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What It Takes To Be Super, pt. 2; the 300k

This is the second in a series of four articles I am writing for Ryan Warkentin's blog, Bicycle Smile, out of Vancouver, B.C. The articles will chronicle my run at the Super-Randonneur Award during the summer series.

You did the 100k Permanent and got your club recognition pin. You rode the 200k and had fun with it. The 300k is the next logical progression after the 200k, and it is a big step up in the long-distance game; while the 200k is a wee spot over a century, the 300k is just shy of a double (imperial). Depending on your speed and the time of year, this may be the first brevet where you encounter significant amounts of riding at night. You might need to carry some warm clothes for a pre-dawn start and nighttime finish. Nighttime navigation itself requires some new strategies; a helmet lamp to read cue sheets and street signs in the dark… Also helpful for nighttime flat repairs, should that misfortune strike.
The summer series 300k the Seattle Randonneurs chose to host was the infamous 3 Volcanoes route. Nestled in the valley circumscribed by Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. St. Helens is the Giford-Pinchot National Forest, and it is in and around that forest where the 3 Volcanoes course would take us.

Sight unseen, I made a 2 night reservation at the Tatoosh Motel in Packwood, Washington. Of 5 places I called it was the only one with a room left, and it was a “kitchenette” so I’d have someplace to whip up a bite to eat rather than chancing it on take-out all weekend. After a short and stressful workday which involved trying to find a sitter for my dog after my original plans fell through on Friday I headed home to organize the rest of my gear and drive to Packwood. The main highways would be a mess due to the Blue Angels demonstration and subsequent bridge closures, so I opted for lesser used arterials. I’m glad I did, because the trip would have taken me an additional 90 minutes otherwise. With the exception of incredibly crazy people who can’t seem to understand that the 50mph speed limit applies to everyone on WA-410, it was a pleasant drive over Chinook and Cayuse Passes.
Arriving in Packwood and getting myself checked into the motel, I moved all my stuff into the room to organize my clothes and food for the morning, and hopefully get some sleep before a strenuous ride. The air conditioner was noisy and the bed was a bit on the soft side for my taste, but for the price I couldn’t complain, and I was certain it would seem like the Waldorf Astoria after the 3 Volcanoes.

The ride had an early start at 5:00, so I was awake at 3:30 and getting my stuff together. Decent organization had my prep time to a minimum and I was on the road in plenty of time. Granted, it was only 1.5 miles up the road to the parking, but I wouldn’t want to be doing any extra miles at the end of the night to ride back “home”. So, after a quick couple of turnabouts in trying to figure out where the parking lot was located (I didn’t check to pinpoint it in the daylight, the evening before) I managed to get myself settled and rolling down to the start.

The start was a happening affair with a lot of riders milling about in the brisk morning mountain air. What I should have been doing instead of socializing was doing a final bike check, because I would have noticed that I left an essential bit of equipment back in my car… So, after much joking about, we all rolled off into the dark. I was chatting with the Amy/Peg powerhouse tandem team, and Peg asked me “Where are your bike bottles?”
“Awwww crap!” And with that, I turned back and headed for my car, where I’d left the bottles sitting in my back seat. Dammit… Not even 2 miles in, and I’m putting in bonus kilometers already. But I suppose it’s better than getting 10 miles into the ride and reaching for a bottle that isn’t there. I snapped up my bottles and bolted back down the road, intent on catching the tail end of the group by the first control stop. I wasn’t the last man on the road (there was a rider in the lot as I pulled back in, getting a late start), but I don’t feel confident rolling at the back end of the train without any ride partners so I picked up the pace to bring myself up with some of the others.
I passed Jennifer C. on the side road out to Randle, and she had an open toolkit. I stopped to see if she was all set on things, and it turns out that her new seatpost was slipping. Not to worry; she got things fixed up and finished well ahead of me! She’s one fast rider! I plodded on, passing another rider along the way to the first control. Stephen Barnes wins the tough-guy award of the ride: He forgot his bike lock key and had to break his own lock to get his bike off the car rack, and he forgot his bike clothes so he started the ride in jeans and a button-down camp shirt. He had his sock pulled over his pant leg to keep it from getting caught in the chain, and I don’t recall if he was wearing any gloves. Amazing, the things you’ll see on a brevet.

Rolling into the first control I was greeted by our volunteers, and a few of the riders were just pulling away, so I knew I would have a quick shot at catching them not too far up the way. I refilled with some orange Gatorade and snacked on some potato chips before hopping back on the saddle and chasing after the tandem. It was quick work to catch up with them and we managed to keep a friendly pace for the next few miles, until the climbing started in earnest for the Babyshoe Pass climb. We were part of a nice social paced group of 5 or 6 riders, but we started to split up as the road turned skyward. The group split even further when the pavement turned to loose gravel on washboard hardpack, but we still managed to get some excellent group shots at the summit.

