Monday, December 24, 2007

Keith & Alex Kohan's 600K Report

Right after my son and I completed the Oregon Randonneurs 400k in May Susan France sent an e-mail to me. She wrote “Ya know... Alex has now completed what most think is the most difficult randonneuring distance. I think if he went on to earn a 600 & 300 this year he will be the youngest RUSA member to ever earn a SR....”

“SR” is the Super Randonneur award which requires completion of a 200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k (124 mile, 186 mile, 248 mile, and 372 mile) brevet in a year. It also qualifies one to participate in the famous 1200k Paris Brest Paris (aka PBP). That was out of the question for us this year because you have to be at least 18 to ride in PBP.

We hadn’t planned on doing a full SR series this year anyway. We just sort of started Randonneuring this year because it sounded like it would be fun and challenging.

Anyway, when I got the e-mail I thought being the youngest ever would be really something special so I showed it to Alex. Having just finished the 400k he was a bit leery, but soon developed a little smirk and asked what the schedule looked like for the 300k and 600k.

So on Friday, August 24th we drove up to Centralia, Washington to stay overnight and be ready to start the 600k at 6 AM Saturday. One has to remember here what it was like to be 16 years old and be functional in the morning. In order to start at 6 AM that 16 year old has to actually wake up a bit earlier than 6 AM…

So we saw everybody else leave the hotel and were able to hit the road at 6:15 or so. No matter. It’s a very long ride at 372 miles, but we have a very long time, 40 hours, to complete it. The ride was conveniently divided into a 350k out and back to the coast and a 250 out and back to just North of Mt St Helens. Both out and backs started and ended at the hotel in Centralia so we could have a decent rest break in between rides if we were fast enough. Alex was riding his dual 700c T-Bone and I was on our Calfee Stiletto with lexan fairing and full body sock.

The weather forecast was for rain on the coast and that’s exactly where we were headed. All the way down to Illwaco and back again. The return trip was on pretty much the same roads as the trip down so while we’d never traveled on these roads we’d have a pretty good idea of what to expect on the way back.

We both felt pretty good once we got going. The roads were very nicely paved for the most part, the temperature was about perfect, the terrain was pretty flat, and the bikes just seemed to want to speed ahead. So we did.

We caught up with what I think was everybody else pretty much in one group just before the first control at 20 miles. We then headed into some climbing in the hills of the coast range and our first dose of rain just past a little town called Pe Ell. It was a misty rain that suddenly stopped as we crested what turned out to be the final climb before our descent to the town of Raymond on the coast. The road also changed to beautiful smooth pavement at that point.

The combination dry roads, smooth pavement, and down hill greatly lifted our spirits and our ride into Raymond, some 26 miles, was very fast indeed.

In Raymond we turned left onto highway 101 for the trip down the coast and quickly stopped at a very convenient small rest area. Alex and I both agreed that we had done the trip so far at too high of a speed. We were averaging almost 20 mph. We agreed to ease off the pace a bit. I was a bit concerned about paying for this speed later since we were only about 58 miles into a 219 mile day and 372 mile weekend.

I let Alex set the pace when we got going again. After a few miles I pulled up along side him and asked if he really thought that reducing our speed by a half a mile per hour into a headwind was “easing off”. He just turned to me and said something like “but it feels good”.

Our troubles started just after I made a wrong turn. The only deviation from a straight out and back was a loop near the end of 101. I ended up taking us the wrong way around the loop. Same mileage, just backwards. Anyway, the trouble started with a simple pinch flat on my rear tire. About 5 miles later I made a far more serious error. I think it was somewhat caused by tiredness. But I got too close to Alex, touched his rear wheel with my front wheel, immediately lost control and went down hard. Sliding across the ground. It was on new chip seal someplace between Naselle and the Columbia River.

It was a hard crash, not an easy slide. I was scraped up pretty badly on my left calf, thigh, and forearm. Deep scratches because of the rough surface of the new chipseal. The worst damage was to my left hand. Somehow I managed to get a massive laceration on my left palm below my little finger. Lots of blood. Surprisingly very little pain in the hand but it was a very ugly wound. I was an EMT for about 6 years in New York and this ranks up there as far as ugly contusions.

Fortunately a guy in a Marine Corps t-shirt and his family stopped to see if they could help. I asked him if he had a rag I could use to stop the bleeding and he returned with some wipes. He had a car full of kids. The wipes helped a lot getting the bleeding under control and cleaning up the wound but he and his wife and my son had funny looks on their faces.

