Monday, June 30, 2008

Day 6 - June 28th - Spokane to Sandpoint, ID

It was a challenge to leave the comforts of the dorm and hit the road again.
But today, we would complete our first state, moving across the state lines between Washington and Idaho. Time to get a move on.

After a quick trip to Starbucks, and breakfast at the Cog (Student Center), we loaded up the truck and grabbed our cue sheets. Everyone peeled out in short order.
After a few miles of twists and turns, the route led us to Hwy 2. I started this segment on my own, and ended up riding most of the day by myself. The morning air was cool, and the sky nearly cloudless. The route wound through Chatteroy and Riverside, eventually leading me to Newport, and just in time for their annual Rodeo Parade! The sidewalks on Main Street were filled with families, jockeying for the best viewing places. Of course the early birds had brought folding chairs and were proud of their positions in the rare shady spots.
I locked up my bike and clicked (wearing my bike shoes) down the street to survey my options. I chanced upon a kitchenware store that also offered fresh brewed coffee (in a press pot no less) and homemade cinnamon rolls. Can't beat that. I bought one of each and sat for a spell, talking with the baker/coffee maker proprietor. As soon as I heard the sound of police car sirens, I knew that the parade would be starting and I took off to finagle a spot. Sure enough, here came the police cars, following by rodeo royalty on horses, prominent local business people and politicians, more horses, the inevitable clean-up crew, a local cub scout pack, large people on/in small cars, a tropical- themed float, and several fire trucks of various vintages. At that point, I felt confident that I had sufficient parade memories and decided to move on.

The route took me over gently undulating hills, along forested hillsides. The hot air brought out the smell of the pines and scrubby plants. Heat radiated from the pavement. I passed a remote street sign: Lotawater Lane. And as the miles accummulated, so did the heat in my feet. Slowly at first, and eventually a full-out burning sensation across the widest part of each foot. It felt as though I was standing on a red-hot metal grate. Flames licked my toes. The wind fanned the blaze. Ouch! As I approached the final couple of miles into Sandpoint, I spied a young boy washing a car. Ah-ha! I rode over to his side and asked him if he could do me a big favor: spray my feet. Shoes, socks and all. He was as happy to oblige as I was to receive. What a relief! In my new-found state of civility, I bought a raspberry soda from his mom - who was operating a nearby espresso/italian soda stand. I cruised down the final miles with soaking shoes and a cup of ice in my hand. The effects of the heat were retreating.

We would be camping for the night at Sandpoint High School. After designating a spot under the pines, next to Barb, the two of us went into town to find something to eat. We found the highly-recommended 2nd Avenue Pizza restaurant just as it was opening for the afternoon/evening. A small pie and a cold beer revived us.

It was then time to return to our site for the night, check in with other Riders about their experiences, set up camp, eat dinner and prepare for another hot day. The heat had taken its toll: camp settled down by dusk.

Day 5 - June 27th - layover day in Spokane

A day off the bike! Hard to imagine. It was rejuvinating to have a day to think about things other than the daily cue sheet (map), making a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, and trying to stay on course.

Once up, I joined a group of hungry Riders looking for a cafe for breakfast. We found a spot on busy Division Street. It offered a buffet - a highly popular prompt for this ravenous bunch. Afterwards, several Riders strode off to REI in search of replacement parts, forgotten items, etc. This Big Ride traditional pilgrimage has a sense of finality: this is the last outpost until...Madison?...where you can get your tent mended (if the winds at Vantage were too fierce), replace your handlebars or seat, or load up on electrolyte tablets. After today, we head out into the "wilderness".

I had wanted to go swimming and found out that we didn't have access to the Zags pool, so I walked downtown and went swimming at the Y. The simple purchase of a Day Pass provided some soothing relief to overused muscles. The lanes were waiting for me (hardly anyone in the pool), the water felt great, and it was so nice to do something familiar yet in a new place.

During the afternoon, Joe helped me to upload some photos onto earlier posts. Perhaps he can help me tomorrow with some others that I've taken during the past few days. As the day came to a close, clusters of Riders gathered on the sidewalk outside the dorm, cleaning bikes, lubing chains, and just shooting the breeze.