Now, take a look at those pictures again and look at the very definition of randonneuring…
Gravel forest service roads in the middle of nowhere: Check.
People riding everything from 42mm down to 23mm tires: You bet.
Mountain bike shorts, lycra, and a guy so hardcore he rode the pass in jeans: We’ve got ‘em.
What you can’t see in that group shot are the mosquitos that finally found us, and we had to bail pretty quickly after that. Those suckers were voracious, and we needed all our oxygen carrying capacity for the remaining 200k and 2 more passes of the ride.

left to right - Chris Heg, Jennifer Chang, Stephen Barnes, me, Kole Kantner, Peg Winczewski, Amy Pieper
The trip down from Babyshoe Pass is interesting because it is a mixed terrain descent. It starts with a 3 mile section which is exactly like the final 7 miles of the ascent; loose gravel over washboard hardpack. Then it transitions back into pavement, but there are a few sections where it the road is washed out and replaced with loose gravel and hardpack for 50 meters at a time. Overall, the descent into Trout Lake was awesome. Once off the gravel we could pick up the pace from a cautious 15 – 17mph to a peppy 35 – 40mph on the paved road. The faster riders dumped on the steam in the big ring and took off, as did the tandem team (without needing to turn the cranks!) I was content to average 35mph for most of the way with minimal effort, giving me ample time to take in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. Lush green forests zipped by on either side as I made my winding way down the mountain into the surprisingly busy town of Trout Lake.
Arriving at town, the joint was hopping with tons of cyclists, tractors, 4 wheelers and hunters. It was the Trout Lake Community Days parade and festival which happens to include a bike race! So aside from the randos, there were all sorts of team riders out on the roads that day. Given the diverse mix of people at the park, it was an awesome sight to behold. Kids playing Frisbee, families in full head-to-toe camouflage either heading out or coming back from a hunt, lifted pickups, team vans, more bikes than anyone could count, and the busiest restaurant staff in the world. I’ve got to hand it to the crew at The Station Café for having their act together. Nicely done, everyone. It was pretty warm out so I didn’t feel like having a burger and fries from the café, so I just snagged a Pepsi and sat out back with a group of the randos and munched on my salami and cheese sandwich until the group was ready to roll out, which meant first being regaled with Andy Speier’s story of the authenticity judge at L’Eroica who didn’t particularly like the nose-up angle of his Brooks saddle. If you haven’t heard it and you get the chance to ride with Andy, ask him about it. Trust me.

So, full of burgers and sandwiches we head out on the second long climb of the day through Big Tire Junction up to Eagle Cliff. It’s another 17 mile steady climb, but at least this time it was all paved and we had the benefit of some tree cover to keep the sun from beating down on us the entire time. As we climbed, again the group broke up and the faster gang wasn’t to be seen again. I checked the finish times, and they came in about 60 minutes ahead of me. I hung back at a comfortable pace and watched as the racer roadies from the teams zipped up past us all (even the fast guys), but as the saying goes, “slow and steady wins the race”, right? I played leapfrog with Chris Heg (see the Big Tire picture) and Stephen Barnes much of the way up this climb. Stephen finally gave in to temptation as the temperatures rose, and took Chris up on the offer of a pair of cycling shorts. Chris carries a spare pair on long rides in case he feels like changing, and Stephen decided he’d had enough of the jeans for the day somewhere around the 130 mile mark! What a trooper that man is.
Eagle Cliff is less of a spectacular summit than just a saddle in the mountain on the way through Cougar, WA. Cougar is an unincorporated town of 122 people (1990 census) that was evacuated during the Mt. St. Helens eruption. The Eagle Cliff Store is also the police, EMS and fire dispatch as well as the post office and public laundry and showers. (I’m going to take a guess that not all the homes in Cougar have running water.) 4-wheeler ATV seemed to be a common mode of conveyance around there, but the store was stocked with sodas, water and chips, and we had a volunteer in the parking lot making sandwiches, so everything was groovy. A PB&J, some chips, a stop to the can, and I was back on my way downhill again, until the next climb…

