I awoke at 4:50am, 10 minutes before the alarm would go off and would soon be off to do the Birkie 200k. Surprisingly I had slept soundly and felt rested. As I fell asleep last night I was experiencing a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Before getting out of bed I noticed that I did not hear the sound of rain. I pushed back the curtain behind the headboard and although it was still dark I could see the streets were dry. The forecast was for rain all day. Could it be that the multiple weather reports I had been obsessively checking yesterday were wrong? I got out of bed to make coffee, eat and get ready. Beth would not have to get up for another hour at which time she'd be driving me to the start in Forest Grove.
This is the Oregon Randonnuer's first brevet of the year and my first of four steps towards earning "super randonneur" honors which means completing 200k, 300k, 400k and 600k brevets all within the alloted time. Last year I completed 200k, 300k, and 600k brevets successfully but had unfortunately been unable to work the 400k into my schedule. Oh well, I wasn't a RUSA member anyway so if understand correctly, I wouldn't have officially been a super randonneur anyway.
I loaded up the bike in the car and Beth drove me out to Forest Grove. For a change I had actually laid everything out the night before and had the bike ready to go. This would be my first brevet on my A. Homer Hilsen which is sporting a new Berthoud handlebar bag. The Hilsen isn't optimized for a front bag but from the rides I had previously completed with the bag on the bike it would be easily manageable. Really the only problem is that at low speeds the front end shimmies when riding no hands and fishing around in the bag.
As we left Portland it started to rain and continued to rain all the way to Forest Grove. Beth dropped me off and I was pleasantly surprised to see a large number of people gearing up for the ride. I was thinking that the majority of people would bag it given the forecast. There were a fair number of folks from Washington state present. I also saw folks I had met last year and briefly said hi as I checked in. A guy named JP introduced himself to me and we chatted a bit. I had previously had some internet contact with him on the Road Bike Review forums. It's always nice to meet people face to face. I was bummed that I didn't get to talk with him more but we ended up riding at different paces.
While waiting for the start it was raining but not hard. Soon enough everyone was called to the start. Some instructions were given and then we were off. I found myself heading out of town in a group of about 5 or 6 people, only one of whom I knew, Eric A. Last year I rode the last half of this brevet with him and Dave R., both of whom had a fair amount of rando experience to share with me. There was a faster group ahead but I definitely was not going to put any effort into catching them. In fact the pace out of town was a little higher than I was intending to ride at. I sensed I was being none too smart. But the excitement of the brevet finally happening, the light rain, and the hope that it would stop raining at some point in the future fired up my legs. I chatted with Eric a bit and also with a guy named Ian who had come down with friends from Olympia. Michael M. was in the group too.
The route out of Forest Grove follows Gales Creek Rd with a right turn onto SR 6 for a few miles followed by a right turn onto Timber Rd. There the road starts to head up but nothing too steep. Still, I found myself falling off the back. We climbed up to Timber which really wasn't too bad and then dropping down the other side. The country here is beautiful in spite of the sections of clear cut. After crossing SR 47 I was able to catch back on with some folks and we took Timber Rd into Vernonia together. I wouldn't say we were in a paceline, not everyone's fenders were adequate for that, including mine. My rear fender is good but my front fender is too short and sends spray forward onto the back of whoever I'm riding behind. The rain continued but scenery was still pretty and the section of Timber Rd between SR 47 and Vernonia is flat for the most part with a few mild bumps in the road.
At the Vernonia control, which is staffed, I got my card signed and ate three chocolate chip cookies. It would have been nice to hangout for a while and have some coffee and chat but I was pretty wet and figured the longer I was off the bike the harder it would be to get back on it. A group of us left for the out and back info control on State St. As we headed back towards Stoney Pt Rd I found myself driving off the back of the group. Stoney Pt Rd is a bit of a climb and I passed a person or two but never really caught back on with Eric and Ian. I descended back down to SR 47 and slog out to Birkenfeld.
