It’s a sunny day and it’s hot - more than 100F. A man sits in a deck chair, an umbrella shades him from the sun. He has a big cooler filled with ice and beverages by his side. He is reading a book. It is a pleasant scene. He looks up from his book and sees a tiny spot in the distance. The spot slowly grows bigger and turns out to be a cyclist, working his way up a long and seemingly endless hill in Eastern Washington. As the cyclist slowly approaches, the man gets out of his chair, reaches into the cooler and produces an ice-cold bottle of spring water. He walks to the side of the road, greets the surprised cyclist approaching him and hands over the water bottle to him. The cyclist empties the bottle in seconds, then thanks the man and carries on. I am the cyclist and I am well into day 3 of the Cascade 1200km Grand Randonnee, produced and organized by Seattle International Randonneurs.
Day 1: Monroe-Naches via Eatonville, Packwood and White Pass; 361km
‘OK, it’s 6 am, have a good ride’ was ride director Mark Roehrig’s words some 48 hours earlier as a group of ~65 randonneuses and randonneurs left the Holiday Inn parking lot in Monroe, WA and began the 1240km Grand Randonnee on Saturday morning. The first day were to take us from Monroe north of Seattle down south around Mt. Rainier and then east over White Pass before descending into Naches for the night. Two minutes after the start the ride had its first interruption as we all were stopped at a railroad crossing by a passing freight train. A couple of people got off their bikes and started fiddling around somewhere near the crank of one of the bikes - a bit early for that in my opinion. On the other hand, during PBP 2007 I saw somebody standing with a crank puller and a bike on the side of the road in the pouring rain less than 5 k after the start.
Anyway, the train soon passed and we were all on our way again, rolling through the early morning mist in the farmlands south of Monroe. Soon I found myself riding with only a couple of riders in view, but I didn’t care. The solitude on the road can be very refreshing if you can let your mind wander. I had just cleaned up the drivetrain, put a new chain on the bike and installed new brakepads. I was thrilled to feel that everything clicked into place by the slightest touch on the shift levers. The only sound to be heard was the tires singing on the road and the smooth clicking of the chain moving up and down the cassette when shifting gear. Shifting gear felt like a soft kiss. Great, I was ready and settled into the saddle, contemplating the task ahead of me. But not for long - a 1200 km is just too much to think about in the early parts of the ride, so instead I thought about the first stretch to Cumberland and the first control, 87 km down the road. Soon I got company by Jennifer Chang, also from SIR, and John from Iowa. We had a pleasant ride down the rolling hills towards Cumberland, slowly feeling the day beginning and getting warmer - a hint of what was ahead for the rest of the ride!
The Cumberland control was reached without any mishaps and after a short stop for the signature, 2 chocolate cookies and getting rid of some of the layers of clothing we were off again. Our little group got split up in the street festival in Buckley and I found myself alone on the road upon navigating through the floats and tents of the festival. The next control was in Eatonville and a few miles before reaching it I spotted a rider in the distance. I caught up to him in a few minutes; it was Larry from Florida who had never before climbed anything taller than a speedbump. He would get some experience on this later on! A few minutes later I rolled in to Eatonville Plaza Market where a large group of randonneurs were chilling out in the shadow having lunch. The thermometer on the plaza read 82F but the day was still young. I sat down for lunch and spent about 45 minutes eating, drinking and chatting. John and Jennifer was there as well; John had had a flat a mile before the control and was busy changing tubes.
Upon rolling out from Eatonville I could definitely feel the heat. Due to my Danish heritage I burn easily so I have learned to use factor 50 for weather like this - in 2007 I did the Mallorca Brevet Camp in similar weather, so I was not particularly worried about the heat itself; only the posibility of severe sunburns. Riding the bike creates your own breeze and I enjoyed the feeling of the wind on my legs and arms, cooling me off ever so slightly. I took in the full view of Mt. Rainier, which was now quite close and definitely ‘out’ as Seattleites say on a clear day when the entire moutain is in full view. It was a majestic sight.
