It's about 5:00 AM Saturday June 23, 2001 and Ken Carter and I are sitting in a booth at the Arlington Denny's 24-hour restaurant. We're dressed in our riding clothes, sipping a pair of hot chocolates and I'm waiting for my Grand Slam to arrive. It could be an Edward Hopper painting entitled "Randonneurs" but we lack the glazed and gaunt look that only comes from hard miles on distant roads. We're damn near chipper. But this is prologue and we drove up here. It's not my usual style to get a ride to the start of a brevet, but Arlington is about 100 kilometers from my home in Issaquah and I think I'll get in enough riding this weekend to not feel too guilty. In an hour we'll be riding the 2001 SIR 600K.
After breakfast, we sign in and see who else is here today. Mark Thomas is our brevet administrator and he's collecting our entry fees, making sure we sign the right forms and giving out the route sheets. Last weekend Mark, Andy Fuller, Ron Himschoot, Ron Lee, Lynne Vigesaa, and Duane Wright did the official pre-ride of this event and they all had ugly tales to tell involving evil climbs and wicked winds. Duane Wright had written a particular vivid account of the pre-ride and Bob Magyar is generous enough to share Duane's gory tale of woe with the rest of us while we tweak our bikes, consider our gear and wait for 6:00 AM to roll around.
After his warm and somewhat hyponatremic 400-kilometer ride last month, Ken Krichman is here with a new found appreciation of salt. Ken is a nephrologist (kidney specialist) and should know better but on that ride he'd gotten way too low on electrolytes. When he was recounting his woes to me a few days later he said, "I was hyponatremic (low on salt) and that can make a person spacey, you know. When I got to the Cliffdell control, I ate about a whole bag of potato chips and I felt much better." At this point I'd expressed the view that if hyponatremia makes a person spacey then it seemed to me that Ken's been hyponatremic as long as I've known him and maybe he should install a salt lick on the front of his GoldRush. At the time Ken laughed off my suggestion, but I note that today he is packing a pretty good supply of saltine crackers.
Jim Trout is quite possibly the nicest guy in the world. He also happens to be an incredibly fast endurance rider. On last month's 400K he finished literally hours ahead of the rest of us and last weekend he knocked off 419.6 miles for a fifth place finish at the National 24 Hour Challenge in Michigan. While many riders like to rest up between events, Jim's a little different. His idea of resting up is riding this 600K. While the rest of us have goals like "just finish the damn ride in under 40 hours" Jim's plan is to do the ride entirely in daylight. He'll ride to Winthrop (getting there before dark), have a good, solid night's sleep, and ride the last 235 kilometers on Sunday. Jim's girlfriend Maryam is here to cheer him on and provide some support at the controls.
I'd put out the word that I was looking for extra SIR jerseys so I'd have some souvenirs to give to my British hosts at next month's London-Edinburgh-London ride and Jim's brought me an unused SIR jersey that he'd had stashed away. Seeing that I'm riding without a drop bag, he says "you can pick it up in Winthrop or at the end so you don't have to carry it the whole way" but I figure it doesn't weigh much and I'd rather do this transaction while my brain is still close to clear. I take the jersey and put it in my pack. To square the financial side of things, I pay Jim's entry fee for this ride.
Most of the other riders have bags that Mark will shuttle up to Winthrop. I've always held with the "drop bags make you weak" philosophy and I'm frankly astounded at the size of some of the drop bags the others are using. I comment to Mark that I won't be taking that much stuff when I go to England next month and he says "sometime, I've got to take packing lessons from you."
My friend Jon Muellner is also doing this ride without a drop bag. This is Jon's first year of randonneuring but to look at him you'd think he'd been doing this all his life. He's decked out for distance with a small handlebar bag, a Carradice saddlebag and a Humpback. He's kind of striking the middle balance between Jim Trout's unfendered Ti-bike minimalism and Bob Magyar's "there's a place for everything and that place is somewhere on my bike" belt plus suspenders school of preparedness.
At 6:00 AM, fourteen of us roll out along the back roads through farm country, the small town of Granite Falls, past Lake Roesiger and on to Sultan on Highway 2. I know most of this area pretty well, but nearly half the turns on the entire ride are packed into these first 60 kilometers, so we take it fairly easy and pretty much stay together as a group until Sultan.
Terry Zmhral, Anne-Marie McSweeney, Don Harkleroad, Dick Pado and Bob Brudvik all opt to take a quick break in Sultan, while Jon Muellner and I press on. Jim Trout, Tom Brett, and Ken Carter are somewhere up ahead while Ken Krichman, Peg Winczewski and Bob Magyar are somewhere behind Jon and myself. It's a great day for riding, with non-threatening clouds keeping things cool but not cold. Jon pulls ahead just past Sultan and Ed Husted passes me as well, just as we're going by a large carved wooden Sasquatch. Ed comments that you see some mighty strange things along this road.
