Sunday, June 24, 2007

Barlow Trail Century

Some people deal with their emotional pain by cutting themselves, in the hope that a physical manifestation of their pain will make them feel better.

To those people I say, put away your razor blade, hop on your bike and follow me.

Today I volunteered as a chaperon for the Barlow Trail Century, called the "best one-day ride in Oregon" by...well, the people who put on the ride probably. It's a brutal ride that includes MUCH more climbing than the Boring Ride. If it's pain you're looking for, this is a good a way to find it as any, and better than most.

Three years ago this month, mom and I did the 40 mile option of the ride together, with her on my mountain bike. We completed the ride in four hours, which was pretty impressive considering the amount of climbing even in the shorter route. She was a real trouper. I thought it would be nice to ride it again and do the full century.

My team is sponsored by River City Bicycles who put on this event so we're expected to volunteer in some capacity anyway. Chaperoning just involves riding the course (you don't have to do the whole thing, but I wanted to) and being willing to stop and help anyone in need with repairs, directions, encouragement, rations etc.

I stopped at Finkos and printed out a picture of me and mom to tape to my seat bag. It just seemed appropriate.

I got started at 8:00am. The forecast called for rain and there was a light mist when I set out. Throughout the day the weather got more and more miserable and I wore every stitch of bike clothing I had brought and made a fine testing of my new Showers Pass rain jacket (it passed with flying colors).

I started later than most people so I was alone on the road for a long time and what people I did see were generally passing me in a double pace line. I did help one woman who had dropped her chain (she didn't really need the help, but it made me feel useful). The reality is, anyone who signs up for a hundred mile ride with 3500 ft elevation gain, is going to be a fairly experienced and self sufficient bunch.

Even the few injured people I encountered were already surrounded by scores of helpful, knowledgeable people who were taking care of everything. So that just left me to ride and think about being wet and cold and why was I out there and did I *really* want to ride the full 100 miles? I was starting to have doubts.

The website for the ride explained it this way:

Test your resolve like the pioneers before you, laboring up the flanks of the great mountain on this old historic Oregon Trail route. Be sure to look for the stunning views of Mt. Hood along the hearty 8.5-mile climb (average grade 8-10%). Crest the saddle at 3,500 feet and you'll find a stash of provisions nestled in the woods to fuel your ride home.

I was all for testing my resolve, but it looked like my grade was leaning somewhere in the direction of a B-/C+.

As soon as I left the first rest stop at 20 miles, the real climbing started. From then on I just settled into the new reality that my legs were going to hurt. They were soon followed by my knees. "Spinning" wasn't really an option when the grade tilted upwards so steeply it was all I could do to keep up enough momentum to stay upright.

Relief came in the form of a steep windy descent into the valley described as "Little Switzerland" (see above). When the road turned up again, it wasn't quite as steep so I was still able to make good time. Which was a good thing because me and my bladder were counting down the miles to the next rest stop at mile 41. Around mile 38.5, I gave up and went behind the nearest tree. Feeling much better, I rolled into rest stop two and was greeted by a lovely bonfire surrounded by chilled cyclists.

Up until that point, I had still been toying with the idea of heading all the way up to the top of Lolo Pass. But when one rider at the fireside who had just come down said, "I think it's hailing up there," any thoughts of adding insult to insanity faded into the mist. The thick blanket of clouds had wiped out any chance of the fabled amazing views. Without that carrot, I was having a hard time figuring out why I should spend another two hours, slogging up an 8-10% grade to a rest stop where the temperature was 10-15 degrees colder and there was no fire, followed by a chilly descent.

I think not.

I warmed myself up, traded knee warmers for full tights and set off back the way I had come, secure in the knowledge that I could drive back up the pass on a sunny day and enjoy the view.

The ride back included more company as I got passed by yet more burley racer guys and shared the road and some conversation with the occasional woman. Bree was asking about my new aero bars so I gave her a demo by leaving her in the dust on the next descent. I think she was impressed enough that she may be getting her own.

I felt better on the climbs coming out of the valley and Dodge park, even though my knees were protesting heavily by then. Near the end of the ride, I got to help one pour soul I found walking up the last major climb of the ride.

"Think about the burritos!" I yelled as I came even with him.

"There's burritos?"

"Yes, and they're from Laughing Planet and they're excellent."

