John Fuoco makes it a habit to ride with brothers Art and/or Dan on 1200K randonnees, where they also make it look easy. He and Art put in another successful ride at the Cascade 1240K last month. Thanks to John for another great story and congratulations on his latest 1200K completion.
Cascade 1240: Riding on Bikes with Girls
By John Fuoco
July 11, 2010
Day 1: Monroe-Naches 224 miles
Sounds easy doesn’t it? Well it was, and it wasn’t. On a cloudy gray 60 degree morning about 100 randonneurs set out from the Guesthouse Inn in Monroe Washington heading due south toward the first control in Cumberland. The entire group stayed together for many opening miles. The pace was comfortable and I availed myself of the chance to chat with several other riders, some of whom I would not see again in the coming days.
Perched on my ten year old steel Derosa with Carradice bag on the back and hub generator light on the front I felt well equipped for what may lie ahead. In Cumberland, 54 miles, I refilled my water bottles at a state park and somehow got separated from my brother Art. I am fortunate to have two brothers who randonneur and have never started a 1200 without one.
By Eatonville, 97 miles, the sun had come out and it was time to hit a Truly Scrumptious Bakery for sandwiches and Danish, while removing warmers and applying sunscreen. Riders piled into the tiny patisserie and filed out to be treated to a view of the majestic snow capped Mt Ranier looming to the west. This monster dominated the landscape in and indescribable fashion.
In the early afternoon hours Art and I hooked up with his Florida buddies, John Preston and Henrik Schroeder, and would remain in their company the rest of the day. Shortly after Eatonville I was visited by my all too reliable 100-120 mile bonk and fell off the back. I needed a refresher in the form of a Subway cheese and veggie sub to pick me up in the town of Morton where we turned east to head through the Cascade Mountains.
Leaving the Packwood control at 159 miles I was determined to climb White Pass at my own pace. On the early slopes I rode with Irene Takahashi, a very determined randonneuse from Colorado. She would finish this 1200 successfully but have a much more eventful story to tell. White Pass lasts 20 miles, climbing 2500 feet to a summit of 4500 feet. Mt Ranier continued to dominate the scenery. I waited at the summit for the group to come back together. Art had bonked near the top and was seen stopped eating carrot cake near the peak!
A fun descent ended with a right hand turn onto Tieton Road, a quiet forest road encircling the beautiful Clear Lake. We stopped that evening at a refreshing SIR manned control for soup, sandwiches, and friendly chatter. All of the SIR manned controls on this ride were staffed by friendly, knowledgeable and fast working volunteers. Shortly after our arrival the Texas Brigade rolled in. It consisted of Val and Robin Phelps and Brenda Barnell. Their chatter was loud and jovial and not inhibited by any need for reverence. My first impression was “this is a fun group.”
Art, John, Henrik, and I rolled out with full stomachs after a satisfying rest. After a few more idyllic miles around the lake we were back on Rt 12 and enjoying a raging tailwind and a brilliant full moon all the way to our overnight stop at the Naches Middle School. Arriving at about 10PM we were treated to cold showers, cafeteria food, and a nights rest on rather firm wrestling mats. But you know, it was all ok.
Day 2: Naches-Quincy 206 miles
Up at four and on the road by 5, the four of us rolled out onto Rt 410 and up the Chinook Pass. The road was flanked by gorgeous greenery and the rushing Naches and American rivers. We caught some riders and coalesced with others until about 30 of us were spinning up the pass at a brisk pace. I can’t tell you how exhilarating it felt to ride with my brother and that large group of riders in that early morning hour amidst all that verdant beauty. We turned around at an SIR manned control part way up the pass. John and Henrik got ahead of us. I remarked to Art how baffling it was not to see kayakers on the American River. We stopped at Cliffdell to remove some clothing, rejoining John and Henrik again.