I was now approaching Morton and although there was no scheduled control there I had to stop at the IGA in order to cool down with a couple of drinks - it was getting hot! A bunch of Canadians had had the same idea and a few minutes later we all left together for the next strectch of road to Packwood, 38 km down the road.
As we were approaching Randle a “SIR CONTROL” sign suddenly showed up on the side of the road - the first secret control of the ride! There, we were greeted by Joe and his son Jesse who handed out tube socks filled with ice - the greatest invention since sliced bread! Hanging the ice-filled sock around your neck cools you down substantially and makes the heat much more bearable. As the ice melts it drips down the front of your jersey, cooling it down in the wind. It was great to get back on the road, feeling the coolness from the sock on my body!
Packwood was reached in a little more than an hour or so, and as I was approaching the control I met Jennifer and John riding the other way! They just had time to yell ‘We missed it’ and then they sped off. I asked at the control what had happened and was told that they had been following the GPS route instead of the printed route sheet - apparently the GPS route had missed the stretch of road in Randle leading up to the secret control! So much for modern technology - they were now looking at a roundtrip worth 56 bonus k’s... A couple of exhausted riders came in 10-20 minutes after me and didn’t look too good - a bad sign that early in the ride. After a big bag of chips and lots of water I decided to get back on the bike - it was now around 6.30pm, there was still 105 km to Naches and I wanted to get to the top of White Pass before dark so that I could get at least some of the descent over before darkness fell.
The climb up White Pass was rather uneventful, the heat had subsided a bit and occasionally there would be shadow from the trees. The pre-ride had noted that the steepest bit was the first 1/3 of the climb; after that it would flatten out somewhat, and they were right. As an added bonus, a few miles before the top Don Boothby had set up a water stop, in order to get the bottles filled before the last bit of climbing and the descent into Naches. He also had numerous slices of watermelon, of which I had plenty - much better than the Gatorade/water mix in my bottles!!
I soon moved on and as I approached the top the view got better. I could see across to other mountain ridges, turned pink in the setting sun. It was a gorgeous sight!
A mile from the top I had to stop and put on my ‘night gown’, as a chilly head wind was coming down from the top of the pass. A few minutes later I crested the pass, at around 9.15pm and started the descent, which turned out to be a lot warmer than the climb up - never tried that before! It was actually sweltering hot descending down the mountains, as the naked rockside and the pavement was radiating heat intensely. I was sweating in my arm and knee warmers despite doing no pedalling. 16 k’s later the route took a right turn, in order to go around Clear Lake and a few km’s further on was the penultimate control of the day at the shores of Clear Lake.
Clear Lake was a feast! Just like the 600km brevet in early June, SIR’s last control before the overnight stop would wait for us with everything the heart could desire food-wise. Five people were manning it, ready to take my orders for sandwiches, soup, coffee, tea, and whatever kind of drinks I’d like. Awesome! I had two bowls of soup and a couple of cokes while I sat in a comfortable camp chair listening to the music the ‘controllers’ had put on.
Then I was away again, on a great homestretch consisting of 48 km of downhill followed by 7 km of flat road in a roaring tailwind and at 5 minutes past midnight I pulled in to Naches Middle School together with Kitty Goursolle whom I caught up to during the descent. As we walked the last 20 meters through the entrance she asked me where I was from and was delighted when I told her that I was Danish, as she was 1/4 Danish! Inside Bob Brudvik (50/50 Swede/Norwegian), together with a handful of other volunteers, was waiting to feed and sleep the riders as they trickled in. I first sat down for an excellent lasagna and had a chat with Mark Roberts who was on kitchen duty. Then I had a great shower and finally it was time for bed. I got my sleeping pad and sleeping bag out from my drop bag, asked to be woken up at 4.30 am, was given a piece of paper with my name and wake-up time on it and was shown to my spot in the school’s gym. I rolled out my bag, plugged in the ear plugs and fell asleep in milliseconds.
Day 2: Naches-Quincy via Lodgepole Campground (Chinook Pass) and Rattlesnake Hills; 331km
At 4.30 am sharp a kind volunteer gently wiggled my toes and I woke up, ready for day 2. I put on a jersey and had a quick breakfast, put my drop bag in the truck and I was out the door at 5.17 am. In the door I met Jennifer Chang who was just pulling in, she was still in good spirits, despite her roundtrip to the secret control in Randle earlier on.
