There are so many ways to mess-up a nice bike ride.
I was riding my first 600 km rideÖ 380 miles to be completed in 40 hours. I was excited and nervous. There were only 6 of us starting the ride. Randonneuring is not yet in the cycling mainstream in PortlandÖ or maybe anywhere.
We started out at 6:00 on a cool gray morning. We all rode together through town, from 96th & Sandy, along Marine Drive, across the St. Johns Bridge and onto Highway 30. The pace was brisk, but manageable. The cool grayness edged toward a light hint of a mist. It was one of those mists that sneekily thicken toward a shower. I finally put on my jacket, but not until Iíd already gotten a wet.
A couple people dropped off the ďleadĒ group to put on jackets or deal with flats. I call these lead groups in brevets the ďalphas.Ē They ride hard and doggedly and donít stop for anyone. In the 4 brevets that Iíve ridden, Iíve started with the alphas and then dropped off over time. This ride was no different. By about 40 miles I eased up and watched the alphas ride off.
The route took us across the Longview Bridge, which for a longtime has been one of my two least favorite stretches of road. I hated it because over itís Ĺ mile thereís just a 2 foot-wide sidewalk, an 18-inch curb, and a 3 foot-tall railing ďprotectingĒ a 200-foot drop to the Columbia River. But the sidewalk is gone now, and a nice normal shoulder is now in itís place. So the Longview Bridge is now off my least favorites list.
The route headed north into rural Washington. The control in Vader was a shuttered store in Vader. This was a problem. In brevets, controls are required stops where your brevet card is signed and your arrival time written in. A closed store means no signed card. A nice old guy happened to meander by at that point, which was amazing because Vader shows almost no activity off the highway passing alongside the town. By that time, another randonneur rode up, and our local resident pal told us about the two other stores in town. We stopped by the now main store/gas station, where our cards were graciously signed, and we rode off together.
Iíve forgotten the name of my temporary riding companion. He lives in Victoria, BC, and has been randonneuring since the 80ís. I would guess that heís 15-20 years older than I am. After riding and chatting for awhile, I realized that the pace was a bit too brisk for me and told him I was going to slow down a bit. I was amazed to watch as he just pulled away. These old randonneurs are tough!
The route went through Centralia and right past the doorstep of McMenaminís Olympic Hotel, so what better place to stop for the lunch? Jane and the girls happened to have stopped to shop in Centralia on their way to the cabin, so we met for lunch. It was a very nice brevet break/lunch.
North of Centralia and just south of Olympia the route branched westward toward Highway 101. Highway 101 in this area is a 4-lane freeway. The shoulder is nice and wide, so the fast traffic wasnít too much of a nuisance. The next control was at the Texaco gas station/food mart at the exit for Steamboat Island. As I got off the highway I saw three cyclists standing and talking to each other. I happily thought I had caught the alphas, but no, they were just three local riders. Well, at least that made sense, it would have been odd for me to catch the alphas.
Again, the Texaco control was shuttered and this time fenced, for good measure, so I had to improvise another control. Luckily, there was a market next door, and they graciously signed my card entered my arrival time. It was getting late in the day, so I put on my reflective vest/sash, put tights on over my shorts & knee warmers, and headed back out onto the road.
The route split off of Highway 101 at the town of Shelton, a small lumber mill town at the crook in Hammersley Inlet, one of five main fingers at the south end of Puget Sound. It was nice to ride along the inlet for a bit since Jane and the girls and I had kayaked there last year, except I was riding past the crook up toward the head of the inlet, and our kayak trip had gone from Shelton toward the mouth.
This was a nice pleasant part of the ride, heading towards Bremerton. Rolling hills, pleasant pavement, water and marshes every once in awhile. Arriving at the edge of Bremerton I was looking for a Cash & Dash store as my next control. I turned onto the road toward Tacoma, but soon realized that wasnít right. I then back-tracked toward Bremerton itself, but realized that was wrong, too. Finally I realized that the Cash & Dash was the mini-mart next to the Texaco where I made that first turn. You could see the Cash & Dash sign if you looked very, very closely. So I finally got to my control. It was a nice store because it was WARM. Stops are where I tend to get coldest, so a warm store was very nice.
Another randonneur arrived while I was still snacking. John Kramer hasnít been doing these for years and years like lots of the others, but heís been doing this longer than I have. Anyway, we rode off together into the darkening evening toward Tacoma.
This being a Portland brevet, we were routed on the largest possible highway connecting Bremerton & Tacoma. John & I rode together well. A State Police car had pulled someone over, and we had to go around them. The only problem was the rumble strip along the fog line. I liked the rumble strip as a barrier from cars approaching from behind, but to have to cross on a descent in the dark was unpleasant. But, after slowing to a reasonable speed, it was fine.
Passing through Gig Harbor I noticed a small sign off the road in the darkÖĒCyclists must exit highway.Ē I asked John if he saw the sign, but he hadnít. We got off the highway and noticed a detour sign and a sign on the on-ramp ahead saying ďNo Bicycles.Ē I guess they meant it.
