22 September 2015

I've Seen Fire and I've Seen Rain - Cycle Oregon 2015

Day 6 between Cove and La Grande
Day 4 between Weiser, Idaho and Farewell Bend State Park, Oregon
On Saturday I finished riding Cycle Oregon 2015, a week-long ride that attracts 2200 riders (and sells out almost immediately when applications open in early February).  The ride visits small towns and rotates annually among different parts of the state.  This was originally planned to give the largely Portland-based group of riders a chance to see areas of Oregon they might not otherwise get to, and to raise money for charities to meet local needs. (The ride, in its 28th year, now attracts riders from all over the U.S. and, this year, 8 foreign countries, so is much less focused on Portland-based riders, though they still form a large core).
Day 4 Again
Dawn at camp, Day 6
This year's ride was planned to feature the Hell's Canyon area along the Oregon/Idaho border, including an overlook way down into the deep canyon -- which is deeper than the Grand Canyon.  My first memory of Hell's Canyon is from watching on TV Evel Knievel's attempted rocket-powered motorcycle jump in ... 1973, just a few years after Apollo 11 landed on the moon.  Now it seems like before I was born, and a kind of more innocent era of daredevil stunt. This year's Cycle Oregon was named, appropriately, "Hell on Wheels".  Previous rides have been named "The Magnificent 7" (for 7 tall mountains on the route), "Going Coastal" (for a ride in the Oregon coast area), and similar themes.
Day 6 high point -- 1273 meters elevation.  Matched/exceeded only on Day 4.
Ride Director Steve Schulz joins "Karaoke from Hell" night with his rendition
of Garth Brooks' Classic "I've Got Friends in Low Places"
Ian Madin, Chief Scientist of the Oregon Department of Geology, offers evening lectures.
Want to know about Columbia River basalt?  Great floods of the past (no, not Noah's flood, the Missoula floods)?
Worried about the Cascade Subduction Zone potential for an M9.0 Quake?  Ask Ian! 
Cycle Oregon's Priority Activities
Cycle Oregon actually made NEWS in the region this year when an 18,000 acre wildfire flared up just outside of Halfway, Oregon, the planned overnight stop at the end of Day 3, forced a complete re-routing of days 3 to 6.  (Actually, the fire was man-made, so "flared up" is a bit too passive a term.)  This route change involved a herculean organizational effort, and came off pretty much without a hitch.  Imagine the logistics involved in moving, feeding, showering, and disposing of waste from, an army.  That is Cycle Oregon -- an amazing logistical feat.
Day 3 "option" ride out of Cambridge and to the southern (dammed) part of Hell's Canyon
We start the longest climb of the trip.
Day 4 -- Oldtime Fiddlers Entertain at a Rest Stop
Weiser Idaho is home to the National Oldtime Fiddlers' contest 
Jeffrey's Community Hall and Shamrock Club, Day 4
The Snake River between Farewell Bend and Weiser, Day 4
Dammed area of the Snake River above Brownlee Dam, Day 3
These dams lack any passage for migrating salmon ... so there are none this far inland.
The reservoirs look dead in comparison to a flowing river ...
At the evening ride announcements in Cambridge, Idaho, we were told that we could not go to Halfway, nor to the following stop at Joseph near Lake Wallowa, since the fire had caused repeated highway closures and evacuation of homes.  We would miss the Hell's Canyon overlook.

As we all stood in an open field, in darkness, hearing this news, rain started to pour down from the heavens.  It rained pretty much all night, testing the seam sealing on my 35-year old tent's rain fly.  I managed to make it through the night warm, with only minor dampness that a towel soaked up before it could get to my (even older) sleeping bag.  It rained again the following night, but we had dry weather on the road.  Only on Day 5 did we get a few minutes' of rain showers while actually riding, though later or slower riders got more rain.  Despite riding on dry roads, the rain that first night in Cambridge apparently set a record for precipitation on a Cycle Oregon event. Unfortunately, the rain would not be in time nor in the right place to extinguish the fire and save our route through Halfway.

The Cycle Oregon website unofficially changed the name of the ride from "Hell on Wheels" to "Hell or High Water".  Given the lack of flooding (i.e. "high water"), I think James Taylor's "I've Seen Fire and I've Seen Rain" might be more appropriate.
Dinner tent in Baker City, Day 0.  A massive feeding operation comes off without a hitch.
"Option" section near Baker City, morning of Day 1
I enjoyed meeting lots of friendly people on this event -- people from all over the U.S. and some from abroad.  People of all ages and professions.  And I was glad to meet up for several dinners with Roy T. and "the gang", the nucleus of which is from the Portland Saturday morning ride that I joined back in February 2012.
Dinner at the Grand Geiser Hotel, Day 5 
Grand Geiser Cafe and Hotel's Skylight
Large volumes of beer were consumed.
Widmer Brothers ran out of IPA at one point, forcing participants to settle for amber ale, wheat beer
and a few other options, or move on to numerous wines.
You can find the GPS maps of the original planned routes here.

