Saturday, July 10, 2010


SIR: Cascade 1240, June 26 - 30, 2010

No, the title does not refer to that highly rated TV series of the last years (they say only Desperate Housewives could beat it - I didn't watch it either. Actually, I once tried to watch one episode of Lost but immediately got the impression that the script writers were making fun of me and was offended. No wonder: I don't belong to the "crucial 18 - 49 demographic" they targeted).

Rather, the title refers to the late evenings of the third and fourth day of my participation in the Cascade 1240. Up to then, that event went so well for me that I became concerned about my blog: if nothing else happened, my corresponding blog post (the one you are reading now) was going to be quite boring! I could still recommend to look at the reports and pictures collected on the event web site; those write-ups give insights from different perspectives and experiences, and the pictures there are all much better than mine. (By the way: some of the pictures below are borrowed with permission from Roland Bevan's collection). In comparison, my own account, apart from expressing the delight over the exceptionally rich and contrasting scenery on this route and the gratitude to all the volunteers, would be reduced once again to exhibitions of my inferiority complex due to the all too little cardiopulmonary engine and the little legs, and to my bragging when favorable circumstances (can you say "tailwind"?) let me advance nearly as fast as I had hoped in my most optimistic plan.

With three complete Super Randonneur Series since the beginning of the year plus a 1000 km brevet, I felt well prepared for this fairly prestigious event. Still, on the first ten or twenty miles after the start I wasn't so sure whether the thorough resting during the preceding three weeks was a good idea: it felt like I was pedaling "squares." And when I was finally warmed up enough to get the hang of this pedaling thing again, my legs started feeling tired.

My workplace for the next four days

There was this climb up to the Eatonville control where the sun came out (and Mt. Rainier, too!), such that I arrived at the Truly Scrumptious Bakery highly overdressed and profusely sweating, but happy to be there.

What a beautiful country!

Up to then, I had been riding with groups a little above my means, and finally realized that this was not sustainable. So I stayed longer than absolutely necessary and continued alone. I could afford to slow down and to save my legs for the White Pass in the evening because I had made good time so far. Besides, we had a dominant tailwind, and I continued to progress nicely anyway.

As we joined the smooth US-12 on our approach of the White Pass, the tailwind became even more eager to please, and I became even more optimistic and upbeat (if that was possible). I had always liked the mountains and long steady climbs; the temperature was perfect, and the tailwind made me feel like I was (nearly) as strong as I always wanted to be: life was good! Even after the twelve mile long climb I was still so far ahead of my schedule that I decided to soft-pedal to the overnight control in Naches as a "recovery ride." After all, the second day was going to be difficult, and I wanted to keep some gun powder for it. It's hard to believe, but I completed the 360 km with the big climb in the evening in not even 17h40, despite some generous breakfast/lunch/dinner stops. More importantly (for dealing with my inferiority complex), the times recorded in the rider progress table show that I arrived at the Clear Lake control (km 303, on the downhill from White Pass) after just about half of the participants: that's where I wanted to be!

Morning of the second day: just like in a picture book!

As expected, the second day was much slower. I paced myself conservatively on the beautiful 45-mile ride up to the Lodgepole Campground near Chinook Pass, taking all the headwind by myself. The Fruitvale/Yakima lunch control made most of us lose quite some time - long lines, big crowds. And then the hot 40-mile stretch through the Rattlesnake Hills - I loved it (in particular when I rode along the extended hops fields in the first part).

All the while, I stubbornly insisted on riding alone each time a paceline passed and invited me to join them. Despite mostly unfavorable winds, I didn't want to compromise my optimal pacing and my defensive attitude against riding in the heat; the triple-digit temperature stories from two years ago had left an impression on me. I felt vindicated when I caught up to a stronger rider ahead who had run out of water and was very slow now (I still had plenty and didn't have to make an effort to share), and a little later when we found the young and strong woman from Colorado lying on the road side with heat exhaustion, on top of the hill that has the now famous annotation on the route sheet "yes, up that hill!" (She got shuttled forward to the next control in Mattawa, recovered there for five hours, and then requested to be brought back to the spot where she dropped, to continue - and finish! - her ride).