The first part of the day would be a 140 km roundtrip to Lodgepole campground, halfway up Chinook Pass. Essentially it would mean 70 km of gentle climbing followed by 70 km of downhill back to Naches and then further on. There was a wicked headwind initially which subsided somewhat as it was gradually getting warmer - unfortunately I had learned about valley winds in first year in college and vaguely remembered that as the valley sides warmed up, the wind direction in the valley would reverse and thus I could expect a headwind going back down again. Oh well, not much you can do about nature and general laws of physics!
After only 5 k or so I met Val and Robin Phelps; Val had suffered a crash and was sitting on the road bleeding from several cuts and bruises on his hand and his face. It didn’t look too good but after having checked if I had any first-aid gear on me (nope!) they assured me that they would be OK and I carried on. A few minutes later they passed me, and I met them again halfway to the Lodgepole campground when I pulled in at a gas station to get a cup of coffee and they were shopping for band-aids...
The last half of the trip up to Lodgepole was rather delightful with a gentle climb all the way, which promised for a nice descend later on. I checked in at Lodgepole, which turned out to be a secret control and not just a support stop shortly after 9.30 am together with a couple of Canadians. Josh Morse (another SIR) and Larry from Florida pulled in another few minutes later. I treated myself to a muffin and a cup of coffee and a quick visit to the campground loo; then it was off again.
I had been right about the wind reversal in the valley and I was now facing a slight headwind as I was going downhill towards Naches. I enjoyed letting the bike roll along, with just the occasional pedalling to keep the speed around 25-30 k/hr. Great views of the river shifted with the occasional shade from the trees and soon I was back in Naches where the route took us up on the old Naches highway, thereby avoiding going through the city itself. The control at Fruitvale was now only 16 km away, but a slight detour 2 km up a very steep hill together with Tracy Barill from BC made it slightly longer than necessary. However, at 1.25 pm we pulled in at the Fruitvale control where we were greeted by Mark Thomas outside the Starbucks. A shopping trip in the Fred Meyer’s Deli followed, where I stocked up on Gatorade, coke, chocolate milk, chicken salad and fruit for lunch. I filled my water bottles and then sat down in the shadow for a slow lunch - I have discovered that I can’t eat at my normal speed when it’s hot, but if I slow down to 30-50% of my normal ‘eating speed’, everything goes down very well. An hour later I felt ready for departure, and the temperature was approaching 105F anyways, so it was time to get moving.
The first stretch took me through the Yakima green trail, a bike trail around the city whereby you avoid Yakima itself, and then on to SR-24 for 66km in the sun, with no shade whatsoever anywhere along the road. I got my tube sock filled with ice just before exiting the trail onto SR-24 and it kept me cool for the first 15 km or so, then it had all melted in the heat. However, I was making really good progress despite the 100+F temperatures.
The first hour I was going 24-27km/hr, but then the road started to tilt slightly in the wrong direction and my speed dropped to 16-19 km/hr for the next hour - there was also a slight headwind to make it a bot more challenging (good job, SIR!). Mark Thomas had told that there would be a water stop about 40 km down the road so I had been drinking out of my bottles accordingly - a slurp for every mile and a bigger slurp every 5 miles. As hot as it was I still felt relatively fine on the bike and the fact that I was making good progress kept my morale up. I even had energy to take pictures and worry about rattlesnakes, as I had seen numerous roadkilled snakes on the road and was constantly wondering if it was really something a cyclist should worry about. So I spent most of my time looking out for live ones on the road but never saw any. Suddenly I saw a white canopy in the distance and the SIR water stop materialized in front of me, manned by Bob Brudvik and Erik Anderson. I sat down for 2 cokes and was off again in 10 minutes, having been told that I made good time on a larger group ahead of me, which had left Fruitvale when I pulled in. That was good news and told me that I was doing better than most people in the heat.