We then took back roads, mainly Old Naches Road, through ever more arid terrain dotted with cherry tree orchards toward our next control at a Starbucks, mile 324. By then it was hot. I got a big iced coffee and a sandwich wrap. We then obtained ice and water from a grocery store and filled our camelbacks. Day 2 was the only day I used my camelback, a choice I do not regret. I needed it that day and did not need it the other three.
We then proceeded east on a long stretch of SR-24 through barren desert. It was hot and the going was hard when Art flatted at a seemingly inopportune time and place: in the wide open scorching sun. As we were getting ready to go again the Texas Brigade rolled by. We joined up with Val, Robin, and Brenda. With them were Chester Fleck from Alberta, and Christophe Denetre a young Frenchman. The seven of us would ride together to the finish.
Sitting in their paceline I noticed the guy on the front was not switching off. He pulled in fact for miles! Finally I said to Brenda, “Is he alright up there? Doesn’t he need any help?” “Oh that’s Pierre. He doesn’t speak any English. I named him Pierre”. “Pierre”, later we learned “Christophe”, did not in fact need any help. He preferred to sit on the front and set a steady pace. The rest of us would sometimes spell him briefly, mainly just to satisfy our own urges.
After over 40 miles on SR-24 we swung north toward the next control at Mattawa, mile 390. SIR treated us to fruit, sandwiches, and cold drinks. The control tent was small so when the next group appeared on the horizon we were encouraged to leave. Good thing too: it was mighty comfortable sitting in the shade.
From there it was 41 miles to our overnight control at Quincy. All I remember is hills and crosswind, hills and headwind. Chester suffered especially on this stretch, for which I am grateful. It distracted me from my own misery. We stopped 11 miles out to put our night gear on, rolling into the control well after 9PM. This time we were treated to warm showers (soooo nice), cafeteria food, and hard wrestling mats to sleep on. Once more it was all good.
Day 3: Quincy-Mazama 180 miles
After breakfasting on eggs and cereal our gang of 7 rolled north from Quincy into comfortably cool air just after 5AM. Some hilly desert terrain preceded a long climb up to a visitor’s station on SR-17 at Dry Falls. SIR had a well stocked control there that was comfortably shaded. I sipped coke and chewed a pbj while enjoying a vista of desert canyons, more properly coulees I suppose, that reminded me of southern Utah. John and Henrik were there. John by then was nursing a sore knee that would plague him until the finish.
Leaving there and proceeding onto yet more desert hills I rode for a time with Tim Sullivan and Kerin Huber of California. I was amazed at the strength of the women riders on this 1200. In fact the whole group was strong. By Farmer, 499 miles, we needed another break. It was sandwiches and fruit and a failed attempt at catching a few Zs on a wooden bench. I was sleepy, but once back on the road the miles passed pleasantly. A tailwind helped. Val told jokes and generally harassed Brenda while everyone swapped stories. Val thanked us for staying with them contending that Brenda had scared off all but the non-English speaking riders (Christophe) and the feeble minded (us, I guess). Brenda, kind, sweet, and totally undeserving of this incessant ribbing, took it all with aplomb. A long fast descent brought us to a hot convenience store at Bridgeport where we enjoyed slurpies.
Yet more desert riding awaited us on the way to the SIR manned control at Malott, mile 558. My legs ached and longed for a real break but all the chairs were taken. So I stood chewing my cheese sandwich and a few grapes, washing them down with coke and a frappucino.
The mainstay of my energy consumption was sustained energy when it was cool, accelerade when it was hot, and hammergel. I also brought a few bars. The food options for me, a vegetarian, were somewhat limited at the SIR controls and even the stores we stopped at along the way. This surprised me in the state of Washington with its outdoorsy, organic leanings.
