At 3:00 AM on May 1st Andy Fuller and Paul Binford show up at my house. We load my Bike Friday next to Andy and Paul's bikes on the back of Andy's SUV and drive an hour north to Arlington. We find the motel that is the starting point for the 400K Brevet, sign in and get the bikes ready to go. More riders show up and by the start, I think there are about 32 riders. I've got the only Bike Friday today, but there are two recumbents (my friend Ken Krichman on his Gold Rush and Guy Oldfield on a Tour Easy) and several tandems.
The forecast for the day had been mixed but it had mentioned both rain and wind. I notice that I'm dressed warmer than a lot of folks, having one of my lucky wool sweaters on under my Burley rain jacket. I also have long fingered gloves. It's not really too cold now, but I'm starting out wearing almost all the clothes I've brought. Tucked away in my giant just-in-case pack are a chemical handwarmer and a Mylar space blanket in case things get really grim. I also have a lycra balaclava that I'm wearing as a neck gaiter. I can pull it over my ears in a minute or so if I get cold. My other headgear is a simple cotton cycling cap that I wear under my helmet. I find the cap's visor works well at keeping rain of my glasses and it helps keep my head temperature just right (like baby bear's porridge!). I've found that rain pant's in general don't keep me any warmer than a decent pair of tights, so I'm wearing tights. I do have SealSkinz socks, however.
At 5:00 AM we take off into the light, cool rain, headed east on route 530. Andy and Paul are up with the fast crew from the start but I'm taking things easier. I'd been sick as a dog earlier in the week with the stomach flu (or maybe it was some bad brie I'd eaten in an attempt to acclimate my system to French food) and I still wasn't feeling really strong. For much of the week I hadn't been able to eat much food and I certainly hadn't carbo-loaded or anything. Today I felt somewhat better, but I figured I'd ride my own pace and not go out too hard. As I settled into the ride, I got passed by some folks but I was trucking along.
On almost every ride, songs stick in my head and one almost always bubbles to the top and becomes the ride's theme song. Early on, Terrapin Station by the Grateful Dead clicked into the number one spot on my brain's top forty. It's not a conscious process but for today "with nothing to believe in, the compass always points to terrapin." My little green Bike Friday sort of is a terrapin, going down the road feeling fine while the rabbit riders scamper on ahead.
I am a well equipped terrapin. A couple of days earlier I'd adapted a Lowe camera bag (designed for a 35MM camera and a giant zoom lens) into a really great wedge pack. This thing could hold almost as much as a Caradice saddlebag but it didn't stick out or sway as much as a 'dice. I had some food, Cytomax powder, my spare light, my tools (including my extra paranoid extra tire pump), my first aid and drug pack, and my lock. The lock is one of these things I always think about ditching but I always take it anyway. It's just a Master combination lock with a six foot coil cable and even on rides where I don't wind up locking my bike, I rather carry the weight than the worry of not being able to lock my bike if I need to let it out of my sight.
Up front, I've got a handlebar bag with Powerbar Harvest Bars, Balance Bars and Boost Bars. I find it helps to have different flavors and textures. I also brought some cashews with me to fight protein and salt cravings. I've got a Camelbak-style fanny pack holding water, my wallet and my brevet card. I've got two regular water bottles as well, one holding Cytomax and one with spare water.
Today, it doesn't look like water is going to be a problem. Well, running out of water isn't going to be a problem. I've honestly lived here so long and ridden in so much rain that I've gotten to the point where I don't keep track of when it's raining and when it's not. I know it was raining lightly at the start, it wasn't raining for some of the ride up to Darrington (31 miles/50 KM). At Darrington I stopped at the Shell station to pee and grab an apple juice. When I come out, what should be playing on a truck radio? Terrapin Station? No, that would be too contrived, but it was the Dead anyway. The Rivendell Rider (Dan Peterson?) comments that now that we've got our daily dose of the Dead we can move on.
I'm really not riding with anyone but I do see other riders at the controls quite often. The really fast guys I never see but some of the riders faster than me take more breaks or longer breaks so we cross paths at various points. I do pass some people on the road and at one point I pass Guy Oldfield who is changing a flat on his Tour Easy.
The course has a little thumb that goes out to a control point east of Marblemount and then doubles back. I'm still five miles from the control when I see the fast riders headed back. The lead pack is Jan Heine, Mark VanDeCamp, Paul, Andy and at least one other rider. I see a few more riders and when I get to the control at the 63 mile (101 KM) mark I've figured out that about half the crew is ahead of me and half behind. Eric Courtney has his car set up at the control and it's well stocked. I grab an orange juice and a banana. Eric and I rode the last part of the 300K together a few weeks ago (he was the guy on the Serotta) but the rain is picking up now and I don't stick around to reminisce. I'm seeing other riders now as I backtrack. I don't know all of them by name but I see Guy on his Tour Easy and I see Pete "The Bullet" Bajema. I think it's odd that Pete's behind me as he's usually a pretty fast rider. Maybe he got a late start. A while later I see Ken and call out "Bon Courage!" as we pass.
