Monday, October 22, 2012

Up Yer Ash

Friday morning, the local TV weather man came to my shop and advised me, in person, to stay away from the Mountain:  "There's a winter storm warning in effect for the Cascades this weekend and it will be miserable riding weather - wet and cold and snowy!  Get a plan B."  He couldn't have known I had the Ripplebrook ride simmering on the back burner, just in case the weather turned.

Later that same afternoon, a couple of gentlemen stopped in.  "Hey, you're that Randonneuse." they said.  After I landed back on planet earth, I confessed my fears about the looming Mount St. Helens permanent.  Like true randos, they were encouraging and said it wouldn't be that bad.  "That road doesn't go anywhere, so there's no cars up there." They were right about the weather but wrong about the cars. 

I struggled to decide.  Checked the weather maps and the forecast and the destination elevation compared to the predicted snow level.  Even called the ranger station.  Having just ridden the Hood and Adams perms, I had my heart set on riding up our third local mountain before winter.  So, Sunday morning, we headed out to Parkrose to begin the hard ride, leaving the easy one for later.

The starting control point was nowhere to be found, so a gas station signature sufficed.  Once over the 205 bridge and into Vancouver, I stopped to take my jacket off.  That's when I noticed how soft my rear tire was.  Just as I unpacked my tools and removed the wheel, the rain started.  I had broken my own rule of finding a nice place to fix a flat.  I finished the fix and flipped the bike upright, only to find the front tire was also flat.

Several low pressure miles later, supplies exhausted and sitting in a cafe in Battleground, I learned of Northwest Ambush, a skateboard shop with a floor pump.  I told the owner I would advertise her shop if she'd stock C02 cartridges and road tubes.  She agreed. 

As the rain slowed down, we sped up.  I was amazed at all the climbing to be done "before the climb".  We saw the third cyclist of the day, Mr. Bingle, on the way up Kelley Road.  He's done Randonneur rides and knew the route we endeavored to complete, even at this late hour.  He rode with us for a bit, then turned off to do his own ride home.

We enjoyed a quick stop at a tree farm to answer an info control question before heading out to Cougar.  Riding by the reservoir included pretty views, rolling hills and crisp, almost-dry air. During a short break at the snack shop, as is typical, a local asked about our ride.  When I told her we were going up FR83, she said in a somewhat panicky voice: "It's snowing at the Ape Caves!  The pink X on your map is way past that!  You can't go up there!"  I like being told I can't do things.

A bunch more climbing happened before the turn off to the big climb.  Ten miles up, to mile point marker ten to get the info control clue, and then we'd go back down.  This is the part that feels like an Alley Cat race and absolutely exhilarates me.  At first there were little piles of slush in the road.  It looked like someone had stopped for a beer break and dumped out their cooler.  A bit more climbing and you could see white in the ditches.  Further along, and I was grateful there had been cars up there, creating long stripes of exposed pavement to ride in between the piles of snow.

Finally, we arrived at Pine Creek, but there was no mile point marker in sight.  I checked the brevet card.  It said we might have to dig through the snow.  So, I found myself freezing my fanny off, standing in a ditch digging in the snow looking for a mile point marker.  Turns out it was on the other side of the road.  A definite dumb-dumb moment.

The descent felt longer than the ascent since I couldn't feel my feet or hands and had to go seriously slow so I wouldn't skid out in the snow.  As we lost elevation, we gained degrees and, eventually, feeling back in hands and toes.  I calculated the cut-off at the next control point.  It was pretty close.  An hour and a quarter to get twenty miles done.  This was the sprint part of the day, and what the heck, it was daytime still.

I doubt two cyclists have ever been happier to arrive at the Yacolt trading post than we were, with a mere one minute to spare before the control cut-off.  I was so hungry I could barely think.  I need fat and salt and sugar but can't handle too much bulk or any meat.  I foraged up some cashews, chips & avocado, an apple juice and a chocolate bar.  We stood there, frozen and famished, cramming calories in and putting off thinking about the next thirty miles. 

With only three hours to go, most in unfamiliar country on dark winding roads, we had a daunting task in front of us, but it turned out to be surprisingly easy.  Maybe because I couldn't see the hills as we approached them, or anything really, except the pavement in front of me and a red blinking tail light.  We began stopping at street lights, memorizing the next three cues and sprinting off.  The 205 bridge took us to the 205 path, which led to the bright welcoming beacon of the Shell station.  Just then, the rain started.  Running in, one minute to spare, 10:09pm after a 7:30am start, the ride came to a close.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Where should we ride?  I look out the window and think.  To the blue building.  And back.  How about thirty third?  How about both.

