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.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ripplebrook

Every four years almost five thousand hearty Randonneur riders from round the world travel to France for the signature Paris Brest Paris 1200K ride.  Completing a PBP earns you the title of Ancien and a handshake.  Unless you're a woman, then you're an Ancienne and you get a rose.

But, all this is beside the point, for me anyway.  I'm still working on learning how to ride 200Ks in a relatively short time and more than just survive.  It may take another year, another R12 (f!) or maybe more.  In the meanwhile, I am developing a genuine appreciation for our "Alps" and the postcard-like qualities of the countryside that we have right here in our own backyard.
Saturday was no exception.  An in-town start saved the headache of pesky carpooling logistics but added a few miles and several minutes to the start time.  A bagel, a brevet card signed by the Po Po (Portland Police) and a quick sprint to the first control at Bell Station started the summer-like May day.

It's become a tradition to run into Brake-Bike-Mike anytime one rides eastbound on the Springwater trail.  And, sure enough, there he was.  He knew we were off on a 200K adventure and bemoaned his necessarily slower, shorter day as the leader of a group of newer riders.  

Soon we found ourselves past Boring and entering the village of Estacada.  After a leisurely stop for lemonade, we were on our way.  South to the lovely Faraday Road.  The temperature continued to rise as we began the gentle ascent toward Ripplebrook Ranger Station.
A river dip was definitely in order, and after several tries we found a nice pull-off with easy access to the cold and quick-running Clackamas River.  Somehow, 7600 and I got separated so I rode on ahead without him, leaving a lipstick note on a big blank sign "C ya at RRS".  Alas, it was to go unseen.

The climb ramped up a bit more and I was glad to do it alone.  Just like a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it, if I ride very slowly while solo, no one will ever know.  After a while, I could see the trusty red, white & blue scorching up the hill behind me.
We rolled into the Ranger Station snack shop, filled our bottles, got some snacks and sat in the shade before coasting back down the hill.  The shadows started getting long by the time we reached Faraday.  Soon we were on the westbound section enjoying rolling hills and a sun set.  Then, Oregon City and shots of Red Hot at a favorite little haunt.

Home stretch time!  Heading north, north, north, we looked for the trolley trail and failed and went back to the main road.  Light rail construction near Milwaukee Avenue predicts the future there.  Times will be changing soon for that humble neighborhood.  Broadway at last.  Burgers!  Brevet cards signed.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Society of Three Speed Ride, Edition Two

Not quite recovered from the Rapture, but anticipating a slow and easy Society of Three Speeds ride, I headed out to the meeting spot at Ladd Circle.  The attendance was more than double the previous ride.  We each introduced ourselves and our bikes, did some laps around the circle and headed northwesterly.

Soon after, a bicycle with 20" wheels flatted.  I have an unsubstantiated theory that smaller wheels flat more often because they rotate more and therefore have more opportunities to wear out and/or pick up glass.  Either way, the rider was unprepared for flat repairs, but luckily she was walking distance from Clever Cycles and another member helped her.  The rest of us stood in the shade on the Esplanade and waited.  It was a hot day, which created the feeling and mood of impending Pedalpalooza events.
After crossing the Willamette River, the Self Appointed President for life surprised us by leading us up on the sidewalk and back toward the river.  It was a fun and interesting little jaunt that showed us the riverside views and art of relatively new development.
We stopped at People's Co-op next for a food and drink pick up.  The group left before everyone was done, due to some miscommunication, and we were split up.  Reliance on new electronic technology was evident.  The second group caught up with the first at the trailhead park near Forest Park.  We enjoyed a leisurely picnic here, while our President enlisted new members and explained the history of the Thurman Bridge (oldest road bridge in Portland!). 
Then, on to Lucky Lab Northwest.  This is one of those rides where there's more stopping than going.  The relaxed pace and abundant socializing was enjoyed by all.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Rapture Wrap Up

This year's Rapture ride would be different than last year's.  Sure, Velodirt puts on a mean ride filled with hills and punishment and gravel.  Sure, I cried like a baby several times last year.  Yeah, it took me at least three hours longer than everyone else to ride it.  But so what, this year I was determined to exact my revenge on Trask Mountain.  And it worked.

Equipped with a new (to me) mountain bike - a GT Backwoods - and crazy fat tires, I learned about the luxury of mountain bike gearing.  The cantilever brakes were nicer to my hands and more effective at slowing than my road bike's calipers.  Most of all though, those fat Kenda Small Block Eights saved my bacon.  It felt like driving a couch!

The ride began at 10am so I left around 9.  That first hour of the route is confusing with many false turn-offs.  I was torn between not wanting to see any riders and dying to see even one rider.  Seeing anyone too soon would mean I was slow.  Not seeing anyone for too long could mean I was lost. About an hour and a half after I started, just before cresting the first big hill, a rider quietly passed me by.  He was either fast as hell or had also started early because I didn't see anyone else for another 40 minutes.

I started counting bikes.   3 cyclocross and 2 mountain bikes.  6 CX and 3 MTB.  Keeping track started getting sketchy when I passed the Jens Voigt Army on their first of many flats that day.  The overall estimate was 21 cyclocross and 12 mountain bikes.  Pretty soon I was alone again.  Then the JVA and a gal on an orange machine with 700x28 zaffiro tires passed me.  We leapfrogged several times, me riding slow and steady, them fixing flat after flat and sprinting on.   

I rounded a corner and saw fellow randonneur rider Kevin sitting on the side bleeding.  A few people stopped to squirt his wounds with water so I just called him a badass and rolled on.  The descent is long and hairy enough to make you crave climbing.  Kevin caught up with me after a while.  He was pretty scraped up and neither of us had a first aid kit.  At the sulfur water fill up stop, he rinsed off and I gave him what little I had: an atomic fireball, a tissue and some chammy butter.  A few minutes later, a dude with bandages and neosporin rolled up and made Kevin's day.

Kevin and I stayed together for the next few hours.  We were very evenly paced, although his wounds may account for that.  He would occasionally make a little whimpering sound, I assume from the pain.  We enjoyed a quick wade into the reservoir water.  He asked if I planned to take bail point three, the short cut back to camp.  No way.

But I was quickly running out of water and it was hot.  Bail point three started to sound like a necessary shortcut to stave off dehydration.  Then we encountered two guys filling bottles from a stream.  They had a water purifying chemical and shared it with us, enabling me to make my dream of skipping the bail point come true.  Luckily, I carry plenty of candy and was able to thank them with a zot and a jawbreaker.
 
Alone again, I was able to concentrate on new lyrics for my gravel song and enjoy my special relationship with Puddy Gulch Road.  This sucker is steep.  Just when you finish one roller, another appears.  It felt tortuous after all the miles of gravel and hills behind me.  I heard a dog barking.  I saw a flash of canine running toward me and yelled at the owner, not far behind him.  Am I destined to be fearful of dogs whenever I ride now?  Then I looked at the dog.  This brown velvety creature had floppy ears and a lolling tongue and is probably next to the word cute in the dictionary.

Finally on the home stretch, Flying M Road felt so out of reach.  Certainly I'd gone far enough by now.  Maybe I passed the turn?  How could they make Flying M Road so far away?  Who are they that make things far away?  I started swearing.  Just then, two riders, who looked fresh as daisies, passed me up.  I'm certain they had heard my graceless cursing demands that the road appear.

When I arrived at camp, I learned there was a rumor I had fallen.  A few friends worried about "the girl in the pink jersey who went down", but it wasn't me.  A handful of other riders continued to come in after me. I felt victorious over the me from last year.  I wasn't last!  Then the kegs and the steaks and the intimate group of campers sitting around the fire sharing war stories of the ride we'd just conquered.  I can't wait til next year.

The next morning, we were awakened by the bee-like droning of old fashioned bi-planes and flying rigs as they flew over the meadow then swept in for a landing.  We rendezvoused with the pilots up at the ranch house, where a bountiful breakfast awaited us.  Back at camp, just before leaving, photographer/videographer Graham asked to interview me and for a "tour" of my bike.  This made me feel special and famous and was the cherry on the cake of the weekend.