I take a bathroom and snack break at the roadside park in the town with the unlikely name of Startup and then ride through the town of Gold Bar (home of a reptile park). Around the town of Index I ride by yet another carved Sasquatch. Along side from these somewhat questionable tourist "attractions" we have the spectacular mountains that make up the Washington Cascades. I've tried various times to take pictures on these rides but have been forced to the conclusion that I lack the talent to create images that come anywhere near capturing the true scope of these mountains.
I roll into the Skykomish control (kilometer 108) at 10:07 AM. Terry, Anne-Marie, Bob Brudvik, Dick and Don are loading up on food and drink and I do the same. Chocolate milk is a popular choice, but I opt for regular whole milk, a chocolate bar and some salted mixed nuts. It's a pretty quick break for all of us, and then we're off and climbing.
Stevens Pass (kilometer 133.4) is at an elevation of 4061 feet. It's been a dry winter and there's virtually no snow up here now. It's 12:06 PM and the temperature is about 60 degrees. Mark Thomas has his car parked here as a secret control and I have a banana and pull on my rain jacket for what I know will be a fast and chilly descent.
I'm a pretty strong climber, but I'm not known as a fast descender and pretty much everybody from the Skykomish group passes me on the descent. I pull into the Nason Creek rest area because I know from past experience that one of the local service clubs will be serving snacks there for weary travelers. I put a dollar into the donation jar and have three excellent homemade cookies and a glass of lemonade. Refreshed, I press on toward Leavenworth.
Riding through the beautiful Tumwater canyon I again rue my lack of photographic skills. The river tumbles beside me in a frothing white noise that sets up a perfect cadence. I descend like water. At 2:00 PM, I hit a miniature traffic jam in the touristy faux-Bavarian town of Leavenworth. At 2:05 PM, I'm at the Chevron Station getting my control card signed. This is the 190 kilometer point in the ride. The same riders I saw at Skykomish are here as well, but they take off a bit ahead of me. I wash down a bag of Cheetos with a pair of Mochachinos and head out. It's warmer now, around 75 degrees.
Just west of Wenatchee, I turn onto Alt-97 a fairly low-traffic road snaking northward along the western edge of the Columbia River. The next 250 kilometers of this ride will be over roads I've never seen before. Phrases from Duane's pre-ride report buzz around in my head like the lyrics to a really annoying pop song: "Serious Headwinds, Serious Climbs" by Duane and the Downbeats. Somehow I manage to focus on the dry beauty of the land and think how lucky we all are that today's weather is actually very good. We still have some cloud cover and the temperature is only around 80 degrees. We've got it much better today than those poor blighters did on the pre-ride.
Before Entiat, I see Terry and Anne-Marie pulled over with a flat. They've got things well under control, but I still do the courtesy "you got what you need?" call as I pass. They assure me that they're fine and in fact they're back on the road and passing me a few minutes later. They're still at the Entiat control (kilometer 248) when I pull in at 4:24 PM.
Ron Lee is here with a tire pump, topping off the tandem's tire and he's intent on filling us in on the climb ahead. I drink an orange juice and eat half a bag of brownie bites before following the tandem down the road.
Terry and Anne-Marie do a pretty good job of making that tandem move and they stay ahead of me up the climb and through the short tunnel. Then things flatten out a bit and they're gone. I ride through the town of Chelan and then up to our next control at Pateros (kilometer 308).
I pull into Pateros at 6:55 PM. It's a little cooler now, back down to around 74 degrees. Terry and Anne-Marie are here and so are Don, Dick and Bob. I get myself a pint of milk and some chicken strips. I eat quickly, take a few pictures of my fellow randonneurs (these photos probably won't turn out either!) and head off to SR-153.
SR-153 winds mostly north and a little west along the Methow River valley. This is apple-farming country and along the river there are orchards, fruit warehouses and clusters of harvester cabins. But the bridges to the right of the road spanning the river are what really catch my eye. The first bridge is rickety, the kind of thing you'd expect to see in Thorton Wilder or B. Traven novel, or maybe in an Indiana Jones movie. It's a few frayed ropes, a bunch of weathered boards and more optimism than engineering. Still, a very brave or very stupid pedestrian might make it across on this structure, assuming he's lead a good life and the fates are feeling generous.
A bit later I see a second bridge that makes the first one look like the Golden Gate. This bridge has more gaps than boards, more frays than ropes, more holes than a Swiss cheese factory. Indiana Jones wouldn't cross this thing even if all the Inca gold were on the other side and Lara Croft was calling him a frou-frou girly-man.
