Saturday, October 2, 2010

Crater Lake 400k+600k=VeryTough1000k My first 600k finish, not for the faint of heart!

It's been a while since I posted something here. This summer flew by so fast that I didn't have much time to sit down and write. Last January, I set out for new challenges in the biking world, more than I really knew what I was getting into. The main goal for the year was to finish my first 1200k brevet, which was Cascade 1240k the last week in June. As a result of training for Cascade and the drama that occurred during Cascade, I became very intrigued with more and more rando events as the summer progressed. Last January, Geoff and Vincent told me about this 1000k they were organizing to Crater Lake that is the last weekend of September. I thought at first, if I am alive by then after Cascade, than maybe I'll keep in mind. After 2 years of really intense Achilles pain from racing Race Across Oregon, I completely took the remaining summer and fall off from any serious long riding (in 2008 and 2009). I thought I would just keep the Crater Lake 1000k on the back burner and see how I survive Cascade first.

This year, I found out more how riding long multi-day rando events are not like ultracycling race events, (e.g. not trying to ride all night for 48 hrs straight until you fall over and not competitive). But instead more reasonable cutoff times that allows you to sleep some hours at the overnight controls or wherever else that you might end up in the early morning. I really appreciate this transition to Randonneuring from ultracyling (and my earlier days of ultrarunning and running races).

Riding the pre-ride of the Oregon Blue Mountains 1000k I learned a great amount of rando techniques from Vincent Muoneke, Kole Kanter and Vincent Sikorski. These guys got me focused and helped gain great confidence to finish Cascade. I thank these guys for all their support along this ride that is a turning point in my biking career. OBM taught me that regardless of how your fitness and focus might be at the start, you gain strength each day during the ride. OBM got hillier and hillier each day (mileage decreased/day but still was 12,000 ft of climbing/day), so it was a must to gain strenghth after each day. And keeping that focus of gaining strength after each day, this was a huge mental breakthrough for finishing the entire 780 miles of Cascade and many other multi-day rando events!

During the tail end of the first day of Cascade, Vincent Muoneke and I were both suffering up White Pass in the heat. Vincent convinced me that by pushing on from Naches to Lodgepole would give us a chance to "beat the heat" into the 2nd day. This was not an easy task riding more tired and really wasn't planned. We are still indebted to those volunteers who provided us a sleeping bag at Lodgepole. The jumpstart up to Lodgepole seemed to be impromptu decision and we only got about 2 hours of sleep. But the next day, we managed to get most of the way to Quincy before it got too hot and arrived in Quincy with plenty of time to recover for the 3rd and 4th day. This Lodgepole jumpstart strategy kept with me for finishing other rides well ahead of the cutoff times. I gained so much from finishing Cascade and what this sport has to offer, most entirely self-supporting and a sense solitude in the backroads in the middle of the night.

Fast forwarding to the Crater Lake 1000k, after the summer series that included Olympia 200k, Volcano 300k and the Border to Border (Bellingham) 1000k, I found myself more interested in the Crater Lake 1000k and was still on the radar. No pain in the Achilles still and feeling stronger and stronger after each ride. Late August and early September was not a big month of riding but it was a chance to ease back on the miles and still mentally prepare for Crater Lake. This was my chance to support Heidi who had recently got accepted an entry into the Cascade Crest 100, which was her first 100 mile ultramarathon finish. I’m glad I could be there to support Heidi during this very special time in her life.

The Crater Lake 1000k was not something you could just jump back in the saddle without the help of all the multi-day rides and required a lot of pre-planning in order to ride. I went to sign up for Crater Lake 1000k and realized that I had not done a 600k yet this year. So the back-to-back 400k/600k option sounded intriguing since it would allow me to get a 600k credit and complete the Super Randonneur Series. But after looking at the time limits it would require some extra sleep deprivation in the last 200 miles of the ride. What really made this ride hard for everyone entering (including the 1000k riders) was the midnight start, which is something I figured would be good to get used to getting ready for Paris-Brest-Paris 1200k next year, which also has a late evening start. The 1st 400k was from Bremerton to Pacific City and most everyone would ride together. However, the 400k/600k option was different from the 1000k that required the 600k portion to start at 3:00am Saturday in Pacific City, which forced 600k riders to have to stick to the more stringent 40 hour (9.3 mph) time limit, where the other 1000k riders had an additional 8 hours to do the last 600k. Thus, I knew that I would have to determine my own pace and not get stuck riding too slow or stopping too much on the 2nd and 3rd days (600k portion).

