Endeavor to Persevere: The SIR 300K
April 5th, 2003
a ride report by Kent Peterson
Note: The following report contains graphic descriptions of physical illness. If you are queasy about such things, you may want to stop reading now.
One of my favorite movies is Clint Eastwood's classic "The Outlaw Josie Wales" and my favorite character in that movie is Lone Watie, the old Indian played by Chief Dan George. Lone Watie tells of how he dressed like Abraham Lincoln when he went to Washington to meet with the Secretary of the Interior. The Secretary and the other white chiefs in Washington told the Indians "You boys sure look civilized" and they took pictures and they gave Lone Watie and the others medals for looking so civilized. When Lone Watie tells the white chiefs that the Indian land had been stolen the Secretary advises them to "endeavor to persevere." The papers publish the pictures with the caption "Indians vow to endeavor to persevere." Lone Watie then tells Josie Wales, "We thought about it for a long time 'Endeavor to persevere' and when we had thought about it long enough, we declared war on the Union."
I was not about to declare war on the Union but in the past week some hostile microbe had decided to declare war on me. So I spent the days before the SIR 300K laying around my home, coughing up gallons of phlegm and devoting what little strength I had into whining at my long suffering wife and kids until they got completely sick of reassuring me that I was not in fact actually dying. My fourteen year old son was an expert in this disease, having survived it the week before, and he provided me with this cheerful diagnosis: "You'll hurl. Too much glop will drip from your nose to your lungs and you can't help but swallow some of it. Trust me, you will hurl. You won't die, but you'll drip and hurl a lot." So I spent the first week of April mostly in bed or on the couch, watching the news coverage of the war and the SARS crisis. Neither item made me feel better and the only exercise I got all week was in the form of coughing and hurling. This is not a training plan that I recommend but as the week progressed my fever broke and by Friday I was actually feeling quite a bit better. I could go for multi-hour stretches without hurling or having violent coughing fits and thus I was able to convince Christine that I was in fine shape to go to work and then ride the 300K on Saturday. She's a smart woman and I'm sure that she really didn't buy that I was completely well, but she also knows that I'm very bad at being sick and the best therapy for me is to get back out on the bike. So she didn't stand in my way when I decided that I would get out and "endeavor to persevere."
I'd been fortunate that I hadn't really missed any work due to my illness. In my new job I'll be managing the new Seattle Bikestation, a combination bike shop and secure bicycle parking facility located in south Pioneer Square. The station will open next month but for now my work hours have been anything but normal. My boss Aaron and I have to work around the various contractors who are toiling away at the multitude of tasks requires to convert the old Iron Horse restaurant space into a 21st century clean mobility center. In the first week of April contractors were busy pouring the new concrete floor in the front 3/4 of the Bikestation, and that made it pretty much impossible to do any other work there. We did have the problem of installing the bike racks so on Friday morning, I met up with my coworker Michael and a couple of rack experts and we unloaded a truck container full of precision pieces that Ernst tells me will somehow fit together to form the 75 high-tech bike racks that will fill the non-shop half of the Bikestation. At this moment the parts completely fill the back quarter of the station and our floor guys assure us that by Tuesday the front floor will be dry and we can complete the installation. For now, all we can do is wait.
I spend the rest of Friday visiting friends in Seattle, stopping off at Recycled Cycles and then riding the fifty or so kilometers up to Mukilteo. Ken Carter had generously offered that I could stay at his place the night before the 300K and my friend Jon Muellner would also be staying there. Ken had suggested a cycling route up to his place, but since I was riding up from Seattle instead of Issaquah, I ignored Ken's advice and mapped my own route in. Naturally this involved cycling through a construction zone on the Mukilteo Speedway at rush hour but traffic never bothers me. I always just feel sorry for all those pour souls who spend all those hours locked away in metal boxes.
I stop at the Taco Bell (this is where I insert my standard "I am not a nutritional role model" disclaimer) for dinner before I head up to Ken's . This is the first time I've been to Ken's place and it's pretty much what I'd expect: neat and very bike-ish. His two bikes live on a nice rack in his computer room and the living room has a good pile of back issues of Outside and other bicycling magazines. Unlike me, Ken is something of a nutritional role model and he offers me a nice glass of an organic blueberry-apple juice blend.
