Deciding to ride a 1200K was a long process. Starting in 1999, I began riding the intro distances of the brevets with the Georgia club and my Nanimal friends Tom Cross, Hans Mixdorf and Mike Delong. Through those rides and the Gainesville, Fla. brevets, I met the unforgettable beer (not) brothers, Mark Wolff and Lou Wolff, from Jacksonville. I have certainly enjoyed their company and pace on a number of brevets. When I heard about the format of the Cascade 1200K including the overnight stops, this concept of a "kinder, gentler" approach to a 1200 seemed quite attractive.
One of my best friends from college, Ted Lundin, who lives in Portland, Ore., decided on the Cascade as his first 1200. Another cycling friend and ancien, Owen Richards, lives in Seattle. He also planned to ride and offered to serve as a base station for our Audax Atlanta assault on the Cascade. Larry Fyfe is a part of the Jacksonville crew and rounded out our group of six who signed up for the ride.
In 2005, my qualification efforts started with the Gainesville, Florida, series where I completed the 200K, 300K, and 600K brevets with Mark, Lou and Larry. The Georgia brevet series treated me less favorably. Nutritional failures on the Georgia 400 led to my abandonment after the halfway point somewhere in South Carolina. I had similar problems on the Georgia 600 with abandonment at mile 300. Accompanying me on the Georgia 400 were the Florida boys, who stopped with me rather than leaving me sick in some smalltown hotel. Those are good friends but also friends that I didn't want to subject to the same on a 1200. On the Ga. 600, Cary Way offered support and company during the night riding portion and our late return to the overnight control. I was encouraged that Cary was also planning to do the Cascade 1200.
My DNFs on the hard Georgia rides had given me some real doubts about my ability to complete the Cascade 1200. After some medical and nutritional consultations, a change in some prescription medication, some advice from Mike Delong and a renewed focus on electrolyte replacement, I decide to pursue my original decision and do the ride.
Day One: This 1200K brevet will start in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains northeast of Seattle and head south, along the front range of the Cascades, to the foot hills of Mount Rainier. Riders will then continue south and skirt Mt. St. Helens, then up and over Elk Pass before dropping into the Columbia Gorge to stop at Carson, Washington for the first night.
—Official Ride Description
While our group was standing at the start of the ride Saturday morning looking around at a crowd of fit to being almost grizzly riders, Ted and I were struck by a similar scary thought—that we don't belong with this company! (Looking deeper we did start to note the very occasional beer belly.) There were many elegant bikes and folks had come from all over the country. Many riders were proudly sporting various PBP jerseys from over the years.
It was a pleasant start as we rolled out as a group at 6 a.m. on Saturday. The riding began through the agricultural countryside with the smells of the farms in our faces as we pedaled the rollers and turns leading up to the first two controls. Ted, Larry and I stopped briefly at the Truly Scrumptious Bakery near mile 95 for a quick snack (two donuts and a Mountain Dew) and then rejoined Mark, Lou and Chris Kaiser to continue toward our planned lunch stop at mile 120—a great Mexican restaurant near the turn to Randle. Mark sampled a cold beer but the rest of us settled for iced tea or colas. The plan was to allow lunch to settle prior to starting the climb up to Elk Pass at elevation 4080. And a good plan it was!
The lunch revived me a good bit and we all rode comfortably onto the gorgeous forest service roads at mile 140. Below, the road surface was great and above was overhung with lush trees and landscape. Ted and I inched towards the back on this hilly section and were soon riding along at a comfortable, if slow, pace. Somewhere on this section the sun set and we settled in to work our way towards the next control at Northwoods.
At the Northwoods control was a scene that would be repeated for Ted and I over the next two nights—a cheering and supportive group of volunteers with lanterns, soup, coffee and sandwich makings. Mark, Lou, Larry and Chris had waited for us here and all except for Chris, we headed out together for the last 35 miles to the overnight control in Carson. It might have been midnight at this control when next the road turned upwards towards Oldman pass at elevation 3100. Ted and I watched the Florida boys' tail lights wind up in the air above us, indicating the work we were going to have to do. Chris came and passed by us after changing a flat tire and rode on up the road.
