30 August 2016

Randonneuring in Oregon, on the Oregon Randonneur Bike

On Saturday I joined the Oregon Randonneurs' ("ORR") 400km Lebanon/Dee Wright Observatory Brevet, in near perfect weather.

This was the first time I have ridden a brevet in Oregon (Portland, Oregon being my hometown and where my parents still live). It also was my first brevet on the custom, purpose-built "Oregon Randonneur Bike" that Bob Kamzelski of Bantam Bicycle Works built for me last year and I initiated at Cycle Oregon 2015.

Vincent, who came to Hokkaido for the 1200km in July, made the trip from Seattle for this one, and I joined him and another SIR member, Audunn, for dinner on Friday evening near the start.

Of course, brevets are unsupported long-distance events, usually very spartan. Some Audax clubs go out of the way to provide some refreshments, or a manned "control point", a snack or a cup of soup at the finish.  Of course, the longest and largest events provide more -- meals, showers and sleeping facilities along the way. I was told the Oregon rides are at the spartan end of the spectrum.  The pricing (free entry) certainly matched.

Indeed, this ride had only 8 participants on 7 bicycles (one tandem), including 3 from the Washington-based Seattle International Randonneurs club, one from the east-of-the-mountains Desert River Randonneurs and myself visiting from Japam.  (There was another Oregon ride the same weekend -- a 600km -- and both were styled as "makeup rides" for anyone who had missed another earlier in the year).  The ORR representative who staffed the ride emailed us in advance to warn that he would be joining the ride, so riders would need to show up  at 5AM sharp or be left without a card (but also, no worries, if we lost or rode without a card -- it would all be figured out in the end).  It was a welcome relaxed approach to the brevet rules, in contrast with Japanese "a rule is a rule" bureaucracy.

The ride had two challenges for me: first, nearly 3800 meters of climbing, and second, extremely limited opportunities to get food and water en route.  No 24 hour 7-11 or Lawson convenience stores. No vending machines by roadside in the middle of nowhere like in Japan.
Elevation profile for the initial 260 (out of 400) kilometers - 3 long climbs, 2 of them with over 1000 meters elevation gain.
We started at 5AM sharp from Lebanon, Oregon, a town on the eastern edge of the Willamette Valley SE of Albany (which is South of Salem and North of Eugene).  It was still pitch dark, unlike a 5AM start in Japan.  After a warm up stretch on dark country roads, we eventually started a long climb up a paved National Forest road that peaked out at km 96 or so at around 1250 meters elevation.  I was a bit worried that with US Route 20 to the south closed down temporarily, there might be extra traffic on this road.  I needed have worried. There was almost no traffic.
Dawn at the reservoir East of Sweet Home, Oregon
Ward and Audunn climb ahead

Who is that big shadow?
View from the top toward the East
Along the climb, which paralleled a reservoir then creek, there were many families camped -- trucks and SUVs, tents, tables and cooking gear all visible, with the occasional boat or dog.  I rode with Ward and Audunn of SIR until about the 70 km mark, as the road turned up and I fell back.  As usual, Vinny started slow and then just got faster and faster.
Inside the restaurant at Marion Forks. The river runs just beyond the patio in back.
The first control was at the restaurant at Marion Forks.  It was only when I got there (11AM) that I recognized the name or place -- I had driven by it many times on the North Santiam highway en route from Detroit Reservoir to the Sisters/Black Butte/Bend area.  I was looking forward to an early lunch, so was a bit disappointed to see Ward and Audun settling up as I entered.  They had had some pie and stocked up and were heading out.  I sat down and ordered meat loaf.  They were out, so I switched to a hamburger.  As I was waiting for my burger, Ron and Kathy pulled up on their tandem, with Bill. They got their brevet cards signed and headed back to the bike.  What, no food?  Kathy explained that the following weekend they were doing a series of 3 rides out of Baker City, each of which required that you carry all the needed food (and water). This was a training run for them and they were fully stocked on the tandem.

I was still waiting for my burger a few minutes later when Vinny pulled in around 1125AM and showed me how it is done. Instead of ordering from the menu, he asked the waitress "what do you have that is fast"?  After rejecting a few choices, she finally suggested a sandwich.  He ordered one to eat at the counter, and one to go.

I amended my order to add a turkey sandwich to go.  His sandwiches arrived before my burger!  He got the check and settled up while eating, ... so I followed suit.

In any event, we headed out at the same time and were together on the first few climbs, until he pulled away. I saw Vinny again at the last water stop before the climb to McKenzie Pass/Dee Wright Observatory (the Ollalie at Mckenzie Bridge campground), and as he descended from the pass while I still climbed.  He finished in around 21 hours, way ahead of my 23 hrs 45 mins.

The stretch after Marion Forks was for me somehow by far the hardest.  We climbed up almost as high as the pass we had come over, then had a long descent punctuated by some intermediate climbs.  But the entire stretch of 50kms was the shoulder of a busy road, and with direct sunlight and warm temperatures.  The heat was nothing like Japan, but it was still mid-day heat and sun, with speeding traffic nearby, and already nearly 2000 meters elevation gain and 150kms under the belt.  I was very happy to finally, just after 3PM, reach the entrance to the climb up to Dee Wright Observatory and realized that the winding road had little traffic and plenty of shade.
Now the main event!
I was tired and hot on the climb, despite the shade and moderate (for summer) temperatures.  At least I knew it would just get cooler as I climbed.  And I had filled 3 bottles at the Olallie campground, so would have plenty of water.  Right?  Well, I started climbing around 500 meters elevation and would be going to 1600.  By 750, I had already used 1 1/2 bottles as I slowed from exhaustion.  I pulled off at a campsite/trailhead, borrowed an empty picnic table in a "day use" area and lay down for a good, 10 minute nap.
A beautiful view lying flat on my back.
Before I left I approached a family campsite wtih 3 huge coolers.  I asked the mother if they had any spare drinking water.  She pulled out a 500ml PET bottle of water (the kind they sell at Costco?) and handed it to me.  Saved by the kindness of strangers. With this reserve and the cooling weather, I regained my confidence.

Around 1100 meters elevation, Ward and Audunn passed me heading back on the descent.  A bit further it was Ron and Kathy on the tandem, riding with Bill.  And not far apart Vinny, just as I started the long (10kms?) flattish stretch at the top toward the pass.
Finally a (mostly) flat section around 1400 meters elevation.  ~10kms and 200-250m up to the pass.
It was 6PM by the time I got to the observatory at the pass, and I sat down for some food, rationing my last bottle of water sip by sip. I was a bit worried about the headwind, VERY stiff at the top of the hill, that I would ride into on the return (fortunately, it was not a problem beyond the very first stretch).
Getting closer to the pass now. Lava flows abound.
The cue sheet required us to answer a question about the sign on the door to the restrooms at the observatory monument. There was an unmarked building that LOOKED like a restroom, but without any markings, and with a sign on the wall, not either of the doors.  The night before Audunn had said something about needing to ride a few hundred meters beyond the pass ... so I took a spin down the East side to see if there was another parking lot and more obvious control point and restroom. There was not, so I climbed back up, investigated and confirmed that, sure enough, the unmarked building was the restroom and the sign on the wall must have been the one intended.

North Sister and Middle Sister, from near McKenzie Pass

A nearly identical view.
In any event, I was still at the summit when Paul arrived, the last of the 8 riders. I was delighted to have some company and we rode relatively close together as far as the next control, 40 kms down the hill at the McKenzie Bridge General Store.
Is that South Sister just over the ridge on the descent back to McKenzie Bridge?

The store had very limited choices for food that could be eaten on the spot. Lots of junk, and some groceries and frozen food that required preparation. At least there was yogurt, an ice cream bar (my body craves milk products at this point in a long ride) and hot coffee.  On a second trip into the store I ventured into the "courtyard" out back, which I realized was where the restaurant is located.  Next trip, I will head straight for the restaurant, and ask for something fast.

But for now, there was not a moment to waste.  Paul told me to go on ahead as he wanted to keep to a deliberate, steady pace -- a tortoise to my hare -- and I rode alone the last 145 kms of the ride (except seeing Paul once more, coming into Coburg as I was leaving).  It was a fast 60 kms stretch on the highway along the McKenzie River to a turn off to Camp Creek Road.

On Camp Creek Road there was no traffic, after midnight now, and I could incredible stars, the milky way visible together with thousands of others. Perfect temperature; my body not complaining.  What a joy.  This is the kind of stretch that brought me to randonneuring back in 2010, and it is always welcome.

I made excellent time to the next control at Coburg, as my Garmin track shows.  Well, actually, my aging, always buggy Garmin Edge 800 crashed just before Coburg. It seems to have deleted my recording for this entire stretch in doing so. Anyway, I just needed to "bring it home" the last 60kms, which began with a straight, flat stretch of around 20kms.  I was thinking I could finish by 4AM or so, but then the road headed into foothills.  A few short climbs set me back, and I ended up rolling in at 4:43AM.  At the all-night gas station where we got our proof-of-finish receipts, the guy manning the gas pumps seemed to have full knowledge of what I was doing and who I was with.  He asked about the other rider, and I assured him "Paul should be along before long."

And then it was done.  No celebration.  The early riders already packed up and gone, somewhere. Vinny and Audunn back to eat and sleep again at their hotel.  I loaded up the car, got some drive-through food and coffee at the local McDonald's, napped for 30 minutes, and drove back to Portland, where I showered, bathed, and went into a deep, delightful recovery sleep.

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