I caught his drift when he said they are a group of racers and it's a drop ride.  So, waiting at the Stark Street Bridge to intercept them, I wasn't surprised at all to see a huge pack of cyclists hurtling through space at an unbelievable pace.  It was like the Roadrunner had cloned himself.  

Someone shouted my name and "HOP ON", which I attempted to do from a standstill.  I chased a bit, then some nice person came back and offered me his wheel.  Unfortunately, his wheel did not offer a fender and I was sporting a brand new jacket, so let's just say that's why I let him go.

For almost a mile, I could see them.  A big shadow with a cloud of dust following it, getting smaller at each corner until I couldn't see them anymore.  For some reason, I found this hilarious and was laughing as an unidentified friend coming the other way shouted at me "Maria!  YOU GOT DROPPED!".  

Rolling up to the Corbett store, I spied a small group that I suspected was a splinter of the fast group.  But, no, they were their own group.  I told them my code name was Hot Potato.  One guy, Josh, asked if I'd be writing up today's ride in my blog.  Sometimes I feel like there's nowhere to hide.  I offered this group an opportunity to drop me as well, but they declined in order to fix a flat.
Onward and upward, I stopped for a photo and water at Women's Forum.  A few of the fasties were hangin out fixing a flat at the Larch Mountain turn off and I thought, "ha! slow and steady wins the race" but they passed me again after Vista House and that was that.

A fwe miles later I could see two riders up high on Alex Barr, local legend gravelly grind.  I rode up and up and up, eventually walked for a while, rode again and found myself at the top much later.  I put my jacket on for the descent, but there were a few more curves to climb first.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Phantom Horse Thief Century

Nobody, but nobody, turns down an invitation to a ride by this name.

A good friend of mine had to close his bike shop in San Diego because he couldn't afford the rent.  He mentioned on facebook that he was now afraid he wouldn't be able to afford his personal apartment rent either (in the same building).  Then he went to Tijuana and his laundry was stolen out of his car, which included all of these old collectible bike messenger t-shirts and ALL of his socks.  None of which has anything to do with Sunday's century ride.

Unlike the small story above, Sunday's ride was primo,  We met in the Northwest Industrial neighborhood at a warehouse.  I recall racing a Bike Swam Alley Cat from that same warehouse a coupla years ago.  NW Industrial is a very weird and haunted feeling place, especially at 8am on a Sunday.  
I got there exactly on time because they said they were leaving at 8 sharp and just as I was about to leave, people started to show up.  9 of us altogether.  2 chicks.  If you count me.  The other girl just got into riding and this was her second century and she was super fun and laughed a lot.  We rode up Saltzman, which I spent most of the day Saturday dreading, but then it turned out to be no big deal.  Skyline out to Old Cornelius, Rock Creek, out out out to Banks.  So pretty and gray and a teeny bit damp and really cold but only if you stopped moving.  Actually kind of ideal weather for pedaling.

The leader guy was super nice and thoughtful and kept doing really quick regroup stops to keep us together.  We had our first rest stop in Banks and then got on the Banks-Vernonia bike path, which is pretty supreme.  20 miles of bike path with no angry honking cars, which we encountered a lot on the other parts.
The Mediterranean place in Vernonia that I spent several miles looking forward to was closed until February.  Jerks.  So we went to this Mexican place instead and everyone got big plates of food.  I got the super nachos which were super delicious and I have no regrets, even if I did keep burping super nachos for hours.  From there we started out as if we were going to the Birk.  That route is so familiar to me and it felt really cool to be out there.  It was all so quiet and empty and gray and foggy and there was lichen and moss everywhere.  

Then we turned onto the Scappoose Vernonia Highway, which I've never ridden in that direction before so my mind was a little blown when it turned out to be this massive climb.  I thought it was a massive climb from the other direction but I guess climbs feel massive when you go up them and descents are quick and easy to forget.  
I started to drop back and sing I've Been Working On The Railroad, which soothed my frazzled nerves.  I kept thinking my back tire was really soft.  Finally, around five zillion years later, we made it to the top and everyone was waiting for me and we zoomed down to Scappoose and went to a drive-thru coffee place.  I got a hot cocoa with a shot of espresso in it.  Drink of the gods, I tell ya, wow did that revive me.

From there we slogged back in the dark cold wet with zillions of cars on highway 30 and I was so happy when I saw the Sauvie Island bridge silhouette, then even happier when the St. Johns Bridge sillhouette came into view.  We went to this bizarre brew pub in the middle of NW industrial nowhere and I got a beer and an order of toast and lived the high-carb dream.  Then downtown to the max train and home to my cat and my shower and my bed.  Woke up the next morning as if nothing had happened.