Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Lunch at Nick's

Randonneur riding requires riders to present a brevet card to baristas, waiters, corner store cashiers, and even gas station clerks.  Every recipient of my "abbreviated intro to brevet-card-signing" has expressed amazement, encouragement, congratulations, or at least a polite nod, while they quickly jot their initials and time on my card.  Many appear to feel like co-conspirators in what must sound like a crazy long distance bike race to them.

When I began writing write this post, I planned to detail the first-ever exception to this rule: hostility and negativity doled out by a certain male clerk at a certain market in a certain northern town near some certain plains. Instead, I'll tell you I'm proud to be banned for life from a place where using the water, even as a paying customer, is an offense worthy of calling the police.

Now, onto the good, which really ruled the day.  Four of us braved the cold that morning.  And when I say cold, I'm talking about negative 13 degrees celcius (that's 9 degrees farenheit for you Americans).  Riders ran the gamut from Super Randonneur to brand-spanking-new Rando to R12 recipient to R12 seeker.  Laura, Jeff, and Graham had never met before, so it was a big privilege to introduce them and witness what a strong and evenly-paced team we made. 
You can't go on a ride this brisk without discussing gear.  All four sported muffs, or neck-warmers, which were fluffy with frost by our first control.  Two sported lobster gloves, which are great for Spock-lovers.  I enjoyed three hats and taped helmet vents, along with a new down jacket.  We were all generally warm enough as long as we kept moving, although we all shared in frozen toe phenomena.

A spectacular sunrise show, featuring bright salmon-speckled clouds, lasted only a moment.  We saw a good amount of birds, big and small, and wondered more than once if these little critters suffer in the cold.  A few cows and several chickens later, we split into girls and boys. I helped my team miss the turn at Laughlin, adding five miles to our day.
Stag Hollow's gravel was thin and the hard-packed dirt felt a lot like pavement.  We were chased by dogs a couple of times, but they were small and cute.  No Molly Mayhems on today's route.  Rolling into McMinnville, we spied a couple bundled bicyclists with a baby in tow.  We spent a nice warm while enjoying a fancy lunch at Nick's Italian Cafe - after all, this permanent is named "Lunch at Nick's".

Warmed up, tummies full, we began the return route.  Spring Hill Road is an old favorite and found me reminiscing about past rides.  Who could forget the info control at Laughlin on a recent brevet?  Or that one time a missed turn at night on Ribbon Ridge cost us an extra eight miles.  Ducking into the shade of an idle tractor to escape the summer heat.  Those were the days. 

Finally rolling into Multnomah Village, we arranged our bikes in the lobby of the Lucky Lab and toasted our success with a post-ride beer.  It felt as though two weeks had passed since we set out.  Intense days like this are so dense with experiences, time compresses into a tiny little nugget you can tuck into your head to reminisce on some future ride

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

BikeCraft 2013

Spending fifteen minutes every morning for several months adds up!  That's how I was able to produce a nice tall stack of home-made buddy flaps, each with a reflective accent.  I also "produced" a giant baggie full of painted valve covers and over a dozen Bum-Ease pillows.

When I attended BikeCraft last year, I never dreamed I'd have my very own booth this year.  BikeCraft is a weekend-long show that happens in Portland every December and features local artisans (and craftisans!) and their wares.  Products range from very finished-looking panniers created by local businesses to little crafty bits created by little crafty folk like me. 

I saw bike jewelry, bike tire belts, bike chain belt buckles, glass art with images of bikes screen-printed in, caps, caps and more caps (all beautiful), kinetic art, books and zines - you name it!  I was a bit nervous the first morning.  After all, although I have made stuff for myself (or my bikes) over the years, I'd never set up a booth at a show like this.

The ride over was precarious with a gigantic messenger bag full of stuff on my back.  But, I made it to the venue, Velocult, by 10:30am and found my booth space.  It was perfect!  Not too near the door, since I have ice-blood.  Right around the corner from the bathroom, as my belief in constant hydration has its price.  My next step was to find the table I rented.  Then, table decor time!  I tossed a maroon and pink Christmasy tablecloth (made by my mother) onto the table, then displayed my wares.
Set up was completed just in time. I was especially happy with the signs, which were a craft event of their own, created with a young friend of mine. The crowd flow felt constant, and just right. I didn't have a single boring moment. Soon, it was time for my young friend and her mother to fill in for me, so I could head out to Alley Cross. Alley Cross is a combination of alley cat racing - my favorite type, and cyclocross - my newest.

There were around 30 racers in attendance and we enjoyed a Le Mans start. That means we laid our bikes down and walked a good clip away to wait for the starting whistle. Then everyone scrambled to get on their bikes. What better time for a cyclocross style mount! We raced over to a park, which was set up just like a genuine CX race, complete with flags, run-ups and even barriers. An organizer announced the bell lap to each racer, then we scooted back to the start.

There by the registration table, was a huge mound of winter clothing earmarked for a local shelter. This was the race registration fee. And next to that, a big pile of prizes, including some donated by my own company.  Prizes ran three deep (that means first, second & third place) for four categories (juniors, women, men, last place).

One quick beer, a shouted announcement about the show, and I rode back to my booth. My sweat dried soon enough and I proudly kept my number pinned on for the remainder of the day.  I had just broken even before leaving for the race, so everything from here on out was profit.  I decided to spend all of my profit, every last cent, on items from other booths.  Everything there was beautifully made, useful, novel, and supported another small artisan. Day two was slower, but I was still having fun.  I lost a few games of chess while (wo-)manning my booth, enjoyed a beer, and perfected my sales pitch. 

Here's my spiel. Contact me at bicyclekitty@gmail.com if you're interested in purchasing anything.
  • Buddy Flaps: "Sure, your fender keeps you and your butt dry, but what about your friend behind you?  Buddy flaps are lightweight and stiff, add visibility to your ride, and go on with a single zip tie. $6 each, $10 per pair.
  • Pillows:Vinyl on one side and cotton on the other; a must-have accessory for Pedalpalooza rides and loaded touring. They guarantee a warm, dry place to sit wherever you go. $15 each.
  • Embellished Valve Caps: can be used for more than covering your tube valves. One small customer taught me that they can also come in handy as "fairy cups". $1.00 per pair.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Crossing Over

Dear Bicycle Kitty blog readers: I am now blogging at work and won't be able to post here as much. The below three part series will be continued at the Western Bikeworks blog. It's still me writing, it's still my voice, it's still my bike adventures. The big difference is that now I'm getting paid to write...! If I do post here, it'll be non-work-appropriate (aka juicy!) stuff, but I really do hope you come check out my new blog site.. Feel free to put your comments in the new blog comment section.
 
PART ONE

http://www.voicenews.com/content/articles/2013/07/02/news/doc51cdca90c678b0256042131.jpg
You know that feeling when you see the road stretched out in front of you? That beautiful beckoning silver ribbon with its tightly stitched yellow middle? It seems to scream "Come and get me! And do it quick!!" I call that phenomenon pavement passion. Spending all day riding the smooth and silky sexy road surface is more than just my hobby. It's been my passion for more years than I'll admit. But this story's not about that.

