That little time trial on Saturday was a lot of fun. Really! When was the last time you had a flash toward the end of a bike race, when everything hurt and you thought you'd never finish, that said "I am having so much fun" without the slightest trace of sarcasm?
The Lewis and Clark Ultra (LaCultra) started with a 140-mile "day loop." We left Hockinson, WA, and followed course markings on semi-rural back roads until we reached the Lewis and Clark Highway (a.k.a. Highway 14) along the Columbia. Heading east to Stevenson, the gorge winds weren't too bad except for the stretch around Beacon Rock. Following an exceptionally large sign (which one of the relay teams managed to miss), we turned away from the Mighty Columbia on the Wind River Highway at the town of Carson. This "highway" is vastly different from 14: it has a centerline and a fog line and great pavement but has apparently (thankfully!) been forgotten by car drivers. We rode a long way through trees of various vintages, planted after rounds of clearcut. The dogwood were in full flower, making white lace in the understory. Eventually the road started to climb up Old Man Pass, which might more aptly be named Dead Deer Pass (I passed two of those--it's so hard to hold your breath when you're climbing!-- and only one "old" man). There was lots of snow under the trees and along the shoulder, and the wind off the snow was cold in the shady stretches. Time station 2 was at the top, and I reclaimed my vest from the support car (I'd surrendered it along with gloves and knee warmers at time station 1 near Stevenson) for the descent through more snow banks. The cold was gone within a couple of miles, the road turned, and there was the view du jour: a stunning image of Mt. St. Helens, complete with a cloud veil on top. Here was the part of the course marked "weeeee" on the cue sheet: down down down we went.
Eventually we came to a junction with the forest road that I had months ago hoped to ride from Mt. Rainier to Hood River on a touring ride from Seattle to the Mt. Hood stage race. That road is still closed by snow. LaCultra went west, along the north side of the Swift Creek Reservoir (never heard of it? neither had I, but it has got to be at least as big as Lake Washington). More riding through trees. Eventually you're back into semi-rural countryside, and the course route was again marked on the road so you didn't have to consult the cue sheet at every junction.
Back at the middle school at the start/finish, you reloaded your pockets with food and your brain with the idea of more riding and took off on the "night loop." This was advertised to have "something for everybody." I liked the first three miles of flat, straight, smooth, tailwind road and the 40+ mph descent in the last mile. But the steep sections and even the rolling section were really tough. After one lap (9.6 miles), I didn't see myself doing too many of those, but I was supposed to ride that circle for another three-ish hours until my 12 were done. The other half of my can of Coke and some more Oreos got me out on the second lap. After that, eating and drinking seemed like too much bother. But this was where I realized I might not be too embarrassingly far off the total from my previous 12-hour single bike race in 2006 (Ring of Fire) if I could just keep at it. When I rolled across the line at the end of lap 4 and still had 25 minutes left, I knew I couldn't just stop and be happy with that distance. So I told myself I could go just to mile marker 3, which was at the base of a short hill that topped out at about 20%. When I got there, I seriously considered getting off and walking when I realized I could probably get to mile 5 (I was not willing to ride up that hill again for one more mile, but two more was enough motivation). I got to mile 6 (and a little farther) at the end of my 12 hours, which made for an official distance of 184.8 (at ROF I had done 183 and I was pleasantly surprised to exceed that distance).
In my 12 hours, the weather was almost nearly perfect. A few spits of rain (so few you could count the raindrops on your fingers). Sunshine, but not blazing. Breeze off the snow, some headwind off the river, but mostly calm winds. Temps by afternoon in the low 70s. Just about perfect, really. But the poor guys who were racing for 24 hours: around 8 p.m., a thunderstorm moved through Hockinson and it poured and blew for nearly an hour. After that, the 24s were down to just 2 riders who kept riding that really hard short loop all night long. And they seemed to be in good cheer every time they rolled through.
I had the usual host of fears going into this race. Weather topped the list (those thunderstorms were in the forecast, and we were riding between St. Helens and Adams much of the day), but there were also the usual physical ailments (back, knees, stomach, hands, and feet--oh, and that part that bears most of your weight for 12 hours on the saddle). Oh, and I hadn't trained for it, and May is a little early in the year to be setting out on a 150+ mile adventure. Apart from some back worries between miles 20 and 40 and sore feet (pushing on carbon fiber soles for 12 hours can't be all fun), it was all good. Following the "replenish, not replace" school of thought, my nutritional uptake was not immense: 4 20-oz bottles of Gleukos and another bottle of Coke and ice for liquid; 1 400-calorie bar, 14 fig bars (not the low-fat kind), 8 Oreos, 1 orange (peeled and split into sections in advance), 20 pretzels, and half a peanut butter and banana sandwich. I prepackaged snacks and sent one bag to each time station, but the ride organizer had a generous supply of lots of different foods at each stop. Plus water, so I could mix my bottles. When I picked up the orange at time station 3, I had no space left in my pockets, so I stuck the ziplock bag under the front of my top jersey (I had two on). I quickly realized that I could unzip the (full zip) top jersey and simply reach into the bag from the top, which was lots easier than fishing something out of pockets on the back of my jersey. This was far enough into the race that I didn't much care what oncoming drivers thought when they saw me with my hand down the front of my jersey. :)
I think I was stopped for a sum total of maybe 20 minutes in my 12 hours. Three time stations, two "rest" stops (the cue sheet noted roadside port-a-potties), two photo stops (other racers were genuinely shocked when I admitted to stopping to take pictures!), and maybe three stops at the start/finish for food/coke. I had a clip-on fender on my bike and a rain jacket in my pocket; since they were never needed, I'll consider them my "cheap insurance" policy. At one point, I also realized I was carrying a near-pharmacy: sunscreen, chapstick, aspirin, and ibuprofen. I did reapply the first two on the list mid-day but never needed the last two. (One racer also said he was surprised to see me applying sunscreen before the start, on a cloudy day; um, duh, it's 12 hours outdoors--you need sunscreen in late May no matter what the weather!)
When I did the 12-hour Ring of Fire on my single bike, I had a couple of momentary mental lapses where I sort of forgot what I was doing. None of those at LaCultra. I think the cooler weather helped. I did have one odd flash where I thought I saw a snake on the road, but it was only a dead bungee cord. And I had a mini-meltdown with my cue sheet. We all know that sheets of paper have a short life in a jersey pocket because they get damp and frayed into oblivion. So my cue sheet was in a ziplock bag. But eventually I'd come to the fold in the page and have to take the sheet out, refold it, and put it back in. Toward the end of the big loop, the page was all bent up from so many trips under the leg of my shorts and being refolded and it just wouldn't go back into the bag in a flat, readable form. And then the f*&^ing bag wouldn't seal. I'm sure I lost more time dealing with that than I did taking pictures! :)
The saddest part of the route for me was coming into the finish of the big loop and then all through the short loop. It has apparently become a trend in the semi-rural parts of Clark County to buy 10 acres of farmland, build an enormous and usually not very architecturally inspired McMansion, put in a long paved driveway, then plant 3 acres around the house in lawn so you can burn extra gasoline by having to run your John Deere on a regular basis for hours on end. And we wonder why run-off and erosion are problems and why we can't buy locally grown food.
Problems of our society aside, this was a great race. The roads are wonderful, the views of Mt. St. Helens were worth all the pedaling to see them, and the race organizer was organized (not as common a feature as you'd like to think among race organizers), meticulous, supportive, and a totally laid back, nice guy. What other kind of person could burst my bubble by reminding me that not only was I the first-place woman finisher, I was also the last one? ;)