This Space for Rent

A brevet too far


Well, I did a 300km loop. But it wasn’t the loop I signed up for.

I don’t ride many (any is more like it) brevets, because I live in Portland, don’t have a car (or even a driver’s license), and 99.9% of the local routes start in far suburbia, which involve long bike rides early in the morning before I even get to the actual ride. The Barlow 300 is one of those loops, but I managed to talk myself into riding it because (a) I’d previously ridden one of Michael Wolfe’s permanents and found it to be quite enjoyable, and (b) I ride out to Sandy 3-4 times a month either for donuts or as part of a more extensive ramble in Clackamas County, so I was fairly confident I could make it out there at a leisurely pace and still have enough energy left for the loop.

So on Friday night I loaded up the bicycle with everything I needed, set out some clothes, set the alarm for 3:15am, and went to sleep. 6 short hours later, the alarm pulled me out of my sleep, I gobbled a quick breakfast, tossed on my clothes, and headed on in the DARK and COLD for Sandy, via a combination of streets (Woodstock & Foster), the Springwater Trail (111th out to Rugg Road) and highways (Telford Road/OR212/US26), arriving there a slothful 110 minutes later (because (a) I wanted a leisurely pace, and (b) I’d ridden out to Sandy on Friday and I didn’t seem to have much energy then, so I was being very paranoid on the leisurely front.)

20 short minutes later the starting flag waved (“It’s 6am; have fun!” or words to that effect) and the dozen or so riders headed south towards the Clackamas River. Now, my xtracycle is a fine vehicle that’s quite comfortable for me to ride, and it can run surprisingly fast on level ground and downhills, but it’s laughably slow on any sort of hill, so as soon as we hit the first uphill (climbing out of the Tickle Creek watershed) it was as if I was the Coyote and the rest of the mob was the Road Runner; everyone vanished into the distance as if they had been shot out of a cannon, and aside from overhauling some of the Seattle contingent (who did the Road Runner thing when the first uphill was encountered at the north end of Faraday) when they stopped to fix a flat on Faraday that was the last I saw of any of them. Later on, I was passed by a couple from Washington (Brian & Kyly) who were only slightly faster than I was, so we played leapfrog for the next 100 or so miles until they dropped me for good at the top end of Barlow Pass, but for the vast majority of this loop it was just me poking along like Pete the alligator.


Going over the mountain for the first time went pretty much as I expected; I was able to make good speed on OR224 as it followed the Clackamas River south (despite a fairly substantial headwind,) I made okay progress on OR224 when it bent east and headed up and away from the Clackamas River, and, after a short stop at Ripplebrook where I searched for a promised water hose but could not find it for love or money , I made the expected tortoise-like creep up NFD57, 58, and 5810 to the first control just before the Anvil Creek washout, arriving there 30-odd minutes before it closed. This didn’t bother me, because this was pretty much the top of the mountain and I knew that I’d make up a whole bunch of time getting to the next control (at Maupin, 50 miles east and, more importantly, 3800 feet down from Anvil Creek.)

It was a little bit slower than I expected getting over the next 10 miles of mountain, because of the Anvil creek washout (800 feet of washed out road, which included shoving the xtracycle up a steep fill bank after I crossed the [dry] riverbed,) stopping to take pictures at Timothy Lake, and a couple of stops to shed layers in preparation for the descent. But, after spending a hour or so poking across the top of the mountain, I hit 26 again and started a precipitous descent into the high desert of central Oregon. 26 gave me an appetizer by a nice 400 foot drop (and then took it away by a 250 foot climb), and then I turned onto highway 216 and things started getting interesting.

A mile or so into 216, I stopped for a minute to strip off the last layer of long-sleeved clothes, and while I was doing it I heard Brian & Kyly chatting in the near distance. I clambered back into the Trek and started rowing off to the east, fully expecting that I’d be passed quickly, when the road tilted downwards and a tailwind started up.


I wasn’t passed. For once, they were the Coyote and I was the Road Runner. The combination of xtracycle, steep downhill grades, and a strong tailwind meant that I reeled off the rest of the descent into Maupin at an average speed of around 30mph, and even including the time I spent looping through downtown to find a market I had over 2h30 left on the clock when I got my brevet card signed.


I was fairly sluggish at this stop, and Brian & Kyly caught up to me while I was poking around in the market, so we continued as a group to the next control (10 miles up the river after an against-the-headwind ride up a rail-path,) where I took full advantage of the Deschutes River to bathe my feet before starting to climb back up the damned mountain again.


And then we turned around and went up the damned mountain again. This started poorly – the road from the Deschutes up to Wamic starts nicely, but when it finished climbing out of the gorge I wasn’t able to push up to a better cruising speed because there was a wicked crosswind that kept blowing the back end of my bicycle across the road, and after fighting that I didn’t have much energy to actually accelerate – but got better when the road went up the ramp from Tigh Valley to Wamic, because there the wind was blowing me up the hill.

