Bike across Washington: Part II – It was the best of winds, it was the worst of winds.

En Route
With a 250 mile drive to the start I finally had time to review my plans for fuel with The Nutritionist. I had 8 pre-measured baggiesºº, each with a 2 hour dose of fuel (Hammer Perpetuem) 270 cal / hour. It seems right to call it fuel because it’s not really food as much as it is watery pancake batter that tastes like a mocha shake. I had a bottle of Endurolytesºº for electrolyte replenishment and a 70 oz bladder (front pack) for hydration. I only have one bottle holder setup on the bike – I use it for my pancake fuel and I was going all day with nothing but that.

The plan developed into beginning the day, 80 miles of mostly flat, with a 4 hour bottle of fuel and a full bladder of water. Then, before the climb, dump the weight of the extra water and switch to a 1 or 2 hour bottle of fuel and water together – depending on the conditions – for both weight savings and perhaps aero-improvements. Also, I decided to warm up on the ride. This was an “educated decision” I made after discussing the benefits of a pre-race warm-upºº with other riders. Our math showed a maximum ~4-5min time savings; not sufficient to warrant the hassle of the trainer at the start.

Other than a few small shots of anticipation adrenaline on the drive to the start line, a short stop for zinc oxide for my schnoz, a brief visit to the border area, and a couple of authentic meals, we were bedded down about 9:30, ready for a 3AM wake-up call and a 4:30AM start.
Unexpectedly, I was as calm as a cucumber and slept like a baby. I wondered briefly if I wasn’t taking this seriously enough but I fell asleep to fast to hear my answer – the next morning I found my answer.
It’s a little known law called The Conservation of Adrenaline: Whereby the total amount of adrenaline in any given system stays constant and is neither created nor destroyed. However, I’ve found that it can be concentrated in one place and it turns out, this time, it was concentrated in my Crew Chief. He woke up first and said, with barely bated breath
“You’d think I was doing this ride!!”

He was amped. Too bad he wouldn’t have any physical outlet for all that energy for the rest of the day.

Early morning preparations were uneventful – the team, a human clockworks. I realized about 4AM that I’d outfitted my bike for riding – not carrying on the rack. So we made the first alteration of the day; I’d warm up on the 4 mile ride to the start. Not a problem – and it wasn’t.

TheCanada

The Start
The whole thing at the start went way too fast and before I knew it I was bombing down the road. The early morning in the Okanogan highlands was serene with the occasional in-n-out town flying by and the frequent chirping Western Meadowlarks. The only disturbance came at the end of a good first hour on the bike when I met up with a young deer out for his morning constitutional. After a sharp warning honk from my follow vehicle, and rather than just watch me roll by, the gentleman deer opted to run right towards me.

My years spent dodging erratic tourists on the Seattle waterfront must have served me well in this case. I carried my pace until the last appropriate moment then braked hard when the confused beast leapt about 8-10 feet in front of me, over the guardrail, clanging his ankle hard on the metal.

From the follow vehicle, it must have appeared MUCH closer, and I’m told several grey hairs sprouted.

The next two and a half hours went by quickly. As the sun rose so did the tail wind and so did my pace. By the time I made it to Bridgeport, at mile 80, I had a very fast century brewing – in retrospect perhaps a bit too fast – at the time I was energized and spoiling for a fight up to Coulee City..

We followed the plan and dumped weight. Mostly I ditched my front pack with about 20 oz of water left, extra lights, applied my first batch of sunscreen – the sun was getting intense – and then switched to one bottle with 1 hours worth of fuel and 1 hours worth of water. It was a perfect plan – until it wasn’t.

This was also when I was beginning to have inklings of cramps – I proactively stretched here and got back on the road. This section of road is a twisty, no passing zone so The Navigator stayed close – but it soon seemed to flatten out and while the 1/4 tailwind remained brisk (~10+mph) I motored along jamming to whatever heavy metal songs came into my head.