With the two hardest days cancelled and rerouted, I found the cycling was a nice "warm down" after PBP.  Not too challenging, plenty of leisurely riders and a few fast folks.  The randonneur bike proved very comfortable, and very fast.  I was passing large numbers of riders not only on the flats and descents, but even on the climbs!  And I appreciated different hand, foot and saddle positions vis-vis the bike I used at PBP. Other than swapping out the rear non puncture-resistant Grand Bois tire after some flats on Day 3, the bike worked like a charm.

The camping -- just setting up and sleeping/living in a tent for a week -- was more of a challenge, but still enjoyable.  The food -- was always plentiful, too plentiful, and quality was as good as could possibly be expected for this kind of mass event.  The daily entertainment and the "beer tent", pizza and Nossa Familia coffee were all very good.  This would be a great event to do with a partner or as a reunion for a group of friends.  It also would be a great event to keep doing into my 60s and 70s.  This year's oldest participant was 81.  Far less likely to collapse and die of heart failure here than at PBP!
"tent and porter" service including camp chairs ... for an extra fee
useful if you do not want to bring or pitch your own tent
...but no choice of location and packed in a bit like sardines
Lots of couples do this annually.  Lots of tandems.

On the outward leg of Day 3, climbing

PDX culture = bicycles and tattoos,  so why not a cycling tattoo?
This one looked quite nice -- much better than the Pantani or 力 tattoos
I saw in the Dolomites earlier this summer
Camp with view of the Snake River at Farewell Bend
Many riders swam in the river on warm Day 2.  Not on cold Day 4.
At one stop I counted 7 of these 2-part mobile shower units.
Hot showers.  And hot water for shaving etc. in the sinks out front.

Strawberries at a rest stop.
Lunch stop Day 2

Folk singer Kelly, at lunch stop Day 2. She was very popular with the gang.

Random horse later on Day 2
Unlike cows or sheep, horses tend to react ... move quickly and approach ... when you stop for a photo
View from my tent, end of Day 1 Farewell Bend.
View from camp at Farewell Bend
Jonathan Maus' Bike Portland blog has nice entries on the event, links to which can be found below at the bottom of this post.  You can find photos of my randonneur bike on Day One and Day Four, though I was hoping he might give a bit more of a "plug" to the builder, Bob K. of Bantam Bicycles. And the Cycle Oregon Facebook page (link below) has plenty of photos of happy riders.
Happy Rider with Randonneur Bike near end of Day 6 ride
Claiming a space to camp on Day 5 while I pick up my luggage

At the lunch stop on Day 6, at beautiful Catherine Creek State Park, my bike was approached by a Cycle Oregon official photographer, who said they were taking photos of riders holding up their bikes, for future promotional use.  He said that since my randonneur bike was the "most beautiful bike" at the event this year, they wanted to get a photo of me holding the bike. ...  I will let you know if I find it posted somewhere.

Day 6 was definitely the highlight, as our route followed an Oregon "Scenic Bikeway".  These routes are the best that the state has to offer for road cyclists.  There are 15 so far ... and I want to go back and ride them all, maybe some as part of a future Cycle Oregon, and some with just a small group of friends.

Cycle Oregon Facebook Page is here.

Cycle Oregon photo pool flickr is here.
And links to lots of other spectacular photos by the Cycle Oregon photographers are here.

Bike Portland blog reports and photos:

Getting Things Started
Day One
Day Two
Fire Forces Re-route
Day Three
Day Four
Day Five
Day Six
(No Day Seven entry as of this point, but see: Exploring Baker City and Environs

Final PDX Note:  Just-released figures show that 7.2% of commuting trips in Portland in 2014 were made by bicycle, a record number for the city and WAY better than the U.S.-based competition.  Seattle, Minneapolis, Washington, DC and San Francisco are all in the 3-5% range.  New York, despite the Bloomberg years, is still at 1.1%.

21 September 2015

Better than London?

When I was in London in 2012 for the Positivo wedding, I marveled at the bicycle floor pump outside a pub in David and Juliane's neighborhood -- for convenient commuter use as they waited at the traffic signal.

Well, Milwaukie, Oregon, the Portland suburb where my Dad now lives, has one-upped London, and installed a complete bicycle repair station on a commuter route into Portland.  Multitool, drivers, tire irons, box wrenches, even long-handled hex wrench for those hard-to-reach repairs.  And, of course, it has a floor pump.