I was delayed on the way into Wamic by a fellow in a SUV who waved me down and grilled me about what I was doing and where I was planning on going, and who was dumfounded and amazed when I told him I’d started in Portland and was trying to go back that same day. I chatted with him for 5-10 minutes before I was able to extricate myself and proceed into Wamic, where I encountered Brian & Kyly again, and discovered that I had about 1h30 extra time available for the climb up to Barlow Pass.

So far so good, if not for that pesky sun. We proceeded up towards the mountain, over cattle bars and expansion cracks, and reached the first long ramp up into the mountain just as the sun vanished below the treeline. This is where it started to get unpleasant – the thing about riding in the dark is that you end up riding in a little cave of light with no visual clues about where you are. I was leapfrogging Brian & Kyly, and I didn’t even think that it might be a good idea to ask them if I could ride as a group. As it was, I’d pass them, ride along with them, we’d hit an upgrade, and they’d vanish into the distance as I continued along. This went on until we were around 9 miles from the top of Barlow Pass, where we hit an upgrade and they vanished ahead, never to be seen again.

So there I was on the Barlow trail in the middle of the night (~9pm) winding my way upwards with no external reference except the occasional glimpse of Mount Hood looming ghostily over me. This is where I started to think I might not be able to finish the loop, because I was now creeping along very very slowly. I got a cramp in my right knee, so I had to hop off the bicycle and push it for a while, and later I wanted to drink one of the coffee drinks I’d brought along so I walked while I did this, and at ~9:45, when I was three miles from the top of the pass, I got back into T-Mobile cell range, at which point the phone lit up with frantic messages from home (and then immediately died from battery exhaustion, so I had to pull out the other cell phone, move the sim card over into it, and use that to phone home and tell the best that I wasn’t dead but was instead sitting out on the Barlow Trail in the middle of the night.)

But, even with all of that, I reached and turned onto 35 at just a little after 10pm, and figured that I could make the next 7 miles into Government Camp without too much trouble.

But then I hit a downhill and was reminded that it was really effing cold up here at 4000ASL. In the course of about 600 feet I made three stops to shovel additional layers on, and finally got to the point where I thought I was warm enough because I wasn’t shivering.

I wasn’t warm enough; I was so cold that my body had given up shivering and it was busily trying to find ways to conserve core heat. And when I was 2 miles out of Government Camp, I started to get nauseous, so I first got off the bike and tried to walk it, then tried to ride it, and then, just as I reached the top of the climb (the ½ mile to Timberline Lodge sign) I had to sit down on the ground (which didn’t actually feel cold) and DNF the loop because there was no way on G-ds green earth that I’d be able to make that last couple of miles down to the Mount Hood Inn to get my brevet card signed in the next 20 minutes.

Michael Wolfe said that this control wouldn’t matter if I could make it in, and the best, when I called her with my status plans (for some reason she didn’t think that sitting out on the side of the highway with the bicycle was likely to be a good plan) both suggested that I find a place to warm up before continuing on down this hill. So I did. And I sat there just looking at a platter of food I’d ordered for 45 freaking minutes until my body warmed up to the point where it decided that shivering might be a good idea.

I suppose I could have tried to blow down the hill and get to Sandy. It’s only about 27(29?) miles from Government camp, and 95% of that is steeply downhill. But I was still really cold, and flirting with hypothermia wasn’t very fun the first time I tried it that night. So I left the towel thrown in, and ended up being rescued by a fellow randonneur, who drove up from Sandy, grabbed me and the bike, and returned me to the end of the line (I tried to get a room in Government Camp, but there was apparently an ultrarunner loop going on on Saturday, and as far as I could tell every hotel room up there was occupied by a runner who’d just come back from a pleasant 108 mile run around the mountains.)

And then I woke up early this morning, hopped on the bicycle, and came back home.

I think that I’ve got the idea of how to pack for a long trip now. Of all the things I loaded up on the Trek, the only thing I didn’t use was a spare pair of underwear, and that was very useful this morning. There are only a couple of things I didn’t pack that I should have – I forgot to bring along a few of those little iron-based heat packs, I need to carry a survival blanket when I’m on a loop that takes me out into the dog end of nowhere, and those downhill ramps in the dark? Layer up before heading on down, because it takes approximately 10 seconds for the wind to rip all of the heat out of my body. (Actually, if I layered up before the ramp I wouldn’t need #1 or #2, but survival blankets & head packs are very light for the paranoia value they provide.)

It turns out that the only thing that didn’t work (aside from me) was my pedals. I bought a pair of Trek-branded rattraps with toeclips at the LBS (the MKS Sylvans are better, but they’ve got a little spike on the outside edge which pushes my feet into the crankarms. Plan B will, I believe, start with a an angle grinder,) but the geometry of the toeclips is pathetic. every time I unclipped my right foot it took me repeated stabs at it to get the pedal upright and my foot into it before I could re-clip in, because it would either whip around too fast or the clip would fold over and not let my feet into it. I probably spent two hours yesterday pedalling on the bottom of that pedal because it was too damned dark to properly spot while clipping in.

