I rolled up to the Seattle ferry dock at 5:51 AM, bought my ticket and signed in for the 2001 SIR 300K brevet. By the time the ferry pulled out at 6:20 AM for the half hour journey over to Winslow, we had a good crowd of riders. At Winslow, we all got off the ferry and pulled into a little parking lot where we picked up a few more riders, waited until 7:00 AM and got the final ride instructions from Bill Dussler.
The week before, Bill, Mark Thomas, Peter McKay, Ron Lee and Lynne Vigesaa had done the official pre-ride of the course. Their adventures involved hail, flat tires and a proposed "simplified" route that involved something called Burma Road which turned out to be steep, unpaved and generally horrible. Bill, Ron and Lynne also missed the last ferry from Winslow by minutes and got to spend a lovely night bivouacking on Bainbridge Island. Their experiences lent an air of caution to the pre-ride briefing. Even though today's route would not include Burma Road and the weather was looking pretty good, 300K is a long ways to go and this ride features nearly 3000 meters (over 9000 feet) of climbing. And much of that climbing comes late in the ride in a desolate section known as the Tahuya Hills.
Our total count was 23 riders and we represented the full spectrum in terms of equipment, training and experience. There were three tandem teams (Terry Zmrhal & Anne Marie McSweeney, Max Maxon & Linda Knapp, and Duane Wright & Amy Harmon), two Gold Rush recumbents (Jim Giles and Ken Krichman), carbon bikes, steel bikes and probably a titanium bike or two. I was riding my blue Bike Friday New World Tourist complete with custom red, white and blue mudguards made from an old coroplast campaign sign.
At a couple of minutes past 7:00 we took off. Since I'd ridden to the start and usually don't need to warm up anyway, I was with the lead crew, but I knew that wouldn't last. Sure enough by the time we'd rolled across the Agate Point Bridge the really fast guys were out in front. The lead crew was Andy "Fly-foil" Fuller, Ed Husted and a guy from California named Ozzie Ayscue. Derek Bentley and Mark VandeKamp were also up ahead of me but in talking with each of them later, they knew they were going out a bit fast.
My plan for this ride was the same as always, ride at my comfortable pace, make sure I eat enough and don't spend too much time at the stops. This strategy serves me well regardless of distance but it means I ride by myself a lot. Other folks try to gauge their effort for the course and the distance, finishing as fast as they can and basically running down to empty. That's never worked well for me and given that I usually ride to and from these events, I'd still have to reserve enough energy so I could ride home.
Around Poulsbo Ken Carter passed me and went off to chase the leaders. Jon Muellner caught up with me and we rode together on Little Valley and Big Valley Roads. When we passed the llama farm, I pointed out the camel and dromedary. Jon's a strong rider and crossing the Hood Canal Bridge he punched things up a notch and pulled out ahead.
After the bridge the course follows Paradise Bay and Oak Bay Roads up to Port Hadlock. These are rolling hills and on one of the descents the Terry Z & Anne Marie tandem swoops by me and rolls off into the distance. A bit later I startle a raccoon and he leaps about four feet and scampers up a tree.
I reached the Port Hadlock control at (61.6 km) at 9:34 AM. Terry and Anne Marie were just pulling out as I came in and Jon was there as well. As he left, Jon offered me the remains of the bottle of water he'd just bought. I gratefully accept. I bought a pint of milk and a chocolate bar which I quickly consumed before heading out myself.
Center Road heading south to Quilcene was slow going because the surface is chipseal. Chipseal is a fine rock layer spread over a gooey tar base and this base never actually hardens. This means that the road gives slightly, pulling energy away at every pedal stroke. Along this section, I saw Anne Marie and Terry Z, pulled over fixing a flat. Knowing they had the situation well in hand, I waved and said "see you later" as I rode past. Given their power, I was sure they'll catch and pass me before too long.
A bit before Quilcene the chipseal gave way to wonderful real pavement with a few sweeping descents to help compensate for the earlier climbs. After Quilcene, the road climbs again and Walker Pass was a bit longer than I'd remembered. It wasn't bad, it's just that I tend to focus on the Tahuya Hills section of this ride and that makes me forget that while there is about 1000 meters of climbing folded into the 50 kilometer section starting at Tahuya, there still are 2000 meters of climbing doled out along the rest of course as well. Mostly it's in a series of rolling hills, but Walker Pass is a kind of big roller.
What goes up, must come down and the roll down to the shores of the Hood Canal was fun. The weather was nice, mostly cloudy and the temps were in the low fifties. Highway 101 rolls south along the Hood Canal in a series of low rolling hills and goes past oyster beds, small waterside hotels, summer cabins and various parks. A slight salt breeze was blowing off the canal and it was a good day to ride.
I stopped at the convenience store in Eldon, a town that seems to consist entirely of that store, a closed laundromat and a closed restaurant. I downed another pint of milk and a Harvest bar and poured some juice into on of my water bottles. Tom Brett caught up with me here and we chatted a bit. Tom's very strong, but he hadn't been training much this year, just doing his six-mile or so commute. Like Tom, I bike commute but at 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) each way my normal commute is a bit longer than his and once or twice a week, I extend it to 32 kilometers (20 miles) by taking the long way home. And I also tend to hammer on Saturday miles, often heading out the door at 3:00 AM so I can squeeze in a few hundred kilometers and still have some time with Christine and the boys. On Sundays, I tend to lounge around.
I left Eldon a bit before Tom did and a ways down the road I passed by a group of four deer grazing by the side of the road. Tom caught up with me a few minutes later. I asked him if he'd seen the deer, but he hadn't.
The Terry Z & Anne Marie tandem passed us before Hoodsport and when we turned east toward Union, we headed into a light wind. The weather was still nothing to complain about and actually was fantastic compared to what we usually get on the brevets. Tom and I pulled into the control at the Union Country Store (kilometer 165.6) at 2:20 PM. Anne Marie and Terry were still there but they took off before long. I grabbed another milk, a chocolate bar, an ice tea and a bottle of fruit punch. I ate the chocolate bar and drank the milk, topped out my bottles and stashed the ice tea in my pack. While I was fueling up, Peg Winczewski pulled in and she was looking strong. I scarfed down another Harvest bar while Tom was busy eating a turkey sandwich. I took off while he was still eating.
There was still a head wind as I rode to Belfair and I decided it would be wise to stop for a bit at Belfair. When I pulled into the Belfair QFC I saw Terry Z. and Anne Marie's tandem parked out front. I bought and drank an iced coffee drink, had another candy bar and topped out my bottles with fruit punch. I rolled out just in time to meet up with Tom, who was opting not to stock up at Belfair. Knowing what lay ahead of us, I quizzed him about this but he said he was in pretty good shape and would stop at a store up the road.
Since we'd turned, the wind became a tailwind and I rolled on ahead. I looked for the store Tom had mentioned, but saw only the remains of what had once been a store. Hmm, I thought, this could have been a bad miscalculation on Tom's part.
At 4:47 PM I was at the Kay's Corner turn (kilometer 215.8). This was the secret control of the ride and I pulled a sticker from the plastic bag and jotted down the time. I also knew that this was where the real climbing started, so I peeled off my jacket and stuffed it in my pack. Terry Z, Anne Marie and Tom rolled into the control together. Tom was kind of spacey now, asking twice what time it was and looking a little sketchy. Of course, he knew what lay ahead. In fact it had been a couple of years before that Tom had been my first guide through the Tahuya Hills. He knew what he was getting into.
Terry and Anne Marie did not. Terry casually asked "so there are some hills ahead?" I looked at him and blurted out something not at all comforting, something along the lines of "Oh my God, you've never been here before?!?" A look of concern passed between Terry and Anne Marie. I didn't do anything to calm them "yes, there are hills," I babbled like Ishmael telling about the whale, "lots of hills...tons of hills...and we've got a really big one coming up real soon. And there's nothing between here and Seabeck, no towns, no stores, almost no houses... nothing. Well, nothing but hills." Eventually, it dawns on me that this isn't helping matters and time is wasting, so I take off.
The first hill was as big as I'd remembered and very steep. A couple of times my front wheel threatened to lift off the pavement. I was in my lowest gear and my chain was squeaking against a chunk of coroplast I'd rigged in an attempt to keep chain grime off the rear brake (it's one of the weirdnesses of the Bike Friday brake routing). Eventually, I reached the crest of the hill, pulled over and sliced off the coroplast with my Gerber multitool. While I was doing my roadside surgery, Terry and Anne Marie chugged passed. I completed the fix, took a long swig from my bottle and caught up with the tandem on the next hill. "So there's more?" Anne Marie asks. "Oh yeah, LOTS more." And there were. For a while they'd keep quizzing me about the terrain and we'd pass and repass each other. I would generally be quicker going up the hills and they'd always be quicker coming down and all of this terrain is up and down. In places we'd dip down toward the water and the scenery would open up and we'd have spectacular views of the Olympic Mountains. Then the road would twist and climb again and we'd be back in the forest, climbing toward another crest. The tandem rocketed past me on the descent to Dewatto but then the road climbed again and I pulled away. I did finally think of something encouraging to say, pointing out that the climb back by Tahuya was the worst of the bunch and that there would be a nice descent into Seabeck coming up.
It took a long time to get to Seabeck. The good thing was that it was still light. I've navigated the hills at night and it's tough since there are neither center lines or edge markers. Another good thing was that the dog that lives at the base of Holly Hill was kept in check by his master on this occasion. Back in March Mark VandeKamp and I had been chased by this dog in a dreamlike slow-speed sprint up this hill with the dog looking really disappointed that we could only manage something like 10 kph in our attempt to flee. I did explain to the dog that we were really doing our best to get out of his territory, but he'd have to cut us some slack. Fortunately he seemed to be more interested in the chasing than the catching.
