It never fails; the forecast five days out looks good and as the date gets closer the forecast gets less good looking. But since it didn’t actually say “near freezing cold continuous rain” we were not to be dissuaded. We wouldn’t have been anyway but might have brought more clothes.
This was the first proper ride the U.S. based Velominati Keepers have had together and the first chance to properly fly the Velominati kits. A group ride at a well-subscribed one-day tour seemed like a great idea. 136km and about 2500m of climbing, a chance to blast by our recumbent riding, yellow jacketed brethren and ride with Marko “Bat Wing” Carlson, I was not going to miss it.
Here are our Rashomon versions of the ride.
I can’t say we were peaking for this but my wife and I were both confident of not shaming ourselves despite Beth’s chronic knee injury, which lately has kept her from attaining her inner Pantani. Lots of slightly nervous laughter as we checked bikes, pinned on numbers and fretted over the seeming lack of clothing. We had been thinking a light rain could happen but we could deal with that. Cold, constant, pelting rain somehow hadn’t been part of our projection for the day.
Coming from Hawaii we had borrowed some items but these Seattleites have the experience and wardrobes for such conditions. Except Euro-Pro Frank, who besides looking like he just stepped off the Velominati team bus, was as under-dressed as I was but had nothing jammed in his jersey pockets. Was he was relying on the non-existent team car for support?
Beth meekly asked what were the chances conditions (cold continual rain) would improve. “Not a chance” Marko reassured her.
The plan was for us to ride together as long as possible before everyone reached their different climbing speeds. We rolled out and the plan immediately dissolved as Jim stopped to tweak his saddle height, Frank dropped back to ride him back up to the group and I rode away from everyone like an obnoxious Cat 4 over-achiever. Which I’m not, I was so cold from standing around in thin wet lycra my only hope was the 53 x 15 until the grade steepened and my usual over-heating kicked in. There was the short-lived pleasure of speeding by people who were riding a sensible pace. We eventually reformed into a group of wet riders, no drafting(too wet) and not much talking. Beth, who is less adept at hiding her misery than I am, was clearly very wet and cold. I was banking on the steeper grades to warm us and maybe conditions would improve. The temperature dropped as we climbed and the heat balance equation did not tip in our favor as Beth’s knee slowed us some and kept us from tearing into the climb and keeping pace with our fellow Velominati. They disappeared into the rain and mist toward summit glory…or so we thought, ride officials turned people around before the official turn-around because conditions were so “poor.”
As an ex-mountaineer, I know the descent is more dangerous than the climb. After 23 miles of climbing I finally told Beth we were turning around. To her credit she thought this was a stupid idea: all these fat old geezers were going to go further than we were? Yes dear, they were. Beth had borrowed a serious fleece-lined waterproof jacket for the descent that I was banking on to save the day, for her anyway. I put on a thin long sleeved shell, which was neither warm nor waterproof. We turned and started streaking down toward the pleasant fantasy of warm showers and dry clothes.
God damn it…Frank should have warned me about his Bianchi’s high-speed shimmy. This is dangerous! I’ve never noticed this before…actually, it turned out that I had the uncontrollable shimmy, not the bike.
The High Point
I’m such a prick that I was consoled for much of the ride by the fact I shamed Frank into not wearing any over-boots. If I didn’t have any I wasn’t going to let him wear any. Two kilometers into the ride my feet could not have been wetter if I had walked knee deep into the Pacific but at least so too were Frank’s.
Hours later, when Frank and Michelle strode back into the car park, they were intact and Frank had a huge smile on his face. Frank had the exact same lack of clothes on as when he started. He is a Hardman, she is a Hardwoman.
The Low Point
As soon as we started the descent I couldn’t handle my bike, Beth was going hypothermic and I was not sure how this could end well. The descent was a long cruel slog but as we lost altitude we got a little warmer. We kept our heads down as we passed the friendly locals with offers of beer and a fire at the gas station. Getting back to the car was the bittersweet mix of regret and relief.
Like John and Beth, I had travelled a long way for this ride. I’d left home in Minnesota the previous Monday stopping over to ride Beartooth Pass in Montana (trip report to follow) and see some other old friends in Portland. Portland, by the way, has some spectacular riding as well which I was able to sample while I was there.
I figured I had timed my peak just right. I’d put in many kilometers at home to that point and topped off my training with some solid climbs on my way to the Tour de Blast. The thing is though, we’ve had a gorgeous start to the summer in Minnesota. In fact, the last time I rode in the rain and temps below 60F was my annual Ronde ride which I do on the same day of that race. I’ve also lived in the PNW and SE Alaska and am all too familiar with the weather there. Hence, my comment to Beth that John mentioned. This was going to be a Rule 9 day. In fact, when we were designing the Velominati kit, I had advocated for putting Rule #9 on the right thigh along with Rules #1, #5, and #10. I lost that argument and only wish I had some duct tape to add it to my thigh that day.