After another hour or so, the Vernita rest area on the banks of the Columbia River showed up on the horizon. Kitty was there, having some stomach problems. I filled my bottles and sat down for a few minutes and a visit to the loo. Upon exiting the rest area, the road climbs out of the Columbia River Valley via a short but steep piece of road, about 10% or so over half a mile. The route sheet said ‘Yes, up that hill!’, but I actually didn’t find it that hard - compared to working your way up a mountain pass for 2+ hours as I had done a few weeks earlier on the 600k it was really just a bump in the road and I climbed slowly out of the valley in my lowest gear. Kitty had left 5-10 minutes before me and I caught up to her a couple of miles down the road where she was riding slowly through an irrigation spinkler to cool down - a neat trick!
We were now in farm land; fields of crops were all around us, together with loads of empty beer bottles lining the ditches on the sides of the road. I’m not sure this is a place I’d like to ride through on a Friday or Saturday night as it seems as if the predominant hobby is drinking and driving. A smashed up car was parked in a field next to the road, a bunch of locals checking it out, apparently. The road took a turn to the left and it was now only 12 km to the control in Mattawa - last stop before the overnight in Quincy. This meant soup and sandwich time! Before I knew it I was in Mattawa, gave my order to the controllers and sat down for a delicious soup and sandwich. I had 2 helpings, and then I was ready to get on my way again.
The overnight stop was 65 km from Mattawa and a thunderstorm was brewing on the horizon. As I rode out of Mattawat I had to pedal in my lowest gear to work my way down the hill towards the right turn onto SR-243. Fortunately I then had kind of a tailwind, but I kept looking over my shoulder to figure out if a thunderstorm was coming or not. The sky was pitchblack and the gusts were unbelievable. In the end nothing came of it, but the prospect of riding around in a thunderstorm in the open scared me so much that I started sprinting whenever I could - I just wanted to get to Quincy as soon as I possibly could! Fotunately the wind was in my back most of the way to Quincy and it helped my morale a lot that I caught up to a group with Audrey Adler and a couple of others after 15-20 km or so (it was dark so I couldn’t see who). I had just ridden through an irrigation sprinkler before catching up to them and as I rode up on the side of Audrey and said hi she said ‘It’s raining’. I said ‘no, it’s just me’ and she responded ‘no, it’s raining’. I then explained that I had just ridden through a sprinkler and the side wind was blowing water off me and onto her. On a long, steep downhill I left them behind and rode through the night towards Quincy on my own. I really enjoyed the last 25 km or so, it was two long stretches of flat road with a stron tailwind that kept me at 25-28 km/hr constantly and I pulled in at Quincy high school at 23.19.
After a generously sized portion of chili and rice, served up by Ralph and Carol Nussbaum, and 8-10 cups of water, juice and chocolate milk I went for the shower and then the bed. I asked for a 5:00 wake-up call and I was in bed at 00:15, giving me almost 5 hours of sleep - great! I was out in seconds and slept like a log.
Day 3: Quincy-Mazama via Dry Falls and Loup Loup Pass; 290 km.
After a relaxed breakfast I was out the door shortly after 6:00 and heading in a generally northerly direction towards Mazama. The morning was cool-ish (at least not too hot yet!) and I made good progress on the roads winding through the farm areas of Eastern Washington. I soon found myself outside Ephrata where the route turned left towards the Dry Falls, a most spectacular geological feature from the last ice age created by catastrophic failure of an ice-dammed lake covering most of Western Montana. Eventually the ice-dam gave away and the water was relased in a gigantic flash-flood, covering Eastern Washington in hundreds of feet of water and carving out the Dry Falls. This flooding re-occurred several times as the lake covering Western Montana re-filled and re-emptied. It is a spectacular sight to see and cycle through it!
At the Dry Falls visitor center a secret control appeared. Mark Thomas and co. were busy signing brevet cards and serving excellent potato salad and cold drinks. I chilled out in the shadow for half an hour or so before I left again for the first ‘non-secret’ control of the day, at Farmer.
