Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fall City, Granite Falls, Falling in Love with Fall, Part 1

Fall is my favorite season. The leaves, the smell of salmon carcasses, ripe manure, spawning, briskness, clarity.

Until Winter. Then I'm a prisoner of snow, the smell of smoke from a woodstove, getting cozy, hot drinks.

Then Spring.... You get the idea. My stepson, the SingingCyclist, often asks which I like better: this or that. I'm just not a this or that guy. I love them all!

So right now, I'm infatuated with Fall. What follows is a two-part album of Fall pictures from my weekend Permanent: the SIR #0850 UW-Granite Falls-Fall City Permanent.

A barn I happened upon.

And the horses that called this barn home.

See ya next time, pals.

Above is a sign by local police calling out why the liquor privatization initiatives in Washington State (I-1100 & I-1105) are bad news. They will cut local law enforcement by stripping millions in revenues from local communities even while they increase access to hard liquor from 315 outlets to over 3300. Bad news, indeed.

UPDATE: Initiatives 1100 and 1105 did fail. For randos, that means that in Washington State, car drivers can't buy hard liquor at a convenience store until 2am and drive on down the road after the bars close and we're out there with our faithful blinkies in the dark. A small but real consolation. Hard liquor can still be bought in State Stores that close much earlier and do a proven much better job at not selling alcohol to minors. For full disclosure, I worked hard in my day job to help defeat these initiatives. Yippee, we won!

Now that is not to say this randonneur doesn't like his post-brevet drink. Deed I do! A little Scotch can be just right!

Not everyone agrees with the way I look at things though, and this ring-nosed bull got a little irritated as I focused in on him.

Here, he's pawing the ground and feigning coming toward me.

But I backed him down with my heart forward approach, and we became friends.

Like many Fall days, this day had many moods. Here is my bicycle just after crossing the Skykomish River near Monroe. The Sun was out, the sky had blue patches, and my bicycle fairly shone. But that was just one moment.

In Part 2, we'll discern this coming Winter's weather with the help of one of our critter pals, and we'll also see whether another critter pal is in contention for a world record.

Keep it Falling,


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Heart Forward Bicycling

This photo is from the Yoga Flavored Life blog.
My Physical Therapist has helped me a great deal on this randonneuring journey of mine. As I have pushed my body, mind and spirit farther and wider than anticipated, I have found that physical therapy has helped me learn about my body, mind and spirit. I am way more tuned in than before. Even my daily posture has improved! Well, sometimes.

I've got all kinds of exercises she's recommended for this or that ailment: Achilles, shins, back, knees, neck, other assorted body joints and parts.

But one piece of advice I really like and that applies every time I saddle up is the heart forward suggestion. It isn't a pose like the one above exactly, though that pic captures the feeling. The idea is that when I mount the bicycle I am to lower my torso toward the top tube further than I will when riding in the drops. Then gradually ease up into the riding position instead of starting up and coming down into it. And, importantly, I am to embody a heart forward posture of peeling my heart away from my backbone. It is a gentler alternative to arching my back, and I find myself relaxing into heart forward, not pushing into it.

It's also good later in the ride, when I might be tensed up, shoulders up to my ears and such. By adopting heart forward in my mind, spirit, body, I loosen up.

And most of all, if my neck is sore and I adopt a heart forward posture, my neck pain disipates. I can be down in the drops and pained in my neck if I'm not heart forward, and voila!: with heart forward my neck is all good. Try it.

Looking down the road from a dropped position with my heart forward doesn't strain my neck. Looking down the road from that same dropped position but with a sunken back does strain my neck. I'm repeatedly amazed at how well heart forward works, but it does.

And you knew this was coming: I love the way the two words capture the journey I'm about to begin as I saddle up: heart forward!

Keep it forward,


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Boy, Could I have used Cyclo-Mower!

Growing up, one of my chores was cutting the grass, and we had a big yard. I mostly used a push mower because even then I eschewed power tools when possible. My older brother had already got me leaning in that direction as we had every issue (from literally Volume 1, Number 1) of the Mother Earth News.

Also, we didn't have our own mower, and I hated the feeling that the power mower that we borrowed was going to break down on me because usually did. Truth is I eschewed power tools out of both my Mother Earthiness and my Power Tool Phobia.

When I spied this custom cycle just out of Walla Walla, I just had to capture it. It would have made grass cutting so much fun! Well, sort of.

I would have stopped to see whether I could buy this sucker, but Dartre wasn't thrilled as it was with my stopping to capture it photographically. Maybe if I plied her with Mother Earth News for a few years she'd make the connection?

Keep it sharpened!


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Now That's a Thoughtful Cycling Partner!

No, this dashing woman isn't my cycling partner, though she looks like she'd be a fun one, yes?
DartreDame, my wife, left me a lovely voicemail this past week that I listened to after I rolled out of bed pretty late. I've been dueling with this sinus infection, and feeling kind of poorly. The message said to check out the middle of the NY Times main section for a story about a bike race in Italy: the Eroica.

As you can read for yourself, the Eroica is an annual ride of stunning vintage bicycles on beautiful Italian lanes. Folks dress in period attire, and eat and drink their way across another space and time with one leg still in our space and time.

