“Pre-Riding” the 600 km Brevet

Last weekend, Ryan and I were fortunate to have glorious weather for our “pre-ride” of the Seattle International Randonneurs 600 km brevet. A “pre-ride” is done by the ride organizers to make sure the route sheet is accurate, instead of relying solely on sometimes-erroneous maps and outdated satellite images: Bridge out? Road construction? Only cafe out of business? We try to make sure that the roads are passable and that the ride can proceed as planned.

We met at Ryan’s house on Saturday at 5 a. m., then headed out of town on familiar roads. After 50 miles, we reached Enumclaw and started the official 600km course.

Many randonneur brevets stick to main roads, both because that makes the rides easier to plan and because it simplifies navigation on the road. But would you ride on the highway if you knew there are roads like this one just a few blocks away? Preparing the ride, we spent some time with maps, both online and on paper, to find alternatives to the main thoroughfares.

We had organized this ride in the past, but we needed to make some changes, because a road in Mount Rainier National Park would be closed. So we had added a little jog to Carbonado to get the full 600 km distance. The historic saloon in this old mining town was still closed, so Ryan toasted with a bottle of Ensure Plus instead.

We also added landmarks to the route sheet. If you know that the left turn on Johns Road is at the cemetery, you’ll be less likely to miss it.

We found a few surprises – one road on the online map was only a right-of-way, but not an actual road. Having a map on hand of the area allowed us to plot an alternative route over this lovely backroad. The pavement wasn’t the smoothest, but what a road! It rollercoastered through the forest, and we were reminded once more why we love 42 mm-wide, supple tires.

The few times when we did venture onto the highway, we were reminded that it was Labor Day weekend. Traffic was heavy, but drivers were courteous (with the exception of two middle-aged ladies in an SUV who honked and yelled at us). Another lady who flashed a beautiful smile at us as we passed on a steep climb more than made up for it, though!

Views like these of Mount Rainier remind us why we enjoy living around here.

The small, sun dappled Tahoma Canyon Road near Ashford was a nice respite from the highway for a few miles.

On these backroads, you discover little gems that fill your heart with joy. Which child wouldn’t want their own little lake, pirate ship and teepee?

We arrived at the historic Longmire Lodge in Mount Rainier National Park for a very late lunch – just before the kitchen closed to transition to dinner.

Fortified with the great veggie wraps, we started the climb to Paradise. In the background is the Nisqually glacier, covered with boulders. A century ago, it still reached all the way to the bridge.

I love this climb to Paradise, because you really see the results of your hard work. Just minutes ago, Ryan took the photo at the bridge that now lies far below him in the valley. The cars that are crossing it are barely visible dots.

Mount Rainier no longer is in the distance – we are on its flanks!

Paradise is at the tree line, and the views on this clear day were spectacular.

Fifteen minutes of exhilarating descent later, we returned to Longmire for dessert. From there, we followed a “secret” path out of the park that led us to the wonderful Skate Creek Road. We rode through Packwood and Randle.

Just after 9 o’clock, we started the climb to Windy Ridge on Mount St. Helens under the full moon. How do you make sure nobody misses the unmarked turnoff onto Forest Road 26 in the middle of nowhere? Ryan is updating the route sheet with the exact distance and landmarks.

It was a full moon, and on the steep climb, we were working hard. After 3.5 hours of climbing, we reached Windy Ridge. We got a great view of the volcano in the moonlight, and could see Mount Adams in the distance, so bright was the night.

Clouds were moving in, and on the descent, we dove in and out of blankets of fog, often with visibility of only 20 m (60 feet). We took the slightly more-travelled Forest Road 25 on the way down, because Forest Road 26 has many patches of gravel. Even so, we worried. Was it wise to send randonneurs down that road during the dark night, considering the many dips and bumps, as well as inch-wide cracks in the pavement where the road has settled? Not everybody has 42 mm-wide tires. Not everyone has a buddy with them to make sure they are alert instead of dozing off to sleep… In fact, we only kept going because we wanted to get to lower elevation before stopping.

At 3:45 a.m. we finally arrived at the bottom of the big climb. We stopped at Iron Creek campground and went to sleep.

Surely you can imagine how much we enjoyed a hot breakfast in Randle after a night spent on the road and in the forest.

After more backroads (see the photo at the top of the post), we started our day in earnest with the ascent of Cayuse Pass. Taking photos after sprinting ahead on this climb isn’t easy – you end up in the wrong spot with a tree obscuring the mountain.

After another descent, we took a little detour to White River Campground, where we placed some stickers that randonneurs could put on their control cards as proof that they had been here. That way, we would not need a volunteer waiting at the control for many hours during the event.