Ken and I had both talked earlier that we might stop for breakfast on the way back through Marblemount but I'm still not really hungry, so I stop for a quick bathroom break and then ride on. Once I hit Rockport it's the end of the backtrack and I'm now headed west toward Sedro Woolley.
Conditions are deteriorating now. It seems like it's getting cooler, the wind is picking up (and it's not in our favor) and the rain is getting heavier. Temps are somewhere in the forties. A rider pulls up alongside me and says "How's it going?" It's "The Bullet"! He's a caught up with me. We talk for a bit. He had gotten a late start and was telling me how he'd had some run in with some animal in the dark. He asks me some stuff about the Bike Friday. We're riding about the same pace now and every time I look over at Pete I see rain dripping off his nose and it makes me feel cold.
I'm finally getting my appetite back and as we pass through the little town of Concrete, I see a little burger place up on the left and there's a rando bike parked in front of it. I tell Pete I'm stopping for a burger. He opts to keep going.
It's about 11:00 AM and I order a cheeseburger, fries and a lemonade. I join the other rider at his booth. He's up from Oregon and we compare notes on the ride. I eat, take a quick bathroom break and head back out into the rain a minute or two ahead of the Oregon rider. A bit later on the road, the Oregon rider catches up with me, asks me the usual questions about the Bike Friday and comments that it zips right along. I'm not really feeling that zippy but continue on my steady pace. The Oregon rider is a bit faster and winds up riding off ahead.
A while later I see the Bullet's bike pulled over at a convenience store and a bit after that I see Ron Lee, the Brevet Organizer, parked by the side of the road. He leans out his car window and asks if I'm doing OK. I tell him I'm fine but it's beginning to dawn on me that maybe some of the others aren't doing so well. I'm thinking back to the start and how lightly dressed some of the others were. Nothing for me to do but keep going.
This part of the country would have mountain views on a clear day but really isn't very hilly. The wind isn't nearly as bad as it could be but I'm looking forward to turning north at Sedro Wooley. Another thing that I've been noticing is that this must be the chainsaw carved wood sculpture capitol of the world. Looking for a life-size sasquatch carved out of a cedar log? Highway 20 in the north Cascades is the place to be. I'm noticing a few more bikes pulled over at places that look like they might offer warmth and/or food.
At Sedro Wooley, it stops raining. I'm headed north now. It's still cold and at times I notice that I can see my breath. But things clear even more and there are actually some sun breaks. It'll be good to get dry. All my gear is working well except for my Windstopper gloves. They are soaked through and the black leather dye from the palms is bleeding all over. I'm not that uncomfortable, but my hands are black. These gloves have undergone various soakings and the color still bleeds out of them. The Burley jacket, on the other hand is wonderful. Maynard Hershon calls the Burley crew the "masters of misery" and says they "make the best stuff for the worst days." I'd say those descriptions are right on the money.
The ride is quite nice now going past a lot of odd farms -- flower farms, a mushroom farm and a garlic farm. I see various goats. The oddest farm of the day is a place called the Stump Ranch. It looks like chunk of logged-over land with, you guessed it, a whole bunch of stumps. I'm not sure what the market for stumps is but they had many head of free range stumps there.
At mile 146 (234 KM) I check into the Sumas control. This is just south of the Canadian border. I see more bikes stopped at restaurants, but I'm feeling good and keep going. I do munch some of my powerfood and take a quick bathroom break but I'm ready to head west and south to Birch Bay.
Now it's conventional farm country without a whole lot to block the wind. The folks who'd done the pre-ride the week before had had to deal with a couple hundred miles of headwind but this doesn't seem too bad. The wind is mostly from the south and I'm mostly heading west and I'm just glad it's not raining.
I get a craving for a real chocolate bar and stop at a store along Badger Road and get a nice Hershey bar with almonds and a pint of milk. Much refreshed from this little break I ride about a quarter mile down the road and see a dairy barn with the eternal question "Got Milk?" emblazoned on the side. Yes I do, thanks for asking!
Coming into Birch Bay a group of five riders catch and pass me. Wayne, Bill, Mark and the two Petes are riding a more Audax-style ride -- riding and stopping as a group. They are a bit faster than me and I'm perfectly happy to stick with my terrapin pace. They pull into a convenience store a bit before the control, so I passed them again.