TheRoad

Wind, The Good Kind
I held a torrid pace from mile 90 through ~110 with some sections going up a 1% grade at 160 watts at speeds over 26mph. Doing the math in my head, and knowing I was nearly done with “the climb” I could foresee an 11 hour finish.
Some of these sections I was cranking my heart over at 160bpm – which is too high for me in such a long race – but I was anticipating an easier time of it on the “downhill” after Coulee City where I could spend some time recovering.
And there were some minor cramps, and I managed them well enough with electrolytes, alternative pedaling techniquesºº, and both on-bikeºº and rest-time stretches. It was during this section however that I got the first whiff of the psychological effects that were to come.

While I felt pretty good in body, the long straight continually uphill section stretched very VERY far into the distance and it was disheartening to see that much road, that many false tops, for that many miles stretched out in plain view.

I expected the downhill segment to come at any moment, for about 5 or 6 miles. And then when it did, I pumped my fist and then immediately wished it hadn’t.

Wind, The Scary Kind
This was the most scared I’ve been on a bike. If memory serves the “hill” sign read 6% for 4 miles? But the grade of the road was well matched by the undulating rock-faces and overwhelmed by the suddenly shifty turns of the wind. I was leaning 10º to the left one minute, 10º to the right the next, and being blown all over the lane. Every sideways gust moved me so hard and so suddenly to the side that my tires felt like they’d rolled over the rim. All of this was about 11:AM with a blaring sun in my face and speeds around 40mph; well-braked.

I had hoped to relax my legs a bit on this portion but it was all I could do to keep from cramping from the white knuckle tension of it all.

I was happy to arrive at the bottom, at the intersection with Hwy 2. The worst was over but there was a bit more to come in what turned out to be almost too beautiful to be scared of. Descending into the Sun Lakes, with the striations in the rock and the beautiful canyon bottom laid out before me, – it was epic. I took pictures with my mind.

These are samples of what I saw.
Dryfalls.jpg
SunLakes 360degrees

I remember a particularly narrow stretch leaving this section right next to Lenore Lake. It was a no passing zone and the follow vehicle was only allowed to block so many cars on the highway before pulling over and allowing them to pass. While this was a VERY tight section, as far as I could tell, all of the drivers were respectful and patient with my effort. Thanks be to them.

After that, it was Moses Lake – the busiest section of the state so far in my day. This is where I encountered the only other cyclist of my trip, going the wrong way in a bike lane on the road through town with a dog on a long leash running 10 feet to his right.

Leaving the last light in that town I really began to notice the sun, my idea of one-bottle with both food and water combined, took on a level of complication I hadn’t anticipated. I was needing proportionally more water and perhaps less calories than I was consuming in that bottle – so first I had The Nutritionist back off to about 200 calories per bottle and by the time I was halfway between Othello and Mesa I was down to about 180 calories per bottle. But they weren’t hour long bottles anymore – they were “as needed” bottles because of the water situation. And it was impossible now to know how long it had been since I’d consumed ~270 calories – and to further complicate the matter I was slowing down – putting out less watts, using less calories, and it was hot. In the future, I shall remember to insist on ‘modularity’. Keeping fuel, water, and electrolytes separated so they can be tuned (and tracked) to the evolving situation more effectively.

It was just after Moses Lake where I got my first serious douse of water – all over my body, and I’m not sure much else has felt that good. But suddenly I was freezing; for about 10 minutes, the wind was so fast and the air was so dry that evaporative cooling was quite literally too effective.

Side note; I wonder what it will be like in August in Southern Utah? I’ll worry about that more later.

So, the hours preceding the turn off (onto 395) were pretty much a hot mess of incongruous fuel and water intake with a reduced average wattage output hovering around 135W. Somewhere along here my follow vehicle disappeared for a few minutes and I found out later that they were pulled over by a state patrol officer who warned us/them that I ought to ride all the way to the right, on the far side of the rumble strip, for safety sake. The follow vehicle should follow suit whenever possible.

The Real Wind, The Bad Kind
The final stretch started just past Mesa.
I was 2 hours away from the overall record still thinking the overall was *just* within reach.
This was now the furthest I’d ever ridden in one shot (205mi) and it was supposed to be “all downhill from here”. So I turned gamely onto the 25 mile section of 70mph freeway, pointed right into the strongest winds of the day; and held her steady at ohhhhh, about 13mph.

