This Space for Rent

And now for something completely different…


As part of my delusion that I’m actually a randonneur, I’ve been keeping track of the various brevets, populaires, and calls for riders on various permanents in this neck of the woods. Unfortunately, none of them have been based out of Portland, and to ride them would involve waking up at 3am, riding a fast two hours to get to the start, riding the loop, and then returning. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a morning person (the only thing that got me to ride the three group rides I did this year was that I’d put money down which would go to waste if I didn’t wake up at 5am and drag myself out the door, and even then it’s a pretty hard struggle to get out the door.) So, as a result of this, the only populaires and brevets I’ve run are the ones I made up out of whole cloth.

This is good, but it doesn’t have the same feel as some of the epic (and not so epic) death marches that I read about on various randonneuring weblogs. So when Bill Alsup wrote to the Orrando list asking if people would be interested in running Michael Wolfe’s starting-at-the-Hawthorne-Bridge UGB 200k on 5-Sep, I jumped at the invitation.

The nice thing about the whole “Hawthorne Bridge” part of the brevet was that it’s about 12 minutes from home if I hustle. Which I needed to do, because after I was awakened on Saturday morning by a heavy rainfall, I spent the next 70 minutes looking at the weather forecasts and waffling about whether I should just forget about the whole thing. Finally, at about 6:45, I said “oh, to devil with it”, threw on my clothes (I had prepared the trek the night before and only needed to attach a cue sheet holder [which I ended up forgetting, and ended up carrying the cuesheet in my hand or wedged into my pocket for the entire loop] and GPS) and stepped out the door into the pouring rain.

The official opening for the route was 7:30am, but the four riders didn’t make it away from the start until about 7:35 (at least that’s what my GPS claims), and we leisurely ambled down the Springwater Trail until Sellwood, when the group split in half (Keith [who’s last name I don’t remember] and I were a little faster than Bill Alsup and Ken Mattina) and slowly drifted apart.

The curse of riding along the Springwater Trail is that I’ve done it so many times that I was on autopilot, and since I was riding with someone I moderated my headlong rush and got into the first control (the convenience store at Bell & Johnson Creek blvd) at the very last minute. After getting our cards signed (I’d actually gotten a snack, but the cash register there had a ridiculously fast clock) and wedging mine back into my pocket, we got back onto our bicycles and headed out into the torrent.

One thing to be said about the Springwater Trail when it’s raining is that the slugs /really/ like it. The next dozen or so miles down to Boring were enlivened by having to dodge approximately 100 million slugs, which distracted me from the tiny detail that it was raining so hard that I was getting soaked to the skin from my face down to my toes (the oracle used tape to weatherproof his helmet, so I’d done the same with mine,) including the pocket that contained my poor brevet card.

When I reached the control in Boring, I pulled out the card and realized my mistake when it started to disintegrate as I tried to peel it open. Oops. I crossed my fingers that I’d be able to pry it apart later and decided that I would use receipts from there on instead of asking someone to sign and date what had become nothing more than a badly shaped piece of paper mache. So I bought a coffee drink, shoved the receipt into my purse, shoved the coffee into my gullet, and headed off down the road towards the Clackamas River valley.

It’s usually quite pretty once you get south of Boring, but it was raining too hard to appreciate it, and the only entertainment here was playing leapfrog on the road as it climbed, descended, climbed, descended, climbed, then plunged down into the Clackamas River valley. We crossed the river at Barton, then started heading up the hill towards Fischers Mill, only to ride by some poor woman sitting sobbing hopelessly at the side of the road.

Well, we certainly weren’t going to abandon someone at the side of the road, so we stopped and tried to figure out what we could do to help. We offered to go for help or call 911, but neither of those suggestions were greeted with any sort of enthusiasm, so we stood around trying to comfort the woman until a car came by and someone there quietly called 911 while we waited. 15 minutes later an EMT truck showed up, followed by a firetruck, and we bolted up the road towards Fischers Mill as the paramedics took over.