In the evening, several of us walked down the street to a restaurant that Darrell had recommended.

The group seems to be coming together.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Day 4 - June 26th - Odessa to Spokane

Up around 5. I guess that this hour will be my standard rising time. I've found that it's beneficial to spend a few minutes doing some yoga-type stretches before leaving the tent. Perhaps it's been coincidental, but my aches and twinges have been minimal so far. It could be because of the yoga poses, or the fistful of supplements that my friend Molly (a naturopath in Seattle) recommended, or maybe I've just been lucky.

Trips to the bathroom (a new location every day!), repacking my clothing bag, packing up my tent and getting bike bags ready is my pre-breakfast routine. Whatever will I do when I return to the work-a-day world?

Daniel cautioned us during breakfast to slow down and enjoy the ride, to not press on in the manner of race horses. It was hard to follow his advice this morning as there was a generous tailwind in our midst. I did some thoughtful miles on my own, listened to the birds, and enjoyed the cool morning air and desert scents. Met up with Tony and Chuck by chance in Harrington. Very quiet town at the early hour of 8am or so. We did meet a couple of local residents who were sitting outside the Masonic Lodge, having a smoke break. When they learned that we were participating in a ride for the Lung Association, promoting clean air (and smoking cessation) we had a good laugh. They allowed us to use their bathroom, and we left them to their task of preparing lunch for local seniors.
The winds took us quickly in to Davenport. Within the first few blocks of Main Street, we spied a B&B cafe - "open to the public". The three of us settled ourselves at a table on the front porch and ordered up the house special of Strawberry pancakes. The view allowed us to watch local traffic and to shout out to other Riders. Many of them followed our lead and found seats on the porch. How nice it is to feel that we can do our part of help local economies and fuels our "tanks" at the same time.

The miles from Spokane were broken up by a shady rest stop in Reardan, and a brief detour off of Hwy 2 due to a mobile home fire. By the time we were re-routed onto the highway, we could look to our left to see the smouldering shell of the home. A fast blaze for sure.

I persuaded Chuck and Tony to make a stop on the way into Spokane at the Airway Heights Espresso stand. It is one that the RedSpoke riders frequent every year. It would have been hard for me to ride past and not order a drink. If any members of the RedSpoke family are reading this, know that I have given the stand fair warning of your arrival on a sunny Sunday, mid-July.

Followed the routing into town and located our designated dorm on the Gonzaga campus. Whew. What a good feeling to bring my bike to a shady space, toss my bags on the floor and gaze at 4 walls and a roof. No wrestling with tent poles and stakes tonight! A shower and chance to do laundry made for a satisfying evening. Doesn't take much when you've winnowed your world down to 2 wheels and a couple of duffle bags. Looking forward to a good night's sleep and seeing when I wake up in the absence of zipper alarms.

Day 3 - June 25th - Easton to Odessa

The winds in the Gorge kept tugging at our fabric homes for most of the night. I was familiar with this local trait after my stays at Lincoln Rock campground on the RedSpoke ride. Lincoln Rock is approximately 75 miles north of Vantage but the landscape and weather patterns felt the same. It usually dies down around 3am - becoming uncommonly still.

We clusterd once again at Blustery's, this time for breakfast, and then slowly made our way - as one big cycling community - across the bridge spanning the river. Once on the other side, we were joined by early morning vehicular traffic, making the steady climb up the hillside. The view was a tremendous distraction. Especially with the early morning light, shining over our shoulders, intensifying the contours of the stone walls on Blustery's side of the Columbia. Look over, look down and ahead. Look over, look down and ahead.

