Monday, September 28, 2009

Triple century in Hood's hood

Monday, 28 September

Since there’s snow above 4,000 in tomorrow's weather forecast, and temps tomorrow aren’t supposed to reach 60 down here at sea level, I’m pretty sure I’ve just had the year’s last weekend of glorious summer riding. And what a weekend it was!

Early Saturday morning I sent the hubby off on a 300K adventure with the Oregon Randonneurs. Then I drove to Mt. Hood Meadows and set out on my own adventure. It was cold up there!! And the first 8 miles or so were downhill. Too cold for bare skin! But next was 8 miles of steady climbing on FR 44, and very soon I was shedding more layers than I had pockets for. Because this is an empty road on a busy day, I was kinda worried about encountering bears foraging for winter hibernation at my early hour. Instead, I encountered woodcutters harvesting last winter’s blowdowns. For the top several miles of the climb, there was a chainsaw running about every quarter mile. No bears to be seen.

The temperature increased rapidly as I dropped down the 17-mile descent toward Dufur. Rolling along the valley into town, I felt a bee sting me just under the collar of my jersey. Ouch—and much flapping of clothing with one free hand. Satisfied the bug was gone, I kept pedaling. Two or three minutes later, it stung again, still under my jersey. This time I slammed on the brakes, dropped the bike, unzipped my jersey, and just about stripped off all my clothes in an attempt to get the thing away from me. End result (which I could not see at the time): 4 stings. Not much to do, though, besides keep on riding (and swearing a lot from the pain).

After Dufur comes the “gentle climb” of Dufur Gap Road. It is pretty, and the views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams at the top are wonderful, but it is a long grind. And no ROFers to chase this time. Then down to Tygh Valley, left on 216, and eventually to Maupin. Exactly as planned, my ride buddy was sitting in the city park, eating potato chips, and checking race results with his iPhone. I found some ice cream, and then we backtracked to Tygh Valley, following the route for his brevet. A two-mile climb brings you all the way up out of the river canyon and onto what I am told is officially named the Columbia River Plateau. From there it’s sort of false flat as you head west into the trees on the slopes of the Mt. Hood foothills and then it’s about 20 miles of real climbing (with a couple short descents) back up to Meadows. There was a consistent headwind for this whole section of the ride. I love hearing the wind in the trees above my head but am not so enamored by pedaling uphill into a headwind.

My total distance on Saturday was 122 miles, just shy of a metric double century. Three major climbs, plus two that were a couple miles long. Most of this was the big loop from Ring of Fire, but starting in the middle. It was noticeably different to have fresh legs for 44 and tired ones for 48, when usually it’s the other way around.

Sunday was a team ride, starting in Hood River. We headed east, through the “microwave” wild fire acreage, and to The Dalles. Looped around on Eight Mile, Emerson Cutoff, and Boyd Loop to get to Dufur. On Eight Mile, the hills are tight and close, almost claustrophobic, but from Boyd Loop you can practically see forever: orchards, vineyards, mountains, valleys, trees, farms. Then we went the opposite way over my Saturday route on FR 44, down to highway 35, but turned right to head back to Hood River. I managed to stay with the group until Dufur (5 flats on other bikes and a headwind gave me recovery and shelter) and then was on my own. My only other trip up 44 was on a cloudy day, and I had no idea there were so many luscious views of Hood all the way to the top. Just past the summit, I think I could pick out what is now the top of Mt. St. Helens above a nearby ridge. 101 miles for the day.

So 223 miles in two days, a double metric century and a regular "English" century. Not a cloud in the blue, blue skies. Warm enough to be summer, cool enough to ward off heat exhaustion. Wind but not gale force. Little critters (chipmunks, squirrels, pikas) but no bears. Riding on parts of courses from at least 11 races. Great ride company for parts of both days, and great hosts in between the riding. Priceless.

It’s going to be tough to transition to riding around Lake Washington on my rain bike.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ring of Fire / End of Season

Tuesday, 15 September

The Ring of Fire time trial is one of my favorite races, a superb finish to a season of racing, and a nice signal for the end of summer. This year I logged more long rides as training, and I thought I was as well prepared as I ever could be. I had been working on my “ultra” nutrition all summer, I took the time trial bike in the hope of getting in some faster miles on the flatter part of the course, I was rested for the event and ready to go. I was reasonably confident of beating the 193-mile women’s course record for the 12-hour race.

However. The nagging thought in the back of my mind through all of this was that weather had severely limited my racing all year. I skipped a bunch of early season races when it was 38 degrees and precipitating (rain, snow, whatever). The first stage at Cherry Blossom was abysmal because of Gorge winds, and the first day at a training camp in May was about the worst prolonged period I’ve ever had on a bike because of incredible winds. The last stage at the Elkhorn Classic was shortened by 80% because of cold precip. But July and August had been good (too good?), and I had done at least six rides in the mountains of 120 miles or more.