The final bridge is only recognizable as a bridge because the previous two had got me thinking about bridges. I could build a better bridge by sneezing on a pile toothpicks and dental floss. It is a whisper of a hint of a suggestion of bridgeness, something akin to a dream or a nightmare, but weaker and far less tangible. Filaments that had once been rope dangle uselessly while twisted boards sway like rotting corpses executed years ago for long forgotten crimes. I try to figure out why these bridges are here, why time or fear of litigation hadn't torn them asunder years ago. I think about this for a long time, but I arrive at no satisfactory answer.
Terry and Anne-Marie pass by me. A while later Don and Dick come chugging up and pull around. I settle in behind them, but Dick is kind of fading off Don's wheel, so I drop into the slot between them. Don is slowing down now and I feel guilty riding in his draft and I pull around to tow them for a bit. I'm a little guy and don't give much of a draft and the grade is going up now. When I look back, they're both dropping away.
The sun is setting now and the sky is an amazing orange and blue mix. Again I try snapping some pictures but I'm sure the light is too dim. I see a deer come across the road and a few minutes later another one and then one more. I catch up with Terry and Anne-Marie as they pull over to put on their night riding stuff and adjust their lights. I snap on my headlight and taillight and ride on.
I reach the cabins in Winthrop (kilometer 375) at 10:22 PM and I feel great. Tom Brett is there and so is Jon Muellner. Some of the others are there as well, but they've already settled in for the night. Mark and Ron have laid in a big supply of Mexican food and I have some beans and rice and tortillas and three big glasses of chocolate milk. While I'm eating, Don and Dick roll in. I ask Mark what time people are getting up to go and he says "around 4:30." "I don't think so," I reply and he says, "Well, when do you want to be woken?" "I'll wake my self up, but I'm not sticking around until 4:30!" I've got a couple of reasons for this. First, about three hours of sleep is plenty for me on a ride like this and second, I know Ken Carter is much faster than me and if I leave with him in the morning, he'll have to wait for me at the end. I don't like to keep people waiting.
I wind up sleeping for a bit over three hours and around 2:20 AM I wander back to the control cabin to let Ron and Mark know that I'm heading out. I have a quick breakfast of chocolate milk and brownie bites and at 2:38 AM, I head west on Highway 20.
It's cold now, and it gets colder as I climb up toward Washington Pass. It gets light around 4:00 AM and the temperature is around 40 degrees. I see a couple of more deer and some incredible mountains.
Things get steeper as I ride toward the pass but this is a spectacular climb and it doesn't seem too bad. I'm looking ahead at the peak called Liberty Bell and I think how I've become accustom to some of the optical illusions you see in the mountains. Often, for example, you'll see what looks like a solid wall of mountains only to find that there is some narrow pass through them that you've overlooked. I'm sure this will be the case today, and I must be looking at some kind of illusion because it looks like the road just zig-zags over Liberty Bell in some kind of mark-of-Zorro fashion and that certainly can't be right. That steep gash must be some kind of a fault in the rock. It can't possibly be the road.
A big white van rumbles past me and I get to track it as it grumbles up and over the mark of Zorro. As the van goes up, my heart goes down. "They've got to be kidding!"
It turned out to be an illusion. The road really does follow the mark of Zorro but what looks like a 30 degree slope from below is in fact just a continuation of the 7.5 percent grade I'd been chugging up for quite a while now. I try to snap some pictures to properly capture the grandeur of this place and I fail miserably. I do notice a rider coming up behind me. Knowing that Jim Trout was going to wait until dawn to start, the one thought that goes through my head is "please, don't let that be Jim!"
Mark Thomas snaps my picture as I ride up to the Washington Pass control (kilometer 425, elevation 5477 ft). I pull into the control at 6:50 AM and two minutes later Jon Muellner pulls in. It turns out he'd only left about fifteen minutes after me this morning.
Ron and Maryam have set up a very cozy control here with kind of a three-sided tent facing the back of Ron's van. Earlier Jon and I had discussed the problem of cozy controls and how they make you want to linger and waste time. Jon's anxious to get going but I'm happy to enjoy the hot coffee, oatmeal, orange juice and wheat crisps. The propane space heater is pretty nice as well. Ron makes me a bagel for the road and I pull on my rain jacket and gloves for the cool descent. Ron and Jon fill me in on what's ahead, a drop down followed by the climb up Rainy Pass and then another drop down to Ross Lake. Jon leaves and a couple of minutes later I too am headed down.
It's a cold descent and the road is a bit rough. I shiver a bit on the descent so I can't get going too fast and I'm actually glad to see the road turn up for the climb up Rainy Pass. This turns out to be a very easy climb followed by some warmer and smoother descending. Before I get to the dam, I see Jon pulled over, peeling off his warm clothes and having a snack. I do likewise and head out.
