Sunday, April 3, 2011

Desert River 300km

Desert River 300
As I think of the title of this post a few came to mind.
-          Headwinds from Hell
-          19 hours of perseverance
-          12 crazy people try to beat the wind and um... win?

The day started off really nice.  I awoke at 4:30am loaded up my bike and arrived at the starting point nice and early.  I learned my lesson on getting to the start point on time the week before on the 3 Capes Brevet.   We got off to a nice start, the route was pretty flat, the weather was good not raining! And for being 6am it was pretty light out. 

The Blue Bridge

The Cable Stay Bridge

The first control was 16.5 miles out and I rolled into it after about 50 minutes.  I was feeling great and things were going well.  It had started raining so I put on my rain paints, which worked perfectly and caused the rain to promptly stop and never return.    Leaving the control, I met up with Ian from Olympia.  He and I chatted and we started ticking off the miles.  Soon a few other guys caught up to us and the 3-4 of us cruised along WA-124 on our way to Waitsburg.  Turns out that Ian was a pretty experienced Randoneur as well as the other 2 guys, at least two of them are headed to PBP, so riding with them was a bit intimidating.  We had a nice tail wind and the KM/miles ticked right off.   Somewhere about 10miles out of Waitsburg my front tire flatted.  All 3 guys stopped with me and helped to fix it.  Unfortunately, we stopped right at the spot with probably the worst cross winds on this section of the road so if you didn’t hold on to your stuff it blew away…  Ian helped me out a ton and I really appreciated it.  He investigated the reason for the flat (rim side issue caused by bad rim tape) and, in the end, put my new wire bead tire on in about 2 seconds, - well, maybe 10.    About 3 miles out of Waitsburg I got a good lesson on how not to cross railroad tracks, ended up a bit bruised and sore, with a huge hit to my pride/self-esteem.  Thankfully, the rest of my trip was completely uneventful.

Cruised into the Waitsburg control at 09:45.    ~ 60 miles in 3hrs 45min.  A solid 16mph despite a flat and bouncing off the pavement.    Seemed like just about everyone was hitting the Waitsburg store.  Not wanting to hold anyone up I went over to the restroom in the park around the block to avoid the line and/or cause a line.  By the time I got back most everyone had headed down the road, so I was riding solo from there on out.

Waitsburg to Walla-Walla:  I had ridden this section of the ride last fall and really enjoyed it.  I felt like I could make really good time on over this section.  A short uphill climb followed by a great downhill ride in to Walla-Walla.  18.5 miles should take about an hour, assuming the a boost from gravity.   Remember the previously mentioned tailwind / side wind?  Well, now it was a 20ish mph headwind. 

The ride to Walla-Walla, about 19 miles,   2.5 hours averaging 7.4mph. 

I rolled into Walla-Walla hoping that I had seen the last of the headwinds; maybe they would die down…. Nope.   Paul the event organizer had met us at the control and he and a nice lady had PB&J bagels for us.  After leaving the control, the headwinds conspired with the stop lights to keep me in Walla Walla as long as possible. Chris a guy riding a nice Surly LHT was also at the control when I was there, he and I headed out at about the same time.  I invited him to draft off me as we made our way down to Milton-Freewater (MF).   The winds continued probably around 15+mph and Chris stuck with me the whole way, it was nice to have a little companionship even though the wind made any conversation all but impossible.  After about 8 miles I spotted the MF Safeway and decided to stop for lunch.  Chris faded off in the distance as I coasted to a stop.  About 11.5 miles, 1hr 15 min,  9 mph.

24 minutes for lunch and resting then back on the road.

The road between MF and Pendleton is a series of long hill climbs through a vast expanse of wheat fields.  Next to Iowa, it is probably one of the best places for unchecked killer headwinds and blow it did!  I don’t know how fast the winds blew, but I don’t think it would be unreasonable to say they were in the 30mph range, at least at times.  I literally had to pedal in order to go downhill and usually in my 30 cog chain ring.  If I didn’t have a triple crank I doubt I would have made it through this section of the route.

