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Jaime on the Cascade "1200"
Photo sent in by fellow rider Jeff Newberry


An Even Longer Cascade “1200” And Still Spinning My Wheels
Ride Dates: June 17-21, 2016
by Jaime Guzman

Two years ago the Cascade “1200” was actually 1240K and because that was not enough, this year the organizers made it 1290K and included White Pass AND Washington Pass in the same ride. It was with trepidation that I signed up for it, after the last one had been the hardest physical challenge I had ever faced. At the end, this one was even harder but I am happy to report that I am still spinning my wheels. Here are my thoughts about the ride in no particular order.

The Sloth Movie
Have you ever seen the cartoon movie called Zootopia, also known as “The Sloth Movie”? Dave told me about it while we were waiting to go across the border and we had a laugh with him impersonating a sloth, the slowest creature on earth.

When the lady at the border told us I had to go “inside” to get a stamp on my passport I thought nothing of it, 15 min max, but when we entered “inside” it was a time warp zone where everything slowed down to a Sloth Movie speed. Three and a half hours later an officer finally took the 5 min it took from the point he reached for the stamp to the point where the stamp finally reached the paper in my passport.

When we finally arrived to Mount Vernon after the official time for the bike check was long-gone, I was already famous as “the guy who was stopped at the border”. Thank you Dave for all your patience, and thank you to the organizers for accommodating us!

An Overnight Ride with a Legend
I new we had 440 Km to ride in the first day so I needed to find a strategy that would work. I figure the best thing to do was to stick with a medium-fast (as opposed to medium-rare) group of locals thru the night to avoid getting lost and put some time in the bank. It was a risky strategy as I could have burned out on that first night but it worked, I arrived at Packwood with room to sleep 4 hours.

What I wasn’t expecting was to ride with a legend, Ken Bonner, on and off throughout the night. He would go ahead of the pack and then we would catch up while he was checking directions. I will particularly treasure the ride by the river trails with Ken and Peter just before dawn. Of course, once we got to the open road Ken took of and I never saw him again until the closing breakfast on Wednesday.

An Extra Serving of Beautiful Rain Forest
The first 24h of the ride were wet, very wet, bringing memories of my 600K brevet in Vancouver Island 3 weeks earlier. But as it was the case with that ride, there was beautiful rain forest all around; and we took multiple detours and loops so we could enjoy it over and over.

Rain forests know no borders but I greatly enjoyed the well designed American National Forest Drives (NFD for short). I guess these roads are meant to crisscross ancient forests so you can enjoy them from the comfort of you car; I am not complaining, since they allow cyclists like me to enjoy views that could otherwise only be had if you were into mountain biking.

Detours & Randonneurs
As I said, this route took us over many detours and loops and I heard all sorts of comments about them, some people loved them and some people hated them. It made me realize that there are actually two types of randonneurs.

The French traditionalists, who take the word “Randonneur” to heart (meaning the one that wanders around) and love the fact that “detours” are called detours (meaning to go around) even in English. They, of course, would ride nothing but steel and down-tube shifters.

And then you have the roadie-at-heart randonneurs, who would prefer to get there as fast as possible and ride carbon and any other technology promising to shave minutes of their ride.

On second thought, there are NOT two kinds of randonneurs, these are the two extremes at either side with most every randonneur I know fitting somewhere in between. One thing for sure, the loops in the rain forest and Tieton road around Rimrock lake were much, much more pleasant than busy highways W12 or W20.

A Draining Demoralizing Pseudo Climb
Leaving Yakima mid-afternoon on Day 2 the terrain didn’t look like much. It was what I call a pseudo climb: gradients of about 2-4 %, but add to that strong headwinds and you have a recipe for disaster. I was trying to find a word to describe my feelings about it and came up with “draining”, but Gary Baker got one better and called it “demoralizing”.

You see the same desert landscape that does not change, you see your miserly speed, you see the clock and you feel so wrong and wonder if you are ever going to get there.

When I asked Gary Prince at the Packwood control what was coming on day 2, he said you have the long climb up White Pass, a flattish climb and then a stinger of a hill with gradients upwards of 10%. Guess which one was the worst. Yep, the flattish pseudo climb in the middle.

The Sprint to Moses Lake
Never was the contrast between different types of randonneurs as clear as when we had a bunch sprint to the overnight control on Moses Lake. Traditionalists like me were wondering WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING when a peloton-like spirit took over and the average speeds climbed to 35K per hour.

I guess many riders were anxious to get to a nice comfy bed and have enough sleep; but wouldn’t they know that we still had 2 days more of riding and Loup Loup and Washington Pass to contend with?

The Law of Even Effort
The other time when the extremes in randonneuring style show up is with climbing. Attacking a hill makes a lot of sense if you are a roadie because that is the only time you can open a gap with your competitors so that they don’t stay comfy on your draft and then take away your hard-fought triumph in the final sprint.

But, this makes little sense in randonneuring where you are not racing your enemies but riding with your friends. And you know what makes even less sense? To slow down after you killed yourself conquering a hill, instead of enjoying your momentum accelerating in the descent. Well, I saw a number of people doing just that!

Anyway, call me a traditionalist, but I adhere to the “Law of Even Effort”: I slow down in the climbs and speed up in the descents for maximum energy economy and to keep my heart in a comfortable rate that I can sustain all day.

Talking about the law of even effort, in day 3 during the long climb up to Dry Falls I met two other traditionalists, Jeff and Corey, who rode, what else, but steel. My purple Vitali felt really happy riding with a sky-blue Rivendell with down-tube shifters and a beautiful hand-made Thompson 650b randonneur ridden by Thompson himself. And sure enough, my heart rate kept even most of the day going uphill or downhill, or close enough anyway. Thank you Jeff and Corey for a beautiful ride and good conversation!

Boogie up Washington Pass
The “short” 313K Day 3 was deceptively tough. With the climb up Loup Loup pass in the middle of the night, many riders made it to Mazama around sun rise. Anyway, encouraged by the short 200K left in the ride, but worried about the climb up Washington Pass, I dragged my feet until close to 9:00 am before Jeff saw the time and said something like: Well, we now need to boogie to catch up with the other riders. What! Chase riders up Washington Pass! As if that ever is going to happen! I remember quite vividly EVERY RIDER PASSING ME 2 years ago!

Well, he was right, by that time we really needed to boogie if we wanted to make it before closing time. And you know what? A randonneur has to do what a randonneur has to do. So boogie up the pass we did and then did a fast pace-line nearing Concrete for half an hour to put the time right for my taking the last 50K at “regular” speed, with John, down the gorgeous South Skagit Highway back to Mount Vernon before dark.

There you have it, I completed this monster of a ride 1290K long, over 12000 meters high, with 4 mountain passes, 3 pseudo climbs and 1 steep hill thrown in for good measure, and I am still standing. Of course, this doesn’t make me a strong climber (I will never be, that comes with your genes), but I would argue that at least it makes me a wise climber.

Stay well and remember: Enjoy the ride. Never quit.

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June 25, 2016