That was enough to motivate him back onto the bike. He left me to catch his group but I saw him again a few mile later, coming the wrong way down the street after missing a turn. So I guided him in the right direction and then we stayed together through the last few turns back onto the Springwater Trail. The trail is nice and smooth in Gresham and the grade is tipped just downward enough for me to zip along comfortably at 18 mph. After a few minutes, my companion called up, "Hey, do you have a rope?"

I laughed. "Why, so I can pull you the rest of the way?"

"Yeah." I could tell from his voice that he was only half kidding. I knew the feeling. I'd wished for the same thing many times earlier in the day, watching guys with calves the size of my thighs whistling as they passed me.

I slowed down and then I asked if he'd run out of water.


Well no wonder he couldn't keep up with me, even on a $12,000 demo bike that probably weighed as much as one of my pedals. I quickly gave him the rest of my water bottle which also had liquid nutrition added.

He cheered up after that. Then a few minutes later:

"Are we there yet?"

I looked up and thought I saw the sign for Cedarville park where the finish line was. "Yeah, I think we are actually." Together we blazed the last few meters to the finish line.

He headed off to turn in his bike and I took my bike to the car, changed as fast as I could and went to claim my well earned burrito, which was everything I had hoped and dreamed it would be for the last 40 miles. And the banana strawberry smoothie went down pretty tastily as well. I had to hand it to Rivercity for knowing the right way to feed depleted cyclists.

Final mileage was 82, which I completed in just over 8 hours and I'm feeling pretty darn happy with that.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Boring Ride (not!)

Today we went on this completely misnamed ride from the book Rubber to the Road: 30 Rides Around Portland. Yes, it goes through the *town* of Boring (and how tired must they be of all the obvious jokes?) but the ride was one of the best we've done all year.

We got a late start and left out the door at 10am this morning, wearing exactly the same outfits. Same shoes (Specialized), socks (Pearl Izumi), shorts (She-Beast century), jersey (, bra (Nike) gloves (Specialized) and helmets (Giro Havoc). I can't tell you how sorry I am that we couldn't make it to the Pedalpalooza Twin ride earlier this week! Yes, I know we need help.

This was our long ride that Jess really wanted to do to make sure she is ready for STP. And I would like to note, this route choice was her idea. That'll be important later. It's a good thing that today is the solstice because it literally took us ALL day to finish the ride, but we had a great time.

We left from our house in Kenton (near Lombard and Greeley) and took the Esplanade and the Springwater Corridor to Boring where the real fun began. We were out on the road for nine hours by the time all was said and done. We had a hard time making headway in the beginning due to my TBS (Tiny Bladder Syndrome). Something about cranking the peddles makes my bladder shrink to the size of a walnut. We made it to Sellwood and stopped at the Paint-A-Pot place for a nature break. When Jess came out I said, "OK, let's get going, we only have 15 minutes" (before I have to pee again).

I *meant* it to be a joke.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be all too accurate a prediction and the trip up the bumpy Springwater path to the next pit stop at Cedarville Park was miserable and silent. After getting relief and a snack, I was finally able to settle down. Guess I'll never make it as a stage racer!

This route gets really good once you go through Boring and enter the countryside on your way to Eagle Fern Park--which is also near Eagle Fern campground where I was a junior counselor for Outdoor school my senior year of high school, bringing a sense of nostalgia to the already beautiful terrain. When we reached the park, our odometers said exactly 40 miles, a perfect time to stop for lunch. PB&J always tastes best after 30 or 40 miles.

After that it was miles and miles and miles of climbing, up to the George Rd Loop. We pondered which direction would be best to circle, and then promptly chose the wrong way. So, if you're thinking of doing the ride, be sure to take the left on Clausen Rd and do the loop 'backwards.' The chip seal is a little smoother on George and the descending is more straightforward. Still, we were thrilled when we finally hit the halfway point and could point ourselves downward. Jess was lacking her two lowest gears due to a cog that needs replacing and she was keenly feeling the loss. I ended up pushing her up several hills during the day to keep up morale.

"Who's idea was this?" she asked in the middle of a particularly brutal stretch.

"Yours!" I said promptly. I love it when I'm not in trouble.

"Well, you agreed to it!"

So much for not being in trouble.