The 33 or so kilometers to Birkenfeld store were rough and I entered the "pain cave" psychologically and physically. The rain just would not stop and I was starting to get cold. My core was was warm thanks to a wool undershirt, wool jersey and a lightweight Showers Pass jacket I had purchased the day before. Although in hindsight I realize that I should have purchased the next jacket up. The jacket I purchased, a Double Century, is light and fairly breathable but not as waterproof as their other models. On my hands I had a pair of wool gloves and on my feet wool socks. These were soaked and my feet were feeling a bit numb. My thumbs also got pretty numb. But worst of all were the sever leg cramps I started to experience. They didn't force me off the bike but anytime I picked up the pace I could feel them coming on. I realized that I had not been taking on fluids as often as I should have or eating. I had one bottle with an electrolyte supplement in it and another with Accleraid. Both work great, all you have to do is use them, something I wasn't doing. Because of the wet, cold and cramps I started to get down on myself. I felt like I had broken my main rule I had set for myself of staying properly hydrated and fueled. I ate part of a sandwich I had, an energy bar and just tried to accept my fate and ease up and just pedal at a pace I could comfortably maintain.
A few folks passed me as I headed towards Birkenfeld including the father and son team of Alex and Keith. As I got closer to Birkenfeld I started looking for the "leaders" returning. Sure enough a group of four came by looking strong followed shortly afterwards by Michael W. on his recumbent who managed a friendly wave as I snapped his picture which unfortunately came out horrible. I've never spoken with Michael but I follow his blog and the guy has done some epic one day rides for which he has posted the routes including three new permanents pending RUSA approval.
Pulling into the Birkenfeld store there was quite the array of bikes leaning up against the porch of the store. I walked in to get my card signed, some water and some food. Entering the store there were quite a few people sitting at tables eating sandwiches and happily chatting away. I was hit with hunger induced rando indecision in which one enters a store on a brevet and finds themselves surrounded by food and unable to decide what to get. I ended up getting water and some cashews. I decided not to sit down and not to hangout as I was dreading how much harder it would be to get back onto the bike.
I mounted up and headed back towards Vernonia feeling better. I continued to stay hydrated and pedaled at a comfortable pace. It continued to rain. I had really been hoping that it would have eased up by now but no chance. For whatever reason I felt better and maintained my pace riding the final kilometers into the open control at Vernonia with a few folks but I'm not sure who, possibly Michael M. I can't recall. Once in Vernonia I got my card signed, purchased some chicken strips and water, chowed down and left, riding out of town with Scott P. It was nice to chat with him, last year we had ridden much of the King's Valley 600k together. I continued to yo-yo back and forth with him and a couple of different people along Timber Rd. I was sorta dreading the short steep climbs up to Timber but they weren't so bad. I was feeling much better physically and psychologically which was a huge relief. There was even a brief period when the rain almost stopped.
Turning back onto SR 6 we stopped at the Glenwood open control and got my card signed and purchased a caffeine fortified dairy beverage. After getting back on the bike I felt much better. In fact I even had "the eye of the tiger" there for a little while but then the rain started pouring and fierce headwind but the kabash on that and I just pedaled into Forest Grove with Michael M. Knowing that the ride was coming to an end was a huge relief.
We leaned our bikes up outside the Grand Lodge and got our cards signed. I think my time was like 9hrs 26 minutes. About an hour slower than last year. Soaked and hungry I still felt great. And best of all Michael had agreed to give me a ride back into Portland.
This was the longest rain ride I have done and I hope it stays that way. But who knows this is Oregon. I have to admit, I was a bit down on myself about the time. I had actually been hoping to get a better time than last year. A few days prior to the Birkie Jan Heine had posted a message on the Google Randon group about Cyclos Montagnards which would be recognizing R60, R70, and R80 honors for people who complete brevets in 60%, 70%, and 80% of the alloted time. Per the responses on the Randon group this has created quite the controversy for some. I see know controversy and think it's fine. In spite of what I perceived as a "bad" ride I think I may have actually managed to just squeak in with R70 honors. Go figure.
Learning what works and what doesn't work for me with randonneuring continues to be a process. In spite of some time spent in the pain cave on this ride, a day later I'm very happy with what I accomplished and had a really good time. It was great meeting some new people. Hopefully I'll get more and better pictures on the next brevet. I'm very much looking forward to the Three Capes 300k in two weeks.