Currently I’m like the dog who caught the car. I signed up for Mid South, Unbound, Rift and SBT GRVL, and guess what: I got into ‘em all. That’s six hundred miles of gravel racing. The Mid South is already water under the bridge, and suffice it to say I didn’t finish as well as I’d hoped. I’m not talking about time or overall placement, that stuff doesn’t matter, I’m talking about riding strong and having a good time – leg cramps really messed up my performance and my enjoyment of this awesome event. But like I said, water under the bridge.
Next up on the calendar is Unbound, and it’s daunting. Two hundred and four miles of gravel is hard for me to get my head around. A confidence booster was in order. Luckily us Seattleites have access to a super strong randonneuring community: the Seattle International Randonneurs. A quick look at their brevet calendar showed a 400K event on April 16th. After a quick confab with my partner in adventure Mykenna we were the first two registrants.
At two hundred and fifty-two miles this event would push my personal single push PR by over forty miles. The elevation profile was also daunting: over twelve thousand feet of climbing with nine thousand of it happening in the first one hundred and fifty miles.
When the alarm sounded at three thirty in the AM I was in full REM mode. Once I figured out where that obnoxious noise was coming from I knew that I had to throw off the covers and immediately roll out of bed, get vertical as soon as possible. Two hours later Mykenna and I joined a long line of blinking taillights at the Mukilteo ferry toll booth. This was a well-attended event with over sixty riders rolling onto the 6:00 AM ferry bound for the Clinton terminal on Whidbey Island.
Someday maybe I’ll do a post showcasing some of the riders and rigs of the randonneur world. I come from a road racing background and the start line for those events is fairly predictable (boring): black carbon bike, black carbon rims, riders in team kit. Minimal variation. Here at the ferry terminal I saw Italian carbon, American carbon, custom steel, elegant titanium, and everything in between including a road-weary steel fixie. Three bikes (two of which belonged to Mykenna and myself) didn’t have fenders.
The ride officially began at 7:30 with a climb, and the up/down would continue for the next eighty miles. The Whidbey Island portion of the route was one steep out of the saddle climb followed by another followed by another, the climbing didn’t ease off until we got to the flat tulip fields north of LaConner.
By the time we hit the tulip fields the spitting rain had graduated to a legit downpour. The crosswind was steady, and the temperature was straddling fifty, and while I wasn’t warm, I wasn’t worryingly cold. I say worryingly because I was wearing every stitch I had, I had nothing more to contribute to the cause. Despite the rain quite a few cars were cruising Chuckanut Drive, this was my first time on the scenic route and it was quite nice despite the cars and the rain.
We grabbed some Jimmy Johns in Bellingham and after a monster climb we cruised flat road to Sedro Wooley. By now the rain was intermittent – yet persistent. At Sedro Wooley we turned east and rode a super nice two lane for twenty-five miles out to the This Boys Life town of Concrete. At Concrete we did a one eighty and rode back to Sedro Wooley. Mike R. would not approve.
On the way out to Concrete we saw the lead groups on their return trip. The lead group of four was moving fast, hours in front of Mykenna and myself. It seems to me that riding in that lead group would be incredibly difficult, any non-group stop, to go to the bathroom, to pick up a dropped water bottle would result in being dropped with little to no chance of catching back on. Sure on a fifty to seventy mile road race hold it, forget the water bottle, but for two hundred and fifty, riding head down doesn’t sound like fun. Of course, those riders are much stronger and fitter than myself so they have a different perspective. After the first two lead groups we saw perhaps a dozen solo riders. Man that’s tough. I would not enjoy riding that kind of distance alone.
Mykenna is the much stronger rider, but despite that he has an intuitive feel for my, shall we say, more moderate pace. Mykenna and I ride in sync: he feels my pace and together we ride. It’s weird how well it works. Having Mykenna at my side was the difference between a great ride and a miserable wet shitty day spent peddling alone.
My guess is that it was closing in on midnight when we returned to Sedro Wooley. I had a strategy of not looking at the time-of-day figuring that if I didn’t know what time it was I wouldn’t know whether I should be tired or not. It was an effective strategy and I never felt sleepy tired.
We hit the Centennial trail north of Arlington and boy was I happy to be off the dark two-lane roads at closing time on a Saturday night. The trail was surprisingly cold, perhaps five degrees cooler than the road, Mykenna pulled out a Gore-Tex coat, but I had been wearing mine for the past fifteen hours and I had nothing left to put on. We hit Arlington at around two in the morning and stopped at the 7-Eleven checkpoint for a final refueling.
While Mykenna was using the restroom, I had the pleasure of spending time with folks who hang out in front of a small-town convenience store at two in the morning. The dude in a lifted pickup who had to make his girlfriend pay for his gas because his card was declined was the least disturbing occurrence. The instant Mykenna walked out the door I said “let’s get out of here,” and we did.
Both Mykenna and I were smelling the barn when we hit Lake Stevens and made the fast descent into Ebby Slough. We had to ride the wrong way up a one way to get through the slough, but we had been warned about this and it was a non-event at three in the morning.
Any way you cut it getting from east Everett to Mukilteo was going to involve a climb and our route put us over Rucker Ave, it was a bit of a sting in the tail, but we managed and now it was a cruise to the finish. As we crested Rucker it finally dawned on me that I actually might finish this thing.
As I look back on the event, I’d say that the first three hours were more difficult than the final ten. I had good nutrition, a perfectly fit bike, a great saddle and high-quality clothing; my only issue was a slight pinching between my shoulder blades.
I genuinely enjoyed this ride and the main reason for that enjoyment was the company I kept. Even though I do most of my training solo, I have no interest in riding off into the sunset by my lonesome. An adventure is best when the accomplishment is shared with a friend.