Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gushing About Bike MS

Bike MS is unlike any other event ride.  Take it from me, I’ve participated in almost every event ride offered in Oregon, and even many in Washington.  Those other rides are great, but that’s all they are – rides.  Bike MS is so much more than just a bike ride.

In early August this year, a sea of moving vans and volunteers transformed Monmouth’s Western Oregon University into “Rider Village”.  The college campus - our home for the next few days – really did feel like a village; a community gathering spot for a special group of people.  Everyone received red carpet treatment, no matter what their fundraising level. 

It was easy to learn about Multiple Sclerosis and how effective Bike MS funds are in helping researchers fight it.  Smartly placed banners throughout the main stage area educated us on how different MS symptoms are for each individual.  Small placards with a question were strategically posted on the outside of each porta-potty, with the corresponding answer inside.  Finally, someone actually found a way to make port-a-potties fun!

Right from the start, there was a carnival-like atmosphere.  Instead of carnies, we had crazily decorated team booths with anything from Hawaiian d├ęcor to strangely funny mascots.  A high energy band was cranking out tons of music from different eras.  auGi hopped up on stage with his usual charismatic, and hysterically funny, patter.  I even had the privilege of standing up behind the microphone and outlining the safety guidelines for riders. 

What about folks who weren’t riding?  Sit around all day and wait for everyone else to get back?  Nosirree.  There were three field trips to choose from, including berry picking at a local farm and wine tasting at a fancy winery nearby.  Plus, there was a pool, a fitness center, and even yoga!
The buzz at the start/finish line was, well, buzzy!  As riders lined up to start with their teams, Amy, who was wearing feathery orange antennaes, was up there cheering people on with a megaphone.  And she wasn’t along – there was a small army of volunteers clad in adorable “Me Stomp MS” t-shirts ringing cowbells.

I had the honor of acting as ride marshal.  We were instructed in advance to help riders in three ways.  The first two were the typical, expected requirements: medical help and mechanical help.  The third requirement embodies just how the folks from the National MS Society think.  Emotional support.  That’s right, ride marshals are guided to really be there for the riders.  We should change the name from ride marshal to hug patrol.

Saturday morning started early, but as ride marshal, I rolled out late.  I’ve never ridden “sweep” on a century ride before and felt a little nervous.  I knew that beyond being helpful, my mission was to stay behind the last riders and to inform rest stop volunteers that seeing me meant the course was closed.  It felt like that Steven King story, The Langoliers, where giant meatball-like monsters (the timekeepers of eternity) clean up what is left of the past by eating it.  Ok, that’s a little dramatic, but it was a long and tiring day. 
The climb up to Silver Falls is pretty tough, but the views at the top make it all worth it.  The rest stop was perfectly located at a viewpoint.  I ate enough snack mix to feed a horse.  Volunteers gave us medals for climbing the hill, which made me wonder why I ever ride my bike without this level of support. 

On the way up the first big hill, I met a really cool dude, rider #619 from Klamath Falls, who had set a tough goal for himself.  His first century, and not an easy one.  He had a very uplifting attitude and it was easy to ride along with him and encourage him.  He ended up taking the SAG wagon back to the finish, or “abandoning”, as they call it on the Tour de France.  I was so proud of him for making it through all of the climbing, and descending, before he respected his body and accepted a ride home.  We had a great chat later, where he confessed that he felt bad for failing.  I hope I convinced him that failing a hard goal is much more meaningful than succeeding at easy ones.

Much later in the day, I felt tired and wanted to rush to the finish.  I’ll admit it, I felt impatient. Then my eyes fixed on the blue bib number flapping in the wind on the bike in front of me.  Suddenly, it hit me.  I work for these riders!  I’m here for them!  It’s my job, and my privilege, to support them.  I dropped back, giving these last riders more space, and enjoyed the rest of the ride.  There’s always potential of character development on any ride and this was mine.
The rest stops blew my mind.  Of course, the Superhero Stop was a favorite.  Everyone was wearing capes and had their own superhero identity.  All of the volunteers were chipper, even though it was late in the day.  By the end of the ride, they had all blurred together into one giant buffet of delicious food and friendly kindnesses. 
Crossing back under the giant inflated orange finish line archway, the energy was super high.  Great music, folks waving pom-poms, volunteers with medals for us.  It was a very festive feeling.  The volunteers worked as hard (or harder) than the riders – standing around in the hot sun, running back and forth filling up coolers with ice and lemonade, smiling for so long their faces probably hurt.

Once back inside the white picket fence area, near the main stage, the party was totally happening.  A banquet of picnicky foods that would please every palette, along with free-flowing beer and wine, was welcome after a long day in the saddle. 

There were lots of teams, and lots of individuals too.  Some teams had their own tent with tables and chairs in the shade near the stage area.  Prime real estate for the weekend!  Those without a team certainly weren’t alone.  It was like a big family gathering with a spot for everyone.
Regrouping with my fellow ride marshals, who’d all finished earlier than me and had already showered, we reminisced about the day’s events as if they happened longer ago.  One marshal saw a bunch of riders turn the wrong way out of a water stop and chased them down, all the way to Salem, creating a one hundred and twenty mile day for himself.  We were all new to ride marshaling, but everyone had a great experience and good stories to tell about the riders they met.

That evening, we enjoyed an obscene amount of candy and popcorn while watching everyone’s old favorite, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  It was the perfect entertainment for the evening - each scene is amusing all on its own.

Soon it was time to head back to the tents and get some sleep for Sunday.  The routes offered on Sunday were completely different than the Saturday ones.  As a ride planner myself, I know what a tremendous amount of work goes into planning each and every route.  So, I was especially impressed that riders could pick any combination and be assured they wouldn’t be re-riding a route, like watching an old Three’s Company rerun.  No one wants that.

Adair Village is a favorite place to ride through and I enjoyed the shorter distance and the beautiful, mostly flat, terrain we covered.  I stopped for blackberries and met Eric from team Broken Spokes.  He’d just purchased his bike and this was his first ride.  People like him blow my mind.  Heck, everyone out there blew my mind in one way or another.  The generosity I witnessed in the way teams worked together, volunteers supported riders, riders thanked volunteers was pretty amazing.  

My friends at the National MS Society have asked me to be the ride marshal lead for next year, and to share the Western Bikeworks shop rides with all of the Bike MS riders as training rides.  Stay tuned in 2015 for more!  And, until then, keep riding bikes.  And keep helping Bike MS succeed at their ambitious, important fundraising goals.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Alley Cat Racing

There's always a lot of uncertainty, loneliness, messiness, and a general feeling of being overwhelmed with life.  Then there are days like Saturday when I wake up with a clear vision of my mission, secure in my place in the world and what I need to do.  Which, of course, is to ride my bike, or, even better, race it!
The first race, The Dirty Dozen, was a follow up to last year's Kuchen Rennen (cake run), and the fifth year in a row an OBRA team has stepped into the gooey gutter that is alley cat racing.  Teams of five started out sharing a dozen donuts each.  Hell, it was free breakfast.  Team Messerschmidt finished eating first and took off in formation for the furthest out checkpoint at the Lumberyard.

Each stop had a unique, or not so unique, task for us to complete.  Most of them involved some variation on squats, which certain bloggers with bad backs were incapable of doing.  Team alley cats are new for me, and can be tough as routing decisions are made by consensus instead of gut.  But, more brains are better, and we created a tight efficient pack, staying together for most of the race.

The hard part for me was being left behind at the final checkpoint when three of our five were suddenly competitive and shot ahead without two of us.  We didn't see them again til the finish line, where we were presented with the terrible news that we were disqualified for skipping a checkpoint.

While we waited for the other teams to come in, I felt itchy to leave and ride the couple of miles to the missed checkpoint, but the team was dissolving quicker than an electrolyte tab in a water bottle, so that was a no go.  My first ever DNF for an alley cat race: a very sad feeling.
Beer Mongers Cycling Club won, and they sure deserved it.  They were all in full kit, and really demonstrated true teamwork and sportsmanship.  Plus, they ate four dozen donuts.  The prizes outnumbered the racers, which is always a good ratio.  As a fundraiser for the Oregon Food Bank, this was also a good thing, as many folks invested a few bucks for a fist full of raffle tickets.

After drinking much of my raffle winnings, I jetted off to the next race, the 40Cat.  This race was put on by genuine bike messengers and is a spin off from the West Side Invite, which has been going on for a dozen or so years.  The first alley cat race I did in Portland back in '03 was part of this great culture created by messengers and the West Side Invite organizers.

Two hours after our meet time, we were given our manifests.  I quickly scanned mine and picked out the three west side destinations, and more importantly, my first stop: Montgomery Park.  I'd figure out the east side stops later.  The map in my brain was activated and hot.  I clipped in and looked up.
Then, the strangest thing happened.  The organizer gave everyone time, like twenty minutes of time, to map their route on their smart phones.  Not only was I twice the age of most of the kids there, but I was realizing what a curmudgeon I'd become in my idea of what alley cat racing is.  I was really putting the old in old school.

Back (way back) in my messenger days, alley cats were a ready-set-go scramble where racers read their manifests and charted their course on the bike.  Races were an all comers contest of speed, compromising laws safely, thinking on your feet, and knowing all the right short cuts.  In the dozens of races I organized or raced in, not a single one gave racers time to plan their route.  But, alas, those were the old days and the next generation will do what they will.  I'm just glad they're still putting on races.

We all sprinted off together toward Montgomery Park, where racers had to gather ten stones to carry with them.  By the end of the race, I'd have thirty stones total in my jersey pockets.  I kept seeing racers everywhere, even way over on the east side near the now-demolished Lafayette train bridge.

Racers were equipped with trash bags and latex gloves so they could gather road kill to win the CARCASS bonus.  I didn't see any roadkill, but I was happy to have the gloves when told to grab a huge prickly thistle plant by the roots and carry it to the finish line.  Due to the aforementioned bad back, I had mounted a rack and pannier for carrying stuff and was really happy to have that thistle there instead of on my back, with its flyaways flying off behind me.

Finally back to the Fremont Bridge, I was the second lady in.  Of two ladies.  But it was still good to finish, to not win the DFL award, or get another dreaded DNF.  By the time I got home, my odometer read 67.  67 miles of urban riding, most at breakneck speed.  A good day with lots of lessons learned.
The innermost ingredient to my cycling identity comes from those long passed messenger days, which can be recaptured on a day like last Saturday.  These unsanctioned street races, or alley cat races, light up that part of me and renew my instincts on the road.  They remind me who I am and where I came from.  The alley cat scene is alive and well in Portland, and so am I.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Riding Bikes With Dad

We agreed to meet at the trailer, after the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast and a quick game of stunt swim with my niece and nephew.  First I ran up to the lodge and changed into my bike outfit.

The campground was huge - the largest I've ever seen.  There was a giant slide, a big pillow jumpy thing, extreme golf, trails for ATVs, bike paths everywhere, and FunTown - which included miniature golf, giant chess and what can only be described as a "pool complex".  There was even a small complex of shops with names like "Pizza Wings Ice Cream" and "Wine Espresso Wi Fi".

I put on my mother's helmet and tiny gloves, moved her seat up and hopped on her 20" wheeled contraption to go ride with Dad.  We turned left onto the dirt road from the trailer.  Then right, just before the big red and white striped tent, and up the little hill.

I'd noticed an enticing campground exit the day before and was hoping to explore it.  I waited while Dad walked up the hill.  He asked that we turn back down the hill.  "I know it's nothing for you, but I don't want to ride up this hill anymore".  You've gotta respect his directness.

So, we turned right, leading us to a cul de sac of tents and cabins.  We u-turned, riding back past the red and white tent, then past Mom and Dad's trailer, the Bullet.  They purchased it last year with insurance money from crashing their previous trailer, which started to come loose from their car just outside Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

Onward, past FunTown and onto an adorable little bike path circling a small fishing pond.  Around the circle by the registration gift shop and adult pool, then back to the fishing pond.  He kept straight and I turned left, but I caught him again before the turn back to the Bullit.

He pulled in and sat down, but I continued on.  For once, there was no time constraint, no control to make, no pace to consider.  Just me and these unknown little roads that went nowhere.  I went back up the hill, past the red tent, up the next hill and out of camp.

The dirt was reddish and reminded me of the now infamous "red sauce" section of the Oregon Outback.  Except it was smooth, not loose, and perfectly predictable. The South Dakotan ponderosa pines and badland rock formations were also reminiscent of the land I traversed in central Oregon, just two short months ago.

I noticed a small trail, really just mashed down grass, and went for it.  As suspected, it led nowhere, which was precisely where I wanted to go.  I u-turned after a while, went back to the red road and tried another outlet road.

Arriving back at Dad's trailer, I felt like myself again.  Several days of junk food and limited exercise during family vacation can be really taxing.  I parked my Mom's bike, which has a plastic basket mounted to the front handlebars, and took a seat next to Dad.

It was a good day, and a good bike ride, reminding me that although I love long distance riding, there's no bike ride too short.



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

STP 2014

There was a man wearing a time trial helmet and skinsuit, carrying a bright orange messenger bag and riding a mountain bike.  He wasn't riding STP, but he would have fit in fine if he had.

One out of ten riders sported sleeveless jerseys and half of those wore arm warmers, exposing bare shoulders.  Many riders, even those on mountain bikes, had aero bars clamped on to their handlebars.  Many riders stopped on a dime, right in the bike lane, if they saw a "rest stop" sign or for no apparent reason at all.

Many more riders victoriously shouted  "on your left" as they passed, apparently assuming the presence of 11,000 other riders somehow necessitated a constant warning of their existence.  Most of these riders pulled over and immediately slowed way down in front of the rider they just passed.  Most bikes made an inordinate amount of noise.  Creaky bottom brackets, hollow-sounding carbon fiber wheels, little tick ticks, and of course, the unlubed chain chirp.

Aside from that, it was a glorious day.  Watching the sun rise over Lake Washington cannot be beat.  The morning was cool, but everyone knew the heat loomed ahead and hydration was key.  A few bored looking mechanics at the first rest stop, Seward Park, were happy to check headsets and tighten brakes for one lone single speed rider.

Up the nasty steep little hill after Seward Park and into south Seattle, if that's even what it's called.  Pass up the rest stops, and just stop, rando-style, at gas stations for juice and corner stores for snacks.  One such gas station was showing the Tour de France, anticipating that "you guys would wanna see that".
The beer garden at Centralia was its own small ghost town except for the masseuse taking a break there.  Alas, he couldn't escape the sore neck and shoulders needing his attention, all for the price of a beer.  Intoxication wears off fast when pedaling and sobriety hit in time for Chehalis, where the pool and showers were closed for construction.

Hot foot.  Sore tush.  Tight shoulders.  Blistered palms.  There were many sensations to choose from before even arriving at the Longview Bridge.  Climbing the bridge was an act of sheer control, as single speed riders find it as hard to go slow on the climb as they do to go fast on the descent.

Chips and soda.  Bonk bars.  Atomic fire balls.  Bottles and bottles of water and electrolyte drink.  Pedal, pedal, left, right, repeat, pedal.  Burgerville Saint Helens signifies the home stretch and a bottle full of raspberry milkshake is just the right fuel.

Sprinting past broken riders, passing the Sauvie Island sign, up and over the Saint John's Bridge.  Then the slow part, the neighborhoods of Portland.  Then the finish line, with lines of cheering spectators.  Number ten complete!  One day, one speed, one woman.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

UGB 200K

There comes in a time in every cyclist's life where they have to choose one ride over another.  What I'm getting at is that I missed the West Side Invite not because I'm a total loser, but because my body is overworked and under rested.  Plus I've got way more skin in the R12 2 (f) game.  If you know what that means, as I do, you have my pity.
I rode the six miles over to my favorite coffee joint, Water Avenue Coffee.  Rando Mark #5000 something, was already inside chowing down.  We ran into Ira Ryan on our way out - the same guy who rode the Oregon Outback the fastest.  The only thing I could conjure up to say to this amazing hardman was "twenty eight hours".  He knew what I meant.  Mark and I rode off with a group of marathon-runners surrounding us, and hopped on the Springwater Corridor - the launching pad for so many good rides.

East, east, east to Boring and the Shell Station in Boring.  The clerk told us she was sixty years old and still hadn't learned to ride a bike.  We saw some other cyclists there who told the cashier they'd be back in an hour or so after their loop.  I envied them.

We rolled out, passing those riders, into the eastern view of Mount Hood, which never fails to astonish me with her beauty.  I assume it's a her, anyway.  Up and down and around the rollers past Barton Park and over along the Clackamas River, veering south to Canby, where we enjoyed a nice lunch.
I was already getting a bad case of the hot foot and took the opportunity to douse my bare feet.  Onto Knight's Bridge and west, west, west to Butteville and beyond.  North Valley Road felt neverending, especially with the heat beating down on us.  Out of water, I was happy to hear Mark had an extra bottle.

We set our sights on Gaston and soon enough, I was slamming two big lemonades in line at the store.  Then we walked next door to the One Horse to split a beer.  There's nothing quite like the twilight experience of sitting in a dark cool bar on a bright hot day.  It felt like sitting in the corner of a boxing ring.  As soon as we saw the bottom of our shared glass, a bell rang and we were back in the ring.

Every stroke felt like punching the pedals.  I watched the sweat drip onto my top tube.  I pedaled and coasted and did math to figure out when I could stop pedaling.  Mark stayed with me all the way to the Rock Creek Tavern, where we split another beer.

Don't worry, dear reader, there's no chance of getting intoxicated on a day like this.  One's body drinks in whatever fluids it can find and sends them packing back out as sweat right away.  Mark peeled off to go host a party at his nearby house.  "Missing a control is just like me", he quipped, "''cause I'm out of control".
I was happy to ride solo up Skyline.  No one needs to witness the incredible molasses speed on that heated ascent.  A rider passed on the other side and said my name.  At least, I think that happened.   Passing the church, I knew what the rest of the uphill held and settled in for some steady, but easy, climbing.

Thompson at last!  The top of the hill.  I pulled into the triangle to breathe and sweat and another cyclist coming up Thompson did the same.  We nodded to each other and took off before anyone could see us.

Descending at full speed  down Thompson, and then Cornell, was sheer bliss.  The city came into view and I thought about all the places I'd ridden all day.  The route takes riders on a circuitous trip following the Urban Growth Boundary of Portland, only missing the northern border on the south side of the Columbia River.  A beautiful route, I'd recommend to everyone.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Pedalpalooza Wrap Up

Dear reader, when last we spoke, I had just completed the Grilled By Bike ride.  Since then, I've had the privilege of participating in the Rocky Butte Potluck Picnic Sunset Dance Party ride, Bowie vs. Prince, Back Down The Alley, Bike Play 6: Bike Play's Big Adventure, Heavy Bike Hill Climb Challenge, Dropout Prom, Swim Across Portland, and finally, Chutes and Ladders.

Late to the party, and early to leave, I am still proud enough of my complete saturation in Pedalpalooza rides that I took the opportunity to put together a Data Sheet to track my accomplishments for the Ride Hard Party Hard challenge.  Yes, there's a Pedalpalooza competition.
Within the Ride Hard Party Hard Data Sheet, I track only official Pedalpalooza rides, and only miles within those rides.  I did not include mileage (or kilometerage) from my long commute (nine miles from downtown Portland) and other rides (I took last Sunday off to ride the Portland-Pipeline-Portland 200k). Even so, I managed to put on an astounding 149 junky miles within just 15 rides.
The Swim Across Portland, my third annual, was an absolute stunner.  Eleven of us departed Water Avenue Coffee and headed over the Hawthorne Bridge.  Riding up and over Terwiliger's sweet sexy curves, we arrived intact at the Wilson Pool just as the sun won its battle with the clouds.  The water was bath warm.  The lazy river was long and slow and finally succumbed into a vortex.  The weather had been very overcast all morning, so the pool wasn't overcrowded.

The slide was sublime.  Teal and tall, it tosses you around and down into a small deep pool.  There was a giant frog for the kids.  Popcorn and nachos for hungry riders.  Giant poolside umbrellas for pale people like me.  A diving board.  And eleven happy swimming adults momentarily transformed into summertime kids.
Riding down through the cemetery, we encountered a real live funeral.  Or a real dead one anyway.    The mood was sombre as we dismounted and skirted around the hearse being unloaded by suited men.  Everyone was quiet, even the birds.  Out of sight, we remounted and coasted on down, everyone feeling grateful to be alive and on bikes and going swimming with friends.

My Pedalpalooza must now come to a premature end, as I move on to other horizons.  Have fun at the Sprockettes Ride, Bike Fair and Lit n Loud, everyone, I'll miss you! (Below photo was taken at the Bowie ride.  I'm the one covered in bows.)


Friday, June 13, 2014

Pedalpalooza 2014

Pedalpalooza is that special time of year when cyclists put aside their differences and unite into one massive, throbbing, costumed community of fun.

For me, it's a mash up urban riding endurance and staying out late endurance.   It's hard to believe that Pedalpalooza 2014 is just a week old, it feels like a month.

In a nutshell, Pedalpalooza is kind of kicking my ass.  So, I'm writing my Pedalpalooza report in parts.  This is part one, and may be the last entry, who knows.
The Pop Til You Puke ride is an 80s dance party themed ride complete with a mobile sound system in a trailer, which are commonplace in Portland in June.  We tooled around the new and very confusing cycle tracks on the south west waterfront under the tram.  Pop Til You Puke ended at the start of another ride, which is always a classy move.
The Super Hero ride was an exhilarating tour of south east Portland, with surprise super villains attempting to thwart the heros.  Pictured above is the mysterious Bananarama, who delights in planting banana peels on the pavement.
I made it just in time to my Single Speed / Fixed Gear Friendly ride, grateful I had scheduled it for two in the afternoon.  Twenty riders awaited me, we swigged a free beer, I turned on my loaner mobile sound system, and we were off.  Only one rider sported a derailleur, but he assured me he wouldn't shift.
My ride ended at the start of the Hott Sock ride, which was the most crowded ride I'd been on so far.  Around eighty riders showing off their crazy socks rode to Sock Dreams in Sellwood for funky lawn games, snacks and prizes.  Then, to Sock It To Me for more of the same.  The generosity of these businesses was appreciated by all.  I left with 6 pairs of cool socks.
Alleys of the North and Northeast had us riding thirteen miles through wildly fun, unimproved and usually unpaved alley ways.  It's one thing to do this sort of urban off road exploration on your own, but try herding through these skinny spaces with over a hundred other riders.  I foolishly chose to ride my single speed with skinny tires, but it worked out ok.
The SE Ponds Tour is a perennial favorite.  Around thirty riders rode around and looked at water ways, water falls, rivers, creeks and ponds near Sellwood.  We stopped at a lemonade stand and learned the kids' dad had coached them to set up for Pedalpalooza.  Talk about boosting the local economy.
Had to peel off early to make it to Grilled By Bike in time.  Around two hundred riders converged on Ladd's Circle, everyone with plenty of food to grill and share.  Three bikes had grills set up and grill space was at a premium.  When we left to ride to Laurelhurst Park, the grills stayed hot and the food kept cooking - while we rode!  Later, after dark, with a smaller crowd of around forty rode to Oaks Bottom.  On the way, embers could be seen flying off one of the front-mounted grills, it's pilot standing atop the top tube to save his leg hair from burning.  Maybe this is why cyclists shave their legs.






Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Oregon Outback, 2014 Edition


It all started three years ago on Old Moody Road, when a group of us on tour veered off course and onto this steep gravel road.  As a confirmed roadie, I'd never ridden off the pavement before.  Soon, I was commuting to work on the unimproved blocks in my neighborhood, and signing up for Velodirt rides like the Dalles Mt 60, the Rapture, and even the Stampede.  I am starting to get better at gravel handling, but still consider myself an asphalt lover.

So, naturally, when I heard about Donnie and Gabe's slideshow presentation of their Oregon adventure ride last summer, I attended.  I watched with interest but told Donnie afterwards "no way will you see me on that ride".  Then, in November, when the link to register was posted, I found myself pointing, clicking and committing. From that moment, the tension grew from a small buzz in the back of my head to a fever pitch all around me of social media mentions, news coverage, bikes being built, you name it.  Everyone knew about the ride and the words Oregon Outback were on everyone's lips. The ride was legendary before it even began.

Just in case you haven't heard about it, the Oregon Outback is a 360-mile, mostly off-road odyssey that dissects the state from Klamath Falls to the Columbia River.  Completely self-supported with such features as an eighty mile no water stretch (not even creek water), a twenty mile loose gravel section and extremely limited services on route - this ride was no joke.

The Outback would more than double my lifetime dirt and gravel miles.  I'd have to learn to sterilize water and carry at least three days' worth of food.  I'll admit it: I was a little terrified.  Especially as those riders who missed the registration deadline and rode the course a week early reported in with warnings of treachery and danger.  Bewildered by self-doubt, I spent boatloads of money on gear and many hours packing, unpacking, weighing and repacking.

At long last, it was time to go.  With butterflies in my stomach, I got on my bike and rode to the train station.  Forty of us boarded the train in Portland that afternoon.  Amtrak put us all in one car for our pilgrimage to Klamath Falls.  Boxed wine, labelled Oregon Outback Emergency Water, was circulated.  Chammy butter samples were dispensed.  Gear talk was thick in the air.  I felt like part of something, part of something big that all of the cool kids were into.  
Eight hours later, we helped unload our boxed bikes from the cargo car and set to work reassembling and repacking our loads, there in the dark by the tracks.  For the first time in many hours, it was quiet.  News rolled in that the brew pub had stayed open late in anticipation of our arrival.  
I wore my lucky pink jersey with matching lipstick for the early morning start in front of the Maverick Hotel the next day.  I had a pretty funky looking set up with my 26" wheeled, aluminum GT mountain bike, rack, panniers, homemade polka dot frame pack and mega basket hydration system.  I anticipated hating that bike by the end of the trip, but instead ending up loving it even more.
 
Almost two hundred of us rolled out of the Maverick Hotel parking lot that Friday morning at 7am on the dot, Donnie-style.  Fewer than two hundred finished.  I missed the start and photos by five minutes - all for the worst Americano I'd ever tasted.  I could see the group up ahead and raced to catch up.

There was no fanfare except for the spectacle of us.  All during the trip, I'd hear townspeople and farmers, a child and a road cycle tourist, talk about seeing Outback riders go through.  One lady said, in a whispered awe "I saw twenty five of you ride right through town, just yesterday".  There was a small amount of media present - an NBC sports cameraman with a car early on day one.  And, then there was Ira Ryan's videographer, who I met at the pub in Klamath Falls Thursday night.  He'd be meeting and shooting Ira every 50 miles. 
I had dreamed and prepared for this ride for months and now it was actually happening.  It felt surreal to finally ride on the now famed OCE trail, completely unknown to Portland bike fiends just a year ago.   The trail was dicey and slow at times.  Sidelined riders sprinkled the route, adjusting their loads or fixing flats.  I stopped and let some air out of my tires, hoping for a softer ride. 

That first day may have been the best day.  I felt like I could see the entire state of Oregon spread out in front of me with no task ahead except to pedal and survive.  The route was still crowded so I had the opportunity to ride with lots of different people.   There were many, including Nick and Lawson and Sandy and Johnny. 
I'll never forget the few miles I spent with Mike, who was on a borrowed Bullitt cargo bike with a goal of finishing in three days.  We swapped stories and skipped the fork to Sprague River.  Up the path another mile we encountered a big fence with barbed wire on the top, no trespassing signs everywhere and an "electrified fence" warning.  We decided to go back and take the fork after all.  Mike made his goal, and rode back to Portland afterwards. 

The Sprague River cafe owner had put up a poster on the path advertising his iced tea and burritos.  While he filled my bottle with tea and I filled my platypus with water, my teammate walked up to me.  "I'm calling it", he said.  I didn't understand what he meant and asked him to repeat it.  His Outback was over.  His knee had blown up.
It's difficult to do justice to the beauty of the land we were passing over.  It changed rapidly every day, every mile.  I marveled at the views of valleys along riverbeds, canyons, castle-looking formations and breathtaking rockfaces carved into the hillsides.  So many scenic sights later, we arrived at camp early - 3pm.  There was easy creek access, a soft pine bed, and pretty purple flowers everywhere.  It started to feel like vacation then.  After dinner we rode a mile down to visit the next camp.  Outbackers were everywhere.
Day Two taught me some valuable lessons, one of which was not to trust tire tracks.  I spent ten hard miles lost on the OCE, riding uphill on some tough surfaces.  At first, there were tire tracks, then after the second or third gate, the terrain changed to grassy sagebrush.  When the gravel started again, I didn't see any tracks.  Maybe they're just not visible in this type of gravel, I reasoned.  Then I looked back and saw my own tracks, very clearly the only ones.

I was in tears, sure my entire trip was ruined.  Then I heard my Dad's voice in my head.  The worst thing that can happen will be missing the Cowboy Dinner Tree and camping alone.  Point the bike north, suck it up, and pedal.  Just pedal.

As the day wore on, I watched the crisscross of chem trails, generally pointing north.  I was completely alone and felt pretty sure the rest of my trip would be solo. Through woods and canyons and sagebrush-dotted desert, I rode.  The terrain changed so quickly it didn't seem real.  Finally on the last stretch, I encountered a man in an ATV (all terrain vehicle).  He stopped, turned off his loud engine, and asked me if I had enough water.  His tires were as tall as me and twice as wide.  Seeing me admire them, he commented "hillbilly tires!". 
Soon after, I rolled into the driveway of the Cowboy Dinner Tree with fifteen minutes to spare before my dinner reservation, another surreal moment.  There were a half dozen Outbackers inside, and, amazingly, there was my teammate Michael who hadn't made it to the start due to a work emergency.  I was overjoyed to learn he planned to rejoin my tiny little team.

The Cowboy Dinner Tree was a highlight and not to be missed, according to Donnie.  You can choose from either an entire roast chicken or a thirty ounce steak.  You must reserve in advance and you must pay cash.  I had planned my trip around this oddity.  It was an old farm building of some sort, clean and crowded, with bandanas in the windows instead of screens.

I flashed back to my first loaded tour, a San Francisco bike messenger tradition known as the Russian River Ride.  It was eighty miles, longer than I'd ever ridden at that point.  I was scared and stressed out about that ride.  The Cowboy Dinner Tree, there in the middle of nowhere, reminded me of a secret surprise traditional stop on the Russian River Ride.  Amidst cornfields for miles, we came across a small shack.  This shack was a bar and the tradition was to throw back a shot of whiskey and sprint to Petaluma.  It was thrilling to realize that all these years later, I can still find rides that scare me.

The steak didn't come until after the huge salad, cowboy beans, baked potato and tin of freshly made dinner rolls.  And did I mention the bottomless mason jar of strawberry lemonade?  My slab of steak was prepared perfectly - bloody on the inside and crisp on the outside.  It was as big as a loaf of bread.  I put away two thirds of it, to save room for the marionberry cobbler dessert.  After this, the best steak of my life, we rode the modest five miles through a spectacularly gorgeous plain to Silver Lake, a small barely-inhabited ghost town.  I skipped the laundromat showers with the reasoning I'd only get dirty again tomorrow.
On Day Three I rolled out with Michael and the self-described "old guys" Jon and Ted, who were on Surly ECR fat bikes with four inch wide tires.  Ted was a racer for many years, mostly at Alpenrose Velodrome, Portland International Raceway and Mount Tabor.  He gave up riding in circles and sold two of his track bikes to buy this fat bike and bikepacking set up.  Amtrak had tagged their bike boxes with big yellow cards reading HEAVY, which they saved and tied to their saddle rails.  I had also brought a charm, a small Hello Kitty, who jumped ship early on day one.  Goodbye kitty.  I also had an Oregon Outback burnished leather patch, which I managed to keep tied to my pannier for the entire trip.

We found water spigots at the four corners known as Fort Rock, named for the dramatic rock formation a few miles north.  I ran into the "Whiskey and Wheelies" team, or the Danielson gang, as I called them.  This would be our last water for eighty miles.  This would also be the day we'd encounter the "twenty mile loose gravel zone" (insert menacing voice of doom here).  Instead of loose gravel, the surface was more of a soft, red, slippery sand.  I named it Martian Sandscape School.  School, because I finished that part with a much better knowledge of bike handling then when I entered it.  I learned to glide through it, pretend I was swimming, and stopped freaking out at every fishtail.
To my surprise, this was the easiest day of the trip.  My mantra had been "is this the hard part?" because there had been so many warnings about treacherous terrain and so far it just felt like a bike ride.  A new mantra, on the lips of many Outback riders, was "twenty eight hours".  That's the amount of time the first finisher, Ira Ryan, took.  I took six.  Days, that is.   It was so boggling to the rest of us out there, we'd chant his time during the hard sections. Another catch phrase I heard was "how many days?".  Everyone wanted to know everyone else's ride schedule to anticipate who they'd be riding and camping with.

On Day Four, I woke up to the taste of blood on my lips.  Turns out the biggest challenge of my trip was a little bit of a princess problem.  In my effort to be a minimalist, I had packed just one lipstick, a pale pink to match my lucky jersey.  Without chapstick or a more opaque lipstick, my lips were beyond chapped, to the point of bleeding.  I felt lucky and thankful that this was my only problem.

After oatmeal and coffee and a luxurious morning, Michael and I turned left out of camp and slogged through twelve more miles of Mars.  If we had gone straight, like everyone else who stayed on course did, we would've been on regular friendly gravel almost immediately.  Instead, our bad turn added about twenty miles to the day.
Finally back on route, we plodded along the barren but beautiful Crooked River Highway.  I had developed a nice rest stop routine, which went like this: kickstand down, butt pillow out, map packet open, cop a squat and relax.  Studying the map was a fun new hobby.  A farmer in a pick up truck stopped to offer water.  He wasn't the first and he wouldn't be the last.  People out here were downright hospitable!  

The descent into the Crooked River valley, and the view of the Prineville Reservoir, were absolutely dazzling.  I cried and yelled and sang in sheer happiness.  I had just finished the last of my water so I stopped to fill up, feeling competent now at water sterilization.  My plan to camp along the Crooked River crumbled and I set my sights on Prineville, home of beer and lipstick.
I nearly cried for the third time of the trip when I learned that the brew pub in Prineville was closed.  Then we found Dillon's Grill, sat on the patio with our bikes and our beers and not a care in the world.  Except that Michael's hand hurt.  He decided to stay at the hotel, along with Jon and Ted and some others, but I headed south to the RV Park, dead set on getting my money's worth from my new tent.  I enjoyed my first shower in days and shared the small tent site with a road tourist from Sisters.  She had seen many of our group during her last few days of riding.

The next morning I found Michael in front of the hotel, ready to pack it in.  He hadn't been able to use his hand since yesterday and was afraid of permanent nerve damage.  Jon and Ted had just left, so I took off, hoping to catch them.  Alone again, the ride out of Prineville was bittersweet.  Sweet because I felt so fantastic myself, but bitter because my teammates were missing out.

Fueled by real coffee and an omelet, wearing my new pink cowboy shirt and darker lipstick, riding in my new team of one, I still felt relatively fresh.  Nothing was sore.  Spirits were high.  I didn't know it then, but this would be the hardest day of the trip.  I caught up with Jon and Ted at the entry to the Trout Creek area.  I was glad to see them, not only for the company but because I knew the "easy to miss" turn was coming soon and I didn't want to get lost again.  Thirty lost miles was plenty.
We climbed and climbed, then climbed some more.  Jon saw a chalk note telling Mat and Kim to meet someone at Trout Lake.  The higher we got, the lower the temperature dipped.  I finally gave in and dug out my puffy jacket.  The dirt downhill was soft and supremely fun.  Jon and Ted flew ahead while I navigated a bit more slowly, or, well, a lot more slowly.

Soon I was picking my way around a never-ending ridge along the Trout Creek river valley.  I heard the rush of water and came to a dead stop at this first creek crossing.  I recalled the warnings of a thigh-deep river crossing.  This one was only ankle deep, but each time I heard the rush of the river, my heart jumped into my throat.  But, just like the entire ride had been, the fear was bigger than the reality.
We entered Ashwood, which consists of a grange hall and a couple of farm houses.  A farmer waved us down.  "Do you guys need water?  The folks yesterday sure did.  Come on over and fill up.  You've got a five mile uphill up next."  I had hoped he was exaggerating, but he was right on.  I couldn't believe how good I felt on that climb.  I think there's something in the air over there.

