Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Twenty Fifteen

Accountability is increased when intention announcements are made, so I'll share.  My theme for Fifteen will be F.

My cycling goals have almost always been numerical.  This many rides, that many centuries, an R12, what have you.  Next year will be different.  I'll still play the permanent game and I already have a big trip planned (hello, Oregon Outback!), but mostly I'm going to choose my rides based on the potential for fun.  Here's the complete list.

   Fun.  I will ride my bike for fun, and fun alone.

   Fat.  I will spend the first four months of the year losing a bunch, 15 pounds to
   be exact.

   Fantasy.  I will visualize what I want on a daily basis.  Some call this meditation.

   Friends.  I will develop new friendships and deepen current ones.

   Five.  One's missing here!  I'm open to suggestions - just leave a comment.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

R12, 2 (F)

I'll never forget the huge surge of emotion that accompanied earning my first R12. What is an R12, you ask?  Well, let me preface my answer by warning you that it's a French phenomena, which happens all over the world.  A regular bicycle rider, who soon loses sight of regular bicycle rides, joins a group called Randonneurs USA.  At the time, it seems like a small commitment - no commitment at all, really - just $20, which gets you a quarterly magazine, an identity number, and a sticker. Soon enough, one has forgotten their name and goes by their number instead.  Just call me 7337.

After thorough review of the rules and expectations of being a "rando" rider, one attempts a brevet, or maybe even a permanent (perm for short, if that curls your hair).  The difference?  I'm still trying to understand.  Brevets are on a calendar somewhere and people seem to show up.  Permanents are arranged by individual riders, and are not on the official calendar, but may be advertised in other ways.

Both rides include receiving a brevet card, which magically transforms even the most dilapidated middle-of-nowhere tavern (in best cases), or busy gas stations (in less than best cases), into a "control".  Each control has a time cut-off, and if you don't make it, not only does that mean you're slow, it means you've been disqualified and can now ride home with your saddlebag between your legs.

So, back to the original question.  An R12 is just one of a long offering of Randonneur awards.  One earns it by riding a 200k (that's 126 miles American) every month for twelve consecutive months.  They must be calendar months.  You can't just go crazy and peel off a 200K every 4 weeks, because that may give you 2 in July and 0 in August, which will get you seriously DQ'd.  I'm not talking about Dairy Queen here, folks - this is the dreaded disqualified, or DNF (did not finish), although I suppose either of those are better than a DNS (did not start).

On that fated frigid December evening two years ago, rolling into the mini mart signified my final control in my final ride leading to my R12 award.  BooYAH!  I did it!  That evening, Rando 7600 and I attended a post-permanent Christmas party.  As the two of us sat across the room from each other inhaling holiday treats, we had a mind meld.  We were both living a double life: one as a Rando, one as a normal person who attends Christmas parties.

A few months later, I received my quarterly Randonneurs USA magazine and quickly flipped to the page listing awards.  All of those miles and late nights and early mornings has added up to this - my name on a list.  I looked with new respect at each and every name there.  Some of these people had probably completed their rides on tandems, in snow, on gravel routes or on fixed gears, but there was no indication of who had done which.  I only knew from articles within the magazine that Randos did these things.

Some of the names had a number after the R12, indicating how many R12s they'd earned.  And there I was!  My R12 also had a parenthesis after it: (F).  "Fred?" I pondered.  No, how could they know.  "Fast"?  Well, that's just not true.  Oh.  "Female".  There weren't any (M)s indicated.  I felt singled out, confused, even upset.  I've learned since then that the intent is to encourage other (F)s to attempt their R12.  Intention is nine tenths of something.

But that was a lifetime and many kilometers ago, and now I've earned my second R12 (F).  This time around, I don't give a Flying (F) what letter they put after my name, I'm just grateful for the accomplishment.  The Portland Society, the bikey ladies professional network I belong to, has assisted me in embracing the (F).  We now use a hand signal to indicate female, the parenthesis around the (F) curving like a lady does.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mill City Coffee Run

"Who's better than us?" asked 9969.  "Nobody, that's who!"

Some days when I get out of bed, I feel like I'm stepping outside of the regular world.  The alarm gongs early, still dark, and I spring up, thinking "Today!  I get to ride bikes all day!".  The enthusiasm wanes, but not for several hours.

9969, aka the Kid, aka the Pirate - my ride to the ride - showed up thirty minutes early and I was still in the bath.  I let him in and got back in the bath.  Things go better if I have a hot soak and mellowing out period to start days like this.

It was 25 degrees as we walked out of the cafe in Wilsonville, ready to jump on the Boone Bridge and get to the Charbonneau District.  Crossing the Willamette River takes you away from suburban sprawl and drops you into a pastoral post card.

Howell Prairie Road was gorgeous and neverending, and also on the route of a new permanent I'm creating.  The Portland-Aumsville-Portland, or the PAP, was inspired by the icy weather creating dangerous areas on higher elevation roads.  I need something flat and easy that starts nearby for days like this.

We rode through Aumsville before arriving at our control in Stayton.  I checked out the restaurant control for PAP and even spied a deli market across the parking lot.  Golden.  On we pedaled to our french fry snack in Stayton.  Leaving town via a circuitous route made sense after we missed a turn and spent an unpleasant mile on the main street.
Soon we were on Old Mehama Road.  The countryside here was so quiet and peaceful, it felt almost haunted.  Even the dilapidated old barn surrounded by sheep and heaps of discarded farm equipment looked picturesque.  Soon we were singing songs about stink and soon after that we encountered an extremely smelly pig farm.  Bacon's revenge.

We were getting short on time as we entered Mill City, which doesn't seem to have a mill and is so small it's barely a town.  After riding in circles for ten minutes, 9969 chimes in with an "I thought you rode this before", I reminded him that was a year and many thousand miles ago, and with seven other people leading the way.  Finally we stumbled onto Rosie's Cafe, our destination.

I don't think they were excited to see us city slickers in our tight pants there at the cafe.  When I asked for my order "for here" she asked if we would be sitting outside.  In the frigid cold.  The muffin and truffle I had were delicious nonetheless, and we enjoyed a friendly conversation with a neighboring table.