Minimally energized but moderately determined I headed for day threes major obstacle: Loup Loup Pass. On the lower slopes I startled and was startled by a rattlesnake on the road that I almost ran over. It was hissing and rattling and moving fast. This sight squandered some adrenalin I would sorely need on the pass ahead. Turning onto SR-20 we began to climb in earnest. Robin and Val quickly disappeared up the road. Robin is a tenacious climber, a trait she no doubt polished in order to drop her berating husband. I poked along at my own pace and met them at the summit after the 13 mile climb.
There we regrouped, all having made it up within a few minutes of each other. I remember my mouth being parched but all I had were warm fluids to nurse as we descended to the quaint town of Winthrop for a refill and a brief break.
From there we turned west into a full headwind for the final 14 miles to our overnight stop at Mazama, mile 610. There our SIR hosts outdid themselves by providing actual rooms with beds and showers in an actual lodge. Such luxury seemed out of place but certainly welcome as we were all by then quite weary and most appreciative of some comfort. We feasted on chili and rice (homemade vegetarian chili for me!), in the evening, and a full breakfast in the morning sandwiched around 6 hours of sleep.
Day 4 Mazama-Monroe 162 miles
Our luxurious overnight repast put us is a fine frame of mind for day 4’s biggest obstacle, Washington Pass. It greeted us right away, ascending to the greatest elevation of the ride, 5477 feet over 18 miles. Having to divert to a campground bathroom early on, I got a late start and climbed alone for the most part. The views on the pass were the most stunning of the ride with towering forests, rushing waterfalls, and snow boulders. For the last several miles I had no other riders in sight, either in front or behind. But my group waited for me at the summit where we shared cheers and photos and joviality that had my sides aching with laughter.
Donning a bit more clothing we did a brief descent to the foot of Rainy Pass and climbed it back up to 4855 feet. There I saw rather tame mule deer who watched patiently as Chester and I slowly ascended, spooking only when we were very close.
We waited at the summit to regroup once more, putting on yet more clothing for the long, long drop off of Rainy. The temp at the summit of Washington Pass was 46, the coolest of the four day ride. As depleted of energy as we were, and not able to work to generate heat on the descent, it was easy to get too cold and too sleepy. I was actually quite happy when the descent ended.
Our next break was at a general store in Newhalem, mile 671 where we ate and restocked for a difficult headwind dominated 14 miles to the next control in Marblemount. From there we turned south on SR-530. The road was flat, even losing a bit of elevation. We rode at a fast pace for the 27 miles on that road with Christophe doing most of the pulling. It felt good to go fast on the flats and to know that this pace would help us finish before dark. Brenda who is used to the flats around Dallas felt particularly at home and took some hefty pulls.
After a refill stop in Darrington, mile 712, we continued for another 27 miles on SR 530 but it became very trafficky. We were glad to turn off it toward the last control at Granite Falls, mile 751. With just 21 miles to go the aches and strains took a backseat to the drive to end this ride. My hands were numb; my quads sore even to the touch, and my bottom had been ready to be off the saddle for hundreds of miles. But still I found some jump left in my legs, even attacking a few of the many steep little hills in the final 20 miles.
Although I have started all of my 1200s with a brother, this was the first one in which we would finish side by side. I felt a special bond with my new friends from Texas, Canada, and France. We even were teased in the final mile with a light rain shower just so we couldn’t say we didn’t get a drop of rain on the whole ride.
1200’s are hard. This one, because of the good weather and planned overnight stops, was the easiest so far. Still, it was hard.
I got about 30, 000 feet of elevation gain on my little altimeter. 9k on day one, 5 on day two, 9 on day three, and 7 on the last day. That was a few k more than PBP and a few k less than Endless Mountains on the same altimeter.
I recovered nicely in about a week. It usually takes longer than that, but I attribute the rapid recovery to the planned overnight rests which we actually got to enjoy on this ride.
Finally, I neglected to mention that Val claimed to have beaten Robin to the top of White Pass on day one. This marked the first time he’d ever bested his wife on a long climb. Of course there were no witnesses but we have his word on it.