I had established a good climbing pace up the hill and ended up riding witha couple of the Big Ride's greyhounds: Chuck and Tony. We stuck together to Ephrata, where Tony and I stopped at a cafe. Chuck's legs, however, told him to continue. The latte (Tully's, but acceptable) and fresh scone, were reviving. Tony and I then galloped on to Odessa. The scenery was "scrubby", with a sameness that I'm sure that locals define in more exact and varied terms. We pulled into Odessa shortly after noon. Main street seemed to be the laser-focus of the sun. Hot and dry sidewalks and streets. Nearly deserted. We were told of a good local cafe a few blocks away from the school grounds where we were camping that night. The cafe was cool, shady, and very homey. The waitress didn't seem to mind that I ate my packed PB&J sandwich while mulling over lunch items on the menu. Tried a chicken sandwich and my first stab at raspberry-lemon pie. Once is just fine.

The afternoon was spent setting up camp, learning how to operate the showers, and settling in. With those basics completed, several of us sat on the grassy slope, sipping beer while evaluating the tent selection and assembly operations of others. What a change from a workday!
After dinner in the cafeteria, we had some free time to mingle or read, make phone calls or listen to music.Then the PB&J station was opened up for 20 minutes. Time to make a sandwich, lick the jelly off your fingers, and get some shut-eye.

Day 2 - June 24th - Easton to Vantage

Around 5am or so, tent zipper alarms went off in succession. Riders crawled out of tents, made trips to the bath house, slipped into clean sets of spandex, and packed up their nomad abodes. The breakfast crew had already fired up large pots of water making press pot coffee possible, as well as oatmeal. We stood or sat, still groggy from a night of interupted sleep. Many Riders commented on the constant flow (and roar) of truck traffic. Hard to pretend it's just the lull of ocean waves.

After getting the gear truck loaded, we rode off to join those fine elephants of commerce. But happily, we were only on I-90 for a few miles. Side roads took us into Cle Elum. Less traffic, placid scenery, and thankfully, all of the farm dogs were still slumbering. Shortly outside of Cle Elum, we glided onto SR-10. This was a beautiful stretch - made even more so by still winds and cool temps. We edged up some gentle hills, and stopped to take photos.
The air seemed especially clear, the views sharp. It reminded me of an eye exam. At some point, the doctor slides in those lenses that make everything look so crisp. You want to shout: Yes, yes! This is how I want to see everything. Make me some of these!
We continued on into Ellensburg, and stopped for a 2nd breakfast. I was reminded that we are slowly moving out of coffee country as I poured myself another cup of umbrella juice from the thermal carafe. This will be an adjustment. Sigh.

After finishing our platters of food, we got on our steel ponies and rode through town. Darrell, Bob and I slowly meandered past the Central Washington campus area and headed out of town. There was a very gradual, steady climb in afternoon heat up to a wind farm ridge. We were rewarded with a very long (13 mile) descent. It got to be a bit monotonous going down for so long. Bob humored me by agreeing to stop at the Ginko Petrified Forest so that I could have a look around. "Forest" doesn't come to mind as you stand on this shadeless, sage-filled, hot hillside, peering into fenced pits of petrified wood.
We soon skedadled out of there and on to our campsite in Vantage. The afternoon was spent getting accustomed to the gusty winds, seeking shady napping spots, and gazing at the scenery. Hard to ignore the 5-mile hill just across the Columbia. Hmmm. A breakfast burner for sure. All of us ate dinner at Blustery's Drive-In. After re-securing tent stakes, it was time to sleep.

Day 1 - June 23rd - Seattle to Easton

Finally. The beginning of the adventure. How will this dream unfold?

Kobi was a brave and kind soul, rising at 5:30am to make me a plate of buttermilk pancakes and some strong coffee. What a thoughtful send-off! It fueled me for miles, allowing me to focus on the path ahead.
David and the boys had conducted an undercover project during the weekend prior, assembling trail mix bags for each Rider, complete with a bike quote and well wishes to everyone. David brough them to the start and gladly thrust them into the hands of each Rider Some were startled to be receiving a gift before even getting out of the park!