Onward and upward, or downward, we jumped back on highway 22.   All morning we had watched the telltales and felt sure our future included a massive headwind on the way back north.  This dreaded hypothetical headwind never did show up until Butteville Road, many miles later.  First we had to get back to Stayton.  We agreed that chocolate milk would make our world a better place and got matching receipts.
Back to Aumsville and back onto Howell Prairie Road.  The sun started to set but the temperature stayed on the good side of forty.  Twilight seems to be the time of day dogs are on guard and we had many run out at us.  We started to be quiet so we wouldn't call them all out.  We saw a pair of boys jumping in a blue barrel to crush down leaves, and I laughed out loud when one of them fell over and out of the barrel.

My back felt sore and pedaling hurt so I slowed way down and watched the red blinking light ahead of me recede.  Soon enough I was at the Angel-Gervais turn, but my riding partner missed it.  I called and voicemailed and texted, then rolled on ahead to Gervais.

A bag of chips and a bathroom break "behind the Gatorade machine" in the Gervais store freshened me right up.  On to Butteville Road.  It felt even longer than Howell Prairie, if that's possible.  My headlight only served to show how dark the world had gotten, and keep me from riding into a ditch.  But the sky felt big and glowed navy blue.  It was the only thing that kept me going for many miles.

C'mon Fargo.  Please be Fargo.  The telltale green street sign would glimmer up ahead, reflecting my headlight and teasing me with the hope that it might say Fargo.  Sign after sign did not say Fargo. The F on the Feller Road sign gave me a momentary flutter, but still no Fargo.  9969 phoned to tell me he'd made it back to the car.  I wanted to beg him to send me Fargo Road.

Finally, lifetimes later, Fargo Road materialized.  Then Bents and Arndt and Boones Ferry.  Only two miles on Boones Ferry, then, onto the freeway and over the bridge and back to the car and beer and burgers and the euphoria of sitting still.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Lunch at Nick's III

It was rainy most of the day on my third circuit of this route.  I forgot which gloves do best in the rain so I brought the wrong ones, which are nearly impossible to take off and put on again once wet.  I can't believe Fern Hill wasn't flooded out.  The unfairness of the rain is that it's sunny and dry two days later while I'm trapped inside at work.

The sour weather made it all worth it on Stag Hollow.  Oh man, I could hit the replay button on that one over and over.  That little bit of road was is so enormously cool I could barely contain myself.  I was laughing loudly and the wind was shitting on us so heartily no one could hear me.  A while later, on the way back, it was clear and felt like a different place on a different day.  The orderly lines of yellow vineyards make me buzz.  I felt like a genius for remembering where the jog is and keeping really quiet so that mean dog wouldn't hear us.

The huge colony of geese we saw had us talking about birds for a long time.  I learned how to identify a kestrel and a flicker.  9969 (formerly "the Kid") is a fountain of knowledge.  These geese, gal dang there were so many, were originally heading north, then the front wave turned back and they formed a giant tornado going around in the sky.  

My new Sidis worked out fantastically.  I guess my good shoe karma is #7600's bad shoe karma because he rode a perm the same day and forgot his bike shoes.  My feet never hurt, not for a second, not a numb toe, not a hot spot, nada.  Knees golden.  Shoulders golden.  Back is a piece of crap but I told it to shut up with ice. 

Dairy is my best friend.  I subsisted on lattes and ice cream, except at Nick's Italian Cafe, for which the ride is named, we all enjoyed minestrone and pane and coffee.  They treated us like royalty.  When the waiter saw us leaning our bikes outside, he started setting the front table.  Automatically brought us separate bills and extra receipts.  We were in and out in a half hour.

9669 stopped with me while I photographed a bus stop for my calendar project.  A few miles later, we were turning right, when he said calmly "Maria there's a dog next to you" and sure enough there was a mean-looking german shephard who was all foamy at the mouth.  We turned right and it went straight.  I was really thankful for the warning because that prevented my signature EGADS (early generalized anxiety disorder syndrome) gasp and holler, which most certainly would've triggered the dog into eating me in one bite.

Later on we saw another dog, a bouncy puppy who looked part whippet and part spaniel.  He bounded out to give chase but rider 6229 pointed at it and swerved toward it and oh boy did that cute little mongrel hop away home.  Good trick to remember.

Spring Hill Road and my favorite hill are still there, in case anyone's wondering.  So is Trespass territory.  They never did do whatever they were going to do - make it a reserve and build a parking lot or some such.  I kept thinking about how I got poison oak and 7600 didn't.  I thought of him again when we passed that little area on the east where we ducked into tractor shade one summer day to cool off.

We saw five cyclists all day, including a lady at dusk with a bunch of groceries strapped all over her bike.  6229 said he was amazed we didn't run into anyone I know.  Then we went to Lucky Lab and Edwin was there.  I ordered an iced tea and almost passed out from the effort of not ordering a deliciously rewarding and hopalicious IPA as I had earned and deserved.  Next perm, the beer fast will be broken!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Half Baked

The new way to ride a century is to join the SAG driver for the first fifty miles, then hop out at lunch and pretend you're one of the riders.

Then, with fresh legs, brand spankin' new legs, paint a carrot on each rider's back.  Follow them far behind and size them up.  Stealthily sip on water, shift and accelerate.

Coast, for just a moment, as you pass them.  Don't look back.  Pedal as hard as you can until you're just over the rise or just around the bend, then blow up.

Recover, drink more, shift and relax.  Repeat.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Zig Zag permanent want to ride my permanent?  

Step 1. Be a Randonneurs USA (RUSA) member.  
Step 2. Review the route.
Step 3. Send me an e-mail and I'll send you the waiver.
Step 4. Return the signed waiver and I'll send you a cue sheet and brevet card.
Step 5. Go ride!
Step 6. Mail the completed brevet card and receipts to me.

Here's a write up about the ride, published in the quarterly Randonneur magazine:

A big part of my identity as a cyclist comes from the two short but influential years I worked as a bike messenger in San Francisco.  During that time, I organized and competed in scores of alley cats - unsanctioned street races meant to simulate a day in the life of a courier.  Racers are given a manifest with a list of checkpoints and off they go.  Sometimes a signature from a checkpoint volunteer is required, other times they answer a question about each destination.  Sound familiar? 

