Sunday, July 08, 2007

Yakima Camp 400km - An Awesomely Stupid Ride

I signed up for this ride awhile back - more or less as something interesting to look forward to. On the "awesomely stupid" ride scale, this one had a lot going for it:
  • It had a night start of 10:00pm (similar to a start time for PBP, and perhaps great training for PBP. Of course, I'm not going to PBP, so that bit of training/prep is irrelevant)
  • The ride start was in Yakima - about an hour drive from where I live. I wouldn't have to get a hotel room, assuming I could find a driver (I did). Of course, Yakima and the surrounding area in July is HOT.
  • 400km - a challenging distance over any terrain (I've already done one of these this year - why do another? Or, why not do another)
  • Strong headwinds to start (similar to the camp of 2003 in Ellensburg over the 4th of July weekend - where Jeff Tilden and I did a 300km over some of these same roads, facing very similar weather conditions - hot and windy)
  • Half way point? The summit on Hwy 2 of Stevens pass. And to get there one has to negotiate Blewett Pass.
Yes indeed, this ride had plenty of potential intrigue. Eventually I also managed to shiver, burn, dehydrate and bonk. Well worth the $25 entry fee.

Here's the highlights of the packing list:
- fluorescent yellow windbreaker
- headband (didn't think I'd need it - I did!)
- windstopper gloves (never deployed)
- about 10-12 packages of those Cliff gel cubes (used most of these)
- 4 energy bars (luna, balance, power bar, and a cliff 'sweet and salty' bar - a random grab from the bar-food area at Target; used all except the power bar)
- space blanket (it was cursed)
- Camelback, 2 water bottles. One of the bottles had gatorade. One of the water bottles had a small amount of duct tape wrapped around it. Just in case (actually used it this time. First time ever).
- repair kit (2 tubes, some adhesive patches, allen-wrenches, small adjustable crescent wrench, swiss army knife (the one with scissors, 2 blades, a pokey thing, corkscrew, can-openr, bottle-opener/screw-driver), assorted zip ties in different colors (no reason for the color; but, they look good), tire levers.
- Cateye LED head-light (the 530)
- back-up headlamp (Aurora)
- one of those Princeton tech EOS lights, deployed in headlamp mode. I also carried the bike mount. So, the redundancy was if the EOS failed, the Aurora was available. If the Head-Light failed, the EOS gets mounted on the bike, and the Aurora goes to the head. If any two of them fail, I soldier on. If all three of them fail, I hope for a hotel - or maybe even daylight. Everything worked fine.
- Two tailights - always on the bike.
- Back-up batteries (4 AA, 5 AAA). I'm that paranoid, even with just having put fresh batteries in most of the lights.
- Cell phone
- One of those flimsy plastic grocery bags. I've used it as a raincover for the handlbar bag. This time I used it as something to sit on - to keep me off the ground by a micrometer or so.
- Back-up pair of 'dime-store' reading glasses (the 40's have been brutal on the near-vision)

So, we leave the Tri-Cities at around 8:00pm (I rested up until around 7:00pm - and then finished packing). We get to Yakima, to the hotel, park and see a cyclist. I'm pre-registered. I ask the cyclist (Ken) 'Where's Mark' and he points to him, about 5 feet away (I'm off to a real good start here). I'm registered. Then eventually all 5 of us are there, and off we go.

Five riders - we start out together, and get a little off course before getting into Selah. We're a paceline for the first mile or so, then a hill sorts it out. I'm off the back before we're out of Selah.

Went through the Yakima Valley Canyon in the dark. The wind gets bad in places, and straight into my face. Gusts of dust. At some point, I seemed to hit a particularly strong 'edge' of wind, maybe a front. During this the wind strong enough to induce a minor dirt/rock slide. Dust was thrown periodically, and then a dust/plant bit combo. Then (after what I think was a front passed), it settled into mostly a headwind, depending on the angle of the road in the canyon. And it was colder. Saw the bats. Heard the birds. A few cows off to the side. Not a lot of traffic. There are a couple of major hills, but nothing too bad in terms of climbing.