What a fabulous idea!

To top it off, Dartre suggested that one day, perhaps on our Italian honeymoon, we too could go and watch...or participate. Bravissimo!! Dartre is one thoughtful cycling partner!!! I guess that front handlebar bag must have really been a hit!

Maybe there is hope of my finagling a vintage high wheeler for my 60th birthday, though our Italy trip will be long before that, Dartre I promise. But let's see, would Dartre look better in a flapper era skirt or a Victorian dress? And, I've always wanted to wear one of those dapper....

In case you go and you'd like a primer on Italian language--hand language that is, the language that counts in Italy--then check out this video of common Italian gestures . Mom, this video contains bad words so I wouldn't go there!

Just thinking about Italy reminds me of the family that owned the little general store and bakery next door to the house where I grew up. Jim and Lena's store at Pierce's corner. Jimmy was from Macedonia I believe. Lena was Italian, and oh how our house lit up when she came over. Loud, and expressive, and fun!

The current Jim and Lena's Market at 417 Wall Avenue in Pitcairn, PA is operated by their son, Dennis. A little older than I, Dennis would cream me on the football field, which is to say our back yard.

That little blue squiggle joining Turtle Creek is Dirty Camp Run, the crick we all grew up in and around. I posted earlier about Dirty Camp Run in a post titled: Prolonged sex, lightning bugs, crick fishing, and...oh yeah, randonneuring.

But we had to keep quiet some summer days because Jimmy would sleep in a hammock out behind the crick since he stayed up all night baking his glorious yummies.

So, imagine loud and expressive and fun on vintage bicycles in heartbreakingly beautiful settings with good Italian food and drink. Heaven on earth. Let's go, Dartre (after France of course). Salud!!

Keep it high and old,


Thursday, October 7, 2010

I just discovered Cycling Podcasts

I got a new phone, which meant I got apps, which meant I got podcasts, which naturally meant I got into the cycling podcasts. The first podcast I found, on T-Chatter shown above, was a podcast featuring Jan Heine on what makes a comfortable bicycle. If you follow Jan's work, there isn't anything startlingly new, but it is good to hear his voice rather than just reading. He also describes some of his tire inflation recommendations more fully. I highly recommend it. And don't forget my interviews with Jan, if you haven't read those transcripts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Georgena Terry, the host of T-Chatter, is a knowledgeable cyclist and good interviewer. She also hints that she will do another future podcast on Jan's concept of planing, which has been an elusive idea for many. I look forward to that one!

Next, I found FredCast, hosted by David Bernstein, pictured blurrily below.

FredCasts are wide ranging, but all about cycling. And if you haven't been following FredCasts yet, good for you! You have at least 167 episodes to catch up on before you become current! Lots of cycling talk.

I am now a big podcast fan. Earlier, I was wondering: what's the bid deal with podcasts? I have always liked stories, listening to stories, and hearing inflections and nuances that you just don't get in the written word.

Check them out. And if you find some you think are particularly good, please don't bogart that podcast. Pass it along!

Keep it alive,


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Handlebar Bag...without a front rack

Dartre's ride with her new Gilles Berthoud handlebar bag.
Dartre's birthday came rolling around so I crafted a way for her to carry more when we go out riding. No, just kidding. I did get her this new Gilles Berthoud Model 192 bag, but I used it as camouflage to be the box for a little something that I knew she'd really like for her birthday.
Nonetheless, the GB bag was also a hit. And why not? Check this out.
If you'd like a place to put your cue sheet, but don't have a front rack on your carbon fork, then here you go. Additionally, if you'd like to carry a few light items up front, have a zippered pocket, and a bag you can easily remove and carry like a purse with its strap, then this is it.
It uses the Gilles Berthoud Klick Fix mounting system so the bag swings off very easily yet is most securely fastened when mounted.

For a more thorough review, check out this description from the Rene Herse Bicycles website (you'll have to scroll down the page). I don't like promoting commercial items, but here I make an exception. If you want that handlebar bag with all its advantages but aren't ready for a full on conversion to a front loaded bicycle, then this might suit you just fine.

 For other posts about handlebar bags, check out:

Keep it up front,

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My Quest for the 600k: I get by with a little help from my friends!

You don't know about me, without you have read a blog post by the name of My Quest for the 600k: DNF, but that ain't no matter. That post was made by CurioRando, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied, one time or another...

OK, I just stole from Mark Twain there as he begins Huckleberry Finn and asks his reader to check in first with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I remember reading Tom Sawyer and just soaking up all that adventuring and adventuresome spirit. It may be, in fact, Tom's and Huck's fault that I've become a rando. Every brevet departure after all is just another excuse for adventure-seeking around 200k, 300k, 400k or 600k worth of corners.

But what I'm really trying to say here is that to understand this post about my first successful bid for a 600k medal and therefore a Super Randonneur medal, I implore you, dear reader, to check out my previous post about my unsuccessful attempt.

The other thing to understand about me is that I live in a beautiful part of our world, the great Northwest corner of the United States. Rain forest, Puget Sound, famous Steelhead Trout streams, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Saint Helens, Salmon, Seattle.... I count myself very privileged to live where I do.

