An October Adventure
Saturday and Sunday, October 6th and 7th, 2001
A ride report by Kent Peterson
"The important thing in life is to have adventures." Richard Feynman said that and I firmly believe it. Every once in a while I get to see just how firmly I hold that belief. The weekend of October 6th and 7th, 2001 was just such an occasion.
The plan was simple: 564 kilometers of cycling in two days. I'd mapped out a loop that would start and end at my house and go over Cayuse, Chinook, Old Blewett and Steven's passes. While many people might say that such a plan is crazy, that the distances are too far, that there's too much climbing and riding such a route so late in the year is just asking for trouble; those aren't the kind of people you want for friends. Well, at least those aren't the kind of people I want for friends. I want friends like my pal Mark Vande Kamp. When Mark looked over my map he said simply "I'm in."
It's 5:30 AM on Saturday and I'm basically ready to go. I do a final check and see that my rear tire is low. I flip the bike upside down and pull the tire. It's a slow leak caused by a Michelin wire. Mark will be here in half an hour so rather than mess with patching, I replace both the tire and the tube and pump the tire up to 100 PSI.
I'm sipping my coffee when my rear wheel explodes. A six-inch section of rim peels back like the metal tab on a Spam can. I stare stupidly at the wheel for a few seconds and then look at the clock. Mark will be here in about ten minutes. I go out to the bike lab and rummage around for another wheel. I've got various 700c wheels and several 20 inch wheels but not many choices in terms of mountain bike wheels. My wife's home-brew recumbent has a mountain bike rear wheel that looks like it might work. I yank the wheel out of Christine's bike and lug it inside.
I'm just getting the wheel installed when Mark drives up. I explain the situation to Mark and while he sets up his bike, I adjust my rear brake to suit the alternate wheel. Only briefly do we consider aborting the mission, but we both agree that "that would be wrong." Before I leave I explain to my sleepy wife what had happened and how her recumbent has donated a wheel. She merely says, "Oh, that explains the explosion," wishes me a safe trip, rolls over and goes back to sleep. At 6:20 AM Mark and I are off and rolling.
We navigate past vendors setting up various craft booths for Salmon Days, an annual celebration of the return of the salmon to the Issaquah Creek. This is a good weekend to be anywhere but Issaquah. Christine and my younger son Eric are working a church bazaar in Seattle for most of the weekend while my older son Peter is spending the weekend in his JROTC uniform directing traffic. And Mark and I are on the road.
It's overcast and a little misty as we roll down through Hobart and Ravensdale. We turn onto 410 at Enumclaw and begin the climb up to Rainier. We stop for milk and a snack at Greenwater and then continue on.
I'm hearing a kind of raspy rattle from the rear of my bike. My first thought is that the bike isn't quite in gear. Since I run friction shifters, I should be able to trim things down to silence but something isn't quite right. Mark and I stop, stare at the wheel and spin the pedals. The noise goes away. We theorize about a stiff link or some kind of crud in the drive train. "It's probably nothing," I say, "or else it's impending doom." We ride on.
We're up past Crystal Mountain Boulevard, getting close to Cayuse Pass when Mark pulls over to remove his jacket. It's around 11:00 AM and getting warmer, so I stop and peel my jacket off as well. Just as we are setting off again, I glance down at my freewheel. What I see isn't good. I yell to Mark and we both take a look. My freewheel is breaking apart. It's not spinning off the hub, the freewheel itself is opening up. We can see the ball bearings. Doom is no longer impending, it's here.
We quickly review our options. Pressing on over the passes and down the other side doesn't seem wise. The nearest bike shop in that direction is probably 120 kilometers away in Yakima. Plus, I really don't think my freewheel is going to hold together under the strain of the climb over Cayuse and Chinook passes. Turning around would give us basically a downhill run back to Enumclaw and we know there's a bike shop there. Just last weekend Mark had fallen victim to a plague of flats and he'd gotten new tubes there. Again, we briefly consider aborting the mission but both agreed that "that would be wrong." We decide to attempt the ride back to Enumclaw.