When Jon shows up, we talk for a while and then head off for dinner at Kosta's restaurant a few blocks down the hill from Ken's place. Since I'd already eaten, I just have desert and coffee while Ken and Jon have some very tasty-looking spaghetti. Bill Dussler and Greg Cox are also dining at Kosta's and we chat a bit with them before we return to Ken's place. The evening's conversation naturally involves bike-ish things and among other interesting tidbits I learn that:
At 4:30 AM we all get up. Ken offers us various breakfast options but I stick with the simplicity of an untoasted PopTart and a cup of the hyper-tea. Jon feasts on his leftover spaghetti and also drinks a cup of the magic tea. Ken loads his car with the SIR administrative supplies and drives off to the start of the ride. A few minutes later Jon and I lock up Ken's place and ride the 3.8 kilometers down to the ferry terminal.
And now let us pause in this narrative for yet another disclaimer. In the course of this and some of my other writings, you will notice that I mention brand names and this or that particular piece of equipment. My friend Jan has kidded me that these reports sometimes sound like commercials. On the other hand, I've gotten a lot of feedback from people who tell me they enjoy all the minute details, so it's a tricky balancing act, Also, since I now work in a shop where some of the these items are sold, it is natural to wonder if I have some commercial bias. Like every person, I do have biases but those biases are shaped by my experience. My hero Bernard Moitessier addressed this most clearly in the appendix to his magnificent book The Long Way. Moitessier writes:
Anyone who has sailed in the high latitudes knows they can be extremely hard on equipment, and considers the technical preparation to be of major importance. I will not venture to give advice, as I have too much yet to learn. I will only describe what I noticed, the way I solved various problems, and my observations and thinking at the present and considerably limited state of my knowledge. The sea will always be the sea, full of enigmas and new lessons. And when I happen to mention a supplier or manufacturer, it is never out of gratitude for services rendered. I received assistance for this voyage, and am grateful to those who helped me fit out and prepare. But I will never speak well of this or that piece of gear if I am not able to recommend it sincerely to my sailing pals.
It's a cold morning, probably around 40 degrees but it isn't raining so things aren't too bad. Once again we have a good turnout, somewhere in excess of 70 riders. I'm still feeling weak from my cold and I've got my Golite windpants on over my shorts and leg warmers to help me retain more of my body heat. Normally riding will keep me warmer but I still feel like I'm running on about a quarter of my normal lung capacity, so I'll have to take things easy today. On my upper body I'm wearing a long sleeve wool t-shirt, a Mountain Hardwear Windstopper TechT and my Canari Eclipse combination jacket/vest. In theory if things warm up I'll peel off layers but I'm not sure things will warm up much today.
On my feet I've got a multi-layer sandwich of one thin wool sock, a coated nylon vapor barrier sock and an outer wool sock tucked into my Diadora Voyagers. Unlike most of the other randonneurs, I don't use an outer bootie over my shoes. With my multi-sock system my shoes and my outer sock get wet, but the inner sock stays mostly dry and warm.
For gloves, the best thing I've found for cool, wet weather are surplus Swiss military wool glove liners (available for $6/pair at a little shop called Twigs in Port Townsend, WA). Mostly I don't use an full coverage over-mitt with these unless it's really cold or really pouring and instead use a lycra reflective glove called the GloGlov. I first saw these being worn by the workers who direct traffic on the Washington State Ferries and Josh Putnam pointed me to the manufacturer's website at: www.gloglov.com
As we waited for the ferry to load Ron Himschoot and Mark Thomas quiz me about the gloves, specifically asking if I find the orange palm triangle to be bothersome. When I reply that I found it to be a bit weird, but not unacceptably weird Mark nods sagely and asks "Now what exactly would it take for something to be unacceptably weird to Kent Peterson?" We are unable to find a satisfactory answer to that question.
There's more bike and equipment chatter on the ferry ride over to Whidbey Island and once the ferry docks we all gather at the parking lot at the base of the hill and Ken delivers the pre-ride briefing. At 6:30 AM, we all ride off, chugging slowly up the hill. Well, most of us chug slowly. Guys like Kenneth Philbrick, Jan Heine and Sam Eldersveld take off at a pace that makes their jerseys appear to change color as they recede into the distance and if you listen carefully you can hear a small "whoosh" as the air rushes in to fill the void they leave in their wake. But most of us can't hear the whoosh over the labored sounds of our own heavy breathing.
