<emphasis role="bold">Ode to the SIR Oasis | By John Lee Ellis</emphasis>

Fender-clad bikes— sprinkled through the assembled peloton—functioned like that umbrella you pack just in case: prophylactically warding off the merest hint of clouds and showers from this year’s Cascade. Instead of rain jackets, riders were breaking out the SPF 50 sunscreen, and volunteers were breaking out the ice socks and watermelons. Those of us without fenders were naturally grateful for others’ fender amulet.

Ten months before, PBP riders had been asking “Wetter than 1987?” (ACP answer: yes) As the landscape simmered and broiled on the Cascade, some of those same riders were wondering, “Hotter than 2006?” (apparently not, but quite toasty enough, thank you). And as what has become the two-out-of-three norm for the Cascade, the event had had to be rerouted because of excess snow in the west (and some road construction), while extra ice needed to be rustled up for the eastern plains.

And yet such was the scenery, the event support, and the stamina of the riders, the Cascade was again a challenging and rewarding event.

Support? What Support! - The Cascade is superbly supported—around 50 volunteers for a field of 68 riders this year—and on certain stretches their help was “very meaningful”—SIR Oases midway up long, hot pass climbs and on 40-50 mile stretches with no services in 100-degree heat on the plains. SIR draws not only from a broad volunteer base, but a broadly-based one, including folks who live near the easternmost controls such as Quincy, spiritually one step away from Nebraska, who come out to lend a hand.

Since the Cascade is a stage-oriented loop, you see and get to know a number of volunteers as they travel with you from one overnight stop to the next. Who knows? A polite and winning impression early on might get you an extra portion of rancher chili and maybe an extra showering towel.

The Daylight 1200?—The Cascade 1200 FAQ insisted you have lights mounted the entire ride, even if you intended to ride only in daylight. That was certainly possible on the Cascade. I spent perhaps a cumulative hour in darkness over the course of the event. The norm was not far from that. “Battery management” (for those of us using batteries) faded to a non-issue. Then there’s Del Sharffenberg (Oregon) who dispensed with dimness altogether: you’d see him in casual clothes as you were wolfing down your pre-dawn breakfast, and again similarly attired when you pulled in at the end of the stage. Somewhere in between, he’d passed most of the field.

While it was light (somewhat) by 4:45am, the event started at a civilized 6am. And at the final overnight at Mazama Ranch, when riders put in wake-up calls for their customary 3:30 to 4:30am times, they were admonished that the ranch breakfast was going to be served at 5am, and no use getting ready to ride before then. A wise policy.

The Stages—The stage orientation (of 224, 206, 180, and 162 miles) made it easy to link up with other riders at the start of each day - the typical rider would be clicking in the pedals between 3:30 and 5am (days 2 and 3), so it was easy to find some comaraderie.

Day 1 from Monroe to Naches featured lush green farmland and small towns. As things heated up more than you might have expected, White Pass late in the day was the gateway to the (hotter) east.

Day 2 from Naches to Quincy began with an echo of mountain greenery, and then moved out into the dry heat of ever more sparsely populated plains. Big winds from evening mountain storms made the final stretch over otherwise delightful Beverly Burke Road into Quincy an adventure.

Day 3 continued the eastern plains theme, but with the interesting geology of glacially shaped Lenore Lake and others in its chain, Dry Falls, and huge monoliths deposited by cataclysmic floods now standing tall in a sea of wheat.

Day 4 after a delightful climb to the event’s high point at Washington Pass descended past sea green reservoirs to the lush, rural landscape of the starting day, with some timber industry, and finished on quiet country roads. And the finish was downhill - perfect!

As you might expect, Ken Bonner eschewed the stages, riding straight through (with support). That meant he was well-rested in time to greet the other finishers!

Perhaps because of the heat, the event felt like an overture of lush green amid volcanic peaks, followed by extended middle segments on the arid eastern plains, finished off by a lush finale reprise at the end. The middle movements predominate in my memory and seem like the chief subject matter of the ride, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing - the landscape throughout was evocative and the terrain challenging.

