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March 11th, 2007


Ride report, Snoozeville Populaire

Sweetie insisted that 4 am was too early to get up for anything, much less a ride, so she suggested that she drive me to the start of the ride and get another hour of sleep. This turned out to be a good thing indeed.

In preparing mentally for this ride, I understood two realities: One, my Crohn’s just might get in the way, especially at the start because the morning is when I need the most time to, um, deal. Two, because I’m a slow rider who bonks easily I knew I’d be riding alone for nearly all of the ride. And I did; by mile four or so, I watched as the last pack of sleek, strong, caffeine-fuelled animals stormed away and dropped me off the back. No problem. I had already accepted this days in advance so I was able to just get on with my ride. The other piece of preparation was my decision to keep my rest stops short and efficient so that my legs wouldn’t seize up. This decision proved to be an important one by the end of the ride.

The weather for most of the day was cool and cloudy, with showers arriving about halfway through the ride and sprinkling lightly and then more heavily in fits and starts the rest of the day. I wore wool tights over my bike shorts, and wore two layers of wool shirts (and a wool vest which I sometimes didn’t need), along with a full suit of raingear.

And the ride was PRETTY, with a route that meandered through mostly rural parts of Washington County: Hillsboro (not bad once we left the Silicon Forest along Evergreen Parkway – yeeech!), North Plains, Banks and Forest Grove, before returning to Hillsboro through a backdoor route.

The ride was divided into three basic sections, each with a control at the end. Getting to the first control near Dairy Creek was not too bad until the last four miles or so. I was starting to feel tired from setting a pace at the start that was faster than normal – or comfortable. I decided to follow the advice (from bike-meister Kent and several other friends who all said in so many words, “pick a mantra – a happy thought or a line you can chant in your head or whatever -- and use it when your brain starts to fry, so you can concentrate on keeping the cranks turning.” I decided that since it was Shabbat I could use the Hebrew liturgy and just chant whatever prayers came to mind. I began with the Morning blessings and went from there, all the way through the Psalms and into the Shema. Then I stopped there and just grooved really hard on the Shema, repeating it for something like eight or nine miles while beautiful green farmland and trees rolled by and birdsong tickled my ears. This got me all the rest of the way to the first control, where I availed myself of a bathroom, grapes, and a huge fistful of fig bars while Susan signed my control card and marked the time (9:45 I think). The control was in the middle of a forest with Dairy Creek cutting through it, the trees hung with thick green moss that lent an air of quiet to the place. A lovely place to take a short break from riding.

My break took all of five or seven minutes and then I was back on the bike, following pal Ian away from the control until he and his companion sped away from me. No

(photo taken by Lynne - on West Union)

This second leg of the ride was the hardest of the three. It included the one big hill of the route (along with a few healthy rollers for fun), and also covered the greatest distance of the three legs, rolling through endless farmland. Even though I was starting to feel very fatigued, I was happy to hear birdsong, mostly redwing blackbirds, and saw a peregrine falcon on a telephone line above my head.

Turning onto Stafford road, the grade suddenly got steeper; this must be the beginning of the big hill the website had advised us about. This turned out to be the hardest part of the ride. The roads lacked signage so I was never fully sure where I was for several miles along the way, and the road just seemed to keep on climbing up and up and up. I stopped several times to pull off my left shoe and massage the fourth toe which was numbing up regularly now. Interestingly, my bowels were behaving themselves by this point in the ride; I was downing Gatorade-water mix with pretty conscious regularity, and snacking from the peanut butter and cheese crackers I’d brought. That helped some. I struggled to keep the unpleasant thoughts at bay; I had thoughts of dropping out but the thought that I was so far from home and away from public transit convinced me to try and shoot for the second manned control. (I bargained with myself that if I made it there before the control closed I’d finish the ride; if not, I’d drop out in Forest Grove and catch a bus back to Portland from there.) It is SO true that the hardest part of any long ride is the mental wearniness that can set in. I finally fought my way out of it by finding my place in the morning liturgy and chanting it in my head for several miles.

In the middle of this leg was a quick “Info” Control, an unmanned control where you had to observe something at the site and then answer a question about it on the card. In this case, the rider organizers had tied a series of colored ribbons onto a signpost where the control was supposed to be. Unfortunately, there was no clear direction as to where this signpost was supposed to be, and the signage on the road made it equally unclear. It was also the other side of the big hill (which looked a lot steeper on the topographical chart at the website than it was in real life – but still plenty steep and long enough to wipe me out a bit). So along with feeling slightly lost I was facing down some serious and deeply unpleasant fatigue.