So we followed the first detour sign and soon realized that there were no more detour signs. I had noticed off to the side a bike path with a detour sign coming from the other direction, so we decided to try that route. The path took us back toward the highway and, at itís end, had detour signs for our direction. The signs routed us around and eventually through a construction site and onto the Narrows Bridge. The bridge has a marginally-rideable sidewalk, except at the bridge towers where there are steps. It was fascinating to look down from the bridge into the lighted caissons 300 feet below being built for the new bridge. Just 5-7 miles south of the bridge, and in sight during daylight hours, is Anderson Island where Jane & the girls were staying at the cabin. I gave a wave as I passed by.
After the bridge we headed into Tacoma. It was almost 11PM and we decided to stop for some warm food while we could. We stopped at a Subway shop just before they closed. The two women there were gracious and nice, and we ate our fill past closing time.
We rode off through the quiet Tacoma streets, moving quite well. There were lots of turns, and I realized afterwards that the route zig-zagged us through Tacoma. It was fine to do at that hour, but it seems funny to be making up brevet distance in the middle of a good-sized city.
As we were getting toward the edge of Tacoma, I had this idea that I had not closed the pocket on the saddlebag where I keep my wallet. I stopped and checked. The pocket was open, and my wallet was not there. My heart sank.
What to do? I thought I had put the wallet in the pocket. John had been riding behind me and thought for sure he would have seen it fall. He has a Schmidt hub and lights, which give great illumination. But there were a couple dark descents where we would have separated a bit. HmmmmÖ Do I ride on and abandon my wallet with its cash, credit cards, drivers license, office card key, etc. to the streets of Tacoma, or do I go back and look for it. Our Subway stop was 10 miles back. The backtrack distance was manageable. The added 20 miles would make my 380 mile/600km ride an even 400 miles, but I could do that. I was pretty certain I had put the wallet away. Also, I couldnít ride back on the wrong side of the road because it would be just insanely dangerous. So I reluctantly decided to go back. John lent me some money so I wouldnít be penniless out on the road, we exchanged cell phone numbers, and parted ways.
Riding backwards on a brevet cue sheet is not easy. Instructions to turn right & left on certain roads are backwards, and I was looking at the shoulder on the other side of the road as much as I could. And street names change so the street you turn onto in one direction is not the same coming from the other direction. So I drifted off the return route a bit, but recognized a street name at one point and got back to the Subway shop without any excess miles.
Once there I turned around and retraced our original route. I slowed on the fast, dark descents, and scanned to road as best I could. Tacoma uses lots of drip tar to patch rods, so looking for a black wallet in the dark was not easy. I felt certain that it would be along one of those descents, but when I finally got back to where John & I split I realized that the wallet was gone.
Dang. Now itís 2:30AM, I have the $40 John lent me and I continue on to the next control a couple miles away. I get there, get my card signed, and chat with the 7-11 worker as I take stock.
The next section of road heads into a very dark quiet area behind Fort Lewis. Iím discouraged after not finding my wallet. After the orange juice at 7-11, I have less than $40. If I get chilled or sleepy I canít pay for a motel room. My safety margin has dwindled down to my Mylar emergency blanket because Iím already wearing all the clothes that I have. And Iím chilled like I usually am at a stop. I ask the clerk where I am (my route sheet doesnít include a full Tacoma city map), and realize that Iím just 10 miles or so from the ferry landing for Anderson Island, where Jane & the girls are staying at the cabin.
I decide to abandon and head toward the ferry landing. The 7-11 clerk shows me how to get there on a store map. By this time, I know the streets of Tacoma pretty well, so I ride straight there. Itís 3:30 when I get to the ferry terminal. Itís a small county ferry, not a big Washington state ferry, so the terminal is a small building the size of a little cafť. The next ferry is at 7AM. I lock my bike, wrap myself in my Mylar blanket, and settle onto a bench for some warmth and rest, so to speak.
I wake at 6:30. The county ferry shares the dock with the ferry to nearby McNeill Island State Penitentiary. A shift change of guards is milling around as I peek out from my soggy (on the inside), crinkly Mylar shell. Mylar blankets do their job, but just barely. I called Jane to tell her Iím coming across, and she met me at the ferry.
So, I abandoned my 600km brevet. I had ridden a total of 260 miles, about 400 km, by the time I got to the ferry. 40 of those miles had been criss-crossing Tacoma. I felt good and strong, so it was frustrating to stop. It turns out that I had left my wallet at the Subway shop. When we eventually got home, it turns out that the nice folks at the shop found it shortly after we left and called my home, but no-one was there.
I could have resumed the ride, but I was now on the island, with family, and had lost my focus for the ride. Dang. My wallet will now be deep in my saddlebag in a pouch tied to the bag. Iíll keep a little cash separate and accessible. Itís amazing how such a little thing can mess-up a nice bike ride.
But on the bright side, thereís another 600km brevet in 3 weeks being organized by the Seattle rando group. The ride is in a beautiful region of Washington State. Iím planning to do that ride so I can complete my first brevet series, and because itís fun to do these long, long rides, in a perverse sort of way.