You're entering a world of pain, son.--Walter Sobchak
And how. As soon as the Oregon Randonneurs (ORR) 2009 schedule was posted I arranged for time off from work. The route for the 600k brevet was an unknown at that time. I was hoping that the route from last year's 600k would be used. It was great. I would later find out that this year's first ORR 600k brevet would be organized by John "the Dude" Krammer. The Dude came up with an epic route--the Oregon 600k-XTR-- which would start and end in The Dalles, OR, running through central Oregon and consist of 21,000ft of climbing. When I first saw the route I became somewhat nervous--all that climbing and the pretty much guaranteed heat would make for an exceptionally difficult ride. While I rode I strong 600k last year I wasn't sure I'd have the same experience this year. But in a way I had no choice. I had to do the ride. I had arranged for the time off and I badly wanted to complete a Super Randonneur series.
I was able to arrange a ride out to The Dalles for Friday afternoon with Lesli Larson. We got out to the Comfort Inn at about 5:30 or so, got a room and then hung out with other randos. We got registered and then went for dinner at a mediocre Mexican restaurant. Ultra Randonneur Peg Winczewski also joined us for dinner. Who knows, maybe the food was good and I was just nervous. I had spent the early part of the day running around trying to tie up loose ends for the ride. Earlier in the week I decided that I would use Hammer Nutrition products for the ride which was quite a gamble as I had never really used them before. I had also needed to obtain a headlamp to attach to my helmet. I picked one up but had no idea whether or not it would remain on my helmet securely while riding.
Surprisingly I was able to fall asleep early and woke up at 3:15am feeling rested and excited about the day. The start was scheduled for 4:30am. I had all my clothes laid out and the bike prepped. All that was needed was to get my water bottles together. My bike has three water bottle mounts. I filled a 24oz bottle with 4 scoops of Perpetuem and water and filled two 20oz bottles with water. I would carry a fourth bottle in my jersey pocket. I was using Polar insulated bottles which I knew from experience would keep my liquids a little cooler than if I used my regular bottles. All my gear would be going into my handlebar bag and jersey pockets. No saddlebag this time. I felt like I had over-packed for all the brevets this year and was determined not to make the same mistake. I was almost tempted to take the fenders off my bike as it wasn't supposed to rain but I figured that was just asking for trouble. At Lesli's request I even packed my rain jacket. It just seemed like if I didn't it was destined to rain on the ride.
Out in the parking lot people were milling about and seemed in good spirits. It was warm and not too windy with clear skies. I, surprisingly, found myself very excited about the day ahead. I wouldn't even really say I was that nervous at the start. What was there to be nervous about? Then I noticed Scott Peterson hanging out but not dressed for riding. He said he wasn't going to do the ride, I think due to the heat. Probably the climbing also as Scott rides a recumbent. I was bummed for him, and me. I had ridden much of last year's 600k with Scott and parts of brevets this year. I enjoy his company and figured I'd probably end up riding with him today. Scott is an experienced randonneur and so I figured he knew what he was doing.
Soon enough we were off into the rising sun pedaling along the Columbia River. The first control was 20 miles down the road in Rufus. I rode much of this stretch with Wiley Gibson who I had met on the 400k the month before. We pedaled and chatted at a reasonable clip. From Rufus we headed south and up. And up and up and up... It was about 51 miles to the next control in Condon and our route would take us through rolling hills and windfarms. We were treated to great views of Mt Hood to our right and, if we looked behind us, Mt Adams. The climbing was characterized by lots of false summits. There were some sections of rollers but mainly we were going up, as was the temperature. Still, in spite of the hills and heat I felt good and found a comfortable rhythm. I was soon riding alone which was fine. I had my iPod Shuffle with me and turned it on. I kept the volume low enough that I could still be aware of my surroundings. Interestingly the first song to cue up was an Ornette Coleman piece that was 20 minutes long. It seemed to match my mood and even the terrain. It was followed by a mix of tunes from The Cars, Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Veddar, Billy Bragg and others.
There was a secret control run by Eric Ahlvin which was great. He had water, ice, sodas, watermelon and other items on hand. It was good to get off the bike for a few minutes and refill the bottles. My water was holding out but it was better to top them off as services between controls was very limited. I can't recall if Eric's control was at the very top of the climb or not but soon enough I was passing the sign for Cummings Hill Summit (3310ft) and descending into Condon. Condon was a nice quiet town. I got my brevet card signed at a grocery store and filled up the bottles. I headed out with RB and Wiley although I would fall off the back on the way to Fossil. The temperature continued to rise and so did the road after passing through Fossil where I was able to refill my bottles. By this time I was keeping all 4 bottles filled. I should also mention that I was ingesting between 1 to 3 Endurolyte caplets every hour ago. The Perpetuem continued to go down smoothly and I felt fueled.
