Tuesday, August 17, 2010
This past weekend was easily the most epic cycling undertaking of my life. What was originally meant to be my "victory lap" riding weekend of the season here in the PacNW (funny how things change, isn't it?) turned into an endurance test of (for me) monumental proportions. 384 miles in 3 days, with the last 171 miles solo.
Seattle to Bellingham, WA on Friday and Bellingham to Vancouver, BC on Saturday were a part of the RSVP (Ride from Seattle to Vancouver... and Party!), an annual event hosted by my friends at the Cascade Bicycle Club. Myself and 1300+ of my closest friends departed Seattle on Friday morning with Bellingham in our sights, some 105 miles of gorgeous riding away. On our way we passed through a number of small Washington farming towns, saw a bit of the coast, and had a great time. As I mentioned earlier, this ride is usually a pretty low-key undertaking for most riders - the distance is respectable but the pace is usually kept to a social level. I don't even think we averaged 18 mph. The low key pace and relaxing vibe was a thrill for me, as most big rides I've done this year have involved some masochistic pacelining and caution-to-the-wind sprint climbing. After some great sightseeing and a lot of free Clif bars, we all arrived in Bellingham around 4 PM.
My cycling buddies and I all went out for Mexican in Bellingham, which was pleasant. Afterwards I met up with some of my more youthful compatriots for a drink and some socializing, but after 100+ miles of riding in the hot (yes, hot - 90 degrees and rising) weather we were all pretty spent. Within about 15 minutes of getting back to our host's place pretty much everyone was knocked out. I'd like to thank my host for supplying me with a place to lay my head on this night - it was a great alternative to ninja camping.
ninja camping (noun): stealth camping that usually involves 1-2 people and a tent ambling into a forest, the back of a secluded parking lot, the backyard of an under-construction house, or other low-traffic area and sneakily spending the night under the cover of darkness. Utilized to avoid financial expenditure on lodging or campsite reservation fees.
After a 5 AM alarm in Bellingham, I met my cycling buddies for a ninja breakfast (similar to ninja camping, but involving the acquisition of free continental breakfast from a hotel at which you didn't stay) at nice little hotel outside of downtown Bellingham. Over coffee and embroidered waffles ("embroidered" probably isn't the right word, but it's the first that comes to mind - the hotel's logo was imprinted in the surface of the waffle) we discussed the ride ahead and the allure of riding into the Great White North later that day. Canada in our sights, we rolled out of the hotel at 6 AM for the "start line" of today's leg of the ride.
Saturday was a little different than Friday in that our group started faster and split up fairly early in the day. It was clear that a few of us had some fire in our legs, and by about mile 20 4 of us had separated ourselves from the pack. I didn't mind - everyone was enjoying the ride at a pace that they chose for themselves, and that's what matters. The 4 of us with the accelerated pace rode on ahead, and enjoyed a great day through northwestern WA and British Columbia. Passing through the border on my bike was a highlight - my first ever multi-country bike ride. It was so much fun, I think I'll do it again (twice) this fall...
Some great sights (including downtown Vancouver) and some quick miles later, we arrived at the finish line at about 12:30 and commenced the celebration with our fellow riding buddies. We were among the first 30 or so riders in, which pleased me - not only because of the honor, but because it was crazy hot and sunny outside, and I was thrilled to be off the bike, throw my feet in the pool, and enjoy a Canadian beer.
The whole afternoon/evening was very pleasant, and we capped it off with some all-you-can eat sushi. Probably the most wholesome dinner I've had in a long while.
This is where it gets a little ridiculous. So I had plans to hitch a ride back on Sunday with my friends Steven and Brittany, who originally planned to camp up in Canada on Saturday night. We planned to meet up Saturday after dinner, camp, then drive back to Seattle on Sunday. Unfortunately, they had some other obligations pop up, and pulled out the week before the ride. With my new situation featuring me being "stranded" in Vancouver, having my bike with nothing holding me back, I decided there was only one option: ride back.
Let's clarify this: the best plan I could come up with was to wake up around 4:30 AM, eat breakfast, then ride by myself from Vancouver, BC to Seattle, WA. 171 miles. In the same heat that forced us to ride fast and early the day before. Only on this day my ambitious goal was to arrive in Seattle at 5 PM - I had prior obligations in the form of a kickball tournament that started at 6. So....
Somehow (this happens when you hang out with bike nuts) I convinced 2 other people to sell their bus tickets and ride back "with" me. Unfortunately, they were nowhere near as fast as I am, and I knew that our partnership was destined to be a brief one. I must say, however, that it was very exciting to know that some other people thought this was a good idea, and it gave me great confidence. We rode together for about 15 miles, then parted ways. They arrived in Seattle some 5 hours after I did, but I heard they had a great time, and I'm very thrilled about that.
So 15 miles into my 171 mile trek, I was solo - just man, machine, and the road. Just how I meant it to be. This ride was an exercise in mobile meditation - a test of will. If I accomplished my goal pace, it was to be an 11+ hour day in the saddle. That's tough to do with support and friends at your side, for those of you not into cycling. I honestly don't know anyone personally who has tackled that kind of ride aside from ultramarathon athletes and bike-touring legends. I don't have the ego to throw myself into that elite group, but I'm apparently ambitious enough to give that kind of ride a shot.
It was absolutely incredible. The views were fantastic (I planned a different route that took more of the coastline down than our route up did), and the serenity was unmistakably profound. I learned a lot about myself on Sunday, and I found a lot of perspective. I pushed my body to the limits, and it held up. After a long ride down the NW Washington coast back through Bellingham, I took a right up to Deception Pass, shot down Whidbey Island, took a ferry to Mukilteo, and rode the last 20 miles on comfortable local roads in the Seattle area. I arrived back at my car with 13 minutes to spare on my goal, with an average speed of 18.8 mph for the day. I'm pretty proud of that, considering that my legs had 2 long days under them already this weekend, and considering that I did all of the work on my own (if you ride bikes seriously, you know what a big difference a team makes). I think I'm ready to tackle the whole coast next month.
The whole weekend was a tremendous success - no injuries, no flats, no mechanicals, and nothing negative to speak of. I did get a pretty mean sunburn, though - check it out in the slideshow in the post below. Enjoy!