My cramping, which was constant but manageable up to that point began moving around my legs front to back and side to side as I tried to maintain any semblance of a pace. My fueling mistakes (or at least not knowing how much water/fuel/electrolytes I was consuming) was probably contributing to my slowdown but the biggest external factor was the wind, I saw it pegging a windsock in a field, the 20+mph indicator, pointed right at me; maybe coming as much as 15º from the right.

Then I remember the heat, the tar in the seams of the road was soft and I’d wobble every time I ran up on one. My crew was freaking out. Every time I tried to avoid a seam, a spark-plug, or other detritus it seemed I timed it well with a passing dualie truck with extra-wide mirrors. Plus, I was dwindling. My power was down around 110W, my Vastus Medialus muscle (the roundy one inside/above your knee) was perpetually sore, my big toes (of all things) were crying with what felt like frost-bite whenever I pushed over 150W and the heat; did I mention the heat?

And what the hell is this climb doing here?
I downshifted and dumped my chain.

I stopped – corrected it quick and just kinda walked a little bit but found that The Psychologist was right at my side just as quick.

What’s wrong?
I lost my chain.
uhhhhh – it looks fine.
Yeah – I fixed it already.
ooookay – The Official wants to know how you are feeling? You are wobbling a lot and we’re all nervous. Are you are getting wacky in the head?
No – I’m just avoiding the tar strips.
How about we switch your water bottles since we are stopped.
Ok – wait, NO! wait….Ok

It was then that I sat back on the bike and laid my forehead on the top tube and felt a sudden change in blood pressure. He came back with a bottle of fuel and water and I asked for some water on my head – or maybe he did – I don’t remember but it felt glorious, then it was done.
It felt like more.

He returned with the 5 gallon jug and just opened the spigot on my legs and my neck and my head and my back.
That…felt…glorious.
But I was spent, physically and emotionally and I didn’t want to move. I peed right there where I stood and he just rinsed me off.
I still had more than 30 miles left but just an hour to get there for the overall record – that was a disheartening realization.
The Psychologist My brother was reading my thoughts.

Ok so, that guys record is out of reach now ok?
Ok.
So, just don’t worry about it anymore alright; – just survive.”
Alright

That worked on my brain but I didn’t have any extra anything in my body – just enough.
I didn’t feel like riding just then so I walked a few steps, maybe 30. But it felt unnatural.
So I got back on the bike and despite how I felt only minutes earlier I remember specifically just how comfortable that felt to settle back into the pouch of that bike. What a great ride.

I petered meekly over the top of this small yet tough hill and began a 30mph descent.
I felt a little better for it and noticed some girls advertising a car wash with the big signs on the side of the road ahead.
My, that is a strange place for a car wash?
Funny, they have a Prius just like mine?
Whoa! That sign has my name on it?!
Hey! Those are MY girls!

GO DADDY! GO!
GO DADDY! GO!

Incredulity came up suddenly from the bottom of my now slow boil.
I rolled by at the bottom of the hill slow enough to see all of their faces but too fast to think of anything to say.

They weren’t supposed to be there today. We decided!
They were going to have a weekend playing with animals, and they chose instead to drive 4 hours away to pull me through the last 30 miles.

That’s when I cried – and it just felt right.

This wasn’t the appropriate time, like say the finish? But instead, at the moment of my lowest low of the day I was suddenly flipped into my highest psychological high, alone on my bike. I would have sworn that my pace suddenly sprang back to life like The Grinch on the mountaintop but the numbers don’t lie. I was only right back to where I’d been 30 min before ~120W. Instead it was my mindset that flipped. It got a sudden tune up and I was set; resolved to finish hard now no matter what – it wasn’t even a question.

The bridge over the Snake River? I got it – my girls were here.
Another little climb – there are my girls cheering again.

Suddenly my brother yells out –
“One mile left!”

I can see the end, but it’s still too far away to see my Mermaids.

So I start belting out my old standby, the Rocky theme song, and my power skyrockets up to 220W, my heart rate peaks at a magnificent 138, and I’m tearing along the flats at 19mph!

Doesn’t matter, I’m done, rolling through the finish with my cheering section and honking horns behind me.

TheCavalry

I stopped, got off the bike and WOW! my legs don’t really work right.
We get pictures and my crew tells me it was 12h 29m – but that was bad math and a while later we find out that the time comes to 12h 28m once The Official did the math on the numbers he logged in the book.