I'm busy making raspy noises while I breathe and trying to not blow too much mucus onto my fellow riders. I'm actually feeling pretty good, I just can't go too fast and I have these occasional coughing fits that make my fellow randonneurs look at me with alarm. And every once in a while, I toss up good chunk of stomach phlegm, but I try to restrict those episodes to the times when I'm riding a good distance from other riders.
I wind up explaining my bike to a lot of people. Some of the randonneurs have only seen me riding Fast Eddy, my fixed gear Merckx, but I actually have quite a stash of bikes and an even bigger pile of bike parts at home. Last year I bought a second old Merckx frame and I've currently got this bike set up with a 53/38 double chainring and a 6 speed freewheel which allows me to select from any one of twelve decadent choices of coasting gears. Purple Eddy is also perhaps my most stylish bike featuring titanium mountain bike handlebars with bar ends, a rear rack with a large yellow coroplast tailbox and matching yellow coroplast fenders. The drivetrain is a mongrel mix of old Suntour, Campagnolo and Shimano road and mountain bike parts that in mesh together in a seamless way guaranteed to baffle anyone raised in the age of integrated brifters and narrow ten-speed chains.
As I'm riding along, I wind up chatting with Jim Sprague and he asks where I'm working these days. I tell him I'll be working at the new Bikestation in downtown Seattle with Aaron Goss and he says "Oh, I know Aaron. He gave me this frame." He goes on to explain how he'd been looking for a decent road frame to do these kind of rides and he'd stopped into Aaron's West Seattle shop. Aaron had said, "Yeah, I think I've got something that might work for you out back." Aaron doesn't sell used bikes at the shop and mostly we wind up sending folks to places like Bikeworks, Bikesmith or Recycled Cycles but Jim was at the right place at the right time and scored a freebie. Jim has good luck that way. On a previous brevet he'd told me about a nice Raleigh frame he'd pulled out of a huge pile of frames somewhere up by Port Angeles.
I also chat a bit with Stan Reynolds. Stan's a strong rider and even though he's on his GT mountain bike today, I can't stay with him for too long. We talk about BMB, which I've ridden twice and Stan has ridden once. I assure him that in my opinion the terrain of BMB is more challenging than what he'd find between Paris and Brest. Various riders comment that I'm not quite riding like myself today, so I wind up recounting various versions of the "I'm sick" story. Robb Simmons quips "yeah, I knew something was up when you didn't pass me on that last climb." On a typical day Robb rockets by me on the descents and I pay him back on the climbs but today my limited lung capacity is definitely slowing me down.
One side effect of posting my ride reports on the web is that while I don't know everybody in the club, they pretty much all know me through my stories. So I've kind of gotten used to conversing with people who know more about me than I know about them, but the more rides I do, the more people I get to know. Today I get to talk a bit with Brad Tilden. It turns out Brad also lives in Issaquah and he works for Alaska Airlines. He's curious about the miles I ride and looks a little stunned when I tell him it averages out to around 1,000 miles per month. Being a car-free commuter really helps me rack up the miles but as we ride along we do the math and I realize that it's still the big weekend rides and other errands that I do by bike that form the bulk of my annual miles. I guess it just comes down to the fact that I'm basically a bike geek.
The Whidbey Island Naval Air Station is just northwest of the town of Oak Harbor and while Seattle may have a pretty even split when it comes to "No Iraq War" and "Support Our Troops" signs, out here it's pretty much all red white and blue pro-troop signs and a lot of the trees sport yellow ribbons. I generally stay out of political discussions since they rarely change anybody's mind but I am tempted to make up a "No War For TriFlow" sticker for the back of my bike but I figure most folks just wouldn't get it so I'll probably stick with the simpler "One Less Car" message.
At the Oak Harbor AM/PM control I get my card signed and quickly wash down some peanut butter cups with a pint of chocolate milk. There's quite a crowd of us here at the control, so I'm glad to see I'm not running too slow. And unlike some years, so far the wind has been favorable. But I figure we'll pay for it eventually, probably later when we have to head south down the Skagit Valley.