The stretch of road through Fossil and up to Butte Creek Pass was probably my favorite of the ride. The conifer lined road seemed to gradually climb offering nice views of valleys and forested hilltops although not dense forest like you usually picture when you think of Oregon. This was a dry high desert kind of forest if that makes sense. Towards the top of the Butte Creek Pass I had the first twinges of a cramp but nothing serious. I continued to drink water and down Endurolytes. At the top of Butte Creek Pass (3788ft) I had caught up with Rick Blacker one of the many SIR riders who had been making the trek to OR to complete ORR brevets on top of doing the SIR series. From Butte Creek Pass it was a nice long descent and then along the John Day River into Spray. I lost contact with Rick on the descent. He was pretty fast. I commented to him later in the day on his speed and he said "That's because I'm fat!" I don't know, Rick seems pretty fit and fast to me.
By the time I got into Spray, which was the 200km point, it was miserably hot and unpleasant. There were a number of bikes parked at Lone Elk Market. Walking into the market I was blasted by cool air as they had the AC cranked up all the way. The woman working the counter wasn't very friendly and seemed pretty stressed out although I couldn't tell why. I bought water and tried to eat a burger. A burger? Yeah, I know, I have no idea what was going through my mind. I ate a few bites of it and downed a soda. I put the chips that came with it in my HB bag. I had been taking in Perpetuem and Hammer Gel pretty regularly so I felt fueled up. I think I may have pedaled out of Spray with a few people and that maybe Ian said something along the lines of "Only a 100 more miles to go until the overnight control." Only a 100 miles and two major climbs. And the heat was now truly problematic for me. I fell off the back and just rode at my own pace trying to turn the pedals smoothly.
At Kimberly I came across Vincent Muoneke and Geoff Swarts who was laid out on the side of the road with bad cramps. He looked pretty miserable but Vincent was patient and encouraging. I had ridden a bit with Vincent and he's about one of the nicest guys you could ever meet. He seemed 100% committed to helping Geoff put the cramps behind him and see him through the ride. I would play leap frog with them as I pedaled through the stiffling heat. The road was open and exposed, offering no reprieve from the sun. There were numerous turn offs for the John Day Fossil Beds which I would have loved to have checked out but not today. I eventually arrived at Cant Ranch where Eric Ahlvin was manning another control. The Cant Ranch offered fresh water and a very very inviting plush green lawn and shade trees. My feet were hurting pretty bad as I was getting hot spots on the soles of my feet. I took off my shoes and jersey here and sprawled out in the shade of the tree. I wouldn't say that I felt bonked it was just that the heat had been so intense. I pretty much am worthless on the bike in anything over 75 degrees and for much of today the temperature had been in the 90s.
Soon enough I was putting my jersey and shoes back on, topping off my bottles and heading up the road to the info control before tackling the next climb. After turning right US-26 I would head west towards the next control at Mitchell. I passed a sign that said 80 miles to Prineville. Wow, that seemed like quite a ways to go still. Soon after passing the sign the road started going up. The terrain seemed to change a bit. There were more trees and it was clear that I was climbing. I soon came across Wiley on the side of the road. He looked wrecked and told me as much. He said he hadn't been able to keep anything down since 3:30pm. I'm not sure what time it was when I came across him but that had definitely been a while ago. I asked what he was going to do and he didn't know. I asked if I could help in anyway and he said no. He declined my offer to stay with him and so I pedaled away.
So this climb was exceptionally long but I just kept turning the pedals and taking on water and fuel. There were a couple of what seemed like steep sections although everything gets sorta skewed after 150 miles in the heat. The road seemed to flatten out a bit and I was pedaling along thinking about Wiley. I remember thinking "So this is how it happens on Everest when people pass by others in distress." I was feeling somewhat guilty about leaving him on the side of the road. Literally as I was thinking about this he comes up behind me on the bike! He still looks worked but said he just started taking small sips of water and fuel and started feeling better. He was literally like the Beck Weathers of this brevet. We rode together for a while. As we reached Keys Creek Summit I fell off the back. Again, I was determined to ride at my own pace and not expend too much energy chasing wheels.