It could be that I never saw the signpost but just passed it right by. Before I knew it, I was where I was supposed to be AFTER the control, without ever having seen the signpost. I made a note of this by writing it on my card in the appropriate spot, and continued on, slogging it out all the way to Forest Grove.

Along the way, I passed a Subway and a grocery store. Since I was saving my limited funds for lunch at the end of the ride, I had packed some food along. I pulled over and enjoyed a hard-boiled egg and some cheese crackers before moving on. The food helped clear my head a little bit and I felt able to keep going.

Something odd happened: When the farmland suddenly fell away and I found myself riding through suburbia, I felt a strange surge of new energy. It wasn’t huge, and it didn’t make me feel like a new woman, but it was enough to get me to the next control, where (sigh) several riders were just getting up to leave. I was the last rider in, and I made it with about 14 minutes to spare before they closed the control (in which case I would have been officially disqualified – though certainly free to keep riding for the sake of the ride). I stayed just long enough to snap a photo or two, then bought and quickly tossed back a small cup of delicious hot coffee, used the restroom and went outside and wolfed down half the peanut butter sandwich I’d brought. My whole break took perhaps ten minutes, the longest time I spent off the bike during the ride. Turning over my cue sheet to reveal the last part of the route in the map window, I discovered that the rest of the ride was relatively flat and that this last leg would be the shortest of all. I had a good possibility of making it to the last control within the time limit if I rode sensibly and didn’t stop much.

By now the showers were falling pretty steadily. I didn’t mind them at all; the drops on my face kept me feeling refreshed and alert and I enjoyed the knowledge that riding in rain was no big deal for me (I guess we Portlanders are made of fairly stern stuff in this regard). The last five miles were the most deadly dull, and tiring; five miles riding along Evergreen Parkway, all the way back to the start, through industrial/suburban hell. My happy ride in the country was over by this pint and all I wanted to do was get back to the Roadhouse, where I knew that lunch and a glass of beer would be waiting for me. I didn’t even care if I finished within the time limit, and in fact I hadn’t glanced at my watch since leaving Forest Grove. Finally, about two miles from the end, I checked the time. Amazingly, I was still within the time limit and stood a good chance of fnishing before they closed the control. I was shocked; I felt so tired that I’d though for sure I wouldn’t make it in time.

I pulled into the parking lot of the Roadhouse feeling relieved, exhausted and rather hot beneath my rain jacket (I hadn’t bothered with the rain pants all day, as my tights had kept me plenty warm enough).

When I parked and walked inside, I went upstairs where a table of riders was finishing up lunch. They saw me and applauded. Nate (one of the organizers) came over and shook my hand heartily to congratulate me. I handed my control card to Susan, who signed off the time at 6:29 (The time limit was 6:40, so I finished with 11 minutes to spare!). She handed it back to me and asked me to sign the back. As I did so, I asked her if, since I’m not trying to rack up points in brevet-land or anything, could I just keep my card as a souvenir? She smiled, and said that, since I’d finished within the time limit, she’d really like to hang onto it long enough to report the results to RUSA (the governing organization for randonneur riding in the US). She would send it to me after that. I said that would be okay. Nate took a picture of me with my card before I handed it over. Then I sat down to a delicious lunch (a chicken Captain Neon sandwich, with a glass of Terminator Stout. I have to say I love living in Portland, where I get to enjoy some of the best microbrews in the universe!), and called Sweetie to let her know I’d finished (she yelled and yippee’d her congratulations over the phone). After lunch I had a short but difficult ride to the MAX station; the folks riding with me said it was only a mile but I swear it felt like at least two or three, my legs were SO spent by then. I tossed my bike on the train and rode it downtown, where I then put my bike on the bus that would take me home. When I got there, Sweetie met me at the door, helped me off with my wet things and threw her arms around me, telling me over and over how proud she was. (awww)

Total distance ridden including riding to the transit stops and then home: 65.5 miles.
Total distance ridden during the populaire: 62.2 miles
Estimated mph, including stops: 9.7 mph – not too bad considering the distance.

Now that I’ve ridden 100km – a metric century -- would I do a 200km brevet? Not likely.
Would I do this particular ride again next year (or another populaire later this year)? Perhaps. Ask me in a few days when I feel rested and maybe I’ll be more enthusiastic. (This morning my legs are sore and *they* are not thinking clearly.)