The Birch Bay control at mile 174 (280 KM) is wonderful. It's around 5:00 PM, the sun is shining out across the water and Janine and Bill Prichard have the control decked out with a few chairs, drinks and munchies. I have some orange juice and some Cheetos. I let them know that a group of five should be coming in soon and sure enough the team comes in a couple of minutes later. I'm taking my time here, but the group, refreshed from their recent break pauses only briefly before heading on. I think they're planning on taking a break in Bellingham as well. I leave the control a few minutes after they do. I comment to Janine how nice and comfy it is at the control but say that I guess the only way home is to get back on my bike. "But we've got a cell phone," Janine volunteers. Nope, I'm here to ride. I get back on the bike.
Past the big Alcoa plant and south along some back roads to Bellingham. I ride through Bellingham and turn onto Chuckanut drive as the light is fading. Chuckanut Drive is a beautiful road winding its way through parkland alongside Bellingham Bay. It's kind of hilly but lovely to ride along day or night. There's very little traffic except for teenagers parking. At one point in the darkness I hear something huge roaring along and it takes me a few seconds to figure out it's a train rolling on the tracks between the road and the bay. Then I hear a softer sound. It's the rain returning. It's not too heavy and really kind of peaceful.
After a dozen miles I turn off Chuckanut Drive and onto the flatlands of Bow Hill Road and the Bay View Edison Road. A ways past the little town of Edison, the group of five (they must've stopped in Bellingham) catches and passes me. We all pull into the next control, a Texaco at the 221 mile (357 KM) mark at about the same time, some after 11:00 PM. A couple of them are popping Advil like peanuts now and they're looking a little ragged. I wonder if I look that bad. I buy a bottled Mocha Frappicino, slam it down and head out. It's not that far to the next control.
About five miles down the road, I have to stop to change to my spare headlight. I've got more batteries as well, but I've got a spare Vistalite "snorkel" unit that I just swap out as the batteries fade. If the batteries go in this one, I'll have to stop again and dip into my spares. For other lights, I've got dual flashers in the back (one on me and one on the bike) and a green flasher up front. I've also got a micra lithium light clipped to my collar for cue sheet reading and a very cool flat spotlight called a Hyper 250 for spotting road signs. This last light I'm using periodically and I've got it strapped to my reflective vest. I'm powering it off of 4 lithium AA cells and it's a bright sucker. On some of the darker, twistier sections, I use it in conjunction with my bike's headlight to light the way.
At mile 243 (390 KM) the control is an AM/PM minimart. It's some time after 1:00 AM. Even though I'm only ten miles from the finish, I stop long enough to grab a hotdog and another pint of milk. The hotdog is great, one of the finest food item I've ever consumed. I wonder if they have hot dogs in France?. While I'm munching, the group rolls in. I leave just a bit ahead of them but a few miles down the road on they catch and pass me. They can smell the barn.
At mile 253 (408 KM) I'm back at the Arlington Motor Inn. I rolled in at 1:56 AM, 20 hours and 56 minutes after I started. I can't find Andy and Paul but Janine, who is now manning this control tells me that Andy was a DNF and Paul came in with the lead group sometime after 11:00 PM. I wander around the parking lot looking for Andy's SUV. I also check out the Denny's parking lot but can't find them. I go back to the motel room control and take a quick nap figuring either they'll show or I'll catch a ride back home with Ken Krichman when he gets in. Janine tells me Ken was several hours behind me at Birch Bay, so I could have quite a wait.
But Andy and Paul return around 2:30. They'd taken Andy's SUV back along the course to see how folks were doing. They report that Ken is still out chugging along.
I get the story of Andy's DNF:
Andy: "My voice went out! I couldn't talk!"
Kent: "You don't need to talk, just ride!"
Andy: "And my knee went out. And my Achilles tendon."
Paul had even tried towing Andy with a bungee cord but somewhere around Sedro Woolley Andy, who has relatives all around up there stopped off at one of his cousins and got a ride back to Arlington.
The next day I got more stories. I think 9 riders were DNF. Too many had under-estimated the weather. Max Maxon bailed out in Bellingham where her boyfriend lives. Ken Krichman had ridden a lot with Max and thinks she could've made it but a lot of times when you have a bailout, you take it. Ken finished some after 7:00 AM on Sunday. The upper time limit for a 400K is 27 hours which would mean our cut-off for this ride was 8:00 AM. He cut it close, but he made it. Guy Oldfield on the other recumbent finished a couple of hours ahead of Ken.
The team of five that was close to me for much of the ride had survived the ride thanks to a lot of teamwork and ingenuity. While some of the other riders were bailing out and riding home in Ron Lee's "van of shame", they talked each other into keeping on. Wayne got the group into a store where they bought a six-pack of heavy socks that they modified into arm warmers for the whole crew. This is the kind of stuff rando legends are made of.
Those who DNF'd have a chance this weekend at a make-up ride on the same course. I'll be taking this Saturday easy but I'll probably do a training ride with Ken on Sunday. The following weekend I have to work and the weekend after that is my final PBP qualifier, the 600K.