But I am a mossback. I miss the Sun; I miss the sandy beaches, and oh when I landed at the San Jose Norm Mineta Airport for the Surf City 600k hosted by the Santa Cruz Randonnuers, did it feel good! It was 94 degrees Fahrenheit that Friday and as the Sun soaked into my tender Northwest skin the world was looking brighter already.

I had struggled with intestinal flu the week leading up to the brevet and had to take two sick days. I hadn't been very upbeat about this 600k because I didn't feel at all like I was starting with all my tanks full up. Nonetheless, I was determined, and when my motel room wasn't yet ready I walked the two blocks to the beach and ripped off my shoes, socks and shirt and frolicked in the waves with everybody else: lovers, junior high boys and girls from out of town coming for a track meet, couples with young toddlers, seniors...and lots of sea lions.

After my little romp I went back to the motel and put my bike back together since I had to pack it for the flight down. All was good with the bike and a little ride around the neighborhood confirmed she was ready. I, however, still didn't feel 100%, and the choice of a cheaper motel room led to a really poor night's sleep. Lesson logged.

By next morning, the pre-brevet excitement had set in, and I was the second to arrive at the start. Bill Bryant, Brevet Organizer and randonneuring godfather pictured below, greeted us riders. I have this picture because a thoughtful fellow rando, Joe, offered to take a photo of Bill and me together. I didn't know it then, but I would get to know Joe over the next day or so. This was a hint at Joe's thoughtfulness and generosity to come.

The Sun came up as we headed North from our start at the Lighthouse and Surfing Museum in Santa Cruz. I found myself in the company of Joe and Doug. Both Joe and Doug were Googlers, they said, meaning they worked at Google. They are planning a trip to Florida for the 1000k there in October so they were riding together, and I kind of tagged along.

Some of the time I felt their cruising speed was a little too fast for me, but I hung on whether they were eager for my company or not, and eventually we became a trio. Soon, after reaching the Northernmost point at Moss Beach we headed into the hills, Redwoods, and heat.

Skylonda was at the top of one of the tough climbs, and what a wild place it is. A bikers' oasis. Both motorcycles and bicycles. There seemed to be three crowds: grizzled Harley riders, sleek Japanese racebike riders (many of them extremely dangerous in their riding style whipping downhill at ungodly speeds), and us cyclists. But I'm talking by the dozens in each camp.

Below is a photo of Doug, Joe's pal, as we entered the Redwood country.

Here, in one of the shadier patches, Joe leads Doug and me up a climb. Looking at the photo I can almost smell the heated wood and the dry but salty air.

After a while we headed back into Santa Cruz along the coast again, and said goodbye to daylight and the ocean as we headed for the Salinas Valley. Throughout all this time Joe and Doug were very helpful in describing what we were about to get into, the terrain, the weather--all very welcoming to this stranger from up North.

As you can read from Joe's jersey, he had a great deal of experience in California long distance cycling.

Through the night, I picked up a few tips about night riding. Joe advocated caffeine tablets bit in half, chewed slightly, and then tucked under the tongue. I found this way superior to taking whole tablets, and I think I ended up taking five half tablets altogether. For a while, Doug suffered with staying awake, and we all seemed to take turns as to who felt worst at any given time.

We also discovered to our dismay, that the kilometers didn't roll along as we'd hoped after what we thought was the worst of the climbing. We figured, wrongly, that after we slew the hill country in the North that we'd churn up the kilometers and we fairly fantasized about where and when and for how long we'd sleep.

Bill Bryant had been very clear in his pre-ride report that it was crucial to leave the Southern end of the Salinas Valley early in the morning so we could return back toward Santa Cruz without fighting the dreaded, infamous and unfortunately highly predicable Northwest winds. These winds come off the shore and hustle down the Salinas Valley like clockwork: between 10am and Midnight, every day. Doug explained that the Salinas Valley is perfectly aligned along a Northwest-Southeast axis and forms the perfect wind tunnel effect.

So, now in the dead of the night (though with a fabulous full moon), we re-calculated and discovered that we really had little to no time for sleep if we were going to head Northwest back to Santa Cruz before the winds started to howl. Hmmm.

At his point, Joe also did an additional mental calculation. He knew he'd be doing the very, very flat Florida 1000k in three weeks and he also knew he doesn't do well without sleep. The conclusion he reached--and not in the brain and body-fatigued way in which I had DNF'd in my previous attempt--that he was better off marshaling his resources for the 1000k. And so he announced to Doug and me that at the turnaround controle in San Ardo, he would stop.

Now this unnerved me. Joe had become the veteran--he regaled Doug and me in many a PBP tale--the guy I was looking to help us make it through. If Joe wasn't going to finish, what did it say about my chances. Ugh. Rumblings of my previous DNF started to roll through my psyche.

And then the Sun came up, and things took on a new cast. We rolled into the San Ardo controle, and it looked like a war zone. Other randos were sitting on do I say this? various forms of stupors. Some had given up keeping their eyes open and another had opened eyes, but clearing nobody was home. Wow!

