Monday, July 27, 2009


Monday, 27 July

I've been going to the Cascade Cycling Classic longer than almost any other race. I always have a fun time in Bend. This year was no exception.

There were so many things that contributed to a great week. Best find this year was Le Cakery, where you get to pick the flavor of your cupcake and the flavor of your frosting; it's a really good thing there's not a place like that around the corner from me the rest of the year! Thump Coffee was a great place to drink super good coffee (if I can tell a difference, it must be good!), catch up on email, watch the Tour, and people-watch the who's who of the Bend cycling community (thankfully I had a guide who recognized them; I did not, for the most part). The scenery around Bend of course is marvelous, and the level and amount of competition in the bike races prove that riders in the NW will race in the summertime if you give them what they want. And having Jadine and Mike share their honeymoon with about 600 other bike racers made this year's trip to Bend unique! :)

But the thing that made the week most special for me was people:
  • The host housing friends who welcome you back year after year.
  • The teammates and support staff who work so hard together to make it all happen, even in the face of bad luck, illness, and injury.
  • The "kid" I haven't seen in years but ran into out of the blue on the crit course who now owns a bike shop in Boise.
  • The man who came up to me at the crit and said his son was at a national junior team camp (?) with the son of an old friend of my husband. His son's name is familiar in Oregon bike racing, but how did this guy know me just walking down the street in Bend?
  • Four of the Hagens Berman guys, melting into a bench outside an ice cream shop in downtown Bend. After I'd chatted with 2 of them for at least 10 minutes, one of the other 2 says "I don't think I know you"--as in, why are my friends so chatty with this old broad? The fourth was too shy to say much at all. :)
  • The commissaire from Seattle who shared a table with my team director and me during our morning coffee/Tour/email ritual and offered up a little of the officials' side of the race.
  • The OBRA official who didn't hesitate to let me register for my husband while he was stuck in a rental car nightmare. Everybody else had to show their license, but my magic words that afternoon were "I'm Mick." :) I did have to repeat them several times as I moved through registration because everyone in the process wondered why I was at packet pick-up for an event with no (amateur) women's field.
  • The woman behind me in buffet line at the meet-the-sponsors pasta feed for the women's race who had crewed for a two-person relay team at Race Across the West. She was astounded that I had even heard of the race (RAW and Cascade draw from pretty different cycling communities) much less that I knew riders and other crew at that race. I tried to get her to try the 6-hour Ring of Fire TT this September.
  • The Bend cyclist who killed the women's Firecracker TT on July 4 who was part way up the time trial course, cheering for my rider AP.
  • The race staff who always had time to say hello and answer my questions.

  • Cycling is such a small world and for the most part a close-knit, supportive community. It is fascinating to go to an event as big as Cascade and see how parts of your world are connected to each other in ways that don't involve you that you would never imagine. I stopped in to see a tandem friend at his bike shop in Bend and to thank him for advertising some other friends' used tandem on his email list. Totally coincidentally, a clothing line they rep was hanging on the wall next to the tandems in the shop.

    So much better than Facebook.

    Monday, July 13, 2009

    Bliss on a bike

    Monday, 13 July

    Back in May, at training camp in north central Oregon, I agreed with Terri that it was spectacularly beautiful country but, due to lack of “real” trees and bodies of water, I wasn’t sure I could happily live there. My riding this weekend was at the opposite end of the spectrum: Friday and Saturday featured so much riding among the close quarters of hills and evergreens that when at last I got to that plateau east of Mt. Hood, it felt comforting, like coming home.

    My two-day bike journey this weekend was from my home in Seattle to Hood River, with a stopover in Packwood. Friday’s ride was nothing hard to figure out, and I had ridden all of the roads before, just not strung together in this order. The worst traffic was in the first two miles (I forgot to bypass Lake City Way at rush hour). There were very few cyclists on my route out May Valley, down past Hobart to Ravensdale, then past Palmer-Kanasket Park en route to Enumclaw (it was STP weekend, so nobody was out training on Friday!). Mud Mountain Road out of Enumclaw was so peaceful—and it was fun to read the years of race exhortations written on the road. Then the reality of 410 traffic all the way to the top of Cayuse Pass. Somewhere along there (mile 70 in this day’s ride), I counted 15 cars going by me in one mile. Not so bad. Since the Stevens Canyon Road is closed and drivers can’t make a loop through Mt. Rainier National Park, there wasn’t much traffic after the top of the pass. Better yet, there is no road construction this summer on 123. It’s pretty much downhill all the way to highway 12, and then rollers the last 7 miles into Packwood.

    The weather was a good friend. I had a perceptible tailwind on all the southerly sections (almost the entire route) of my Friday journey. Mountain thunderstorms were in the forecast, and, sure enough, the big puffy clouds forged into ominous blackness as I got to Crystal Mountain. No thunder and lightning, but the cloud cover was a wonderful relief for the long climb up Cayuse Pass. It was pretty chilly at the top, with lots of snow still lurking in the woods. By some fortunate wind-swirling-in-the-mountains effect, I also had a tailwind boost heading west along 12 into Packwood.

