On 8/6/2010, Seattle International Randonneurs
organized a 300 km bike ride on the back roads between Mount Saint Helens and
Mount Adams in the Washington Cascade mountains. The ride was billed as a
true randonneuring experience and It totally lived up to the hype.
The ride is 193 miles. The time limit is 20 hours. This is the elevation profile -not much flat ground in there.
About 40 riders started from the Shell station at Packwood at 05:00. The
first part of the ride was a gradual descent from Packwood to Randle, 18 miles west
on Highway 12. The most exciting part was when 4 deer bolted across the road
about 10 feet in front of the small group I was riding with. Everyone
including the deer got a fright but no harm done. The group was
running a little fast for me so I dropped off and picked up with the next group
that came along just before Randle.
The first 25 miles of the route are the same as Cascade Bicycle
Club's High Pass Challenge, a 112 mi. 7400 ft elevation ride that I did in early
September 2008. The weather was a bit different:
High Pass Challenge 2008
There is a 2 mile, 500 ft. warm up climb at mile 17 before the first control at mile 25. At that point route heads east toward Mount Adams on Cispus Road and National Forest Road 23.
It took some concentration to pick the line because it was a mix of washboard and loose gravel. The next picture shows an example. On the edges there was sometimes a good surface between the deep gravel patches and sometimes there was a packed strip down the middle between the washboard sections. There was a lot of weaving back and forth and it took me an hour and a half to do the 7 miles to the top.
The next picture is looking back along the road from near the summit. On the right is a little piece of pavement. on a side road. At the time I though "There's a @#$& paved road up here ??!?!". But according to the maps it doesn't go anywhere.
Here is a bunch of us at the pass: Chris Heg, Jennifer Chang, Steve Barnes, Jason Dul, Kole Kantner, Peg Winczewski and Amy Pieper (the first tandem to complete the route - awesome).
The descent was if anything harder than the climb because the road was still full of washboards and loose gravel but I had less time to pick the line.
After we cleared the ridge we caught a view of Mount Adams. I had never been that close to Adams before.
Looking North back to Adams:
This is Trout Lake Creek that crosses the road just north of town:
Trout Lake was hoppin' with the Trout Lake Fair and the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association state championship road race going on that day. Most of the riders stopped at KJ's Cafe for lunch and Huckleberry milkshakes and/or espresso. The place was very busy, I was there for an hour by the time I finished eating. It was very nice to have a relaxing social lunch with a crowd of Randos on a nice afternoon. We're usually in too much of a hurry to hang out like that during a ride (speaking for myself anyway).
On the way out of town we got another great view of Mount Adams.
We headed Northwest on Forest Road 88 for the second big climb of the day. There was some biker gang out showing their colors; Joe Platzner, Dan Boxer, Andy Speier, and Jason Dul. Not sure who the one in red is but that's Steve Barnes in the background. More about him later. Sure wish I had the handlebar bag concession for SIR members.
We had a mild headwind but not a real issue since we were climbing anyway. This one was a 17 mile climb but the road was in perfect condition. AND THERE WERE ALMOST NO CARS!!! In fact it was uncanny how few cars we saw from the time we turned off of Forest Road 25 until we got back on it over 100 miles later, except right in Trout Lake. That was well worth a few miles of gravel riding.
This I am at the appropriately named Big Tire Junction. This is Jason Dul's picture.
This is Jason carving up the turns headed for Forest Road 90.
After we turned on to Forest Road 90 there were a few more patches of gravel. As Jason's picture shows, I suddenly found myself engaged in a motocross race.
Other than a few of those patches, FR 88 and 90 were great. We had a chat with several roadies in an SUV at the intersection of 88 and 90. They were very impressed with the distance and elevation we were doing on such absurdly heavy bikes (see digression). They were also quite taken by my state-of-the-art 1983 half step+granny TA crank. One of them asked me if I had it for the retro effect. It weren't retro when I bought it, sonny. And get off my lawn.
Toward the end of FR 90 we started to get some rain showers, exactly as the National Weather Service predicted. They pretty much nailed it all day including rain fall and wind speed and direction. This website has a clickable map that gives 7 day point forecasts for anywhere in the country
Crossing the Lewis River on FR 90
We had a very refreshing control stop at Northwoods where I had a PBJ+pretzel sandwich. Shortly after that we rejoined FR 25. Here is Joe Platzner crossing the Lewis River just before the last big climb.
The last climb was Elk Pass on Forest Road 25. It started about 5 miles past the Northwoods control, at about mile 135. It was a fairy constant climb of 2500 feet in about 14 miles with a few steeper sections, then a 500 hundred foot drop, and finally another 1000 foot climb in the last 5 miles. It was still dry when we started up.
