Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Seattle to Portland ride report

Here it is, the long-awaited ride report from Seattle to Portland! David and I started writing this together, so we alternated contributions.
But first, here's a random pic from breakfast- totally not staged- I was eating a blueberry waffle, David was eating pancakes, I put some blueberries on his pancakes and voila, we made "crabcakes". How cute is that?

So aside from the fact that US Airways can go [censored] and really needs to learn how to keep [censored] track of the luggage on their flights, the trip out to the start of Seattle to Portland was relatively smooth.

I arrived several days early to attend a conference, and so shipped the bikes to my hotel to put them together. If only I'd taken the time to put Jenni's stem on her bike and try to tighten the handlebars, then I might have noticed that Jenni's bolts were stripped. Where the hell does one get a 75mm 125 degree stem? Oh right, this is Seattle, there are bikes everywhere here, so it shouldn't be a big problem to find one.

Of course, we've got to deal with the fact that US Airways has lost Jenni's bag, you know the one with all her stuff in it and as a result she's got to spend the day on the phone yelling at them, while we try to figure out if it's just better to re-purcahse everything in the bag. Aside from her bike and clothes, the bag's got all the things she'll need for the ride.

So we spend a day of going to REI to get registration stuff, and then hitting bike stores so that we can try to replace her midget-sized parts.

Oh, yeah. She also saw her next bike, the Ibis Silk.

First of all, my bike parts are not midget-sized. US Suckways didn't even offer me a toothbrush and none of the their "help" personnel speak English. Sorry, had to get that off my chest.

I was so happy to be able to meet up with everyone (eventually after so many stressful hours wasted worrying about my "lost" bag which was really just sitting outside the baggage office exactly where I had been standing several hours before, OK, really I'm gonna let that go now.) at the Castillo Compound for some much needed food and laughter. John Sr, John Jr, David, Lloyd and I sat around for a while looking over the next day's route- making arrangements for what time we'd start the next morning- gulp! 4:30!!

Fast forward to the morning, we met outside David's hotel and I tried to instill the timeless virtues of helmet adornment, aka, flair. Only a few takers- Lloyd could not be swayed, however David and John Sr. were on board for my sparkly contribution.

We rode out together in the darkness as more and more cyclists came together on the route, probably one of my favorite parts of a large ride, to watch the numbers swell. The sunrise with Mt. Ranier in shadow was stunning and made me feel so happy and blessed to be riding. The route at this point was already very beautiful, sweeping turning streets through residential neighborhoods, littered with the blinking lights that had already fallen off people's bikes, including mine. Poo.

From a bike dock sticking out on a small lake Jenni and I stopped to try to find the gang. Already a few minutes into the ride there were so many people on the road that we had splintered into different speeds. The morning was cold, strikingly so as we had neglected to think about the lake effect when planning our clothing for the day. I'd skipped the chance to wear arm warmers because it felt great at the hotel, and "must be warming up soon." It didn't, we had several hours of cold but pretty weather.

From the end of the dock I spotted the RBC jerseys in the distance, a good 1/2 mile away (yay orange!) and we ran over to catch the guys [Jenni edit: David's new name is "eagle-eye"]. Ten miles, twenty miles, pretty soon we seemed to have racked up a good third of the day without any effort. Virtually flat course, almost no
stop lights or signs for miles (in fact the cops stopped traffic for us the first part of the route).

Much of our route took us down past an industrial park where Center Cycles lives, a massive bike store with probably 500 bikes hanging from the walls and the nicest staff around. They hooked us up when looking to replace broken//missing parts.It wasn't the most scenic part of the ride, but again flat and almost no stops, until the first rest stop. This was the only themed rest stop (it's odd in retrospect having just one stop dedicated to putting on a theme—did someone not get the memo?)

It was still pretty freezing at the first rest stop- we pulled in to a less-than exuberant Elvis and plenty of snacks; bagels with cream cheese, cliff bars, candy bars, fruit. We all met up within a few minutes it seemed after having passed a woman who appeared badly injured on the side of the road, an ambulance was en route to her.

Filled up on some snacks, used the porta potties and we were off again, still freezing.

On rides this long the miles and stops all tend to run together so I guess I won't attempt continuity, but I'll talk about my favorite parts.
One section of road in particular was my favorite- it was a relatively long, flat, mostly-shaded area. In between the car's main lane of travel and the shoulder there was the usual white line, however this section had rumble strips as well. David and I picked up the pace significantly here consistently riding 22-26 mph. What I loved about it was that we took turns pulling. We had to try to stay single file behind the riders in the shoulder, yet slalom out of the shoulder to pass, all the while avoiding the at-times significant car traffic. It took a fun amount of mental attention to watch the strips, the riders and the cars, in addition to staying inches from David's wheel, or he mine. Unfortunately on this road is where John Jr. took a spill. I'm not entirely sure of how he fell, but he had a boo-boo on his leg that needed some attention- thank goodness everyone was able to patch together enough first aid supplies to get him to the next rest stop where he got well bandaged. And while we're on the topic, let's talk about Mr. John Jr. That guy trained so hard (even cutting off all his hair to save a few grams I believe) and had never even done one century- he came out of the gate and pulled back-to-back centuries and I have NEVER heard him complain once! (Gerry, take a lesson.) In fact, Lloyd's brother did the same thing- back-to-back centuries for his first time. Wow, impressive.