And it took awhile to get through the canyon. But I'm at the Conoco truck stop at the South Side of Ellensburg. There's no sign of the fast boys - those are some skinny fit cyclists; I'm inspired, but, not my lot in life this year to keep up with them. Chuck rolls in a minute or so after me. The very kind person working the register knew about the game, so she signed the control card w/o any hesitation. I picked up some water and food items. I realized I was thirsty, and, assuming I show up in Leavenworth before 6:00am, no water for awhile. I go back in and get one more bottle, and place it in the rack trunk (this bottle comes up again, later in the saga).

Through town and out. The headwind is ferocious, as remembered from 2003. It's dark, sometime after midnight. I've turned on the audible alarm for the heart rate monitor, and am trying to keep the exertion so that the hear rate is under 135bpm. I can't see the monitor; but, I hear it when I'm working too hard. I am (hearing it, and so working too hard). I drop back. Chuck goes on ahead.

It's uphill and against the wind as I leave Ellensburg. I'm familiar enough with this, and know that once we crest this hill on 97 heading north, we get a fast downhill, and will spend a lot of time outside of the wind. So it's a simple, slow ride to the top. It gets steeper for the last few kilometers, and somewhere in there I'm riding with Chuck and then ride uphill a little faster, and I'm not with Chuck. It's good to get to the top, and start blasting down to the bottom. The wind's more noticeable than last time heading downhill - I'm holding on tight and ready to touch the brakes. And I'm shivering! Makes it really hard to hold on to the bars - but you pretty much have to, so you do. Then I'm at the bottom of it and ready to go up Blewett. I stop for a few minutes to reconfigure a little and eat etc. No sign of Chuck, so I head on up Blewett. I'm taking my time, and mental arithmetic suggests that I won't be in Leavenworth at 5:00am, more like sometime after 6:00am.

It's something over 20km from the bottom of the hill where I stopped, to the top of Blewett pass. It's the time of the year where it's mostly light - so I'm gauging the sky for light (I think it was almost always light on one side of the sky or the other - maybe really dark for an hour). Then there's the Big Dipper - and I check out my eyes looking for the faint star off the handle. I see it. First one eye then the other. I'm killing time, pedaling. It's starting to get light when I get to the top. Ray's there - I didn't actually expect a control - but, there it was. With water and other food. Ray and I chat for awhile. He's taking Saturday off, and will ride again on Sunday. I say thanks (at least, I hope I did - Thanks!) and head down towards Leavenworth.

I don't exactly get to Leavenworth straight-away. I stop for a nap. The 10pm start is a bit much, so I find a spot just off a road that's just off the highway. Leaning against a tree to sleep has worked well for me in the past. It's cold, so I break out the space blanket. These things are neat-to-amazing, and work well for maintaining warmth. When the work. This one doesn't. It doesn't unfold, so much as tear into bits, as it gets stuck to itself. Delimanited space blanket - the foil layer tears away from the mylar layer. That kind of reads like a swear word: "Delaminated" - in this context, it is a total, strong, evil and offensive word. Eventually, I get a little of it to drape over the left leg (why the left and not the right? No reason), and tear a square of it off to place against my chest (more windblock and warmth for when I resume). And a 15 minute nap makes all the difference. I'm awake, feeling much better, and resume.

Then there's Leavenworth. I like breakfast burritos, even from McDonalds. So I go in to have a couple, and some coffee. It turns out that these are the worst breakfast burritoes I've ever had. Hard to diagnose at that point, harder now. So, I just rode on out of town and begin the climb up to Stevens Pass. The Wenatchee river is nice to ride along. It's still early so there's no traffic to worry over or look at for. I see Chuck up ahead (he must have ridden by me while I napped). I catch up eventually, chat a bit, and then head onwards. There's a rest area on the way up - I plan to stop and have another nap. I do. This one is vagrant style, sleeping head-down on a picnic table. Again, about 10-15 minutes makes all the difference. I take the nap about 5 minutes at a time (sleep, wake, check the time, decide to sleep or get going, repeat). This works - I don't know why. Then it's on up again. I pass Chuck again - confessing to the nap. And then up up up. Some cyclists are coming the other way. Three of them are the faster of the folks I started with - the rest of them are on the Seattle to Spokane ride. Another 'interesting' ride - might have to do that one sometime. I keep wondering when I'll get to the top. It's fairly certain I'll make it within the time limit (by 11:50AM), but, with not a lot of time to spare. The climb gets steeper near the top - but, I get there eventually, sometime shortly after 11:00am.

