This Space for Rent

It’s only 2 R200s. Back to back. And one starting at 5pm. Could that ever be a problem?

When I got out of the absurdly vicious headwinds around Silverton, I knew that I’d finish the loop. When I made it to the ~200km control a hour and a half up on the clock, I was even more sure that I’d finish the loop.

But when I reached Independence and starting saying “this is only as far as the ride up to Sandy for donuts, that’s up a flank of Mount Hood, and I do that on my trek all the time!” it was a done deal.

And it was. 22 hours 58 minutes, of which ~19h30 was on the bike and ~3h30 was parked at a succession of convenience stores while I ate a terrifying collection of food shaped objects to suppliment my traditional diet of potatoes and fruitcake (which was eventually lost at the bottom of my handlebar bag – a hazard of the deeper bag that I had not been previously aware of.) And I’m pretty certain it would have been two hours shorter if not for the pesky headwind that assaulted us for most of the first 250km of the loop.

And there were covered bridges in mass quantities, along with pleasant waysides, spectacular clouds, and traditional randonneuring photo opportunities to go along with the convenience stores and porta-potties (which I didn’t take any pictures of; sorry.)

Oh, yes, and there was the small detail of riding 250 miles, thanks to a bonus mile when we missed Gallon House Road and went sailing half a mile down Downs Road before realizing our mistake.

As usual, the ride started at a stupidly early hour of the morning (but as not usual, I did not start at an evenly stupider hour in the morning and ride out – I had been offered a room share by a fellow randonneur (as part of a nefarious plan to get me to ride a whole series this year, no doubt) and, thinking how flattened I looked and felt after the ride out to Forest Grove for the three capes 300k I didn’t take more than about a millisecond to accept – no, I rode out on friday evening (14.5 miles, including three climbs) and was able to wake up at the civilized-by-comparison hour of 4am and just wheel the mlcm down to the starting gate at my leisure.

At 5am, it was cold and cloudy, but not raining and not windy, so the group (40 people were signed up, and I think that everybody made it?) poured out of the La Quinta parking lot and, basically in a large fast-moving blob, thundered en masse down to the Boone Bridge, across the Willamette, and up onto Airport Road, where a light headwind sprang up and gently sorted the riders out into fast and slow groups (and these days there don’t seem to be very many slow riders left; by the time we were south of Aurora, I had the lanterne rouge firmly in hand, only briefly exchanging it with Lesli Larson (we’d previously decided to try and ride together, but she’s a much stronger rider than I am and I spent much of the first 200km tagging along in her slipstream) and/or John Vincent, who was riding his recumbent and moving very slowly on the climbs.) From Aurora to a dozen miles north of Sweet Home, the only othe riders we saw were a couple of people who started late, a group of people who got in a wreck and had to unbend a wheel before they could zoom on ahead of us again, and a couple of riders who abandoned at the peak of the windstorm just south of Silverton.

Windstorm? Well, it wasn’t exactly a windstorm, but the light headwind north of Aurora didn’t stay light. South of Aurora, it had graduated to being an irritating headwind, then an annoying headwind, and then after we were riding south past the Oregon Garden, to a soul-sucking devil of a headwind that slowed the three of us down to a crawl and had me thinking that if not for only being 30 miles into the ride a DNF would have been a wonderful alternative to this endless pushing of me and my bicycle into this ceaseless tormenting wind. Fortunately it was a localized headwind. By the time we reached the convenience store in Sublimity, the wind had reached its peak, and by the time we staggered onto the first ramp on Cole School Road, it was back down to being an annoying headwind.

And this just left Cole School Road, which has three ramps; a moderate short ramp (50 feet at 6%?), a steeper long ramp (250 feet at 8%?), and a ridiculous long ramp that goes up 200 feet at a 20% grade (much like the Corbett ramp south of Nebraska St.) Normally, none of those ramps would be an insurmountable opportunity, but I’d been beaten flat by headwinds and ended up walking a little bit of the second ramp (I was creeping uphill after John Vincent when he stopped to walk his recumbent, so I grabbed the opportunity to walk along with him past the steepish part of that ramp), then MOST of the third ramp (I’d run down the approach to the ramp as fast as I could go, but only made it up about 60 feet before I found myself down to 40", standing, and stomping as hard as I could to get additional inches. Foo on that; I jumped off the bicycle and pushed the silly thing the rest of the way up to the top of the hill, where Lesli was waiting patiently for the ground sloth patrol (John was even further behind, but remember he’s riding a recumbent; even after having to climb both of those hills he still passed us before we reached the bottom of the hill on Richardson Gap Road.))

The Scio control was a very welcome break, and I loaded up the handlebar bag with a large collection of food shaped objects before we rolled on south to Sweet Home (which was also a very welcome break; Despite eating constantly between Scio & Sweet Home, I was still literally faint with hunger by the time we rolled into the Thriftway and were able to sit down for a proper lunch.)

And then we crawled up one last pair of hills (pausing briefly at a convenient porta-potty near the Crawfordville covered bridge,) crested the pass into Lane County, and rolled into the 200km control at the Mohawk Post Store at 5pm, where we scrounged fud shaped objects and turned around for our trip back to Wilsonville.