The temperatures were in the 40s at this point. Ted and I decided that we needed a short nap to rest our eyes (and legs). Lying beside the road in the gravel and the cold air served as our alarm clock and after 20 minutes we got back on the bikes and finally reached the overnight control at around 3:15 a.m. After a shower and some food at the middle school we retired to the gym with a wake up time of 5:30.
Around this time, it struck me that our 10.6 mph average speed for the day did not bode well for our sleep potential for the reminder of the ride. It probably helped that I did not know this would be the last time Ted and I would have time to sleep at one of the overnight controls. Our pace from this point onward forced us to ride straight through with only road naps to revive us. Lou must have had some similar thoughts because at breakfast we heard he had decided to abandon the ride and become a volunteer. Larry had a look of fear in his face as he told us about Lou. It was a shock to us, and my thoughts turned to the fact that one of our stronger, experienced companions had decided this ride may be too hard to complete.
Day Two: From Carson, riders will travel east, up the gorge, climb out of the Columbia Breaks to Goldendale and over Status Pass before dropping into the Yakima River valley, in Eastern Washington. Riders will turn east in Toppenish to cross the Rattlesnake Hills and then drop into the Columbia basin for the second night.
— Official Ride Description
Mark, Larry, Chris, Ted and I rolled out together from Carson. One of the volunteers who took our photo tried hard to animate the group, but everyone was thinking their own thoughts and mulling over their concerns about our short night of sleep. None of us had gotten much more than two hours.
We had a great ride along the Columbia River with a tailwind and paceline helping to make good time. We picked up our friend Owen Richards somewhere in this stretch and turned up a pretty river road to start our climb out of the valley to Klickitat. This was another gorgeous section with great views in the valley and even better ones heading up the plateau to the Goldendale control. On the way to the Status Pass summit, Ted and I assumed our usual position at the back as we were dropped from the group that then roared on a great long downhill. This turned into a hot section on a too-traveled road that had us looking for shade. The experience was made worse by one narrow-shouldered section with trucks and RVs roaring by much too close for comfort.
We regrouped with Mark, Larry, Chris and Owen at the Café control in Toppenish where they were splayed out on the sidewalk in the shade of the building. Larry looked particularly red-faced and toasted so everyone was OK with waiting on Ted and me to eat and get back on the road. This leg was generally uphill and Ted could not keep the pace so I dropped back to ride with him. We met Peter Noris on this stretch and helped him change a flat. We rode with Peter for several miles until we were almost at the Mattawa control.
Ted and I biked on through the waning daylight to the control at Mattawa, to be greeted by our great control group. After hot soup, good coffee and sandwiches we took a 20-minute nap and then headed off for the last leg. We both hit a low point on that leg. The road was not steep but seemed to be generally uphill and we were generally uncomfortable. We did a lot of stopping and adjusting on this section and did not feel very good until the sun came up. At that point we enjoyed a couple of comfortable hours cycling to the Quincy-supposed-to-be-overnight control. We arrived in time to greet departing riders (including Cary, Davy and Charlie and Jim Solanick) and for a great breakfast.
Day Three: From here riders will travel through time as they encounter the prehistoric archaeology of Moses Coulee, and the mid-Columbia plateau. Riders will then head west to once again cross the Columbia and head north to Loup Loup pass before spending the last night in the scenic Methow river valley at the foot of the North Cascades.
—Official Ride Description
Day Three should not have been so hard but it was my worst. The distance was only 170 miles but based on our late finish of the previous day we got a late start heading back out. Showering and clothing changes took us until 8 a.m. before Ted and I were on the road again. The route also started with a long section of chip and asphalt being laid on the way out as we were riding, combined with being the very last riders in the group at this point. It seemed that all the folks that had been struggling in and around us had dropped out and we missed the shared misery.
