I apologize in advance for the overkill of detail, length and slew of grammatical errors that will be in this post... So many memories were made this weekend and its hard not to share.
This past weekend was the 4th Annual LIVESTRONG Challenge here in Stumptown. I decided ahead of time to take the 3 days leading up to the weekend and the Monday after the weekend off so I could attend to the things I needed to and not be burnt out for the event. As it was, I spent much of the days leading up to the event prepping a trio of bikes and attending to last minute details, requests, and meetings. By the time 5:00am Sunday rolled around, I was flat out exhausted. Having Monday available to relax looks like a stroke of pure genius in hindsight.
I started my event weekend on Wednesday morning with a double dose of riding. First a 9am club ride out of Longbottoms, followed by the 11:30 Rose City / iBike ride that meets on the corner of Sewell and Evergreen. Day ended with 70 miles, 4 major climbs, and me with a serious case of stomach cramps from not having enough food in my system. I was also having issues with my rear derailleur which made climbing fun to say the least. I spent the rest of the evening prepping the house for our guests to arrive on Thursday.
Thursday morning I attended the final All Agency meeting for the event. Law enforcement officers, medical personal, and LAF volunteers went over the organizational plan and last minute course details for the event. That afternoon our guests arrived and we spent time catching up and fitting Brad to a bike we had borrowed from a teammate in the evening. This will be the second year that Brad has come up to participate in the event, and this year he brought the heat from Arizona to go with our humidity. Fun times.
Friday morning Brad and I joined the PV club ride out of Longbottoms. It was a shakedown ride for Brad as he was getting used to his loaner. The TREK OCR he was riding was a standard 53/39 crankset with a 12-25 rear cassette. His bike at home is a triple. We laugh a bit nervously as we discuss "the climb" on Sunday's ride while on the road. I point out areas where we are going to be riding as he gets the feel of the bike. The pace floats between 17 and 21 mph and he hangs on no problem. He's trained much more for this ride and looks strong. We hit the only climb of the Friday ride and I tell him to ride his own pace. The ride always regroups at the base of Blooming Fern. I move to the front and ride with Ty and a new comer named Ray. In months past I've never been able to hang with Ty while climbing. I'm happy to be at least holding his wheel although noting I'm breathing a lot harder than him. He mocks my long sleeved baselayer that covers my UV sensitive arms. I tell him I'm channeling my inner David Millar. My rear derailleur is still chattering while I'm climbing and the new bottom bracket I had installed days before is grinding already. Note to readers, Ultegra BB + FSA SLK crankset = fail.
The regroup happens and Brad is the last one down. Climbing in the bigger gear than he's used to has strained his calves causing them to cramp. We roll back with the shorter group and make plans to hit a bike store to get a 12-27 cassette. That evening we install the new cassette, change out Traci's worn tires, and think we diagnose the cause of my poor shifting when I pull a frayed shifter cable out of the housing on my shift lever. I have enough time to fix everything, chow down a quick dinner, then run off to meet with my Ride Marshal team before the final LAF walk through meeting before the event.
The Ride Marshal meeting was something special. Every single person showed up on time and was ready to go. Although we are all volunteers at this event, the level of professionalism displayed by the PV crew was very evident. We went through the final schedule and ride groups, and I got the opportunity to hand out the special PV dogtags we had made for the occasion. Each rider and rest stop volunteer from PV had a callsign assigned to them. Like real fighter pilot callsigns, some are jokes and light hearted jabs at the recipient, while others are simply a pairing of a person to an available cool sounding name. The effort seemed to be appreciated and I had a fun time working on it with Linda. The team meeting ends in time for me to grab a beer with Carlo and Mike before the walk through starts. I make a number of last minute notes and question to address before getting the tubes and signing out the radios we'll be using. I roll into the house at 9pm, fire off some mails and crash before 10.
Saturday's club ride was a quiet affair for me. The weather was expected to be hot and the ride leaves a few minutes ahead of schedule causing some riders to scramble out of Longbottoms. I make a note to hold riders to at least the start time to avoid this in the future. I volunteered to take out the last group today, knowing that I'd be on the road for a long period of time. My group had a number of riders who were with PV for the first time today, so I was happy to make sure they had a good experience with the club. I spent much of the ride with the new folks and hoping to leave a lasting impression on them.
I arrive back at Longbottom's in time to check in with a few folks. I mentioned to Bob the issues I was having with the rear derailleur. He took a look at things and noticed that my rear cassette was pretty chewed up. Another rookie mistake on my part. At least I had all the tools needed to fix it. A final trip to the shop for a new cassette and chain and the problem was gone. After reviewing things it looked like I had about 2400 miles on that cassette since January, so it was about time to change it out. Saturday night is spent organizing things for the early departure on Sunday. I roll into bed around 10pm and sleep fitfully all night. 4:45am comes quickly.