Gravel grinders are getting trendy and for good reason. They take roadies like me out of their comfort zone to try their hand at riding unpaved, pebbly fire roads. My efforts on these rides have been rewarded with front row views to a nature you can't see from paved country roads. I've logged a few hundred gravel miles, but all I have to show for it is a better understanding of which tires work best. Neither my off-road bike handling skills, nor my confidence on this surface, have improved. The gravel slows me down, sucks my confidence away and seems to serve only to deepen my love affair with the tarmac. But this story's not about that either.

I've dipped my toe in road racing and enjoyed it, but my home base race is the urban adventure known as an Alley Cat. Go ahead, google-ate it. These unsanctioned street races pay you back for your knowledge of the city and how to cut corners safely. You tear through the streets all alone, with the feeling that your opponents are breathing down your neck. This past Spring, my team of five competed in one of these races. Instead of the traditional manifest stamp at each checkpoint, we were required to eat cake. At five checkpoints. Yes, five. Five beautifully made, fully frosted and sprinkled, double-layered cakes. One of my teammates, a cyclocross race fiend, is extremely disciplined about his training and was quite naturally unhappy about the alley cat race. As we collected our third place trophy, he informed me that I owed him and he'd be collecting his payment in the form of one cyclocross race. That's where this story really begins.

That was six months ago. I'll confess that I only agreed because I felt punchy from a lot of cake and a few fast miles. Cyclocross season seemed so far away and I felt I had no choice but to agree to my friend's demand. But now it's fall, and my debt has come due. So I've chosen the flattest race I could find. It happens in Washington County and apparently we get to ride through a barn.

The OBRA calendar shows my D-Day (or CX-Day!) as Sunday, November 3rd, giving me just over three weeks to get ready. My first step was to buy a cyclocross bike. My old mountain bike is too heavy and my shoulders too weak to carry it. My road bike has caliper brakes that will get gummed up by the mud. So what if I only race the new bike once? Lots of people use 'cross bikes for commuting, since they have powerful brakes and room for fenders. Lots of riders gravel grind on 'cross bikes.

These are the sorts of rationalizations made by your typical "n+1" believer--meaning, the correct number of bikes to own is always "n+1". Give me a great excuse to buy a new bike and I'll take it. A brand new, albeit last year's model, Focus Mares AX 3.0 is on its way to me now from California. The first, most important, question you'll need answered is "what color is it?" Well, it's matte gray with a lot of blood-red logo lettering on the lower portion of the bike. I haven't seen it in person yet, but I picture a post-apocalyptic war machine with an undercarriage covered in trompled zombie blood. Perfect.   I'll be recording here, and on our shiny new Western Bikeworks blog, my journey from seasoned roadie to shaking-in-my-shoes, fresh-faced cyclocross racing newbie. Wish me luck. Give me advice. Just don't tell me to break a leg.


PART TWO
bike  

I'm excited to report that my new Focus AX 3 cyclocross bicycle has arrived. It is currently awaiting assembly in the Western Bikeworks Service Department with a pink post-it note I wrote: "I need to blog this build". While I anticipate its birth into the outside world, I prepare for my own launch into a new realm by gathering advice on how to handle my first ever, and possibly last ever, cyclocross race. Some are words to live by offered with genuineness by experienced racers. Some are more along the lines of "If you can dodge a wrench, you can race cyclocross" (from one of our talented mechanics right before he winged a wrench at me).

Guidance and suggestions came pouring in on every front. Via text from a trusted source: "Practice running up hills in your shoes, with and without a bicycle on your shoulder. That is certainly a skill no road miles ready your legs for."

An eight-year-old I know answered my request without skipping a beat. "Practice, practice, practice! Ride fast through the mud!". We were walking on an unimproved road in my neighborhood at the time so she demonstrated on foot.

My OBRA team (go Slow!) captain e-mailed me these wise words: "Your bike knows what it's doing. When you're descending a hill or going over bumpy stuff, relax a little bit. Trust that your bike is smart and that it will, generally, lead you in good directions. Dismount early for barriers and run an extra step or two before remounting. Dismount early for hills. Remember you don't get extra points for staying on your bike -- the really gnarly slow sections that people are riding at zero mph? Run them. Remember that everybody else has to deal with traffic, mud, fatigue, and hills. Don't give up. Push past that girl in front of you and as soon as you're out of sight she might forget you're there or decide she can't chase you. And, of course, have fun, be communicative, talk to other racers to boost morale. Try really hard. Most of cross is just riding your bike. There are different surfaces and barriers but -- really -- it's just riding your bike. You can do that."

Then there was the dude outside the hotel in Maupin, Oregon the morning after the Double Trouble 200K and Halloween costume bash. He was dressed as the Duff Man the night before. He just finished loading his bike into his car and was headed to the Cross Crusade that morning when I asked him for helpful wisdom. "Congratulations on deciding to race! Let me get my bike out and show you some things. First: practice picking the bike up. Some people shoulder it but it can be easier to lift it right palm-down on the seat tube, left hand on the bars. And, very important: set the bike down very gently. People get all excited and toss their bike back down on the ground after a barrier, but once your chain's off, it's kinda over."
duff
My favorite, and potentially the easiest to follow advice, came from the same dude who made me promise to race in the first place. Hours after I posted on facebook that I'd made the plunge into cyclocross-bike-ownership, there was a knock on my door. And there he was, his bike was behind him, covered with grass and dirt, leaning against the porch railing like a tuckered puppy. This guy trains people for a living and has taught many a cyclocross racer, so I expected a really complicated training plan. Instead, he said "Wax on, wax off. Take that bike down to the corner park and ride in the grass. Forget about proper cyclocross mounting and dismounting. Get on the bike, get off the bike, repeat. Get on the bike, get off the bike, repeat. Over and over every day. Wax on, wax off." And off he rode into the night.
 

PART THREE
cx (6)   Some folks put the hammer down, I put the AX down. Every noble steed needs a name. Mine is AX. But first this baby needs to get built.

As soon as the bike was in the stand, I was faced with a long list of decisions: Cheater brakes (aka cross-top brake levers), yes or no? Tires? How about some IRD Crossfires. Color? White, natch. Bar tape? The weirdest color you've got. Bottle cage? Bright baby blue. It turns out no serious 'cross aficionado puts bottle cages on their race bikes, but a girl gets thirsty. Faux pas be damned. While I'm at it, I might as well put a bell on it. Try as I might to uglify it, this bike stubbornly insists on being beautiful. I can't quit you, AX.   fbf (62)
After Saturday's Western Bikeworks shop ride, I ditched my road bike and grabbed the AX for its maiden voyage. Super comfy, it makes the pavement feel like carpet and potholes feel like "what potholes?" Getting up to the top of Gladstone, I ran into some nice folks and friends who were in the middle of their Cross Freak event.