One of the many reasons I love Randonneur riding is that it feels a lot like an advanced alley cat.  I’ll never forget the time I rode Susan’s “Up Yer Ash”, a challenging permanent that climbs up Mt. St. Helens.  I found myself in the ditch, digging in the snow, madly looking for the mile marker so I could count the zip ties.  I felt like a pretty hard-core “rando-cat” that day.

There’s also something about riding a 200k permanent, and doing it consistently, month after month, that really lights me up.  It seems to be just the right distance for me.  Although a lot of my friends are pursuing their ACP Super Randonneur status, many on their way to qualify for the 2014 Paris-Brest-Paris, I have no such ambition – not yet, anyway.  After all, I need my beauty sleep. 

For now, I’m enjoying working on my second R12.  It would have boggled my young messenger self to know that all these years later, I’m not just riding centuries, but “century and a quarters” as some Americans might call them.  It’s fun to get my gear and nutrition dialed, and learn how to pace my stops and gos.  And it’s rewarding that my required recovery time has decreased to a mere night’s sleep.

Recently I decided to create my own permanent route.  Everyone told me it was easy, and they were right.  First I mapped a route.  A beautiful one, comprised of many of my favorite roads and rides.  One that starts right in my neighborhood.  I completed and submitted the application, and voila, the lovely Crista Borras walked me through the rest.

A small group joined me for the inaugural ride of this new permanent, which I named “Zig Zag”.  We met at 6:30am at a coffee shop, but it wasn’t open yet.  Turns out the store manager had overslept.  As registration forms and waivers were being completed, I saw a familiar face headed our way.  A good friend had come out to see us off.  She’d be the first of many we’d see that day.

The store opened and I saw another old friend, who ran up and hugged me.  She’s not a cyclist, but was not surprised to run into me early in the morning hanging around a gaggle of bright-color-clad riders.  Or is it a “rush” of randos?  A “spin” of cyclists?

In any case, with no further ceremony, we were off.  Down the hill to the Springwater Corridor and over to the Willamette (dammit) River.  Along the Esplanade and the old “French Toast” route, which is a ride I led for the Vancouver Bike Club every month for many years.  Up the corkscrew pedestrian bridge, over to the bird circle and on to the Peninsula Crossing Trail.  Man, this town has a lot bike path miles, which make for a very nice warm up.

We dodged a bunny in the bike path on the way to the first control, which didn’t have a bathroom, so I changed it for future riders.  Such is the life of the newly minted perm owner.  We ate and ran, as usual.  The Marine Drive bike path was empty and surprisingly, we still had dry skies.  Or maybe it’s wet skies, if the clouds are still holding their moisture.

Stopping for a potty break past Troutdale, we ran into the Cycle Wilders, a loaded tour group on their way to Cascade Locks.  They shared their VooDoo donuts (a Portland staple), and we went on ahead and treated them to kombucha (another Portland favorite) at a children’s lemonade stand. 

I dared to route us partway up the local legend Larch Mountain, but only to an info control three miles up.  We saw a few Portland Wheelmen riders we knew, who probably assumed we were doing the entire climb.  Instead we enjoyed the first of many fast and pretty descents.  I made a mental note to add some red cautionary notes on the cue sheet for future riders.

Next, we entered the Bull Run Watershed, Portland’s water source, and enjoyed alternately descending into and climbing out of the Sandy River delta.  Trees and views and barely any cars make riding these twisty hills sheer delight.  Up Shipley, then Marmot – two of my very favorite roads around.  While struggling slowly up Marmot, a runner passed us.  He didn’t seem real, and maybe he wasn’t.

Shortly after that, we turned onto the Barlow Trail, and a friend ran out from the Sandy Ridge mountain bike trailhead with handups for the group.  The pioneers should have been so lucky.  I often think about them and their travails and how they would marvel at the ease with which we manage now, and with just human power.  The Barlow Trail was named for Sam Barlow, who blazed that trail with the help of Joel Palmer.  Joe’s 1845 diary included a description of the zig zag descents and climbs they encountered crossing the ravine, which is how the river got its name.      

After an amazing lunch at the Zig Zag Restaurant, seated on leather recliners and sofas, we suited up and headed out.  By this time, the rain had overcome its shyness and was in slog mode.  We lined up and ate some ugly highway miles to make it back to the country roads we love and hate, like Baty and Coalman with their steep little slaps in the face.  I added another info control to defeat the temptation to take highway 26 all the way back to town.

Finally back on the Springwater path, we wrapped up the twenty lonely miles back to town, finishing at the pub nearest my house.  A few beers and several war stories later, heading home, the rain was done fooling around.  It attacked.  It came down comically fast, faster than the tarmac could handle, creating instant little lakes in the bike lane. 

Thanks for letting me share my story.  Thanks to those who have shared their stories and their rides.  And, if you haven’t already, I encourage you to consider sharing some of your favorite roads by creating your own permanent, alley-cat style or not.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Scio Covered Bridges 200K

We started out before the sun rose, which meant we got to watch the sun rise.  A quick hop on the I-5 to cross the Boone Bridge over the Willamette River, exiting as usual at Charbonneu, this time heading west instead of east.

I started seeing bright orange pumpkin Dan Henrys as we overlapped with the Harvest Century for a few miles.  Those riders would have a great day, weather-wise, and so would we.  Soon we were on Meridian, which reminds me of the time we rode out to stash champagne for Tour de Beavers.  Then we were passing the fork to Silver Falls, where I stopped to puke last year.  Or was it the year before?

That morning in the bath, I read on facebook that a steep hill on Cole School Road awaited us.  Some sort of wall of asphalt apparently.  I dreaded it all morning.  Soon, we turned left onto Cole School and went up a modest hill.

Phew!  That was easy.  Then we coasted downhill, headed toward another ascent.  This one was harder, but still, not at all the wall I had anticipated.  Then we went down again, and there it was.  A giant wall of earth.  It looked unclimbable, and because my derailleur failed me on the way up, it was.
After my lonely walk of shame, we enjoyed the view together and munched on our little snacks.  I had a bag of dried apricots and almonds.  Jeff had foil-wrapped rice cakes that I like to call Rapha Cakes.  Soon after, I split off from the group, quite unintentionally, and didn't catch back up until Silverton.

