I wake up at 2:57 AM. I've always had an ability to wake up pretty much on cue but today was the SIR 300K brevet, so I'd set an alarm just to be extra sure. My friend Andy is coming by to pick me up at 4:00 AM. We'll load my bike next to his on the back of his SUV and drive up to Mulkilteo. But I still have three minutes before my alarm will go off so I curl up to enjoy those extra three minutes.
When I wake up again, it is 3:58 AM. Damn, Damn, Damn, Damn, Damn! I slept right through the alarm! As fate would have it my wife is down in Portland for the weekend so nobody is around to poke me into paying attention to the alarm. Oh well, Andy's never on time, right?
It is possible to go to the bathroom and put on a full set of bike clothes in three minutes. I know this because Andy picks today to be almost perfectly punctual and he rolls into my driveway at 4:01 AM. Luckily, I'd laid out my stuff last night. No time to make coffee but I grab a cold CuppaMochaChino (who names these things?) from the fridge and grab a couple of granola bars to munch on the drive up to Mukilteo.
While Andy drives and I eat breakfast, we chat about the riding we've been doing. Andy recently won the first mountain bike race he'd ever entered, his new work schedule lets him get in century rides two days a week and he's been doing training rides with Paul Binford. Of course, all this info is relayed in an understated, "I'm really not in very good shape" sort of way. So Andy "really had to scramble" in his race and can get in "just a couple of centuries" a week and can "barely hang onto Paul's wheel". We know the rules. Nobody ever starts out a ride saying "I feel great, I'm really gonna hammer on this one!" Andy finishes up by mentioning how his hip's been bothering him and how he'll probably take it easy today. I recount my own problems of how work has been busy so I could only log 2200 kilometers last month and managed to squeeze in just a couple of 24 hour rides.
Brevets are not races but they are not not exactly quiet cruises in the country, either. We are all out there testing ourselves against the course, the clock and the conditions. Some of us who still haven't worked past all our competive urges also measure ourselves against other riders. Most people will tell you that Andy and I fall into that competitive category. My wife, who has proven time and again that she has more common sense than Andy and I combined, simply dismisses our actions with an exasparated roll of her eyes and the monosylabic judgement of "guys!"
This guy is too smart to compete head-to-head with Andy. He's younger, faster and he's an annoyingly talented rider. I content myself with working on distance rather than speed and specializing in the odd. Last year I rode all the brevets on a Bike Friday and this year my vehicle of choice is a 1972 Peugeot PX-10 that I have set up as a fixed gear. Most people assume the fixed gear bike handicaps me in some way. If I do poorly on a ride they say "he did pretty well considering he can't shift or coast." If I do well they say "that's amazing considering he can't shift or coast."
What these people fail to understand is that the PX-10 is actually my not-so-secret weapon. The fixed drive-train is more efficient than anything with deraillers and the slack angles of the PX-10 make it the most comfortable bike I've ever had. Every kilometer I log on the fixer makes me stronger than I would be if I rode the same distance on a bike that coasts, since I wind up working on the descents as well as on the climbs. It's different work, but it's still work.
It's a bit after 5:00 AM when we pull into the church parking lot in Mukilteo. A few other randonneurs are already there and we all make our way down to the ferry dock to sign in for the ride. Ken Carter has everything nicely organized and we sign the waivers and get our brevet cards and cue sheet packets.
The ferry leaves at 6:00 AM for the brief ride over to Clinton on the south end of Whidbey Island. There are 16 riders today. In addition to Andy and myself, there are Tom Brett, Bill Dussler, Don Harkleroad, Ron Himschoot, Lee Kanning, Ron Lee, Peter Liekkio, Damian McHugh, Wayne Methner, Scott Meyers, Dick Pado, Mark VandeKamp, Lynn Vigesaa, and Peg Winczewski. Mark and I chat a bit about Gino Batali's passing away last week at the age of 85. "One of the true greats," Mark observes. Even though we are both too young to have ever seen him race, we've seen the photographs and heard the stories of his epic battles in the Tour, the Giro and Milan-San Remo.
Tom, who rode a fixed gear on the 200K, is back on his titanium Davidson today. He cautions me about the climb coming out of Clinton, saying that there's a longer shallower side road I could take instead. I tell him that I think I can handle the hill but I appreciate his concern.