The day I've been working on for 6 months has finally arrived. Brad, Traci, and I eat breakfast quietly as the sun rises and change into our gear. The weather report shows a slightly cooler day than Saturday, with highs getting into the 90's only after 3pm. Martin comes by the house at 5:45 sharp and we load Traci's bike on his car. The four of us head to the Nike campus as the sun breaks over Skyline.
At 6:45 a small army of PV riders decked out in the 5 generations of club and race team jerseys we've had meets outside of the Tiger Wood Center. I pass out last minute supplies and remind people to take care of each other in addition to the riders on course. As I wrap up, Roger Mast from the LAF comes by and thanks us, telling us we've set the standard for Riding Marshals that will be hard to match. There is a look of pride on the faces of the crew present. At 7:00am we head down to the staging area. A gang of black, blue, white, and red, each draped with a neon yellow marshal sash. We pause to say hi to other riders we know and ham it up for a large group picture.
My riding group for the day consists of Matt "Kiss'n" Couzens, Bryan "Meatball" Molloseau, and Jeremy "Jester" Schultz. We are joined at the line by Scott Springer who was able to help out last minute. We move from the staging area to the start line and watch the festivities.
At promptly 7:30, we are released. The sound of cleats on pedals fills the air as hundreds of cyclists shoot out of the gates many hoping to catch, and maybe ride with Lance. This is the most dangerous time of the ride. I cringe watching riders fill the road which thankfully is closed to car traffic. Washington County Motorcycles leapfrog the front group, stopping traffic at all intersections. Somehow a few miles in one of them dumps into a ditch, but no one is hurt and everyone is back on there way quickly.
My team works hard, trying to herd the cyclists to the right side of the road. We've exited the closed part of the course and cars are now on the road intermixed with cyclists. Some people heed our requests to double up and ride to the right as we make our way through the crowd in front of us. Up the road I see a lone rider riding beyond the double yellow line trying to get near the front of the pack. We shake our heads in disgust and hope a car doesn't come around the blind bend.
The first rest stop comes and goes. No one in the front group stops. A few miles down the road the course splits and the century riders are to go straight. Lance throws them a curve and makes the turn, taking the police escort with him. Shows over folks, time to pay attention to the road.
Eventually our group of five rides in a familiar cluster. We chat with the riders on the road, making sure they hydrate and all is well with them. The miles tick by and the outline of Bald Peak grows closer. A fire truck passes us going the other way, siren and lights blaring. I scan the radio channels but hear nothing, hoping the incident was not cycling related. The climbing starts in the foothills of Bald Peak, a road called Mountain Home, which is a favorite among the PV climbers. It's my first time climbing from this direction and I can see its appeal. Jeremy and I ride with a gal with a WCCC leaders jersey on up the climb. "I'm more a flatlander" she admits, but continues to grind up the hill as we pull away from her. We pass dozens of riders on the ascent. Some already pulled off into the limited shade in the area. We check with each cyclist as we pass, and all say they are okay. I silently wonder how many matches had been burnt chasing Lance.
We arrive at the rest stop and tanked up. Food and hydration are the keys to the day. I learn that a cyclist went down hard behind us and was taken away by the EMT's. Fortunately he crashed not 500 meters from a stationed emergency unit. A group of riders thanks Springer for pointing out a bad rut in the road on the descent. I radio into the command center to see if we can get it marked. Couzens makes a new friend giving up his spare water bottle to a rider who lost his after hitting a bump in the road.
Once again we rolled out, setting an easy pace up the hill and down the twisting descents that followed. These roads are Springer's playground and he picks clean and safe lines through the corners. The climb was coming.
We inevitably turned back towards Bald Peak, looming some 1400 feet above us. The sun was up and it was starting to warm. Each of us picked our own climbing pace and toiled up the hill, calling out support to each rider we passed. Eventually we string out and I could see only Jeremy ahead of me, each of us lost in the personal hell that a 16% grade inflicts on the body. My heavy breathing and rhythmic tick of my gears is the only sounds for minutes until I'm deafened by chatter over my radio. Volume needed to hear while riding at 20mph is much more than what is needed to hear at 6mph. I fumble with the volume and eventually turn it down.
The worth part of the climb passes and we make the turn on to Bald Peak road itself. A 6 to 8% grade climb feels easy compared to 14%-16%. My legs eventually recover and I pull myself up to Jeremy. Springer and Couzens are just up the road. We finally make it to rest stop 2 and are startled to learn that we are close to the first people up top. Bald Peak and the heat took a heavy toll on the riders in front of us leaving the previous stop.
We spend some time at the top of the climb, cheering on the riders making their way into the park and joking with Dominick the Mechanical coordinator. He passed us on the climb and asks what took us so long. The WCCC rider pulls in to the park with a big grin on her face. She's informed by the rest stop staff that she's the first female to make it to the top and gets a big hand from the riders around her. It's the little victories that make life what it is.