I got to Seabeck (266.1 km) at 7:10 PM. Derek was there but looked just about ready to head out. He hesitated for a bit, but I assured him that I'd be stopping for a while and that he should head out. "You've only got two or three more hills and then you've got it made," I assured him. Derek and I had ridden much of this route last fall in the dark and fog. "Isn't the route different this time?" he asked, "We never hit that big hill with the big descent to the river where you blew your light out." "That's up ahead," I assured him, "it's Anderson Hill Road. You'll know it when you see it." I got some milk, some Cheetos, some fruit punch and a granola bar and while I refueled Derek headed out. Anne Marie and Terry pulled in and Tom came in a bit behind them. Tom was looking pretty bad. "Is it a lot colder?" he asked, "or is my body shutting down?" We told him it was getting some colder but that he had to eat and drink. He was really looking pretty shaky.
It was getting dark now and we put on our reflective gear and flipped on our lights. I took off a bit before Anne Marie and Terry and it looked like Tom might have to take a longer break.
Anderson Hill Road has a big climb, followed by a super steep descent which is immediately followed by another climb. This time I played it smart and shut off my generator light as I crested the hill. When Derek and I had last been here, the sudden acceleration of that screaming descent overwhelmed the surge-protection circuitry in my light and blew out the bulb. As I twiddled my way up the next climb the tandem, which carries momentum real well, pulled up along side me. "We're pretty much done with the climbing," I announce, glad to finally be bearing some good news.
Terry and Anne Marie stuck with me for the next few turns but once we got onto SR3, I figured they'd head out and I was right. We all ride our own rides and the terrain was now very tandem friendly and they were at the stage where the most important thing was to get done as soon as possible and get off the bike. I was actually kind of amazed that I managed to keep their taillights in sight pretty much all the way to Winslow.
I finished up at 9:41 PM. The route sheet showed 310.1 km and my computer showed 304.87 km. In any case, a good honest 300K. I felt great and my 14:41 finishing time was just about what I'd predicted I'd do. Ron Lee was at the finish to collect my card and hustle me on my way. Terry and Anne Marie were at the ferry dock already, having come in six minutes ahead of me. We caught the 10:00 PM ferry. Anne Marie offered me a ride home, but of course I declined, just as Terry had predicted I would. Maybe if it had been pouring rain or something, but I was feeling great. The ride home was super and I got home just past midnight.
The next day I got bits and pieces of other people's stories in phone calls and email. Ken Krichman bonked around Union and decided to bail out and head for Bremerton. By his own account, he was in pretty bad shape at Union and he can look pretty pathetic when he's bonked. He did head down the road but then the owner of the Union country store waved him down and gave him a ride to Bremerton with Ken's bike riding in the back of a pick-up truck. Ken Stagg also DNFed at Union, the victim of some knee problems aggravated by what he thinks was improper saddle height.
The fast crew (Andy, Ed, Ken Carter and Ozzie) all finished with elapsed times of 12:22 to 12:25. Mark VandeKamp had a great ride and finished with a time of 13:06. Rookie Jon Muellner stayed on course and out of trouble this time and finished with a very respectable time of 13:21. He did mention that he's now looking for lower gears, however! Derek Bentley finished with a time of 14:20 and caught the 9:30 ferry.
Peg Winczewski finished at with a time of 15:11 which means she didn't loose much time in the hills. Tom Brett was not so lucky. He describes the end of the ride as "a bit ugly". He walked much of the monster climb after the secret control and then fell over when he attempted to get back on his bike! (If you've ever seen this hill, you could see how this could happen.) Past Seabeck it took him nearly two hours to reach Poulsbo, a distance of 14 miles. I don't think he'll skip stopping at Belfair ever again. Tom finished the ride with an elapsed time of 16:10.
Next in was the tandem team of Max Maxon and Linda Knapp and Rivendell rider Ron Himschoot. They all logged times of 16:43. Jim Giles proved that recumbents can climb and finished with a time of 16:55.
Bob Magyar, riding a Heron, finished with a time of 19:06. Bob tells me it was 37 degrees when he went by the bank clock on Bainbridge. Canadians Wayne Harrington and Larry Voth finished in 19:42 followed ten minutes later by the tandem team of Duane Wright and Amy Harmon. Duane was recovering from a cold on this ride and Amy was new to this, so even though they were the red lanterns of the ride, I know they were thrilled to finish. Wayne and Larry had a hotel room at the finish, but Duane, Amy and Bob missed the 1:30 AM ferry and huddled in Bill's van and ate pizza. The morning ferry was at 5:30 AM.
Bill Dussler put on a super ride with great scenery and a challenging course. We're all very lucky to have an active local club like SIR promoting randonneuring in our area.