The ferry docks a bit before 6:30, so we all group in a parking lot to wait for Ken to give us the offical go-ahead. At precisely 6:30 we roll out and take off up the hill. It's a cool 43 degrees so I'm wearing a long sleave jersey over my SIR jersey with a lightweight nylon windshirt over that. I've got a camelbak holding water and food and I've got my Burley rain jacket strapped on back just in case. I've got leg warmers on over my shorts now but I know I'll be removing layers of clothes as the day warms up.
Right now I'm warming up the best way I know how, by scooting up the hill. This first hill leads to others and as we procede up the island we settle into a rhythm. Andy, Mark, Tom, Bill and I trade off the lead for a while. I tend to pass on the climbs and get passed on the descents. Whenever I pass Andy I say something like "those deraillers just make you weak" and he makes a point to be whistling a cheery tune every time he coasts by me. At one point Mark comments that our pace seems pretty brisk but it's just a few more minutes before he and Andy punch the pace up a bit more. He and Andy pull out ahead. Tom and Bill are next and they pull further ahead of me. Looking back, I see nobody.
It's about 60 kilometers up to Oak Harbor and for about the last 30 kilometers, I'm riding alone. In general, I prefer riding alone, letting the road and how I'm feeling dictate my speed. It's fun to chat with the others and ride in a pack as well but most of what I love about riding is the simple act of rolling across the landscape, not just taking it all in but being an active part of it. The clouds are high in the sky, not threatening, but promising to keep the day comfortable. Horses are grazing and trotting in fields beside the road. Several times I see rabbits break into spontaneous sprints, energised into action by my approach or perhaps only by their nervous natures. The terrain rolls on and so do I.
At 8:40 AM I pull into the control at the Oak Harbor AM/PM mini-mart. Andy and Mark are long gone but Tom and Bill are still there. I get my card stamped and buy a Frappicino and a Payday candy bar. Tom and Bill leave before I do. I log my stats (27.8 kph average for this stage of the ride), munch on the Payday and wash it down with the Frappicino. I stow my wind shirt and in ten minutes, I'm back on the road. I'm still not seeing anybody behind me.
The next 17 kilometers are hilly but not as breezy as they were last year when SIR ran the 300K along this exact course. Deception Pass is just as beautiful as ever. I'd begun to wonder about the how the pass got it's name and after last year's brevet I did a little research.
In 1792 the Spanish and the English both sent expeditons out to map the Puget Sound. Approaching from the west both expeditions saw a small inlet that appeared to lead to a bay. Vancouver, the English captain, sent his navigator, a fellow named Whidbey, to map the bay. To Widbey's surprise, the pass actually separated two islands (now known as Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands). Vancouver dubbed the area Deception Pass to commemorate the way the area had deceived them.
I roll across the bridge (completed in 1935 by the Puget Construction Company and the Civilian Conservation Corps) and then turn left on Rosario Road. I occassional catch glimpses of Bill up ahead of me, but I can't close the gap. Rosario Road merges into Campbell Lake Road which then connects up with SR20. SR20 becomes a big road and I follow it East for about 10 kilometers before turning North onto the Bay View-Edison Road.
Today is the same day as the Skagit Spring Classic bike ride and once I turn onto the Bay View-Edison Road, I start seeing other cyclists. The Spring Classic has 25, 40, 62 and 100 mile loops which overlap our brevet course in various places. I pass by various groups of riders as I ride through the small town of Edison.
Founded in 1869 and named after the famous inventor, the river port of Edison used to be a bustling timber and farm town. These days, it's a pretty quiet place with one cafe, two taverns, one liquor store, an elementary school, an art gallery and a population of 123 humans and 15 dogs. Edison was the boyhood home of journalist Edward R. Murrow, but if anyone famous is living there now, they are successfully keeping a low profile.
I turn North on Chuckanut Drive, a twisty strip of blacktop that climbs along the western edge of Chuckanut Mountain and offers up spectacular views of Samish Bay. Until the completion of this road in 1896, all coastal traffic between Bellingham and points south was done by boat. Now most North/South traffic is on Interstate 5, but until 1931 Chuckanut Drive was part of the Pacific Highway that stretched from Vancouver B.C. to San Diego, CA.