I immediately started to pepper Bill Bryant with questions. For the uninitiated, I was downplaying it when I referred to Bill as a randonneuring godfather. He first went to PBP in 1983. He is past president of Randonneurs USA, and was one of the founding members. And what I found most of all, was that Bill was patient, abiding, and a rock.

He met each of my panicked questions with the assurance of having been there before. He didn't shrink from once again noting the power of those Northwest winds, but he didn't get all freakazoid about it. But because he saw those winds as a force to be reckoned with even in his understated way, I listened. I also met Lois Springsteen, our current RUSA president there. She had started the brevet as a rider but was not well when she started and came to think better of staying with it. So, she too was a volunteer at that war zone of a controle.

As an aside, Lois and Bill are married and when I deposited my drop bag at their house the night before the brevet began I spied their truck with California license plates that said: "RUSA 7 (heart) 8". Bill is RUSA member #7 and Lois is RUSA member #8. Very sweet.

What I finally came to terms with was the fact that I was not going to sleep until I was done, and that making it was very far from certain. I also learned we weren't bringing up the back of the pack as I had assumed. Others came in after we did. So what did I do?

Well, Joe graciously offered Doug and me any goodies we wanted out of his drop bag. I raided it like a pirate, and swiped all his Shot Bloks. In answering one of my barrage of questions, Bill suggested ingesting as many calories as possible as a finishing strategy. Joe's $20 worth of Shot Bloks equaled calories, so I grabbed them like a madman.

I also ate the best Cup Noodles in the history of the planet (prepared by Bill), changed into clean shorts and jersey, and re-lubricated my Southern parts for the Northbound push. Doug and I said goodbye to our riding partner thus far, Joe, and off we went.

Doug in the morning.

The great and surprising part was that the wind wasn't blowing yet. Doug and I fairly scooted Northward for a while. And then it got really hot, and the wind truly lived up to its reputation. Dammit. Doug and I thought we had beat it.

The Salinas Valley is agriculture. Fields, and more fields. Beautiful, but super windy when it's windy.

And now, the moment of truth. Doug and I tried drafting off one another, but we ended up going too fast and burned out quickly. We never seemed to make a dent in the remaining kilometers to go; we just grew hotter and more tired and more disspirited.

Struggling, we happened upon two riders, Bob and Steve, sitting under the shade of a tree. They hailed us and asked if we wanted to form up into a group. Even in that shade, it was just plain hot. Eventually, we got up and tried that pacelining. Then two more randos fell in, and we had a train. But try as Bob might, and he was very skilled and generous in trying to keep the tempo down to match Doug's and my abilities at that moment, it just burned us out. Thanks, Bob, for all your generosity of spirit trying to keep us hanging in there!

Bob recognized what I didn't--that Doug needed to cool down, just physically cool down--and he recommended going up to a winery building seeking out a hose. At this point Doug didn't seem to hear much about cooling down, but talked more of quitting and calling his wife to pick him up. Our little peleton started to ride away without Doug, and I balked. Should I hang with Doug, hunt down a hose (which frankly seemed like more work than it was worth--a sure indication of my own heat struggle) or grab onto the biker train that was pulling away.

Doug, at this point all I can say is I'm sorry I didn't stay with you. The trigger for me was your saying you were calling your wife. Given my experience in my previous 600k attempt, I felt that meant only one thing: that you were done. So I got on my bike and jumped on that rando train through the wind. I'm sorry I didn't hang a little longer to check in with you in a bit more civilized fashion. I felt like if I didn't keep going I'd poop out, but I should have stopped, taken stock with you, and then figured out the right next steps.

Well, looks can indeed by deceiving. Not only did Doug rally and cruise past me as I was shoving ice cream down my throat at a gas station down the road, but Doug finished well ahead of me. And those Zombie-like randos at the controle also all made it in, I believe. In Doug's case, he found a sprinkler, cooled down and rode like a man possessed, near as I can tell. And like me, this was Doug's first 600k. Congrats to you, Doug!

Back on the rando train, I quickly found I just couldn't hang on despite their trying to keep it moderate for me. So I bailed. But I also brought in my secret weapon, the very one I was saving for just such a windy circumstance. I put on headphones and turned on Dartre's iPod and listened to the rando playlist that my stepson, the Singing Cyclist, put together for me. Whether it was Lucinda Williams drawling "Everything is Wrong" or Joss Stone grabbing the blues I was transported. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I was determined this time that no matter what, I was not going to quit until it was physically impossible for any rider, not just me, to make it in on time. I would suffer the wind, I would drive into it, I would crawl if I had to, but I was not quitting, and the music somehow made that possible.

And so I pushed forward. Pretty soon I came upon a couple of other paceline refugees, but I didn't really care at that point if I rode with them or not. I wiped away my tears so they wouldn't see them and just pushed. They rode along behind, and together we rolled into the penultimate controle and the end of the Northwesterly howling wind, with just 40 miles of uncertain conditions left to go.

After this controle (this is the controle, both inbound and outbound, where I discovered hard boiled eggs, string cheese, yogurt and apples as convenience store alternative energy "real food") we three--Marti, yet another rando named Steve and I--formed a new posse and I realized as the wind finally diminished that finishing was a very real possibility. In fact, we even had tailwinds as we skirted around Monterrey Bay, as Bill said we might. It was also Marti's first 600k though he seemed strong as an ox riding home. Congrats to you, Marti!

