By Ed Felker
SIR 600K Sept. 16-17 2006 see: http://www.seattlerandonneur.org
Following the Cascade 1200 this summer, I got the idea of returning to Seattle for one more ride on the western part of the state. A cheap airfare and moment of exuberance prompted me to target the Seattle Randonneurs fall 600K. My partner and tandem stoker extraordinaire Mary Gersema knew she could not attend, but she encouraged me to go anyway. “You love riding your bike, go and have fun,” she said.
I was at the Motel 6 in Tumwater with 27 other hearty randonneurs at 6 a.m., decked out in helmet lights and reflective wear. Tom Reeder from my home club, the D.C. Randonneurs was also there — he had missed our Virginia 600K. I found it slightly odd to be lining up for a 600K after Labor Day!
I saw some familiar faces from the Cascade 1200: Bob Brudvik, David Rowe, Peg Winczewski (aka, sock lady), Joe Llona, RUSA President Mark Thomas, and organizer Eric Vigoren. “What are you doing here?” exclaimed Bob. Well, I guess I just can’t get enough of riding my bike in the great Northwest.
Me and Bob. No Reflective Vests, so you can see us in all our redeye glory!
I wanted to see more of Washington’s forests, and this ride was all that and more. Eric’s route would take us south and west from Olympia to the coast and then back along the base of Mount St. Helens, before returning along the southern Cascades area.
This ride was also to be the longest I had done on my Bike Friday travel bike. On a 200K checkout ride I found it to be a worthy steed, at that distance. Adorned with a Brooks Flyer sprung saddle, Carradice seat bag and Berthoud saddle bag mounted forward of the handlebars, it appears unorthodox at best — a bike with no middle. Yet, it handles and feels like a regular bike — as long as I don’t look down.
The weekend trip started out wonderfully. SIR stalwarts Carol and Ralph Nussbaum hosted me Thursday night at their Seattle home. We enjoyed some strong coffee on Friday morning and looked over photos of their many tandem adventures before Ralph took me on a 24-mile bike tour of Seattle. After stops at the locks and downtown, we made our way to Il Vecchio’s bike shop, where I got a chance to look at the vintage 650B Rene Herse tandem that Jan Heine captained at the 2003 Paris-Brest-Paris. Aside from some minor rust spots, it looked neither antique nor flimsy. On the contrary, elegant was the word that sprang to mind.
Later Friday I picked up Tom at the airport and that evening we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at a French restaurant in Tumwater called Jean-Pierre. A well-prepared steak, for Tom, and halibut, for me, left us ready for the rigors of the road.
Under humid, fog-laden night skies we rolled out of Tumwater to our first control at Vader, in the Mount St. Helens area. We quickly encountered farm fields and gentle rollers with the occasional steep pitch thrown in, and the group worked hard to stay together. Unlike the Cascade 1200, Bob was not on a single speed, but his geared bike; while Mark was on his own single speed. Is there a rule that at least one person on an SIR brevet has to be on a single- or fixed-gear bike?
At mile 20 we found Joe and his young son Jesse manning a roadside secret control. Jesse enthusiastically offered water to everybody who rolled up. By then we’d all worked up a sweat and we stripped off outer layers.
I rode with the front group for awhile, and some bigger rollers separated us from the rest of the crowd. By mile 40 I was re-thinking this plan and dropped back. I craved some decent coffee and stopped in Winlock at the town’s ubiquitous drive-up espresso shack. There were three customers waiting and they all wanted those complicated coffee drinks with whipped cream and flavors and steam and all I wanted was a double espresso!
The second group rolled by and Mark commented on how I was becoming a local, waiting at the espresso shack just like everybody else in Washington.
I finally got my cup and drank it while I rode to the control. I had a breakfast sandwich made up and lit out again, eating it in the saddle. Most everyone was up the road, but I didn’t mind riding alone for awhile. A beautiful clear morning emerged from the fog, revealing winding roads through evergreen valleys.