I won’t lie – My vastus medialus muscles took a beating and I was a cooked-noodle for two solid days. I estimate I started at ~169lbs and ended somewhere close to ~155lbs – a weight that harkens back to high-school days.
But now nearly two weeks later I’m back on my regularly scheduled commutes, pretty hard training sessions, and I begin my planning for the STP in July and The HooDoo 500 in August.

Is that supposed to be hot?

TheOregon

Bike across Washington: Part I – An unreasonable thing.

I recently found a map I had saved of a bicycle route across Washington from Canada, in the north to the south Washington border with Oregon. That map was saved in Nov 2010 and coincides closely with my purchase of a Cruzbike Silvio 1.0. TheRoute
This was a route across Washington, a record established and tracked by the UltraMarathon Cycling Association (UMCA) and I thought to myself ‘with this bike I could just about pull that off.’ But I never mentioned my fantasy of actually riding this route, let alone getting it officially recorded, to anyone. At least not seriously.

It’s a crazy and, for many people, unreasonable thing. Why would someone ride their bike for 12 hours, alone, as hard as they can, over there? But the fantasy persisted below the surface. ‘Ya know,’ I said to myself on many a morning commute, ‘there isn’t even a recumbent record established.’ – so what did I have to lose really?

Still it was too out there.

Then I took trusteeship of a Cruzbike Vendetta 2.0 and felt serious power and speed – whoa. Yeah…that unreasonable thing? It bubbled right up to the surface and boiled hard.

While my “base” of riding has been established over many years of commuting, I’ve done a handful of centuries and a couple of STP’s but only in the past 4-5 months have I learned well enough and trained hard enough to make this unreasonable thing actually happen.

And this isn’t a “simple ride report” because it was a team effort on a scale and scope that none of us had previously undertaken. And – as a point of interest – when you see these marksºº in the following text, recognize that as something I’ve only recently learned. This illustrates either a contribution made by friends and riders from all over the world (not joking) OR what comes from a focused dedication and commitment to an effort; it wasn’t much more than the time needed for experimentation, an open mind, and oh, an unreasonable thing on a rolling boil.

So, I coordinated a three man crewºº.

My cousin was The Official. He and I agreed to trade services; this July I’ll be his wingman on his first ever Seattle To Portland challenge. He told me about one week before my ride,

I’m not pulling any punches you know; I want to see you do well of course but I represent the UMCA and I will act accordingly. I’m taking this serious.

That gave me an adrenaline hit (and goosebumps as I write it) – perfect.

My Dad was The Crew Chief and navigation – he has an insanely good sense of direction, good mechanical awareness of my bikes, nearly as many years commuting by bike as I do, and (at the time I recruited him) a relatively open schedule. Lucky for me his new gig was flexible enough to allow him the day off. He and I learned a lot on a dry-run century a couple weeks earlierºº.
Oh yeah, and he’s pretty protective too.

My Brother’s role was a more nebulous, ‘rider support’. I thought of it as primarily nutrition and psychology. Despite the fact that our paths cross infrequently these days I don’t know that there is anyone who might understand and complement the layers and folds of my motivation better than him. Why I might care, when I don’t care, what might make me try harder, and what doesn’t work.

For Motivation
Several weeks before the ride I did the math on just the driving portion and came to about 26 hours in the car spread out over three days – I told them all they could bail now if they want, this was going to be an overlarge investment in time and tediousness. My brother replied with one sentence:

Take your protein pills and put your helmet on.

Annnnnd that was an adrenaline hit; two months early.

For Psychology
When we were very young I urged him to dare me to swat a honeybee because I just knew I was faster than that bee. (another unreasonable thing?) He wouldn’t cave and I swatted anyway – I got stung. I think I’ve learned to listen to his reasoning better in the past 30 years but, I thought, it’s ok – this isn’t a huge deal mentally, it’s only like 13 hours on the bike, how much psychological help could I possibly need?

Skipping forward to the Thursday night before the race on Saturday – I had weeks of planning and preparation already in hand. So much in fact that on that night I had ‘free’ time riding on top of a mild foreboding.