The serendipity of running into an underground 'cross race the day I built up my new 'cross bike was not lost on me. It was like hearing the universe ring the cowbell of good-natured heckling. In keeping with the "Freak" portion of the Cross Freak, racers were challenged to a rather un-traditional LeMans start. Our bikes were far, far away, way down the hill. Racers had to perform some vertigo-inducing spins, run down the grass hill, grab our bikes, and mount up. Once there, we had to slog back up the hill. The race was perfectly matched to my nascent cyclocross racing skill set. The seal has been broken. I inadvertently raced my first 'cross race, without having to pin on a number. Now to master the tall-bike remount.   fb    

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Pink Conversation


The plumb bob swings left, then right.  Back, then forth. Up and over like a swing on a dare until it comes around the other side.  You go as fast and hard as you can without mishap.  You stay safely in town on a mixte in your favorite pleated plaid skirt and Speedy Bike Club t-shirt, only to take a tumble, go down, eat pavement, take a header, end-o, eat shit, and so forth.  Round and round she goes.  Where she stops, I know!

My opinions are politically incorrect, or maybe they're impolitically correct, does it matter?  Maybe a good knock on the noggin was just what I needed to clear my head. Because I'm finally coming around to recognize my favor for the male gender may be related to some complication in my mind relating to my own gender on an even playing field.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm happy to be a female.  I'm just confused by the complicatedness of feminism and my guilt for not being a proper feminist.   So it seems easier to relate to, and ride with, men. Right or wrong, it's the truth.

Long ago, so long ago, I took a Women's Literature class at Michigan State University and loved it.  I enjoy the female voice, written, spoken and in song, but the heated discussions in class baffled me.  I prepared to be baffled once more when a girlfriend, a self-described feminist, casually announced it was time we had "the pink conversation".  I was afraid I might be forced to expose my "bad" opinions, but instead was surprised we agreed about pink.  I've always known it, but didn't know others did too.  You see, there's a certain guilt in loving and wearing, and appointing your bicycle, with pink, especially as a so-called empowered woman who aims to avoid being pigeon-holed.  I get it!  I love pink but I don't want to be perceived as some stereotype of a girly girl frolicking in the daisies.  Whatever that means.

If I hear of an all ladies ride, I run for the hills - in the opposite direction.  And I do hear of female-only events, races, rides, parties, bike shops.  You name it.  My book club, the Literary Velocipedas, is all women, accidentally but successfully.  My network group, the Portland Society, is also all women, and is, just this week, opening some of their events to the other half of the population. These ladies model proper behavior for me and I try to learn and adapt.

However, the idea of a bike shop catering to women which offers frilly cruiser bikes, flowery bags, bows for helmets and free cookies makes me see red.  Not pink, red.  But why? I ask myself.  Isn't it important to me as a cyclist that there are more cyclists?  And I'm a woman, so naturally, wouldn't I want to nurture new female riders?
At a campout this summer with a group of friends and acquaintances, I made the mistake of openly expressing opinions about just such a shop.  It was as if I had outed myself as some sort of lady-hater, which, even worse, means I'm a self-hater.  My perception is that this type of business model implies that women have special needs, that we are weak and therefore need coddling, extra attention and for everyone to be super nice to us at all times, lest we break into tears or some sort of hysterical attack.  Ironically, I was shot down quickly, which resulted in me breaking down in hysterical tears. 

The suggestion made by one man at the campfire that bike mechanics receive special instructions to be nice to women ruffled the hell out of me.  The mechanics I work with, sweethearts all, are nice to nice people and nice to jerky people and occasionally jerky to real big jerks.  Sure, it's their job to be pleasant to customers, but a class in being pleasant to females specifically? 

Then there was the young girl on the tour who'd ridden her knobby-tired mountain bike with a helmet strapped to the handlebars.  Her fireside demand was for more women-specific helmets.  I had listened to this gal's earlier preach, that, in her six months of cycling experience, she had learned that helmets are unnecessary and actually dangerous.  When asked why she brought one, she replied she thought we might have to ride on the freeway.  Of course, being mowed down by a semi truck going 70 mph is probably one of the times a bike helmet would prove useless.  My helmet, a unisex size medium with white and pink stripes on it, saved my bacon on my recent little crash and burn.  Instead of death or a vegetative state, I received a mere concussion and black eye. 

Meanwhile, back at camp, I'm leaving the campfire in the dark and headed back to my tent to be alone with my wrong opinions and bad thoughts.  A good friend followed me back to my campsite and challenged, or rather invited, me to talk out my point of view with her.  What I learned that night, and what I'm continuing to learn, is that these feelings come from a place of privilege. 

No mechanic has condescended to me at a bike shop.  I've always managed to make good pay and successfully grab the right career opportunities.  If I've ever been denied anything due to my gender, I'm oblivious to it.  Just the opposite, I feel my way has been paved more smoothly because I'm a chick.  Whether or not these experiences are deserved or not, they are a result of the privileged life I've led.  A privileged life many before me have fought for.  Suffragists and the sort. 

So what do I do with these new epiphanies?  Well, the only thing I really know how to do.  I ride my bike and think.  I think and ride my bike.  I learn to be grateful for my privilege.  Grateful for friends who encourage me to speak my mind.  Although it may be unpopular, maybe because of that, I must express these thoughts, here in the safety of the bicycle kitty blog, and let the chips fall. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Jens Voigt Army Velodirt Rapscallion Gender Neutral Mt. Hood Reacharound

A ride / race almost as long as its title.  84 miles.  9860 feet of elevation gain.  5 miles of dirt.  45 riders.  Starting teams are sized anywhere from one to five.  The twist: riders must finish in a team of exactly three.  Doesn't matter if they're the same or different people than your starting team.

I gathered up a group to be on Team Messerschmidt then promptly quit when I learned smaller teams start earlier.  Team Blood Fire Death Brigade (me, alone!) took off at about 9:15am from White River Snow Park, riding down the mountain in the mist.

A team of two flew by about twenty minutes later.  Then another, followed by two groups of five.
Ex-teammate number one passed me about a half hour in.  The white trash bag he wore as a jacket rattled in the wind as he madly sucked the wheel of a larger group.  Ex-teammate Tex passed me soon after.  "Hey!  What's going on?!" he yelled, planting that song in my head for the remainder of the day.

Just before Zig Zag, a wolf crossed the street in front of me.  Some say this is coyote country and wolves would be far from home but he was too big, fluffy and pale gray to be a coyote.  He looked right at me, looked the other way and darted into the bushes.  I darted into Zig Zag for a water refill and came out just in time to see ex-teammate number three.  I never did see ex-teammate number four, the Kid.

We rode up Lolo Pass together and were soon joined by self-described new rider, Berta.  Berta the bad-ass, I call her now.  She just got her bike last year.  This particular ride was her longest to date.  She paced us more seasoned riders, seemingly easily.  It's as if she just got delivery on a pair of brand new legs.  Low-mileage, un-cramped, un-compromised, ready-to-go legs!

Lolo felt relatively easy, which was good, because it was only the first of four climbs.  We had the good fortune of seeing Donnie, our host, at the next two turns.  After a nice dirt descent, we began climb number two.  This one was steep and the heat of the day was showing its big hot face.  With only an inch of water left by the top, I about kissed the gentlemen waiting there with water for us.

This road was magic.  A beautifully paved one lane road with views of the far-off gorge and crossing back and forth under electric thoroughfares.  Summer was still alive up here.  By the time the three of us rolled into Parkdale together, we felt cemented as a team.  Enough so that when my OBRA Team Slow teammate Ed joined us and asked about our team, I told him it was us three and he was out.

We climbed Cooper Spur.  The first false flat part was very hot.  There was a good amount of moaning.  The four of us plodded ahead as I mentally ate my words describing Cooper Spur as the "easiest climb" you'll ever do.  Finally at the top, we put our feet down.  Ed and I agreed: beer.  Michael and Berta declined the rest stop and descended to route 35 and the final climb.
"So nice to see you again" was the greeting from the barmaid at the lodge.  Ed hadn't been there for over a year, so it's likely she was remembering a visit I made there a month ago with someone else.  In any case, she was friendly, the beverages were cold and we enjoyed a nice little rest break.

After the lovely descent, we were on the relentless bit of 35 that generally gets smeared from memory.  It changes everything when you're planning to finish at the top of the mountain instead of dreading a long cold ride back into town.  We spent those last few miles conjuring up a team plan.  We felt that as a pair, we were in the power position.  So, imagine the surprise as a single rider blew by us without a care.  A second single rider flew by moments later.  We decided we'd have to do the asking.

Next rider up was Donnie, the ride (dis)organizer.  This was big fish.  Hell, Ed was big fish.  We had come up with a really fabulous team name to tempt our third.  The Rap-Stallions, the horses of hip hop. Donnie said no, then called back a maybe over his shoulder.  Finally, just outside the snow park parking lot, when we should be racing down for PBRs, we waited.  And waited.

After almost ten minutes, or maybe it was five, Donnie yelled up at us.  He had signed us in at 5:30.  So, basically, we killed it.  Finishing way before dark, around 18th out of 25 recorded finishing teams, no crashes, no flats, and on an amazing little team.  We hung out and enjoyed watching the riders drizzle in.  It was a huge highlight to hear Sassy say it was her hardest day on a bike ever. God knows I've said that after many of the Velodirt rides.  These days are made to let us know how rich we are.



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sizzle Fizzle

Well, dear reader, my apologies for neglecting you.  As you must know, I've been so busy biking I haven't had time to write.  There's no feeling better than that grateful "winning the bicycle lottery" feeling, of enjoying the privilege and freedom of riding as much as possible.  My summer legs are mean and lean and roll me down the road with a vengeance!  So, here's just some of what's been happening bike-wise around Portland since the STP.

I cooked up a private ride series, named it the Humpdy Rides, and told everyone I know.  The ride features a morning Tabor climb and evening Rocky Butte repeats every Wednesday for ten weeks.  No one but me showed up to the first ride, but I've had company on every other one.  These events add almost fifty miles to my Wednesday odometer.  Please ping me if you would like details.  You're all invited.

Research and development on randonneur riding is on temporary hiatus.  Instead of braving the bureaucracy, applying for a permanent every month, rushing past alluring turns that beg for exploration, and collecting receipts from gas stations, I'll be out riding bikes.  Rando riding will still happen on occasion, but my R-million pursuit is over and I'm content with the accomplishment of riding a 200K for seventeen consecutive months.  It felt freeing to shake greasy donut hands with Ride Partner as we agreed to quit together.   We've made our peace with this style of riding and are eager to move on to the next.

This decision created time and space to ride around Mount Hood again this summer, to the tune of 155 miles and 11,500 feet of climbing.  What a day!  What a long, hard, tiring, inspirational, joyful, scenic day.  Controle-free, the ride divided itself into three simple segments.  The easy, fresh, beautiful morning portion on the Crown Point Highway, the bike path to Cascade Locks and a freeway speed fest to Hood River.  Next up, the climby part.  South to Parkdale and up the Cooper's Spur, which is my second favorite road.  A nap or a beer at the top and more climbing.  At last, the last part, which takes you down the mountain from Government Camp to Sandy, the rising moon at your back, to Gresham and bar-food and a train ride home. 

My next ride, The Rocky Butte Sunset Picnic Dance Party, was an unforgettable one with a great group called the Shiftys.  In contrast to the dozen helium balloons I brought, our ride leader dragged an almost hundred pound mobile sound system on his cargo trailer, along with a ten foot pole tucked down the back of his pants.  The pole's purpose is to suspend the disco ball for the dance party.  Folks gathered around the potluck offerings and cheered on the sunset until dance time.  And the dancing was fantastic.

I could feel the dance in my legs during the next morning's french toast ride.  Fifteen miles in, I tearfully turned back, quitting my own ride.  The muscle strain gave me a sharp pain behind the leg with every pedal stroke. Luckily, early withdrawal from Saturday's ride enabled just enough recovery to survive Sunday's hilly shop ride.  It's fun to see who comes on these monthly rides, sometimes going up past Skyline, other times out around Sauvie Island.

Suddenly, it was time for Mike's Bridge of the Gods Century.  We wondered where The Kid was this year and missed him.  Too many flat tires, learning the lesson again that waiting for a rider doesn't create an automatic unwritten contract that they wait for you later.  My emotions steer me, but often into an interpersonal ditch, especially when I feel ditched.  Enjoyed the bike path to Cascade Locks yet again, then lunch, the bridge and the trudge up SR-14 in the heat.  All of it felt easy.  A dip in the Washougal made it extra fun.

The Bike Farm, where I built my Miyata, is moving to a larger space and put on a pre-move swap.  So I loaded my bag up with parts and headed out.  It was there, in the heat of the day, that I found my freak bike and, in the heat of the moment, bought it.  This gift to self promises to be a pleasant project to work on at the new Bike Farm this fall.  It has a long wheel base, a strangely bent top tube, a purple sparkly paint job and 24" wheels.  It shall be known as...the Vector.

Later on, I spectated the Fiets of Parenthood cargo bike races.  The cargo bikers were required to carry at least one kid, on any sort of bike or xtra-cycle or with a trailer.  They had to pick up groceries, rescue a dropped toy, ride through a tight slalom course, stop for a pedestrian, ride over a teeter tauter and skewer three hoops with a giant rod.  Then a quick visit to the Cyclepedia show, where it was almost impossible not to touch the amazing assortment of bikes on display, and finally, a highlight of my summer, my first ever dip in the Willamette.  I swam and swam and swam and could've kept swimming.  The river never seemed so big.