The Climbs—Fixie acifionado Jake Kassen finished PBP’07 on fixed gear but brought his multigeared (and fendered) bike for the Cascade. Hmmm … why might that be? The climbs on the Cascade were extended and sometimes tough but not mean or ornery. (The ornery aspect was the heat.)

White Pass (4,500’)— Softened up by said heat, many riders started the 20-mile climb from Packwood late afternoon. The shadows were on the wrong side of the road, but enticing nonetheless. Don’s Boothby’s SIR Oasis a bit over halfway up with watermelon and cool drinks to remind riders what hydration meant. The ski area at the summit with its painted-on snowflakes lent a cool impression, even if the temps were still not arctic.

Chinook Pass Rd.—Day 2 began with a 44 mile climb up to the Lodgepole campground on the way to Chinook Pass. Possibly the most pleasant climb of the ride, with mild temps. Mark Thomas and company offered fresh-brewed coffee at the campground, enhancing a good mood on the descent.

“Yes, That Climb”—In some ways tougher to face was the ½ mile climb out of the Columbia River valley under late afternoon furnace conditions on Day 2. Riders flying down into this valley felt the blast furnace gusts and knew they were in for something, as they could spy “that climb” on the opposite side of the valley. Many a rider spent extra minutes cooling off at the Vernita rest stop. I procrastinated long enough in fact for a cloud to drift over and reduce the heat quotient on “that climb” to “not too bad.”

Loup Loup Pass (4,020’)—The hottest, toughest pass of this year’s route, starting with a sharp climb out of the Malott control at the hottest part of the day. Like an ever-receding but welcome mirage, Joe and Jesse Llona were perched towards the summit with their SIR Oasis. A bit later, riders such as LSR K-Hounds Val and Robin Phelps caught the only rain of the event, a chilling thunderstorm towards evening. (And Val asserts that the black eye he showed up with at the finish was not the result of marital squabbles.)

Washington Pass (5,477’) + Rainy Pass (4,855’)—The most scenic climb, and a spectacular welcome back into the green domain on the west slope as the start of Day 4. Fortified by the Mazama Ranch rancher breakfast, a cool, refreshing climb to dramatic rock formations at the summit. Belying its name, Rainy Pass a couple miles further on was just as clear and sunny.

The 1000k Easy Ride?—A close-knit contingent of nine 1000k riders mainly bunched together, polishing off their Randonneur 5000 requirement. Their reward for doing a “mere 1000k” was 12 extra miles on the third day (at the base of the Loup Loup climb) and finishing off with a 260km Permanent on the final day. (That was everyone’s final stage, but the 1000k riders got an extra card in a new color, pink, no extra charge.) Isabelle Drake had done PBP almost on a whim, and after the San Diego flèche this spring had her R-5000 in the bag. Carol Bell and Maile Neel from the DC area, and Chris Hanson could tell similar tales. A dramatic way to finish off your R-5000.

Vignettes—A wall of sauna-like moisture hitting you as you pass irrigated crops on the “dry heat” eastern plains, complete with small flying insects stuck in your sunscreen.

A succession of crops—alfalfa, wheat, peach groves, and hops (who but a Bavarian like Lothar Hennighausen would recognize hop cultivation?) on those eastern plains. And for the agriculturally challenged, signposted crops as you headed into the Quincy overnight stop.

Popping and snapping tar on backroads in the afternoon heat.

Snowy Mt. Rainier looming over a green landscape like a vanilla ice cream cone.

The lonely, evocative Farmer control, a grange hall in an ocean of wheat.

Will You Come Back?—I rode this event to try something new. The Cascade is different from BMB and PBP and the Last Chance (although the eastern segment shares more than you’d expect with the Last Chance).

My Colorado experience was a plus in terms of solar radiation, dryness, wide-horizons terrain, l-o-n-g climbs, and altitude (I live at the altitude of Washington Pass). But the Cascade was scintillatingly different, too. I liked the stage concept. The geology was intriguing. And the SIR support and event organization are magnets enough to return.

Then, too, there’s the prospect of riding the original route one day “as written” without snow detours. Put this one on your list!