The High Point(s)
Well, there are two. The first was straight-away unloading and kitting up in the soccer field that served as the ride parking lot. The guy who was parked next to me noticed the sweet kit I had donned and said; “Ahh, Velominati. Harden the Fuck Up.” After hearing this great conversation starter I learned that this chap actually reads this blog with some friends and was appreciating the fact, I think, that we were there. What’s more, he said he had friend who had bailed on the day’s ride due to the weather. Turns out, his friend may need to practice a little of Rules 5 and 9 but is probably a pretty damn smart dude.
The other High for the day was riding with some darn good friends. It was a good reminder for me of why I think we do this. Which is to say for the community of other riders. Frank and his Velomihottie and I go way back and I hold them responsible for this addiction of mine. It was a tremendous honor to ride with men of Frank’s aesthete, John’s stroke and Jim’s grinta. These are hardmen of the highest order that you can find in a citizen ride that costs $65 and provides a free t-shirt and spaghetti feed.
Again, there are two. The first is a corroboration of John’s lack of bicycle control. This was something I have never experienced in the saddle before to this extent. Descending the 2000 feet or so back to the start of the climb consisted of me thinking primarily two things. 1) I need to control these pilot induced oscillations because if they get any worse I’m going to crash at 55 kph and 2) I’d give anything for a climb or a flat right now to generate some heat.
The second low had a silver lining. Just before the bottom of the descent, while still rolling along at 45 kph or so, this douche bag in a Sasquatch suit, I’m talking about a full head-to-toe Sasquatch suit, jumps out from behind a road barrier that was about 2 feet to my right. He let out a tremendous roar suprising me so much I let out a scream. Through all this, Jim and I had been riding down together and at the time, he was on my wheel. If it weren’t for his expert bike handling ability, it’s likely we both would have ended up in a pile in the middle of the road looking for the strength to pound the shit out of Big Foot. The silver lining to this was just down the road his friends were serving up free beer and shots to any rider who’s brakes still worked well enough to stop. We took them up on the offer and all was good after a free Peeber.
The Tour de Blast was like Christmas. I planned and prepared for it, and I looked forward to it. I had been looking forward to the camaraderie of a hard ride with good friends. Looking forward to meeting John and Beth, who are old friends of Jim’s and whom I’d only ever met briefly over beers, and I couldn’t wait to see Marko for the first time in 6 years. Jim’s brother-in-law Josh was also joining the ride, as was another friend we’d been training with over the Spring, Dan. Josh showed up to the start with bacon in his jersey and beer in his water bottles; what could go wrong with that plan? Based on how he rode, not much. I knew we were in for a wild ride; the only regret I had as we rolled out onto the road was that Brett wasn’t there with us. And that I’d listened to John about not covering up the White Ladies.
The highlight for me was definitely spending time with friends, and experiencing the community we’ve been building online as a tangible thing, like Marko’s experience in the parking lot with a reader put in sharp relief. The laughs, jokes, and accusations of looking too fat too climb were in great supply, despite the dreary weather. Not to mention seeing John’s Magnificent Stroke. Later on, when I heard he loves Stevie Ray Vaughan, I warned him to start locking his bedroom door. It was also immensely rewarding to see Marko on a bike. Years ago, Michelle’s and my enthusiasm for the sport brought him into the foray, and it’s amazing to see how far he’s come. He was by far the best climber on the day and was betttered only by Jim’s Arroyoesque wet descending skills.
When we stopped at the Free Beer Barn near the base of the climb, Michelle did a shot of whiskey with a burly bearded dude. Not only was this a mingling we don’t often encounter, but I’d never seen her do a shot of anything. This was one hell of a ride.
I spent the first 18 years or so of my athletic life as a Nordic Ski racer in Minnesota. That means spandex suits which amount to little more than a jersey and shorts and -10F. Cold doesn’t bother me; my extremities get cold, but my body really doesn’t. I may be shaking, but don’t feel cold. But I felt terrible that everyone else was cold. The only real bummer was hitting the breaks and realizing that it was taking 200m to stop. As we swept by slower descenders, the only real worry I had was knowing that if any of us needed to make a panic stop, there was going to be a hard crash at the end of it. Aside from that, who can complain about an epic ride with good friends?
The other low was that, like Christmas, I was so disappointed when it was all over.
Rain comes down, riders go up. Eventually, everyone goes down. Not too complicated.
Descending in a “reckless manner” (Frank, shut up), and getting to the beer barn first. Also, wheel-sucking Marko the rest of the way home after the beer barn.
Should have spent my full load on the 1st climb, regardless of whether they were going to turn us back from the second climb. A calculated pace is foolish. There is no “next” climb. There is the hill you can see in front of you, and you should grind to the top as fast as your skinny legs will take you.
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