After 19 kilometers on Chuckanut Drive, I turn onto Lake Samish Road. The most notable thing about this strip of road is how it deteriorates to a kind of rough chipseal surface. Last year, this road really slowed my small wheeled Bike Friday. This time, I've got full sized 25 mm Conti Sports on the PX-10 and it doesn't seem as bad.
Mark Thomas has a secret control set up at the side of the road and I pull in to get my card signed and load up on water. Mark tells me that Bill and Tom are only a few minutes ahead and that Andy and Mark came through about 40 minutes ago. I roll back onto the road.
After another kilometer of pounding on the chipseal, the light bracket on my Lumotec Oval Plus breaks. I guess the vibration was too much for it. I'd heard about others having problems with the brackets breaking, so when I'd installed my light, I'd looped the wiring over the top of the stem. My theory was that if the bracket broke, the wiring would hold and keep the light from crashing to the ground or getting caught in my spokes. I'm happy to say that this is one of those rare cases where my theory was proven out in practice. The wire supports the light although the light swings around like a drunken pendulum as I bounce along the chipsealed road. I quickly grab the light to take the strain off the wiring and gently ride the few kilometers to the Texaco station which is serving as the next control point. I reach the Texaco at 12:40 PM.
Bill and Tom are still at the control when I pull in. Bill looks at my damaged light and asks if I have what I need to fix it. "Yep," I reply as I dig into my saddle bag and start pulling out stuff as I look for my stash of zip-ties. "Wow," Bill comments in admiration as he gets a glimpse of my repair supplies, "You could almost build an entire other bike with that stuff!"
I find the zip-ties and secure the remaining part of the bracket to my handlebars. Tom points out that I'll probably finish in daylight anyway, but I feel better having all systems fully functional. In addition to the Lumotec light, I have a backup battery-powered VistaLight headlight and a very nifty PrincetonTec LED helmet light, so I'm even if my Lumotec had been destroyed, I could still get home safely.
Tom and Bill are ready to go and take off but I've still got to grab some food, peel off some clothes and log my stats. My average pace for the past 92 kilometer section was 25 kph. I grab a carton of milk, a chocolate bar and a Payday candy bar and munch on these as I stow my long sleeve jersey and leg warmers. The temperature is now in the mid fifties but the sun is shining and I expect it'll be warm on the climb up to Lake Cavenaugh.
I leave the control at 1:00 PM and follow the quiet country roads South. Last year, there had been a nasty headwind on this section but today the Skagit Classic seems to be helping me out. I see various other riders that I figure must be riding the Classic but they are headed North while I'm riding South. They are riding into a headwind while I'm taking advantage of a rare and delightful tailwind. Since Nature always tries to provide the maximum amount of difficult for the maximum amount of cyclists, she had no choice but to put the wind into the face of the many Skagit cyclists and for once spare the few and hearty randonneurs!
I greet each and every Skagit cyclist with a large grin and friendly wave!
I roll on through Mount Vernon, up and over Little Mountain Road, along Big Lake, take a quick jog onto SR9 and then I'm onto Lake Cavenaugh Road. This road climbs relentlessly up to the lake. Last year, the weather was cold here and by the time we got to the lake there was snow on the ground and slush on the road. I'd slogged up in my granny gear then and had actually felt sorry for those with only double chainrings on their bikes. Now, a bit over a year later, I've got one chainring less than a double and I'm feeling pretty good.
As I climb, however, I begin to despair of ever seeing Andy and Mark again. Grandstrom Road splits off from Lake Cavenaugh Road about 10.5 kilometers before our next control. The control point is up near the lake and then the course doubles back on Lake Cavenaugh Road to Grandstrom Road. So if Andy and Mark are more than 21 kilometers ahead of me, I won't be seeing them coming back down. As I pass Grandstrom road, I shoot a glance up to see if I spot them.
No sign of them. The closer I get to the lake, the more I become convinced that Andy and Mark must be HOURS ahead of me. But Gino Batali did not give in to despair in the 1948 Tour when the younger Bobet brought a twenty minute lead into the Alps. I pedal on. Now I see a wonderful sight -- a couple of riders coming towards me. For an instant I wonder if it could be Tom and Bill but no, it's Andy and Mark! They're headed down and I'm headed up but it their lead is less than I'd feared. With a quick wave they are gone, but somehow I'm climbing stronger now.