The road to Fischers Mill is annoyingly steep, but it’s pretty short, so I put my head down and cranked myself up to the intersection with Springwater Road, and then down (uh, oh) into the valley that contains Fischers Mill. And then up again, winding up the side of a series of bluffs to the top of the ridgeline that sits west of the Clackamas River (a very pretty climb, but the downpour [and, alas, the humanitarian delay] dampened any enthusiasm for sightseeing), then up the ridge (south == towards the mountains == uphill) to Highland road, and then across rolling hills down to Canby.

I had a small mechanical problem on the way down to Canby. I managed to wrap my old chain around the crank last week, and it managed to tweak the front derailer during its death throes. This ended up adjusting the derailer so that an enthusiastic shift from alpine gear (40 teeth) to fast gear (52 teeth) would instead shift into my standing still gear (aka the chain thrown completely off the crank gear and into my pedals. I’d thought I had fixed this, but when I was coming down a steep hill on Spangler Road, I shifted up to get some more speed and ended up coasting, muttering dire curses under my breath, to a stop so I could wrap the chain back onto the gear.

But, despite all of this, we’d still managed to pick up 20 minutes by the time we reached the control in Canby, so we could burn off 20 minutes grabbing a little lunch before heading out into the rain again.

Now, the interesting part about “heading out into the rain again” is that despite being soaked to the skin for the last 50 miles or so I was fairly warm, because all of the woolen clothing I was wearing was doing yeoman duty at pulling the water away from my skin and letting it evaporate into the air. So if I was moving, I’d be working hard enough to build up a layer of warmth between me and the freezing cold evaporating water that soaked my clothing. But when I’d stop, for, oh, 20 minutes or so, all that warmth would go away and there’d be nothing between me and extinction in the cold, and thus when I headed out from Canby I spent the next 45 minutes shivering until my body was able to catch up to the evaporative losses. And it doesn’t really help that the roads west of Canby go through some very flat farmland, where the only thing stopping the relentless north wind and rain were two wet-pet-get bicyclists.

Eventually we reached the Willamette River, where three good things and one bad thing happened. The good things were that

  1. it stopped raining,
  2. the sun came out, and
  3. we dropped down to the bottom of the mini-gorge that holds the Willamette, and got out of the wind.

The bad thing is that when we hit the Champoeg Park bicycle path, Keith’s bicycle went into a pothole, which knocked a bungee cord loose, and the loose cord wrapped itself around the rear wheel and punctured his tire.

Whoops. He stopped, I stopped to assist, he replaced his tire, then realized that his mini-pump wasn’t capable of fully inflating his tire (and my pump wouldn’t work, because my bicycle is a Presta-valve joint while his is Schrader.) I suggested letting him use myspare tire, which could be inflated with my pump, but he was worried that this would leave me without a spare and decided to limp along to the next gas station (Newburg was only about 10 miles off at this point.) Now, I don’t know if I could have made it the first 50 wet miles without having someone else around to leapfrog, so I wasn’t going to drop him there (if I had a flat on a long ride, I’d certainly hate to be dropped,) so I said I’d ride along with him, and we crept in unison the 10 long miles to Newburg, where we found a bicycle shop and got his tire reinflated (and me a pair of fingerless gloves, because the full-finger gloves I was wearing were full of water and converting my fingers into shrivelled raisins.)

I don’t know how much time we lost doing this, but it was a lot, because we didn’t make it into Gaston until 25 minutes before the control closed, and the ride from Newburg to Gaston is basically dead flat and we had a lovely tailwind that pushed us along at an average of 20 mph all the way from Newburg.

This was the prettiest part of the ride. It’s safely outside the UGB, so it’s all farmland with forested hills, the sun was (mainly) out so it was nice and warm, and there was very little traffic as we went screaming northwards. This was the point where rando amnesia set in and the unpleasantness of the early morning faded into a vague and not completely unpleasant memory.