The descent off Bald Peak fast, punctuated with laughter as Springer pays tribute to a fellow club member. The five of us scream down the road brushing near 50mph. The descent was almost worth the climb. Once on the flats the strength of the group becomes evident. We pick up riders along course and soon are towing a dozen folks along the country roads. Dominick passes us again on his scooter and waves. We make it into the next rest stop a quick 25 minutes after leaving Bald Peak and stop for a taco.
Springer turns off at this point and heads back to his domain. We thank him for the help in the hills. The next rest stop is 15 miles out with the first 8 being pancake flat before entering the roads around Hagg Lake. Dominick yet again passes us as we are on road. Jeremy suggests that he moto-pace us to the next stop. We make good time and hit the rest stop shortly after noon and the pirates greet us by shooting off their muskets. Yes... the ride had pirates.
We leave the rest stop at 12:30 and make the turn off the dam about fifteen minutes later. I look up the road to the left and see a number cyclists still making their way up the first hill. On the ride out of the park we pass by three more cyclists on their way in. "Those folks are the last on the century course" I remark to others. We catch riders on Old HWY 47 and cheer them on. They pass us a short bit later when Couzens flats after hitting a ninja pothole. Its the only tire change we have that day. We pick up a handful of riders on the flats once again.
We make a unanimous decision to by-pass rest stop 7 and head directly to 8 where PV has set up shop. As we approach the rest stop all our companions save a couple from Seattle pull off. The male comments they know a good thing when they see one. Dominick waves as well roll by and we yell to him that he's slacking.
Be it by the familiar roads or the knowledge that we were almost done, the four of us ramp up the pace taking long smooth pulls at well over 20mph. On Susbauer road we all start to look puzzled as heavy rain drops randomly hit us. The sky above us is hazy, but not cloudy. Dominick comes past us for the final time and we laugh about the rain. At 1:50 we arrive in North Plains to a swarm of cheering club members. Our new friends from Seattle thank us for the tow in. Ice baths and a spray hose are a welcome sight. The next hour and a half are spent swapping stories with our other club mates and staying cool.
Brad calls from the Nike campus. Leg cramps prevented him from doing the entire 100 mile ride, but he finished with 84 and climbed Bald Peak. His progress from a year ago is staggering.
As the afternoon progresses we begin to get reports trickling in on the number of riders still out on course. The numbers trickle down until just a handful of riders are between the last two rest stops. Tired but determined riders roll into North Plains, the final oasis before their destination. Our marshal teams mobilize for the final task, to make sure all riders who want to make it in, get in.
Teams of two and three introduce themselves to these folks, and group by group they leave North Plains. Jeremy and I mount up and ride with a participant named Travis was was sagged in from the previous leg with mild heat exhaustion. The cooling temperature and rest has lifted his spirits and he's decided to finish the ride. The miles slowly tick by as we are trailed by a SAG van and an EMT vehicle. I make idle conversation with Travis, riding just behind him. He shares that he's riding for his mom who lost her battle with cancer recently. The pain is evident in his voice and how he's holding himself on his bike. 8 miles to go, then 5, then 3. Travis's spirit begins to pick up as does his speed.
We turn on to 158th and I see a rider on the side of the road with one of the motorcycle units. I leave Travis with Jeremy and check in with them. The rider had felt a bit dizzy and got a can of coke from the support cycle. The sugar was exactly what he needed. John Ohnstad, the Portland Mentor is riding sweep and arrives on scene as the rider mounts his bike.
An errant timed traffic light cuts John and I off from the rider we were escorting, and we laugh as he continues up the road. Each subsequent traffic light we miss as he doesn't and soon he's out of sight. We ride through the finish together in a shower of yellow pedals and fan faire. The volunteers at the finish look tired, but their enthusiasm is genuine. I run into Travis on the way into the Village and I congratulate him on finishing. He thanks us for the support and we part ways.
My marshal team has done its job, and many of them have made their way home. The Village is being broken down and I'm too tired mentally to look for food or the free beer that was available somewhere. Seven plus hours in the saddle and 3400 calories later, I leave my sash and radio with Linda and call it a day. As Traci and I make our way to our car the gal from Seattle stops and thanks us once again. She's showered and changed into comfortable clothes, and I try not to envy her. The drive home is quiet, and I try not to doze off. We unpack and Kirsten and Brad have dinner well under control by the time I'm out of the shower. The remainder of the evening is relaxing as we crack open some beer and eat, reliving moments of the day between the bites of pasta and chicken.
By 9:30 we are all ready for bed. The day was the result of months of planning and coordination by a small group of folks to let a big group of folks help make a difference in the fight against a disease that impacts millions. I am immensely proud to have been part of that team.