After about 4 miles of climbing up Tickle Creed Road, just when Jess was asking "When do we get to go down?!?" we finally did.  I stopped to take a picture but told her to keep going.  I didn't see again for another couple of miles as she took off down what turned out to be a descent of a mile or two.

While we are clearly distance riders out for the fun and the scenery and not speed, while reading the book "Training Techniques for Cyclists," I came across this passage:

When that country dog comes boiling out of it's yard, bent on mayhem, a quick acceleration is usually the best defense.

Fortunately, all the dogs who came out to greet us on this ride were safely behind stout looking fences...except at mile 67, cresting the last of the interminable hills, we heard ferocious, but high pitched barking and looked back to see a poodle about the size of Jess's cat, barreling down at full speed with murder in his eye.

I've actually been told that the best defense against a chasing dog is to NOT run (inciting the prey drive) but to get off your bike and put it between you and the dog.  But in this case, such a tactic would've been too embarrassing to report later.  The dog's legs were shorter then my pedal cranks, and I had some legs left, so I just turned up the gas and sped off, helpfully distracting him from Jess and giving her time to get up the rest of the hill.  That little dog had surprising speed!  But I eventually crossed the invisible turf boundary and by that time Jess was on the down side of the hill as well.  It's like the universe gave us a little practice dog first, in case we run into something really big next time.

The rest of the trip was uneventful except for a short stretch of near death experiences on Hwy 211*.  The book said that this area "hasn't received much attention from cyclists" and I can see why--it's pretty challenging! But if your legs are up for it, it's definitely worth the trip.  Traffic is very slight once you get out of town.  The few cars we did see passed respectfully for the most part (there's always a few that don't know how to share), but clearly didn't know what to think about crazy cyclists out in the middle of  nowhere.  Here's the conversation I imagine from the look on one driver's face who passed going the opposite direction:

"Honey did you see that? What they hell are bikers doing way out here!?  I think those were girls too!"

The cows and the horses (there were plenty!) didn't seem too surprised to see us.

When we got back to Boring, we were pushing the 80 mile mark so we turned off the Springwater path at Eastman and went north a mile or so to the MAX station to get home. We stumbled triumphantly into our garage at 10:09pm, twelve hours, nine minutes after we left.

This ride was a great test of several things:

1) Are we ready for STP? Most definitely!
2) Jeff's mechanical prowess. I took our bikes to him after a disappointing shop tune up and he gave them back sparkling clean and shifting like buttah!
3) We both had fittings from Ward (a woman) at River City Bicycles and this was the first real world testing of the new set up. We both got shorter, higher stems which are serving very well, thank you. Other than adjusting our seats back to their original downward tip to keep our girl parts happy, things felt great.
4) New Koobi saddles, recommended by Zan, and purchased *as soon* as we got home from the Vernonia Ride a few weeks ago. I couldn't even sit on my cushy commuter saddle the day after that ride! Happy to report that the parts are MUCH happier now and I suspect, as the saddle molds to my shape, that things will only get better.
5) New aero-bars for me. Due to the low traffic and looooooong roads with no turn offs, I got to spend a lot of time in them, especially on the killer descent back to Eagle Fern park. SWEEEEEEEEEET!
6) Fueling strategies: We tried out several new brands and flavors of gels/bars/energy drink. The Hammer Perpetuem and the vanilla flavored Gu (the Hammer gels were not bad either) were the clear winners. Don't know about the nutritional value, but the emotional high of a tasty Costo poppyseed muffin bought from the Boring gas station is a great way to kill time on the MAX ride home.

Things we learned:

1) Bring more food next time
2) Refill water at the Boring gas station before riding off into the sunset
3) Speaking of sunsets, start earlier next time and possibly drive out to Gresham to start. Hills wear Jess out quickly (especially with two less climbing gears!).
4) Get a tandem. It's easier than pushing your girlfriend up the hills. :)

More pictures from the ride are here.

*I exaggerate.  There's no shoulder and one hill but it's a roller and the turn off comes pretty quickly.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Pedalpalooza Pedal Potluck Picnic

Oh yeah baby. You *know* you want to say that 10 times fast. Go ahead. Let your freak flag fly.

And when you're done, you can check out the pictures of the pedaling, pot lucky goodness on my flickr page.

