Monday, April 29, 2013

When The Dog Bites

My back sprain was just seven days old and still pretty painful the morning of my April permanent.  It took me almost an hour to get out of bed that morning.  After stretching and a hot bath, I gingerly pulled up my new compression bibs. It seemed illogical to ride at all, much less to ride all day.  But I was determined to continue my quest for the next randonneur status: R12 (2).   In the end, it simply came down to doing the only thing I know - ride.

My riding partner, who couldn't care less about trophies or status awards, assured me that we could turn back at the first sign of trouble.  He also, generously, dubbed the ride as "Maria's perm" and patiently softpedaled while I struggled to keep an average pace of 12.5 miles per hour.

A few blocks from the Grand Central Bakery start, I noticed a broken egg in the bike lane.  It reminded me of a story Tyler Hamilton tells in his book The Secret Race.  Something about a coach viewing the athletes almost as disposable - toss a dozen eggs against the wall and keep the ones that don't break.

And that's how the day went for me.  Riding on eggshells and unable to take a hand off the bars, even to signal, I promised myself I wouldn't break.  I tried to use the Wheatland Ferry crossing as a rest stop, but it took halfway across the river just to dismount my bike.   Getting back on was a similar challenge.  I continued, egged on by any egg references I could get my eyes on.  And I took even more pills and pep-talked the crap out of myself.

We'd ridden many of these roads many times, so it felt like home territory.  Stag Hollow gravel was fun.  That's where the first dog of the day chased us.  I forgot where we met the second one, although I recall yelling NO at it.  The third one, I'll never forget.

We were on Stringtown Road, in the middle of farm country, coming up a small rise.  Two dogs, a pit bull mix and a white lab, came running at us from across the street.  I rode my fastest, a paltry 15 miles per hour, but failed to outrun the pit bull.  It grabbed on to my calf with its teeth.  A stream of swearwords later, we stood on the grass talking with the dog's owner.  Molly May was her name.  May is short for mayhem, naturally. 

The skin was broken and the bite smarted, but my tights escaped without damage.  It was almost refreshing to feel pain from somewhere besides my back for once.  So, we pedaled on to Gales Creek.  Downed cans of (medicinal!) beer at the Shell station before heading back to town. Lots of bullets were dodged that day.  With my back in that condition, if I had fallen when tangling with the dog, I don't know if I'd have gotten back up.  But I didn't fall.  And I didn't break. 

Friday, April 12, 2013


For the second year in a row now, I've enjoyed the immense privilege of leading the tweed-clad, oldie bike-riding set on this lovely little jaunt about town.  To indicate that I am their leader, in the tradition of the good old British-style fox hunt, I dressed somewhat foxily and even strapped a stuffed fox on top of my picnic basket full of animal crackers.  I have to remind myself, and am reminded by others during the ride, to slow down.  Even in my silly outfit on my slow bike, I'm too fast(!).

We met at 2pm at Tabor.  I amazed myself by riding all the way to the pavilion without walking.  On arrival, I was delighted to see a swell amount of cutely-clad riders.  It's interesting to see each person's interpretation of tweed type apparel. I was most impressed with Kirk, who showed up on a Penny Farthing.  This thing makes fixed gears look like a walk in the park.
Kirk's bad-assery aside, a young buck on a sexy little black track bike caught my eye.  He had the style down pat and I especially appreciated seeing an old style track bike. Also, not surprisingly, the Self Appointed President for life (SAP) of the Society Of Three Speeds (SOTs) was in attendance.  I somehow managed not to snap his photo, so will leave it up to your imagination.
A little sprinkle subsided and we were off, on our way down the volcano.  I rang and rang for general attention and led us down.  It's tricky leading a group of this size (maybe eighty?), especially when my own brakes are sub-par and my seatpost is about 2" too short and the hill is pretty steep.  But, it all worked out and soon we were weaving our way through pleasant neighborhoods.

I heard one woman exclaim "I love this town!" on seeing us pass.  Another gentleman told his friends "Look, it's the Tweed Ride!".  What a thrill to be recognized.  Then, the highlight of my day happened.  Just when I thought I couldn't get any higher.  A friend and customer from the shop saw me and yelled "Maria!  You were right about the tires, I loved them at Rickreall!".  Are these worlds colliding or is it all one world?
A friendly rest stop, a group portrait, several snacks and an hour later, we were on our way down the hill to Velocult for the after party.  I hope and believe Velocult will always host the Tweed after party.  After all, it was their very first big event here in Portland.  And, as many may not know, Velocult ran the Tweed Ride in San Diego before moving to Portland's soggy shores.


Friday, April 5, 2013

Banks - Elsie

The Oregon Randonneurs put this one on their official schedule and it showed.  Over 40 riders were at the Banks trailhead at 7am, ready to ride.  And I was with them.  Really ready.  Two days of rest.  A lot of rest.  A written strategy plan, reminding me to warm up and where to go mentally when the going gets rough.

