Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My day amongst the Carbon Fiber

Trees, trees, and more trees. That was the promise when Steve signed me up to ride with him on the Cascade Bicycle Club High Pass Challenge September 7th. Steve has some pretty natural gifts on the bicycle, not the least of which is that he weighs about 70lbs less than I do so despite his relative newness in the sport, he can pretty much smoke me on the hills. He also enlisted Greg, who is also new to biking but comes from the ultra marathon world so he's no slouch either.

We rented a cabin in Packwood for the weekend with our fantastically beautiful, brilliant, and charming wives and kids (4 kids total, three wives, come on!) and played around Friday night, most of Saturday, which you saw in the post below, and then rode this little ride.

We a got up early, well, I got up at 6 since the ride didn't start until 7 and fumbled around with some Raisin Bran and other sundries. Steve and Greg were already primed and pumped as witnessed here. I didn't know we were supposed to match. That's Greg left, Steve right.

Soon, we were on our way and within half a mile we had arrived at the start. There was a lot of commotion and it feels very different from a Randonneur ride, but it was really fun and I think designed to get you pumped up for the "huge" trek. The music was blasting and they had a P.A. warning people about various aspects of the ride, like some kind of war briefing. Still the nervous commotion was palpable and it was really cool. Erin showed up unexpectedly and took our picture, which I'm sure is forthcoming.

Everyone was in assorted performance gear and seemed to have the latest and greatest bicycles and gadgets. Notice the sweet not-hydration pack that Steve is sporting. I was wearing wool for the day and so the dudes thought they might bring some extra clothing for the day too. As it turned out, this pack had a streamlining effect on ole Steve and, well, we'll find out later how that turned up. Steve in foreground.

Here we have my ride for the day. It's an '85 Trek 460 64 or 65 cm frame. Yes, those are 700c/28 tires so you have the scale to work with. I was looking for a bike that would look like the racers from the 50's with friction downtubes and barely enough seatpost for comfort. I found it on Craigslist for $50 and have only lubed the chain, put on new tires, seat, and pedals. It runs great. The gearing is 52/42 with a 13/24 in the back so I was a little worried about tackling the hills, but after the ride the day before, I figured "why not?" And don't worry, this is a totally supported ride. I never needed more than one water bottle.

This is the opening pace line where I got to ride amongst the carbon fiber. Sure the bikes are nice, but look at all the carbon fiber around and along the side of the road. That carbon fiber is green and lush and makes the air smell so very nice. The dudes with me were cool too. At one point, I was leading the group and a short rider passed and took the lead. Perhaps he wasn't happy with my pace, but after a while, I notice that I still wasn't getting any wind blockage. I remarked "hey, I need somebody taller to coast behind" , to which the rider behind me yelled "That would be you!"

This is Greg racing down the hill. I made it to within 4 miles of the turn around point, had lunch, and then took off on my way, only to find about 2 miles from the end, Greg tearing it up down this hill. I had my camera ready so that I could get pictures of my buddies and I'm glad this worked. Although holding a peach in one hand and a camera in the other had it's difficulties, I'm glad I got the snap. The strange part is that Steve was nowhere to be seen. I asked Greg why I hadn't seen Steve yet and He yelled out with glee that Steve was back behind a little way. I think this was with glee because Steve set himself up as the uber rider before the ride and was constantly casting disparaging remarks on Greg's bike, which except for a garden variety front derailer issue, performed flawlessly. It goes without saying that Greg was riding flawlessly too.

Just before the last hill to the turnaround, I came upon Steve. He was in good form too and I was glad to get a photo. He's riding second from the left. Windy ridge is a bicycling paradise ever since the road was closed to auto traffic. It feels a little like the planet of the apes as you ride by amenities that were designed for modern convenience such as interpretive centers and parking lots. Buildings appear here and there that are no longer in use but the greenery is building back after the Mt St. Helens explosion. I was last up here in 2000, come to think of it and so much more is growing now than before that I almost didn't recognize it. I wonder if it will go to gravel in the future or if some, newer government might decide to allow access again and fix the place up.

At the end of the road, you reach a large parking lot and there is a gravel road leading to a better view of the mountain. None of us went that direction because it might rough up our tires but I did get this nice picture of Spirit Lake and got to show off my completely dependable and charmingly retro bike. I spent a fair amount of time in the my lowest, 42/24 gear ratio (46 gear inches if any of you are wondering) and was happy to get to the turn around point at 10:30 or about 3.5 hours after starting. Without getting all Rivendell for a second, I have to say that I really dig this frame and I think the stem is way cool.