It's pretty simple really. We meet, we ride, we eat. And in between, during or after, our ride leaders shares some usually interesting facts about the offbeat, out of the way area we've ended up in, which in this case would be Stanley "Park," a really weird grassy spot out in the middle of the airport/industrial area where there are no houses for miles around and really who'd want to hang out there anyway?

Usually that's all, but this time there was a bonus ride after dinner, to a little known part of the Columbia Slough trail which was very cool. And riding at night on the Marine Drive bike path while the sun set in front of us was the highlight of my week.

It was also the first time this year that I actually had fun at a bike fun event.

Here's to more of it.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Gorge Ride

I've stumbled onto a fabulous training strategy for STP.  It involves going on organized rides where we have little to no idea of the route or terrain we'll be covering, but the conditions are much harsher than anything we'll see at the event.

As part of that strategy, I registered us for the first annual Gorge Ride, a supported tour of a 20 mile stretch of restored Columbia Gorge Highway put on by the Friends of the Columbia Gorge.  Their goal is to restore the entire highway so that you can bike from Troutdale to The Dalles without ever encountering Hwy 84.

It was the Gorge, so we could deduce that the route would probably involves some hills and oh yeah--there might be a little wind.  But what the heck, it was only 40 miles, right?

We arrived at the start point at 8:30am, having driven ourselves out from under the clouds that clung over Portland.  The sun was shining but it wasn't particularly warm at that time of the day and as soon as we got out the car, the wind hit us with steady force.  At least we'd be going into it starting out and enjoy a nice tailwind on the return leg.

As first time organized rides go, I'd say this one was a success.  The route was stunning, the cars few, and the rest stops, well placed and well stocked.  The nicest stop by far was at the historic Meyerdale Estates, a huge house that's in the process of being restored.  On a small patch of the expansive lawn, we enjoyed the usual rest stop snacks plus fresh cherries picked on the property that morning.  Mmmmm.

The stop at Rowena Crest had a great view but exposed as it was to the wind, we stayed just long enough to use the facilities and take a couple of pictures.

Another highlight of the ride was the trail section that is closed to cars and goes through the restored Mosier Tunnels.  The path is only a few years old and the road was buttery smooth.  Best of all, the end of the trail marked the halfway point.  From here on out, the wind would be on our side.

It was a much nicer return journey until we hit Rowena Crest again.  The gusts were 30-40 mph and we were literally almost blown off the road by cross winds a few times!  I've never cycled in such windy conditions and the concentration required was all consuming.  The windy descent I'd been looking forward to since we climbed it that morning was more of a harrowing test of nerve with all the battering crosswinds changing every few seconds.  I kept my hands on the brakes and didn't touch my new aero bars once.  When it was over, I was more relieved than exhilarated.

The flat end to the route was lovely though and an ice-cream reward awaited us at the finish.  As I walked into the Columbia Gorge Discovery center to use the bathroom, it suddenly hit me that I had thought about mom in hours.  As far as I know, that's the first time it's happened.  The thought was ruined by the fact that having the realization made me think about her again.  Not that I want to forget her or anything, but it was nice not having that huge shadow hanging over me for a few hours.  I suppose this is how it time goes by, I'll be able to just live again and remembering her won't mean the risk of sliding down into dark tunnel of grief.  Or so they tell me.

Riders could buy reduced entry into the center, and they were pretty fanatical about making sure folks paid up.  We were questioned each time we entered to use the bathroom and we watched one worker chase another woman down when she strayed too far in in the wrong direction.  Apparently they missed the memo that it's a historical center, not a rock concert and dubbed themselves the security detail.  We found it pretty amusing.

We sat on the grass outside the and ate our lunches and talked to a nice older couple that we'd passed several times on the route and traded conversation, before heading home.

By the time we get to the mostly flat, comparatively windless STP, Jess will think it's a breeze.

More photos are here.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Some dreams do come true

When I was little, I dreamed of growing up so I could eat all the sugar cereals I wanted, eat as much of the mix as I pleased while baking and drink milk directly from the carton.

I got home from a really crappy day (more on that later) and after I showered and reconnected with my gf, I made emergency brownies. I like to get the family size and bake it in an 8 x 8 pan so that by the time I eat a bunch of the mix, it's probably about the same as if I'd bought the small batch anyway. :) While I spooned gooey chocolate goodness out of the mixing bowl, I alternated swigs from a carton of organic milk.

It's nice to know some things actually work out like you hope.