The events seem to envelope me even as I craft this little blog entry.  There was the crazy Friday night fun of the Cirque du Cycling's cargo races and criterium races and all the friends there.  The next morning, I co-led a loaded tour with Cycle Wild, out to the most beautiful campground in the state of Washington.  We spent time on the not-quite-open bike path, which revealed crowds of cyclists, hikers, families, strollers and dogs.  It felt like the Springwater corridor!  A newbie in our group commented that maybe, just maybe, in fifteen years or so, cycling might get catch on and get really popular.  I recall wanting that desperately in the past.  I know it's good to spread cycling.  But I'm growing wary of the crowds on the bike path.  I'm growing leery of that mall-feeling ruining the special-ness I feel about my sport.  These are likely symptoms of summer, when the empty dark wet ahead beckons with that exclusive feeling of ownership on the byways.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

STP

Jeff the Rando joined me in riding this year's STP as a loaded tour. His wife drove us up and dropped us off Friday evening to camp on the rather wet, freshly irrigated soccer field.  I remember when there were only a dozen tents set up on that large field, before they installed the sprinkler stystem.  Not only is the crowd of campers larger, the field is smaller, with the addition of a nice new running track at the University of Washington. 

We planned to leave at 7am but rolled over the empty and closed start line at 8am after a relaxed breakfast at Starbux.  It felt a little like that Steven King book where those airplane passengers land in a time after the present but before the future has gobbled up everything.  We eventually caught up to a few straggling riders, many suffering from the phenomena known as first mile flats.  We paced for several miles with a couple on mountain bikes, who we'd see again and again over the next two days.  This couple had a hand signal (touch helmet) for a silent "car back" warning.

Silence is nice, and pretty rare on this 10,000 person event.  Instead of looking at it as a bike ride, I view it as all of humanity coming out to spend a couple days riding bikes.  As always with a huge tidal wave of people, there are the scuffles and irritations that can happen in crowds.

"ON YOUR LEFT!" shouts are my personal pet peeve.  Somehow some of these folks seem to think that this warning, at high decibels, is not just necessary, but absolutely mandatory.  I expect people to pass on the left.  A few ladies even yelled at me for not yelling a passing warning to them, which is pretty surprising considering their sub-10mph pace.  Warning gently "left side" only seems appropriate if a rider appears to be swerving or weaving or as if they might dart in front of me.

But, I'm not here to complain.  On the contrary, it was a very enjoyable weekend on the bike.  Having Jeff around was a lot of fun.  Seeing the costumes and the funky bikes is always interesting.  My favorite weird bike was ridden by a guy with very muscular legs.  As I came up behind him, I thought to myself, geez this guy rides bow-legged.  What a bad bike fit!  But as I got closer, I observed that what we had here was a genuine badass.  This gentleman was riding a Schwinn Stringray with 16" wheels and a banana seat. 

There were at least three turtle teams to be found.  The first was just a couple in matching jerseys with a giant turtle emblazoned on the back.  They seemed to enjoy my accusation that they were the fastest turtles I'd ever seen.  The man called me Scorpian bootie as he egged me on to let him draft.  I didn't know why til later when I remembered the Castelli logo on my shorts.

Just like on the Tour de France, one could find chalk markings on the road encouraging riders.  There were also rhyming signs along many parts of the route.  My favorite sign read: "Attention STP riders!  Mike Peterson is fast.  DRAFT him!".

I abstained from using the organized rest stops and instead went rando-style, meaning I bought all of my food at gas stations, which suits me great because they always stock my favorite combinations of chips & soda, necco wafers & strawberry milk.

Arriving in Centralia at the beer tent, there was more evidence at how this ride has grown.  What used to be a modest beer garden has erupted into a huge series of tents and tables chock full of riders enjoying their hops and a replay of the Tour on TV. 

After dinner, with a stomach full of spaghetti, I plunged into the pool and swam across to appease the strict lifeguard's demand that any slide user pass a swim test.  Then, on to the slide.  A huge yellow tunnel that twists and turns and dumps you in.  Kicking out lactic acid while swimming is a great recovery device.

Sunday started with a walk to the drive-thru coffee stand for an Americano, while a parade of cyclists rode by, already on their way to Portland.  The first twenty five miles are the prettiest.  Rolling hills through countryside, cool temperatures and the promise of spending all day in the saddle feels sweet.

Stopping for banana bread is a tradition.  So is Gene not recalling my name.  He and his wife Susan have been serving free banana bread to STP riders for ten years now.  There are so many exchanges and conversations and observations, it's hard to keep track.  Like the bicycle built for four with dad on the front, mom on the back and two boys in the middle.  Or the couple of gals at the convenience store riding their first STP and having knee pain.  They asked how many I'd done and I counted.  9.  How is that even possible?  Suddenly they were asking advice.  I told them to take ibuprofin and buy a foam roller.

Stayed with Jeff pretty steadily through to the Longview Bridge, which was extra congested because of a three car accident.  When the group of cyclists were released, we actually caught up to the line of cars ahead of us and passed them.  Then, down the huge bridge descent, into Oregon and onto Route 30, which would be our home for the next 45 miles.

Burgerville in St. Helens was a madhouse.  I've stopped here every year and remember feeling grateful I was the only cyclist who knew about it.  Not anymore.  This and so many other things have changed over the years.  I recall riding with Ryan and Sarah the first year.  We created a system of check nicknames, which we still use today (see comment on blog entry Pedalpalooza B).  And I recall riding with Ryan the second year.  We called ourselves hot soup & crackers, inspired by my Campbell's Soup jersey.  The cute little lunch diner we found is now a mini mall.

And that about says it all.  Every cute little lunch diner you ever find will one day become a mini mall.  Does that mean you stop going and find another cute little lunch diner?  Maybe.  But keep in mind, whatever diner you find will eventually become a mini mall.  Whatever small group ride you attend, may eventually become a huge event ride.  Whatever first time things you start doing, may eventually become a decade long, or more, endeavor.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Bike MS Write-Up

Things to Think About as You Prepare for a Long Ride (or) Even Freshman Riders Can Rock Bike MS.

About the author: I am a bicyclist, some might even say a serious one.  I delight in all things bike.  I even work in the bike industry, as the Marketing Coordinator for Western Bikeworks, the premier bike shop sponsor of BikeMS.  There's no kind of bike-riding I don't like, although distance road riding is my favorite. - Maria Schur

As you embark on your next hard ride, consider your head as the most powerful tool in your arsenal. Although training and fitness matter, the higher truth is that endurance events happen up top, in the brain.  Bryce Courtney states it simply in his book The Power Of One: “...The mind is the athlete, the body is simply the means it uses..."
 
One mental preparation trick is to peek at a map of the route several times in the days before the big ride.  Visualize the start, where many experienced riders still get butterflies from the excitement.  Picture what you'll be wearing: "cute power" really does help!  If you look good, you feel good and if you feel good, you can rock whatever it is you want to rock.  Maybe even jot down some strategies to re-read over breakfast on the big day.  Things like breathe deeply, smile, enjoy the view.

