Tag Archives: Ride Around Washington

Cycling through the seasons

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. Time has a way of going quickly when you are busy doing things that you love.

As I approach the end of my fifth year of post-corporate life, I continue to be amazed at the lack of white space on my calendar. There are always upcoming events to train for, the actual events to experience, and then the very brief period of rest and recovery before ramping up for the next one. The year 2016 has been a stampede of events upon events. Looking ahead, I expect 2017 to be even busier!

When I last wrote, CFL and I were training for Seattle to Portland (STP), a two-day, 206-mile bike ride. We’d never done a century ride before, much less two of them back to back. While we were among the slower riders in the throng of 10,000 cyclists, we got it done. We even managed to have some fun along the way.

We were all smiles at the start!

Enjoying a few miles of off-highway riding on a very nice bike trail.

Still smiling!

At a food stop on Day 2, in front of the “World’s Largest Egg” in Winlock, WA.

My triumphant arrival at the finish line!

We’d barely had time to recover from STP when we were off for our second Ride Around Washington. Last year’s ride had taken us from Ilwaco on the Washington coast, approximately 400 miles to Walla Walla in eastern Washington. This year our group of 250 cyclists returned to Walla Walla and then rode another 400 miles all the way up to tiny Metaline Falls in the far northeast corner of Washington state. Our ride took us through the rolling hills of the Palouse.

We crossed over into Idaho a couple of times. Coming out of Lewiston we rode the historic Spiral Highway, which winds up 2,000 feet in eight miles. Such fun on a 95 degree day!

On our last day we crossed the Pend Oreille River on this beautiful bridge. Although it looked scary, it wasn’t.

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I stopped to look directly down through the open grate at the river below.

We were happy to see this sign at last.

Finish line beers are the best beers!

Overall, it was a wonderful ride. I managed to complete it without injury (unlike last year) or any significant aches or pains. We relaxed and took our time, and still managed to find time for an ice cream stop most afternoons.

A mere week after returning from RAW, I tried something new — I competed in my first duathlon! I’ll never do a triathlon because I refuse to get in the water, but the idea of run-bike-run has always appealed to me. When a local duathlon was announced, of course I had to register.

The course was a 5K run through a county park, followed by a 21.5 mile bike ride (two laps of rolling country roads), and finally by the same 5K run again. Although I’ve done run-bike for fun several times, I only had one chance to practice run-bike-run before the event. I was totally mystified as to how the Transition area would work, but the friendly volunteers provided helpful tips on how to stage my bike and where to go as I finished one phase and moved on to the next.

I had no idea how much time I’d need during the two transitions. Therefore I had no idea how long the entire event would take me, but I roughly estimated I could do it in under 2:45:00.

Although it was mid-August, it was a cold, foggy morning. This made the first 5K easy enough. I shivered at the starting line, grateful for my arm warmers (sleeves). Then off we went — me at my usual slow, happy pace near the back of the pack.

Finishing the first 5K, I ran through the chute and found my way back to my bike. As I’m a wimp who doesn’t yet clip into my bike, I didn’t have to worry about changing my shoes. I simply removed my helmet, took a quick swig of water, and then I was on my way. Arm warmers are pushed down now! Although it was still foggy, I was well warmed up.

I’ve never raced a bike before, and I really had no idea how fast I might complete the 21.5 miles. It turned out that I can ride quickly enough when I’m motivated. I made up a lot of time on this section of the event.

Coming from a run to the bike, my legs do just fine, but going from the bike back to running is a lot harder. I sort of stumbled through the second transition, but I stashed my bike safely and found my way back out on the course.

I ran the second 5K a minute faster than the first one, even though I walked up the one big hill.

Another triumphant (if slightly bedraggled) finish line arrival!

My finish time of 2:33:02 was good enough to finish 20th out of a field of 39 — not bad for my first duathlon!

I’m now totally hooked and I can’t wait to do another one.

After mid-August, things got a lot quieter. I was training for a half marathon to be run in early November, but a nasty bout of shingles in October ended my racing plans for the year. Since my recovery from that, I’ve resumed running and riding but without any particular goal in mind other than daily mileage.