And so, down the stairs, out the door, into the dark wee hours and the blue building.  Up the ramp, the elevated parking lot for lots and lots of laps.

Out, past orange-lit houses, curvy bikey infrastructure and u-turn.  Everything is familiar.  It's the same way we came.  Orange houses again.  Curvey turn-off again.  And done.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cycle Wild

Cycle Wild is a bike tour group started by three cycle-tourists hoping for bigger groups on their outings, which generally start in or near Portland, Oregon.  There are one or two trips a month throughout the year, with cabins or yurts as destinations during foul weather times. 

These nice folks organize a route, reserve campsites or cabins if necessary and even hand out cue sheets.  Riders are given a full description of what to expect as far as ride difficulty and terrain, campsite amenities and even food stops .  These weekend trips are free (yes, free!) except for the cost of the overnight sight.

Even though I was already acquainted with two of the three founders and love bike touring, I had somehow never gone on tour with this group.  That all changed a couple of weekends ago when I joined Matt and three other friends on a 40 mile trip out to Green Canyon campground.

Although early October in the Pacific Northwest usually means cold and wet weather, we had beautifully sunny, warm and dry days for our tour.  We met at the train station in Gresham and rode east along quiet country roads, including some of my favorites like Shipley and Marmot.

The name Shipley reminds me of an alley in San Francisco where bike messengers would gather to drink out of paper bags after hours.  But this Shipley is a short, treed-in, narrow little street with a gentle grade.  It leads to Marmot, which is a rolling hilly, cow-covered, meadow of a place with stunning views of Wy'East, or Mount Hood, as the locals now call it.

We arrived in Welches to stock up on groceries, then rolled out for the last three miles of road to camp, where we laid claim to the very best site.  This gorgeous green campground was well-stocked with free firewood and we enjoyed a roaring fire all evening.  Dinner included rice and bean waffles, wine and messy s'mores made with jumbo marshmallows.

In the morning, Matt delighted us with pancakes made from scratch and prepared in the cast iron skillet he had carried to camp on his bike!  He followed that up with a fancy egg scramble dish and bacon.  There was also plenty of oatmeal and coffee on hand.  We waddled out to Welches, where we split off to see the hillier scenic route while the others to hightail it on the highway. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ware-Cat Race

Tired and cranky from riding up and down Bald Peak all day could only be remedied by more bike-riding.

I wasn't very happy about driving to an alley cat race, but time left me no other choice.  So, I found the hard-to-find alley address in an industrial neighborhood near downtown Portland, parked and unloaded my bike.

An open bay door to the alley revealed a small space with a stage and a man in red announcing the rules to the race, which he started repeating as new racers arrived.  In true Bike Swam fashion, we were to ride out together, to a single address and ride right back.

We had an hour, a keg full of free beer and some intense live music to enjoy between rounds.  These intermissions lasted an hour so I only lasted for two of the three rounds.  I won a fabulous red spoke card, which I proudly ride with and will until it falls out or falls apart.

I was also interviewed on a recorder by a man who claimed he was a journalist.  He interviewed me because I was the only one there who'd ever raced in an Alley Cat before.  It made me feel like quite the expert and even a little famous.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Meltdown on the Mountain

The goal for Saturday was to ride five times up Bald Peak, five different ways, three of those on gravel. But we only made it up four.  

Not because of Mike crashing or his bloody wounds wrapped in arm warmers.  Not because of the extra long and wide load of machinery that came barreling down the hill at us, nearly sideswiping riders.  Not even because of my whiny attitude over nothing but my own suckitude.  But because I had a stupid cramp that wouldn't go away for over an hour.
I was pissed at myself and my body and pretty much the whole human race.  But really it's my own fault for creating a ride called Bald Peak for Hardasses, and giving myself credit for being a hardass before I even rode it.

Luckily, I lived to ride another day.  And that day was Sunday.  An aimless ride that started at a civil hour through rolling country hills with no particular schedule or goal or destination except for fun.  I'd forgotten about this kind of exploratory adventure, deciding at each turn which way to turn.
This is one of those times when bike rides mirror life.  You take it all so seriously and second guess yourself and convince yourself that you are unworthy, but it's all happening in your head and nowhere else.  Sometimes it's best to just let go of the big goals and the cadence and the grams and just coast.