I thanked them. They left. I turned to walk back to the bike and nearly blacked out. My vision was gone, I stumbled and leaned over until the world stopped spinning. This was not good. After a bit I got on the bike. Alex said he would follow me so he could keep an eye on me.

Once we got going I felt a bit better, but I knew the hand was a major problem. The left leg wasn’t much better, but at least it was just deep road rash. I stopped at a historic site just past the bridge to Astoria and washed out the wounds. Alex suggested we go to a hospital, we had just passed a sign that said “Hospital 12 miles”, but the bleeding had stopped and I knew a hospital visit would take a long time so I opted for a visit to a grocery or pharmacy for some Neosporin and gauze bandages instead.

Our second crash occurred rather soon in Illwaco. They had ground the street down for re-paving. But they hadn’t ground the whole street down, just the center lanes of traffic. The parking area on either side of the street remained intact. So when Alex came down the hill into Illwaco and hit the rough ground pavement he immediately headed toward the edge where it hadn’t been ground down. What he didn’t see was the two inch high ledge between the ground down section and the smooth section. Down he went. Luckily he’s a better crasher than me and ended up with just a pinch flat on his front tire and some minor scrapes on his hands. He fixed the flat, got on the bike and headed back but quickly discovered that his XT rapidfire rear shifter took the brunt of the fall and would not shift. After a bit of work we got it to shift across three of the middle gears. It stayed that way for the rest of the ride.

But then it started to rain. Sometimes hard. Not cold, but very wet. It was rather miserable heading back up 101. We ran low on water and really needed something solid to eat but there’s no place to stop.

When we got back to Raymond we stopped I sent Alex to McDonalds and I went to the grocery store to get the Neosporin and gauze to fix my hand.

We spent a lot of time in the McDonalds in Raymond. Maybe as much as a half hour to 45 minutes. We were both tired, wet, and Alex was having trouble forcing himself to eat.

Back on the road with “just” 58 miles to go today we started our ascent of the hills of the coast range. We soon made a quick stop at a convenience store for Gatorade and a longer stop at the convenience store in Pe Ell to get some more Gatorade and mount the lights as it would be dark before we finished. At that point we had one more climb and only 30 miles to go.

Stopping in Pe Ell was fun. It’s a small town nestled in the hills. The convenience store is down town at their only flashing red light. As I came around the corner there were shouts from a group of pre-teens playing on the sidewalk. They started out with “wow, cool bike!” but quickly changed to “Whoa, that’s’ some awesome road burn!!!” as I got off the bike. They were real friendly, curious, outgoing and concerned the way small town people can be.

I sent Alex into the convenience store to get some Gatorade while I mounted the lights. A bigger crowd gathered including a drunk guy with a huge chain around his neck and his apologetic girl friend. More questions, more amiable conversation. Alex seemed to take a long time in the convenience store. It turns out he had gathered a friendly crowd in there as well.

I think the experience in Pe Ell lifted our spirits as we headed on down the road. All part of the stuff that makes Randonneuring special for me. It’s more about the ride and the total experience than ultra racing.

No more rain and mostly nice roads. We got back to the hotel at 8:55 PM. Not bad. Plenty of time to take a shower, relax, eat and get some sleep before starting out tomorrow morning to do the last 250k (157 miles).

We didn’t feel much like going out so made some soup in the room. Alex needs a good night’s sleep and I thought it would be a good idea to eat the continental breakfast offered by the hotel before starting out so we set the alarm for 6 AM with a plan to hit the road by 7:00.

Just before turning in Alex remarked on how swollen my left leg was. I looked down and he was right. The whole leg was swollen. He asked if I thought I could ride tomorrow. I think I told him I wasn’t sure. We’ll see in the morning.

The breakfast waffles were pretty good, but we missed the 7 AM start by about 10 minutes or so. Before we left we stopped to tell Susan France we were off. She seemed rather surprised that we hadn’t left yet and said some people had left as early as 4:30.

Overall I think we both felt pretty good until we hit the rollers on Centralia-Alpha Road, about 4 miles into the ride. It’s a nice road, but I was having a mostly psychological problem dealing with those hills.

We’d never done this route before and I didn’t run a profile of the route on my computer. But it only makes sense that if we’re heading from Centralia into the Cascades that it should be mostly uphill on the way out and mostly downhill on the way back. But the rollers we were doing included some pretty awesome descents. I hit 46 mph a couple of times without peddling. Those are descents that would be nasty ascents on the way back when we would be even more tired.

Like I said. Mostly psychological. But I went into a mode of “just finish”. Which is not good. I also started thinking we should have started earlier. The skies were ominous. Clouds covered the tops of the hills around us and it looked like rain would come at any moment. I wanted none of that. In sum, it was bad.