The nature of this ride was to be as unsupported as possible, with the exception that Geoff and Vincent would give us drop bags at the 2 overnight locations (Pacific City and Roseburg). We were required to book our own hotels and transportation home (i.e. Amtrak) in advance. As I looked at the time I would need to arrive at the finish in Klamath Falls (Sunday 7:00pm) for the 40 hr 600k time limit, I began to wonder if Roseburg would be an appropriate place to sleep in order for me to make the cutoff the next day. I decided to take the chance and thought I'd actually plan ahead this time, for pushing on like the Lodgepole strategy as Vincent and I did at Cascade. I booked a cabin up at the Umpqua Last Resort (48 miles up Hwy 138 from Roseburg), memorized the map on where my cabin would be and the caretaker said they would leave the cabin door unlocked ready for me to come in at any time in the middle of the night. I thought by reserving this cabin would mentally give me a reason to push on from Roseburg, no matter what other people were trying to convince me by the time I got to Roseburg. Besides, the Umpqua Last Resort was perfectly situated at the base of the steep part of the climb up to Diamond Lake and Crater Lake. If all goes well, this would allow me "beat the heat" once again as the forecast had a high in the 80's with lows in the 30s for the weekend of the ride. This cabin could also serve as a warming hut if the weather would turn grim.

Fast forwarding to the hours before the ride… I had my Dad take me to my friend Karen and George Wiggins (some good ultrarunning friends of mine). Thank you Karen and George for feeding me the best salmon dinner ever!! With fruit and veges from their own garden, I couldn’t have gotten better fueled for this long ride. After dinner, I was thinking of sleeping a little, but after a while, I just couldn’t sleep. I just lay on the couch and watched a movie until it was time to head to the start. Thanks again to Karen for driving me down to the start as it was raining and my drop bag was really heavy!

Arriving at the start just after 11pm, it was raining and so I had all my warmer rainy weather gear on or packed. We started at 12:01am and what a thrill it was to finally start this ride. Leaving Bremerton is sometimes tricky, and I missed a light and the lead group split ahead. So just outside of Bremerton I rode hard to catch everyone so I wouldn’t fall behind too much. I caught most everyone at Gorst and it was good to ride in a group through Belfair and down along Hwy 106/Hood Canal. After turning south off of hwy 101 towards Matlock, I dropped my electrolytes and figured I better stop and pick them up. When I went to try and get caught back up, I found my legs cramping and so I didn’t try to push too hard to catch back up. I hydrated and took the electrolytes that I was lacking and figured that it’s a long ride ahead and sooner or later I’d run into someone. But in the mean time, the remoteness from Matlock to Montesano with no tail lights to follow made it hard to stay awake. Caffeine was the best prescription at this dark rainy hour! I arrived into Purdy and got some coffee and a gas station Danish. Only a couple people stopped at this store where most pushed on to Montesano. I rode onto Montesano and saw the Rando party all outside the main gas station in town. I decided to not stop here as I figured they would catch me somewhere down the road. And sure enough, everyone caught me south of where we joined onto Hwy 101 on the way to Raymond.

This section of Hwy 101 has some good 500 ft rollers and I did what I could to stay with the pack all the way to Raymond. Everyone stopped at McDonalds for breakfast but I left on my own. I caught back with Ian Shopland and Eric Ahlvin and we rode together until the Astoria bridge with a few others that joined us. It was good to ride with Eric as he and I were both agreed it was good to take a break from racing RAO this year. As we crossed the Astoria bridge, I hit a huge wall and couldn’t hang with either Ian or Eric. I stopped at the Dairy Queen in Astoria to refuel and Steve Davis and Chris Heg came in and joined me. I pushed on and eventually ran into Kevin Humphreys. We helped push each other over the Lewis and Clark Rd hill, into Seaside. Upon entering Seaside we ran into Gary Prince who convinced me and Kevin to stop and get a quick shake at McDonalds (I couldn’t get enough of this place no matter how bad I think this restaurant really is). We rode to Cannon Beach together and a there was a larger group was there having ice cream, sounds good to me!

From Cannon Beach, got some photos of the haystack and didn’t see anyone for a while. There were several 300-500 ft rollers to contend with…as many have said, just because your at sea level doesn’t mean it’s all flat! But with rollers makes great geology to observe along this stretch of the coast. It’s amazing that these rocks are apart of the 17 million year old Columbia River basalts which poured down the ancestral Columbia River and all along the Oregon Coast as far south as Pacific City.
Despite all the hills I kept my mind on the beautiful scenery how the Pacific Ocean carved pockets or coves into these Columbia River basalts.

As I rode into Nehalam, I ran into Kevin and we rode together to Tillamook. Geoff and Vincent did an awesome job in finding side routes that would take us off the main hwy 101…as the Miami Folley Road was a good break from all the traffic along Hwy 101. We road into Tillamook and stopped to get food at the Safeway. I thought it was good to get some food and not go into Pacific City starving. Here I got me some cold chicken soup that hit the spot. Heidi called at the perfect time and it was good to hear from her and kept me focused to keep pushing on.