Make a list.  Forgetting your shoes or helmet can be a ride killer.  Double check for essentials before leaving home in your car: shoes, helmet, water bottles, sunglasses.  Pump your tires up to pressure the night before and doublecheck them before bed.  It's way more fun to fix a flat at night at home than in the morning at the start line. 

Time equals distance.  Using a bike computer is a great way to is get the feel of how long it takes to ride certain distances.  If the idea of riding 33 (or 100!) miles is overwhelming, consider the time instead.  You'll be pleasantly surprised to see how a little math can help you calculate your finish time.  Don't forget to factor in rest stops.  They may feel short, but six ten minute stops adds up to a whole hour.

Train!  There are a ton of great training guides you can follow.  Riding your goal distance spread out over a week for several weeks in a row will help your performance on ride day.   Resting is as important as training, especially in the three or four days before the event.   See if you can add an hour of sleep for a few nights.  Eat and drink healthfully. 

The day of the ride: eat before you're hungry, drink before you're thirsty.  A general rule of thumb is 100 calories and a full water bottle per hour, but every body is different.  Use your training rides to determine the types and amounts of fuel you need to feel good.  Consume the same electrolyte drink and food you've been training with.   Inside info: Western Bikeworks will be providing Louis Garneau's LG1 electrolyte replacement powder.

And remember, all of this will pay off.  You'll have fun.  You'll accomplish a physical feat.  You'll make friends.  You'll experience beautiful vistas.  You'll enjoy a celebratory feast.  But, most important, you'll be making a difference by raising money to fight Multiple Sclerosis.  Charity rides like this spread good health to participants and recipients alike.  Thanks for riding!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Pedalpalooza 2013, Part B


Pedalpalooza 2013 is over.  It's sad to see it go, but it's also happy because it means summer is officially here.  The rain has subsided, the mercury is up high, and my summer legs have arrived.
The Chutes and Ladders ride was an absolute hoot.  We were supplied with maps and a die.  Ready, set, go, roll your die and ride that many blocks.  If the map and the chalk marking on the road tells you to, you can skip ahead on the course using a ladder or lose ground on a chute.  Look out for the double-chute!
Another great event I had the privilege of attending is the Rocky Butte Sunset Dance Party Potluck Picnic Ride.  This ride deserves its seven word title.  I joined a group of cyclists in the grass at Irving Park, but didn't recognize a single person.  Then the leaders welcomed everyone to this year's Bike Play ride and I flashed back to college days when I started freshman year in the wrong class.
After roaming around the park and finding the Rocky Butte riders, I was happy to see many friends in attendance.  We rode over to the butte and watched the clouds clear up just in time for a spectacular sunset show. The potluck picnic portion of the party was a total success.  I brought a box of honey stinger waffles to share and munched on a banquet of offerings from others, including a pretty orange daisy.
At the last minute, I was elated to be invited to the dropout prom.  The sprint there also put me on top of the world - from Rocky Butte to Colonel Summers Park in 20 minutes ain't bad.  I didn't have a dress or time to stop for one, but the orange daisy made for a nice corsage.
After a non-Pedalpalooza road ride around Sauvie Island the next day, I rushed home to change into a paisley dress and raspberry beret just in time to jet off to the Bowie vs. Prince ride.  Lots of purple and creativity were in attendance, like the papier mache Prince head pinata, the lady dressed as a dove with tears drawn on her face and someone dressed as a royal prince.
The sound system finally arrived and we rode and rocked out to our favorite tunes while pedestrians cheered us on.  One of the best parts of Pedalpalooza parade-style riding is overhearing murmurs of "I love Portland" from both witnesses and participants.  We met up with the Bowie group and let them beat us at tug of war.  Then, on to a dance off, which I missed as it was late and I was tail-light-less.
Up again the next day with another bike and another outfit, this time for my very own Pedalpalooza ride - the second annual Swim Across Portland.  The forecast called for rain again this year and it did sprinkle on us, but not enough to ruin swimming.  Five of us headed over to Grant Pool for splashy fun and succeeded.  The City of Portland public pools disappointed me for the next two pools, which were closed and gated, even though I had been assured in advance that they only ever close for thunder and lightening.
Leaving Pier Park in St. Johns, we lucked out to pass by bike polo.  It's come a long way in the time since I saw my first game.  The mallets appeared standardized and the ball was bright orange, making it much easier to spot.  Most of the wheels had spoke protectors and the riders were unbelievably adept at track standing and maneuvering the ball around the court and into the goal.
For my last ride of Pedalpalooza, I joined Erinne and friends for a frisky early ride up to Forest Park.  Gnar was shredded.  Bunny ears were mounted.  Fun was had and mud was everywhere.  And thus closes another Pedalpalooza packed full of fun and friends and play.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Pedalpalooza 2013, Part A

Portland, Oregon is a special place, but especially so in June, which is Pedalpalooza time.  While we are sleeping, or working, or even out on a bike ride, people all over Portland, regular people, dream up bike rides around themes they care about.  Anything goes.  The ride dreams become real when the ideas are submitted to the Shift2Bikes Pedalpalooza calendar, which you can find here: calendar.  The Shift calendar runs all year long, but June is when it gets the most publicity, including free publication in the Mercury newspaper.
People get so excited about Pedalpalooza, you start hearing whisperings about it as early as New Year's. I recall waking up in a cabin on New Year's day this year, and feeling especially jubilant when someone asked "what Pedalpalooza ride are you leading this year?".  I was already high on the bike ride to the cabin and on life and on my Malort hangover when I heard this and nearly fell away with fairy dust.  Daydreaming about summer in the snow.
And I'm not the only one who can't wait.  There are pre-party rides and planning parties and mash up rides even before Pedalpalooza proper begins.  Some may laugh when they hear of the preparations for these three weeks in June, but it's for real.  It's recommended that you stock up on sleep, get your laundry done, fill your fridge with food and beer, make sure all of your bikes are in good repair, and settle in for the bikey-est fun on either side of the Mississippi neighborhood.
This year I have the pleasure of participating in leading two, yes two, Pedalpalooza rides.  My second annual Swim Across Portland happens this Sunday.  Meet me at 1:30pm at Water Avenue Coffee wearing your swimsuit and carrying a towel, lock and $12 cash and be ready to ride to three outdoor public pools for splashy fun.  I about died when I learned the Mercury chose my ride as one of their "top ride picks".  We're sure to beat last year's attendance.
The Bikey Trivia ride was a ton of fun again this year.  I met rando Jeff before the ride to discuss in detail the dynamics of the drive mechanism on these two wheeled contraptions.  In other words, he taught me chain repair.  It's been the chink in my on-road repair armor and I'm glad to have it filled in.  Having done a 200K the day before, I opted to ride my fat-tired mountain bike for the twelve mile trivia tour.  Sometimes it's extra fun riding the wrong bike for the terrain.  My team, "What Tires?" came in second.  These Portland Pedalpalooza people sure know their bikey stuff!
The other ride I helped with was a race.  An alley cat race, my favorite type.  The FLYcat was mostly put on by a new chick, Laura, who just moved here from Minneapolis and is dead set on starting up alley cat racing again here in Portland.  And it's working.  This was her second one and many of the same faces showed up.  This is how community starts.  The theme was flying things and she had us do stunts and play games at each stop.  Folks threw frisbees at the Chapman School, home of the flying swifts.  Even though I was an organizer, I was allowed to race.  Other racers who found me flying a kite earned an atomic fireball and the privilege of skipping any of the six stops.
Before the alley cat began though, the Awesome Yards Ride stopped by my house.  Sixty people showed up in my backyard expecting awesomeness and I hope the six hours of sunny day I spent doing yard work was not wasted.  It was instant satisfaction to have so many people witness my yard in its most awesome form, not to mention the big dinosaur head welded out of bicycle tubes I bought after an art show last year.
The Power POP music appreciation ride was an interesting mid-week go-round.  The leader rode a fixed gear with a trailer hauling a giant speaker, from which he blasted sappy pop ballads.  We rode back and forth over MLK & Grand, corking traffic each time, which made me feel a little weird.  We rode over the Morrison bridge on the sidewalk going the wrong way.  We wandered around downtown until sunset when what was left of the group started toward OHSU.
Still to come on my calendar is tonight's Rocky Butte dance party ride, tomorrow's Bowie vs Prince vs Morrisey ride, my Swim Across Portland and....well, it's hard to keep track.  I don't think I'll get a date for bike prom this year and it stings too much to go stag so I'll probably skip it.  And, oh yes, the bike play ride!  This was one of my favorites from last year.  The acting troupe performs a scene from a play they've written at each stop along the ride.  Just like a real play, they are performing/riding several nights in a row.  So get out there and get your bike fun on with one of these or the other many ride offerings.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Velodirt's Oregon Stampede