When we got to the finish at Bill and Lois' house, I was elated. I had made it, and I knew it was because a great many folks helped me through. I simply could not have done it without each and every one. The ride was remarkably well organized with SAG support almost the entire time. Thank you to Bill and Lois and all the encouraging volunteers, and all the riders who helped in a variety of ways! I am indebted to each and all.

Steve's wild "perpetual motion cycle". He didn't have this hooked up for the brevet, but he stores the energy from a descent to assist him in the following climb with this wheel-within-a-wheel device. He pledged to send me a description, and when he does it gets its own post.

Marti, my other finish companion, rode in on a bamboo Calfee.

I also learned that 14 of the 35 starters didn't finish so we lost 40%. I got a great congratulatory note from a veteran of that route who though he finished this one remarked how challenging the weather was this time. To all who didn't finish, I can honestly say I now know something about what that feels like. Every experience is different, but I certainly get how low it can feel. Thanks for being out there. As you well know, there are plenty of new opportunities down the road.

Here I am on the second morning captured by one of our dedicated SAG drivers.

So what did I learn?

Here's a few lessons from this 600k newbie:

  • Getting mad can work.

  • Eating is crucial, and the growly stomach that is overwrought due to heat is different from the hungry growly stomach.

  • I can do 600k without sleep if I must.

  • There are a few "real food" alternatives at convenience stores.

  • Don't just keep adding powdered Perpetuem to a slush of old Perpetuem; after a day or so you are creating a sour stew. Start over with clean water and new powder.

  • Navigating at night is tricky; be patient, and check your assumptions. Then check them again.

  • Pay attention to the pre-ride report: wind probably means wind.

  • Don't linger at controles. Thought I'd learned this one, but I do better, then slip again.

  • Listen to your body. Trust it; trust yourself. I felt a back pain coming on hard, adjusted my saddle and fixed it!

  • Starting a brevet with less than optimum health/sleep can be OK if I'm strong in a long-term way.

  • It's so much a mental, spiritual endeavor once the physical capacity is there.

  • When to hang with others, when to part ways is still a tricky call. Panic probably indicates it's time to take stock. Each case is different, but respect for others, respect for self are keys.

  • Once I've done any distance, it no longer feels impossible. There must be a lesson embedded there for the distances as yet untried.

  • Music, as always, is transformative.

  • Huck and Tom were right. One couldn't have better role models.

I did it!!! My first 600k and first Super Randonneur. I am one happy randonneur. Now, which way to the Beach?

Oops, I forgot. As I was taking my bike bag and luggage out of our truck after Dartre picked me up at the Seattle airport, guess who wheels by our house? Our neighbor, Dylan, had just finished his Permanent, and I congratulated him as he congratulated me. Dylan did the SIR 600k much earlier. With Dartre and Dylan, we may have the highest per capita randonneurs per block in the country!

Dylan on his 200k finish as we arrived home.

Keep it going, no matter what,


Friday, October 1, 2010

My Quest for the 600k: DNF

The Willamette Headwaters 600k Brevet


DNF, for the uninitiated, means Did Not Finish, and it is the designation a randonneur earns, in place of a finish time, when one quits before finishing a brevet in the allotted time.

Before I go further I want to thank all the organizers, especially Michael Wolfe, for a super scenic route, outrageous organization and a spectacular spirit. A brevet depends on all three, but the spirit counts for much. This brevet really deserves pics, so I'll post some links to others' pics so you get a sense of how beautiful this route really is. Michael, I know the logistics involved were really, really intense. Thanks so much for your contribution to our sport and to all of us who participated!

For the sake of getting all that's in my head and heart down onto this page, I'm going to organize into categories of Facts, Feelings, and Shifts.

One last prefatory remark: it's easy to quickly get drawn into the drama of long rides, the elation, the disappointment, the deep lessons learned--and I'm confident I'll go there--but really this is only about riding a bike. It's not about the real hardships that ordinary people overcome in everyday life and certainly not about the unfathomable hardships that extraordinary people overcome in their everyday lives. It's just making wheels go around.


  • This was my first attempt at a 600k, the longest distance I'd yet attempted.

  • At over 20,000 feet of climbing, this was by far the most elevation I'd ever taken on.

  • I rode fast for the first 100k and 200k--my fastest ever 200k in fact--by hanging onto better riders and to help bank time for the climbs to come when I'd surely slow.

  • As I rode with the fast pack, it became known that several of us (four?) were attempting our first 600k. One veteran rider exclaimed, "Your doing your first 600k on this route (thinking of all the elevation gain)? That's ballsy!".

  • We rode on the Row River Trail which is built on an old railroad grade which was the location for Buster Keaton's The General. If you read the Wiki description closely, there is a scene in the movie where Buster's character chases The General, which is a train, while riding a boneshaker, an early bicycle.

  • I rode with one, then two, great new pals who helped me through some tough climbs and nightness.