After Dry Falls the road took a left turn to climb up on the top of the plateau that the Dry Falls are carved in to. It turned out to be a mile-long, slow-going climb before I found myself on the top of the plateau, which is not flat but has some rather long rollers. In between the rollers is a screaming descent followed by a long, long climb back up to the plateau, which is where I was greeted by the in-promptu water stop manned by Albert under the umbrella. My bike speed was good despite the increasing heat and I arrived at the control in Farmer at around 12:01, just in time for lunch!
The Farmer control was in the old Farmer Community Hall, located absolutely in the middle of nowhere. Audrey, Michelle and Kitty were relaxing in the shade inside when I arrived. 5-6 volunteers were busy attendig the needs of the riders. I got my card signed and then had a great tuna sandwich with everything on it. After that a generous serving of grapes and chips - once again I was amazed about the incredible and overwhelming control support on this ride!
After Farmer there was 95 km to the Malott control before the Loup Loup Pass climb. Getting back out in the sun was quite brutal, in particular as I had forgotten my tube sock in my drop bag in the morning. So I was riding with no other cooling than the breeze created by my own speed. It was like riding around in a hair-dryer running at full speed. The rollers around Farmer continued for miles and miles. It was quite a sight coming up on top of one and see the landscape and all the fields with crops unfold in front of you. Another white canopy appeared in the distance - yet another SIR water stop in the middle of nowhere. I pulled in and met Audrey, Michelle and Kitty who was a couple of minutes ahead of me. After a couple of Cokes and a banana, and a refill of my water bottles I left again; there was still some 60km to the Malott control and after that was the Loup Loup Pass which I didn’t want to descend in the dark.
Soon another screaming, 8-mile long descent into the Columbia River valley and Bridgeport followed. Here I stopped for a rest in a gas station to get out of the heat for a bit, and to fill up on everything before the last stretch to Malott. After Bridgeport the landscape changed as I was now approaching the foothills of the Cascade mountains. I was quite pleased to see the mountains in the horizon, as I was beginning to have had enough of the impressive, but monotonous landscape of Eastern Washington. The last stretch to Malott was through a lovely rolling farmland with ranches and lush, green fields with all sorts of crops and grazing horses.
At Malott the usual soup-and-sandwich extravaganza awaited as I pulled in at 17:31 and it felt great to sit down for 45 minutes or so and pull myself together in preparation for the last stretch to Mazama. I later learned that the temperature at the Mazama control had topped out at 105F and that the temperature at the Farmer control was 111F when I was there! No wonder it felt quite warm on the road...
After leaving Malott the climb up Loup Loup Pass began after only 6 km. I got a genuine shock when I saw a “wall” instead of a road ahead of me and I started climbing up in my lowest gear with the greatest difficulty. I was wondering if this was going to go on all the way to the top, 22 km ‘down’ the road. Fortunately it turned out that the inital steep - very steep - climb was only a couple of km or so; after that it flattened out subtantially and got quite a bit easier. At Malott I had been told that there would be a water stop 8 km from the top of the pass and after a rather disappointing descent halfway to the top I reached the water stop and filled up. Then it was onwards to the top at 4020 ft which I reached around 20:40.
Just as the night before, a thunderstorm was brewing behind me and I still had some ways to go to the Mazama control. I stopped at the top to quickly put on arm and knee warmers and reflective gear and then began the descent. 3 km down I felt a few very big drops falling on me and I started pedalling to get down even faster - I really didn’t fancy being caught in a thunderstorm descending at 65 km/hr! I reached the bottom after 16 km, made a right turn and was then on a sligthly rolling road towards Twisp and Winthrop; intermediate towns before the Mazama overnight stop. To my right I could see flashes of lightning in the mountains and I wasn’t sure if it was going in my direction or not. Soon I reached Twisp, where I felt some drops of rain starting to fall harder and harder. I sped through the town and pulled in to a campground at the outskirts of Twisp just as the wind started to pick up and the rain began to fall. I sat down on the front porch for half an hour or so while I was trying to figure out what the weather was doing. It rained heavily for 10 minutes and the wind was viciously coming from allmost all directions at once. From counting the seconds between flashes and the thunder it seemed that the thunder was moving away from me. After about half an hour or so I was back on the road, riding as fast as possible towards Winthrop as I could. It turned out that I was on the tailend of the storm and apparently gaining on it a bit as it started to drizzle harder and harder as I approached Winthrop. In Winthrop I then waited another 5-10 minutes before setting out for the last 21 km to Mazama, which were completely dry. I arrived at Mazama around 23:30 completely dry and without having been severely hit by any rain to speak of.