Distance from MF to Pendleton:  27.6 miles; Time 4hrs 28mins; Average speed 6.2mph

Rolling into Pendleton was great!  The last mile or so was actually downhill and I was even able to coast some.  I stopped at the first gas station and got my card signed.  Then I headed over to Great Pacific and got a sandwich, bag of chips and an Ice tea.   I really started to think about bagging it and just getting a hotel room in Pendleton…   Something to note from the time stamps on the phone eating only took about 20-25 minutes which was pretty good.  I thought my down times were much longer…

Leaving GP and cruising through downtown I noticed I didn’t have my gloves on and freaked out thinking I left them at the gas station a few miles back.  Thankfully after 2 blocks of back tracking I looked down my jacket and found them.  It goes to show you how the mind starts to work after hours of stress; little things become terrifying, though the thought  of riding into the night without gloves really is…

The road out of Pendleton takes you through a canyon.  Paul the ride organizer promised the winds would be calm.  Having rafted through dozens & dozens of river canyons pushing my boat all afternoon against headwinds I thought that was a really strange prediction.  It was however something nice to hang on to mentally….

The road through the canyon was nice and would have been even nicer in the daylight.  At first there was some light industry followed by a bunch of small homes with horses and a pretty river.   I was able to knock off several miles before needing to turn on my lights, traffic was nil.  I jumped a small group of deer along the road and they scampered up the side of a hill.  Unfortunately, that got me to thinking of cougars and how I would probably make a tasty snack standing no chance against one.  That thought stuck with me throughout the canyon.  After a while I started watching the river and thinking how nice it would be to have my raft.  I could strap my bike on it and just float along.  The river was flowing at 5mph+ and I could shift all the work to my arms…  Just as I was having those happy thoughts the river came across a low head dam with one of the most wicked looking backwashes I’ve ever seen.  Coming across that dam anytime but especially at night would have pretty much been a death sentence.   There was a tongue going over the middle of the dam that you might be able to run but, it would have been hell to see from the water and no room for error. 

Ok back to cycling…

The road continued on twisting along and following the north side of the canyon just below the rim.  Still no traffic, but a new obstacle:  chunks of rock that had fallen off the cliff face.  My light was maladjusted* and was only shining on to a small little spot a few feet out from my bike.  Dodging the rocks was worse than what I imagine a drive through a minefield would be.  After a few minutes I adjusted my lamp up and everything was good.  Even on medium power the little EOS lights up the road really well and those rocks were no longer a threat. 

Just outside of Echo, I stopped under a light I found next to a little electrical complex.  I dug out my head lamp and hung it around my neck.  Then I walked around the back of the complex and out of the pool of light and looked at all the stars, there were too many to even pick out the constellations.   Across the valley from me, about 300 yards from me was a big old farm house.  You know the type- it was the big rectangular kind painted white with green trim and probably a green roof.  Dim lights almost candle like shown from a few of the upstairs and back windows.  Several old junk cars and other clutter were scattered about.  It’s just the type of place you’d expect to see Agents Mulder and Scully investigating, especially late at night and in low light. GREAT!  First cougars then land minds, now crazy X-File monsters to contend with!  My frame pump was wholly in adequate to deal with this “stuff”!  Well at least the head winds had died down…

On to Echo at about 9pm.  ~26 miles since Pendleton, 2.5hrs,  10.4mph,  not bad if you are running a marathon….

42 miles to go…

I arrived at the interstate and cruised over it.  Spotting a McDonald’s I swung in!  Had a nice chat with a guy who was living on his bike- full time, the local PD was there to shake him down and I wondered if they would be chatting with me soon to check my insanity level.  Thankfully they never came my way or looked at my eyes because they were so blood shot that I would have probably been the guy at the farm house that Mulder and Scully were looking for.     A quick cheeseburger --oh so good!  And some sort of iced coffee thing and I was on the road again. 