My freewheel is in a delicate state. Putting too much strain on it doesn't seem like a good idea, but coasting doesn't seem good either as that tends to encourage it's disintegrative tendencies. I settle into a pseudo-fixed pedaling style with Mark riding behind me cautiously eyeing the wheel. As our confidence improves and the freewheel seems to wind itself together, we move back to normal riding, trading off the lead sometimes and riding side by side in sections where the traffic is light and the road shoulder is wide. We figure that even if the freewheel goes completely, I can make it back by zip-tying the remnants to the spokes, shortening the chain and riding it back as a fixed. As things turn out, we don't need to resort to such desperate measures.
We roll into the Bike & Ski shop in Enumclaw at about 1:20 PM. The mechanic, a nice fellow named Steve, goes to work on my problem. I didn't expect that they'd have freewheels in stock, so I was already figuring to replace the rear wheel with a more modern freehub-based wheel. As usual, once we started replacing stuff, it became obvious that much of my drive train was quite worn. Since I put on an average of 1200 miles/month rain or shine, a lot of the stuff was pretty beat.
Forty five minutes later I have a new rear wheel, 7 speed cassette, chain, derailleur pulleys, and tire. The old tire showed some disturbing looking sidewall cracks when we pumped it up to pressure and we figure it is best to play things safe. Steve's prices and labor rates are pretty reasonable. My Visa card takes the $143 hit in stride.
Mark and I go over to the Godfather's Pizza, have lunch and call our wives to let them know our revised plans. I leave a message on our machine and Mark tells Jane about our new plan.
Since we've already burned a lot of time, we've decided that the best thing to do is ride the RAMROD loop down to Mount Rainier National Park and camp at the Sunshine Point campground. Tomorrow, we'll ride up to Paradise, complete the rest of the RAMROD circuit and then ride home. This revised course is about 100K less than our original planned route, but it still has enough climbing that we won't feel like we wimped out on the ride.
It's a nice run down to Buckley and Kapowsin. On Orville Road, a kamikaze hornet slams into Mark's eyebrow but it fails to do any major damage. On the climb into Eatonville, I play with my new ultra-low 30 tooth rear cog and spin up the hill. Mark leaves me in the dust, but waits for me at the top.
As night falls, it gets cooler. We stop at Ashford to turn on our lights. At 7:45 PM, we pull into the Sunshine Point Campground and pick out a site with some nice trees. We need the trees for pitching our hammocks. By the light of our helmet lights, we set up camp.
Mark and I both have Hennessy Ultra Light Backpacker Hammocks. These weigh 1.5 lbs each and this trip is our first real test of the hammocks. We each have fairly light sleeping bags and I've got a backpacker model ThermaRest sleeping pad while Mark is experimenting with using a mylar automotive sun shield. It doesn't take us too long to set up camp and settle in for the night.
It gets cold at night, but not too cold. At least that's my impression. My bag is rated to 40 degrees and the temperature dropped down to the high thirties but I was fine. In the morning Mark informs me that his sleep wasn't so pleasant. In his words it was "like trying to sleep on a rotisserie in Nordic hell." His Northface bag was warm but the mylar sun shield sucked all the heat from below him. So he roasted on the top and froze on the bottom and spent the night rotating every few minutes in his sleeping bag in an endless quest for comfort.
It's cloudy this morning, and the temperature is back above 40 degrees when we leave a bit after 8:00 AM. Our breakfast of granola bars and water is enough to get us on the road, but we're figuring on stopping for a real breakfast at the Paradise Lodge.
Somehow, we'd managed to forget about the lodge at Longmire, but when we see it at 9:00 AM and realize that they were serving breakfast, we stop and eat. We have plenty of time to climb up to Paradise, so we enjoy the warmth of the restaurant and each have a nice hot and hearty breakfast. As the waitress is refilling my coffee cup for the third time she comments that we have a nice day for the ride. That's probably what curses us.
A few minutes out from Longmire, it begins to rain. It is a light rain and it comes in fits and starts and then stops for a while. Nothing too much to worry about. We stop at the scenic overlook and I take some pictures. It is getting cooler as we climb and soon the rain resumes.
Then the rain gets lighter. By this I don't mean that the rate at which it is falling decreases -- if anything the rate of precipitation is increasing. But what is coming from the sky was lighter; what had been gray rain drops are now small white crystals of snow.