At the Summit I put on my vest and turned on my lights. There was still some light in the sky but it was fading. The traffic had been minimal for most of the day but I didn't want to take any chances on not being seen. I don't remember much about this descent but I think it was pretty long and fast. In Mitchell David Rowe was running a control in the park. As I pulled in there were a number of randos present. Everyone looked pretty tired. Dave was incredible here, getting water and Gatorade for folks. He also was making sandwiches and Cup-O-Noodles for people. I had Noodles and two bottles of Gatorade. I may have also had some chips or something. As I was getting ready to leave it was now dark. I think I left around 10pm and was hoping to reach the overnight control in Prineville by 2am. This would allow me time for a shower, food, 90 minutes of sleep and I could leave by 5:30am.
So I left with Wiley who was continuing to make a great recovery. He soon dropped me as the road went uphill and I was all alone in the dark on road as it headed up to Ochoco Pass. It was here that I entered the rando-twilight zone. The climb wasn't too steep or anything but my legs were feeling heavy and I was just feeling fatigued after the miles and the heat. I wouldn't necessarily say I was bonked, or at least I wasn't as spectacularly bonked as during previous rides. My thinking did start to get a odd though. It was so quiet and dark on the road. The sky was overcast for the most part and there was no traffic. The only light was from my headlamp and Ixon IQ. I kept looking at my cycling computer, which was off a few km, and trying to figure out how far I had until Prineville. I also should mention that The Dude's cue sheets were in miles only. So here I am, pedaling on unfamiliar roads, alone and in the dark, trying to calculate how much longer I have until the next control and trying to figure out how off my computer is. It was maddening. I eventually made it to the Ochoco Summit right before midnight and started the descent. It was better than climbing but the descent actually seemed pretty tame, not what I was expecting given all the climbing. I knew from here I only had about 29 miles to go and no more climbs but I just couldn't make the bike go fast. I was sorta cruising along and started to feel sleepy. This was actually scary. Started counting pedal strokes and even talking to myself to stay awake. I though about laying out at the side of the road and just waiting for one of the riders behind me but I was so close to the control it seemed better to just try and keep moving forward. I was regretting not picking up a space blanket at REI when I got my headlamp. I was starting to have thoughts of DNFing at Prineville. I also started telling myself things like "I'll never do anything longer than a 300k ever again. Ever!" and "This is ridiculous, what was a I thinking?"
I very fortunately came across Rick taking a nap on the side of the road. He woke immediately and jumped on his bike. The next thing I know I'm feeling awake and my legs seem to have power again and we motored into Prineville at about 15 to 20mph after about 45 minutes later. At Prinvelle there was food and familiar faces. It felt oh so good to get off the bike and eat some real food. People were tired but there was still smiles and laughter (of sorts). The Dude and Dave Read had quite a spread laid out for us. Thanks! I felt like it was going to be okay. I took a short shower, prepped my stuff for day two and went to sleep for 90 minutes. I ended up sharing a room with Marcello who had DNF'd a couple of miles from the Cant Ranch. I'm not sure of what happened but I think the heat may have been too much. Hell, he still rode 150 miles in blazing heat. Not bad at all. I actually couldn't believe that I had made it this far. Alex Kohan had also DNF'd, I think due to stomach problems.
Soon enough I was being awakened but I felt great. I was excited for the day ahead. While I still had 130+ miles to go two big climbs, I was confident I would finish even if it was at 8:29pm. I headed out of Prineville with Wiley, Ian and Erik Anderson. We had a nice pace going and good conversation. Everyone was in good spirits. We stopped at the Madras Safeway for donuts and other business and were soon back on the road. We had an incredible descent into Warm Springs where Eric was again manning a control. He had water and ice which was great. It was quicker getting it from him than going into a store. It was starting to heat up and we had some serious climbing between here and the next control. There were others at the control including Cecil who seemed to be riding strong and in good spirits.
I immediately fell off the back on the climb out of Warm Springs but wasn't worried. Slow and steady was the order of the day for me. Not long after starting the climb my front tire flatted. I got the tube changed quickly but by now it was hot and it seemed like the heat had increased. I continued up the climb which was followed by a steep descent with switchback which was followed by a longer climb with switchbacks. Wether or not this climb was steep I can't say. Everything was kinda skewed by this point. In the moment it was difficult but I just kept turning the pedals at a steady pace. I eventually reached the top and the road rolled and dropped into Simnasho. Along the way I had great views of Mt Jefferson and Mt Hood. I also had caught up with Cecil here.