This is about the time my nausea kicked in.  I blamed it on hormones, ate lightly, whined heavily and carried on.  Finally, we arrived at our first control, fifty miles in, at the cartoonly quaint Scio: Covered Bridge Capital of the west.  While my three partners took in well-deserved calories, I forced down a skim milk and a diet coke.  It felt like a girdle was tightening across my middle.

On to Crabtree, and an info-control that the permanent route owner, Susan, asked me to reset.  I relished zip-tying zip ties to the sign, photographed them and pedaled on.  Soon we arrived at the Gilkey covered bridge and my old partner 7600 and I decided to take a break by the neighboring train trellis.

Chris and Jeff pedaled off and left us to chase them.  This was the beginning of the split of the group.  Riding into Salem, I kept catching glimpses of familiar-looking "M" Dan Henrys.  Ah, yes, these were from the Bike MS ride back in August.
We barely caught Jeff before Salem, where he led us through a labyrinth of traffic and ugly streets to a cafe control.  I had skipped lunch, so I skipped snack time too and had a latte instead.

Leaving Salem on the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, we traced the Tour de Beavers route.  It was all there, just as I had left it in April.  My favorite "keep out" sign, now covered in vines.  Windsor Island and Simon and the nasty hill up to Wheatland.  Lovely roads I'd ride any day.

By the time we arrived to the patchwork triptych of Fargo - Bents - Arndt, I began to wonder in great detail just why they call what I was doing "blowing up".  I was not exploding.  I was imploding.  Getting smaller and tighter, molecules contracting to nothing as the cramp across my torso took hold.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Humpday Series

The road curled down in front of us.  You could almost hear it calling "Faster!"  I was in the front for the first time since we met, an hour earlier, to climb Rocky Butte.  The Zit, Nick would call it.  Mike and Michael behind me.  The fast guys.

These are the guys that show up every time.  The guys who never complain, pedal hard, smile big and challenge me to keep up.  And to continue planning little events like this.  They play along with the spoke cards and stickers and act like I've given them gold when they receive their caps.

Then there's the others, who matter just as much.  The one-timers, first-daters, and those on single speed Western Flyers.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Cycle Wild Goes To Still Creek

Riders drizzled in to the cafe, a dozen in all.  Ken called, in a panic and sounding tearful.  "I'm in Clackamas!" I'd mock him over and over for taking the green train instead of the blue.  He hurried and rode to Gresham and was only fifteen minutes late after all.

A very lightly loaded mixte was parked out front.  Turns out it was Larry's, who wasn't part of our group, but who recognized me from meeting on some other ride.  I traded him a pair of colored valve caps in exchange for running to the post office to drop off a Netflix movie.  

Ed loaned me a two-way radio, "in case of trouble" and I handed out cue sheets.  We requested riders help us to help them by leaving their bike somewhere visible if stopping and warned them we couldn't keep track or chase down riders who went ahead of the group.  I may add this to my regular ride leader speech and kiss chasing inpatient folks goodbye.

By 9:00, we were rolling eastward.  It promised to be a scorcher and this time, Mother Nature stayed true to her word.  Before we knew it, we were blowing by Dodge Park, and the Kid, who has requested a new nickname that I cannot remember for the life of me, was entering a magical land known as Bonk World.  Elif and I welcomed him back to the land of the sane by insisting we all stop on the way uphill and breathe and grab a snack.

We enjoyed the wonders of Shipley and Marmot and the Barlow Trail until at last we arrived at Zig Zag.  We skipped eating at my favorite store, since they didn't have beer, and instead went to the pizza joint across the street.  This place was heaven.  Beer, lemonade, pizza, fries, salads, whatever you want.  Lots of pitchers of cold water.  Electrical outlets!  Pinball machines.

Finally after a quick stop at the Welches store, where I handily procured Raddlers and Ramen, we began our foray into the wild section of the ride - Still Creek Road.  I wish I'd had the energy to climb and climb and climb and see it all, but we were tired and it was hot so we stopped at the second camping spot we found.  I promise to go back with a faster bike and less stuff and more time one day.
There was just enough space for campers to pick a flat spot and set up.  Everyone went right to work.  I tossed my Raddlers in the stream to cool and pitched my sweet little quarter dome together up on a nice perch, which I shared with Jim.  David's face was a familiar one - he'd been on the Panther Creek trip last year.
Elif was super fun to ride with, sporting black tape to help her knees, which looked like big stylish tattoos.  New to loaded touring, she brought some of the best stuff.  Cheese and apples to share.  A tent that we all could've slept in.  I gave her my disco ball, as dancing seemed much more possible in her palace than in my cozy little hovel on the hill.
Campfireless, due to a high danger of forest fire, we sat in a circle and swapped stories and snacks and swigs of whatever Nathan brought.  You can always count on Nathan to up the fun.  His phone had some sort of party app on it, which featured bright lights and sirens that were surprisingly entertaining.  We moved a big log aside, thenceforth referring to it as "bad log" and dumping stuff on it, kicking it and doling out general abuse for no reason.

Ken and I both rode mountain bikes, even if most of the roads were paved.  Me for no other reason than I thought it would help me enjoy riding sweep, which it did.  Ken as a shakedown for his own Oregon Outback adventure, which starts very soon.  As a side note, Ken and I enjoyed a lunch rendezvous where I got to re-live my Outback trip and share my maps with him.  I hope that no one will ever again get lost in the two spots where I got lost!

Sunday morning I woke up to the sound of birds singing.  Not campers.  Not zippers.  Not pots and pans clanging.  I poked my head out and saw that all of the tents were still in place.  Could I be the first one up?  A historic moment!  I gathered my breakfast supplies and headed over to the creek to start making my coffee.
Everyone was up after all, and sitting creekside, their conversation dampened by the pleasant white noise of the small rapids.  Nathan bought a pound of bacon and cooked all of it.  We sat there for almost two hours, enjoying the most fun and leisurely camp breakfast I've ever had.  Finally, we packed up and split up into a meander back group and a get the heck back to town group.