Now let's talk town-line sprints because really, that's what's most important to me. In the course of our training on a lot of rides we've been doing town-line sprints. It's become so indoctrinated into our psyche that David and I have both started townline sprinting in our cars out of habit. Sad but true. Actually I've been riding so much lately I actually called out "glass" while I was walking.

So the first handful of townline sprints really were easy because, well, I was the only one who knew we were sprinting- David had not yet adjusted to the signs so he missed all of them. No matter, still counts by my book. I tell you what though, playing games like sprinting makes the time go so quickly- it keeps your mind off the sometimes-doldrom monotony of miles, though I have to admit this was such a pleasant ride I didn't experience that until the last 30 miles and then I was incapable of sprinting anyway, I was toast.

Anyway, suffice it to say I won Saturday and David won on Sunday. At one point in the ride we had to cross this bridge, the 520 bridge I believe. All cyclists were directed to an off-shoot road and made to wait until traffic could be stopped and then the entire lane was given to the cyclists. Standing with an ever-growing click of cyclists at the foot of a long, steep bridge was cool, but what was even cooler was that halfway across the bridge was the official cross-over into Oregon, the ultimate sprint! But in the gesture of team, Lloyd, David and I crossed at the same time (though on replay my wheel maybe have accidentally been one one-millionth of an inch in front of everyone else's) with much celebration.

Possibly one of the best parts of the ride happened just off a bike path we were on for several miles in Washington. The path bridged a small creek- or was it a river? We spotted some local kids swimming so we pulled over, shuffled down the dirt path, took off our socks and shoes/helmets/gloves, and dove into the ice cold water. It was air-gaspingly cold, but so refreshing. We sat for a while (you HAVE to see David's video to believe this next part) and watched as local kids climbed this tree that must have been 80 feet tall- they were leaping into the puddle, er, creek from so far up I really thought we were about to see someone die. The splash from their velocity and well, let's be honest, girth, reached as high as the rickety diving platform. We watched that for a while, chatted, enjoyed the minnows swimming around, and helped a fellow cyclist find his glasses on the murky bottom. Lloyd and his brother passed as we were just getting back to our bike and we convinced them to go have a dip, which they did. Arriving at the halfway point, we stopped again to swim in the local community pool. After having just ridden 100 miles, we were made to take a swim test before we could splash around. For a whopping $3, we cooled off and started to let our muscles relax.
Entering Oregon was awesome- we went through this toilet-flush shaped curved road that went under the bridge approach- silly little part of the ride but one of my favorites, I've never ridden a downward spiral road like that.

I think the Washington part of the ride was prettier scenically than Oregon, which surprised me. In Washington we spent more time on quiet back streets, a bike path, lake-side avenues. In Oregon it seemed like we pretty much rode highway which was somewhat uninspiring. And then the heat started. It was so bizarre to be absolutely f-f-freezing in the morning and then sweltering in the afternoon. I will also say it's completely baffling that no official volunteers, or anyone really, knew how long the route was. We stopped at the last official stop, it was already blazing, over 90 degrees. I asked three volunteers how far it was to the finish, everyone had a different answer. That sucked. I assertively proclaimed that I was counting inches at this point- it was damn hot, I was sore and ready to be done.

We fought through the last 30 miles, David pulling me most of the way as my knees protested. Pulling into the city, climbing one last steep hill, small pockets of riders stayed together through the streets. We rode into the finish- a shady park flanked by waving flags and cheering family members. We were handed our STP Finisher patches and no water. I think it was nearly unforgivable that we rode 207 miles and there was no water at the finish line on a 100 degree day. Other than that, it was a pretty seamless finish.

At one point in those last dreaded 30 miles we stopped at a convenience store- David and I both went into the bathrooms and dunked our heads in water, trying to cool off. We picked up some snacks and hung around a little while, comiserating with other nearly heat-stroked cyclists. We decided to buy a big bag of ice and cool people off- we stuff as many cyclists water bottles, clothes, helmets, shorts with ice as we possibly could.

One of my favorite tricks from RAGBRAI was to fill a ziplock bag with ice and keep it in my jersey pocket so I could take it out, press it to my neck or face or whereever as I was riding to stay cool. On thiis ride, I did the same thing, stopping at one point to offer some to another rider- who followed my lead and put ice into her bra. She was so grateful! A little while later I gave the entire bag to another girl who seemed to be suffering terribly too, I was happy she took it. So if you see the photostream of us holding ice, that's what we're doing.
A huge huge part of this ride's goodness was Lloyd and his family support. Knowing that they were there, so friendly, to help us, schlep our bags, hang out, laugh, it was such a pleasure. I wish I had seen so much more of them- what a phenominal group of people! And to be at the finish with John Sr and John Jr, John walking around in circles saying that he needed to walk around or he'd drop- we said, well at least put your bike down, he said he needed it to lean on- that was priceless!!

Oh yeah, we also spent a lot of time with our scavenger hunt- let's see, we successfully found a bunch of jerseys we wanted: Discovery, Hawaii, Pale Ale, a bunch of other states, we failed to find an Ibis bike, and I'm so tired I can't remember what else we were looking for. Did I mention I sprinted faster than David? Yes, let's end with that.

Thanks David for all the support and help. I think I would have died without you.

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