Highway 410 from Rainier toward Seattle was full of traffic on this Sunday afternoon, so we lifted our bikes across the gate and took the “secret” abandoned logging mainline instead.

There is a whole network of gravel roads to explore here which are closed to general traffic. Some are disused and overgrown, others remain in great shape. We’ll have to come back to add to our collection of roads! (We also need to investigate how access to these roads is handled, to make sure we are not trespassing.)

Just after 10 p.m., we arrived back home in Seattle. We were lucky to have such glorious weather, but we decided not to route randonneurs over Windy Ridge at night. The official brevet next weekend will be on a different course. For anybody who wants to attempt this course on their own, we recommend an evening start that puts you on Windy Ridge during daytime. Parts of the preliminary route are available here and here.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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43 Responses to “Pre-Riding” the 600 km Brevet

  1. James F. Duncan says:

    Wonderful & beautiful account!

  2. Sean Ransom says:

    I was wondering who the guys were that had the nice bikes and big tires that were coming down from iron creek around 7:30am when I was heading up. Usually do not see people coming down that early :)

  3. Doug in Seattle says:

    I’m fairly sure the logging mainline along SR410 is part of the White River tree farm, which as of 2012 requires an expensive permit for even non-motorized access.

    Enforcement is contracted through the Fish & Game wardens (I think), so it’s likely very piecemeal. Probably a rider or two could get away with it easily, but an organized ride may want to think twice.

    However, that section along the highway may be in public forest. I haven’t looked at a map.

  4. mike says:

    what kind of bike is ryan riding?

  5. djconnel says:

    Cool stuff! A nice advantage of the increasingly widespread adaptation of GPS while cycling, in particular the Garmin Edge series, is that route designers can embrace more complexity without fear of riders missing turns or otherwise getting lost. Orienteering is fun, but if a degree of course complexity which had previously been considered excessive becomes reasonable, it improves the quality of organized events.

    • I can see the advantages of GPS in urban and suburban environments, where route finding can be very difficult without local knowledge. (We once had a brevet go over the I-90 bike trail, and out-of-towners were confounded by the many directions on the route sheet.)

      Out in the mountains, most courses aren’t very complex – there aren’t many roads. You climb Windy Ridge, and you have 4 turns in 72 miles. Two are T-junctions, so you can’t miss them, and one is a turn-around where the road ends. Only one is a potential problem, but if you know it’s after the bridge across the river, you won’t miss it. A bigger problem is that the digital maps and the real world don’t always agree.

    • Andy says:

      I love having a GPS available for exploration rides. I’ll pick out a route from home, and go find out if it’s actually passable. Usually I stick to the route even if that means potentially bushwacking or walking across a stream for a bit to make the connection, rather than ride back out and around 10-20 miles to get to the other side of a long lost road.

      I also like having the log of where I’ve been. I overlay all my routes together and see what spots seem more empty, and try to explore those places next. I could probably do the same with paper maps, but it would take a bit more time, and is not a simple and easy to share with others.

  6. Andy says:

    Wow, that looks amazingly beautiful! Kind of makes me want to drop everything and head out west for another brevet. Great write up, Jan.

  7. Fred Blasdel says:

    That old logging mainline road isn’t abandoned and they’re quite serious about the “permit required for entry” which went into effect 1/1/2012: https://hancockrecreationnw.com/white-river/about/about-white-river

    You only get one chance to avoid a huge fine, they’ll copy your ID and put you in a database for if there’s a next time. Every single entrance is signed like that or worse, they’ve gone to lengths to keep people from having any plausible deniability. White River isn’t as tightly patrolled as their Snoqualmie Forest, but there’s still a 24/7 private guard and multiple daily trips through by USFS and WA DNR officers under contract.

    If you look on the map, everything between 410 and the green-shaded FS land is private. The only legit ways in are the FS roads 73, 74, and 75. FS-7400 along the West Fork White River is gated as it’s got three big washouts but is very bike friendly. The northern bridge shown on the map is utterly destroyed, and the southern one has both approaches washed out. Slightly to the south of that (47.04656°N, 121.69317°W) there’s a planked log bridge with hand ropes but that may not survive next spring.

  8. JPI says:

    Hi Jan,

    Just au question: did you ever use a cycle computer on your bike? It seems you don’t need it. Why? For an aesthetic question (doesn’t look great on a classical bike)?

    • I used to have a computer on my bike. I found it of limited use for most riding, and the wires tend to get tangled and dislodged. Before PBP 2007, I took it off to ship the bike, and when I reassembled the bike, I didn’t put it back on…

      • JPI says:

        To avoid any problem with the wires, I actualy use a Garmin Edge 500: I just put it on one of my bikes and ride. This computer is a GPS one, but without any map.

  9. Peter says:

    Ok, maybe it’s comfy, but do you guys actually SLEEP with your helmets on!!?!!

    • I’ve been giving Ryan grief about this for days now. I don’t know what his wife says about his sleeping with a helmet. I actually tend to take off my helmet even during short stops – you’ll see it dangling from my bars in almost all the bike shots. I think Ryan was quite tired by the time we went to sleep!

    • Ryan Hamilton says:

      Jan was merciless in his ridicule of this sleeping “style.” After viewing this picture I can certainly understand why. What a sorry sight!

  10. Joe Kendrick says:

    What do you call the paint color of Ryan’s bike? It’s very pretty against all the blues and greens.

  11. Ely says:

    Absolutely beautiful. Thank you for this wonderful write up full of stunning pics.

  12. Living my entire life east of the Mississippi I cannot fathom climbs (even the relatively lower gradient western climbs) that last for hours. Of all the climbing I’ve done few have taken longer than 40 minutes on pavement. I have done one that took over an hour, but three? Oi!

    Well written and concise report. Having read your ride reports before I can only imagine how well you would do in Crush the Commonwealth. It’s essentially a 600km alleycat across Pennsylvania.

    • Mike Edmonds says:

      3.5 hours of climbing! Do you have any idea as to the average grade?

      • Well, it’s not all uphill – there are a few short downhill sections. From Randle to Windy Ridge is about 30 miles, and Randle is at 892 feet, whereas the highest point is at 4380 feet. According to this web site, the total climbing is 5767 feet, but the rider seems to have taken the longer, less steep Forest Route 25, which also has fewer downhills and thus less climbing.

        If you started in Randle, you could do it a lot faster than in 3.5 hours, but we already had a few miles in our legs, and more to go. During our Cyclos Montagnards Challenge, we were in better shape and climbed it in 3:09 hours…

    • John Duval says:

      I recall some friends of mine used to do an anual ride to the top of White Mountain in California. The ride started in Biship at 4000′ elevation and climbed continously to 14,000′. Most of them took about 13 hours to reach the top. Gearing of 22t front and 34t rear was par for the course. There was no sag support and you had to bring all food and water.

  13. Tim Bird says:

    Gosh – a great ride with some splendid landscapes. Thanks Jan. Like other folk it makes me want to head on out in search of adventure! Here in the northern U.K. it’s been a gloomy wet summer so far but now at last, on the cusp of autumn, the weather is settled and fine. I’m packing my bag…..

  14. Paul Ahart says:

    After my Sigma computer died during the Spring 200km brevet near Bellingham, causing me to get lost and come in after hours, I got a Garmin 500. Love it, except its battery only goes for about 18 hours. For longer rides one would need a charging gizmo tapping the power of the dyno hub. Yet another expensive challenge.
    Jan, really a terrific tale of the ride by you and Ryan. Your endurance is amazing. I’m looking forward to the Fall 2012 BQ issue and the story of the Cascade 1200.

    • On this ride, we needed to establish a route sheet for other riders. We know these roads, so there isn’t much risk of our getting lost. In fact, not having a GPS means that we develop a mental map of our region and are less likely to be tripped up by GPS malfunctioning or unexpected road closures.

  15. Beans says:

    I have a feeling this pre-ride was better than “the real thing”! At least it would have been for me…

  16. william says:

    excellent report, Jan.

    I am curious; what sort of tools and spares do you typically carry on such rides? I am always trying to improve (and lighten) my emergency kit and like to see what others carry.

    • Between the two of us, we had four spare tubes and a spare tire. We didn’t need any of them – wide tires get few flats, even though we rode through quite a bit of glass on the shoulder of the busy highways. I also carry a spoke wrench and two small Mafac hex wrenches. I carry three spare spokes (two rear, one front).

  17. Theo Roffe says:

    For a portion of the SIR Spring 600K this year, which went around the Olympic Peninsula, Jan and I were riding together. He would look at his cue sheet, look at his watch, and tell me what time we would reach our next cue. Even with my cycling computer, I wasn’t able to anticipate the upcoming turns with his level of ease. Add to that my habit of nervously looking at my computer to check and re-check my speed and distance and Jan’s lack of a computer stops feeling like lack at all.

    I believe that Jan’s method of using a wristwatch and cuesheet for navigation is discussed in a Bicycle Quarterly article: Training Tools from Stopwatches to Coaches (Vol. 5 #2) (correct me if this is the wrong article, please).