Here's another shot of this fun little bike with Mt. St. Helens in the background behind a closer mountain. I've never been to the Johnson Observatory so I don't know how things look from the NW, but if you go around this hill, it's pretty nice. I on the other hand, was feeling like I would like to catch my compadres.

I took off back up and then down the hill, through Windy Ridge and was whooping and hollering when presently, I was beset by a tire blowout. No problem says I, just whip everything out and go to work. Once I got the new tube pumped up, the bead separated out and the blew my second tube out. This was the tube Greg had agreed to let me take as a donor tube in case I found somebody stranded. Greg, I owe you one, extra light weight tube. I'll get it to you when you hand over my trailer flags! Hostage transactions are what they are. I had now a third tube and put this one on, but first booted the tire with two dollar bills protecting the tube and also the rim from this Schwablean mess. The dollars stuck out so I only pumped the tire up to about 40 lbs and let the dollars rub against my brakes. This would be a slow, slow ride back.

I limped up to the Bear something parking lot and much to my surprise, my favorite pit crew, and arguably three of the most beautiful women in the world were waiting for me there. Claire, Sumer, and Erin came up to cheer us all on, and looked a little worried when I finally came in as heretofore, I was just a few, perhaps 10 minutes behind the others. Now I was more like an hour. Thorvald quickly set to work fixing my flat and working on my wheel. I swapped out a tire from my Cross Check (I'm very glad that I decided to go with narrower tires for this weekend on this bike as I would otherwise have been stuck), threw it on the blue bike, Thor helping all the way. This made for 5 tire/tube changes.

Here we see the extent of my pit crew: three lovely ladies and four brilliant children. Some other biker took this shot, no doubt because he was jealous. Just try to tell me that you aren't too. Pictured are from left to right, Linnea, Sumer, Pierson, Erin, Leo, Claire, Thorvald, and Brad.

Before too long, I was off and running down the road, past a motorcycle accident (they were like locusts this weekend), down the hill, passed some cars, passed many cyclists, passed a few of the food stations (I only availed myself of two the whole trip), and rode onto the finish. After a confusion about the route, wherein I stupidly tried to get riders to go the wrong way, I sort of bonked out and had to ride my own pace for a while. It wasn't all bad though because the river road from Randle to Packwood is just delightful. Just enough chip seal to appreciate my steel frame and fat tires, just enough rollers to make you push without always gearing down, just enough turns to keep you from thinking it too long, and just flat enough to recover your legs. It was sometimes a single lane and always provided nice views of plenty of carbon fiber, water, rocks, and sky.

Once I made it in to the finish, and healthily silver at that, Steve came up and bid me good arrival. I regaled the masses with tales of ruined tires, punctured tubes that were strapped to the body as insurance, beautiful angels who came to my rescue and gave me a new, if mismatching tire, and saluted my trusty steed which saw me through good times and better times.

Here is the happy family at the finish. I got my silver medal for finishing between 7 and 9 hours, and Claire was very happy to see me. Thorvald chided me for being so slapdash with my tires and tubes, and after a short rest, we were off in our cars. The tire fiasco cost me the time between gold and where I finished, but I wasn't expecting to finish gold until midway through the ride. In fact, I finished sooner than I thought I would even with hour spent with the tires so on the whole, it was a very successful day.

I have a few comments about this ride that I would like to share. First of all, driving 240 miles so you can ride 114, or in my case 185 considering the two days, feels like a bit of a waste. It was super pretty, but the nature of the ride was predicated on dependence. Dependence on the automobile, dependence on food stations every 10-20 miles so that we might complete the ride, and dependence on weather so that we can ride bikes and wear clothing that don't handle adverse weather at all. I've been up a few passes in my day and this was definitely the most posh. It was a perfect day weatherwise, ridden with perfect friends, and we stayed in a perfect cabin with a hot tub that I should say, we made excellent use of. It was super fun to ride fast and light in contrast to my usual practice, as I'm used to carrying my own gear, sometimes even watermelons, but at least enough to get me through most anything, and it was fun to ride with so many people, and see so much carbon fiber. Despite the aforementioned concerns, I had a fantastic ride and a wonderful, wonderful weekend. How about that?

Thorvald in the end was assuaged that he was able to have the medal. I'll have to bring him along next time. I got the trucker hat as a memento, and we got home somewhere around 7 after nice burgers with Erin, Greg, and Leo.


ghd3 said...

sounds/looks like a beautiful ride. Glad you had a good time. cool bike!

Robin said...

i am exhausted reading the report! way to hand in there with the tire and tube dilemma, many would have taken the sag mobile.

Apertome said...

Looks like a great ride, indeed. I really enjoyed your commentary too, and the fact that you did this ride on such a basic, retro bike.