The get the heck back to town group found Vista Loop Road and, much like the poppy field outside of the Emerald City, almost stayed there.  Blackberries, apples, views like crazy.  We didn't want to go on, but we did.  We split again, into a jumping the train group and a get the heck back to town group.  The town group almost beat us back and Josh taunted me via text.

Then, most of us happily reunited at Velocult, dirty and fat and happy as if we'd been gone for weeks instead of just a mere weekend.  These Cycle Wild trips are a special place within themselves, and it's amazing to be a part of it.  Thanks you guys.  Literally.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gushing About Bike MS

Bike MS is unlike any other event ride.  Take it from me, I’ve participated in almost every event ride offered in Oregon, and even many in Washington.  Those other rides are great, but that’s all they are – rides.  Bike MS is so much more than just a bike ride.

In early August this year, a sea of moving vans and volunteers transformed Monmouth’s Western Oregon University into “Rider Village”.  The college campus - our home for the next few days – really did feel like a village; a community gathering spot for a special group of people.  Everyone received red carpet treatment, no matter what their fundraising level. 

It was easy to learn about Multiple Sclerosis and how effective Bike MS funds are in helping researchers fight it.  Smartly placed banners throughout the main stage area educated us on how different MS symptoms are for each individual.  Small placards with a question were strategically posted on the outside of each porta-potty, with the corresponding answer inside.  Finally, someone actually found a way to make port-a-potties fun!

Right from the start, there was a carnival-like atmosphere.  Instead of carnies, we had crazily decorated team booths with anything from Hawaiian d├ęcor to strangely funny mascots.  A high energy band was cranking out tons of music from different eras.  auGi hopped up on stage with his usual charismatic, and hysterically funny, patter.  I even had the privilege of standing up behind the microphone and outlining the safety guidelines for riders. 

What about folks who weren’t riding?  Sit around all day and wait for everyone else to get back?  Nosirree.  There were three field trips to choose from, including berry picking at a local farm and wine tasting at a fancy winery nearby.  Plus, there was a pool, a fitness center, and even yoga!
The buzz at the start/finish line was, well, buzzy!  As riders lined up to start with their teams, Amy, who was wearing feathery orange antennaes, was up there cheering people on with a megaphone.  And she wasn’t along – there was a small army of volunteers clad in adorable “Me Stomp MS” t-shirts ringing cowbells.

I had the honor of acting as ride marshal.  We were instructed in advance to help riders in three ways.  The first two were the typical, expected requirements: medical help and mechanical help.  The third requirement embodies just how the folks from the National MS Society think.  Emotional support.  That’s right, ride marshals are guided to really be there for the riders.  We should change the name from ride marshal to hug patrol.

Saturday morning started early, but as ride marshal, I rolled out late.  I’ve never ridden “sweep” on a century ride before and felt a little nervous.  I knew that beyond being helpful, my mission was to stay behind the last riders and to inform rest stop volunteers that seeing me meant the course was closed.  It felt like that Steven King story, The Langoliers, where giant meatball-like monsters (the timekeepers of eternity) clean up what is left of the past by eating it.  Ok, that’s a little dramatic, but it was a long and tiring day. 
The climb up to Silver Falls is pretty tough, but the views at the top make it all worth it.  The rest stop was perfectly located at a viewpoint.  I ate enough snack mix to feed a horse.  Volunteers gave us medals for climbing the hill, which made me wonder why I ever ride my bike without this level of support. 

On the way up the first big hill, I met a really cool dude, rider #619 from Klamath Falls, who had set a tough goal for himself.  His first century, and not an easy one.  He had a very uplifting attitude and it was easy to ride along with him and encourage him.  He ended up taking the SAG wagon back to the finish, or “abandoning”, as they call it on the Tour de France.  I was so proud of him for making it through all of the climbing, and descending, before he respected his body and accepted a ride home.  We had a great chat later, where he confessed that he felt bad for failing.  I hope I convinced him that failing a hard goal is much more meaningful than succeeding at easy ones.

Much later in the day, I felt tired and wanted to rush to the finish.  I’ll admit it, I felt impatient. Then my eyes fixed on the blue bib number flapping in the wind on the bike in front of me.  Suddenly, it hit me.  I work for these riders!  I’m here for them!  It’s my job, and my privilege, to support them.  I dropped back, giving these last riders more space, and enjoyed the rest of the ride.  There’s always potential of character development on any ride and this was mine.
The rest stops blew my mind.  Of course, the Superhero Stop was a favorite.  Everyone was wearing capes and had their own superhero identity.  All of the volunteers were chipper, even though it was late in the day.  By the end of the ride, they had all blurred together into one giant buffet of delicious food and friendly kindnesses. 
Crossing back under the giant inflated orange finish line archway, the energy was super high.  Great music, folks waving pom-poms, volunteers with medals for us.  It was a very festive feeling.  The volunteers worked as hard (or harder) than the riders – standing around in the hot sun, running back and forth filling up coolers with ice and lemonade, smiling for so long their faces probably hurt.

Once back inside the white picket fence area, near the main stage, the party was totally happening.  A banquet of picnicky foods that would please every palette, along with free-flowing beer and wine, was welcome after a long day in the saddle. 

There were lots of teams, and lots of individuals too.  Some teams had their own tent with tables and chairs in the shade near the stage area.  Prime real estate for the weekend!  Those without a team certainly weren’t alone.  It was like a big family gathering with a spot for everyone.
Regrouping with my fellow ride marshals, who’d all finished earlier than me and had already showered, we reminisced about the day’s events as if they happened longer ago.  One marshal saw a bunch of riders turn the wrong way out of a water stop and chased them down, all the way to Salem, creating a one hundred and twenty mile day for himself.  We were all new to ride marshaling, but everyone had a great experience and good stories to tell about the riders they met.

That evening, we enjoyed an obscene amount of candy and popcorn while watching everyone’s old favorite, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  It was the perfect entertainment for the evening - each scene is amusing all on its own.

