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.

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