I don’t think Alex was doing any better. Sometimes he amazes me. I mean, if he felt as bad as I did I have a deep respect for his fortitude at 16 years of age. I don’t recall him saying anything about abandoning the ride. He just peddled through it.

We passed two riders about 22 miles into it. I really didn’t feel much like talking so we briefly rode with them and then took off. We may have actually puttered off.

We made a stop someplace just short of Morton and SR 7 to eat a Cliff bar or two.

Our overall average speed was pretty slow. Maybe 13 mph as we pulled in to the first control at 58 miles in Randle. I bought a gallon of water in Randle and made 4 new bottles of Spiz to keep us going. We mostly relied on Spiz for the ride with purchases of Gatorade or Powerade for variety. We also brought along a bunch of Cliff bars and some shots just in case. I think Alex only had one of the shots during the ride and I didn’t have any.

The turn around for me both physically and mentally that day seemed to come at the North Fork camp Ground control; mile 82. I just had a feeling that we were better than half way, and the return just had to have more downhill than up hill. It helped that our average speed had been improving so it looked like we had a pretty good cushion of time to make it back before dark.

It probably also helped that we were now, and had been since leaving Randle, in a beautiful wooded area of the Cascades and it was starting to clear up and look like it wouldn’t rain after all.

On the descent from the camp ground back to Randle the road was steep and curvy and smooth and fun!

We stopped again on the crest of the first hill on SR 7 between Randle and Morton just to stretch and eat a Cliff Bar. We were doing better but still feeling the effects of the 300 miles we’d ridden over the past two days. We agreed that we needed to stop in Morton, eat some real food and get some Gatorade as there was absolutely nothing available for the last 40+ miles between Morton and Centralia.

A solo cyclist heading east stopped to talk with us while we ate our Cliff bars. I don’t think I was very good at conversation at that point, but Alex seemed to be holding his own. While we were stopped two riders on the 600k, Peg Winczewski and Dave Read, went by. Alex and I both asked each other when we had passed them. Our best guess was they must have stopped at the Randle store.

In Morton we found a Subway at a gas station and Susan France found us as we entered the store. She said she had driven by us several times as she drove the course but I never noticed her. Alex and I split a Chicken Teryaki sub with everything on it and rejoined the world of the living. Future note: We could have done without the jalapeño peppers.

We were amazingly refreshed when we hit the road (other than the burning from the jalapeño peppers). It was clear we would finish before dark.

From Morton on in to Centralia the roads were beautiful, the scenery was fantastic, and the hills were amazingly smaller than I thought they’d be after doing them the other way in the morning. Maybe it had rained here after all and erosion had taken its toll.

Susan stopped to film us a couple of times on those great roads. Once as we creeped up a hill and again as we swooped down another. We saw her again at the junction of Centralia-Alpha road and we stopped there for a rather long friendly chat.

Susan greeted us as we arrived at the Hotel at 6:30 pleasantly tired but glad to be there. Peg and Dave rolled in 20 minutes later. I was frankly very surprised when Susan told us we were the first to arrive at the hotel. Taking stock later I recall passing the people on the list, but at the time it seemed we hadn’t.

Day 2 started bad but ended up being a lot of fun. I guess there’s a lesson to be learned in there someplace.

Overall we did very well on our first 600k. By my bike computer we averaged 18.6 mph on the first day and 16.0 mph on the second day. A total of 21 hours and 24 minutes on the bike. That’s only while in motion!

Overall we rode the 600k in 36.5 hours. And that really doesn’t matter at all. That to me is part of the fun of randonneuring. It helps take away that stressful time comparison/competition business I get stuck in from racing. I would have been just as happy if we rode it in 39.9 hours. In fact, that may have been even more fun because it would call for a sprint finish! Ooops, there goes the racing instinct again…

Best thing of course is we finished our Super randonneur series! While it hasn’t been confirmed absolutely for sure yet, it looks like Alex is now the youngest person ever to complete the Super Randonneur series in the US. Maybe even the youngest in the world? Now that’s pretty cool.

Alex is pretty excited about this and is looking forward to more of these rides. He also wants to do the next Paris Brest Paris in 2011. Me too!

1 comment:

billy said...

Excellent read.

"We spent a lot of time in the McDonalds in Raymond. Maybe as much as a half hour to 45 minutes. We were both tired, wet, and Alex was having trouble forcing himself to eat."

You deserve a reward just for trying to eat a McDonalds meal.