Doing it all the hard way...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rain and Fire on the Mountain Volcanoes 2014

New for 2014 !!  Mt Adams
I can’t speak to the level of planning that mice do; but middle aged men can put together some pretty elaborate plans.  When circumstances dictate that said planning becomes nugatory, desperate times often follow.

Our vision for the Gravel Odyssey had morphed into a plan for a base-camp themed gravel adventure. The largest wildfire in the history of our state killed that plan and we found ourselves drinking coffee post ride and considering our options four days from our scheduled departe’.
I dunno, what do YOU think??
With the door closing we opted to repeat our classic Volcanoes trip.  McWoodie made some phone calls and by some crazy miracle we could make it work.  Soon we were resurrecting spreadsheets from the prior trip and we had cue sheets, food lists and gear lists at hand.

We would start as five and end with ten riders.   Using the lessons learned from the prior trip we procured food and met at an ungodly hour in the depressing rain on Thursday morning. We gathered at McWoodie’s alley and McWoodie, Einmotron, El Pirate and Whiplash all appeared at the appointed hour. Our experience showed and we were loaded and rolling right on schedule.
We arrived at Randle, Washington amid a cold drizzle. I don’t know if Randle is large enough of a place to be “in,” so I shall say we arrived at Randle. We stopped in the coffee shop and hoped the rain would let up so that we might have a dry ride.  Like parents conversing at the park while their children play, every lull in the conversation would find us glancing out the window to see if the rain was still falling. The forecast was for the rain to let up later that morning so we resigned ourselves to starting in clouds or even drizzle with the understanding that the weather would improve as they day progressed.
Quick before the rain returns
Coinciding with the limits of our powers of denial we finished our food and coffee and the rain did indeed let up.  We put on our costumes and donned sleeves, rain jackets and booties.  We would take shifts driving and El Pirate drew the first leg.  I set off with the three murderers toward Mt. St. Helens. 
Thank you.  I was looking for an omen..
Despite the dark skies; our spirits were high and in no time the road kicked up and the climbing was underway.  We chatted as we warmed up and when it started to sprinkle we assumed it would be short-lived as the weather was forecasted to improve.
Yep, wet..
The weather didn’t feel any obligation to comply with the forecast and instead of getting better it got worse.  Twenty miles in we met up with El Pirate and after a quick snack we began the climb to Windy Ridge.  The drizzle turned into steady rain and soon our glasses were wet and fogged. We were riding in white clouds with only about a hundred meters of visibility.  Our opaque rain jackets over white jerseys blended in well with the white of the clouds.  The road was wet and slick, the water was spitting up off our wheels. Ninety miles to go with wet chamois buoyed our spirits.
This was looking to be a tough day at the office (cycling-wise) and McWoodie smartly prompted a reality check.  With no visibility, wet roads and the knowledge that an hour plus of climbing would be followed by a dangerous hypothermic, slick descent, we opted to turn around and continue to our destination skipping the balance of the soggy misery of Windy Ridge this day.

The balance of the day was an endless loop of shedding and donning clothes as we warmed up on climbs and cooled down on descents. The rains came and went and came again. We did some moto pacing near the end of the day which was fun. We ended up with almost exactly a hundred miles for the first day.

We cleaned up, ate well and slept like conquering warriors.

Overnight three more of our brigade had arrived and there were eight of us at breakfast.  Canti-Ryan, Feral Dave and Le Cannonball were now part of the band.

It seems that when they arrived about ten the previous evening they had an adventure checking in. For discussion purposes let’s pretend McWoodie’s real name is Tom Brown. They said they were here with Tom Brown and when the clerk looked in the computer to find the room he said that there were in fact four people named Tom Brown staying at the hotel that night and wondered if they might know which Tom Brown they were with.  Tom Brown (McWoodie) had reserved all the rooms under his name. The awkward pause that followed was eventually averted when the night manager intervened.

The next morning we were greeted by blue skies as we loaded up the van and McWoodie drove to the bridge at Hood River while the rest of us pacelined along highway 14. Last year we had crossed and travelled to Hood River on the Oregon side which necessitated a bib-soiling sectour on I-84.  The choice of WA 14 was slightly less life-threatening and a brief episode with a block of Styrofoam reminded us of how much we prefer less travelled roads.
Motoring behind the Cannonball
After shuttling bikes across the bridge (bike traffic being verboten) we topped our bottles and headed toward Mt Hood in the distance. This was the day I had in my head when the option of this trip was proposed and I was enjoying the ride. McWoodie dropped back and kindly offered a wheel and pulled me the final miles to the next food stop.