I’d love to ride this brevet again, but I don’t think I can do it on the Xtracycle. It’s not really that pleasant to ride at night, and if I ride the Barlow Trail on the Xtra I have to allocate at least 12 hours for climbing, which, even on the longest day of the year only leaves me 4 hours for everything else. So I’ve got to build the midlife crisis mobile so I can have something shorter and lighter to push up the mountain. And if I ride it again, I’m going to go up to Sandy on the day before the loop so I don’t have to wake up at ohdark15 to make it out there.

And I’d have to get my family to agree to it, which probably means I’d need to rent a satellite phone so I don’t drop off the face of the earth during the loop (which means that I’m going to be stuck doing the 2-3 200k permanents that loop out of Portland for the forseeable future :-( )

(And if you’re wondering how I got 300km after I bailed at Government Camp, consider: When you include the ride up to Sandy and a wrong turn I took shortly after Anvil Creek, it comes to close to exactly 300km. And the GPS, which I turned off when I abandoned just this side of Government camp, claims 296 km before I went the two miles into Government Camp, then wandered up and down Government Camp loop trying to find the official controls before giving up and seeking refuge in the Huckleberry Inn. I’m not proud. Tired, maybe, but not proud.)


Thor and the White Christ.

When you’ve stopped shivering, that’s not flirting with hypothermia; that’s off in a dark corner necking with hypothermia.

Glad you’re OK/alive!

Would suggest more food next time you want to try such a thing? Even on a more suitable bicycle.

Graydon Mon Sep 28 08:13:49 2009

Oh, I had plenty of food; there was a pretty constant stream of milk and cookie bars vanishing down my gullet during the second climb up the hill (my not-entirely accurate GPS claims that I burned through 15,000 calories during this loop,) and I had extra food tucked away in the panniers on the bicycle (things from the sensible [bananas] to the ridiculous [even more cookie bars, and, of course, coffee drinks].) The food in Government Camp was there because (a) it was hot food and (b) I needed to pay the restaurant something for parking myself at one of their tables for an hour and a half.

David Parsons Mon Sep 28 13:32:56 2009

Sitting in the restaurant was undoubtedly the right thing to do.

I was more thinking that stopping shivering doesn’t happen unless you’ve either run out of fuel or the rate of heat loss exceeds the rate at which your body can produce it. It sounds like you got hit with a combination, but not coming back up to normal temperature after layer application argues for having run out of fuel. My default guess for the food side is not enough complex grease in the food intake; the bacon&cheese sandwich is underrated for this application. One cannot get through exercising in actual cold on just carbs and sugar. (It’s also possible you were simply tired and got slammed by the wind, too.)

Either way, given your description of symptoms, you were at real and immediate risk of death; an EMT would have packed and evac’d you.

Expending 15 kCal seems entirely reasonable, given the combination of distance, altitude, rate of advance, and wind. I know I’ve gone through six or seven kCal on days that were nowhere near as strenuous as a 300 km alpine bike ride, and I’m not that much larger than you.

Graydon Mon Sep 28 14:45:44 2009

“I was delayed on the way into Wamic by a fellow in a SUV who waved me down and grilled me about what I was doing and where I was planning on going, and who was dumfounded and amazed when I told him I’d started in Portland and was trying to go back that same day. I chatted with him for 5-10 minutes before I was able to extricate myself and proceed into Wamic[.]”

Now you know why I have taken to answering those questions about “Where are you riding to/from?” by just telling the questioner the next (or last) controle - anything more interesting and they insist on having a conversation …

That said, it sounds like you had quite the adventure - welcome the the world of the hard core :-)

cecil Tue Sep 29 13:48:25 2009

Wow,quite an ending to the long day that started at 3am. This is Brian, of the “couple”! We wondered how you were doing after we last saw you before we all got to Highway 35. Kyly and I did pretty well getting into Gov Camp but that climb up to 35 was really hard. And very cold. We had soup and hot chocolate to warm up at Huckleberry’s diner at Gov Camp! It didn’t help much. Dropping out of Gov Camp for those 5 or so really fast, frantic miles in the dark was wild. Always worrying what your tires will find in the dim light of a bicycle headlamp. At 35 mph. No room for a screw up. When we got to Sandy we checked in and heard you were feeling pretty bad and needed to be picked up. At least we knew you would be OK. That was my first 300 km ride, 19 hours long, the longest athletic thing I have ever done. Two days later and my ankles are still recovering. But it was a huge adventure, glad we did it, glad we met you on the road, and glad it all turned out OK. 3 am you left from Portland, 30 miles, then another 188 miles then you were going to ride another 30 miles home!! Wow. Good thing you stopped, the cold and being so tired is just too much. It can get very lonely out there.

Brian Tue Sep 29 21:11:01 2009

Cecil: The world of the hard core is a awfully tempting one. The 100km loops I was doing around Portland last year just don’t seem to do it for me anymore, and now I’m running headlong into the barrier between wanting to run ridiculously long loops and not wanting to drive my family into complete despair over what they consider to be a suicidal obsession.

Brian: Thanks for reminding me about your names; I’ve updated the post so it’s not so impersonal. But by the time I got into Government Camp (35 minutes to go the last two miles, whoo hoo!) I’d completely forgotten your names and everything about you except that you’re both from Washington.

David Parsons Tue Sep 29 21:53:50 2009

Comments are closed