The ride to Umatilla was uneventful; it was nice to back in civilization at least for a little while.  It was only about 15 miles and it went pretty quickly.  I got there at 10:30 pm. I don’t know what my speed was but it had picked up.  I even beat a little sports car off the line at a few lights, though I don’t think he knew I was racing him, still at 10 PM+ a win is a win.

Fortunately I pre-drove the route from Umatilla to Richland the night before so, I knew right where the control was and how to find the bike path across the interstate bridge.  The views of the McNairy Dam were really nice and they were dumping water from all the spillways.     Seeing was a bit hard after crossing the bridge.  The lights from the bridge had destroyed what little night vision I have and transitioning back to the darkness was difficult.   I was really tempted to jump on the freeway as I knew where the exit was and how easy it was to get to Plymouth road.  However I continued on in the dark and down the steep path winding my way to the tunnel and the sand at the end of the path.   Turning right my light lit up the dark mouth of the tunnel and I was happily relieved to find it absolutely empty.  Just prior upon seeing the gaping darkness of the tunnel entrance mind had wandered to potential hooligans and or “Dementors,” that would be waiting for me inside the tunnel.  Again my bike pump would wholly inadequate against either.

McNary Dam

Arriving at Plymouth road, I made the big right turn and headed up the hills that I thought would be the worst section of the ride.  Going was slow but not bad at all.  My knees really hurt but again dropping in to the third chain ring, I cranked up all the hills, probably taking some in my middle ring.  If anything it was better to do them at night as you couldn’t see the top and with no perspective you just pedaled along.  As I climbed the wind was maybe at my back?  Or maybe at my side either way it was a non- issue.  Maybe it was the wind or something else,   I’m not sure but there was this interesting howling / breathing sound coming out of some pipes along the road every few hundred yards.  I don’t know what it was but I choose to think of it as sleeping dragons, which was a nice way to pass the time for a bit.

Plymouth road ended up being longer than I remembered taking about 1.5 hours to get to the next turn.  Along the way I heard several groups of coyotes howling and yipping off in the distance.  My mind began to wander again and their howling hurried me along.

Finally, making the turn on to Coldfelter,  I was ecstatic the end was so near!  I powered up the first little rise after which I think everything else was all downhill except for a few little rollers.  I clicked my light up to full power and quickly spun out in my middle chain ring.  Shifting up, I cranked along braking through the curves and letting the final miles fall away behind me as I let gravity pull me to the end.   I found the final turn on to Leslie with ease taking Paul’s advice to go slow after the highway bridge.  The final leg was only 2.8 miles.  I cranked it up and the adrenaline associated with being down kicked in.   I cranked along fast and carefree, It sure helped that it was mostly downhill!

Total Time 19 hours

Finished at 1:03am on my watch.  The lady at the end said I was only 1 hour behind the first riders. Having taken on all the headwinds solo I felt really good about that.

-          The first 60 miles
-          The last 9 miles
*literary license

This was my 4th Brevet, and my second 300km.

Thoughts upon reflection
-          It is extremely difficult to express how hard this ride really was.  Riding into stiff headwinds is an exercise in futility.  I probably didn’t put in enough descriptions of the wind.   
-          I debated walking many times and ended up probably walking at least half a mile.  It was really nice to walk and probably just as fast as riding against the wind.
-          My bike fits me well.  However after 15 hours on it my shoulders really burned.  Somehow they stopped burning.
-          Will I do this ride again?  Yes, hopefully no headwinds next time.
-          Maybe next year it will be a counter-clockwise ride.  I can only assume it would have been a super-fast ride had it been so this year.   Though the last 60 miles would have been full on into the wind.


  1. The wind had broken my will by Walla Walla. Kudos, and thanks for the fun read. -Norm

  2. I checked the wind at about 6 PM for Pendleton that day ... 38 mph with gusts to 54 mph!