It is snowing pretty hard when we stop at the parking lot at Paradise. We pull on all our clothes (rain jackets, nylon pants, gloves, lobster mitts, and fleece ear-bands) and begin the descent. It is an experience that vividly demonstrates why the Redmond Cycle Club chooses to run RAMROD in July rather than in October.
Later (and since you are reading this, you know that we do in fact live through this and there is a "later") Mark and I compare notes and we decide that it's vitally important that we not overstate the difficulties of the descent lest our audience doubt our veracity. We also agree that it is extremely important that we accurately convey the nature of the difficulties, so that others who might be tempted to follow in our wheel tracks do so with the full knowledge. We decide that the best course of action is to record the events in a certain understated style, somewhat reminiscent of 19th century British travel writing.
As we begin our descent, the precipitation turns from snow to what can only be referred to as the soul-sapping ice needles of death. Despite our bundling, parts of our faces are exposed and these tiny ice needles slam into us at speeds in excess of 50 kilometers per hour. The effect is like some kind of sadistic experiment in cryogenic acupuncture where the goal is not to end suffering but to see just how much cold and pain two men can endure and still keep their bicycles upright. We plunge down the side of icy mountain, our lobster claws frantically feathering brakes of questionable value while our tires cling tentatively to the rapidly whitening road.
As I noted above, we live through this. Nietzsche said "what does not destroy me, makes me stronger" but Nietzsche doesn't know jack about descending off a mountain in an ice storm. Actually Nietzsche, despite his tough words, doesn't really have a whole lot of practical advice for situations like this. I mentally switch over to Goethe who advises, "enjoy when you can, endure when you must." Mark and I endure.
As we get lower, the ice turns to rain and then stops right before we plunge into a fog bank. The fog is incredibly thick and I loose sight of Mark almost instantly. Actually, I loose sight of anything that is more than one meter away from me. I ease my bike to a stop and turn on my flashers and headlight. In the fog I'm thinking that having the flashers on will mean that a descending driver will see me .065 seconds before running me down instead of .063 seconds before running me down. Still it's always best to do what you can to tip the odds in your favor. Fortunately, there are very few people on the road today. I guess most folks have more sense than to drive through an ice storm.
I descend out of the fog and see that Mark isn't too far ahead of me. We regroup and compare notes. Mark expresses the opinion that he'd thought he'd been cold last night, but is now completely aware of what cold is and last night had merely been a bit nippy. I inform him that despite our earlier predictions, I don't think I'll be shedding any clothes for the climb up Backbone Ridge. In fact, I confess my doubts that I'll remove any clothing ever again. We ride on.
The climb up Backbone Ridge is very enjoyable. I'm just about warm as we crest the summit and the swooping descent is wonderful. We take a quick bathroom/water/snack break at the Grove of the Patriarchs and then roll on.
I'd thought that I'd been hearing a ticking from my rear wheel and as we pull out of the parking lot, Mark hears it as well. We pull over at the side of the road and go into the by-now-too-familiar diagnosis mode. This sound seems to happen both when I pedal and coast. "It could be a loose spoke," Mark suggests. This turns out to be 1/16th of a correct diagnosis. About half the spokes on the rear wheel are loose. I flip the bike upside down and spend about ten minutes doing a semi-decent job of field tensioning and truing.
The climb up Cayuse is long and slow. Despite my previous reservations, I actually do warm enough that I wind up stopping to pack away some of my warmer clothes. Mark climbs faster than I do but he waits for me near the top as I twiddle along in my 30/30 gear. At the summit we repeat the bundling procedure and enjoy a nice rain-free and cool-but-not-bitter descent.
We stop for a snack at Greenwater and while we're eating one of the locals quizzes us about where we've come from. "We started this morning at Sunshine Point and rode over Paradise and Chinook," we explain. "Through the ice-storm?" the local asks, his eyebrow expressing disapproval tinged with disbelief. "Yep," I tell him, "it wasn't quite supposed to work that way, but it's all downhill now."
The rest of the ride is pretty much downhill. We follow Mud Mountain Road into Enumclaw and Mark calls his wife from a phone booth. It takes us an hour and a half to go from Enumclaw to Issaquah and at 6:50 PM we're all done. It wasn't quite the ride we'd had planned originally but we agree that it had been an adventure.