The route went through a really pretty farming valley that was bordered by basalt cliffs. The cliffs had a lot of great detail as if they had been carved. Ted informed me that they were columnar basalt. We recharged at the Farmer control which was in a great looking wooden community building. Surprisingly, another rider came in while we were there. We went down the road a bit from there and laid down in the sun for a nap. My memory gets a little fuzzy on this section. I know there was a long section where the straight road just went up and down and eventually we got to McNeil Canyon Road, dropped down off the plateau back to the river and finally to the control in Malott.
The sun set on our way up the valley to Malott. The control guys in Malott were my same favorite folks. It seemed like we only saw them at night. They were encouraging, helpful and supplied the now familiar soup, sandwich and coffee. We were trying to move fast, motivated by thoughts of getting some sleep that night but that was before we left and encountered Loup Loup Pass.
While pretty, Loup Loup was a vicious climb. Ted was feeling pretty good at this point, but I was starting what was to become several hours of fairly entertaining but ride-crippling hallucinations. First, the entire road surface appeared to be underlaid with leaves and other patterns, as if they were suspended in Lucite. At other times the road surface was decorated with patterns like a full body tattoo.
The lines on the road assumed different appearances as well. At times both the white lines and the yellow would disappear, or more accurately, appear clear, and the road would seem to be a guardrail-less bridge in the sky. I don't particularly care for heights and found this to be not very conducive to safe riding. At other times, the lines turned into two-foot- tall curbs or low walls. The most disturbing vision involved the center line bending over to connect to the white side line, forcing me to ride into a slowly unfolding corner of highway.
Another fairly consistent and persistent vision involved wet or tar patches on the road turning into a half-animal that would rise from the road upon our approach and then shrink back down into the two-dimensional shape when we passed.
The edges of the road were full of fairly active visions as well. Landscape moving in the breeze turned into cubist jack-in-the-boxes grimacing towards the roads. The horizon and sky were also a little bright which brought about an effect that Ted shared, which was feeling like we were riding under a bridge even in the open road!
The picture show continued with the addition of boxy furniture forms appearing on the road so that I was forced to ride through them. There were also various sheets and other vapors that would drift across the road and obscure Ted's taillights from view. One particularly fine example of this was a mattress form that was thick enough that my vision changed for the period that I was "inside" this shape. After this went on for several hours, I decided to try another roadside nap in an effort to shake these visions.
This was a fairly pitiful point for us. It was raining and the shoulder was just a mud field but finally we found a place to lean against the guardrail under our space blankets and snooze for 30 minutes or so.
We eventually made it to the top, met up with the volunteer that was providing the sweep and headed into the very cold downhill run to Mazama. We arrived there at around 4:30 a.m. but once again it was all we could do to eat breakfast, get cleaned up and get back on the road for the next day's start. While Ted was on a mission to find some relief for his saddle sores, our general stuporous state made us slow to get a move-on. This would have been a good stop to have made early, given the nice hotel-type rooms distributed around a ranch-like property. I managed about 30 minutes of sleep on a couch but Ted was not so lucky.
Day Four: The last day will take the riders over Washington and Rainy Passes in the North Cascades, along the Skagit and Sauk rivers and home to the finish.
—Official Ride Description
We stopped for a shot of espresso at a little stand on the way out of the overnight which improved our spirits. This was going to be a hard day but I was actually feeling pretty good and was having thoughts that we might just finish the ride within the time limit if we picked up the pace. The road climbed for the first 30 miles up to Washington Pass at elevation 5477 feet. It was well graded but still took almost 3.5 hours of upward pedaling—the best part was knowing it was going to be generally downhill the rest of the day.
Ted was feeling the impact of his saddle and lack of sleep on this section, so I ended up doing a lot of pulling. My legs were feeling strong and we started making good time but Ted kept drifting off the back. He stopped for a nap and I had a bad cup of coffee at a health food store. Ted had a low point here and considered stopping the ride. The volunteer providing sweep essentially wouldn't let him stop; he whipped us into shape and got us moving again. He waited for us at the turns, kept time and generally urged us on for the remainder of the ride. His strong manner but good sense of humor was instrumental to our finish. His name was Ted, too.