So now we’ve cycled through the seasons and found our way to late December. Our calendar is filling up with big plans for next year, but that will have to wait for another post.

Slow Happy New Year!

Back in the saddle again!

Spring in the Pacific Northwest is a magical time of year. The days get longer, quite obviously, increasing by minutes from day to day. At yesterday’s solstice, we enjoyed a full 16 hours, 4 minutes of sunlight, bookended by long twilights. It’s hard to sleep much past 5:00 AM this time of year.

The long days couldn’t arrive at a better time! With my April marathon and June half marathon now behind me, I’ve turned my full attention to cycling. The Seattle to Portland (STP) ride is now less than a month away. That’s 206 miles, two back-to-back century rides amidst a throng of 10,000 cyclists. My longest ride so far this year has been a paltry 47 miles, but at least I’m now riding almost daily and spending as many hours as possible in the saddle.

Given that I live in the Pacific Northwest, that often means riding in the rain. I found myself cringing at the idea of riding my expensive road bike on a trail that, while paved, can get muddy in places. So I bought a second bike. I call it my a-rainy-day-is-not-an-excuse bike. The geometry is essentially the same as my road bike, but it’s heavier and sturdier, which means it’s a bit less twitchy and a lot less fussy on messy surfaces. I’m enjoying going back and forth between the two bikes — now when I get back on the road bike, it feels even faster!

I do most of my training rides solo. I stay close to either home or the car, riding a series of long loops or out-and-backs so that I’m not too far out in the middle of nowhere should anything go wrong. On those rare occasions when CFL and I can synchronize our schedules, we’ll do a longer ride to a destination together. For the most part, however, he does his training his way and I do my training my way.

His way mostly involves riding up hills. Last year, in preparing for Ride Around Washington (RAW) I rode at least twice as many total miles as he did (and spent many more hours), but he did a lot more hill-climbing. To my surprise, he came through RAW at least as well as I did, so this year I’m trying to include more hill training.

We are fortunate to live right at the foot of a world-class hill! Hurricane Ridge, at 5,242 feet, is one of the highlights of Olympic National Park. It’s also considered one of the best, most scenic cycling climbs in the USA. I live at an elevation of 300 feet. The top of Hurricane Ridge is 18 miles from my front door. That’s a lot of hill climbing in a very short distance!

For me the climb is a long, slow slog. The grade varies from 6-8%, which is not impossibly steep — but it’s nearly constant. It certainly gets the heart pumping, especially near the summit when the elevation becomes a factor. So far this year I’ve only made it halfway up, whereas CFL has gone the whole way several times. The views are spectacular, and the adrenaline-packed descent is the final reward for the climb.

Two short weeks after STP, we’ll do Ride Around Washington again. This year we’ll ride 437 miles in 6 days from Walla Walla, WA to Metaline Falls in the far northeast corner of the state. Although it’s another huge goal, it’s not as intimidating as STP because there are only 250 cyclists, and we are well-pampered with catered meals, hot showers, and luggage services. It’s a sort of traveling summer camp.

After that, I’m flirting with the idea of doing a duathlon. There’s a local one planned in mid-August: a 5K run, a 22-mile bike ride, and another 5K run. A triathlon is out of the question because I refuse to get in the water… but run/bike/run? Yeah, that’s tempting.

It’s good to be back in the saddle again!

Picking up the pieces

How do I pick up the pieces after not blogging here for six months? Obviously, I’ve been doing a lot more slow happy LIVING than writing about it. Generally, I like it that way, although I do feel pangs of guilt when I visit my blog admin page and see that no one comes to visit because there’s never anything new to see.

After our big cycling tour last August, I parked the bike and returned my focus to running. I had only nine weeks to train for an October marathon. That didn’t end well, as I wrote about elsewhere. It was late October before I felt like doing much of anything again. The bike stayed mostly parked, and I rode it only a few times before the weather turned too wet for pleasant cycling. I ran a 10K in December, immediately before we made a road trip down to California.