    After the Spring 600K, there was a lot of online discussion about the cue sheet. Specifically, riders were very happy with clear directions and accurate distances. Jan and Mark’s emphasis on landmarks and accuracy of cues is important, especially on a challenging route which would require most riders to ride at night. I know from personal experience that missing a turn (or even a control!) due to misunderstood cues can have very disappointing results.

    • It was fun riding with you on that ride. I am not sure I have written an article about navigating by time. There isn’t much to it – you know your speed, and the cue sheet tells you the distance between two turns. So it’s simple to calculate your ETA at the next turn.

      I think the BQ article you mentioned mostly talked about heart-rate monitors, power meters and other “essentials.” In the end, a stopwatch is all most riders need for focused training.

      • Theo Roffe says:

        Your memory is probably correct. The key detail that I remember seems to have been from the SIR Google Group discussion about that ride anyway. You wrote:

        “These days, I only navigate by the “leg” distances, and I don’t use a
        computer at all. I know my speed, so I look at the cue sheet and
        figure that x km takes about y minutes to ride, so in y minutes minus
        10% I start looking for the turn.”

        The most difficult aspect seems to be knowing your speed without the computer. You’ve talked about that before, too; if you know your gearing and your cadence, you can figure it out. It takes a little more thinking ahead of time, but it’s nice not to be staring at a screen while riding.

      • The most difficult aspect seems to be knowing your speed without the computer.

        I have to admit that I rode for more than a decade with a computer, so perhaps it’s just that at some point you progress beyond it, since you know your speed. It’s like a heart-rate monitor – after training with one for a few months, I could predict my heart rate within 5 beats without looking at the monitor, simply by how my body felt.

  18. Rick Harker says:

    One of the things I like about this ride is the high quality of images you show. It come at a time when I am looking for a quality travel camera for bike travel.
    Could you tell me the camera you are using please?
    .

    • I use an older Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3. It’s great for still shots, but action photos are challenging, because like most small digital cameras, it is very slow, especially when you set it to a high resolution. The upside is that it’s still carryable, unlike a bigger, faster camera. On some trips, I still use a Nikon FM film camera, which takes wonderful photos at any speed, but of course, you have to transfer it to digital, which adds a few steps in processing and loses some quality.

      • Richard Harker says:

        Thanks Jan. One of my finalists is a Panasonic LX7. Looks like it may be my choice.

      • Andrew Squirrel says:

        @ Richard, I’ve been looking at the LX7 as well but I’m not completely sold based on the fact that it doesn’t have a automatic retractable lens cover. When taking action shots one handed while cycling the auto lens cover on my G10 (too large for cycling use) is perfect. I am just worried the LX7 lens will get all scuffed up going in and out of jersey pockets or Rando Bags constantly. I do realize there is an aftermarket screw-on auto lens cover but I am just worried that it will have sub-par performance and durability.

      • I like to ride no-handed from time to time, so the lens cover isn’t a problem. However, be careful when taking shots while riding…

      • Karl Amadeus says:

        Having used both digital and analog, the perfect “on the ride” camera for me is the yashica t5. It has a great lens and you can take it out of your jersey pocket onehanded and just shoot. The programm is biased for a fast shutter speed, so you can even take pictures while riding your bike without camera shake. 38 pictures should be enough even for the most “epic” ride and if you really need more a film can really isn’t that big. It’s weather sealed and lightweight.
        The picture quality is, thanks to the amazing zeiss lens, way better than your average point and shoot digital camera and it’s “full frame” like the professional DSLRs.

        In the end it’s a matter of personal preferences and I have to confess I’m kind of an analog geek. But these late but great point and shoot cameras from the 90ies (Olympus Stylus Epic!!) are imho on par with modern technology when it comes to shooting while riding.

        Talking photography, I’d really like to read an article about bicycle photography in BQ (or on this blog) since it looks easier than it really is.

  19. xtiannaitx says:

    Great report! I, too, ride without a computer. I have made it through two SR series, and part of the Cascade 1200 before needing to bail, all rides in between, without getting lost. (This is not to say I have not missed turns; I have missed a few here and there. But these have all been errors on my part; a computer won’t save me from not paying attention or stop me from talking with friends while we whizz by a turn!) I have used a computer but it was often crapping out on me or giving me info I did not care about. I simply don’t see a computer (I’m not talking about a GPS) as a navigation device. Rather than looking at the computer to see how far I have to go I look at the cue sheet, get the next cue, estimate how long it will take, and then simply look for the road sign or landmark noted on the cue sheet in an appropriate amount of time. For me, this is no more complicated than having to always be looking down at a computer.

    Thanks, as always, for the great blog.

    –Christian

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