By 7am, most of the Riders had assembled in the small park space at the UW. Daniel (our Ride leader) explained some basics - how to get out of town, etc. - and a few other ALA people made statements, noting our fundraising accomplishments. After the speeches concluded, in clusters of 3 or 4, we rolled out of the park, along the Burke-Gilman trail, heading north.
As this was a section that I know quite well from local training efforts, I carefully passed some of the Riders who were taking in the scenery. The route, out to Marymoor Park was familiar to me and I took it at my own pace, using a few alternate route segments. The weather was perfect - no threat of rain, and not too warm. Very little wind. I met a couple of Riders (Ash and Pauline) along the way, and others at the rest stops at Marymoor, Snoqualmie Falls, and further along the way. Douglas, Bob and I rode together for awhile on the 13 mile I-90 section, and then Bob and I continued on our own through the cool and shady Denny Creek segment. We stopped at the summit at a pancake house, as we saw a couple of bikes outside. Chuck and Tony had stopped to re-fuel. We agreed that some regular food was in order. A hot roast beef sandwich hit the spot! Paid the bill and headed out for another I-90 stretch, of 20 miles to Easton.

Riding along the highway was very challenging and sapped my concentration. There was frequent traffic of massive vehicles to my left, and hazards in my path on the shoulder. In-between: the dreaded rumble strip. A rumble, when muffled by the constitution of your car, is one thing. When experienced on a bike, it can be tortuous. The intense vibration can disorient you: what in the heck just happened here? Am I having some kind of seizure?
And then you realize that you are in the rumble zone. Just latch onto whatever wits have not been shaken out of your head and gentle steer to the right. At this point, your concerns about running into bits of re-tread, their concealed bundles of wire that hunger to infest your tires, shards of glass, various parts of belts and fasteners from trucks, and other mysteries of the shoulder, are no longer an issue. You just want to stop the vibration.
Bob and I made good time to Easton, pocketed our shower tokens from Daniel, spied the shower truck, and found camp sites that seemed acceptable. Some Rider alums came to fix us dinner that evening, and there was more mingling around the picnic tables filled with food. The roar of truck traffic did not disapate - not through dinner, early evening, and the late hours of the night. Stumbling down the path to the bath house, nearly every Rider's face showed fatigue along with a sense of relief. The first day - long awaited - was coming to an close.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Taking the rain out of Training

Preparing for this ride has been a multi-dimensional experience. There's the time spent riding of course. Not at a race-pace. But lots of hours in the saddle. This year in the northwest, that has meant lots of time under cloudy or leaky skies. While the weather has been a key factor in training, and will be significant element of the event, there were things to do indoors as well.

Taking my bike to the shop (as I'm not much of a mechanic), reviewing the ALA packing list, consulting with other excursion cyclist friends for THEIR packing lists, fundraising, taking my bike to the shop, trying out various power foods and drinks, talking to co-workers about what I am preparing for (don't bother trying to explain the itch to cross this country, pedaling every mile), giving up on power foods and eating real food, considering unexpected events and how to ride through a new reality, wondering how I will blend in with the other Big Riders, looking at the list of email addresses of the other Riders and wondering who will become a close friend, exploring camping equipment stores and trying to limit my purchase of 'luxury" items (do I really need a collapsable mini card table?), putting off learning how to operate features on my cell phone (other than open, dial, close), putting my vegetable garden into a dormancy stage by covering it with straw (thanks to David), working with co-workers on my team to shift my assignments or put them on hold, explaining that no, I will not be riding home but get to fly instead, pondering my place in the 2008 Big Ride.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

My Friend Robert

Robert is a friend of mine with whom I work. We have gone on several rides together. (The photo above was taken at the end of the 2004 RedSpoke ride). Each of us has wanted to ride across the country and thought that 2008 would be the year that we'd be able to do it. But it's turning out that I'll ride this year - taking good notes - and Robert will jump into the fray in 2009. I'll be thinking about him as I go up hill and down, wondering what will catch HIS attention just 12 months from now.

My Family

This is a recent photo of my family. My son Daniel (age 21) on the left, my husband David (dah-veed), me, and my son Kobi (age 19, nearly 20). They have been very supportive of my riding during the past many years, coming to pick me up at remote locations at the end of a ride, listening to me announce "no falls no flats" when I return home, watching me eat more than anyone else at the table (well, maybe not more than Daniel). I could not do the Big Ride without their continued support and encouragement. I will be thinking of them throughout the journey across the states.