We drove 3,300 miles in ten days and visited a handful of relatives and friends along the way. It was hectic. At least the weather cooperated… except for the day we drove through a sandstorm in 25 degree weather with 30 mph winds. Good times!

We brought our bikes with us on the off chance that we’d have time to ride with a friend in San Diego. Indeed, we had just enough time for a leisurely 13 mile ride around Mission Bay on Christmas Eve.

We’re always very careful about securing our bikes and usually don’t let them out of our sight. When we travel we lock them onto the bike rack on the back of the car. Wherever we stop to eat, we try to grab a window seat so we can watch them. At night we bring the bikes into our motel room with us.

When we finished our delightful San Diego bike ride, we left the bikes locked on the rack for an hour, while we showered at our friend’s apartment in a nice neighborhood. Then we walked outside to leave.

You guessed it. Our bikes were gone. The lock was cut through, cleanly and professionally.

My bike was insured; CFL’s was not. We both learned a very expensive lesson. No more external bike racks for us, no matter how expensive or sturdy-seeming the lock. We’ll carry the bikes inside the van — and we probably won’t let them out of our sight even though locked inside the van.

I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted in my next bike, so I’d ordered it within a couple of weeks. When I bought my last one, disc brakes weren’t yet widely available on road bikes. But disc brakes are so much better on the wet, slick surfaces that are so common in the Pacific Northwest! And on my long hilly rides last summer, my hands took a beating trying to stop my bike with its old-school caliper brakes. So disc brakes were a must for me. While I was doing that favor for my hands, I figured I might as well go the next step and get electronic shifting — push-buttons are so much easier on small hands than the long throw of the shift lever! And well, I wanted lighter wheels too. The insurance settlement (which took depreciation into account) covered less than half the cost of my new bike.

Bottom line, I ended up with a very nice bike — a bike that I’m still afraid of because it’s SO nice. I’ve only ridden it 42 miles in the month that I’ve owned it. One reason I’m not riding much is that CFL is still waiting for his new bike… which is back-ordered until May. The other reason, off course, is that I’m marathon training again. After April 2, I’ll be ready to focus on cycling again. Well, except for that half marathon on June 5.

But then, when our local trail looks like this, it’s hard to get enthusiastic about cycling! Yes, it’s mudslide season again.

We call this one the Big Puddle. It’s at least 10 yards long and several inches deep. Some people go around it on the berm at the right, but the berm itself has become so muddy that I don’t attempt it. I simply turn around at this spot.

Come this May when the puddles are a distant memory and CFL finally has his bike, we’ll get serious about cycling again. We have two big rides planned for this summer. We’re doing STP (Seattle to Portland)! We’ll be somewhere near the back of the pack of 10,000 cyclists for this 2-day, 200+ mile bike ride. And we’re also doing RAW (Ride Around Washington) again. On this year’s route, we’ll pick up where we left off last year in Walla Walla and ride 437 meandering miles through the Palouse region, all the way to Metaline Falls — the tiny town that is as far north and east as you can go in Washington state. We 250 cyclists will outnumber the good citizens of Metaline Falls.

Thus while we may be getting off to a relatively slow start in 2016, we have many long training rides ahead of us. To say nothing of hikes, long runs, and the utterly non-negotiable daily walk. I’m averaging nearly 20,000 steps a day so far this year. For me, that adds up to nearly 10 miles a day on foot.

Now, it’s almost time for my daily walk. See you on the trail? Watch out for that puddle!

 

Ride Around Washington: We did that!

A few days ago CFL and I completed a very big bike ride: we rode 400 miles from Ilwaco, up the Columbia River Gorge, to Walla Walla, Washington. That’s three-quarters of the way across Washington, from the far southwestern corner at the Pacific Coast, nearly all the way to Idaho.

It was the biggest thing either of us has ever done as an athlete. I still can’t quite believe we did it!

I started researching active vacations back in January, and quickly focused on Ride Around Washington, organized by the Cascade Bicycle Club. The 2015 edition was the 17th annual RAW. Each year they follow a different route, visiting different sections of the state. I first learned about RAW last year when they rode through and camped in my town.