So after much pain and torture and riding around in what seemed like circles, there we were back at the hotel. There was a group waiting to cheer us in but we got turned around in the parking lot and managed to ride up behind them! We could not have planned that part better. Their cheers were still real, and we were glad to greet our Florida pals as we handed over our bikes and limped into the control for pizza and beer. We were the last two riders to arrive and right at the time limit.
I had tears in my eyes and could not really believe that we had made it. We had been chasing controls since Sunday morning, had gotten less than four hours' total sleep/naps and now at midnight on Tuesday it was over. It had been questionable most of the ride but now Ted and Andy had successfully completed the Cascade 1200K! The remainder of our group had arrived around an hour earlier. (Larry had also finished his first 1200K.)
The Seattle International Randonneurs club volunteers who sponsored this ride were absolutely fantastic. Besides being incredibly organized, everyone involved was focused on providing the best experience possible and offered support and encouragement throughout the ride. We could not have done it without their encouragement. Since Ted and I were bringing up the rear, we were also the ones keeping the late controls open and the sweep out late. This group was not getting enough sleep either.
Ted and I could also have not done it alone since we found that our highs and lows generally did not coincide, allowing us to take turns pulling the other along and keeping track of the route and turns.
Cascade 1200: Special Report 'No Night Riding, No Rain Riding'...
June 24, 2005 and finally it's time for the Cascade 1200k. My good friend John Flanigan and I fly out to Seattle on Friday morning ahead of Saturday's 6:00 a.m. start in Monroe. The drive to Monroe takes about 45 minutes, although at least one person will ride to the start from the airport. Not that the ride needs to be any longer. John and I joke that the final cue sheet now reads 767 miles, about 10 more than an earlier version, and by the time we finish it is certain to be at least 20 miles more than that. Incidentally, we are also told that the route has more than 37,000 feet of climbing.
The ride is hosted by the Seattle International Randonneurs club. With 160 active members in RUSA, they boast more members than any other club in the United States. That depth of experience proves to be invaluable, because the folks from Seattle anticipate every major need we have as riders. Hard to believe this is their inaugural 1200k.
We find our way to "downtown" Monroe without much difficulty. After lunch we head to the hotel to put our bikes together. We visit the local bike shop after I realize that I forgot to pack water bottles—something I am fairly certain I will need on the ride. We head back to the bike store a second time after I realize that I also forgot my toe warmers. I start to get concerned....
John and I decide that we have two goals for the ride: (i) no riding in the rain and (ii) no riding at night. Sure these are both unrealistic, but at some level so is the idea of riding 1200k in 90 hours. During the pre-ride bike inspection we are asked to show our lights and reflective gear. Since this is mandatory, we don't mention that we won't be riding at night. Plus we're pretty sure this would be considered bad form.
We start just after 6:00 a.m. Our goal for the day is some 224 miles away—a high school in Carson. The pace is quick. After a couple of hours in the saddle the group thins to about 12 or 15 people. Everyone looks very strong on the bike—good spinning cadence and no wasted movement; clearly this is a group that has put in some serious mileage over the years. There is not much talking; instead we are all focused on the challenges still to come. And the first one comes sooner than we thought. John gets a flat, forcing us to stop while the paceline continues without us.
The rest of the day is glorious. Although we started with heavy overcast and a light mist, the weather clears by midday. John and I ride at our own pace under clear skies over the shoulders of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens. I can't believe how good I feel in spite of some steep climbing. I can tell John feels pretty good, too, because at the end of the day, after more than 200 miles, he manages to spin at 25+ mph to the day's final control. (Must have been the awesome SIR control at Northwoods!)