Into a headwind. Again. The promise of a tailwind that we had been chasing for 200km down the valley was rudely withdrawn in the form of increasingly nasty winds that, like the ones around Silverton, increased in annoyance up until the control at Harrisburg, where they changed first into crosswinds and then just vanished, leaving us becalmed for the last 100 miles of the loop. (And by then it was getting dark; I didn’t get any pictures after the Earnest covered bridge aside from one last Rivendell & MLCM portrait at Harrisburg. If I win the lottery I’ll have to investigate modern point and shoot cameras so I can get small form factor, high ISO, and good zoom lenses.)

With the headwind gone, the ride was a lot easier. But John Vincent, who had been slowed down by headwinds and hills, was no longer slowed down, and bridged ahead to group of faster riders who we’d played leapfrog with once just north of Sweet Home, but who were also taking advantage of the still evening air to leap ahead as if they had been shot out of a cannon.

And north of Harrisburg a bank of clouds rose in the west, which blocked the evening sun and made night fall with an almost audible *crash* while we were still on the loooooooooooooong Peoria Road leg.

And then we passed the faster riders from two paragraphs up when they stopped to reflectorize themselves, and played leapfrog with them until just north of Donald, where they stopped and Lesli and I just kept going, never to see them again. (They weren’t the only fast group we overhauled; we passed another bunch at a convenience mart just south of Salem – from the looks of things some of them had /completely/ run out of food and were frantically trying to correct that horrible situation. They passed us just north of Salem, but then a half dozen miles later we passed them walking their bikes, so I guess someone must have had leg cramps and had to walk them off. Ouch. It’s good that the whole group stopped; having had to walk off some leg cramps by myself out on Mount Hood in the middle of the night gives me a whole new appreciation to the concept of safety in numbers.)

I feel extremely fortunate that Lesli and I planned to ride the brevet together. I’m not a particularly constant rider, but Lesli is basically an inexorable force on a bike – she just kept moving along at 13-15mph for every inch of the way, and being able to pace her kept me from fretting over my (very unhappy after the Silverton headwind incident) aching legs for the last 200 miles of the loop, and by the last 40 or so miles, when we were sailing exhaustedly through the stygian darkness of an Oregon night, I was feeling very happy about the whole business of a R400, even one that tried it’s best to pound me flat right at the start.

Nobody really likes 400km brevets, and I can see why. It’s an awful long time on the bike, and unless you’re one of the fast riders you’re going to be spending several hours (and maybe an entire night) riding through the countryside at night. But (and it may just be rando amnesia taking effect) it’s pushing the whole thing to a higher level. A R200, even at my non-fast pace, is a day trip that I can (assuming I’m the permanent owner) set up on a moments notice. A R300, if I was fast enough, would be a /long/ day, but still a day that at most would take a hour of twilight while I charge in towards the ultimate control.

I’d have to be the sort of person who thinks it’s a moral failing to not finish a R600 in 20 hours to do a R400 during the day. And I’m not – and will never be, because that would involve bike-racy amounts of suffering and I don’t do suffering at all graciously – that sort of person, so the R400 brings the additional challenges of navigating at night to the vast puzzle game that is randonneuring.

And on top of that, it’s a gateway drug to the more insanely stupid longer loops, where you need to try and wedge sleep in alongside riding a 600-1400 kilometer loop with the clock ticking.

I’d do this loop again at the drop of a dime. And I’d do a fleche if I was asked, because I made it through this whole ridiculous thing without getting really tired at all. And if there were any other slow riders doing it, I’d jump at a R600 so I could get a series finished before my 50th birthday rolls around.

Oh, and as for the ritual lamentation about defects and equipment failures, well, um.

NO flats.

NO chain derailments (that I didn’t do on purpose.)

Did I mention that I’d do it again?

(Oh, yes, and I took peeectures too)


I was the one with the bent wheel and also one of the abandoneurs. I decided the wheel did not have 210 more miles in it and turned back at about mile 40. Sorry I missed the rest of the ride but it sounds like a hard ride. Congradulations on your good finish.

Christopher Heg Tue May 4 22:40:20 2010

Oh, I didn’t realize you’d bailed out. That’s sad; the headwinds were most unpleasant, but the rest of it (even the parts in the dark) were pretty nice. Will you be trying the still unspecified summer 400?

David Parsons Tue May 4 23:37:24 2010

Nice description, you’re making me want to try more than a 300km brevet. Once I get back to a steel frame, I’d like to work back up to that.
I didn’t realize fruitcake was that calorie dense :)

Sorry again about my confusion about Abbey Rd on the 3 Capes.


Holden Hughart Thu May 20 18:54:28 2010

I don’t think you need a steel frame for longer loops. The times I’ve ridden with you you’ve been an impressively fast rider on your flat-barred mountain bike, and I suspect that with a little bit of tuning you could go (even more) ridiculously far on the thing (in my shoes I’d drop-bar the thing, but I’m old and set in my ways when it comes to how I think a bicycle should be fitted; I’m building up a porteur at home, and my repeated “we should use drop bars!” comments are being greeted with the expected stony silence. Oh, well, I guess I’ll have to sneak some mustache bars or dirt drops into the mix sometime after I’ve sold enough bicycle luggage so I can afford them!)

The additional 4-5 bonus miles on the Three Capes isn’t worth fretting about; the half hour (maybe?) lost there wasn’t anywhere near enough to put us at risk of blowing the last control, particularly since the North Valley Road velodrome was just a little ways north.

David Parsons Tue May 25 18:12:42 2010

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