Friday, May 22, 2009

Cheep Cheep...Ribbet...Croak!

The heart of randonneuring is the brevet. The essential brevets are the 200k (124 miles) with a 13 hours and 30 minute time limit, 300k (186 miles) in 20 hours, 400k (248 miles) in 27 hours, and 600k (372) in 40 hours.

So far I've completed two 200k brevets and one 300k brevet. Ride reports are a way to share our experiences. Here's mine from my most recent brevet:

Tri-Cities, WA 300k Brevet Ride Report
Sponsored by the Oregon Randonneurs
May 2, 2009

Cheep Cheep…Ribbit…Croak!

The weather forecasters gave us a 50% chance of rain, and they got it right. It rained about 50% of the time, or maybe 50% of the time that it rained, it rained really hard. In any event, the frogs were happy, and so was I.

It was my first 300k, and I was feeling pretty darn good at our start in Richland, WA. Even on the first climb, from Waitsburg to Walla Walla, WA I wasn’t put off by the metallic mint green Volkswagen Beetle pulling up right beside me. The passenger window rolled down and the driver peered out at me and asked with a grin: “Pretty long and steep, eh?” I simply took it as the Walla Walla translation of the French exhortation “Bon Courage!” because the roads were great, and the country was beautiful. Also, the route and logistics were smooth. Thanks Paul Whitney and Cathy Smith for your care and attention to detail.

My riding partner that day, John Vincent, and I chugged along from Walla Walla right into Milton-Freewater, OR, home to lots of happy frogs. Frogs are the town mascots, so outside the dentist’s office there is a goofy frog statue about the size of an old cigar store Indian. He’s holding a giant tooth. The Seven-Eleven has one, and he is holding…a Slurpee, of course. If there were a bicycle shop, that frog would be holding what? Fenders on a rainy day I hope! But alas, no froggie-fronted bicycle shop in Milton-Freewater.

It got tough as we headed up and out of Milton-Freewater skirting the foothills of the Blue Mountains. The course took us past the turnoff to Tollgate Pass—a road I’ve traveled often. The pastoral view from the road up to the pass is truly stunning, but John and I stayed on course and fought the boring (uninteresting) and boring (into our brains) headwinds instead. John posted our top speed at 7mph, and it was challenging bordering on dispiriting for lots of slogging miles until we dropped into Pendleton, OR.

The Pendleton Albertson’s grocery store was a randonneurs’ oasis. As we wheeled up, there was a barefooted rando drying his socks in the waning sunlight while others carbed up. All were happy the rain had passed--except that it hadn’t. The Umatilla River Canyon awaited, and I was eager to check it out, so after sloshing down our own carbs we saddled up.

Though sprinkles were in the air, the kind of rain we’d been through so far was holding off. The “Jackal was marrying the Crow” as we entered the canyon. My wife says that, which means in her home country of India that the sun shines brightly even as the rain comes down. About as likely as the Jackal marrying the crow! This usually precedes a clearing up, and so it did. We inhaled the soft, rich, canyon-in-the-evening fragrances: sage, wet grasses, the river, a skunk(!), and a familiar but unidentifiable pungent smell from cultivated fields. All fresh and damp. The canyon enchanted us.

And then the happy froggies that don’t hang out at storefronts started in: Cheep Cheep. Tree frogs? Cheep Cheep. We cycled past a huge white Pelican tucked into a bend of the Umatilla River. He was as surprised as us. Just then we all heard the train whistle of a downstream-headed freight train. By the time it caught up with us the train was fairly throwing itself down the canyon. I couldn’t help but pick up my pace as the roar and rattle pulled me with it till it was way down the canyon and out of our hearing.

In the aftermath of all that noise the Ribbits began. Here a Ribbit, there a Ribbit. Everywhere. As we came toward the very end of the canyon we discussed when to put our night gear on. John called his randonneuring, reflective sash his bandolier. It reminded me of the School Bus Patrol sash I had in elementary school when I was--Ahem!--Captain of the Bus Patrol. OK, at ease!

I at first thought he’d called it his "randolier", till I understood. I was thinking about how cute "randolier" was when I heard the first croak. Deep and resonant and drawn out: Crooaak! At that, swallows took their turns on the canyon’s evening breezes and we glided out of the canyon, onward to our moment of truth: Hermiston, OR.

In Hermiston it rained and blew and darkened so hard and so fast that we felt seriously endangered. Through my rain-obscured glasses I saw John pointing toward the Shari’s Restaurant, and we ducked in. Motel was murmured. Abandon was mulled. These were serious considerations over coffee. Patrons and wait staff marveled at our 185 mile journey as if we were superhuman. In that rain, they’d ask?

But that rain let up, and we pressed on. Other than commuting for a few minutes in the dark, I had never ridden for a sustained time in the real darkness before. Despite some heretofore-not-as-obvious nighttime equipment issues, I liked it. Most of our night riding was up a 12 mile long hill/plateau so we didn’t move fast, but I savored the lack of traffic—fewer than five cars the whole time—and the sense of peace. The rain once and for all let up, and knowing I’d likely complete my first 300k made for a satisfying nighttime end-of-brevet winding down.

The final descent back into Richland though was too fast in the dark for me. Downright scary. It was a big adrenalin exclamation point to a dramatic ride. We wheeled in to Cathy at the final control and as I bid goodnight/good morning to John at 1:30 am (19 ½ hours after we began) I knew three things: preparing for the 400k brevet was now embedded in my brain, nighttime riding can be lovely, and happy frogs make the world feel healthy and at peace. Ribbit.

Keep it cheepin'