So, it's time for another break. Steve, his wife and their pet doggie are there. This is great. We chat about rides and such. I speculate that Chuck'll be there by noon (I was way off!). I get a sandwich, and then another for the road. I dump the coffee out of the water bottle and put a Dr Pepper in its place. I'm sitting and chatting with Steve and Co, and next thing you know, there's Chuck! 11:30 - plenty of time to spare. He gets some food, we chat more. We use some of the duct tape from the water bottle to do some repair work on his mudflap, say our thanks and then head down Stevens Pass - back to Leavenworth. Chuck falls like a stone down the pass, and I lose site of him. I think my bike's slow on the downhill, and I'm not a lightweight. I could ponder this darkly for awhile (grumbling about throwing away free speed). Eventually, I come out of it and \ride easily into Leavenworth. More good scenery along the river! Hey, a restroom! Etc. And there's Chuck at the first convenience store on the right. I pull up and begin the ritual (get the Brevet card for signing, find the wallet, go into the store, get some food/drink, pay, get the card signed, exit). Chuck's ready to go well before I am - he goes on, and we agree that we'll likely meet next on Old Blewett Pass - our next uphill.

Now it's time for the next phase of the ride: Burning! From Leavenworth to the starting point of Old Blewett pass. The heat's bad - it stops me from eating as much. And the sleepiness hits again. I spot a shady spot by a creek across the road, and go there. Lay down for a nap in the shade by the river. This helps a lot. I get up and press on to the store at Ingles creek. Along the way, I douse myself with the water from the bottle I've been carrying since Ellensburg. This also helps a lot - and I get to the store, and there's Chuck. He's getting ice and liquids. I get some liquids (more for the road - it's hot). And we head up to Old Blewett Pass. It's uphil, so before we get there I've (temporarily) left Chuck behind.

This heat thing is bicyclist death. I demo this nicely going up Old Blewett Pass. No energy - and no desire to eat (which would help with the energy thing, if one ate). I stop - I walk. I try to ride. A couple of the 300km folks pass me while I ride (Shane and Matt). We chat briefly and they wander on up and over. I'm walking when Dr K passes me, and then eventually Chuck. So I am the last man on the road, as far as I know. I'm thinking I'll never get up that hill. I'm still in possession of the delaminated space blanket. I don't have any matches despite my usual care in taking at least 6 of the 10 essentials out on any adventure. Muffed this one - no matches and inadequate clothing for warmth overnight. And I know it'll get cold. I don't want hypothermia. I don't want to coast back into Leavenworth (I think about it). I'm annoyed, maybe even pissed. I want to win this thing, playing against myself; I'm thinking Duncan would win; Nash would win. Why not me? So, I have a seat by the side of the road. I'm using a shard of that delaminated space blanket as a mat. I get to know a few ants, and flick them off, a few I let stay - I have other things to do. In particular, what I have to do is force down the Luna Bar that I had saved for such an emergency. 'Force' is the right word - I have to force it down past nausea. I look at my watch. I'll give myself 10 minutes to eat it, 5 minutes to digest, and then back on the bike. One bite at a time - and the 15 minutes are over. I'm back on the bike and moving now at a whopping 7km/hour, as opposed to a walking speed of 3-4km/hour. I start wandering up on the bike - for a moment I'm tempted and over-exert - but back off - don't want a repeat of the Luna Bar incident. I'm surprised to catch up to Chuck. More or less ride with him for awhile up the pass - then drop him and find myself at the summit. I stop and refill the camelback from the bottle of water in the back rack trunk. Chuck rolls up. Ever the ray of sunshine, I indicate that we're 10 minutes ahead of schedule - the peak is at 300km, and in 1o minutes we'll have been on the ride for 20 hours (the rando time limit for a 300km brevet). So, with our 10 minutes in the bank, we coast down. I take point, and appreciate the cue sheets instructions (4 switchbacks - be careful). We're careful and then back to Hwy 97. At this point, we have around 30 minutes in the bank - we're rolling in time. It's still more or less downhill-ish, and we get to that point where one has to go UP to get to Ellensburg (we have almost an hour in the bank - it really was downhill). We head up. I ride with Chuck - more or less trying to talk him up it. We chat about his bike. It's a nice one. Surly LHT frame built up to Chuck's (rando) specs. Every now and then he has to stop to barf - some pink drink that isn't digestable at this point. We get passed by some of our folks out on the 300km. One of them asks about Chuck (he happened to see one of the barf moments) and I indicate that I'll ride with him, so nobody's getting stuck out in the middle of anywhere. While wandering up this hill, I indicate to Chuck that if we get up there, and it's a headwind, I'm getting a room at the Comfort Inn in Ellensburg for the night. My ride would be done. He seems amused at the thought.