But it started to drizzle before long
This is Amy and Peg nearing the top of Elk Pass. Looks like they're approaching the void.
Now we are in the cloud forest
And some more rain...
Now we have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that we get a 16 mile descent with no gravel. The bad news is that visibility is really bad, it's about to get dark, and the road is full of settlement cracks and rough pavement. Your mission, should you decide to accept it....
After a white knuckle descent off of the mountain, with several stops to unclench, I turned off onto Cline Road. I remember Cline road from the High Pass Challenge, how unhappy I was to get 9 miles of rolling hills after coming down off of the mountain.This time there was a sign that said something like "Caution Loose Gravel and Road Construction Next 9.3 Miles". I had a few choice things to say at that point about the route designer, who's initials are Robin Peiper, but fortunately the bad road was just intermittent and the rollers were not too obnoxious, just obnoxious enough. It was cruel but not unusual for SIR ;-) . And there were no cars because no one in their right mind would voluntarily take that road when there was a flat smooth highway to the same place a quarter mile away. That's why we were there.
I finished in about 18 1/2 hours. That's the third 300K I've done this year and the slowest by over 3 hours. It felt more like a 400K but it was well worth the effort. There was pizza and drinks at the finish which really helped me on the 30 mile drive back to Morton to my motel. There was even a friendly welcome home waiting by my room..
The buzz about this ride was the 10 miles of unpaved road from 8 miles before
to 2 miles after 4350' Babyshoe pass (one of the more obscure Cascade passes).
For that reason, I decided to use a rando conversion of my 1981 Japanese steel
frame commuter bike instead of the Ti Davidson that I normally ride.
I had the conversion in mind for some time. The commuter bike will take wider
tires (32mm vs. the 25mm I normally run) so that seemed like a good idea
for the gravel, and it was. Another reason is that my regular brevet bike has a
carbon fiber fork that is not setup for use with a front bag. All of the "cool
rando kids" around here use front bags (see the "Blue Wall" picture above) so I
wanted to try it but the cost of front bags and racks could easily exceed $250
and I wasn't sure I'd even want one. I bought a rack on a clearance sale at Velo
Orange and made the bag myself out of old Swiss Army bread bags that I bought
online for less than $2 each. The bag has an internal aluminum frame and the
rest is parts from two of the surplus bags plus a little velcro (known in
Physics as the 5th Force). Like most handicrafts, it is very economical as
long as you consider your time to be worth zero dollars.
There are real advantages to having a front bag for this kind of riding. I was able to easily reach a lot of things while riding that I normally have to stop and get off the bike to get to, like extra food, gloves, arm warmers, and my rain jacket. The question to answer is whether the benefit is worth the effect on the bike or the cost to overcome it. Unless the bike is designed for a front load, you may have to replace the fork to make it work and that can be expensive.
The tricky thing about front bags is that they change the stability and handling of the bike. I was lucky that I started with a very stable bike because the handling was pretty good even with the bag. Even so, there was a significant difference between the stability with 25mm tires and 32mm tires. The wider tires were a big improvement. During the ride I got some advice from the well known local frame builder Dan Boxer and several others about how to increase the stability of the bike with the bag: lower the center of gravity of the load, move the bag closer to the bars, stabilize the bag to keep the weight from moving, or increase the fork rake. As the next picture shows, this bike was pretty stable as-is. I will try some of the changes on my commute.
No one would call this bike a lightweight. With fenders, racks, lights, etc.
it weighs about 35 pounds. The bags and gear weigh on the order of 15
pounds dry. That is a maybe 20 pounds more than the bike I usually
ride on brevets. That may be part of the reason I was so much slower on this
ride. The only way I could tell is to do the same foute on the Davidson but the
conditions, how I felt, etc. could easily hide the bike difference. It's
not important. I had a great time and finished inside the limit. I learned
a lot about the pros and cons of using a front bag. I will very
likely use this bike again on brevets or permanents. The Davidson will
require a new fork if I decide to use a front bag on it.
One odd side effect of this experiment was that I was able to help Steve Barnes out of a jam. He forgot his bike clothes and decided to ride anyway in a pair of jeans and a button down shirt (see the Babyshoe Pass picture). This seemed really hardcore to me. At about 100 miles I asked him if he usually wore jeans on brevets. He told me that he had forgotten his clothes but decided to ride anyway (which really is hardcore). It so happened that I had an extra pair of shorts in my bag because I wasn't sure about this saddle for this distance and decide to bring an extra pair since I had plenty of room in my bags. I was able to lend him a fresh pair of Ibex shorts out there in the middle of nowhere instead of just hauling it around for 190 miles. Everybody wins!
This site was built by C. Heg
cheg01 at comcast dot net