Our time for the day was a little more than 14 hours, including all stops. This put us somewhere in the top 15 or 20 finishers for the day, and we were feeling pretty good about that. But just as we wheel our bikes into the school, Ken Bonner heads back out into the night. The man is legendary, riding some 14,337 km in sanctioned events for 2004 and winning the BC Randonneurs Cycling Club's John Hathaway Trophy—aka "The Iron Butt Award." (The award is given each year to the British Columbia resident who covers the most distance in successfully completed official distance brevets and flèches ridden anywhere in the world in a particular calendar year. Ken Bonner "won" the award in 2002, 2003 and 2004.) He clearly has a different agenda for this ride, and it doesn't appear to involve sleep. Suffice it to say that this puts my effort for the day in a different light. I am forced to admit that my goals are a little less speedy, so after showering and inhaling a couple servings of lasagna I try to get some sleep in the school gymnasium.
Sleep proves to be impossible for me. I toss and turn for six hours before deciding it's time to start the day. In this case, the day is 213 miles to Quincy. John and I watch a few riders leave before us, but we quicken our pace up the Columbia River and soon latch on to a paceline of six riders. Nods all around as the group acknowledges our presence and then we all take turns at the front. In short order, however, four of the riders drop back. This leaves me, John, Chris Ragsdale from Seattle and Charles Breer from St. Paul. Our alliance proves to be remarkably resilient over the next several days. ***
Day 2 was a shock to me. Once we climbed out of the Columbia River valley we face mile after mile of desert. It is so dry that there isn't even sage brush growing. Just a low scrub grass that was burned brown by the sun months or years or decades ago. The scrub is broken up by rock outcrops in a series of long grades. We manage 48 miles without passing through a single town; we didn't even unclip from our pedals between controls. By midday we reach Control #2 at Toppenish and I realize the sun is still climbing, the temperature is up and we still have 112 miles to go. We load up on supplies and climb back on our bikes.
The next leg is 62 miles, again without any services, crossing the Rattlesnake Hills. We grind up a long grade into a headwind—what Charles calls the "landscape treadmill" because we never seem to make any progress. The elevation gain isn't apparent given the general absence of landmarks and our only point of reference is a ridgeline some five or 10 miles off in the distance. It finally dawns on us that we are, in fact, climbing because our speed never gets above 14 mph. Great, 62 miles at 14 mph means we are looking at almost 4⁄ hours for the stage. Did everyone bring enough to drink? The short answer is: no. Luckily an SIR aid station midway up the Rattlesnake Hills brings relief. So does a highway rest stop near Hanford (incidentally, site of the country's largest Superfund clean-up) where we dunk our heads under a hose spigot. This lifts our spirits in a way that is probably best understood by a five year old playing in the backyard on a hot summer day.
After Control #3 at Mattawa it's only 40 miles to Quincy, our overnight control. On the way we see some farms and other signs of life. A quarter tailwind has our foursome in an echelon as we cruise the final 10 miles to Quincy. Another 14-hour day in the saddle for us, but the next riders don't show up for more than two hours. They report that the wind shifted, turning into a quarter headwind. We count our blessings. ***
Day 3 calls for 168 miles, with a 3,000-foot climb over Loup Loup Pass. The climb is 115 miles into the day, and causes some strong separation in our little group. At this point we have roughly 500 miles under our wheels since Saturday, and my caloric reserves are depleted. Instead of keeping pace I stay seated and spin up the hill much more slowly. Charles and Chris beat me to the top of the pass by at least 20 minutes, John by 10. Although we regroup at the top and stay together on the descent to Twisp, I am so drained that I am forced to stop and eat. John sticks with me while the other two ride ahead. Painfully I crank out the last 25 miles to Mazama, our third overnight control, by following John's wheel.