  • I forsook my "success plan" by having dinner with my two pals at a table outside a restaurant at a wine and beer tasting festival after an intense and long forest service road descent. My "success plan" calls for no solid food stops, just powdered Perpetuem, but I decided that having companions for the upcoming nighttime climb was worth the change of plans.

  • I arrived at a secret controle with my pals and had soup and hot chocolate and great gladness in the middle of the night--all staffed by a hardy volunteer and his pickup truck of many wonders, Michael Rasmussen.

  • I arrived at the overnight controle with about an hour and forty-five minutes left before the time limit.

  • I got about 40 minutes of sleep at the overnight. Yes, it was hard to get up.

  • The overnight volunteers were angels. No brag, just fact. I'm sorry I don't recall their names, but it was like being at a high brow bed and breakfast! Thanks, volunteers!

  • Waiting for my companions to depart by indulging in breakfast and such (Keven decided then that due to knee pain and fear of injury that he was abandoning), I spied Peg Winczewski departing. Peg is as good an anchor as one could want and had arrived at the controle with us. I watched Peg depart with her customary earnestness. Watching her depart, it occurred to me that perhaps I should be getting a move on too, but I didn't exactly.

  • I left the overnight controle about an hour and twenty minutes after the time limit (maybe an hour after Peg?) with my one remaining pal, Ted.

  • On the big climb out of that valley, Ted encouraged me to ride on ahead. I declined at first, then I reluctantly did just that.

  • Our route had been modified due to forest fire smoke.

  • I arrived at the next controle thirty minutes past the time limit.

  • When I called to convey that I was going to DNF, Michael Wolfe told me he'd wave my missing the controle deadline because he'd intended it to be only an information controle anyway because the forest fire course change had pinched his own time to fully reorganize.

  • I told him that despite his generosity, I was spent. I was going to DNF. I also learned then that Ted had already DNF'd earlier.

  • It was 455 kilometers into the ride, and most of the climbing was past with just one major ascent remaining.

  • I hitchhiked back to the start by the kindness of two strangers, each a gem in their own respect.

  • As I got back to the start I saw the faster riders finishing up their rides.

  • I got into my truck, drove to the Interstate, took a nap before getting on the Interstate, then drove back to Seattle.


It was a rush to hang on to the faster riders' wheels for a while. I knew I was burning my candle quickly, but this was offset by the time cushion I was building up. There really wasn't an alternative, so I rushed forward probably using up some energy stores but also making it possible to stay in the hunt. This felt right, and exhilarating.

The climbs were tough, and long. We walked up some, which I'd recently discovered has a quickly restorative effect when your legs are tired. Looking back, I may have walked a little overly much. Then again, I was tired. I didn't ingest caffeine as night wore on because I was afraid--now this seems silly--that I wouldn't be able to sleep at the overnight if I were caffeined up.

Walking is a quick restorative; don't let your pride deny your legs a helpful treat!

Hooking up with Ted was a relief. I knew I was at the back, and I don't mind the solitude, but I was glad to feel like I was in with at least one other who was still in the hunt. We talked of many things, and you really can get to know someone pretty well on a bike in the wilderness, in the dark, when you're hurting and going through your respective phases, and it's just you and him. Ted's a really good person.

 Later, we hooked up with a rider I had nicknamed "Stripey" from afar. This was because his striped stockings were distinctive, and it was a moniker that Ted recognized. Our touchstone for that other guy who was also hanging onto the back was thus: Stripey. And then as Ted and I were wrestling with a navigational decision (Ted had a day-old Garmin that he barely knew how to utilize it was so new, and I wasn't much use), along comes Stripey. Well it turned out Stripey had a name. He was Keven from Vancouver, BC, and he too was a great companion though I didn't get to know him quite as well since we didn't hang together as much. Now we fairly constituted a pack.

One thing that Ted and Keven had in common was that they were fearless descenders compared to me. I was amazed at how they'd whip around blind corners while I had to make certain nobody was coming the other way. This was despite the fact that we saw exactly one car over the hours that comprised the whole ascent and descent. I really felt compromised by my poor descending and while they waited for me when necessary, I realized I have much to learn and practice in this regard.

It was on one of these long descents that I convinced myself that when I hit a bump that my phone had popped out of my bag. I heard something, but didn't give it much notice. Later, not finding my phone, I assumed it was the casualty. Turns out all that was just my foggy brain not finding my phone and leaping to conclusions.
After the descent we rolled into the Oakridge Keg and Cask Festival. Oakridge, it seems is literally surrounded by forest service land. We were quite the spectacle for that crowd and everyone wanted to chat about our endeavor, our route, our bicycles. This is where I made that choice to stay and have dinner with Keven and Ted. It seemed to make sense to stay with them then, but now I can see that it wasn't necessarily such a good idea. It was really both a good idea for keeping company, but at the same time a great risk. Still hard to decide what I'd do in the same situation again.

One thing is certain: I relaxed. I ate at a table like a human being, with a napkin and silverware. While it felt good to rest and I'm certain that was a restorative, I now see that I also altered my sense of urgency here. As long as I was with others I reasoned, I was OK. Looking back, I'd backed myself into a fog of unexamined assuredness. Of course, we did eat at a restaurant called The Brewers Union Local 180, so I further rationalized my stopping due to the labor reference, my being a labor guy and all.