My start was at 7:23 a.m. Roughly the first 60 miles are mostly uphill as you climb through forest on the SE flank of Mt. Hood. The temperature and winds were perfect. I was surprised to be offered ice for my water bottles at the first two sag stops (whatever for?). Then a 20-mile descent down to the plateau of central Oregon brought a quick climb in temperature. A one-mile climb to the third sag stop (at about mile 90) convinced me that ice was a good thing, and I stuffed one jersey pocket with it (as well as my bottles). Gradual climbing continues relentlessly on Dufur Gap Road, where I still felt good. On the long descent from that summit, my speed went from 37 to 27 when I hit the headwind, which stayed with me for the next 5 miles of rollers. The heat and headwind combo sapped my energy, and the sun baked my brain, so that when I hit the flat stretch of 8 miles along the Deschutes River, I could muster no better than 18-20 mph with a substantial tailwind. I rolled into the start/finish to start my short (27-mile) laps, hoping to get the first two on the TT bike before tired legs would probably rebel at the unfriendly gearing.

The legs were not the problem. It was my head in the heat. Two miles up the first climb I knew I was going nowhere fast. I was only mildly dehydrated, which is a state I bear pretty well; this was just inability to bear the heat, which was registered by at least one rider at 97 degrees. I seriously contemplated getting off the bike for a rest (a nap was what I REALLY wanted), but (a) there was no shade and (b) I was afraid of rattlesnakes. So I kept pedaling. I have no technology on my TT bike, but I know my pace was very slow. Amazingly, however, nobody passed me in those 27 miles, which simply meant everyone else was suffering too. On the flat stretch of river road, I had so little strength, I could not go fast enough to ride in the aero bars. My power was probably at about 12 watts.

When I rolled into the start/finish after 139 miles, I told them I was done and got off the bike. There is air conditioning in the lodge, and I spent some time lying down inside, cooling off. Then came food and liquids. And then I could enjoy the general party atmosphere that dominates the parking lot around the finish line at this race. After about 2 hours, it occurred to me that I didn’t feel lousy any more and I could probably ride my bike. I still had 3/4 of an hour left in my 12, so I got back on the bike and put in 13 more miles. It was a beautiful time of day to ride: the sun was setting behind the Cascades, the temperature was in the 70s or low 80s, and Mt. Hood reigned supreme over the plateau. My legs still had lots of miles in them, even if my clock did not.

Your race here finishes wherever you are on the course 12 hours after your start. I happened to be at mile 13 on the 27-mile loop; backtracking involves a climb of at least 2 miles, so I chose to keep going “forward.” Within a mile, a car came in the opposite direction and the driver stopped and told me she had been sent out to pick me up. (The car had passed me dozens of times during the day, so I knew she was with the race.) My husband, who was attempting the 24-hour version of this race, was asking for me because his heat exhaustion and dehydration were so severe they were sending him to the hospital. 14 miles in the car under those circumstances seemed to take longer than they would have on the bike.

Hubby had been sick several times, been rescued by another rider’s crew, collapsed, and agreed that the hospital was the place for him. He had a support crew who would take him to The Dalles, which meant I didn’t have to sit in the ER with him in my sweaty exhausted dehydrated state. MCMC gave him 3 liters of fluid and sent him back to the race; there were 6 hours left in his 24 when he got back to Maupin, but he did not get back on the bike. I am so grateful to Mandy for retrieving me, Adrian (Adrienne?) for taking care of him, Ken for taking him to the hospital, and countless others for their genuine concern. I was clearly the bad wife, however, because other riders asked me for updates on his condition at least every 15 minutes. I have no cell coverage in Maupin and thus had no news, and his condition didn’t seem too complicated, but I guess I was supposed to be trying every means available to get updates from the ER (which is nigh impossible even when communications are good). Ironically, his recovery was faster than almost anyone else’s simply because those 3 liters went straight into his bloodstream while the rest of us had to wait for absorption into our systems.

The disappointment for both of us was huge. This had been one of our big goals for the season, a training focus for a long time, and a lot of thought had gone into our preparation. I am thankful of course that our hopes were dashed only by weather and that no one suffered long-term effects (a majority of racers were ill). But it doesn’t escape me that I planned, trained, and set goals specifically for this race—for naught. Sure, I am somewhat gratified that I felt really good on all the climbs, that my training worked, and that I really like my LandShark. Nothing hurt, I just had no energy.

Since the race failed to be a happy end-of-season benchmark, my recovery ride the next day included one big climb up from Maupin toward Grass Valley. There was virtually no traffic and nothing to limit the panoramic view at the top. Whenever I stopped to take pictures, I could hear nothing but birds and bugs and dead wildflowers rustling in the breeze. I could see some of the peaks I had “friended” this season: Hood, Jefferson, Washington. It was sweltering again, but I didn’t care. This was the end of my summer and reminded me how truly grateful I was for all the miles I put in this year. The camera could not capture the expanse and the simultaneous senses of freedom and desolation.

So for the end of my season I am left with disappointment but also the increased desire that comes from a sad result. But even more I am left with the peace and sanctuary that were so much a part of all my long rides in 2009.