    Packwood is not exactly civilization (no cell phone coverage), but it has more than one restaurant and a supermarket. And elk. And, last weekend, the Sports Car Club of America. Fun to see people who geek out about something besides bikes!

    Saturday’s ride started along the course of Cascade’s High Pass Challenge: west on 12, south on 131, then continuing south when the state road turns into forest service road 25. The climbing here is long and steep and slow (especially with a backpack, especially when you know a long day in the saddle lies ahead); I kept reminding myself that I’d done this on a tandem. Eventually you come to the turn for the Windy Ridge overlook at Mt. St. Helens—I kept climbing south on 25. Finally you crest a ridge and your close-up view of a million trees is gradually replaced by territorial views. After all the meandering through forest, I wasn’t sure what direction I was facing. I was surprised that the first peak to emerge into sight was Mt. Hood! A couple more bends in the road, though, and I was looking NW straight at Mt. St. Helens. Eventually the road dropped back into the forest as I descended toward the Swift Reservoir. Once at the junction with FR90, I was on familiar roads. 90 follows the Lewis River drainage NE to the junction with FR23. Persistent climbing here—not steep, and some sections with a great tailwind. I saw a few other cyclists going the opposite direction on this road, and I stopped at the only campground to get water. At mile 80, I counted the vehicles that went by me in a mile: zero. It was another 1.8 miles before any traffic passed—in either direction! Yes, these are quiet roads. The abundant trees were a bonus on a 90-degree day; I was thankful for so much shade on the road.

    I was delighted with my faulty memory when the anticipated climbing on FR23 was mostly just rollers for about 10 miles before the descent, which brings amazing views of Mt. Adams. Finally I got to Trout Lake for coke and cookies and another water bottle refill. From there, it’s 22 miles mostly trending downhill toward the Columbia River and the end of my journey in Bingen, where I found our car, drove across the bridge (no bicycles or pedestrians permitted) to Hood River, and then out to The Dalles and the trek south to Maupin.

    As I drove up out of the Gorge onto the plateau of central Oregon, everything was bathed in hazy soft pre-sunset light, the hills and fields were golden, and Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson were sentinels over this vast space. The closed-in feeling of riding under tree cover all day was lifted and I truly felt that all my worries and fears were gone and that I was returning to a familiar, comforting space. Such a contrast to the emotion in May near Antelope and Shaniko where the scenery is similar but I missed shades of dark green and blue.

    I did have plenty of worries and fears to release into the great wide open. There were the issues of being a solo female rider whose transportation was a device whose mechanics she doesn't grasp very well. Have you ever noticed that things (shoes, pedals, saddle, unknown bike things) are particularly prone to squeaking when it’s hot? Other niggles weighed heavier. After a poorly calculated trip last year, I was more cautious in mapquesting this year’s epic ride, but forest service roads are not well documented. I was slow (8-9% with a backpack yields low speed) to cover some sections of the route, giving me much time to think that I would never get there. And then there were practical issues: Where exactly are you supposed to seek shelter in a forest in a thunderstorm? Are those frequent piles on the road that look like dog poop actually bear scat (had to be—no dogs live out here)? What if deer run out in front of me when I’m going 30 mph down a descent? What if I miscalculated the distance by 30 miles again this year?

    When you’re riding solo, there is too much time for such things to mess with your mind. My trip was perfect. The weather was summer-hot but not miserable, not wet, and certainly not cold. I had plenty of food and water. There was minimal traffic but just enough so that I probably wouldn’t be stranded out there for 3 days in the event of a mechanical catastrophe. The distances were almost exactly what I’d calculated: 123 miles on Friday and 137 on Saturday. I was blessed with tailwinds on important parts of the route, with headwind mostly only as I approached the Gorge (where there is always wind). Motorists were considerate (!). The biggest critters to cross my path were chipmunks. No issues with feet or saddle or bike or backpack. The up-close, clear-air views of Rainier, St. Helens, and Adams are things you cannot even imagine from the cityscape. I rode for miles and miles where the only sign of humanity was the road I was on and the only sounds were birds, bugs, and breeze in the trees. Bliss.

    On the third day of my weekend, I got up at 5:30, waited patiently (making hats, of course) in a parking lot for the show that is Race Across Oregon (a 517-mile, nonstop bike race, if you didn’t know) to come through the tiny rafting mecca of Maupin, kissed my husband as he climbed off his bike at the end of a relay leg down cruel, demon-filled Bakeoven Road, leapfrogged his team on to Dufur and up FR44, and drove on to the finish line at the Cooper Spur ski area. An inspiring group of 4 riders and 4 crew, Koenig’s Kronies were the first to finish the race on the new route. Congratulations to them and every other competitor in the race!

    Weekends don’t get much better than this. I feel truly blessed by the good fortune that led to my perfect ride and by the family and friends who checked up on me during my travels.