With bananas, bagels and rice cakes consumed we set off for Bennett Pass. Last year the rider who was assigned to drive to this pass and set up the food stop got lost and we were forced to continue riding with empty bottles and out of food on a hot exhausting climb.  The intervening year had done little to diminish the shame of that fiasco and it was fortunate he was not along this year as the hills still reverberated with the echoes of us cursing of his name.

This time the van was waiting and the perfect placement of the food stop was apparent.  I drank a bottle at the stop and left with two full bottles and pockets stuffed with food.  The sun was hot and I would drink eight bottle of liquid before arriving at Timberline.

I reached the turn off to Timberline Lodge and began the ten kilometer climb with about eighty miles and more than two thousand meters of climbing already in my legs. Despite this I felt strong and kept out of my lowest gear.  As I climbed, the kilometers ticked by and the meters added up.  At times the road curved sharply and the cobalt blue sky was all I could see beyond the edge of the road.  This was living.
Matthew fighting gravity
This was the kind of riding we dream of when we slog along in the rain.  It was hard to imagine that twenty-six hours earlier I had been wearing a rain jacket, my body fighting to stay warm.
Views on the way up..
Nearing the top the road splits and I heard someone over my left shoulder yell, “Almost there Davo, good job,.” it sounded like Mark, but he was behind me. I waved a hand to acknowledge the encouragement and kept spinning.  Upon my arrival I found our fast riders around the van refueling and nobody could account for the mysterious encouragement I had received five minutes earlier.  It remains an enigma.
Poser !!
The lodge is at 6,000 feet above sea level and the view is inspiring.  When McWoodie called the lodge the only room available was a basement room with ten bunks and two bathrooms. It was cheap and with earplugs and open windows, it suited our needs perfectly.   Soon there were a bunch of middle aged men with impressive quadriceps and pathetic biceps gathered in the pool area.
Look away children, look away...
Walking around I carried a water bottle that I kept filling only to notice it empty a few minutes later.  I refilled it several times and the miracle of hydration helped my recovery.  I slipped on some compression tights and was glad I did.  No doubt the tights looked silly sticking out of my casual shorts, but one of the benefits that accrue to middle aged men is the absolute lack of concern over the opinions of others with regard to our personal appearance.
 Kind of makes you want to sing eh?
 Ten men and bikes and clothes gave the room a certain....
Looks like kids summer camp huh ?
Almost exactly twenty four hours after our group went from five to eight it reached its full size as El Jefe and El Chefe arrived.  Before long there were ten prone cyclists asleep in a dark room filled with sounds and smells that would rightfully terrify small children.

Day three dawned clear and Feral Dave had made arrangements to ski early and catch us and ride later that day.  Wearing a sweater and jacket borrowed from El Pirate he snuck out of the room before the rest of us were awake. 
Feral Dave on the slopes.  Yes he knows it is a bike helmet..

One at a time we dressed, found coffee and wandered around outside basking in the brisk sunshine taking in the views and getting blood flowing on our tired legs.  After breakfast we dressed warm and “realized” the potential energy we had stored while riding up the day before.  It took us less than ten minutes to descend what had taken me fifty minutes yesterday afternoon.

We regrouped and began phase two of our descent.  After dropping more than 4,500’ we met the van and removed jackets and arm warmers.  On quieter roads we made our way north toward the Columbia River.  A couple hours later we were caught by Feral Dave driving the Chefe’ express having finished his skiing adventure and now ready to ride.

El Jefe’ had pined for us to climb Larch Mountain last year and we had declined. This year it appeared some of us were up for it.  When we hit the turn off every single one of us was all in for the (bonus) 3,000 foot climb to Larch Mountain Lookout.

It was Saturday and the road was full of cyclists going up and down the storied climb.  The reward for climbing was the descent back to the start.  Filtered light and non-descript pavement color conspired to hide some lethal potholes and El Pirate lost a bottle on a bone-jarring pothole edge. Those around him held their breath as the bottle spun on the road at forty miles an hour. The bottle then lost momentum and rolled harmlessly off to the side without necessitating any evasive action. While El Pirate retrieved his errant capsule we stopped and gave thanks to our assorted deities.
Kit evolution in motion
Another hour of descending and it was my turn to drive a section and I loaded my bike on the back as my brethren darted along the cliffs of the Columbia River Gorge.  Soon we were at our hotel and hunting for food.  The good news was the day had included 13,000 feet of descent.  Since we started at 6,000 feet you can guess how much climbing we did on day three.
That is where we started..
On day four our morning preparation was reflecting the refinement that comes from repetition.  The process of waking, eating, packing, dressing and loading had become very efficient. In contrast to the ease of the morning routine my legs were feeling the effects of back to back to back hard days. I’m not saying everyone was hurting, but I don’t think there would have been much enthusiasm for three on three basketball.   
Feral Dave and El Pirate in front, Le Cannonball and Canti-Ryan in back.  
What some men will do to hold a table at the breakfast buffet..

We had been toying with the idea of altering the last day and decided to return to Randle via Mt. Adams, specifically riding through the hamlet of Trout Lake.   The 21 mile approach to Trout Lake is an endless false flat.  El Chefe’ was waiting as we arrived and greeted us with a big box of peaches.  It is my unique opinion that peaches are the most tangible evidence of a higher power. It is also my opinion that if you don’t have to lean forward when you bite into a peach it isn’t a ripe peach.   These were ripe and I dove in and had at least my fair share.
The road out of Trout Lake was smooth, shaded and practically perfect in every way.  It reminded me of France and when I shared this view Feral Dave agreed, citing only the fact that the French roads were generally not as wide as this road.  It was sweet.
 El Chefe rolling 
The road grade eased and sharpened but it never stopped climbing. My altitude and accumulated elevation gain were separated by about one hundred and fifty meters and the relationship held true for a long time.
Awesome roads
The plan from McWoodie was to portage the gravel and I quietly held out hope to ride the gravel.  About fifty miles in we reached the gravel and the van was waiting to carry bikes and riders across.  With the determination of a four year old that has to pee really, really bad I blasted past the van and attacked the gravel like Fabian on the cobbles.  I squeezed the hoods and dropped my shoulders and dug in.

I powered up the loose false flat and picked up speed on a slight downhill.  I kept that momentum and sped up the next slight incline.  I was breathing deep and charging on. Pushing hard didn’t make my aching legs hurt any more than they already did so I went for it.  The road was along a ridgeline so the views told me that while I might have little rises, I would not have any big climbs coming.  I drilled it.

After a couple miles I was in a rhythm, and it was the highlight of the ride.   I got out of the saddle and suddenly I felt the rear tire go soft. I leaned forward to unweight the rear wheel and I came to a stop. It is always scary how quickly you stop in gravel when you stop pedaling.

My rear tire was flat and looking behind I could see Canti-Ryan approaching.  He is a strong rider and a quality human being.  “Say it ain’t so!” he asked, pleading on my behalf.  I cheered him on and he sailed past.

The van was behind him and I loaded on my wounded bike for the last mile of gravel.  The remaining stretch to the car was mostly downhill and I had achieved my goals of uphill and gravel so I gladly took my turn driving the last bit.
The SAG wagon
The descent into Randle is fun on a bike but ugly in a car.  The number and severity of sink holes, broken pavement and potholes exceeds anything I have seen anywhere since my birth. Finding a line through the jumble on a bike is a worthwhile challenge.  Finding two lines (for the vehicle’s wheels) was harder. I kept it slow and if not for the long run out at the end the bikes would have beaten me to Randle.

It was eighty degrees and surprisingly humid in Randle. We cleaned up as best we could using wipes, water and hand towels.  We shook hands and piled in for the drive home. 

With energy levels depleted the conversation lagged so we listened to podcasts to stay awake. Finding dinner proved to be more difficult than it should have been and it was after nine PM before I was in the war wagon heading for my place.

Within ten minutes of pulling in I had kit in the washer and me in the shower.  I put the left over perishables in the refrigerator and unpacked while the final stage of the Tour de France was replayed on TV.

I drank glass after glass of water and as soon as I had completed only what had to be done, I fell into bed. 

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