After the next big climb through several hours of nighttime, the overnight controle became our next benchmark, I began to dig in again. I wanted to get there, and two other riders who it turned out were indeed behind us, Peg and Jeff, joined our troupe and I led us in to the controle with determination.

The controle was an oasis. People cooking us spaghetti, being ushered to luxury cabins for a little sleep, a warm shower. Ahhhh. This is where I made some further poor decisions. I ate spaghetti--Yum and thanks volunteers!--and after my 40 minutes (40 winks?), I ate Raisin Bran like it was breakfast time even though it was only an hour after I ate my Spaghetti. I lingered. I soaked in the warmth. I organized my bike bag. Put on new shorts and a clean jersey. I watched Peg leave with her earnestness. I reflected, but most of all, I didn't depart like a man on a mission.

When I did leave it was well over an hour AFTER the controle officially closed putting me well over an hour in the hole timewise. And on the climb up McKenzie Pass when I finally left Ted behind, I was alone with my thoughts, my suffering, my feeling sorry for myself.

Lava Fields atop the McKenzie Pass climb.

And then it dawned me during the ensuing descent that I wasn't going to make the next, and penultimate, controle on time no matter how hard I pedaled into the wind. By the time I wheeled into that controle and the store clerk wrote my time on my brevet card, I was a full 30 minutes in the hole. Even though I thought that maybe Michael the Brevet Organizer might forgive this, I made up my mind--my hungry, overheated, unrested, kind of pissy mind--that since I was late...I was done. I have DNF'd.

Dead Vulture: Good omen cause it's dead, or...
 But instead of calling Michael immediately to talk it over, check out my options or eat a little, rest a little, think things through a little, I impetuously called DartreDame, my wife, and told her I was spent, I was done. We talked it over, I rationalized, and then I felt a mixture of relief and collapse settle in. I was done. Dartre, for her part, did everything as a partner ought to. She checked in and offered up what staying in meant. Didn't encourage me to quit. But it can be a tough spot, right? You don't want them to encourage you to quit but you want them to be there for you. Perhaps because she too has DNF'd (on a Permanent) and finished strong as well, she understands very well.

So then, by the time I called Michael, my soul had said "No mas", and Michael's noble attempts to re-engage me were of no use; I had shut down.

Now this was followed by a bit of a high. Suddenly, I was no longer experiencing the tension of time stress or the worry of can I make it up this "one more climb?". I hitchhiked back to the start, maybe 50 miles or more with my bike, and did so by virtue of two angels. And now I had entered into a realm of adventure I've been accustomed to for years: hitchhiking, adventuring, but without time constraints, a poor man's touring. This was familiar terrain from long ago.

The first driver that stopped was a fabulous woman driving a van. The van was for her husband whose disability confined him to a wheelchair. My bike rode next to his chair in the back as I sat in front with her, and they regaled me of some of their life's stories. Her daughter and friend followed in a car behind us. Wonderful folks, our little caravan, and oh how they admired my riding all that distance. And I relaxed and soaked it in, but with a niggling in the back of my head that said: "quitter!".

The next driver was a really unique guy who I stereotyped quickly as a redneck as I slung my bike onto the bed of his pickup. And he was. He was a cowboy for real. He tended cattle up by the coast. But he was plenty else. Former army long distance runner, now a newbie mountain biker. He was a dad. An entrepreneur. He was a character. He was a real appreciator of what I was doing, this randonneuring. He ended up taking me about 20 - 30 miles out of his way and dismissed it as easily as that. He was happy to, he said, and that was right: he was happy to. I don't know what it is but there are times you just connect with total strangers in ways that feel more real than many of the relationships you have with folks you know and have worked with for years. Kind of like striking up a conversation with a seatmate on a plane, and instantly finding common ground in a suddenly deep way as both of you know you'll never see one another again. There is that intimacy of the temporarily corralled strangers.

So, there I am then, relaxed, sleepy, starting to regret a little, but now back outside the motel where we started the morning before. I grabbed my drop bag and bumped into Ted. We shared our DNF camaraderie, a few words of "next time", and I skulked off to my truck.

When I got home at last, I drove straight to meet my family at our good friends' house; they had visiting family from India and I broke another vow: I ate several bowlsful of ice cream and several Indian sweets (no sweets better than Indian milk sweets!) whilst being congratulated and cheered for going farther and higher than ever before. For them, DNF was a mere detail lost in a tale of unimaginable proportions. So what, you rode so far and so high!

DartreDame laughingly chided me for the fact that I had one sock on/one sock off, but they gave me much love and encouragement. In my mind, I was a quitter. In their minds, I had achieved more than I ever had previously, which was true too. Obviously, I was back in the arms of my homefolk.


Gradually, as I told folks of my latest adventure and explained why I'd quit, I couldn't quite conjure up the real reason. Was I completely physically exhausted? If I answered really and truly In fact, once I started hitchhiking home I felt physically pretty good.

