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.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Next Wave

I am a Feminist.

It has taken a lot of thinking and riding and writing and talking and reading and researching to get here.  I'd like to share that journey with you.  Just like in real life, there's no way I could've arrived here without my bicycle.  Just like many Feminists use their art, or punk rock music, or protests to express and develop their idea of Feminism, the bike was my key.

Here's what happened.  The owner of a women-focused bike shop read a blog post mentioning my angst over Feminism and she called me out on it.  Or, rather, she e-mailed and asked if we could share our differing perspectives over a beer.  Just being invited to discuss a topic that I've been so conflicted about triggered a deliberate sorting out of my thoughts.  So, I was thankful to her before I even took a sip of my IPA.  When she told me she opened her business as an expression of her Feminism, I was humbled and inspired.

The same week, I was interviewed on the Sprocket Podcast.  The host surprised me when he asked about that same blog post, The Pink Conversation, which was one of the toughest entries I've ever written.  Suddenly I had to scramble to try and articulate my feelings on this turmoil-coated topic.

What I discovered is that my past distaste at Feminism has its root in my distaste as being pigeon-holed as a female.  Much of the Feminism I've been exposed to first-hand works by separating women from men.  I don't find this empowering - quite the reverse.  What does make me feel empowered is my bike.  When I started comparing my exposure to Feminism-empowerment and bike-empowerment, it all started to come clear.

I get especially ruffled when I am referred to as a female cyclist.  I am a cyclist.  I am certainly a woman, but I am also white and no one calls me a white cyclist.  I get pretty pissed off when any accomplishment I am proud of is reduced to my gender.  I nearly cried when I saw (f) after my hard-earned R12 status.  The men didn't have (m) after their names.  These types of events and the reactions I had to them caused me to disown my gender, and Feminism along with it.

I experience a feeling of pure power as a cyclist, and I'm not just talking about the emotional and physical part.  I'm talking about "owning" my part of the road, including standing up to motorists or other road users who don't share properly.  No one told me how to do that.  No particular book or movie or inspirational friend gave me the nerve or know-how to take what is mine.  It just came naturally, instinctually, to me. 
Feminism did not come to me so organically, or easily.  It's required an unbelievable amount of internal processing.  As a kid, I felt sheepishly proud to consider myself my dad's "son".  Of being a bloody-kneed tom-girl in a taffeta dress.  Even today, most of my best friends and riding buddies and drinking pals are guys.  I'm often the only chick present, and usually unaware of it.  I'm just one of the boys.

The main thing I've discovered about Feminism is that although the definition is "seeking equal rights for women", there's no one right way to do it.  We each get to define or redefine just how to be a Feminist, and how to best use our Feminism to spread power.  What this means is that Feminists who use gender segregation don't have it wrong.  It's their way and it works for them.  And it doesn't mean I'm a giant hypocrite if I join in with women-only events, taking what I want from them, and sharing what I want too.   

It's funny, it's been right in front of me all along.  Just like my relationship with bicycling - instead of looking to my peers for the "right way", I define my own "right way" and live it and share it.  Just like my apathy about what motorists think of my cycling, I don't have to model my Feminist behaviors around someone else's definition of what's right.

I will open my mind and join any and all groups proclaiming themselves as Feminists to try them on for size.  Most recently, I joined the Women's Bike Swarm.  These young revolutionary chicks are tough and empowered and way ahead of me in their expression of Feminism. 

My first act as a newly minted Feminist is to post this blog.  My second act is to proclaim that I'd like to stop using (and hearing) the term male-dominated, especially when it comes to describing cycling demographics and the bike industry.  That implies superiority when it's meant to describe majority. I propose male-majority instead.

Just like a newbie cyclist, I'm probably going to make a lot of mistakes while I learn about my new status as Feminist and how to express it.  I may cuff my left pant leg instead of my right.  I may wear underwear under my chammy.  I may overlap wheels.  But I'll pedal ahead anyway and be proud of my rookie mark.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Banks Elsie Brevet

Quite a little crowd gathered at the Banks-Vernonia Trailhead on Saturday, all set to ride the lovely out and back brevet known as the Banks-Elsie.  Last year I set my personal best on this route and I aspired to beat it.

Permanent owner and RBA Susan warned us about moss and slippery bridges, called GO and off we went.  It's not a race, but it feels like a race when everyone starts together onto a narrow trail.  I spun out with Chris and Greg (previously referred to as crank-fell-off-guy) and was still warming my engine up when they raced off into the distance.  I'd see Chris one more time, on my way to Elsie and his way back, right after he dropped a cookie in the road.

A quick stop at the market in Vernonia to get my card signed revealed that they have crappy tap water.  I saw orange coat/orange bike/red rim dude there, along with recumbent guy.  Rolled out on the familiar 47, passing Big Eddy and Apiary and headed for the Birkenfeld store for water.  Too bad it was closed.

Bunches of birches past the Birk.  Pedaling hard, head down, into a slight headwind, I looked forward to a tailwind on the way back.  There were sprinkles and an overcast sky and wet streets, but generally it was pretty dry.  My gear was perfectly dialed for once - I never had to stop for a costume change.  A thin merino baselayer and goretex jacket worked perfectly.