Soon it was time to head back to the tents and get some sleep for Sunday.  The routes offered on Sunday were completely different than the Saturday ones.  As a ride planner myself, I know what a tremendous amount of work goes into planning each and every route.  So, I was especially impressed that riders could pick any combination and be assured they wouldn’t be re-riding a route, like watching an old Three’s Company rerun.  No one wants that.

Adair Village is a favorite place to ride through and I enjoyed the shorter distance and the beautiful, mostly flat, terrain we covered.  I stopped for blackberries and met Eric from team Broken Spokes.  He’d just purchased his bike and this was his first ride.  People like him blow my mind.  Heck, everyone out there blew my mind in one way or another.  The generosity I witnessed in the way teams worked together, volunteers supported riders, riders thanked volunteers was pretty amazing.  

My friends at the National MS Society have asked me to be the ride marshal lead for next year, and to share the Western Bikeworks shop rides with all of the Bike MS riders as training rides.  Stay tuned in 2015 for more!  And, until then, keep riding bikes.  And keep helping Bike MS succeed at their ambitious, important fundraising goals.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Alley Cat Racing

There's always a lot of uncertainty, loneliness, messiness, and a general feeling of being overwhelmed with life.  Then there are days like Saturday when I wake up with a clear vision of my mission, secure in my place in the world and what I need to do.  Which, of course, is to ride my bike, or, even better, race it!
The first race, The Dirty Dozen, was a follow up to last year's Kuchen Rennen (cake run), and the fifth year in a row an OBRA team has stepped into the gooey gutter that is alley cat racing.  Teams of five started out sharing a dozen donuts each.  Hell, it was free breakfast.  Team Messerschmidt finished eating first and took off in formation for the furthest out checkpoint at the Lumberyard.

Each stop had a unique, or not so unique, task for us to complete.  Most of them involved some variation on squats, which certain bloggers with bad backs were incapable of doing.  Team alley cats are new for me, and can be tough as routing decisions are made by consensus instead of gut.  But, more brains are better, and we created a tight efficient pack, staying together for most of the race.

The hard part for me was being left behind at the final checkpoint when three of our five were suddenly competitive and shot ahead without two of us.  We didn't see them again til the finish line, where we were presented with the terrible news that we were disqualified for skipping a checkpoint.

While we waited for the other teams to come in, I felt itchy to leave and ride the couple of miles to the missed checkpoint, but the team was dissolving quicker than an electrolyte tab in a water bottle, so that was a no go.  My first ever DNF for an alley cat race: a very sad feeling.
Beer Mongers Cycling Club won, and they sure deserved it.  They were all in full kit, and really demonstrated true teamwork and sportsmanship.  Plus, they ate four dozen donuts.  The prizes outnumbered the racers, which is always a good ratio.  As a fundraiser for the Oregon Food Bank, this was also a good thing, as many folks invested a few bucks for a fist full of raffle tickets.

After drinking much of my raffle winnings, I jetted off to the next race, the 40Cat.  This race was put on by genuine bike messengers and is a spin off from the West Side Invite, which has been going on for a dozen or so years.  The first alley cat race I did in Portland back in '03 was part of this great culture created by messengers and the West Side Invite organizers.

Two hours after our meet time, we were given our manifests.  I quickly scanned mine and picked out the three west side destinations, and more importantly, my first stop: Montgomery Park.  I'd figure out the east side stops later.  The map in my brain was activated and hot.  I clipped in and looked up.
Then, the strangest thing happened.  The organizer gave everyone time, like twenty minutes of time, to map their route on their smart phones.  Not only was I twice the age of most of the kids there, but I was realizing what a curmudgeon I'd become in my idea of what alley cat racing is.  I was really putting the old in old school.

Back (way back) in my messenger days, alley cats were a ready-set-go scramble where racers read their manifests and charted their course on the bike.  Races were an all comers contest of speed, compromising laws safely, thinking on your feet, and knowing all the right short cuts.  In the dozens of races I organized or raced in, not a single one gave racers time to plan their route.  But, alas, those were the old days and the next generation will do what they will.  I'm just glad they're still putting on races.

We all sprinted off together toward Montgomery Park, where racers had to gather ten stones to carry with them.  By the end of the race, I'd have thirty stones total in my jersey pockets.  I kept seeing racers everywhere, even way over on the east side near the now-demolished Lafayette train bridge.

Racers were equipped with trash bags and latex gloves so they could gather road kill to win the CARCASS bonus.  I didn't see any roadkill, but I was happy to have the gloves when told to grab a huge prickly thistle plant by the roots and carry it to the finish line.  Due to the aforementioned bad back, I had mounted a rack and pannier for carrying stuff and was really happy to have that thistle there instead of on my back, with its flyaways flying off behind me.

Finally back to the Fremont Bridge, I was the second lady in.  Of two ladies.  But it was still good to finish, to not win the DFL award, or get another dreaded DNF.  By the time I got home, my odometer read 67.  67 miles of urban riding, most at breakneck speed.  A good day with lots of lessons learned.
The innermost ingredient to my cycling identity comes from those long passed messenger days, which can be recaptured on a day like last Saturday.  These unsanctioned street races, or alley cat races, light up that part of me and renew my instincts on the road.  They remind me who I am and where I came from.  The alley cat scene is alive and well in Portland, and so am I.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Riding Bikes With Dad

We agreed to meet at the trailer, after the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast and a quick game of stunt swim with my niece and nephew.  First I ran up to the lodge and changed into my bike outfit.

The campground was huge - the largest I've ever seen.  There was a giant slide, a big pillow jumpy thing, extreme golf, trails for ATVs, bike paths everywhere, and FunTown - which included miniature golf, giant chess and what can only be described as a "pool complex".  There was even a small complex of shops with names like "Pizza Wings Ice Cream" and "Wine Espresso Wi Fi".

I put on my mother's helmet and tiny gloves, moved her seat up and hopped on her 20" wheeled contraption to go ride with Dad.  We turned left onto the dirt road from the trailer.  Then right, just before the big red and white striped tent, and up the little hill.

I'd noticed an enticing campground exit the day before and was hoping to explore it.  I waited while Dad walked up the hill.  He asked that we turn back down the hill.  "I know it's nothing for you, but I don't want to ride up this hill anymore".  You've gotta respect his directness.

So, we turned right, leading us to a cul de sac of tents and cabins.  We u-turned, riding back past the red and white tent, then past Mom and Dad's trailer, the Bullet.  They purchased it last year with insurance money from crashing their previous trailer, which started to come loose from their car just outside Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

Onward, past FunTown and onto an adorable little bike path circling a small fishing pond.  Around the circle by the registration gift shop and adult pool, then back to the fishing pond.  He kept straight and I turned left, but I caught him again before the turn back to the Bullit.

He pulled in and sat down, but I continued on.  For once, there was no time constraint, no control to make, no pace to consider.  Just me and these unknown little roads that went nowhere.  I went back up the hill, past the red tent, up the next hill and out of camp.

The dirt was reddish and reminded me of the now infamous "red sauce" section of the Oregon Outback.  Except it was smooth, not loose, and perfectly predictable. The South Dakotan ponderosa pines and badland rock formations were also reminiscent of the land I traversed in central Oregon, just two short months ago.

I noticed a small trail, really just mashed down grass, and went for it.  As suspected, it led nowhere, which was precisely where I wanted to go.  I u-turned after a while, went back to the red road and tried another outlet road.

Arriving back at Dad's trailer, I felt like myself again.  Several days of junk food and limited exercise during family vacation can be really taxing.  I parked my Mom's bike, which has a plastic basket mounted to the front handlebars, and took a seat next to Dad.

It was a good day, and a good bike ride, reminding me that although I love long distance riding, there's no bike ride too short.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

STP 2014

There was a man wearing a time trial helmet and skinsuit, carrying a bright orange messenger bag and riding a mountain bike.  He wasn't riding STP, but he would have fit in fine if he had.

One out of ten riders sported sleeveless jerseys and half of those wore arm warmers, exposing bare shoulders.  Many riders, even those on mountain bikes, had aero bars clamped on to their handlebars.  Many riders stopped on a dime, right in the bike lane, if they saw a "rest stop" sign or for no apparent reason at all.

Many more riders victoriously shouted  "on your left" as they passed, apparently assuming the presence of 11,000 other riders somehow necessitated a constant warning of their existence.  Most of these riders pulled over and immediately slowed way down in front of the rider they just passed.  Most bikes made an inordinate amount of noise.  Creaky bottom brackets, hollow-sounding carbon fiber wheels, little tick ticks, and of course, the unlubed chain chirp.

Aside from that, it was a glorious day.  Watching the sun rise over Lake Washington cannot be beat.  The morning was cool, but everyone knew the heat loomed ahead and hydration was key.  A few bored looking mechanics at the first rest stop, Seward Park, were happy to check headsets and tighten brakes for one lone single speed rider.

Up the nasty steep little hill after Seward Park and into south Seattle, if that's even what it's called.  Pass up the rest stops, and just stop, rando-style, at gas stations for juice and corner stores for snacks.  One such gas station was showing the Tour de France, anticipating that "you guys would wanna see that".
The beer garden at Centralia was its own small ghost town except for the masseuse taking a break there.  Alas, he couldn't escape the sore neck and shoulders needing his attention, all for the price of a beer.  Intoxication wears off fast when pedaling and sobriety hit in time for Chehalis, where the pool and showers were closed for construction.

Hot foot.  Sore tush.  Tight shoulders.  Blistered palms.  There were many sensations to choose from before even arriving at the Longview Bridge.  Climbing the bridge was an act of sheer control, as single speed riders find it as hard to go slow on the climb as they do to go fast on the descent.

Chips and soda.  Bonk bars.  Atomic fire balls.  Bottles and bottles of water and electrolyte drink.  Pedal, pedal, left, right, repeat, pedal.  Burgerville Saint Helens signifies the home stretch and a bottle full of raspberry milkshake is just the right fuel.

Sprinting past broken riders, passing the Sauvie Island sign, up and over the Saint John's Bridge.  Then the slow part, the neighborhoods of Portland.  Then the finish line, with lines of cheering spectators.  Number ten complete!  One day, one speed, one woman.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

UGB 200K

There comes in a time in every cyclist's life where they have to choose one ride over another.  What I'm getting at is that I missed the West Side Invite not because I'm a total loser, but because my body is overworked and under rested.  Plus I've got way more skin in the R12 2 (f) game.  If you know what that means, as I do, you have my pity.
I rode the six miles over to my favorite coffee joint, Water Avenue Coffee.  Rando Mark #5000 something, was already inside chowing down.  We ran into Ira Ryan on our way out - the same guy who rode the Oregon Outback the fastest.  The only thing I could conjure up to say to this amazing hardman was "twenty eight hours".  He knew what I meant.  Mark and I rode off with a group of marathon-runners surrounding us, and hopped on the Springwater Corridor - the launching pad for so many good rides.

East, east, east to Boring and the Shell Station in Boring.  The clerk told us she was sixty years old and still hadn't learned to ride a bike.  We saw some other cyclists there who told the cashier they'd be back in an hour or so after their loop.  I envied them.

We rolled out, passing those riders, into the eastern view of Mount Hood, which never fails to astonish me with her beauty.  I assume it's a her, anyway.  Up and down and around the rollers past Barton Park and over along the Clackamas River, veering south to Canby, where we enjoyed a nice lunch.
I was already getting a bad case of the hot foot and took the opportunity to douse my bare feet.  Onto Knight's Bridge and west, west, west to Butteville and beyond.  North Valley Road felt neverending, especially with the heat beating down on us.  Out of water, I was happy to hear Mark had an extra bottle.

We set our sights on Gaston and soon enough, I was slamming two big lemonades in line at the store.  Then we walked next door to the One Horse to split a beer.  There's nothing quite like the twilight experience of sitting in a dark cool bar on a bright hot day.  It felt like sitting in the corner of a boxing ring.  As soon as we saw the bottom of our shared glass, a bell rang and we were back in the ring.

Every stroke felt like punching the pedals.  I watched the sweat drip onto my top tube.  I pedaled and coasted and did math to figure out when I could stop pedaling.  Mark stayed with me all the way to the Rock Creek Tavern, where we split another beer.