I pull into the control at 3:33 PM and Bill and Tom are still there. Russ and Ken Carter are manning this control and we all chat while I log my stats, top out my Camelbak and toss the contents of a Coke can into my water bottle. My average pace for this 60 kilometer section was 24.7 kph. It's cooling off now, so I put my long sleeve jersey back on.
"How'd you like the climb?" Tom asks, maybe innocently, or maybe trying to get me to think about how tired I am. It's not a race remember, but also remember we're fairly competitive guys.
"It's a lot better than last year," I reply, "but then I test rode this section a couple of weeks ago. I'm just glad I don't have to climb the passes this time."
This last sentence baffles both Tom and Bill, so I elaborate.
"Two weeks ago I rode up from Issaquah, did this section and then rode Stevens, Blewett and Snoqualmie Passes..."
Their eyes get wide. I'm used to getting that look from non-randonneurs when they find out how much ground we cover in these events, but seeing that same look on the faces of seasoned distance riders is tremendously satisfying.
Tom is working on comprehending what I've just said. Very slowly he says "You rode up here from Issaquah and then rode the three passes..." He seems to be making sure he heard this right.
Bill is sure he's heard right but he's got the obvious logistical question, "So where'd you sleep?"
"I didn't," I reply, "It's only 350 miles." This last sentence apparently does nothing to convince them that this is a rational way to train so I quickly add "I did stop for breakfast at the Pancake House at Snoqualmie Pass, however!"
As always on brevets, while we're chatting the clock is still running. Since my descent speed on the fixed is limited by how fast I can spin, even though I take off before Tom and Bill, I figure they'll catch me on the descent. As I roll down the road a few sprinkles of rain began to fall but they stop just as quickly as they'd begun.
As I roll down to the Grandstrom Road turnoff, I look for other riders coming up. I don't see anybody. Rerunning the same calculation I'd used while looking for Mark and Andy, I figure that the others must be at least an hour back.
On Grandstrom Road, Tom and Bill catch up with me and we're pretty much together as we turn onto SR9. A couple of dogs make raise our heartrates for a bit and on the road to Arlington Tom and Bill build up a pretty good lead on me.
At Arlington, I turn left on to Hwy 530 and then turn up Arlington Heights Road and then onto Jordan Road. I love this area, it's home turf for me and I've logged many training miles here. To paraphrase a Grateful Dead song "I know these roads we're on like I know my lady's smile". It's nice to not be thinking about the cue sheet.
Jordan Road is a series of rolling climbs up to Granite Falls. I see Tom and Bill up ahead now. They're out of their saddles on a climb and frankly, they're looking a little ragged. But I'm feeling good, inspired by the road, by my classic bike, by thoughts of Batali back in '48.
I'm sitting down as I pass them, just like Bartali when he took the Tour back from Bobet in '48. I roll into Granite Falls at 5:33 PM, quite a few minutes ahead of Bill and Tom. Andy and Mark are, of course, still far ahead but I'm feeling good. I log my stats (28.1 kph average for the past 51 kilometers) and treat myself to some milk, a Frappicino and some chocolate. I'm munching when Bill and Tom pull in.
Bill speculates about the number of hills on the rest of the course but none of us can recall much about it from last year. We also know that road construction has added a detour so the course won't be quite the same anyway. I finish my snack and head out.
It turns out that the detour adds a few kilometers and one big descent at Marysville. The last kilometers are pleasant, crossing four bridges and sticking to good roads through Everett. I roll along Mukilteo Boulevard and at 7:35 PM I'm at the finishing control at the Cheers bar in Mukilteo. Ken Carter signs my brevet card and I have a couple of slices of pizza. Andy and Mark had finished 55 minutes earlier. Mark's already left but Andy fills me in on their ride. As usual, Andy had felt pretty good for the whole ride. Mark had faded toward the end but still managed to hang on Andy's wheel and they'd finished together.
I log my final stats. For the last 44.5 kilometers my average was 26.1 kph. My total time was 13:05 and my computer logged the total distance as 307.74 kilometers. My total time off the bike was about 65 minutes. This calculates out to a rolling pace of 25.6 kph and a rando pace of 23.5 kph. Certainly not up there with Gino Bartali in his prime, but a reasonably fast time for me. It's three hours faster than my time last year.
Andy and I stick around long enough to see Tom and Bill come in at 8:00 PM and then we load up my bike and head for home.