Once off my bike I have trouble walking. This is much worse than just bonking. Through the fog that envelopes my brain I realize that my left Achilles tendon is shot—it has no support at all—and my right knee is throbbing. (Doing the math in my head, I estimate that I have done close to 150,000 pedal revolutions in the last 62 hours.) The pain makes me question whether I will finish the last 162 miles. ***
Day 4 has us starting with a 4,000 foot climb over Washington Pass in the North Cascades, descending 1,000 feet and immediately climbing another 500 feet over Rainy Pass. My eyes blink open at 2:45 a.m., and without any forethought I climb on my bike at 3:30 a.m. John is still asleep, sticking to our original plan to leave around 5:15 a.m. I am hoping that the head start will be enough to get me to the top of Rainy Pass about the same time as John, but I have real doubts. One of the volunteers mercifully shares some anti-inflammatory liniment for my Achilles.
I soft pedal the 18.5 miles to the top of Washington Pass. On the entire ascent I only see two cars pass me. It turns out the drivers are both SIR volunteers and they are waiting for me at the summit. I try not to show too much pain as I reach the top, especially when I realize one has a camera. They tell me they plan on setting up an aid station about eight miles down Rainy Pass. That is music to my ears.
To my total amazement I also crest Rainy Pass before anyone catches up to me. At the top I stop just long enough to put on every piece of clothing that I am carrying: rain jacket, arm warmers, long fingered gloves, toe covers, winter tights and cap. The temperature is in the low 40s, a steady rain is falling, and I am about to begin a 20-mile descent. After two minutes I realize that this will be unbearably cold. I am already shivering so strongly that my grip on the handlebars gives my bike high- speed wobbles.
After seven miles I begin to look for the aid station. With every passing corner I mutter a string of four-letter words when it fails to materialize. Finally I see the familiar SIR Control sign, day-glow orange lettering on a white background, right where they said they would be. I practically fall off my bike from a combination of pain and uncontrollable shivering. Standing under a tent, I gratefully accept a cup of instant espresso spiked with hot chocolate mix. After 20 minutes or so I can't think of any more reasons to stay so I stumble towards my bike. Finally I pedal into Marblemount, the first control of the day after 74 miles, and still no other riders have appeared.
At this point I don't care about my finishing time, just about finishing, so I forage through the mini-mart grabbing everything that seems palatable. About half an hour later I am almost done eating when John shows up. We compare notes on the morning. Ten minutes later, just as we are clipping in to our pedals, Charles and Chris show up ready to roll (they used the other gas station in town for their control stop) and our foursome is back together.
With roughly 100 miles to go, I am ecstatic to be in the company of three strong riders. My Achilles is shot and my knee is on fire, but I am as happy as could be. With a little luck I will be able to hang on to the paceline and avoid putting my nose in the wind. But the pain! I tossed back an Aleve at the SIR aid station on Rainy Pass, and now I start a steady diet of ibuprofen, roughly two every hour, to numb the pain.
Just before Granite Falls, the penultimate control, I can't handle the pace any longer. I fall back and John kindly slows with me. We face a final 20-mile stretch of rollers from here to the finish, and I wonder how I will get through it. Then, miraculously, the pain subsides. I can't turn the pedals as hard as usual, but I can turn them! John and I reach the finish a few minutes behind Charles and Chris, at 82:50.
The volunteers are terrific as we make our way into the hotel. The applause is the most welcoming sound I have heard in four days. I hand my brevet card over for the last time, then slump in a chair. Across the small meeting room I spot Ken Bonner, the first finisher. He is showered and rested, and later I learn that he came in at 74:21 by riding through the final night.
My conclusions? First, the overnight controls had me thinking this would be a "mellow" 1200k. I seriously doubt if there is any such thing as a "mellow" 1200k. There may be some that are more social than others, but they are not mellow. Second, this was a very tough ride, and I didn't give it the respect it deserves. Having never ridden longer than 400k in one go, I didn't fully appreciate the physical stress that accumulates over distance. There is no doubt that many of the finishers were much more capable than I was, given my lack of any serious long distance experience before the Cascade 1200k. The ride would have been much more challenging without the support I got from the SIR volunteers and my fellow randonneurs. Thanks to all of you.