The next, and final big climb, was Elk Summit at Windy Ridge. This was a 21 mile slog up the backside of FS-25 on Mt. St. Helens. It was getting on towards evening, and I had pretty much settled for the fact that the next 4 hours were going to be spent at 5mph, grinding away up the side of this mountain. What I didn’t count on were two things: 1) That I would have any company, and 2) that I would have leg cramps. I preferred the former to the latter, by far. Much to my surprise, Joe Platzner and Dan Boxer were my ride companions to within 5 miles of the top. As it would happen, Dan was having a pretty rough ride and Joe was hanging back with him for moral support. They were both rolling at about my pace, so I picked it up a little bit to be part of the fun. I’m glad that they were there because Dan was a good pacer for me, riding steadily when I was speeding then slowing, and sometimes stopping altogether to rest my legs. He was the metronome for that climb, never breaking stride. Joe was his usual enthusiastic self, managing to keep both our spirits up as the mountain brought on the hurt.
21 miles is a badass climb when you’re fresh, nevermind when it starts around mile 150. The climb was wearing me down, the weather was turning sour, my legs were starting to cramp, and by the time we were about 5 miles into it something bad started happening. (TMI warning. The squeamish may wish to skip ahead to the finish.) The salt from the sweat which saturated my chamois was mixing with the Assos chamois crème and forming a sanding paste. Sliding back and forth on these extended climbing sections which put the nose of my saddle slightly higher than preferred, and my slight forward positioning to gain leverage over the cranks had turned the pillowy cushion of my Assos FI.Mille chamois into something akin to being molested by a belt sander. To top it off, as if that needs anything more, the front of the chamois was causing a similar issue at the top stitching edge of the pad, just above my pubic area. So, there I was with 40-ish miles left to ride, and nothing much I could do but grunt it out and deal with the discomfort. I did manage to slather some chamois crème on the area up front which took care of any further friction, but not before the Assos formulation of witch hazel and menthol made me yelp like a hurt puppy.

I was managing to alleviate cramping by alternating my position between standing up and gearing it up a couple cogs in the back, and then very tenderly easing myself back into the saddle to spin for another couple miles. Joe and I discussed the merits of this strategy, along with the concept of breaking it down into mini-goals (just gotta get to the next street sign…) and that helped me get through the climb. Soon, the three of us made it to the false summit. As we were descending, the rain picked up and we pulled off for a spell to put on some warm clothing. The most hilarious part was that we had no idea that 100m down the road around a blind turn was Geoff S. at a secret control, where they had hot drinks and soup waiting for us! So, clothing on and prepped to go, we stopped for a few at the secret control and listened to Geoff’s wisdom about the rest of the course: Down for 1 more mile, up for 4, then a 16 mile descent back to Iron Creek where we would pick up the original route in the opposite direction and have to watch carefully for our turn onto Cline Rd., which allowed us to avoid a late night ride on a trucking route over a very narrow bridge on the highway we came out on in the morning. Sounds good…