That night, Jon and Ted and I camped in Antelope.  Morning doves hoo-hooed but otherwise it was hauntingly quiet there.  Each evening, I'd rate the day from one to ten (one is easy, ten is hard).  My rating system included terrain, hilliness and overall toughness.  Nothing was ever harder than a seven, except for the terrain on Day Six, which I rated as a nine. The average of all numbers from all days was 5.55, which makes it sound pretty easy.  Another nightly habit was to wipe down my dusty bike, lube my chain and check all the bolts.  I never did have any mechanical problems, not even a flat.

Jon and Ted shared the last of their brandy with me, celebrating their last night.  We left early the next day, our last day, and climbed the tarmac up to Shaniko, where a box awaited me at the post office.  There at the park, we found a big gang of riders just about to leave.  I asked them to wait while I opened my box and champagne to share.

I jumped on the fast train of riders on highway 97 and experienced the highest speeds of the week.   You could see forever on these high rolling plains.  A dark pillar of rain touched the horizon to the west, and it was headed our way.  The weather had been stellar all week.  Cloudy and sunny and only sprinkling occasionally, but always when I was in my tent.  The rain didn't catch us until were safely inside the cafe at Grass Valley.  I enjoyed a Cowboy Dinner Tree-sized cobb salad and homemade strawberry rhubarb pie.  By the time we went outside again, it was sunny and dry.
Turning west onto gravel roads, I knew we'd be on the last section of the Oregon Stampede route soon.  Just the thought of that deathmarch day, my hardest day ever on a bike, slowed me down.  I spied the gang waiting for me at the top of the next hill and heard myself say to them "I'm slow and chickeny on the chunky stuff, so don't wait for me."  I had gotten into the habit of making chicken sounds when descending slowly, partly to amuse myself and partly to warn other riders.

Solo again, and on the last page of the map with just twenty miles to go, I felt sentimental and sad that this adventure of a lifetime was almost over.  So, I slowed down and savored it.  The wind kicked up, reminding me of my fear of gorge gusts.  It felt like a big hand on my chest, pushing me back and taking my breath away.

Finally at Fulton Canyon, I raced ahead, already reviewing the ride in my head.  The Columbia River came into sight, my eyes filled, and just like that, my Oregon Outback was over.  Each day was its own tough, fun, stunningly beautiful exploratory adventure through our magnificent state.  Much like a kid's favorite carnival ride, I plan to get back in line and ride it again and again.
 
I am very grateful to all of those who helped and supported me, including:

Linda, for the bike.
Brigid and Laura, for the go get'ems.
Mom, for the polka dot vinyl.
Dad, for the homemade jerky.
Butch, for the seatpost.
Kim, for the tire inspiration.
Smithermania, for the advice.
Seth, for the pro-tip to reinforce my mega basket with a strip of innertube.
Nick, for the trunk bag and spirit.
Donnie, for the ride and those last minute maps.
Gabe, for the hats.
Matt, for believing in me.
Brad, for the souvenir patch.
Trevor, for the chamois butt'r.
Nick S, for the laughs.
Kelley, for the finish line beers.
Lawson and Michael of Team Relegate, for leaving me high and dry.
Farmers and Landowners and Motos and ATVers, for the offers of water.
Portland Society, for asking me to recap my trip before I'd even started.
BicycleKitty blog readers, for staying with me every mile of the ride.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Outback Preparation


Ugly things, I mean really ugly, can sometimes be so extreme that they circle around the aesthetic sphere and cross back over into beauty.  I'm realizing that this theory may apply to other things too, like anxiety.  My anxiety in preparing for my first ever bikepacking trip has circled around to euphoria.  Self-doubt to confidence.  Fear to courage.  Past to future.

It all started last November when I registered for Donnie and Gabe's ride.  For a while, I felt like the Oregon state map taped to the wall above my mountain bike would put me ahead of the game.  My plan was to slowly chip away at preparations, and just magically be done.  Then two weeks ago, it hit me.  I'm not ready!  I need to buy even more crap from REI!  The next day I bought quick drying purple camp underwear.  All of these preparations started to add up to a new kind of stress.  What if I go out to the desert with all my new stuff and just flop?  What if I'm not strong enough?  What if, what if, what if...
One day, I ran into two bikepackers in the REI lobby, who were about to endeavor on a pre-ride of the Outback route.  That's when I realized how different my bike gear looks from everyone else's.  Of all of the websites and instagrams and facebook pictures I've seen of Outback bikes, none of them have a rack and panniers.  None of them sport a homemade polka dot frame bag.  And certainly none of them have a white plastic basket strapped to the front.  Hello, self-doubt.
Reports from pre-riders (maybe even those same guys I met at REI) have been pouring in and include words like treacherous, brutal, horrendous, loctite, saddle sores and dangerous.  I was having a tough time hanging on to my mantra: "it's just a bike ride, it's just a bike ride".  Fear was taking over.

Until yesterday.  Something happened that put all of it into perspective.  It doesn't matter what that something is, just that it's not bikey and it's not healthy and it's not sane.  And it's in the Past.  Which has wrapped itself around to bring me to the Future.  What's in the Future?  Well, you know as well as I do.  My nephew's eleventh birthday lunch, probably at Chuck E. Cheeze.  The day after I finish this adventure, odyssey, challenge, or, I mean, bike ride.