Was I missing something big?
Perhaps I should have had that full overhaul?
What if I had a cable failure?
If I DID have to use my spare 10sp wheel, would it work well enough with that 11sp chain?
I tried it once but…I could have done more testing.
I’ve only ridden briefly in this past week; was that too much rest?ºº

I’m not much of a worrier and I pushed it all aside reminding myself that my list was complete and well consideredºº and besides, changing anything at this late hourºº was not a good idea. So, per advice from the indomitable Maria Parker, I made time for a good night’s sleep that night, expecting not to have much, or any, on RaceDay eve.ºº

The next morning, Friday, I reviewed all of our in-vehicle arrangements with my Crew Chief. We hugged my Mermaids good-bye and in a way I was bummed that they wouldn’t be able to share this with me. We concluded pretty early on that a long boring drive, with two kids, a dog, all that sweaty stank, and no “facilities” isn’t exactly their cup of tea. I couldn’t blame them – I tended to bail on Dance Conventions and epic feats of ‘playing house’ myself – this just isn’t their thing.

So, the Crew Chief and I drove over, picked up The Official, and arrived at the train station 10 min early to receive The Nutritionist. By noon – we were on our way.

TheSupportVehicle

(to be continued)

A record attempt

I can’t explain why I have resisted writing this down.
I love telling stories – but it’s a hard fantasy to share.

It’s the fantasy you invent when you’re 10, on the lower lawn, of a late summer evening, just before school starts. The sun’s almost down but you’ve got the ball and you can almost SEE yourself scoring that game winner.

I didn’t know then that the ball was a bike.

Let’s review
I’m committed.
…I’ve submitted the paperwork.
…paid the dues.
…and said it out loud (to a few).

I’m a decent event organizer.
…I’ve got a functioning list and a committed crew.
…but have I missed anything?
…we’ve never done this before.

I’ve got sufficient abilities
…I’ve spent good time training.
…but I might have done more? We can always do more.

But there are faster riders out there and I’m not even an “ultra-guy”?!
…I guess they aren’t here now.

And I’m not superstitious.
And I don’t dally with fate.
And I’m always telling my Mermaids some version of

You won’t know unless you try.

And I’m not even afraid, in the proper sense, for my safety or emotional health.
I don’t consider myself overly mindful of what others might say.
But…

I am putting all ^that^ out there…right on the line.
Perhaps I’m afraid of results? No – I’ve never liked that phrase anyway.

The best I can figure is that NOT writing this down is a manifestation of the, often unspoken, reaction to the unknown.
It’s what happens to anyone and everyone before an event.
We tend to hear the stories related afterwards – rarely beforehand.
So I’ll take this long-winded, last-minute opportunity to buck that trend, to share, and to make things known.

Saturday, May 16th, I’m riding for a bonafide record.
The Ultra Marathon Cycling Association (UMCA) record for cycling across the state of Washington, from North to South (roughly 255 miles), in as little time as possible.

Once I start, the clock doesn’t stop.

One ace in the hole is that no one has ever officially attempted this on a recumbent with the UMCA – so when I finish, whatever my time, I’ll establish the record for recumbents. Naturally I want to set the bar high – so I’m using the 10 year old record, set in 2006, by the 2003 Race Across America (RAAM) winner, Allen Larson, as my carrot.
He did it in under 12 hours – holy WOW.

I’ve been rehearsing my latest version of that late summer evening fantasy for many years while riding my commute; racing that bus, perfecting a corner, and hammering a straightaway.
Now, it’s gonna be real.

This became ‘real’ for me about a year ago with a humdinger story that I have yet to publish – just wait for the prequel. 😉

But the reality truly hardened out of loads of support provided by
– friendly competition with local riders (some I know, some I don’t)
– an international group of experts on Facebook who invited me in and shared their hard-won knowledge
– the community at Cruzbike whom I’ve leaned on for years
– and critically my family, at home and in my crew – no WAY I do this without you.

Thank you – this is going to be so cool!

Many of us never get (or take) the opportunity to fulfill those fantasies from a late summer evening
…because we “grow up”.
…or life takes over.
…or we simply don’t try when we are afraid.

Six days away and I’m waking up with butterflies.
I suppose that’s afraid, but I’m not that fragile, and afraid’s not the opposite of trying.