Outside of Tillamook, there was construction but not too bad as was described on the cue sheet. The turnoff towards Pacific City was a relief, to know we were almost done with this first 400k. We arrived on the overlook on Sand Lake Road in time for a beautiful sunset over the Pacific and Cape Lookout. I arrived into Pacific City at about 7:46pm. This was just in time before the Mexican restaurant closed…chicken enchiladas hit the spot.

The Pacific City Inn wouldn’t let us keep our bikes in our room so I left it outside my room as the care takers watched over our bikes for us. I shared a room with Steve Barnes and Joey Korkames who eventually came in later that evening. I found out later that morning from Steve that he had to drop due to mechanical breakdown. Thanks to Vincent for going to pick up Steve! That’s always a drag to have that kind of mechanical that late in the ride. After eating some breakfast and coming out to pack my bike, the caretaker moved our bikes into the hotel office. At 3:00am about 7 of us started the 600k. I couldn’t keep up with Charlie White and Ken Carter or Robin Pieper and figured I wouldn’t see them until Klamath Falls. I was riding on my own here and it was a so cool to listen to the ocean pounding on the bluff below. Later that morning I ran into Eric Ahlvin, Doug Kirby and Bill Boggess and eventually David Strong. The Otter Creek loop section had awesome views of the moon glow on the huge waves on the Pacific.
We all stopped at a nice little bakery in Newport that we had to wait a few minutes before they opened…but it was worth the wait to get yogurt/granola and a huge cinnamon roll with coffee.

It was good to see Yaquina River Bridge at Newport as this is where I worked one summer for the EPA before starting my career in Olympia. It was good to think of all these times that I had in Oregon that got me where I am today. As we rode south of Newport, we realize we missed the turn off of Beaver Ck Road, but only missed it by a ¼ mile. Beaver Ck Road had some nice rollers but it was again good to get off the main drag of Hwy 101. We ate at another McDonalds in Florence. But I figured this would need to be my last long stop for the day, since I knew I needed to push on to get to my cabin in a reasonable time later that night. At Reedsport, there was a large number of 1000k riders we caught up to or who caught us. Eric and I left on our own to head inland and didn’t see anyone else until Roseburg. It was starting to warm up as we headed towards Roseburg. We kept a good pace along the Umpqua River as it is all nice flat terrain along Hwy 38. We stopped briefly in Elkton for a refill on water and ice cream. Upon leaving Elkton, Hwy 138 climbs up several rollers in between the sinuous Umpqua River. I once roamed these lands as where I started in my career in geology and hydrology, while working for BLM in Roseburg. But back then I was not into biking and never rode on any of these roads.

As we arrived in Roseburg about 8:15pm, the sun was already set and Eric offered the extra bed in his room. Even though it sounded intriguing at the time, I knew I had to push on. I knew there was something that drove me to get to the cabin I had already reserved. Geoff reminded me that it is only 48 more miles on gentle rolling terrain and that it was a good idea to get this jumpstart as I had already planned. Geoff also helped me to realize that I should leave Last Resort by 5am to give me 14 hours to do the last 200k. Geoff and Vincent did this last 200k in about 12 hours in the July pre-ride, so I knew giving myself 2 additional hours would be a good idea. Others that had already arrived in Roseburg were showered and hitting the sack for a few hours. I called Heidi and told her I was feeling good to push on and thought I might be able to convince someone to ride with me. Eric and I ate at the Denny’s across the street. Eric had the brilliant idea to buy breakfast to go, which I did the same. I ate a big meal (chicken sandwich) then also got me some hot cakes and bacon that I would take with me. By the time I restocked all my gear I left Roseburg at 9:53pm. The downtime in Roseburg was sufficient that gave me a chance to catch my breath, restock and gain the confidence to push on. Ian was the only other person that pushed on who was camping somewhere up the road but left about a half hour before me. Even though it had been nice to ride with everyone the 2 days prior to arriving in Roseburg, I was ecstatic about riding on my own into the night. I figured I would eventually meet up with other people after I slept for a couple hours at the cabin.

Anyways, Hwy 138 up the North Umpqua River brings back many memories of working stream surveys for the BLM, which was my first job here in the NW, that launched my career in geology and hydrology. I couldn’t help to think of all the good times I had, moving from Ohio straight out of college and seeking new places to explore, either backpacking, trail running or mtn climbing. The North Umpqua is a very scenic river that has been in several movies (Fire in the Sky, The River Wild and probably more) but the River kept me from feeling alone and brought me to appreciate the beauty of the solitude that lied before me. It brought to realize why I ride long distances… to capture solitary moments in the wilderness that enhances our understanding of our surroundings. A few times a grip of reality would come to light, when some animal would jump out in front of me but luckily it was just a smaller critter that was probably more scared of me.

