An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Vicious event -- Gran Fondo Ellensburg

There's really only one word that describes this ride. Brutal. Details to follow.

The Gran Fondo Ellensburg is a lollipop shaped (mostly) ride of 92 miles, with a few thousand feet of elevation gain thrown in for your thigh-sapping pleasure. This is the fourth of five Gran Fondo rides on the Vicious Cycle calendar, and only the second in which I've participated. The last was the Gran Fondo Leavenworth in 2013. And I was better prepared for that one (on top of being five years younger).

The weekend started on Friday for me, with a drive over to Moses Lake for an overnight stay and then mechanical support at the BuDu Racing Moses Lake Triathlon. I was also there to display and promote Mjolnir Cycles (my brand) and Cirrus Cycles Kinekt seatpost.

After that event I hung around town for a short while, then drove about 2/3 of the way to Ellensburg, staying the night in Vantage, right on the Columbia River. I took a short shake-out spin on the bike, and happened to cross paths with one of the riders from my Elbe Multi-Strada Loop Ride participants. They had ridden over from Ellensburg and were camping the night in Vantage. They had the advantage of a stiff tailwind (that turned into gale-force winds lasting through the night), and were praying it died out by the next day (didn't happen, and I hope they didn't get blown into the river during the night). After a dinner at the only eatery, I settled into my room to watch some Sci-Fi channel and TBS before turning in for the night, being woken several times by the wind.

Up early, I put down a little food before hitting the road for Ellensburg, stopping for fuel (for my car and me) within spitting distance of the course start at Mt Stuart Elementary School.

Warm-ups are really not needed with an event like this. A neutral roll-out keeps things together and allows every one a chance to get in the groove before the lead truck pulls off. Then it's game on. Only we had another 25 miles into a stiff headwind. No one wanted to keep their nose up front for long, so things stayed mostly calm. There was an interesting phenomenon, though -- an ever-present fear of losing the pack and having to push into that wind alone. So there were several surges from the back, and about 20 miles in there was finally a split in the pack. On a downhill. All it takes is two people letting the gap open for this to happen. 

But I wasn't in this event to race. The pointy end of the fondo scene is VERY sharp, and my days of knocking elbows with these guys is long past. I'm fine with that. I found myself in the second pack as we entered Cle Elum, and headed into the hills. I utilized the first food stop to use a port-o-potty, and everything was mostly alone or with just a few others from that point to the end.

Really, though, this is where the riding starts. At least what matters on a ride like this -- GRAVEL. Usually gravel roads that are steep. And this course had such aplenty. The next 6 miles gained nearly 2600 feet, with pitches over 20%. Yes, I had to walk a couple of them. And I didn't lose much time at all to those who were still on their bike rather than pushing. By the time we got to the top, there was sleety stuff falling from the sky. Not much, but enough to say we got snow. In June. Yes, it was cold enough.

Then a bone chilling descent, another climb, another descent, etc. Lather, rinse, repeat. Fortunately these descents were fairly smooth, which allowed one to let go of the brakes and fly for short periods. Lots of fun. Almost makes all the work of going uphill worth it.

I kept watching the ride distance, trying to calculate in an increasingly fuzzy brain just how far it was until the last rest stop and the return to pavement (and a merciful tailwind). I thought I had it all worked out when I came to the food area, volunteers offering to fill my water bottles. I said, "So, it's all downhill and with the wind from here, right?"

"Yep, after that 1000 foot climb it's all downhill."

I knew he wasn't kidding. Yep, five more miles of dirt, with a long somewhat steady uphill thrown in. The back side of this one was not so smooth, though. The bane of gravel riding, at least to me, is the washboard that is developed in the road surface from cars and trucks going into corners (I blame the proliferation of anti-lock brakes), which becomes a dangerous back-and-forth whipping on a bike at any appreciable speed. Two-wheel drifts result, and one can't be on the front brake or there is the very real risk of sliding out, locking the front wheel, or just going off the road entirely. Or any combination of those. Even when successfully negotiated, it's not comfortable at all.

I survived it, but had to stop along the way to give my neck a break.

The dilemma of these events is that the real challenge, the actual draw, is the gravel. Getting off the pavement and into something more primal, with less traffic. It's about you against the chosen route, even if you're not at the pointy end of the race where it's as much you vs. route as it is you vs. other riders. Once you get past the top 10 placings, there's more of a cooperative effort. Maybe it's the shared suffering.

Finally, the road surface turned smooth and firm, and speed was rewarded with a rush of adrenaline, instead of more pain. A quick food stop again, and the final run back to Ellensburg was underway. What had been a hefty headwind on the way out (from which I stayed as hidden as possible behind other riders) was now a nice tailwind. It's a nice mental boost to see speeds into the mid-20's again, but then you realize that everyone else is getting the same boost, and you're not making up any time on anyone. That guy up the road is staying just as far away...

A paceline 6 strong passed me, and I latched onto the caboose position for a nice stretch of speeds in the upper 20's and low 30's. Unfortunately I really didn't have the legs to stay with it after a couple of uphills, and found myself pushing on alone for the last 10 miles. I kept a mental count-down of the distance, the last of which were on the Iron Horse Trail. Nicely traffic-free, but the surface was loose and required more concentration than I was wanting to put forth.

And finally the finish. Seemed a little anti-climactic, crossing between two orange cones with one person writing down numbers, and another passing out the finisher's patches. Where's the brass band and ticker-tape? After over 6 hours in the saddle, how about a little love?

I cruised the last three miles back to the school, propped my bike against the truck, and climbed in to change out of my riding clothes. And the skies chose that moment to open up.

I waited it out before putting the bike away and venturing over to get my post-ride burrito. Barely able to walk, and with mental capacities not quite 100%, I stared at the can of Coke in one hand, the burrito in the other, and decided to get back in my truck to eat. And then the skies opened up again. I really felt for anyone still out there on the course, hopefully off the hills by that time.

I waited around a little while longer, than took the 3+ hour drive home. Gotta love Snoqualmie Pass traffic on a late Sunday afternoon.

So now it's Tuesday, and I think my legs have recovered enough so that walking looks normal, and I can ride a bike uphill without crying. Checking the results, I ended up 45th out of 101 male finishers (one lady finished just under 6 minutes ahead of me -- she was in that paceline that I briefly picked up on the return tailwind section). My final official time was 6:45:28, only an hour and 20 minutes behind the event winner... So that's not all that bad.

I remember the Leavenworth ride making me feel like I'd done the hardest ride of my life. I think this tops it. Yes, I have myself to blame for my longest ride leading up to this one only being a tick under 4 hours. And my nutrition and hydration definitely weren't on point. I made the entire ride on 8 Fig Newtons, 1 chocolate chip cookie, and probably just under 4 large water bottles full of only water. The mind wanders to figuring out how I could do better.

 Maybe I've gotten these epic rides out of my system.

Or maybe I just need another 5 years to forget how much fun it is...

A big thanks goes out to Cirrus Cycles Kinekt seatpost for saving my backside on the gravel. The ride cush was appreciated to no end...

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


Well, not really. But it kind of looks like it's snowing. 

Little white things floating around in the air, settling on the sides of the road, like cold dry snow, drifting, stirring up by passing vehicles.

Yes, there are places in the world where it actually does snow this time of year. Far from here, in the southern hemisphere, where they are in late fall and approaching winter. It doesn't snow here in May.

It's the annual cottonwood seed crop.

Yesterday was bad. Today was even worse.

At 10 am, the grassy areas were still wet. And then the cottonwood seeds would accumulate in the bare areas. My tires would get caked with wet white stuff, and then fling it all over on the descents.

I felt like I was slowly accumulating a white ghillie suit. Ready for sniper duty on planet Hoth!

Cottonwoods are such horrible trees. Truly weeds of the forest. Dropping limbs in even light winds, breaking apart when you try to fell them... And burning the wood is best left to fully enclosed wood stoves, as it smells terrible.

And the seed crop.

Hopefully it'll be over with quickly.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Elbe Multi-Strada Loop Ride, 2018 edition

It was a dark and stormy night... The eve of the 2018 running of the Elbe Multi-Strada Loop Ride saw the postponement of a family photo session due to torrential rains that parked over the area for a few hours. But the forecast said it was supposed to improve overnight and be "nice" all day Sunday.

This was the fifth year for this event, more loosely organized group ride than anything else.

Attendance has varied over the years, with a high of 17 to a low of 4, mostly weather dependent. The course has been steady since the 2015 event, so returning riders generally know what's in store (at least the parts that the brain doesn't lock away due to painful memories).

I drove out early to place the water stop cooler and to post the KOM/QOM prize (FREE BURGERS!). I had decided to do something a little different than the Strava segment this time, hammering a stake along the side of the road at a semi-random location with a paper plate sporting the ride emblem (a John Henry I'd used in the first two years) with tags stapled to the back -- in order to win, you had to be the first person by that sign to see it and stop to get the tag. I put it near the top of the last climb... yep, ON the hill. I'm cruel like that.

The riders started to roll in about 8:40 for the 9 am start. We rolled out 5 strong to tackle the hills and gravel.

This ride is "only" 47 miles, roughly. But included in that is 19 miles of gravel roads by the original route. With the addition of the Bud Blancher trail bypassing the run in to Eatonville, it adds more. I'm thinking I'll just make that the official route in future events, and forego the water cooler in town. Anyway, those gravel roads are where the really nasty stuff happens -- the real elevation gain, and one particularly heinous stretch of self-flagellation that tests traction and will. And that is thrown into the middle of the longest climb. Part of the post-ride conversation always includes the question of "did you ride the whole thing?" This year, I can humbly say I did not, as I walked the last 50 yards or so, not able to turn the pedals over any more. I tell everyone before the ride starts, there's no shame in walking that one. Frankly, it's not that much slower, either.

Vistas were fairly shrouded in fog on this day, but on a clear day you can see... quite a long ways.

The final roll back into Elbe is a gentle descent along the Mountain Highway, making you feel heroic from the high speeds after all that abuse. A quick change at the car, and then it's all about the BURGERS!

The Elbe Bar and Grill serves up the best post-ride refueling. On any other day it might be too much, but after a ride like this, it's perfect. And this year the free burger went to Nick Koops, who selected the Boiker (famous for the inclusion of peanut butter).

Much conversation about future events, trails, and hidden gems in the Pacific NW.

So... with the 2018 running of the Elbe Multi-Strada Loop Ride in the books, look for the Lucky Masochist's Gravel Deuce in July, and the return of the Elbe ride next May.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Catching up

Sometimes you meet up with some one you haven't seen in a long time, and it seems like it was only yesterday that you last saw them.

So it was this past weekend, meeting up with Shane.

My daughter-the-elder is beginning her college search, being a high school junior, and Whitworth University (Spokane, WA) was holding their "Pirate Preview" weekend May 6-7. One of my old riding and racing friends also lives in Spokane, and so I contacted him for a riding route suggestion. He did far better -- he invited me to his house, just a few minutes from the university, for a ride together.

I showed up at about 5 pm, and after the handshake-hug, re-introductions and such, readied quickly and we were off to his guided tour of the Spokane River.

Dropping back into the valley, we hit a horrendous headwind, and my thoughts went toward "this could really suck". But we got to a more protected area and the wind settled down some.

Talk ranged over reminiscing on past rides and races, family, moves, careers, injuries, aging, and a lot of talk of spiritual things. Life views, parenting, past mistakes... Catching up, to where it was like no time had passed since we last rode together. But we did the math, and figured out that 24 years have gone by. Neither of us had children at the time, and now we've goth got girls in late high school, and he has one late in college.

The route along the Spokane River wound around quiet roads and walking/cycling paths, through a pine forest. Rolling hills throughout made for difficulty finding a rhythm, but also made for a challenging ride. Several deer, a few geese, and my first-ever wild turkey sighting.

At the dam, the spillway was flowing deep and fast, the river swollen from the months of rain. We stopped for photos, then got back on for the return ride on the opposite side of the river.

Shane is a really strong rider. Always has been. I tell him that he's always been able to ride away from me at will, and it's still true. Especially late in the ride when the long morning drive was catching up to me that I found myself truly trying to catch up with him on the hills. Yes, I did drop my chain twice, and that did force a stop, but that wasn't really why I was flagging. I was glad that he'd had a long and hard ride the day before.

We ended the ride just shy of two hours, my fastest ride this year (and I think last year as well). We sat for a while, more conversation. Brothers from another family, seemingly.

Catching up, in so many ways. May it not be so long til the next time.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

A Blessed Event (BuDu Racing Mt Rainier Duathlon)

No, not a birth. Sorry, no cute pink-n-wrinkly newborn pictures.

This is about an event, a race, the BuDu Racing Mt Rainier Duathlon, which was this past Sunday in Enumclaw, WA.

I've participated in this event in various capacities over the years, as a racer in its first few years, to volunteering in positions of traffic control, timing chip retrieval, and motor support (lead-out and draft marshaling), and now as one of the multi-sport series sponsors (this is my third year giving a custom bike frame and fork to one of the athletes that does at least three of the six multi-sport events that BuDu Racing promotes and executes).

And in all my time at this race, set against the entrance to the Cascade mountains, I've never been rained on during the event.

These guys are somehow blessed when it comes to this race.

This is in Washington, the Pacific north-wet (no, that's not a typo). It rains here. A lot. Especially at the Cascade foothills where the moist ocean air unloads itself to make it over the mountains. Timed in the spring at Beltane (April 30th for those not aware of a Pagan calendar -- and no, I'm not Pagan), the odds are good that an odd rainfall or ten would deluge the race right off the road. And I understand one year there was a pretty good hailstorm, but I was elsewhere on the course at the time and (thankfully) missed out. I've had the rain chase me home after the race a couple times, this past Sunday being one of those. We were just getting everything into the BuDu trailers when the skies opened up. 

I'd like to know what anti-rain dance they're doing!

But for the Regional Long-course Duathlon Championships, BuDu again put on a flawless race, with great support all around. And they even had the race results posted online before everything was packed up. First-class event organizers, these folks.

Oh, and they do a load of other races with timing and course set-up. 

I'll be at their June 9th event in Moses Lake as well, delivering the bike that was awarded last season's lucky winner. I hope she likes it.