I didn't see any elk on the way to the Elk Viewpoint, but I did spy orange coat dude and recumbent guy again.  Then on the way back from the Elk Viewpoint, I saw Jeff and Lynn and others.  They were probably only about 20 minutes behind me, and I shoulda coulda stopped to wait for them to have some company. 

I enjoyed a PBJ, milk and cookie at the Elsie store and shared a table with orange coat dude.  Turns out it was his first brevet.  Bravo!  Someone nearby lit a cigarette, lighting a fire under me.  Rolling down onto 103, I saw two guys turn left instead of right onto 26.  I yelled and hope they heard.

Soon after, I saw Jeff and Lynn and gang.  They looked just like I felt when I was climbing out of that pretty river valley.  Once again, I missed my chance for company, due to the silly quest to beat my personal best.  Plus it felt like good training to ride solo as that's how I plan to ride STP (Seattle to Portland) this year.

The tailwind I anticipated turned tail and transformed into a headwind.  My back wouldn't allow me to ride in the drops so I just sat there and sucked it up.  Since there wasn't any sparkling conversation to distract me, I tried to concentrate on the views. 

The countryside looked like an old fashioned theater background scroll rolling past.  The springtime nature views and scents seemed incredibly surreal.  A hawk caught a squirrel in a ditch beside me and flew off.  No pigs, but ponies!  Goats.  A donkey shaking his tail and doing a dance for me.  A horse rolling around on its back in the grass.  Beautiful dark cows with white striped butts.  A cow licking its own butt.  Yes, you read right.  He (she?) had tilted her back end way to the left and reached her head around.  I've never seen anything like that before.

By the time I reached Vernonia for the second time, I was a shadow of my former self.  Shredded, wrecked, decimated, destroyed, I sat in Subway eating chips and generally feeling pitiful.  An incoming text appeared and renewed me.  Great big wings sprouted and off I flew down the Banks-Vernonia trail.

The quality of light in the late afternoon produces an astounding effect: turning the edges of moss orange.  Everywhere, the moss glowed: on trees, outlining the twenty mile path, covering rock faces and boulders and bridges.  My mind, the only part of me that wasn't tired, flew to my book club book:  The Signature Of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert.  She's the author behind that other terrible title.  But this book is different and better.

She defines many different types of time.  Divine time: infinity.  Geological time: planetary eons.  Human time: a painful / joyful blink.  Then our protagonist discovers a new time: moss time.  Much longer than human time, quick in its accomplishments compared to geological time.  I propose a new sort of time: bicycle time.  It lands somewhere between human time and moss time.  It passes slowly but marches forward and in retrospect looks fast.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Alley Cat s c r a m b l e

Alley cat races are unsanctioned street races, traditionally designed by and for bike messengers and meant to emulate a run of pick-ups and deliveries.  They are also designed to challenge and even torture racers.  Speed is helpful, but cunning and mastery of the map may matter more so.

The alley cat scene is coming (back) to life here in Oregon.  Portland alley cats of late have included the Kuchen-Rennen, the Fly-Cat, the Fashion-Cat, the hugely successful Cranksgiving, Freak Cross and the Cross Dress series.  The last race I planned was in Eugene in '01 and sparked a tiny summer-long series of races (including a Cranksgiving).  So, it felt like my turn to throw a race.

Opening my old alley cat scrapbook for inspiration launched me on my own short race down memory lane. I had completely forgotten about the great dancing cat graphic.  So, once again, I found myself stopping at strange street corners looking for good graffiti, pouring over maps, cutting and pasting and printing a manifest.

My initial plan for checkpoint destinations fell apart so I started over the day before the race.  Riding around in the rain during my commute, stopping here and there, taking pictures and creating a scramble puzzle word made me late to work.  But I was able to pull it all together, even making copies just a short while before go time.

Fifteen minutes before the announced start time, racers started to roll in.  Eight in all!  Riders signed in, grabbed a quick beer and tried to prepare for the race.  Unlike recent races in Portland, riders were not provided with a manifest until GO.  Part of the scramble style is grabbing your list of checkpoints and riding away with it, skimming quickly on the go.  My personal strategy in those scenarios is to head to the furthest checkpoint, which creates several stolen moments on the road to make a plan for the other destinations.

These racers were unaccustomed to this sort of start and stood in the parking lot looking at their papers.  I threatened to take away points if people didn't get out of my sight post haste.  Actually there weren't any points but I wanted to see people scramble.  Unfortunately, one racer went around the corner and promptly fell over.

I moved to sit in the window, hoping to make racers scramble a bit more at the finish line to find me.  37 minutes later, two breathless boys were shoving crumpled manifests at me.  First place Bruce said "with a flat!" as I graded his sheet.  Scramble puzzle races are super easy for the organizer to judge, as you only need to look at one answer at the bottom of the page. All eight racers were in by 61 minutes after start, and all eight racers correctly answered DOLLS.
Luckily I had eight prizes to hand out, so everyone won something.  Surprisingly, the two women's garments were selected by men and one of the men's garments was selected by a woman.  Everyone had fun, no one got hurt, and people left happy.

Alley cat racing is a communal effort so I know one of these racers will organize their own race soon.  Kyle (second place, winner of Fly-Cat and Fashion-Cat) announced that the West Side Invite will take place July 4th, 5th and 6th and will include the infamous Coffee Cat, where I DFL'ed almost a decade ago.