I'm completely running out of synonyms for gorgeous but Highway 20 will do that to you. Ross Lake is tucked into the mountains and is one of those amazing feats of engineering that looks spectacular, generates power and is a prime recreation area. I'm sure there are some hard-core monkey-wrenchers who want to blow up the dam, rip out the asphalt and restore the purity of this place but I'm perfectly happy to enjoy this impure intersection of engineering and nature. The lake is a deep jade green and the bridges today are solid, smooth examples of why I'm glad there are at least a few people who stayed awake in physics class.
I stop at Newhalem thinking that I'll grab a snack and use the bathroom, but I'm thwarted on both counts. It's 9:40 AM and the store doesn't open until 10:00 AM and the public restrooms are closed for cleaning. I pull back onto the road just as Jon rolls by and I catch up with him. He's focused and mad. He tells me a truck towing a boat trailer nearly crowded him into a guardrail on the last metal-decked bridge and he felt the boat brush up against his left arm. It takes a few miles for his heart rate to drop down to normal.
We pull into the market at Marblemount (kilometer 515) at 10:20 AM. We take a longer than usual break here, loading up on food and chatting. We figure the others would've caught us by now. Jon doesn't know what the route is like between Rockport and Arlington, but I assure him that compared to what we've done, the rest of the ride should be easy. I eat a Slim Jim, a packet of striped cookies, and a granola bar. I drink a pint of milk and get a white mocha from the latte stand. I'm not planning on stopping again between here and Arlington.
While we're finishing up our feast, Ed Husted pulls up. He tells us that he's pretty sure that Jim, Tom and Ken Carter are behind him, but as is common in long rides, none of us are quite sure of that. Sometimes riders pass you when you're stopped and you never see them. Still, we're pretty sure that we're in the lead right now.
Ed goes into the store to get his card signed and get some food. Jon's ready to go and takes off and I follow him about a minute later.
Jon and I never really draft off each other. We're both fairly slim so neither of us offer much of a draft. After Rockport we turn down toward Darrington. The traffic is lighter now and we ride side-by-side for a bit. As is usual for Darrington, there's some rain but it's pretty light. I tell Jon that it pretty much always rains in Darrington and we'll probably ride out of it.
We turn west at Darrington and now we're headed into a headwind. This is where I've got the advantage over Jon. I'm a little smaller, my baggage is a bit more aerodynamic and my Bike Friday is less effected by headwinds than a big-wheeled bike. Also, I think I might have a bit more left in my legs at this stage of the ride since I haven't been hauling around quite as much stuff as Jon. Whatever the reasons, as soon as we turn into the wind, I get real small and peel off the front. Jon can't keep up.
It's the home stretch and I'm feeling fine. As we always say "brevets are not races" but it still feels good to look at my watch and see that I'll probably finish this thing in less than thirty-three hours. And it feels great to look behind and see nobody else back there.
Well, I imagine that it feels great. Because in actuality, there's a rider back there and he's closing fast.
And he's here.
Five miles from the end and Jim Trout, the nicest guy in the world, pulls up along side me.
"Hiya, Kent. What a great day. It looks like we're going to break thirty-three hours!" Despite the fact that there certainly is a part of me that would've liked to "win" this brevet, it's impossible to not like Jim.
"Yep," I reply, "don't let me hold you back." But Jim won't hear of it. Even though he could drop the hammer at any time, we're not racing. We're just enjoying another fabulous day of riding. I am, of course, pedaling for all I'm worth because now I want to make damn sure I don't make Jim miss the 33-hour point.
We pull into the parking lot of the Arlington Motor Inn at 2:58 PM (official Mark Thomas time). We've ridden 609.5 kilometer according to Mark's official calculations, while my computer calls the distance 616 kilometers. In any case, a great ride with great people.
At the finish line I have a Coke, some potato chips and an ice cream bar. Jon Muellner pulls in at 3:12 PM, followed a few minutes later by Ed Husted. Ken Carter comes in a few minutes after Ed. After Ken grabs a snack and cleans up a bit, we load the bikes on his car and head for home.
Postscript: Mark Thomas had to fly to Europe the next day, so I don't have the final results for everyone. I do know that everyone finished except for Bob Magyar, who ran out of time and wound up DNFing at Marblemount.
Postscript 2: Mark emailed me the final results and reitterated the opinion that the preride was "ugly".
|1041||Andy Fuller||37:11 (Preride)|
|64||Mark Thomas||38:15 (Preride)|
|679||Ron Himschoot||38:15 (Preride)|
|442||Duane Wright||38:50 (Preride)|
|281||Ron Lee||39:05 (Preride)|
|282||Lynne Vigesaa||39:05 (Preride)|