Doing it all the hard way...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tour de Blast 2010 Ride Report


It was wet, but it was a cold wet...

After toying with the idea of doing the Tour de Blast for several weeks, I finally decided that if the weather looked good, I would do it. With less than a week to go, weather underground predicted sunny and about 70. I signed up. It appears that within seconds of signing up the weather reports began to deteriorate. They continued to worsen until the conclusion of the ride. A firestorm of emails began circulating among the woebegone members on my team who had also committed to ride, regarding weather and potential alternative plans. One of the draws of doing this ride was the opportunity to stop at a Mexican restaurant in Centrailia that is reputed to be the best Mexican food in Washington. Kevin on our team swears it is the schizzle. Others have blogged of their legendary flan. Our team president had been absent from the email volleys of the preceding days and then the evening before the ride, as options were being proposed and amended and amended again, he flatly stated he would not be denied his flan. The wavering was done. To the volcano we go!

Light traffic at 4:55 AM

The alarm went off at 4:20 and there was a little light in the sky as I stumbled my way to the Mac. The Doppler showed there was one yellow-green blob in the state. It was large and right over the ride course. It showed signs of moving north which gave me a hint of hope that we might escape the deluge.

I arrived at El Jefe's’s place under cloudy, but dry, skies. Sam came out chomping on a bowl of granola. A few moments later Big John arrived with the vehicle and we loaded up our rain bikes. Down the street Hank reluctantly allowed his bike to be latched on and finally he grabbed his bag. After making sure we were not kidding and that we really wanted to go to Mt. St. Helens, he put it in the back and we set out for the mountain. John’s Pilot rocked back and forth gently as Hank shook his head.

Hank brought a thermos of fresh brewed coffee, cups and a small carafe of cream. We almost made it to Tacoma before the rain started. My theory was we would drive through it and come out to dry skies. Hank sent a text asking about weather to members of our team that had a 45 minute head start and were closer to the event. “Sunny and 80 degrees,” was the reply.

Traffic was light at the early hour and we made good time. We all started eating from our respective stashes as we neared the start. We arrived, signed in, and changed into our riding clothes as a light mist fell. It wasn’t too cold so we were still comfortable. We rolled to the bathroom when Hank recalled he had left his saddle bag and needed to go back to the car. We waited out of the rain for Hank and noticed it had started raining harder and harder. Hank returned and we rolled out.

Ready to be stupid

Puddle next to our car…..

We quickly formed a paceline and alternated medium pulls. We all had fenders, but Hank was lacking “buddy” flaps. The rooster tail behind Hank was heinous so that became the place no one wanted to be. We were moving at 21-24 mph and our effort combined with the mild temperatures kept us warm. We hit the first food stop having climbed 900 feet in sixteen miles. It had been rolling and only near the end was there any consistent grade. I wolfed down several slices of baked potatoes and banana. I filled my empty water bottle and dropped in a nuun tablet. I had started the day with Sustained Energy in both bottles and I still had one left. The rain had not let up for a second and we quickly got moving again to warm up. My arms were wet but okay. My core felt fine and the climbing seemed much easier than I recalled.

Eat drink and be wet !

I ate the banana I brought and took off my sunglasses. The climb to the next stop was steady and we were in the clouds. Visibility was crap and people who had turned around at the twenty-seven mile point were coming downhill on the other side of the road with their brakes on because they couldn’t see far enough to go fast. They were also gritting their teeth because of the cold. Going uphill was strange because in the fog you couldn’t see more than 100-150 meters so in my mind I was constantly near the top of the climb. When there was a gap and you could see a greater distance (and more of the climb) I found I would slow down as if I suddenly realized I was on a hill and needed to pace myself. Lots of people had fenders, but many did not. The stripe on their clothing was one thing; the soggy chamois, I imagine, would prove to be the bigger problem.

I was dressed for intermittent rain and the lack of a break gave me no chance to dry out. Were I to do it over again I would dress differently. I should have worn my GORE gloves and duct taped my booties to my hairy legs. As it was the water ran down my legs and through the slight gap between my booties and my skinny ankles. I have an ideal jacket to wear if it is 35 to 45 degrees. It wasn’t, at least not at the start.

Note that in almost every picture of Sam - He is eating..
Soon we were at 3800’, twenty seven miles in. Over 2000’ of climbing since the last food stop and it felt easy. It was time to stoke the furnace with more food. Hank had a ham sandwich which sounded absolutely gross to me. I ate, topped off my bottles and was ready to go. A couple Cyclocross friends rolled up to the food stop and they were likewise questioning their idea of fun….. The four of us turned right and a course marshal said they were recommending people not go to the top. It made a lot of sense, but we just rode past and thanked him.

Stylin’ the Toutle Chapeau

After a momentary climb; a quick descent brought us down to 2530’ and the beginning of a 1800’ climb to the highpoint at 4330’. In contrast to most rides the riders going uphill were smiling (because they were warm) and those going down downhill fast were grimacing (because of the wicked wind chill on their frozen bodies). The climb was steady and we were passing people like crazy. Soon I was dropped by John and Sam and although I continued to pass people, it wasn’t as dramatic.

I was in a comfortable gear and I just kept spinning circles and soon I was making the sweeping left hand turn that signaled the end was near. I passed the 4000’ sign and could see the light that edged the parking lot. When I pulled in a woman volunteer informed me my “party” was in the visitor’s center. As I headed up I saw Sam walking away from a bike rack where I quickly parked my bike.

The view of the mountain from the visitor’s center

Inside I found a quiet corner and I removed my helmet, gloves and hat. I tried to be discreet as I wrung the icy water from my gloves and earband. I removed one bootie, the shoe and my sock. I wrung out my sock and looked at my wrinkled white foot. I put my sock, shoe and the bootie back on, and repeated the process for the other foot. My booties suck.

Sam pointed me to the restroom where soggy cyclists were taking turns drying gloves and what not under the hand dryers. There was an assortment of thousand mile stares. Everyone was a little on edge as they were preoccupied with monitoring their individual battles with hypothermia.

Finally we emerged into the cold air, and for the first time I felt a chill on my legs and chest. We made our way to the actual food stop and Sam bought a round of hot chocolates. God bless him. We stood around drinking the hot nectar with shivering hands. One of the medical support personnel herded us into a waiting ambulance where six of us sat while the heater cranked. They handed out thick surgical gloves which I put over my wet gloves for wind protection for the upcoming descent. When they asked if we were okay, I replied that I was experienced at doing stupid things and would be fine enough. When we decided further time would not get us any warmer, but would erode our resolve- we rolled out of the ambulance and quickly jumped on our bikes like a trained SWAT team.

In the ambulance

Hey, can I try some of these drugs ?

Thumbs up ! The glove, the ambulance, and a man earning his flan

As we rolled down there was a parting in the clouds and I stopped to capture the view.

About 4000’ up the mountain

It was a dilemma on the descent. If you went faster it was colder; if you went slower you prolonged the suffering. If you pedaled you might warm up, but you’d get even more wind chill. I feathered the brakes until a microclimate formed on my front side and then I pedaled to warm up. The rule is 3.5 degrees cooler for every thousand feet of altitude gain. The descent brought up the temperature about 6-7 degrees and it made a difference. The climb back to 3800’ was almost pleasant. I felt strong and was warm enough once again.

I caught Sam on the climb and we paced each other back to the food stop at fifty eight miles. “We can’t stay long!” was a unanimous proclamation as we arrived. I ate, topped one bottle and was looking around when I spotted Paulo, my lunchtime ride companion from work. I knew he was riding and I had been looking for him assuming he started well ahead of us. He was under an awning set up to give the riders some shelter from the continuing rain. There was a bonfire going on a platform a few inches off the cement and Paulo was seated smack in front of it. I said hello and he told me how cold he was. He had decided to SAG back to the start having ridden up all of the hills. I concurred there was no shame in cutting out the easy part. I could feel my core temperature dropping, so I bid him a hasty farewell and with my mates rolled down the mountain. It took longer to warm up and then I started getting cold again.

Ten miles further down the road the rain stopped and the highway looked dry for a half mile. Sam was cooked and I was pulling him along as the rain was on again, off again. I felt amazingly strong. Without a word we skipped the last stop and motored on. On the way up we had passed a small pub where local women tried to entice us to stop with the promise of free beer. It sounded like a set up to me. Now on the descent they were out again, this time with bigfoot, seeking patrons. We were rolling at twenty miles an hour and it would take a lot to give up that momentum. Wisely we ignored the Sirens song, but I did snap a couple pictures as this was during a brief dry spell. We later talked to a rider who said he had survived stopping for a beer and a shot in a prior year.

Skank and Bigfoot

Note the cigarette in her hand and the bikes in the background

Less than two miles from the high school finish line, Sam and I spotted Big John on the opposite side of the road with his rain jacket off eating. The bonk had hit John and he decided to stop and eat. Sam and I joined and we all shared what food we had.


Bonked with a hint of attitude

Big John had a commitment that meant we had to choose between stopping for tasty flan or taking a shower at the finish and eating at the post ride pasta feed. Without much discussion we decided on showers and pasta. In no time we were at the finish, then to the car and on to hot showers. The school showers may be where locals take their old cars to get the paint stripped off, but we were grateful for the warmth.

No flan for this man, but Spagetti will do….

The rain continued all the way to Seattle. We looked longingly to the east as we passed Centrailia and promised ourselves that we would eat there another time. Although the draw of flan is a powerful thing, supporting a friend in getting home on time proved more important.

It is strange to say this, but it was an enjoyable ride. I don’t know that I have ever had as much fun being miserable. I recall a line from the movie/documentary about Cyclocross called “Pure Sweet Hell.” It says the reason Cyclocross is so fun is “because it sucks the most.”

I will post a follow up blog on equipment and course comments.

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