More than anything, I am thankful to my readers. Without you, I would not be a writer.  I met a few of you on the Stampede last Saturday, which vastly helped my survival.  I'm talking to you, John.  And you, Johnny.  And you, Ed.  Each reader, in turn, slowed their pace and rode with me for several miles.  The company was valuable, but even more was the validation that I'm not writing into a black hole, even if I am riding into one.

I was aware all day of my need to dodge cocky arrogance.  I can do anything, it's true, but only if I have serious doubt in my arsenal.  Arriving at Dufur for the first rest stop, at mile 40, I was naively delighted with how well the day was going.  Most of the tough gravel and climbing is behind us.  Most of the pavement lies ahead.  And many of the group are still at the store as I head out.  I thought to myself, I'm doing great!

The cue sheet breaks out the next era of my life like this: 
mile 55.3: straight over the cattle guard, enter wildlife area, dirt.
@ first fork @ 55.9 - at top of hill go right/straight down the rough steep hill.  One small creek crossing (likely dry) b/f some climbing and second fork
@ second fork @57.2 - go left.  look for green marker on tree at left of instersection.
@58.9 - cross stream on wooden bridge
@61 - stream crossing (no bridge)
pavement @ 61.5

I cede that self-imposed suffering is a privilege.  I chose to go on this ride, knowing in advance that I would probably hit a new bottom.  130 miles is well within my grasp.  Riding on gravel is getting easier.  Headwinds and 12,000 feet of elevation gain are just fine.  Combine them all and stir in the White River Wildlife area, which I'd like detonated off the face of the earth, and it adds up to the hardest day I've ever had on a bicycle.

I find myself alone and bawling loudly in this nature reserve that goes for six miserable miles, most of which I have to walk.  As I encounter creek crossing after creek crossing, some wet, some dry, some streams, some bridges, I lose count of where I am and am sure for several miles that the paved road and my sanity are only a half mile away.

Arriving at yet another creek crossing,  I scream at the top of my lungs.  I flip off trees and fish and curse God for the color of the sky. At that moment, after not seeing another rider for hours and feeling certain I was the last shmuck on the route, Howard and Alan appear on their bicycles.  Caught in the act of freaking out is humbling in a different way than the impassable giant boulders and soft silt I had endured.

Finally arriving on pavement, I used anger to power my machine forward at an impressive 25 miles per hour, which I sustained for the next four miles into town.  The lady at the Tygh Valley store said the last group left just twenty minutes before.  I sat and ate popcorn from their machine and refilled my four water bottles for the second time that day.  A woman in an SUV pulled up, asking if we were doing the gravel grinder ride and if we knew where Steve was.  Being rescued terrifies me so I shortened my break time.

Appetite sated and elated to ride on more pavement, I flew off.  Hatred for gravel was translating into a renewed passionate love and lust affair with asphalt.  It's so smooth.  So regular.  Trustworthy.  Fast.  Pavement works with my bicycle, not against it.  Soon I was riding through Warm Springs territory, the DesChutes River Canyon and over Sherar's Bridge.

The next ten or so miles winded me up the road.  I can't recall enjoying a tough climb as much as this one.  I was tired, tear-stained, salty and smeared with sunscreen, but I was singing and climbing to beat the band.  Each little curl of the road revealed a barely visible white line etched into the canyon in the distance ahead.  Those little white lines turned out to be fences between the road and the cliff and represented where I'd be if I continued to pedal.  Which I did, until, at long last, I reached the top.

I started doing math when I got to Twin Lakes Road, which I nicknamed Twin Horns Road.  Gravel just loose enough to unnerve me with lots of little rises and dips.  My speed of 8mph would have me arrive back at camp, and the keg, around midnight.  Midnight!  I needed an average speed of 13mph over the next three hours if I would make my 9:30pm goal.  So, I turned back.

Once again, Howard and Alan appeared.  These two had a nice slow and steady pace and upbeat attitudes.  They slowed to see why I was headed south when north was the way home.  I told them simply "fuck gravel", and continued back to highway 206.  We met up again before Moro, which we had high hopes for.  "To Moro!  To Moro!" I sang in my head over and over on the fast fat shoulder.

Down in the ditch to our right we saw a tiny deer.  It was bouncing along at 20 miles per hour and both Howard and I giggled at the sight.  What a day of nature this had been.  The morning started with a baby rattlesnake in camp, followed by countless dead snakes out in the road.  In the afternoon, I rolled up to a couple dozen blackbirds on a fence, who all flew off at once, exposing their brilliant yellow underbellies to me.  I thought I saw a chicken in the middle of the road, but it turned out to be a giant hawk who was snacking on a dead rattler.  The best though, was the stampede.

Yes, a stampede, on a ride called the Stampede!  While riding on the easy second gravel road of the day, I saw a dark spot ahead.  I thought I was catching up to a group of riders.  The spot got bigger and darker until I realized it was a small herd of cows crossing the road.  Then I could tell they were not crossing the road but moving toward me on it.  Rather quickly.

