“Let the guys on the 650B bikes to the front. They’ll be ahead anyhow.” That is what the organizer of the Seattle International Randonneurs 400 km brevet said before the start. We laughed – what a change from just a few years ago when many people thought I was exceptionally strong, since I could ride such a “slow” bike so fast.
So we rolled out together, but on the first twisty downhill, Wade, Theo and I got a gap on the rest of the field. Those wide tires really do corner faster…
We sped with ease over the rolling roads along the Snoqualmie Valley. Fog covered the meadows, but above, we could already see the sunny skies.
It turned into a gorgeous morning as we made our way up north. The course went from Redmond in the suburbs of Seattle almost to the Canadian border, where it would climb the lower slopes of Mount Baker. The sun was shining, and Wade’s shadow outlines what a fast brevet bike apparently looks like these days: Wide, supple 650B tires, fenders, handlebar bag. It helps that Wade is a very strong rider who races cyclocross as a Category 2. Theo has a perfectly smooth pedaling stroke as he spins up the steepest hills without apparent effort. Both ride predictably and are good company for a long, fast ride.
The second group came into view once in a while, but each time, the terrain turned hilly, and the gap opened again. Finally, about 100 km into the ride, they started catching us. Just then, I had a flat (super-sharp glass shard). Bad luck with flats this year, two already, whereas last year, I had only one all year…
The flat tire didn’t take long to repair, and then we suddenly found ourselves on brand-new pavement, and the scars of the terrible Oso landslide came into view. Even as a former geologist, it amazes me how far the debris from a deep-seated rotational slide can travel. The headscarp of the slide was more than half a mile away, yet all around us was the debris that had covered the highway (and adjacent houses). The mood was somber as we continued our ride…
We saw the last riders of the lead group leave Darrington as we arrived, but their legs were fresher from a longer stop, so they slowly pulled away from us. We enjoyed the lightly travelled backroads, including the wonderful Sauk River-Concrete Road (above).
In Concrete, the climbing started in earnest. The road that leaves the valley is incredibly steep, especially after having ridden a spirited 180 km. We saw the lead group struggle on the slope ahead.
We had agreed beforehand to walk the steepest stretch. It was good to stretch our legs (the slope is steep, perfect for a calf stretch). The brisk walk kept our heart rates up, but our cycling muscles were well-rested as we reached the top. The lead group was out of sight – riding is a little faster even on a hill this steep.
Our strategy was to use our well-rested legs and power over the stair-step climbs toward Mount Baker, while the lead group would struggle after exerting themselves on the steep climb.
It didn’t take long until the lead group came into sight. Our strategy worked exactly as planned. As we surged past the other group, several riders tried to jump on our wheels, but they later told us that their legs indeed were tired.
The competition between the two groups is friendly – in fact, several of my best friends were in the other group. The competition serves mostly as an incentive to keep riding hard as we chase each other around the course. It’s a game, not a fight. It helps us excel at what we love doing: Trying to cover the course as fast as possible.
For the time being, we were distracted by the scenery. My camera had a hard time capturing Mt. Baker in the mid-day sun, but the view was truly outstanding.
We appreciated a brief rest at the control that was staffed by the SIR organizers, then plunged back into the valley. We battled terrible headwinds on flat roads (a most demoralizing combination), saw the other group briefly at the last control, and then rolled at full speed with a nice tailwind. No photos from this portion, since we were working hard, with smooth, efficient pulls.
When we reached Snohomish, we calculated that if we kept our speed up, we might finish the brevet in less than 14:30 hours. That became our new goal. (Four years ago, I finished in 14:52…) Here we are waiting for a red light near the finish: Like the rest of us, Theo looks a little tired, but none the worse for wear.
Just as the last light was fading, we turned into Mark Thomas’ driveway and completed the ride. Our official time was 14:27 – not bad for a challenging 400 km brevet. It showed what a well-matched team can accomplish. Thanks to my riding buddies – it was a fun ride!
Postscript: After an hour of recovery and socializing, we headed back to Seattle under an almost full moon. It was a magic ride and a great way to finish a wonderful day.