Call it ride amnesia. For a full week after the inaugural Cascade 1200, I could not recall the second climb of Day 1, or the control, Northwoods, immediately before it.
I think I can explain that memory lapse. My body either shifted precious blood from my head to my legs — where it was in desperately short supply — or my brain mercifully wiped the gray slate clean of the pain from a 12-mile grind up the 3,100-foot Oldman Pass.
For the next three days, and nights, the climbs would continue, with hills of all shapes and sizes, from the deadly "Rattlesnake Hills" in eastern Washington to the steep grades of the 4,020-foot Loup Loup Pass, to the 5,400-foot Washington Pass, the last serious uphill stretch on Day 4.
The Cascade Web site stated that the course's "overall elevation gain was similar to BMB." Not even close. BMB's official numbers lists 30,000 feet of climbing. The altimeter of riding buddy Cap'n John Ende put the total Cascade elevation gain at 43,200 feet, a figure confirmed by other riders.
The Cascade course circled the rugged mountain range from which it draws its name, skirting Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier before dropping into the Columbia River Gorge, then heading through the Horse Heaven Hills and Rattlesnake Hills of eastern Washington and into the jagged peaks of the North Cascades.
A tough course? You bet. Brutal is a better word. Even the locals thought so. Halfway through the ride, I caught up with Seattle RBA Mark Thomas at the Vernita Rest Area, a water stop. Mark was one of the route designers. Imagine my surprise when Mark leaned in and said, "I think the course is too hard."
That admission came just moments before this ominous legend on the cue sheet: "RIGHT onto Road L SW (first right on SR-243; yes, up THAT hill)."
Road L SW was not a hill. It was a wall.
Whether the route was too hard is a debate I'll leave to the historians, but there is no question that the toughness made a successful completion that much sweeter.
The Cascade 1200 was sponsored by the Seattle International Randonneurs, an enthusiastic and motivated club. Under the expert leadership of Mark, Terry Zmrhal and Paul Johnson, as many as 40 SIR volunteers manned the controls, food stations and overnight stops or swept the course, offering encouragement to the weary riders bringing up the rear.
In a format designed to encourage collegiality, the Cascade cyclists regrouped each evening at three overnight controls. For the swiftest riders, and there were many, the format allowed as many as eight hours of coveted sleep each night.
For those less fleet of foot, myself included, the overnight controls at least provided a predetermined goal to shoot for each day. I pared my objective down to the bone: finish by midnight. Sometimes I met that goal. Sometimes I fell short.
When I told Mark Thomas I was doing a short write-up for RUSA's newsletter, he e-mailed: "Be sure to mention 'four days of peace, love, and cycling'!" — the very phrase I used when I sent in my post-ride questionnaire. And so it was: four days of peace, love and cycling—with a little suffering to boot.
My memory is not to be trusted on the finer details of the event, but several others have catalogued the various twists and turns of the ride.
A lengthy account by an exceptionally talented rider, David Huelsbeck, appears at the Bicycling Long-Distance Forum (http://forums.bicycling.com).
Three of my favorite accounts come from Tim Dodge, one of the riders at the front of the pack, as well as two fellows who helped secure the back: Andy Akard, a hardy randonneur who persevered through nearly endless days and sleepless nights; and my good friend John Ende, who had his own struggles with sleep deprivation. Their stories are reprinted on the following pages.
Sit back, put your feet up and enjoy these selected Ride Reports from the Inaugural Cascade 1200.