I left Joe and Dan at the control, assuming I’d see them again with my reduced pace, but did not see lamp nor wheel of them the rest of the night. It was 20:15 when I summited, the drizzle had given way to light rain, the temperature dropped another 5 degrees (F) and the fog descended upon the mountain like a blanket. Visibility was low, temperatures were low, spirits were low, and speeds were low. The FS-25 road is poorly maintained so there are many cracks which could grab a wheel sideways if you are not careful. Combine that with the low visibility and wet conditions, and that made for a 16mph brake-ride descent attempting to keep my hands from cramping up on the hoods and hoping that my brake pads wouldn’t wear clean down to the holsters before I reached the bottom. During the descent, the sun took it’s leave and it got dark. There’s city dark, suburban dark, rural dark, and middle of the fucking deserted-ass forest hope you don’t get lost because there’s nothing out there for 30 miles in any direction dark. This was the last kind. The trees close in over the roadway and blot out any chance of moonlight, if the clouds were to have parted and allowed any through. The only light I could use was my Edelux, and it was giving me problems. The standlight wasn’t working well, so I was nearly invisible when I stopped moving, and if I tried to adjust it while riding, I got shocked. Something rattled loose on the washboard descents and the electronics were grounding straight to the aluminium housing, sending a powerful jolt up my arm when I attempted to re-aim the lamp. Damn! I used my water bottle to hammer the lamp into adjustment well enough to see the closer patch of road (as opposed to the longer throw I was using on the descent) and set off on the flat-to-rolling final 20-ish miles.
My helmet lamp was still useless for anything besides the cue sheet, since the fog lit up like a neon wall with it pointed forward, so I vowed to just keep rolling as well as I could manage and keep the Edelux lit. This was a great plan, and kept me illuminated until the finish; but there was another mechanical issue to contend with… My cyclocomputer fritzed out in the rain, 3 miles before the 4th to last turn. Hopefully, I’d be able to remember the road signs from my way out and not miss the slightly tricky turn… Oh, wait. That would imply that anything was going well for the last 30 miles! As you may well have guessed, I missed the turn. Thankfully it was only by about 100m and I realized that I overshot the road, so turning back and finding it was easy. Then it was a matter of willpower. I was convinced that I saw another rando’s tail light in the distance, so I picked up the pace a little bit, likely chasing nothing. After the turn onto Cline Rd (our narrow bridge solution) my heart sank just a little more. There it was in my headlamp’s glow; “Loose gravel next 9.2 miles”. Oh holy balls just shoot me now. I couldn’t take any more loose gravel at that point, but thankfully it was just 25m sections of road repairs and not actually 9.2 miles of gravel road. This made it tolerable, compared against the unending rolling hills which were just long enough on the “up” side that you couldn’t coast them from the last descent. Around 3 miles in, I caught Chris Heg taking a food break. We chatted for a bit, and he took off ahead of my pace. By 6 miles in, I was cursing the very existence of Cline Rd. When I reached the turn off that accursed road, I was nearly in jubilant tears. All I wanted was to be finished. Everything hurt and I just needed to stop riding.
The final 7 miles were back along SR-12 to Packwood, and I made a game of counting off the mile markers. 1 down, 6 to go. 2 down, 5 to go. Etc. It passed the time and kept my mind occupied. When I got to town, I saw some randos milling about through the front window of the pizzeria with the “closed” sign in the window. About 1.5 miles from the finish I passed my motel and thought wistfully of my tiny shower and saggy mattress, and how wonderful they sounded at that very moment. About 1 mile from the finish, a car full of randos and loaded down with bikes passed me, beeping the horn with all the occupants yelling “RAAAANNNNDOOOOO!” and I managed to smile and pump my fist in the air in near victory.
I rolled into the parking lot at the Packwood Community Church to the standard fanfare. A few riders and volunteers sitting around in lawn chairs, eating pizza and drinking beer, taking a moment to clap a little and stop eating long enough to say “Congratulations. Excellent ride!” and somehow, this is all I needed to feel one step closer to being Super. I laid my bike down on the asphalt and stepped over it, unable to even swing my leg over the saddle to dismount, and walked with my feet shoulder width apart over to the soda and pizza. Amy P. described this as my “rando swagger”, which I’ll gladly take as a description over “sore bum stagger” any day. I sat and munched on some pizza and downed a ginger ale while discussing all the awesomeness that the ride entailed. Shortly after, I packed my things and headed back to the motel.
I had a very painful shower (soap and water on chafe is a horrible thing) and managed to find some tolerable noise on the Reagan era TV set to drown out the rattle of the air conditioner as I fell asleep on the least comfortable mattress known to all mankind. I woke up 4 times that night with horrible leg cramps. Twice in the calves, knotting up all the way into my feet so that I could barely hobble around the room trying to get them to release. Twice again in my hamstrings; the kind of hamstring cramp where you wake up with your own heel wedged against your behind, and you think you’ll need a truck winch to reel it back down to the floor. It was the most miserable sleep I’ve ever had, and then the alarm went off and it was time to drive home. I left early to avoid the crazies on the road, and so that I could stop in Issaquah at Jay Berry’s Café at the corner of Sunset and 164th. OK, high point of the morning folks. This place is awesome: Good coffee and breakfast scrambles that even a gigantic Sasquatch like me couldn’t finish! The rest of the drive home was uneventful, and I didn’t even bother unpacking my gear until the afternoon, after a nap and another shower.

Total distance: 300km (188mi)
Total time: 18h 40m
Total climbing: 11,600’



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 27th, 2010 04:10 pm (UTC)
Super ... in little ways
Great read! wish I had a magic bullet for you on the shorts deal, maybe it's the lantiseptic, some swear by A&D ointment, others still think Vagicil is the thing. I am still intermittently messing around with my own formulations, with little success. On the 400 my shorts went a little dry and I resorted to the secret stash of bag balm I carry in my Carradice.

For your cramps I do have a recommendation: a product you get at GNC or health supplement stores: Hylands Leg Cramps with Quinine. THIS STUFF WORKS.The cramps you describe are regular visitors to our home and these little pills (you dissolve them under your tonge) really are a magic bullet. Ask my wife, I think she appreciates them as much as me: Something about bolting upright screaming in pain in the middle of the dark night puts her off a bit.

BTW, I have it on good authority that for certain of us who finish out the string 'the hard way' they may offer a modified version of the super rando jersey: there will be a little detachable cape, so we really will be super!

See you on the 600?

Yr Pal Dr C
Aug. 27th, 2010 04:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Super ... in little ways
If you see me on the 600k it's going to be as a volunteer. I'll email you with details, but I'm heading to a doctor about some things. :(
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )