|Newsletter - 2006 Archive|
It was more or less by coincidence that I came across the Cascade 1000, organized by the Seattle International Randonneurs. As the 2006 season drew to a close I had a choice to make. There was only one 1000 km brevet left to complete the requirements for my Rando 5000 award. I had looked at others, but these either conflicted or offered the opportunity to ride them by myself. I had inquired about the route earlier in the summer. As the date for the ride approached, I checked Washington's weather forecast, consulted an atlas for the general location and MapQuest for the specifics of the route. Finally, I surfed the SIR website for more Cascade 1000 info and came across Bill Strachan's and Paul Johnson's 2002 accounts. The latter, which I'd call a painful story in ways which only Paul experienced and shared, provided excellent and valuable insight. He wrote (in 2002) that someday he would do the ride again, but not soon. For him 'not too soon' was 2006, and what a ride he had. If his 2002 ride was painful, his 2006 was a personal victory I'd say. I am getting ahead of myself here. It was a last minute decision to participate. I e-mailed Mark Thomas, who offered his home as place to stay. It took 2 days to drive the 1,300 km from Fort St. John to Redmond, but the last 5 km were the most challenging. It took me awhile to find the north approach to the Thomas' residence. MapQuest had failed to identify the barrier on the other side of the coulee. Bicycles could pass, but not cars. That's the real world out there for you.
Day 1: Redmond-Pateros (358 km)
With 15 riders we started at 7:30 am and cycled ourselves through and out of Redmond's labyrinth. I could smell trouble here for the return section, especially if this would be at night. Not to worry about that yet. Once past Maltby the route's initial challenge was gone. Separated from the leaders and being ahead of the followers, I hung in between for awhile. On the main route to Arlington, many traffic lights decided to play a "let's pick-on-Wim-today"game. Just as I approached them, they'd change to amber, so that I missed the green. With the help of these (un)cooperative lights, I was reigned in by pursuing riders. Together we arrived in Arlington (Km 57 @ 9:42 am). Leaving the control, riders tore away individually as if the devil was on their (w)heels. As Jon Mullner put it later, randonneurs have a hard time sometimes, most the time? to ride together and cooperate. Luckily Wayne Methner had a pace that was to my liking. At this time I was still a bit apprehensive about the about route sheet, so I joined forces with someone who knew the route. We struck up a conversation and cycled together for most of the 900+ km that followed. From Arlington we cycled through the back country via Granite Falls. The ride through this rural setting was very pretty against that impressive, scenic backdrop of mountains. Farms were sprinkled among the coastal forest. Along the road bramble bushes were loaded with black berries. I kept looking at them, almost salivating when thinking about what they'd taste like. That was to be saved for later.
Near Lake Stevens we caught up with Bill, Jon, and Bob, and formed a loose group that would sort of see-saw over the rest of the ride. Never that far apart. We were now in the forest zone, yet some properties displayed the name "ranch "on their shingle. As far as I was concerned the only "bull" was on that pretentious sign: there wasn't a single bovine in sight anywhere. Guess, we all have our dreams. The route kept getting better and better, winding and rolling with a lot of variety. Short steep climbs and quick descents presented an abbreviated version for the much longer ones to come later that day. At Sultan (Km 114) Jon, Wayne and I stopped for lunch to have it fully digested by the time we'd be climbing Stevens Pass (4601 ft asl) that afternoon. Once on Hwy 2, we headed east up the Skykomish valley. It displayed that typical narrow U-shape, evidence of glaciation past. Mountains were towering on either side, creating that sense of enclosure. Only the giant timbers stretched their tall trunks skyward for a look across the alpine skyline. I was enjoying the verdant green, the dampness of the air and the pleasant temperatures. Noted a road sign asking "Stuck in traffic? Call your State Legislator!" I could not help but wondering, if we rephrased the question: "Stuck in traffic? Buy a bicycle!" what bicycles could do to solve congestion. Imagine the number of multi-lane paths we'd have available. During the ride up Hwy 2, Wayne brought me up-to-date on the local history of the small communities we passed such as Startup, Gold Bar, Index, Baring and Grotto, in a sense much like the Fraser canyon in B.C.
In Skykomish (Km 158 @14:37 pm) we got our cards signed and made sure that we had sufficient supplies to get to the next control. The loose group of riders was no more; we broke up and strung out. The road rose steadily along the Skykomish River. A fly-fisherman was casting his line across the surface green of the cool waters. His peace, the rushing waters; ours the skyward 'rushing' to the pass. As we got nearer, the road appeared to dead-end in a box canyon. It showed no way out other than an abrupt turn in the road, now heading west and more up. The road, clinging to the cliffs, appeared to have no end. Finally as it and I curved around the mountain, there it was the pass with the ski hill. Stevens Pass said the sign, then the sweet reward: a long descent. At first it was shivering cold, then as I descended the temperature rose noticeably. Must have been the friction caused by an accelerating randonneur re-entering the lower and denser parts of the atmosphere. Had to monitor my angle of re-entry to prevent burning up. Yeah right. The surprise was that the descent was accompanied by a gentle tailwind, contrary to the usual headwind at that time of day. On the way down to Coles Corner with a speed averaging 35+ kph, it felt absolutely great. In the stream beside me, a huge salmon jumped for joy, perfectly timing and reinforcing how I felt. No sign of fellow riders anywhere. The last one I'd seen was 500 m ahead going up Stevens Pass, no-one on the downside. Vanished in thin air.
In Leavenworth (Km 240 @ 16:25 pm) a city with a Bavarian theme much like Kimberley, B.C., I joined fellow riders, who had stopped for food. The pasta and latte supplied new energy for the stage down the Wenatchee River valley to the Columbia. The dry climate on the lee of the mountains left a bare landscape, where the brown of the hills and the blue of the sky fused at the skyline. Yet, the valley made a very clean and fresh impression with its lush green alfalfa fields and orchards. The loaded pear trees promised a bountiful harvest, which would be transported in due time in wooden boxes, already stacked three high in many places. Every season Northern BC grocery stores sell pears with Wenatchee stickers. The valley was much like the B.C. Okanagan. Sadly enough, some orchards had 'for sale' signs, an indication that land use changes may be on the horizon. In spring this valley must be a paradise with all its blossoms. Wayne mentioned that SIR organizes spring training camps here. We passed Peshastin, Dryden, Cashmere and Monitor. A favourable grade and temperatures, new pavement and a pleasant tailwind ensured that our eastward pace stayed at 35 kph. It could not get any better. Near Wenatchee we turned north onto Hwy 97, named the "The Long and Winding Road: Discovering the Pleasures and Treasures of Highway 97", the title of a book about that highway. (Author: Jim Couper; 2006; Pbk. C$ 14.40). This highway by the way starts in Weed, Ca. and runs north through Oregon and Washington into British Columbia, where it passes through Fort St. John on the Alaska Highway, north to the Yukon border, a distance of 3,200 km. Now, here is an ultra-marathon brevet to ponder.
From Wenatchee we cycled up the Columbia River with its many power dams and reservoirs. Much to our joy, the usual headwind failed to materialize. We could handle that challenge. Vigorous winds did blow down the coulees, as we crossed them. Distinct rock formations along the steep slopes became even more distinct against the fading evening's skyline. As the sun began to drop, so did the temperatures. We stopped to prepare for the upcoming darkness. Lights from the Rocky Reach Dam cast reflections on the placid waters of Lake Entiat, creating a Christmas-like atmosphere. There was bit of a hill to overcome to get into Chelan (Km 330 @ 22:30 pm), where we refueled for the last lump of the day into Pateros (Km 358 @ 00:02), Our motel was located on the shores of Lake Pateros, a reservoir created by the Wells dam. After a shower, a cup-of-soup and a can of EnsurePlus, we readied for the next day. In about 30 minutes we were down and out for a five hour sleep.
Day 2: Pateros- Darrington (350 km)
The wake-up call came at 5:30 am, followed by an easy breakfast in a nearby restaurant. By 6:40 am we cycled out of town and up the pretty Methow River valley with lush orchards and sagebrush covered hillsides. We rode through Methow, Carlton and Twisp, small rural and quiet communities. The road rose easily and slightly, sparing us for what lay ahead later that day. We arrived in Winthrop (Km 426 @ 09:40 am) and decided for a good meal, a strategy that had helped us the day before, and would do so again today. As Wayne and I ate, we persuaded Jon and Bob to join us. Others declined and continued. Lunch was great. The restaurant had an elevated terrace shaded by deciduous trees. It was the perfect setting, which we could have enjoyed much longer than we did. Too soon we departed for the stretch westward through the North Cascades with a long climb and two passes ahead. For quite awhile everything rose as we continued up the Methow valley: the road, the sun and the temps. It was very hot in sections. Just before Mazama we passed Narayan, who was working on an reluctant tyre. Luckily he had bought spare tubes in Winthrop, a pre-emptive strike against whatever lay ahead. His sixth sense must have warned him. Trouble was where to find that pesky leak, checking for tiny pieces of embedded wires; putting spittle on the valve to detect a slow leak. He solved the problem. We passed Mazama and then pushed up a long 27 km ascent to Washington Pass (5,477 ft).
At the Lone Fir campground, some 6 km from the Pass, we replenished our water. As we came around a corner many peaks, including Liberty Bell (8,876 ft) and Silver Star (7,720 ft), silently stood watching us sweat, recording our grunts. No echoes of the latter, they must have been too weak. In the distance waited a switchback - on the map it showed as a sharp hook - with what appeared (from my angle of view) an incredibly steep ascent. I didn't think I'd ever seen anything that steep and even wondered if my granny gear would be small enough to handle it. In my thoughts I was already walking. Wayne and Bob had pulled ahead, then myself trying to minimize the gap, followed by Jon, Bill and Narayan further back. As I inched around that switchback for the final push, there it was right in front of me: the moment of truth, the time to face it! Somehow it seemed that the mountain relented, lost its resistance and possibly its nerve, now surrendering to the enduring cyclist. That seemingly insurmountable grade became relatively easy. Wow, I made it. There at the top of the Washington Pass were Wayne and Bob - an unofficial welcome committee. They had arrived no more than 10 minutes before. The view of the valley behind me was absolutely stunning. Riders in the distance below were like ants. Several weeks later, this scene is embedded in my memory.
The stop at the pass was brief; then a descent of 4 km followed by a climb to Rainy Pass (4,850 ft), which somehow was a bit of a blur. I can't remember much of it. I do know that I saw the Rainy Pass sign, so it must have been there. We descended the Granite Creek valley. Wayne, who indicated that he would descend slowly, disappeared in the distance. For someone intent on going slow, he steadily increased the gap. I didn't catch up for some 60 km! If he called that slow I wondered what fast means in his dictionary. Meanwhile Bob and I descended together, until he announced 'nap-time' and dismounted for a snooze in the woods. I continued past the High Ross Dam on the Skagit River, a rather controversial project in the seventies with a reservoir stretched across the BC border. Just as I thought that everything was behind me, more climbing followed by a hot descent. It felt like a furnace; actually more like Dante's inferno. Near Diablo - how they come with that name here? - the road crossed the Skagit River and became shady and cool. Finally, in Newhalem I caught up with Wayne. We treated ourselves to ice-cream and soft drinks. From thereon the ride continued along the shady side of the valley. It was indeed very pretty.
Instead of a meal stop in Marblemount
(Km 566 @ 17:30 pm), something I'd been descending for since
Rainy Pass, Wayne and I decided to make it to Darrington. We
followed the impressive Skagit River to Rockport, then turned
south along the Sauk River, another beautiful section. In Darrington
we chatted with the control crew. A beer and pizza order for
our post-midnight return was not only a brilliant idea, but also
a great incentive to cover the remaining 114 km between now and
then. After a quick bite in Darrington we continued west on Hwy
530 with its many ups and more downs to the coastal plains. In
Arlington (Km 660 @ 10:00 pm) we topped up our
supplies, donned our night gear and pedaled our way back over
the same road with its now many downs and more ups. We met quite
a few riders, their single headlights announcing their progress.
There was however more glowing in the dark. As they reflected
our head lights, the beady eyes gave away many a night prowler
in the grassy berm, such as fox, coyote and cat. After pizza
and beer at the control in Darrington (Km 708 @
00:38), we willingly surrendered to another five hours of sleep.
Only 304 km left to finish of this ride.
By 7:05 am Bob, Paul, Wayne, Jon, and I were on the road again, returning north to Rockport. We cycled through a majestic douglas fir forest: second growth, straight and tall. A deep sense of morning peace reigned, we adjusted our pace accordingly. It gave us a chance to ride, chat and enjoy. Paul recounted his experiences from rides past, including his July 2006 VanIsle 1200. As we were enjoying our peaceful ride, a massive black canine catapulted out of the woods, aiming straight for us. Our collective and reactive howl sent him packing quickly. We lacked the appetite to become an early morning dog's breakfast. Phew!! From Rockport it was westward to Concrete (Km 756 @ 9:10 am), our first control and breakfast stop. The ride then continued through Hamilton and Lyman to Sedro- Woolley, site of a controversial nuclear power plant proposal a few decades ago. On this stretch we met the first BC Randonneurs on their Lower Mainland 600 brevet. Somewhere, Wayne, Paul and I became separated from the other riders.
In Sedro-Woolley we entered the coastal plains with a wide range of agri- and horti-cultural activities. What a contrast with the rainforests, the mountains and grasslands we'd left behind. Via backroads and not so backroads we arrived in Whitney (Km 816.0 @ 12:30 pm). As a trio we tackled the headwinds off Samish Bay, smelled its salinity and fishiness. The area had pastures, dairy farms, orchards, potato and blueberry fields-forever. In the distance we saw the Chuckanut, with a road hugging the rocks, perched above the coastal waters, rolling and winding its way north to Bellingham. This was yet another gift of scenic beauty. I had cycled it at night as part of the 2004 Fleche BC. Even then I was impressed. Riding it in daylight revealed its full beauty. We caught glimpses of the Bay with panoramic views on the Olympic Peninsula. The sunshine and the blue skies made this the perfect ride. There were short climbs and descents with 90 degree corners. This is the life. Pulling uphill, sailing downhill, leaning through the curves to counter the G-forces. An adrenalinic sensation. Wow!!! There was more to come. We rode through some shady sections - green tunnels - felt the cool air as we rounded more corners. This was indeed so cool and refreshing. Next thing we knew, open sections with sunshine pouring all over us.
Just as one has to stop and smell the roses once in a while, I stopped and sampled blackberries. Its delicious juices brought back many memories: picking them, eating them, lots; making jams and juices. As I was sidetracked by the berries and the past, other riders passed me, so I had a bit of catching up to do. Not long there-after we entered Bellingham-Fairhaven (Km 855 @ 14:40 pm). Wayne recommended that we stop at Mambo Italiano for lunch. What a choice! There was only one dilemma: what to order? I settled for pasta with oyster stew in white wine sauce. What a treat. If the ride up the Chukanut was great and lunch absolutely delicious, could it get any better? Actually it did, for the return over the Chuckanut was sheer delight, at least I thought. Too soon we were back on the coastal plains, where a stiff sea breeze ushered us along. We could have cycled forever. We did stop for a few moments, though. First, for Paul to take pictures of the loaded blueberry bushes with Mount Baker as a backdrop. I took advantage of that opportunity to taste a few fat ones straight from the bushes. Delicious. Second, at the Whitney control, for us to cheer on fellow riders who still had to do the Chuckanut run to Bellingham. We recommended they stop at Mambo Italiano. They did indeed. Meanwhile we continued to La Connor (Km 902 @ 17:12 pm), where I bought fresh fruit to sustain me for the next 53 km. As we moved along, Wayne suggested that we not stop anymore to feed me. He figured it upped the speed too much. Needless to say I had a different opinion about that. Somewhere I informed my fellow riders, that there was some good news and some bad news. The good news was that we were making excellent progress; the bad news was that since we left Bellingham the average speed had kept going up We were now averaging 27+ kph and accelerating. Jokingly I added that we might be able to do a sub 60 hour brevet. We were enjoying the scenery, the harvesting activities, like the picking of cucumbers, the dairy farms with their fenced pastures, corn fields and more. Around Stanwood we stopped no longer than necessary at the secret control. Soon we turned onto narrower roads with little traffic and wonderful pavement. When we came to a few square corners, I must confess there was this sudden, irresistable urge to jump and accelerate - in plain English: sprint - so that I could lean my machine through those corners, to feel the torque of those centrifugal forces. And I did! Man, machine, speed and forces, 't was so exhilarating!! (With due apologies to Wayne and Paul for messing up the rhythm of the ride, but it felt o so good). It also helped generate an appetite for our break in So. Arlington (Km 955 @19:30 pm). Two bowls of soup, energy for the final push to Redmond. Concerned a bit about our speed and his reserves on climbs, Paul kept his break brief and went ahead. We did catch up, and rode together. The tail of the ride had a few surprises in store. First, overcoming the wicked hills of Broadway and Bostian. Second, dealing with Wayne's world. He had promised to pilot us through the Redmond labyrinth. We trusted the local; too soon, as it turned out. Under his guidance we got lost. He used the "too soon" as an excuse, to say that we should have started this (trusting bit) a bit later and all would have been fine. :-). Notwithstanding this, we made it to the finish at Mark and Chris's home in Redmond (Km 1012 @ 10:56 pm) for a total time of 63:26. Paul had more confidence in his maps, and arrived minutes later. We were treated to pasta and beer, which -- uncapped -- capped a great event.
For me a great ride on a course with scenery
that is kaleidoscopic in nature. I can only say, I am glad I
came. I had a lot of fun. Someone asked me the other day: "Why
randonneuring? In 25 words or less." My response: (1) the
people, the camaraderie; (2) goal setting and achieving them;
(3) exploring new places; and (4) explorations of my inner- and
outer worlds. The Cascade 1000 is one of these brevets that confirmed
it all. Thanks everyone. To Wayne and Paul for the fun. To Chris
and Mark, my appreciation for that extra dimension, your hospitality.
For ride results see:
October 9, 2006