Milwaukie, always in my mind a relatively "blah" working/middle class suburb, somewhere in between the white trash Tonya Harding area far to the East and the tony western slopes where Intel engineers and urban professionals reside, now has a new "MAX" light rail connection direct to downtown Portland, not to mention good bicycle routes.  Oh, and they have a great Sunday farmers' market in a manageable size.

3 different varieties of "nashi" (Asian pears), and many more "yo-nashi" (western pears) 
The bread looked great ... if only we needed bread today

12 September 2015

Paris Brest Paris 2015

PBP is an incredible event.  Over 6000 cyclists gather at the National Velodrome in the SW Paris suburb of St. Quentin-en-Yvelines, ride to Brest, and back, over 1230 kms, in under 90 hours.

This year's PBP organization was impressive -- much better than I remember it from 2011.  The volunteers were great.  And the townspeople lining the route were fantastic.  There are so many great write-ups and summaries of this event that I do not feel the need to write one, nor have I found the time.  Two of the U.S. randonneur reports I liked a lot are:

1.  Eric Norris' 30 minute video summary of the event is here on youtube.

2.  Jenny Oh Hatfield's series of blog posts with great photos.  You can find the "main" post here, with links at the bottom to the other posts that touch on topics such as the people, bicycles, landscapes, architecture etc.

3.  Strava has some nice photos in its post here, especially the last ones.

So I will only offer some brief highlights of my PBP:

1.  The last supper.  Jerome invited our entire Fleche team and another friend (Steve R.) as well as members of Jerome's family, to a dinner the night before the event.  It was great to get one formal, very nice French meal among friends before the basic "refueling" meals during the event.  We even got an authentic grumpy French waiter!  Thank you, Jerome.

At sign-in, we got our commemorative jerseys.  Very nice:

A photo with team Japan ... I snuck in front of the ladies for some pictures with them.

Fleche team minus leader plus Saitama Audax interloper.  Ready to go!
Suzuki-san and Maya Ide hamming it up.

2.  The start.  Ready, set, go!  I was in the 5:30PM start group, first among the 90-hour participants riding "normal" road bicycles.  The 80 hour start groups had gone earlier, and the 5:15PM wave was for the "special" bikes:  recumbents, tandems, velomobiles, trikes, and even a group of ElliptiGOs.  I arrived early enough so that I ended up in the second row of the 5:30PM riders.  A group of young Italians in matching club jerseys took off in a line, and another 5~7 of us followed.  We quickly separated from the rest of the 5:30PM starters and were out in front.  

 After 15-20 kms, one of the Italians dropped something and they pulled off to wait as he went back to pick it up.  The rest of our little group continued.  Soon I was passing recumbents, mini-bikes, tandems, elliptigos and velomobiles, still on the FRONT of the 90 hour starters.

I had carefully planned NOT to go out too fast, but to pace myself. I had an MS Excel "ride plan", carefully prepared and partially memorized.  But it all went out the window in the excitement of the first 10 minutes.  Here I was in FRONT of the 90 hour group at PBP.  If I could STAY in front, no worries about crowds anywhere along the route, ... or at least in the first few controls where I had worried especially about crowds.

I made it through the first 100 kms in a little over 3 hours.  Way too fast.  I was way ahead of my ride plan at Mortange-au-Perche (140kms), and at Villaines-la-Juhel (220kms).  At Villaines, I ate some overcooked pasta (it was sitting in the steam table awaiting riders) in a deserted cafeteria.  

It goes without saying, but I suffered for my lack of early control.  I ended up extremely tired on the leg after Villaines, my time slipped back toward the plan, and I needed to sleep for 90 minutes at Fougeres (310 kms), much earlier than I had planned.  

Somewhere in Brittany on Monday Aug 21

LED dynamo-powered bicycle lights of returning 80-hour riders in the fog of Tuesday morning.
Just before dawn on the last stretch into Brest.

Dawn on Tuesday morning as the fog clears

Dawn Tuesday.
This bridge means we are entering Brest and essentially half way done!
Photo of me crossing the bridge into Brest -- thank you, Inagaki-san!
3.  The Angel of Sizun.  On Tuesday morning the fog and descent from Roc'h Trevezel chilled me.  I started to get cold AND sleepy just before the town of Sizun.  Sizun was one of many towns on the route that turns this event into a 24x7 festival for a few days as the riders come through.  It just takes the effort of a few families, or one or two cafes in the village square to do so.  In Sizun, as I pulled in, I saw a large urn of coffee outside of the local butcher's shop.  I pulled over and purchased a cup of hot coffee for 1 Euro.  There was a single, solitary chair inside the warm shop.  I asked the proprietor if I could go inside and sit while I drank the coffee, to warm up and rest.  "Biensur!"  I sat down and took a sip.  30 minutes later I awoke, warm and still clutching the half empty cup.

On the way back, I stopped again  The proprietor's nephew was serving pasta (macaroni) with cream or bolognese sauce.  I ordered one, and got a photo of my savior and his nephew.  Thank you, Sizun!

Across the street from the butcher's shop in Sizun
Just after Sizun, I passed Jerome and Yutaka, in the 84-hour group still heading out.
They had started 12 hours behind me ... and were much closer now having made up good time.

Jerome and Yutaka -- first ride together since the winter trip from Tokyo to Kansai a few years back?
4.  The return legs.  

A.  Chaos at Quedillac.  The only place I saw a bit of chaos was late Tuesday night, early Wednesday morning at Quedillac.  This is not a "control" where you must get your card stamped, but it is a major food and sleeping spot.  I arrived at 2AM or so, and it seemed so did every other rider in the event.  There were space blankets with what seemed like dead bodies under them.  I sat down, put my head on a table, and slept 90 minute until a cold wind through the door awoke me, shivering.  I warmed up by a fire and pushed on to Tinteniac where I could get a bed and better rest.

B.  With Steve R. to Fougeres. From here on, the event had a bit of magic to it.  I found Steve R.  and rode the next segment with him, both of us in a bit of a haze, but helping each other make decent time.

C.  With Vincent to Villaines.  At Fougeres, I met Vincent, who I had not seen since Seattle last year.  Jenny's blog post names him the "philosopher king of rando".  I would have to agree.  It was great to catch up a bit, and ride with someone strong and experienced.

Vinnie, and Jeff from NC

A rest stop for ice cream at Varenne.  See Jenny's photo of Vincent here.

Exhausted riders at Villaine.

D. Return to Fresnay-sur-Sarthe.  In 2011, I crashed out of PBP in the town of Fresnay-sur-Sarthe. On the outbound leg we went around the town on a bypass.  I was curious to see the town in the daylight, and to exact a measure of revenge.  But first, we traveled along towns on a gentle ridge, with flowers.

When I stopped for photos, this VERY drunk local alcoholic wanted to help me find my way.
At least I think he wanted to help.  I could tell the ladies across the street were a bit embarrassed
that he would be representing the town.

Finally, I approached Fresnay-sur-Sarthe.

There it is!  The bump on the far side of the cross walk that burst both my tire tubes and sent me onto my side in 2011.
And the marble gravestone that snapped my carbon handlebars.

This time, I stopped at a hotel just down the street and around the corner and enjoyed a really nice salad bar/buffet dinner.

E.  With Tanaka-san to Mortagne.  Shortly after I started to ride again, just after I took this photo, a train of 10~12 Japanese riders went by following the Goto-san couple on their tandem.  Tanaka-san, our Fleche team leader, was among them.  We rode together to Mortagne, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, the tandem train.

F.  With the TPP (Tarheel Party Posse) to Dreux and beyond.  The hardest stretch was the last night from Mortagne to Dreux.  There were riders everywhere weaving and pulled off, flat on their backs.  It started with some long (seeming) hills.  Pitch darkness other than our lights.

I was saved by a train of riders from North Carolina.  I hopped on with them and held on for dear life. They were vocal, shouting warnings, rotating pulls.  It was great.  I never would have gotten to Dreux without them.  And they were great.  Ian Hands' story about his Paris visit before PBP, the stories other riders told me about Ian's Dad Adrian, it inspired me to push on.  At one point a bit of a gap opened in front of Ian as he made some adjustments -- riding at very high cadence with his fixie (!?!) and right leg slightly out to the side.  I asked he if wanted me to ride in front and "close the gap" a bit.  He declined my offer with "No need. I can close ANY gap."  I rode with the TPP under cover of night and the morning rain, so I did not get any good pictures.  For much more about them and a photo of Ian's wild tie-dyed jersey you will need to visit Jenny Hatfield's blog entries.

Near Rambouillet, as I start to lose the TPP
More near Rambouillet.  The rain is starting to pick up now!
Then it was over.  In the rain, I was too cold to hang around the finish for long.  I went back to my hotel and warmed up in a hot bath.

A great event, a great atmosphere, and a celebration for riders from around the world.  Will I go back in 2019?  I hope so!

UPDATE:  February 21, 2016.  The randonneuring community is shocked to learn that four North Carolina randonneurs were seriously injured, two in critical condition two in stable condition, after a car ploughed into them during an early season 200km brevet.  Two of the riders who pulled me through the last night of PBP -- Mike Dayton (now President of RUSA) and Christopher Graham -- were among the group.  A local news report is here (as long as the link remains).