Then the Gods give us a sign: A leaf is blown straight up the road for about 50 yards, accompanying us. So, when we get to the top and start our wind-assisted descent into Ellensburg - we fly. It's like nothing I've ever had happen on a bike before. Monstrous tailwind (the same evil unprintably wrong headwind that we fought less than 24 hours earlier, and that Jeff and I worked through back in 2003). I'm coasting, coasting, at over 50kph, for miles. The bike has a whole different feel and sound at that speed when your not pedaling. I get to listen to the tires on the road. It's a solid and comforting sound. We were flying and we had earned it. And here's a technical puzzle: with the wind assist, I coasted faster than Chuck, while on every other downhill he dropped me by a huge margin. The usual explanation for the the downhill thing (big people coast downhill faster than smaller people) has to do with mass differences (and so more gravity force) and approximately the same wind resistance. For the wind-assist, how about the idea that a lighter rider and heavier rider get the same push; but, the lighter rider gets to go faster to equal out the applied force. Comments are welcome. Anyway, we're riding the big wind ship into town - I'm listening to the tires on the road, playing a game of 'dodge the pebble', looking at the scenery, looking at and around for funky gusts (none!), observing the plant-bits getting blown (as units) across or along the road etc. Eventually we get to town. Every turn we make realigns us with the wind (since we'd lose our alignment as the roads curve). That leaf being blown up the road was a good sign. And pow, we're at the Conoco on the Yakima side of Ellensburg. 3 bikes are parked outside, one for each of the 300km folks. I'd recommended the Alka Seltzer for the stomach - and it sounded so good I had some myself. Chocolate Milk. A Starbucks Shot. A large bottle of water. Chuck and I are doing that vagrant thing - sitting on the curb outside the store eating and drinking (he's not drinking though). He opted for Saltines and liquid. He allows as a DNF is possible. He hasn't kept any liquids down for awhile. Oh, I forgot to mention that we show up at the Conoco more than an hour before the control closes. We had a ton of time in the bank, given the tailwind that offered assistance through the Canyon. It's about 8:30pm, the last remaining control is 50km away, and closes at 1:00am. I head out; Chuck stays behind to recover and reflect some more.

I head out and into the canyon. A little into it I have most of the chocolate milk - it stays down, but I don't drink it all. I'm into the Canyon proper. Bugs in the canyon. Hitch-hikers. Sort of brown, half-inch long. If I'd been a car, I would have been covered in bug-goo; but, I'm a bicyclist, so I had passengers. Brushed them off. At the peak, it was a bug-hit or two every 5 seconds. Eventually I'm out of the bug-place/time.
There are almost as many people motor-cycling through the canyon as driving through it.
There's a giant Pac-Man on the rocks; this was an indication of this artistry on the web.

It was an epic ride, for me. I'm amazed and impressed with the trio that finished in front of me - probably not epic for them. And I'm very impressed that Chuck rode it on in, even though it was past the time limit - he must have found a way to get water in his body, and have it stay there.