Washington means never having the same weather for very long, apparently. A nasty rain cloud blew in from the coast and started dumping a steady shower. “We’re having fun now,” commented Rick Blacker as he rode past me near Lebam. I saw David Rowe putting on rain gear and decided to put on my heavy rain jacket. Within five miles, yes, the rain stopped and I was overdressed, so I had to pull over and take it off again. Meanwhile my bike had gotten trashed by wet dirty spray. I wondered if there was a lot of volcanic dust in the area from the eruption.
The front guys were seated at the 111-mile control in Raymond eating at Subway, my favorite place to stop when I don’t know of any better place in an unfamiliar town. I went in, got a footlong and sat with Rick, who talked about how he had come back this year from a bad bike crash and was looking forward to getting his 600K. He was riding strongly, you’d never know he was off the bike for six months earlier this year.
In my never-ending quest for a good shot of joe, I stopped again at the espresso hut on the way out of town and ordered my usual. “Anything in that?” the lady asked. No, isn’t that enough?
I felt the rush of calories and caffeine, which helped me tackle a series of long, shallow rollers under mostly clear skies. I caught up Rick and we then ran up to Peg, Bob, Mark and Wayne Methner. I was amazed to hear Peg say she was completing her third super randonneur series this year, in addition to working volunteer sag for four days on the Cascade 1200. I felt lucky to be in such accomplished company.
Our group stayed together until we rolled down to the coastal bend, and then it was just Peg, Bob, Rick and me on a quiet Saturday spin in the country. The road curved along the Willipa Bay National Wildlife Refuge and we saw wonderful vistas of wetlands and evergreens.
The roads in this section were mostly flat. By now it was late afternoon and we hit the 156-mile control at Long Beach, hungry. I ate the second half of my sub and Mark came out with a tub of macaroni salad. Bob threw bread bits to Roscoe. Roscoe was a very friendly and well fed dog who had found his spot on Earth, keeping the parking lot clean of stray food.
I undertook housekeeping work on my bike and watched everyone bolt away before I finally got going. I chased some and then settled in for the long stretch to the overnight control. This segment was spectacular. Eric routed us along the mouth of the Columbia River, and the setting sun over the water and hills was magical. Traffic was nearly nonexistent. I took a few photos and wished Mary was there to enjoy the beauty with me.
Night began to fall and I kicked my pace into a little higher gear, hoping to make the hotel by 11 p.m. or earlier. That was a fun little fantasy for awhile, until the hills began kicking up and slowing my average speed.
I managed to stay on the bike and I caught the group ahead at the little roadside rest stop Eric set up. They got up and left as I was just settling in, but they had some climbing ahead and I hoped to catch them later. I had some famous SIR soup in a cup and put on booties, a skull cap and leg warmers over my knee warmers. It felt cold when stopped but warm when I rode, so I stayed with my nylon jacket over my wool jersey, wool undershirt, and arm warmers.
I rode with Rick for a ways, then decided to push harder and started catching riders one by one. The last two were Bob and Peg, and for fun I motored past them with a quick “hi!” I was not surprised to see them along side me soon thereafter for the run into Kelso. We arrived at midnight to a warm welcome from volunteers Amy and Greta, who manned a room stocked with food and drink.
They had thought to buy yummy avocados, something we don’t see much in Washington, D.C. and I made sure to ask for some on a turkey and cheese sandwich. We all headed off to bed with a 4 am wakeup call, tired but glad to be getting some sleep.
The same three of us, plus Mark, rode off just after 4:30 am. I was kind of queasy, even though I ate some more sandwich for breakfast. The night was dark and quiet. Peg and Bob moved ahead and I hung back with Mark, not wanted to aggravate my weak left knee, which gets sore if I push it hard without warming up.
We climbed past the Mount St. Helens visitor center and then on to the control at Toutle just after daybreak. The convenience store was not yet open, so we took down the phone number of the fire emergency hotline for the information control. Just out of town Mark had stopped on the shoulder and was working on his rear wheel. He taught himself how to install a Fiberfix kevlar spoke while I watched, and in 20 minutes we were back on the road. We randonneurs, we got skills!
In Toledo, at mile 276, hunger had to be addressed, and we hit the Union 76 for whatever we could scrounge. A group of five riders, including David Rowe and Robin Pieper, eased on past and I waved. Leaving town, rollers again put us to the test and I pulled away from Mark. After getting out of the hills onto Jackson Highway, I stopped to take off layers, Mark rolled up and did the same. I was entirely glad to have dodged the cold temperatures I had seen on weather reports the previous week. Low termperatures in the 50s were OK by me.
Up the road I left Mark for the last time, and pushed on solo. The route wound north to SR12, the fast east-west highway. I tried not to think much about the 19.2 mile stretch on the shoulder with 55 m.p.h. traffic whizzing past.
The terrain to the 310-mile control at Morton was generally uphill with some light head- and crosswinds. I counted my blessings. Sunday morning traffic was mostly light. There were no rain clouds, my body and bike were working well, and I had a chance for a relatively fast finish. I rolled into Morton at 11:30 and saw the Gang of Five group there at the Subway. Espresso and subs: the randonneur diet.
“Here, I’ll sign your card,” said the helpful woman at the counter. “I’ve done it for all your friends.” I was very touched, it was so nice to get a smile and a little friendliness after slogging away along the busy highway.
I thought a lot about Mary. We came through Morton from the other direction in June and turned onto SR12 west toward White Pass. I bought a sub and some Gatorade and ran out, hoping to ride with the group. Alas, the route passed the Bean Tree coffee shop on the main street and I immediately pulled over. Mary and I and another fellow stopped there on the 1200 for coffee and it was good. Very Good!
I ordered my double espresso and with some help from the counter lady chose the perfect cookie: chocolate chip and pecan with white icing. The espresso came to me steaming in a big white cup. “You don’t want anything in it?” she asked. “I can’t take it that strong.”
I needed it strong, strong, strong. I had a plan. I wanted to finish without stopping if I could.
First I called Mary and told her where I was. She was out on a ride in Maryland with her friend Andrea. We were all out on our bikes, at least, if not together. After scarfing my cookie, sub and coffee I saddled up and blew out of town on a big high. Gorgeous leafy countryside beckoned, and I gamboled up a bunch of ascending rollers to a high ridge. The road ran through a continuous blanket of evergreens broken up by farm fields and rural homes.
A slight tailwind helped me keep a motoring pace. My only obstruction was an energetic brown Labrador who squared off with me, not in the least bit intimidated when I pointed my little front wheel directly at it and poured on the speed. At the last second I swerved and gave Fluffy a big squirt in the face from my bottle, and that slowed my canine adversary just long enough for me to outrun his best effort. I looked back and an oncoming car nearly ran it over. I was glad to have gotten past without anything bad happening.
By Centralia I was off the ridge and pointed toward home. A lone rider was parked at the Union 76 store, but I pedaled on, drowsy and ready to turn in my control card. The finish appeared at 4:23 p.m., at the Motel 6. Six riders, including Bob and Peg, had come in just 20 minutes ahead of me. David rolled up soon after; he was the rider back in Centralia. I grabbed the traditional post-ride pizza slice and renewed my acquaintance with Peter Beeson, who was full of energy and kindly gave me a ride to my car.
Compared to brevets on a tandem, I found it unusual to ride a long brevet solo again. This was my first solo 600K in two years! I definitely missed the company. Mary and I have some of our best conversations on the tandem, and night or day we work together to make the time and miles pass by. On this ride I started slipping into some old habits, especially time trialing to catch riders ahead. I take too long at controls and I’ll always be catching up if I’m riding solo.
Thank you Eric for such a beautiful ride, and to SIR for another great experience on Washington’s lovely roads.
Sept. 21, 2006