I put a few of the pretty hand painted valve caps I keep in my jersey pocket onto unsuspecting bikes.  Then I walked around the cluster of rando riders and stood in front.  It's rude, sure, but I wanted to keep track of my place in the pack and that's easiest from the front.  Plus, I did it with a smile and that helped.

As anticipated, that first 13 mile ascent was the perfect warm up.  I kept it at an easy pace and held back from chasing as my riding partner and many others disappeared over the horizon.  I forgave myself for being slow.  I looked down at my pretty silver steed to remind myself how much I love this bike and how it will take great care of me today.

Magically missed the turn off into Vernonia, but it only cost a few seconds.  Then, skipping the enticing Black Bear Cafe control with its hot drinks and friendly atmosphere and fireplace, I stopped at the less glamorous but much quicker Subway control.  I had already started keeping pace with Rando Gary and he enjoyed the free coffee there.  Gary has done the Paris-Brest-Paris, successfully, seven times.  That means he's done one every four years for 28 years. 

Now, to 202.  I knew we'd be passing the Birkie this time, it wasn't listed as a control.  I reminded myself that this was no regular permanent, no regular bike ride and no regular day of sightseeing and relaxing in the saddle.  I was riding this one as a race.  The last time I rode the Elsie-Banks route, it took me eleven and a half hours.  Of course, I stopped for lunch that day.

Passing the turn off to 103 for the little spur taking us to the Jewel Elk viewing area info control point, I saw my usual riding partner.  I scrambled on as I was anxious to see just how many miles separated us.  Two it turned out.  After a rushed info stop, I jetted back up to the turn-off and to Elsie.

Elsie was a giant pause button on my day.  The first thing I saw when I walked in was a bakery case full of cookies.  Chocolate!  Peanut butter!  I knew what lunch I wanted with my milk right away.  Rando Graham was ordering pie and telling me a story about rhubarb.  The lady behind the counter thought the story was for her and every time he started talking, she'd stop cutting the pie and look at him.  She couldn't possibly understand how hurried and harried I felt.

Finally, two cookies and a milk later, I walked outside.  Here was a green Surly, the perfect candidate for my final pair of painted valve caps in green.  I twisted off the rear wheel's cap and replaced it with my green one.  Then I twisted off the front cap.  That's when things went bad.  Suddenly, a bunch of air was shooting out!  The cap had taken the removable valve core with it.  I twisted it back on quickly but it was too late.
So, back into the store to find the Surly owner, who would no doubt be surly at this horrible act of vandalism.  I explained to him that I take valve cap beautification seriously and what I did to his tire.  I apologized profusely and promised I would not remove anyone's caps mid-ride (or pre-ride) again.  He accepted a C02 and fixed the problem.  He told me my penance would be 1) tell him my name and 2) give him a hug.  Randos sure are nice people.

That's how my plan of a five minute stop ballooned out of control to twenty plus minutes.  Crossing 26 to get back onto 103 took another five minutes.  Finally, into the headwind, which new friend Graham kept referring to as a tail wind ("if we were going the other way").  On and on into the headwind.  Back past Birkie, which had a couple of dozen motorcycles parked around it.

And, at last, Vernonia.  Another stop at the quicky control.  We enjoyed a short snack and no wait in line for the bathroom.  A man eating his sandwich inside belonged to a recumbent parked in front and explained that ever since he crashed on a 400K, his wife won't let him rando ride no more.

Refreshed and ready for some coasting, we got back onto the beautiful Banks-Vernonia trail.  This was the warmest ride of the year so far.  I wore short sleeves and even sunscreen.  We caught back up with Gary and R.B. and quizzed them on Pariisen cycle culture.  "Do the French yell CAR BACK the way Americans do?"  No, but they'll say VOIT in a conversational tone, meaning CAR UP.  The Italians, on the other hand, talk and talk and talk.  And gesticulate while talking and riding.

The way back down the trail was perfectly pleasant.  No headwind, no ascent, no problem.  Except for the little hot foot that was creeping up the ball of my right foot.  In a groove with a tight little pack now, I didn't dare stop, even for a second.  So, I removed my shoe cover (while riding!) and poured some water down the toe vent.  I wouldn't have been surprised if steam came up.

Past the trailhead and into Banks, we headed through the parking lot to the pizza place finish line.  Four, yes four, vehicles nearly backed into me on the short little stint through the lot.  I weaved around them and handed my card in post haste.  9:46.  Nine hours and forty six minutes.  128 miles.  My usual riding partner scored 8:56.  We were 13th and 15th out of 41 riders, but it's not a race.  It's just a ride we ripped the legs off of.