As usual the ride across the Deception Pass Bridge is beautiful but it's nice to leave SR20 for the quiet Rosario and Campbell Lake Roads. Back on SR20 I turn east and as I'm climbing the busy, windswept bridge over the Swinomish Channel I think "this would be a lousy place to have a flat tire." You should always strive to avoid such negative thoughts because almost that very instant, as if on cue, I notice my front tire going soft. My luck isn't totally bad, however and I'm able to crest the bridge and coast down off it before my front tire goes completely flat. As I'm changing the tire one of my fellow randonneurs rolls by with the standard "ya got what you need?" question and I assure him I'm fine. I dig the chunk of glass out of the front tire and in a few minutes I'm back on the road. By the way, if anybody ever decides to make me philosopher-king all glass bottles will have a $1 deposit on them and I'll spend 1/10th of 1% of the defense budget on creating a truly puncture-proof tire that has low rolling resistance. But being a philosopher-king would probably cut into my riding time, so I don't think that's going to happen any time soon.
After a few more kilometers on the wretchedly busy SR20, I turn north onto the refreshing Bay View-Edison Road. Now it's my turn to do the "ya got what you need?" shout out to a fellow randonneur but he assures me that his flat tire is well under control and I roll on. Edison is every bit as cosmopolitan and exciting as I remembered it but I have kilometers to go before I sleep and so I roll onward. I turn north onto Chuckanut Drive and I'm reminded of Mark Vande Kamp's observation, "you never have a tailwind, you just feel strong." Right now, I'm feeling pretty strong. Of course I'm still coughing up phlegm, but other than that, I'm doing OK.
Chuckanut is one of the prettiest roads in the world and it's not even dark or raining so the riding is easy. The 19 kilometers pass quickly and then Purple Eddy and I turn onto Lake Samish Road. Eddy and I have some other companions on this section including Robb Simmons and a fellow who says "You know, Kent, it's your stories that got me into doing these events." I look at him seriously and say "Well, don't thank me until we're done with this, OK?" But while riding hundreds of kilometers in forty degree weather might not be everybody's idea of fun, there's something about this randonneuring stuff that keeps some of us coming back for more.
Bob Brudvik was one of the people who did the official pre-ride of the course last week and today he's manning the secret control on Lake Samish Road. It's not that much further to the next control, so we don't linger too long before rolling onward.
The Texaco station at kilometer 154 is the next control and it feels good to be past the halfway point. I grab some barbecued chicken nuggets and some milk and I stash a bottle of ice tea in my tailbox for later. Since I've ridden this course a couple of other times, I know what's coming up and I like to be prepared.
After the control it's about a 23 kilometer grind down the Skagit Valley and it's into the wind. I'm on my own for a while but then a pack of about five riders catch me and I wind up sitting in behind them. Two of the riders do most of the pulling and they do a great job. I periodically try taking a turn at front but it doesn't work too well since I'm kind of small to draft off of and folks like to keep away from any guy who is wheezing like Darth Vader and coughing up phlegm. So I mostly settle into the back until we turn out of the wind and head into Mount Vernon.
In Mount Vernon, my familiarity with the course pays off. While the others look with puzzlement as they try to match the cue sheet to ill-marked streets, I roll on with a confidence that simply says "follow me." On the climb up to Little Mountain Road I pause for a coughing fit and I drink down my ice tea. The others roll onward but I know we're past the tricky navigation and now we're hitting the stage of the ride where we each have to find and ride own particular paces.
I catch back up with some of the others on Big Lake Road. Some of the crew pauses and the last fellow I'm riding with has his tire explode with a loud "bang!". After the usual "you got what you need?" question and the standard "yeah" answer, I ride on.
It starts raining about the time I turn onto Lake Cavanaugh Road. Lake Cavanaugh Road is about 16 kilometers of stairstepping climb and on a good day it's still a bad road. On a bad day it feels like you're climbing Mount Doom and when you get to the top you'll toss your large chainring into the very fires where it was originally forged. It's the road where you expect to see Orcs and Gollum and you become inordinately fond of your small chainring and begin to refer to it as "your precious". In short, Lake Cavanaugh Road is not a road on which you wish to linger.