So (almost done with the narrative now), I get through Selah, on this ride, that's about all that we learn of Selah. And onto the bike path. I'm done with the cue sheet, as I know this part of the path. I actually get chased by dogs through the hotel parking lot, I'd ride away from them but I think I see someone ahead, so, rather than take the dogs to whomever, I turn around to see what I might be dealing with. The dogs (just being territorial, so mostly harmless) turn around towards home. I check to see if Julie's in the parking lot. Not yet. It's about 11pm, which is the earliest I thought I might arrive, when I left Ellensburg ~2.5 hours earlier.

So I begin the Quest for Room 179. This takes awhile (I'm not sweating it, as I have about 2 hours till the control closes. Chances are excellent that I'll find the room before the control closes in two hours). I wheel the bike on in. I see a youngster who offers 'Nice bike' (the future of Randonneuring?? I should have given him some rando web sites. We all should carry $10 off on Brooks saddles (or some other rando-nerd paraphernalia) to hand out when appropriate. When is some one of us going to author a children's book titled "My First Carradice"?). So I ask him where room 179 might be. He offers some ideas where to look, and I thank him. I start towards looking some of those places, when I see a hotel employee who offers very specific and useful instructions. I head across the inner courtyard. More kids. Must be a reunion. I smile and wave to a couple of youngsters (probably about 8 and 10) seated by the door. They wave back, and when I start opening the door to wheel the bike on in, one of them holds it to help me. I say "Thanks" and head on in. There's kid #1 (the 'Nice Bike' kid) to point me right at the room. So I'm there. Dr K walks out as I'm walking in, indicating he doesn't know where anyone is. So I settle in. Paul Johnson walks in and signs the card. We discuss what the time should be - I'm happy, even ecstatic, with anything before 1:00am - so the current time it is. 11:15. I'm happy to be done. We chat - it's good. I get the 'PBP?' question. My answer is as usual (and this is the truth) that a good way to see France, at least from my perspective, involves a little more hedonism (good food! good wine!), museums, and less strenuous biking (there's nothing wrong with a nice string of 100km days, going from town to town. And regular sleep). But maybe some other year for PBP. Then Mark (ride organizer and keeper of all complete ride cards) shows up. We're chatting. I get a Sprite. Julie and Laura show up, and I get to introduce them to Paul J. And then we're out.

What I learned and other stuff:
- OK, a lot has been written about numbness induced by bike rides; so I won't. Instead, I'd like to bust open one of long distance cycling's dirtiest secrets. Post ride zits. Come on, it can't just be me. Think about it: you're out there riding for 10+ hours straight, with all kinds of substances being blown against the face. It takes me about a week for this to clear up. I still don't know what to do about this. Sure, I splash water on my face periodically along the ride; but, I still get the week-long reprise of adolescent skin. This doesn't happen to anyone else? Is there a proven solution?
- Does anyone take a toothbrush or mouthwash along on these? I was getting pretty tired of Starbucks Doubleshots and Cliff Gel Cubes. And all of that sugar-stuff over time does something funny to the chemistry/fauna in the mouth. I'm thinking a personal-sized Listerine would be a good addition for uber/stupid-long distance rides
- Delamination of space blankets. I always carry a space blanket, ever since one of them saved my bacon on the Lebowski ride (used it as insulation underneath the windbreaker). There I am, getting ready to take a 10-20 nap on the Leavenworth side of Blewett pass. I break out the Space Blanket - ready to get warm. But, the darn thing is all stuck to itself, and pieces of the shiny are sticking to other parts, and the whole thing ends up being a ripped mess. I gather part of it over me (and put on the headband). Oh, right, what I learned, this is the part of the blog where ideas are summarized, lessons learned and other bits of wisdom (like that zit thing) are reported. Here it is, the take home message: It's wise to unfold a space blanket before taking them out for an adventure. - just to make sure it really will deploy properly when called upon. I've read this somewhere before, and I should have done it. Such a device is my ace-in-the-hole against hypthermia. I didn't follow the advice, and was lucky that a blown nap is the only consequence. So, one more time:
It's wise to unfold a space blanket before taking them out for an adventure. - just to make sure it really will deploy properly when called upon.
- I can't leave numbness thing alone, unaddressed. I ended up with some numbness in 2 of 3 bike/body interface regions. My hands are fine.

Here are the ride stats, with a little annotation: