The day dawned clear and unlike last week's freezing temperatures at the start of the Bellingham 200K, yesterday's Seattle International Randonneurs' Spring 300K started an hour earlier and 12 degrees warmer. I'd discovered we were out of my usual pre-ride breakfast food, Quaker's Old Fashioned Oats, and had to settle for 2 eggs and two slices of toast with a glass of apple juice for my breakfast. PLUS, we were out of bananas. When I got to U-Village, fortunately, the organizers had some pastries, bananas and fresh Starbucks Coffee. One person mentioned that they barely recognized me as I didn't have a doughnut in my hand, and another friend suggested I eat one of the donuts. I told them I'd been banished from doughnut consumption by a certain somebody who discovered I'd gained 6 pounds in less than 3 months. They pointed out that there was a HALF of a doughnut - a glazed old fashioned, yet. Well, that's not really a doughnut.
With 2 eggs, toast, apple juice, a triple shot espresso, a banana, a half of a doughnut and a cup of Starbucks coffee heavily laced with cream and sugar to cover up the burnt taste, I felt pretty ready to go, from a caloric standpoint.
About 80 of us showed up, and at 6:00 am sharp the organizers sounded the imaginary starter's pistol and we were out of the starting gate like so many race horses in the Kentucky Derby, each of us in our brightly colored jockey outfits, albeit mostly in bright blue and white for some reason. There seems to always be a preponderance of Seattle Randonneur wool jerseys on these brevets.
I set a new personal best for myself, staying glued to the rear wheel of Jan Heine and another rider for a full 3 blocks before they started to put distance between themselves and me. As we headed up the hill on 25th, I could hear Ralph Nussbaum chugging like a steam engine up behind me and as he passed by, he pointed out that it was going to be a mighty long day, since he'd done a 300K just a couple days ago. I heard him repeat this to a few other riders as they drifted farther and farther forward, leaving me in their wake. I looked behind me and all the way down the hill all I could see was the bobbing and weaving of hundreds of bluish white lights, some low and some high, weaving back and forth like so many coal miners headed down into the shaft, as they exchanged pleasantries with each other and scoped out their surroundings.
Eventually, I settled into a group of 15 or so riders to the first control, with Mark Roehrig and Peter Rankin setting a fast but not unreasonable pace. Quickly rolling through the checkpoint and getting my brevet card signed, I rolled on and soft pedaled a bit, waiting for a few of these big dogs to catch up to me. As soon as they did, I locked on again and on we went. The route followed the Burke Gilman and Sammamish River trails out to and then through Marymoor Park, and the sun was just rising over the Cascades as Mark led us through the park.
I knew the fun was just beginning, as I was in a group of 6 or 7 by this time, and we were rapidly bearing down on a group of about 20 riders that included Ralph, Bob Brudvik and a few others I recognized but can't recall after so much passage of time. As we hit the back of the line, Mark started to pull through on the left and I thought he was heading straight on by, but he pulled up next to one of the other riders and started up a conversation, so I just sat on his wheel and enjoyed working at about half the effort I normally would need to keep the 22 mph pace we were hitting heading down E. Lake Sammamish. Then came the turn up Louis Thompson Road, a nice little 8% - 12% 1-mile climb to test the morning legs. I was doing ok and keeping with the group. I've done this hill before - on a tandem with Megan, even - but started to think it is a long, long day and I don't want to cook my legs all on the first hill, so decided to drop to my little ring. As I did so, I dropped my chain. When I did, I got a kind of a jolt up through my right hip as I was on the right side downtsroke at the time. I didn't think much at the time about it. Just got off, got the chain back on and continued on to the first control.
I have a bit of a routine for managing my gear, and when I start out, I know the things I might need early on, so put them at the top of the bag. At the control, I will shuffle stuff as my needs change throughout the day. The organizers had a very nice rest stop set up for us, complete with Vietnamese sandwiches - tofu and jalapeno - along with lots of fresh fruit, some pastries, assorted snack food and YEP, more Starbucks Coffee. I downed a cup of coffee, grabbed 2 bananas, ate one, stuffed the other in my rear pocket and was in the middle of re-adjusting stuff when I got distracted by someone talking about those sandwiches. Somehow, the words 8:00 am, tofu and jalapeno all used in the same sentence were just too much for my pea-sized brain to manage. I got distracted by it all, and then saw someone leaving that I wanted to see if I could catch up to.
Back on the road, I caught up to and rode along with Barry Chase for a little bit, until we were overtaken by Don and Elaine Jameson who had Rick Blacker and someone else in tow. The six of us rode together for a while until the turn off to Ames Lake Road and with Don and Elaine and their gang climbing like mountain goats, I was left behind one more time. Seems to be an emerging pattern. This was when I noticed I seemed to have a little bit of chafing action going on and made a mental note to apply a bit of WD-40 or A&D ointment to the affected region the next time I stopped. Little did I know that I'd be rolling along at a nice moderate 16 mph enjoying the morning scenery, rolling past some of my favorite barns and get overtaken by Christopher Vaughn Gay, Robert Higdon and a couple other guys, with my buddy Chris Heg hanging to their rear wheel like a crawdad on a slab of bacon rind.
I locked on and off we went, rolling along, gathering in a few more riders as we went. As we were turning on to Crescent Lake Road, a gang of racing folks passed by us, and for a couple miles I wasn't sure who was us and who was them. If everybody would just wear the same color jersey so we could tell who was who it would help. Fortunately, there was one young woman with the race team who was dressed in very nice black and white shorts with a bright red dot on each, uh, well, er, side. I think I did an admirable job of not becoming too awfully mesmerized by the rythmic motion of those red dots bouncing side to side, up and down, and knew that at least SHE wasn't one of us so I couldn't draft off of her. Deeply saddened, I had to let them ride off into the morning sun and stick with my own kind.
Before I knew it, we were at the infamous Ben Howard Road. Not to say that I don't ENJOY riding that road, there is just this one little wrinkle. Of course that wrinkle comes in the form of a 3/4 mile climb that ranges from 11% - 16% and if there were any remnants of eggs, toast, banana, apple juice and coffee left in my scrawny little carcass, by the time I arrived at the top of that hill, it was gone. With about 60 miles under my tush, I realized I needed some calories, and pretty quickly.
I jumped on the pedals and hammered as hard as I could, downing two Honey Stinger gel pouches to get me the final 5 miles into the control.
When I arrived, I was welcomed into the parking lot by Geoff Swarts. Now, back in December, Geoff pulled a secret control on me when I was out doing a solo 100K ride that ended on Mercer Island. The funny part of that whole scenario was that I almost missed it. Fortunately, I make a point of adhering strictly to routes (ever since my little Mt. Loop Highway faux pas when I put my permanents coordinators "in a spot of bother", as Narayan so eloquently put it) and then a few weeks ago, when I forgot to get a receipt at one of the controls, Geoff generously allowed me to gain completion credit. It only took a bit of bribery, promises to mow his lawn every week for the next year and there were a couple other promises I've forgotten. Hopefully, he has too. But I do digress.
So here was Geoff standing in the middle of the parking lot. 15 riders all zoom in and start surrounding him. He agrees to sign their brevet card, all the while saying he really wasn't supposed to be doing that. So I figure I'll beat the crowd, park my bike on the building and start going through my bag looking for my brevet card. It isn't where I always put it. It also isn't in any of the other places where I occasionally put it when I don't always put it where I always put it. It isn't with my car keys. It isn't with my banana (damn! I forgot I had that.) It isn't with my wallet, my cell phone, my camera, my handkerchief, my spare tubes. It isn't with my sunglasses, my chain lube, my multi-tool and my spare route sheet. It isn't in my vest (which I hadn't worn - how could it be there?) or in the pocket of my yellow morning shell.
Geoff hollers over at me and asks me if I want him to sign my card. Well, I wouldn't mind but I seem to not be able to find it. "Wow, that's really too bad. How are you going to finish the ride without a brevet card?" By now, I see the twinkle and smartie pants little grin. "YOU have my card?"
"Well, that and a few other things."
I follow him over to his car. Inside, he has a "doggie duty" bag, dark green. FULL of stuff. Like one of my short fingered gloves, my SIR reflective sash, my skull cap, and, wait! MY BREVET CARD!!! Thank you Geoff.
Once I had my card signed, I was off in search of more calories. All I could find that sounded good was a big super-sized Snickers Bar. I refilled my bottles with another portion of Chocolate Spiz, downed the banana, half the Snickers and was ready to get on the way. Chris had a few things left to load up, though, so I watched a few other riders head out and figured I'd rather ride with him, since we've been doing so much together, so sorta stood there shifting from foot to foot while he methodically placed everything very carefully back into his bag, zipped up, replaced his helmet, put on his glasses, adjusted his crotch, scratched everything that needed scratching and said with his totally infectious smile, "I think I'm ready.
And that's when it happened.
As I swung my right leg over the top bar, I felt a huge stinging pain. It started from just above the knee and felt like someone had filled a hypodermic syringe full of boiling fat out of the doughnut fryer and injected it right up through the hip and into my brain. I thought I didn't much like that feeling, and hoped it was momentary. It wasn't. As we rolled out onto Highway 2, I told Chris what had happened, and said my day might be over. I wanted to keep pushing on, but was afraid that my brevet card wasn't the only thing I'd lost.
At first, it was just a little bit of unfinished business that pushed me on. The last time I rode up Reiner Road was on the 400K two years ago, and I walked a stretch of it. I'll be darned if I'm going to be defeated this time. I did a lot of standing, since it hurt a lot less to stand and pedal on that long, steep climb than it did to sit and spin. At the top of the hill, Mark Thomas was standing either on top of his car or on top of a rock. I'm still not sure. All I knew was that I hurt, and wanted to stop and ask if I could put my bike in the back of his car. Something wouldn't let me do that.
A few miles later, my hip hurt with every pedal stroke and I was pretty sure I had lost the initiative to complete this brevet. I told Chris he should find someone else to ride with, and About that time we rode up on Ken Ward who was having severe cramps and Chris offered him some Tums. They stopped, I pushed on, thinking I could make it to Granite Falls and call Mimi to come get me. They passed me. Then somebody else passed me. Then A few other people passed me and a butterfly passed me and my brain started playing tricks on me, like thinking Mimi wouldn't be home, she'd be really upset having to drive all that way, and maybe I could get as far as Arlington which isn't as tough to get to. If I could just get to Granite Falls. I stopped and took some advil to manage the pain, took a pee and watched some birds for a few minutes. I enjoyed the ride along Lake Roesiger and except for the shooting pains on my right side and the continued chafing, I wasn't doing too badly.
I rolled into Granite Falls just as Don and Elaine were rolling out, and Ralph was carefully considering whether he should go through the garbage can since he'd lost his brevet card.
He made a call to the organizers who gave him a solution and he was off like he'd had his bum lit on fire. He must be feeling really weak because of that 300K he did a few days ago, I thought.
I sat for about 20 minutes, did some stretching and called home, leaving a message on Mimi's phone. Then I saw Chris and a couple other guys ride by and limped off after them. In the next hour, as the advil started to do its job, I started to feel better. Chris, Ken Ward and I rode along together most of the way, passing a guy in a ditch who said he was feeling a bit nauseous. When he declined any assistance, we rode on. All of a sudden, I looked behind and Ken was nowhere to be seen. He hadn't said anything, just stopped. Chris and I rode the last 3 miles into Conway, stopping for a few minutes, a snack and a control entry.
It is only about 7 miles from there to the control in Stanwood and we arrived there at just about 3:30, still making excellent time - all things considered.
We rolled out of Stanwood with Ken Condray and Sylvia Shiroyama on tandem and they moved to the front pretty quickly, pulling us along for a while, but eventually, when they pulled a stand Chris and I lost the slipstream and we didn't see them again until the entrance to the Centennial Trail. Once again, they were leaving as we rolled in, but along came Will Goss and Steve Davis who had been struggling for a while with Will's chain. He remarked it was about 3 links short, to which Chris and I replied that we thought he was about 3 links short of a full chain, too, but heck, isn't that what friends are for?
So the 4 of us rode off together up the trail to Machias Station, where Mark Thomas told us he was there to sign our cards, that we weren't using the informational control question.
I wanted to answer it anyway
So now we have just about 55K to go. The sun is still up and with another couple advil in me, a full bottle of Cytomax and a couple more gels, some shot blox and a couple handfuls of mixed nuts, the group of worse mixed nuts set off toward the finish line. I 'llowed as how if the Pie Shop in Snohomish was open, I was going to stop. They weren't so I didn't; we kept rolling through, and I had to settle for half of a Clif Nectar bar. Bad cyclist! NO PIE!!!
The ride up Broadway wasn't as painful as the last time I did it at the end of a long ride, but that last hill climbing up to White Horse pretty much finished me off.
The sun was down now, the temp had dropped to 51 and we had 17 miles of easy riding left. Thank goodness. I just didn't have anything left. I took time to stretch really good, put on my jacket on for the descent and after Chris had systematically and very carefully placed all his belongings back into his bag, changed lenses, zipped everything up, adjusted his crotch, scratched everything that needed scratching and double checked to make sure he hadn't left anything behind (think maybe I could learn something from this youngster), we were off. No more climbing. Just 15 miles of familiar trail. We overtook Will a couple miles later, and the three of us rode on to the finishline, completing in just 15 hours. When I rolled up, there was a whole gang of well wishers and adoring fans there to greet me.
I may have lost a card, lost my sanity, lost any street cred when it comes to organizational skills and lost my race yet again with Jan Heine, but I once again found my way to the finish line.