As we rode into the Simnasho control there were quite a few other randos present--Alex Kohan, Rick, Ian, Wiley, and Erik. Peg and Lesli would arrive shortly after Cecil and I. Soon enough I was pedaling out of Simnasho and caught up with Cecil again who I would ride with into Maupin. The ride was pretty uneventful. It remained hot. It was good to ride with someone at a similar pace and have some conversation, although we pretty much talked about the business at hand--randonneuring. There was a another great descent into Maupin where I purchased a gallon of water, ice and some Fritos. I was feeling tired and hot but in good spirits as it seemed I was on target for finishing up within the time limit. I was still a bit worried about the next two climbs. The first being up out of Maupin through some canyon and then a longer climb up Tygh Ridge. I may have the wrong name there, I'm not sure.
Ian, Cecil and I pedaled out of Maupin and along a the Deschutes River for a few miles. The river looked so inviting! And there were so many great campsites along the way. Unfortunately there was no time for camping. The end was approaching but not without some work. We crossed over the river and began and steepish climb through a canyon. I don't know that I would call this climb steep under normal circumstances but today it sure felt steep. The miles in my legs and the unbearable heat were just too much. Three times I found myself stopping just to do something other than pedal. I kept the stops short and in the shade, just long enough to recover a bit. Cecil caught up with me a little while after cresting the canyon and descending down toward US-197. She told me that according to her computer there was one spot on climb through the canyon that where it was 109 degrees! I felt validated in my fatigue.
So turing right onto 197 we were greeted by a sign that inferred the climb to the top of Tygh Ridge would precede for the next 5 miles. I was so cooked here. I guess I was bonked but this just felt so different. But regardless I knew now that after this climb that was it and I'd be descending into the The Dalles. I lost contact with Cecil on the climb and just noodled on up, stopping here and there just because. I still couldn't tell where the summit was but Eric had driven up to us an Maupin and advised that there would be jugs of water waiting for us at the top. I was doing okay on water but it was good to know I didn't have to conserve it other than leaving enough to reach the summit. About part way up when I was stopped I noticed Peg and Lesli ascending behind me. Eventually I reached the summit where Eric had yet again parked his car at the side of the road and was offering encouragement. He had chairs set up and, as promised, there was water. Rick and Cecil were there but soon left. I waited to leave with Peg and Lesli as I hadn't really gotten to talk with them much during the ride. It really felt like the ride was in the bag now unless I crashed or had a serious mechanical.
Soon enough Lesli, Peg and I were descending down towards the Columbia Gorge and The Dalles. The pavement was pretty busted up on the shoulder and there was a fair amount of traffic on the road so this put a damper on our descent. Still, we were descending not climbing! We soon made the turn onto 8 Mile Rd which was an awesome back road into The Dalles. At this point I was feeling pretty certain that I wouldn't do another 600km brevet again, or even a 400km for that matter.
It felt so good to finish! Just getting off the bike and walking into the hotel room to get my brevet card signed I felt like a new man--happy, laughing and tired but not beaten. Krammer presented each finisher with a personalized trophy of sorts that included a tiny cut-out highlighting the elevation of the ride. I finished with about an hour and 5 minutes to spare. My slowest brevet ever and I could care less. I was a Super Randonneur.
I showered and Lesli and I got the bikes packed up. We had decided to head back to Portland which was great. It would mean I'd back home with Beth and the cats for tonight. We stopped at McDonalds so Lesli could get coffee. Like an idiot I ordered food which I could not stomach with the exception of a strawberry shake. For whatever reason we both spaced out on getting water. I was pretty parched as we talked on the ride home about all the psychological ups and downs you go through. Lesli was already encouraging me to do the Cascade 1200k next year.
This brevet was the toughest ride that I've ever done. But in spite of the heat and the climbing I had a really good time. I didn't suffer crippling cramps at all and while I guess I bonked, it wasn't the worst bonk I ever experienced which says a lot given the length of this ride and the conditions. I know I would have suffered much more, and probably DNF'd, if it hadn't been for the encouragement and assistance of the organizer (John Krammer) and the volunteers--Dave Read, Dave Rowe, and especially Eric Alhvin who was present at many of what should have only been info controls. Thanks!
The next morning I was up at 6am spending time with Beth before she went off to her teaching internship. Less than 12hrs after finishing I was emailing my friend Dylan in San Francisco asking if he thought he might want to tackle the Cascade 1200k next year.