I finally arrived up at the Umpqua Last Resort about 2am. It was relief to get to the cabin and find the light on, heater on and door unlocked waiting for me. I set my alarm for 4am and fell right to sleep. I easily woke up at 4am without hesitation of falling back asleep. I grabbed my pancakes and bacon and glad I had some real food to start me up the road. I left Umpqua Last Resort at 4:50am and headed up towards Diamond Lake. There was actually some good downhill to start off but soon enough the climb up to Diamond Lake would be evident. Riding 6 to 7 mph was common and just kept moving forward (as Geoff described in his pre-ride report…Relentless Forward Motion).

A "Blur" of what Relentless Forward Motion looks like, an ugly site INDEED!

I only ate caffeinated hammer gels on this steeper portion of the climb. I was getting nervous that I was only able to keep an 8.5 mph pace since the cabin, and knew that I would need to keep pushing in order to make the cutoff by 7pm later tonight.

I arrived at Stump Lake where the Clearwater River crosses the highway and saw a beautiful sunrise over Mt Theilsen that is over 9,000 ft in elevation, sticking as a lightning rod above the Diamond Lake area. But it was still a distance off and knew I still had a lot of climbing, since the road goes near the base Mt Theilsen about 5400 ft.

Another couple hours of climbing, Mt Theilsen finally appears above the trees, this time straight ahead! I had the urge to get some coffee at the Diamond Lake resort. But once I got to the turn off to Diamond Lake, I noticed it was a 0.7k down off the course. So I decided to push on and just eat and drink my own. I had my bladder bag still full of water and my bottles were still relatively full.

After entering Crater Lake National Park, I stopped and ate a clif bar and stripped down out of my leg and arm warmers. It was just after 9am and was feeling good that I would possibly make it to the rim before noon. But I still felt the need to keep pushing to stay ahead of the cutoff time. The climb from the Park entrance to Crater Lake Rim was just as beautiful as I remember. There is a slight downhill into the pumice desert which has an awesome panoramic view of the Rim. Climbing up to the Rim was slow as predicted and once you get to the Rim it still climbs several hundred feet until you get to the lodge. But the view looking into Crater Lake is worth the 7,000 ft of climbing in the last 100 miles and worth riding 600 miles just to get to see the most magnificent volcanic caldera feature on this Earth!! Crater Lake also brings back memories to me of either running the Crater Lake half or full marathons, cross-country skiing on the National Park ski patrol or just hiking endlessly around the area. And now I can add…riding to the top of Crater Lake Rim as one of the memorable moments in my life!

I arrived at the Rim Lodge about 11am and greeted by Geoff. I ate some food just at the cafeteria as I didn’t want to wait at the lodge diner. Vincent arrived in his car and he kept me from lingering around too long. Doug Kirby and Bill Boggess had to drop on the climb and I appreciated how supportive they were for me. I left the Rim Village lodge a little before noon and descended to Klamath Falls. The first 40k to Fort Klamath was nice and fast descent without too much effort. However, once we reached Fort Klamath, we were routed on the west side of Klamath Lake to avoid busy Hwy 97. It was really hot by the time I got to Hwy 140, but at least I stocked enough water to make most the way to Klamath Falls. There were a few climbs that felt really hot along Hwy 140, but not as bad as the 1000k riders experienced who hit the long Crater Lake climb in the heat of the day. There was a one stretch where there was no shoulder on a climb and a truck was not very forgiving and I rode off into the soft shoulder but luckily I didn’t fall over. Other riders also experienced this stretch to be not very pleasant with some locals hassling by not giving enough room. As I entered into Klamath Falls, I followed the tcx file on my Garmin and went up an extremely steep 25% hill. Got to the top and there was a gate. I looked at the cue sheet hard copy and realized that they had skipped this…oh well got some bonus climbing in!

I arrived into Klamath Falls Olympic Hotel at 4:55pm (37:55 for the 600k and 64:55 for the 1000k total time), with just over 2 hours before the cutoff for the 600k. I guess all that worrying about making the cutoff paid off. My Lodgepole cabin strategy also paid off and somehow beat the heat on most of the Crater Lake climb. And I am so thrilled to finish a tough 400k/600k back to back, on a course that provided so many awesome views from the Pacific to the Crater Lake! What a way to finish a 600k and the Super Randonneur Series. Thanks Geoff and Vincent for organizing a fabulous ride. Thanks also to Geoff, Vincent, Kole Kanter and Mark Thomas for pre-riding this course in the pouring rain and on some rugged road conditions that forced a reroute making it more pleasant for us during the brevet. Thanks also to Vincent for driving me home, with the help of Bill and Doug who carpooled to Albany. And thanks to Heidi, my family, friends and fellow Randonneurs for all their support for giving me confidence to finish this ride!

See you all next year on the road to PBP!

John Pearch