I saw a taller silhouette behind them, which turned out to be a cowboy.  A real life cowboy wearing a cowboy hat, riding a horse and  flanked by two herding dogs.  He motioned for me to get over, as I was standing in the middle of the road like a deer dazzled by headlights.  As they passed, it struck me how large and fast and strong these creatures are.  Any one of them, even the small ones, could easily take me out with a quick head butt.

Meanwhile, arriving in Moro, we spied a lonely soda machine and fed it dollars.  The guys decided to finish the gravel portion of the return trip, while I opted for the fast fast highway.  I dug deep, back into the recesses of my randonneur experiences, riding and doing math, singing and drinking water.  Soon, I would encounter the third "helper car" of the day.  Out in the middle of nowhere, drivers seemed to be worried about me and would stop to ask if I was ok, lost, crazy or what-have-you.

I'd like to act as a friendly ambassador to the public for all things bikey, but math told me I had no time to slow down, much less stop.  Each driver seemed to respect my curt "I'm fine, please leave me alone" replies and rolled on.  Just a few more miles down the gorgeous descent that is Fulton Canyon Road and I was on the familiar route 30.  I could see a blinking red light ahead of me, which felt like winning the lottery.  I never caught it but I was happy and time trialed back to camp, making it just fifteen minutes past my goal.

"Where's Donnie?" I asked on my return.  I heard a voice from the fireside ask "are you going to hurt me?".  I guess a few riders punched him hard in the arm at the end.  It's counter-intuitive and illogical but I wanted to hug him and thank him for creating the most challenging and beautiful route ever. 

I learned later that the first finisher completed the ride in eight hours.  A friend of mine finished it in eight twenty.  Somehow I wasn't upset or disappointed that it took me almost fifteen hours.  There's no way I could've done this ride a year ago or the year before that or ever.  It inspires me that others can do it so seemingly easily and quickly because I'm learning that...

the old hard is the new easy.






Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Better Is The Enemy Of Good Enough

I arrived five minutes late to the start of my seventh Columbia Gorge Explorer tour and rolled out moments later with the last departing group of the day.  The stage was set for the rest of the four day tour - my group would be the last to leave camp every time. 

Naturally, it was raining on Washougal River Road.  I think it must always be raining there.  They were out of Atomic Fireballs at the Washougal Merchantile.  They no longer sell them at the Corbett Store.  And they've been out of stock at the Troutdale General Store since last summer.  So, it was a cinnamon-less climb up the hill to meet back up with SR-014 and continue our eastbound plod into the gorge.

They taped a bracelet on my wrist at the Bonneville Spa, which has a mall-like culture.  There are many rules, many signs and many officials there to enforce them.  I tried to relax anyway, sinking into the outdoor jacuzzi in my cute new red polka dot swimsuit.  Drying off and putting wet clothes back on is a heartbreaker.  I tossed my suit at the valet and asked them to mail it home for me.  We'll see if it arrives.

Now, on to Stevenson and the Walking Man Brew Pub.  Dozens of the tour riders were enjoying beer there.  Yes, beer.  Before the riding for the day was even done.  One wonders if an activity loses its scandalous status if everyone does it.  We counted the hills to Home Valley Camp and arrived to learn of an "assigned camping area" for me and the so-called "party-ers".  Everyone else, including those who had stopped for beer, got to choose their own sites.

It's bittersweet to realize that this would be my final tour with this group.  I've made so many friends and memories, saved the tour from demise by stepping up to lead it and finally landed here in persecution territory started by one camper's upset at my building a campfire last year.  The upset escalated to official complaints which devolved to an investigation wherein eight campers were called and interviewed about my conduct.  The investigation revealed my innocence, but not before staining my reputation.  Ah, the bureaucratic Bee Ess of bicycle groups.

Instead of organic chaos and going with the flow and folks mingling and chatting, we were herded to a mandatory meeting and told what's what.  They even suggested that newer riders try their hand at pacelining for the very first time, especially if they had no experience!  What better venue to learn this dangerous skill than with strangers on loaded bikes riding a narrow wet freeway shoulder while semi trucks blaze by?
That evening, I invited three men to join me in my two man tent for a disco party.  We spun the small disco ball I brought, laughed, talked, listened to music and sang at the top of our lungs.  Once I was pigeon-holed as a loud partyer, I felt the need to live up to it.  Regardless, it was a good time with good friends.  It's a shame others couldn't enjoy hanging out into the evening instead of bedding down before dark.

Rain continued to haunt us the morning of day two.  We rose and packed and ate and departed camp.  The lack of tailwind foretold the future lack of headwind, since we'd be heading back westbound late that day.  This was the best weather day of the tour.  Rolling hills, sweeping views, waterfalls, rock faces that knock your socks off.  Brown barren land with a lot of heat and climbing and finally, Mary Hill Winery.  Again, there was a crowd of tour riders there.  We danced, drank wine and enjoyed the sunshine.  Down the hill to Stonehenge, over the bridge and west to camp.


Day three doused our breakfasts again.  We rolled out last again.  My hearty group of friends chose to take the unbelievably gorgeous Old Moody Road, the high road, the place where I first rode gravel just two years ago.  We rode alongside cows and far above the gorge, skipping the deathly loud freeway shortcut.  Arriving in The Dalles, we chose to eat at Cousin's - only because it's tradition.  It goes to show that some traditions need to change.  One even barfed in his plate.  We'll call him "the kid".

The Kid is quite a character and a personal favorite of mine.  Here's a man who knows how to ride bikes.  His bad-assness is surpassed only by his storytelling and raucous party attitude.  People like this reassure me I am not the most extreme person on earth.  Nowhere near.  We left him behind, as he was too sick to continue, and rode up Rowena Crest and the Mosier Tunnels.  Dropping down into Mosier, we were surprised to find the traditional ice cream stop closed for business.  This led me to notice a little store next door I'd never seen before, which had the elusive Atomic Fireballs in stock.  I bought a big bag full. 

We picked up a new rider at Hood River, who experienced no less than six flats during his short stint with us.  Some tires are simply not tires.  The various tire discussions made me painfully aware of my over-opinionated, or at least over-expressed opinions, on these round rubbery things.  On to camp and another assigned spot.  Bowling balls and beers and s'mores by the fireside.  Laughs and reminisces.  Plans and dreams for a future tour of our own.

The anticlimactic day four dawned with yet another deluge.  At least there was tree cover at camp for our morning get ready routines.  The slog slogged on and we trudged through, singing as we could.  Our small group splintered with yet another flat.  The final push to town filled me with feelings of sadness and disappointment that the future I'd envisioned has changed.  Somehow it felt fitting that my final tour meal featured a party of one dining at a mini-mall buffet.

The adage "better is the enemy of good enough" was repeated many times by a good friend who joined the group for her first ever loaded tour.  She was a constant spot of sunshine for me, and many others.  Her cheery attitude, especially as she struggled to learn how to assemble her tent and load, kept me afloat.  It reminds me to accept things as they are.