The ride is relatively small and and intimate, with only 250 cyclists. We camped each night in state parks, county fairgrounds, and the like. Our luggage was transported and our meals and snacks were provided — all we had to do was ride our bikes, pitch our tents, and pack up our stuff each morning. We were expected to fix our own flats, but additional mechanical assistance and other support was provided by a fleet of roving support vehicles.

Piece of cake, right?

Every bike ride I’ve taken this year has been focused on preparing for RAW. We knew that our longest day would be 88+ miles, that our hilliest day would have 4,500+ feet of elevation gain, and that we could be facing 100+ degree days in eastern Washington. We tried to train toward those numbers, but the longest ride we did before RAW was 73 miles, our warmest ride was about 90 degrees, my biggest climb was about 3,300 feet, and my longest riding streak was 5 consecutive days and 244 miles. In short, we prepared as well as we could, but we weren’t entirely sure we were ready.

Perhaps you noticed the big bandage on my chin in the photo above. No, I didn’t fall off my bike! But I did trip over a curb while trying to board the bus in Seattle on the first morning. I managed to land squarely on my chin. Event staff arrived promptly with a first aid kit, but it was clear that I needed more than a band-aid.

Our bikes and luggage were already loaded on the trucks, and we couldn’t think of anything to do but get on the bus and go to Ilwaco. As soon as we arrived in Ilwaco, I dashed to the nearest Emergency Room. I didn’t need stitches, but they did glue the laceration closed and applied the huge bandage that you see. I was in and out of that ER in an hour and ten minutes.

The truck with the bikes was running late. When I walked back from the ER they were still unloading bikes. Yet I needed some time to collect my thoughts (calm down) before I was ready to get on the bike. CFL and I were the last ones to leave the parking lot, but we weren’t very far behind the others.

The route for Day 1 had a 6-mile possible short cut. We took that, so we rode just 48 miles to Skamokawa. I had a tough time. I was hurting, I had a headache, and the bumpy road was hell on my chin. We rolled into camp at nearly 7:00 PM.

We ate, pitched our tent, and were asleep very soon thereafter. The next morning my alarm went off at 5:15 AM. We had to break camp, drag our luggage to the truck, eat breakfast, and be on the road before 8:00. That schedule would become our norm for the week.

On Day 2 we rode from Skamokawa to Vancouver. My chin was not nearly as sore. It didn’t hurt so badly to hit bumps. We rode nearly 89 miles and I arrived feeling reasonably fresh and strong. A highlight of Day 2 was about 6 miles of riding along I-5. While the shoulder itself was relatively smooth and wide, the 18-wheelers flying by were… thrilling. A couple of times we passed obstacles on the shoulder that forced us over the bone-rattling rumble strip and into the traffic lane. Frankly, it was terrifying.

On Day 3 we started the morning with a brisk ride over the I-205 bridge into Oregon. We rode down the bike path in the center of the freeway. That was fun! From there we took surface roads eastward to the Historic Columbia River Highway.

It was a relatively short distance (just under 59 miles), but the narrow, winding road and heavy tourist traffic made it scary. It was especially tough right at Multnomah Falls where tourists in cars were looking at everything but us cyclists. The inherent tension of the situation caused my left shoulder to stiffen up and begin to spasm.

Still, it was a beautiful place to ride.

The last thing we had to do before arriving at camp in Stevenson, WA was ride over the Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks.

This is the location at which the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the Columbia River (it’s Cheryl Strayed’s destination in Wild). CFL had looked forward to riding over this bridge for months. To his delight, we actually passed a thru-hiker on the approach to the bridge.

The wind had come up by then. I started over the narrow bridge, which was a bumpy open grate, and got blasted by side wind. It was all I could do to keep moving forward, but I had to keep going because of traffic on the bridge right behind me. It was the most terrifying thing I’d ever done… way scarier than I-5.

We were slower than most of the riders so we didn’t have much time for sightseeing stops along the way. Each day we rolled into camp around 4:30 to 4:45, which left us just enough time to put up the tent, grab a celebratory beer, and take a quick shower before dinner. Then we’d be off to bed by 9:00 or so.

Of course, Slow Ride session IPA from New Belgium was my go-to beer of the week.

Day 4, from Stevenson to Maryhill, was the day I have been worried about from the beginning: 77 miles with 4,500+ feet of elevation gain.

It started out fine. We picked up a nice little tailwind and sailed along. We rode several miles on I-84, with a narrow shoulder and construction blocking one vehicle lane. It was scary but manageable. Then later, as I was nearing a viewpoint at the top of a hill for our late morning water stop, I got hit by a sidewind that almost knocked me over. From there, coming down the hill on the far side was a series of wind blasts from different directions at every turn. Again, it was terrifying.

We arrived at the lunch stop in The Dalles at 49.2 miles. We had another 27+ miles and 2,000+ feet of elevation gain to go. I told CFL I was done for the day. I arranged a ride into camp on one of the support vehicles. The guy praised my decision to “sag,” as he said there was a 35 MPH headwind on the bridge we were about to cross.

CFL kept riding. I marveled at all the hills we went up and down as we drove past a long line of riders.

The driver asked if I’d like to be dropped off at the Stonehenge war memorial and ride down the last hill to camp from there. I decided I’d do that. It was another 2.3 miles, so I ended up doing 51.50 that day.

While waiting for CFL to arrive, I somehow managed to pitch the tent myself in a 25+ MPH wind. He did not get into camp until after 6:00. In addition to battling the winds, he’d had a flat tire.

On Day 5 we rode from Maryhill to Umatilla, OR. This was the day we’d been promised big tailwinds that would allow us to “put it on autopilot.” We did get some wind early in the day, but then it petered out and it got hot. Sometime in the mid-afternoon CFL noticed that my rear tire was low. It was still inflated enough that I rode carefully for another 3 miles to the water stop. There, a friendly and gracious volunteer helped us (mostly CFL) patch the leak… something we were supposed to be able to do for ourselves. I had picked up a tiny curlicued bit of wire. He gave us some pointers on how to quickly and effectively fix a flat. I appreciated his instruction.

We got back on the bikes and finished the ride, ending with a bike path over a Columbia River bridge that (because of the lack of wind) was not scary. We were among the last few riders into camp. Day 5 was an 85-mile day.

On Day 6 I was tired again. We got a late start and were among the last riders on the road. This guaranteed that we would be almost last, if not the last, to finish.

On that last day, everything hurt: my knees, my shoulders, my butt, and once again my chin (which had quieted down but now seemed more sore again). I was ready to be done. We got to the afternoon food stop (at a winery) and the “sweep” riders (those who would escort the last few to the finish) showed up right behind us.

Of course we didn’t taste any wine. We were hot and that was the last thing we wanted. Still we stuck around there for a while, drinking ice water and cooling off.

The sweep riders were polite and said we could take all the time we needed. We cruised into camp with them right behind us. (A few riders actually finished behind the sweep riders, as they’d stopped somewhere to sightsee.)

There was an actual “FINISH” banner at the end, as well as a person handing out a RAW patch on a cord… a finishers medal of sorts. I got a bit emotional but only for a few seconds. I felt better as soon as I learned that the beer would be free until all of it was gone.

The next morning felt rather sad, packing up the tent for the last time and putting our bikes on the truck and ourselves on the bus back to Seattle.

While we were certainly ready to stop riding, we knew that we would miss our little traveling community.

Will we do RAW again? Probably. Next year will pick up where this year ended, in Walla Walla, and traverse the eastern half of the state, the region known as The Palouse, from south to north. We’ll see lots more beautiful, stark scenery like this.

It will be hot, windy, miserable, and no doubt terrifying in places. But we’ll know what to expect, and we’ll be better prepared. And when we’re done, we’ll know that we’ve again accomplished something very big.

It’s no piece of cake, but it’s a savory and satisfying experience indeed.