The last 40 miles from Mattawa to the second overnight control in Quincy were much harder than anticipated; but I still arrived well before midnight, had a beer, a great dinner (thank you, Barbara - and all the others!), slept well, and set out after a good breakfast shortly after 4 a.m. into the third day to Mazama, only 180 miles away. All this was going better than I thought!

On the morning of the third day

At the "Dry Falls" - once the biggest waterfalls on earth:

This is Christophe Denetre from France. A week before the start, he flew in to San Francisco and rode the bike up to the start in Monroe. He then finished the Cascade 1200 in just a little over 85 hours and continued the following day northwards to Vancouver/British Columbia.

Apparently, many of the stronger and faster riders had slept much longer, because I was again positioned in the middle when I arrived at the spectacular Dry Falls Visitor Center  control. This didn't last, of course; but I arrived at the Malott control (52 miles from Mazama, with the Loup-Loup pass in between) at 16h20 and was satisfied with it.

Of course, the Loup-Loup pass is a hard climb (over 1000 meters of elevation gain in 20 km) and would cost me two extra hours; but it sure looked like it was impossible not to arrive in Mazama by 11 p.m. at the latest!

Or so I thought.

Here is a map of Winthrop (for some reason, I have difficulties memorizing that name since that evening. It seems to be quite a charming little town, though. Need to go back there some time - maybe at the next edition of the Cascade 1200 ?).

We (three of us) were there at 9:45 p.m. and had less than 14 miles to go to the fabulous Mazama Ranch House overnight control (OK, we might arrive a little after 11 p.m. after all, because of more headwind and uphill. Also, we had spent too much time in Twisp to "refill" - so what?). The route sheet indicated a left turn after the bridge. We got that, and we saw a big road sign "Mazama" which made us feel happy. So happy that we forgot to continue looking at the route sheet and continued straight onto Bluff St. (and we no longer looked at any street signs in the complete darkness).

I call it a brain failure - a collective one at that! - because none of us had the lucidity over the next hour and a half to realize that this road (Eastside Chewuch Road) cannot possibly be the Washington State Route 20 which would take us the following morning over Washington Pass! Instead, we kept complaining about the bad road surface, the tight turns and the disheartening up and down (more up than down, that is). I am so embarrassed you cannot believe it. When I woke up the next morning, a saying from my childhood popped up in my mind: "Was man nicht im Kopf hat, muß man in den Beinen haben." - So there.

But it gets worse. As proudly presented here, I carried my Spot messenger so the loved ones at home could follow my progression, with a "spot" message every ten minutes. By now we were getting close to midnight, and the device had trouble getting a view of satellites because of the high, dense forest in which we evolved. When the device fails to acquire the position or to send it, it blinks red. This was quite unnerving in the dark night; so I turned it off to save its batteries. After all, the people at home would be asleep by now and by the time they checked my position again the next morning, everything would have been happily resolved.

WRONG! They immediately noticed when and where we went off-route and watched us continue in the wrong direction for an hour. Then, suddenly, no "spot" messages at all any more. Hmm - he must have fallen in a ravine and is in big trouble now! And so, to rescue the husband and father, they googled and called around and e-mailed all over the world: The Audax Club Parisien, the Randonneurs Mondiaux,  Angela Merkel, the Pope, and Mark Thomas the prez of the Seattle Randonneurs.

At least that's what I inferred from how Mark received me when the three of us arrived at the Mazama Ranch House, a quarter past 2 a.m. - about three hours on the minus side for my overall finishing time. Good thing I performed so well over the first three days and had enough time in the bank!

On the brighter side, instead of leaving again as planned around 4 a.m. in darkness, I now stayed until 7 a.m. and could not only appreciate the environment of this charming site, but also take advantage big time of the wonderful breakfast offering in the restaurant. Only 162 miles to the finish, with the exciting super-climb up to Washington Pass, the "Cima Coppi" of the four days, right at the beginning!

The mishap of the night before was (nearly) forgotten; I only had to replace the original most ambitous goal of arriving by daylight by the next-level goal of arriving before midnight (i.e. under 90 hours). And I still had one notch left on my list of goals in decreasing order (i.e. just arrive before the time limit of 93 hours); but I didn't even think of it.

I should have.

The day went quite well. I enjoyed the Washington Pass climb, catching up with another rider who had passed me on the first miles quite powerfully but who apparently had underestimated the length. I was equipped well enough for the chilly and windy descent, and didn't mind riding again for most of the day alone into a headwind. It wasn't strong; and it was only fair to pay back for the advantage we had on the first day. The scenery through the mountains was breathtaking, and the pastoral atmosphere of the flatlands peaceful. To buy myself back for the emotions I had caused the evening before, I even texted home "Only 100 km remaining" when I stopped in Darrington at a gas station for liquids and snacks and relaxed for a couple minutes on the bench outside with my ice cream. An elderly gentleman approached, shy and very polite, and asked about the story behind all those funny-looking cyclists on the road. I explained equally politely, but somewhat minimally, to avoid getting into a lengthy conversation just when I was about to leave. So he kept asking for more precisions about the route. While I confirmed on this Tuesday afternoon the distances we had covered since our departure from Monroe on Saturday morning, his face grew longer and longer and his regard more and more serious. Finally, after a longer pause, he said: "Your legs must be pretty sore, then."

Ten miles before the last control in Granite Falls, it started raining, but not enough to make me wet or to make me regret the missing fenders; it was just a symbol to remind me that I was in WA. At the same time, the road became hilly and challenged me to show how much strength I had left. It turned out that it was still enough: I decided to finish strongly, and to reduce my stop at the Granite Falls control to just getting the time stamp and signature on the brevet card - I would need nothing else for the last 19 miles.

I was not even surprised to catch up with another rider ahead. At first, I passed him in a swoosh, but on second thought decided to stay with him. After all, we were in complete darkness, and it would make for a much better experience to finish together. We got talking, and he told me that the route file he had loaded onto his Garmin apparently was defective; it had led him off-course earlier in the evening, causing some substantial climbing on an extraneous loop. Now he couldn't trust his Garmin for route finding anymore and appreciated to share the navigational responsibilities. Unfortunately, while talking and listening, I got distracted from following my route sheet. Because of the accumulated discrepancy between the distances on the route sheet and the odometer, this made me match the wrong line with the current bifurcation of the road and propose "Right turn" when his Garmin said "Left turn". We stopped and discussed the situation absolutely dispassionately; after all, I was in a bad position to draw attention to my route finding skills and I was aware of it. But he said that he had been led astray by his Garmin already once and would now rather follow me.

Meanwhile, back home, the family watched the next "spot" message indicate coordinates on the wrong road, and I don't dare to imagine what they uttered at that moment, referring to my brain. This continued for about an hour, and by now, we were far away from the Lake Roesiger Road where we belonged. At least, there was no problem with my Spot device acquiring and sending coordinates (and I had no reason to turn it off; the batteries held up just fine); we even had cell phone coverage. I know it because I heard my phone ring in the handlebar bag while riding. But of course, I would not stop and pick it up. How often had I told my family not to call me while I am on a bike ride? Whoever was calling me, I needed to teach him/her a lesson and not pick up!

It was my daughter who left a message with the explanation of where we had gone wrong and that we needed to turn around.

Eventually, we found out by ourselves, returned all the way to where we had made my wrong turn, stumbled around some more in deep darkness, and finally arrived at the finish in Monroe at 1:46 a.m..
I believe an estimate of two hours for the "minus" side is rather low.

In other words: I virtually achieved my most ambitious goal of arriving by daylight (i.e. before 9 p.m.) - if I disregard both blunders of the last two evenings. I still achieved virtually my less ambitious goal of arriving before midnight - if I disregard the blunder of the last evening. In reality, however, I finished in 91h46 which luckily was still good for my most modest goal. So, in summary, I should be satisfied with my performance on this Cascade 1240 of 2010. But I am not proud of it.

The apprenticeship continues ...