Dinner was another round of Chili and I then asked to be woken up at 4:30. I was shown the way to the sleeping facilities, which turned out to be luxurious resort hotel rooms with private bathrooms and big, soft beds It was great to have a long shower and then tuck myself down in a huge queen size bed!
Day 4: Mazama-Monroe via Washington Pass and Rainy Pass; 261 km
I was woken up by 4:30, got ready and then left for the breakfast table which had loads of sausages, eggs, potatoes, fruit, oatmeal, juices and coffee. After having eaten breakfast for half an hour or so I decided it was time to get on with the day and I rolled out of Mazama around 5:45.
It immediately started to go up towards Washington Pass, not much, but still. Washington Pass is almost at 5500 ft so there was a substantial amount of climbing ahead. However, I enjoyed the spectacular scenerey as I made my way up the pass, although I had a hard time sitting down. I think I underestimated the amount of chamois-butter I needed to use on day 1 and 2 and I was now paying the price. Re-applying a couple of times didn’t do much to mitigate the pain. My left achilles was also starting to bother me, so I couldn’t stand up and pedal properly. In the end (!) I just had to sit down and try not to think too hard about the pain in my derriere.
Halfway to the top I stopped for a couple of pictures of the mountains around me, and I noticed a big wobble in rear wheel. Great, just what I needed on the last day! On the top of the pass I stopped for a few minutes trying to get the wheel trued back. Ksyrium’s are not supposed to do that! I managed to get most of the wobble straigthened out and I could then carry on with the screaming descent from Washington Pass and over the little ‘speedbump’ of Rainy Pass. From Rainy pass it was a downhill more or less all the way to Newhalem, 60 km down the road. There were a few rollers inbetween but it was definitely one of the longest generally downhill stretches I’ve encountered - great for the last day!
From Newhalem there was 22 km to the first control of the day in Marblemount and I pulled in around lunch time. For the first time in a long time there were no SIR volunteers working the control so we had to get the cards signed inside the gas station. I got a bag of chips and some gatorade, sat down for a few minutes in the shadow on a milk crate and wished it all was finished now...
But there was still 140 km to go to the finish in Monroe. However, the climbing was over for now and the next 120 km to the last control in Granite Falls turned out to be through forests and lush farmland on generally flat roads. The only excitement being caused by the occasional logging truck passing a bit too close for comfort. I stopped halfway to re-apply some chamois-butter and eat a powerbar, then I pushed on for Granite Falls which I reached 17:38. The control was just outside a MacDonald’s and a Quarter Pounder has never tasted so good - I had ridden 227 km on my breakfast, a bag of chips and a powerbar and I really felt like I needed some proper food before the last 34 km to Monroe.
Shortly after 18:00 I was on my way again, just wishing to be through with it and sit down with a nice, cold beer. There was a lot of small, twisting hills on the last stretch and I hate riding on that kind of roads when I’m tired. I like to know what’s ahead and these small hills made me quite irritated towards the end. But at least I was riding them in the daylight and soon I was on the top of Chain Lake Road leading down (yes, down!) to Monroe. The last 3 km to the hotel was a gentle downhill and I rolled at 19:40 and handed over my card to Amy Pieper and Mark Thomas manning the finish line. I had completed my 2nd 1200k!
This was a great ride, with lots of very varied scenery and amazing landscapes. What was even more amazing was all the outstanding support the riders got from the SIR volunteers. I have mentioned some of them by name here, but only because I don’t know all of them yet. Everybody did an outstanding job in making us riders succeed in our efforts to complete and I’d like to thank each and every one of them for their incredible work. Thanks a lot!
Ole Mikkelsen, RUSA 4754.