It takes me an hour and a half to climb Lake Cavanaugh Road. Since the route backtracks on the upper 10.5 kilometers of the road, I get to see some of my fellow randonneurs descending. Of course the really fast riders are long gone but I am glad to see some familiar faces among the descending riders. When I get to the top and check in a Russ Carter's cozy tent, I find about half a dozen riders enjoying hot noodle soup and instant mashed potatoes. The hot food is very welcome. I have some soup and cookies and I fill one of my bottles with apple juice before heading out back out into the cold rain. Bill Dussler pulls in just as I'm getting ready to leave and I think it's odd to see Bill here. Usually he's out ahead but I find out that both he and Eric Courtney had managed to miss the 6:00 AM ferry and thus had started an hour behind the rest of us.
I wring out my gloves and start the descent. The rainy, wet descent is definitely the coldest feeling part of the day. I see other riders climbing up including my friend Ken Krichman. Eric Courtney is not looking happy when I see him and he's walking up one of the steeper climbs. A bit before the turn onto Grandstrom Road I catch up with a woman from Oak Harbor. As we turn on to Grandstrom we talk about the course ahead. It's getting dark now and she confides to me that she's never ridden at night before. She want's to know how tricky the navigation is on the last section of the course and I try top reassure her without giving her a false sense of security. "Well," I say, "if I tell you it's easy, you'll get confident and get lost, so let's just say it's not too bad but you should be cautious." I'm only a bit faster than she is on the uphills of Grandstrom Road and I keep an eye on her in my mirror as we roll south onto Highway 9. Compared to the chipseal of Cavanaugh and Grandstrom roads, Highway 9 seems wonderfully smooth and fast.
At Arlington, I'm really feeling good. Arlington Heights and Jordan Road are like old friends and while the darkness is slowing some of the other randonneurs, I'm just starting to get comfortable. Mark Thomas claims that I can see in the dark and while that's not literally true I find that my LED lights provide me with all the illumination I require. But lights are one of those very personal things like saddles and what is fine for one person is completely unacceptable for somebody else.
I grab a quick snack at Granite Falls and I'm happy to see that I've caught up with my friend Jon Muellner. Jon's been riding with his pal Corey Thompson and Jon, Corey, Jan Acuff, David Huelsbeck and I all take off from Granite Falls as a group. Jon and I are reasonably confident of our ability to navigate the final 38 kilometers and the others seem happy to follow our lead.
Jon is doing his best Ken Bonner impression, pulling us along at what seems to me to be a pretty darn zippy pace. The rest of us tuck in behind him and in my head I'm hearing Ozzy Osbourne singing "I'm going off the rails on the crazy train". Eventually I pull up alongside Jon and say "man, you are really flying." "Yeah," he replies, "I didn't think it would be fair to let the sick guy do the pulling here." I assure him that I just sound like hell and as the day has progressed I've actually gotten to feeling feeling better and Jon lets me take a pull at the front for a while.
When we hit the big descent at Marysville, Jon takes off like a rocket with Corey tucked right in his wake. When I catch up with them and comment on Jon's complete lack of fear he just laughs and says "actually, it's more like a nearly complete lack of brakes, these things don't stop worth a darn in the rain." "You should get some Mathauser pads," I tell him and then Jon informs me that he actually does have a set of Mathauser's at home that he'd picked up last fall but that he is "saving them." "Jon," I tell him, "put the pads on your bike. You shouldn't be saving them, they should be saving you."
Corey spends the 25 kilometers asking "are we there yet?" while Jan and David seem less than 100% convinced that I don't have SARS. We're all very happy to roll into the final control at the brewery at 10:14 PM. 15:44 sure isn't my fastest 300K, but it's actually faster than the time I'd turned in on the same course 4 years ago and I'd been perfectly healthy then.
My original plan was to return to Ken's and ride back to Issaquah in the morning, but Jon had offered to give me a ride home and at this stage I was completely ready to take him up on this offer but then Greg Cox pointed out that he was ready to head back and had room on his car for another bike. While Jon would have to head out of his way to drop me off, my house is right on Greg's way home. So even though I tend to avoid cars as much as possible, I had a nice ride home with Greg.
|SIR 300 km Results - April 5-6, 2003|