I started to shift into regret. I could have kept going. Even if I didn't finish on time, at least I should have kept going. What was it that made it feel impossible to go back on the bike for that last big climb? I had done much more than that already. There's even a term for finishing a brevet, but past the time limits: hors delai. It is a respected status because it shows one didn't quit even though the clock had run out. I'd never even given that option a second thought. I dismissed it before it had a chance to alight onto my brain, because I'd shut down. A handy excuse was that I had an important work meeting Monday morning so as long as I had quit, why not just get home ASAP? And so I did.

Shift #1

Then I read Dr. Codfish's column in the Fall, 2010 American Randonneur, the official publication of Randonneurs USA. Dr. Codfish, or Paul Johnson, writes the blog, The Dr. Codfish Chronicles, and it is filled with sage rando advice. This particular column, titled Reaching the finish line...the endurance mind, is about finishing. He writes about the obvious: visualization, preparation, having a contingency plan. But he also writes about the not-so-obvious: feeding your head, making your own rules, the power of having experienced looking into the void. But, most of all, Dr. Codfish explicitly advises never to decide to quit until AFTER you've eaten a little, drunk a little, napped or rested a little, and made a bargain to continue on just a little longer. Then decide.

Reading those words just hours after my decision to DNF, I felt small. Why hadn't I just tried...a little?

Well, I eventually decided three things about this when to quit idea. First, being honest with myself, I quit too soon. Ouch! Second, so I did, that's good to admit, but it doesn't define me as a quitter or anything else. It was one decision among many. I wish now I hadn't done it, but it couldn't be undone. Just let it be the reality, but not my defining reality. Third, I realized that once again in this damn fool business that is our randonneuring, I had learned another lesson. Good for me!

If you haven't read Dr. Codfish's column, read it. If you have read it, reread it. If you aren't a RUSA member, you could go online, but I don't think it's up yet. So join RUSA. That article is more than worth the cost of admission.

Shift #2

I still don't know why it took me so long to make this second shift--could it be I was too busy wallowing in my quitterdom?--but it took almost two weeks. Finally though, I just did the math. If I left the overnight controle between 75 and 90 minutes after the controle closed and I was 30 minutes late coming into that last controle, then I had actually made up between 45 and 60 minutes on what was one serious climb and a descent into a nasty headwind. I was improving my time even though I'd departed the overnight later than I should have. At that rate and with what I knew to be just one more longish but not so steep climb, I really had a pretty promising, not doomsday, trajectory. Huh.

Shift #3

Three years ago almost to the day, I set some wheels in motion, the full consequences of which I hadn't really seriously considered. It began when I read online about the just completed Paris Brest Paris event in 2007. I surfed wildly from website to website soaking in all I could absorb: camaraderie, testing one's limits, self-supported, suffering, Paris, cycling, tradition, fanfare, French food, and festival. I announced to Dartre (who acquired her nickname DartreDame on an earlier trip to Paris, the very one in which our budding romance blossomed beyond my imagination!) that I hoped to ride in the next Paris Brest Paris, and if she was supportive then I would commence my journey that I knew would take me to soaring heights as well as the accompanying lows. I had enough life experience to appreciate that there would be unforeseen lows, I just didn't have the foresight to imagine exactly how they'd manifest themselves.

Well, the wheels I'd set in motion when Dartre proclaimed her support for my quest were big wheels on a steep descent. Dartre and her sister were thinking about how to celebrate their parents' 50th wedding anniversary coming up in 2011. Since their parents live in India and celebrants live around the globe, why not France in August of 2011. Since Curio will be riding there anyway for Paris Brest Paris, let's just all meet in France and we can have one big party/PBP. Manufique!

Almost exactly after this DNF, Dartre's sister and Dartre decided it was time to seriously plan. So as I was experiencing Shifts 1 and 2, they were deciding where to go (Provence), which house with which amenities (cheaper one), when to depart Provence for Paris and PBP (later than Curio), when Dartre and I would cyclo-tour for a week (first week in August), where we'd cyclo-tour (Dordogne), etc.

Suddenly, my DNF was now also a ticket to nowhere. Without a 600k, let alone a 1000k, I was seriously risking being unable to register for Paris Brest Paris 2011. The result was that while it was now set that we were going to France, the impetus for going there in the first place--Paris Brest Paris--was slipping through my fingers.

This sent me back to surfing the Internet. I had to find an alternative 600k, hopefully flatter, so that I could improve my chances or I could see 2011 and France and family trip all adding up to one word for me: Bittersweet.

And so I shifted again. This time from pondering my bellybutton and the meaning of my DNF to the practicalities of finding a 600k and getting myself there. I had shifted into a next step. I found another 600k to try: Surf City 600k put on by the Santa Cruz Randonneurs!! DNF, what DNF? I was on a move toward a new success plan.

To find out how I did on the Surf City 600k, please go here.


If you've read this far, there is little need to apologize for the length of this post. It's just long. But if you've read this post, you'll also know that it was pretty self-revealing. I thought more than twice before putting all this down for any and all to see, but I chose yes in the hope that it is fodder for other newbies. If you find it maudlin, please be kind. If you find it useful, then I am pleased.

For more pics and ride reports from other riders:

 Keep it in perspective,