Don't worry, dear reader, there's no chance of getting intoxicated on a day like this.  One's body drinks in whatever fluids it can find and sends them packing back out as sweat right away.  Mark peeled off to go host a party at his nearby house.  "Missing a control is just like me", he quipped, "''cause I'm out of control".
I was happy to ride solo up Skyline.  No one needs to witness the incredible molasses speed on that heated ascent.  A rider passed on the other side and said my name.  At least, I think that happened.   Passing the church, I knew what the rest of the uphill held and settled in for some steady, but easy, climbing.

Thompson at last!  The top of the hill.  I pulled into the triangle to breathe and sweat and another cyclist coming up Thompson did the same.  We nodded to each other and took off before anyone could see us.

Descending at full speed  down Thompson, and then Cornell, was sheer bliss.  The city came into view and I thought about all the places I'd ridden all day.  The route takes riders on a circuitous trip following the Urban Growth Boundary of Portland, only missing the northern border on the south side of the Columbia River.  A beautiful route, I'd recommend to everyone.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Pedalpalooza Wrap Up

Dear reader, when last we spoke, I had just completed the Grilled By Bike ride.  Since then, I've had the privilege of participating in the Rocky Butte Potluck Picnic Sunset Dance Party ride, Bowie vs. Prince, Back Down The Alley, Bike Play 6: Bike Play's Big Adventure, Heavy Bike Hill Climb Challenge, Dropout Prom, Swim Across Portland, and finally, Chutes and Ladders.

Late to the party, and early to leave, I am still proud enough of my complete saturation in Pedalpalooza rides that I took the opportunity to put together a Data Sheet to track my accomplishments for the Ride Hard Party Hard challenge.  Yes, there's a Pedalpalooza competition.
Within the Ride Hard Party Hard Data Sheet, I track only official Pedalpalooza rides, and only miles within those rides.  I did not include mileage (or kilometerage) from my long commute (nine miles from downtown Portland) and other rides (I took last Sunday off to ride the Portland-Pipeline-Portland 200k). Even so, I managed to put on an astounding 149 junky miles within just 15 rides.
The Swim Across Portland, my third annual, was an absolute stunner.  Eleven of us departed Water Avenue Coffee and headed over the Hawthorne Bridge.  Riding up and over Terwiliger's sweet sexy curves, we arrived intact at the Wilson Pool just as the sun won its battle with the clouds.  The water was bath warm.  The lazy river was long and slow and finally succumbed into a vortex.  The weather had been very overcast all morning, so the pool wasn't overcrowded.

The slide was sublime.  Teal and tall, it tosses you around and down into a small deep pool.  There was a giant frog for the kids.  Popcorn and nachos for hungry riders.  Giant poolside umbrellas for pale people like me.  A diving board.  And eleven happy swimming adults momentarily transformed into summertime kids.
Riding down through the cemetery, we encountered a real live funeral.  Or a real dead one anyway.    The mood was sombre as we dismounted and skirted around the hearse being unloaded by suited men.  Everyone was quiet, even the birds.  Out of sight, we remounted and coasted on down, everyone feeling grateful to be alive and on bikes and going swimming with friends.

My Pedalpalooza must now come to a premature end, as I move on to other horizons.  Have fun at the Sprockettes Ride, Bike Fair and Lit n Loud, everyone, I'll miss you! (Below photo was taken at the Bowie ride.  I'm the one covered in bows.)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Pedalpalooza 2014

Pedalpalooza is that special time of year when cyclists put aside their differences and unite into one massive, throbbing, costumed community of fun.

For me, it's a mash up urban riding endurance and staying out late endurance.   It's hard to believe that Pedalpalooza 2014 is just a week old, it feels like a month.

In a nutshell, Pedalpalooza is kind of kicking my ass.  So, I'm writing my Pedalpalooza report in parts.  This is part one, and may be the last entry, who knows.
The Pop Til You Puke ride is an 80s dance party themed ride complete with a mobile sound system in a trailer, which are commonplace in Portland in June.  We tooled around the new and very confusing cycle tracks on the south west waterfront under the tram.  Pop Til You Puke ended at the start of another ride, which is always a classy move.
The Super Hero ride was an exhilarating tour of south east Portland, with surprise super villains attempting to thwart the heros.  Pictured above is the mysterious Bananarama, who delights in planting banana peels on the pavement.
I made it just in time to my Single Speed / Fixed Gear Friendly ride, grateful I had scheduled it for two in the afternoon.  Twenty riders awaited me, we swigged a free beer, I turned on my loaner mobile sound system, and we were off.  Only one rider sported a derailleur, but he assured me he wouldn't shift.
My ride ended at the start of the Hott Sock ride, which was the most crowded ride I'd been on so far.  Around eighty riders showing off their crazy socks rode to Sock Dreams in Sellwood for funky lawn games, snacks and prizes.  Then, to Sock It To Me for more of the same.  The generosity of these businesses was appreciated by all.  I left with 6 pairs of cool socks.
Alleys of the North and Northeast had us riding thirteen miles through wildly fun, unimproved and usually unpaved alley ways.  It's one thing to do this sort of urban off road exploration on your own, but try herding through these skinny spaces with over a hundred other riders.  I foolishly chose to ride my single speed with skinny tires, but it worked out ok.
The SE Ponds Tour is a perennial favorite.  Around thirty riders rode around and looked at water ways, water falls, rivers, creeks and ponds near Sellwood.  We stopped at a lemonade stand and learned the kids' dad had coached them to set up for Pedalpalooza.  Talk about boosting the local economy.
Had to peel off early to make it to Grilled By Bike in time.  Around two hundred riders converged on Ladd's Circle, everyone with plenty of food to grill and share.  Three bikes had grills set up and grill space was at a premium.  When we left to ride to Laurelhurst Park, the grills stayed hot and the food kept cooking - while we rode!  Later, after dark, with a smaller crowd of around forty rode to Oaks Bottom.  On the way, embers could be seen flying off one of the front-mounted grills, it's pilot standing atop the top tube to save his leg hair from burning.  Maybe this is why cyclists shave their legs.