From Gaston north we moved into the unpleasantly sterile suburban development around Hillsboro (including the longest and most tedious part of the trip, which was the 3 or so miles of Evergreen (a generic suburban speedway that could be picked up and transplanted into Chicago, Los Angeles, or San Francisco without being at all out of place) that looped around the north side of Hillsboro airport), and north into the threatened farmlands around Helvetia and across to the final transit control of the ride at the Rock Creek Tavern, where we parked ourselves and took full advantage of the ~70 minutes of time we had picked up.

Once you leave the Rock Creek Tavern things become a little more exciting, because the Tualatin Mountains sit between there and downtown Portland. So we sailed out of the parking lot, turned towards the mountain, and instantly encountered the 270(ish) meter climb up to the top of Skyline Blvd. This is a pretty climb, too, but by now the sun was plummeting towards the banks of clouds massing on the horizon, so once again the bulk of my energy was devoted to pushing the xtracycle up the hill as fast (fsvo “fast”; I outclimbed Keith, but various roadies kept blowing past me as if I was standing still) as my legs could push it. And then I reached the summit, cautiously shifted back to my 52 tooth ring, stopped, turned on all of my lights, put on my shockingly yellow “please don’t kill me” rain jacket, then quickly dropped down Thompson Road to the city, stopping only to look at the cue sheet to figure out the twisty directions that lead from Cornell Road down to Raleigh.

When I reached Naito Parkway, it was only about 19:40, so I took a more leisurely rate down towards the Hawthorne bridge. There was a false trigger of the railroad crossing gates at the Steel bridge which stopped me for a couple of minutes until the gates went up again, and then I slowly navigated along the path past the new Saturday Market, the steamship Portland, and to the Hawthorne bridge, picking up Keith in the last mile (I’d pulled a long ways ahead climbing the hill, but the stops for cue sheet reading and trainspotting slowed my descent) and pulling up to the end of the route at almost exactly 8pm (and then it took a couple of minutes to get a Dr. Pepper, so my final receipt shows that I made it in 12h32 after the official starting time (12h27 from when I rolled out of the parking lot and pushed the “record” button on my GPS.)

This was an extraordinarily nice outing, on an extraordinarily nice route. I need to do more permanents and brevets now, if only I can figure a good way of dealing with the suburban orientation of most of the established loops. Travelling in a small group helped restrain some of my “go all out until I run out of steam, then stagger back home” tendencies that came out when I converted the Portland Century into a 200k loop, and I was still full of energy when I got home afterwards (this didn’t last too long; when I started to relax, I suddenly got very tired and collapsed in a heap.)

Using an Xtracycle for brevets is still a fairly silly thing to do, but I will note that it’s really nice to have basically unlimited cargo capacity in a vehicle that rides like an ordinary bicycle. I was able to carry an entire change of clothes (with two extra pairs of socks), a bag of “energy” bars (cookie bars, really, and little sugary gelatin blocks) which I barely touched, all of the leftover food that I purchased at controls (being able to tuck a bottle of sodapop and a bottle of sugary coffee drink away for later may not have been a lifesaver, but it made a very nice midflight snack), my purse (with my Pentax, the poor battered brevet card and my receipts, and some more cookie bars which I had overlooked from earlier,) plus my lock, a couple of grocery bags, and a spare jersey that I’d left on the bicycle from the loop I did on friday, and it didn’t weigh me down enough to force me to walk either of the hills. I’m still planning on building a midlife crisis-mobile for any hypothetical death marches out there, but I might be able to push 400 km out of the Xtracycle if I am able to build up my strength on it.

But I’ve got an offically approved R200 under my belt, a RUSA membership I can apply it to now, and a bicycle that can go the distance without much fuss, muss, or bother. I am a happy man.


Most impressive!

I will admit to being a little surprised your pump doesn’t have connections for both valve types, since it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a single-value-type pump for sale.

Graydon Mon Sep 7 09:36:43 2009

I think you can still get presta-only pumps, but mine is as old as the bicycle is (20 years old now) and I wasn’t thinking that far ahead when I bought it.

David Parsons Wed Sep 9 10:19:32 2009

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