This seemed like the perfect first 300k: similar venue to my first 200k in Whatcom County in Northwest WA state, perfect 70 degree weather, a challenging 5000′ climb to Artist’s Point between Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan, and mostly flat after the first 100k. Sounds doable, and even fun. I hadn’t done a longer ride (more than the 13-mile commute home) since a 40-miler on the 1st of June. I rode a total of 80 miles the week before in 4 days of commuting, so I was half-way there, but I was still feeling a bit under-prepared. It didn’t help my mental state when the ride host, Dan Turner, said that this was a “harder 300k”. Hmmm. Still, I had a goal of doing a 300k this year, and this looked to be the best shot.
I took some randoly advice and drove up to Bellingham the night before and camped out in his yard. Didn’t sleep much, though – kept drifting in and out of sleep in anticipation.
At 6:00am, I got up and had some coffee, donuts, and eggs that Dan and his wife prepared for the riders. I loaded up on Mojo bars and jerky, and filled my bottles, and we promptly set out at 7am. The first 20-30 miles went fast, and I rode with the main lump of riders at a pace of about 20mph. It was fast, but I felt good, and it was nice and easy holding in the peloton.
Into the Eastern Sunrise
This was a pretty serious bunch of Randonneurs. Of the ~20 riders that started, many of them were veterans of years of 1200k’s. There were 2 or 3 of us that were also first time 300k’ers, with one gal, Mandy, who had just joined RUSA and SIR the night before, and was doing her first rando event.
As we neared the mountains and got into the first bit of the foothills, the riders started spreading out, and from that point to the top, I never rode with more than one person for short stretches.
Into the Hills
The bike was riding well, and everything felt spot on. Things I was slightly concerned about going into this ride included:
- Seat Comfort – I had put on the Selle Anatomica the week before the ride as it was great on my last 200k
- Shoes/pedals – I had not put more than 20 miles on my new Sidi Spiders
- Tires – would the well used Cypres go the distance?
- Brakes – how well would the Paul Racers stop on the long descent down from Artist’s Point?
- Food/Water intake – could I deal with a 17-hour day in the saddle?
I had checked some of the times that SIR riders with similar 200k times had done on earlier 300k’s to give myself an idea on how I should expect to do. They seemed to vary from 17-19 hours, so I of course figured I would shoot for 17. This would bring me into home base around midnight. I was also motivated by the promise of burgers and beer, and midnight seemed a bit late, but not too late for dinner 🙂 I really thought that getting up the big climb quickly would keep me in the time, and this proved mostly true.
Climbing into Beauty
Final Few Switchbacks
After some 30 miles of climbing that turned knarly for the last 10 miles, I made it to the top, and some seriously great views. The clouds were starting to part, and the peaks were showing through. Mt. Baker is infamously invisible in clouds, and in normal fashion, I only saw glimpses of it on the way up and at the top. Shuksan was a bit more cooperative.
At the Top
I had a quick bite and refilled the bottles, and felt like I should really high-tail it outta there ASAP. I still had a 200k (~130 miles) left. So far so good. Now came the fun part! I love descending, and some racer boyz had ripped past me on the way up. As I left the parking area, they started their descent in front of me, so I latched onto one of them and enjoyed the ride down. All I can say is that at some point we passed 2 cars!
At the bottom, I had my first real trial of the ride. As I shifted into the big chainring, my chain stuck to the teeth and came around to pop the outer plate off my front derailleur. I had been riding quickly with a couple fellows, and stopped to see if I could fix it. I quickly surmised that I was now riding a 1×9, so I shifted it into the big-ring, made sure the plate was bent in enough to stay out of the crank/shoe path, and proceeded into the berry fields around Sumas near the Canadian border.
Berries for 40 Miles
I hooked back up with a group of 4 other randos and we rode the next 20 miles together in a tight peloton making great speed. This was the most fun part of the ride for me as we chatted and the miles flew by. One of the fellows had “questionable” shorts, perhaps a bit past their prime wear – a little too many miles on these guys – imagine the problem the yoga pants company had recently and you’ll catch the drift, so as long as I wasn’t directly behind him, things were great 🙂 The control stops were really nice, as well. We were picking up 75-cent kid’s cones, and enjoying the short rests.
After the Lynden control, I had my second setback. My knees were starting to get a bit sore, and I found that I could no longer stand up to climb without major pain in my left knee. It felt like it was swelling a bit, so I eased off the back of the pack, and rode a bit. I stopped on the side of the road to stretch out a bit, but this didn’t do much. I started thinking about the logistics of calling my wife and waiting the 3 hours for her to come up and pick me up near the border. Hmmmm – if I can just make it to Peace Arch park and get some Advil – yeah that’s what I’ll do. I had already gone just over 200k, and had about 50 miles left. I walked up a few of the steeper hills, and eventually found myself rolling into Blaine, WA. I stopped at a gas station and bought a few packs of ibuprofen and quickly took a pair. After weaving my way through the border town and reaching the coast, my legs started feeling better. I also realized I could make good headway by pulling up with my left pedal stroke, and doing the normal push with my right.
This part of the country was interesting enough to keep my spirits up, with great stretches of closed roadway and wide open fields, and distant views of the mountains I had been in at the start of the day. After getting past the coastal stretch of the ride, and starting to head back towards Bellingham, I was sure I could finish – perhaps even within my time goal. At one point, I found one of the gents from the earlier group waiting on the side of the road with a binding bottom bracket. He was out, and I felt really bad as he had put in over 250k at that point. He assured me he had a ride coming, and a short while later, I came up on another guy who was having some leg cramping. We ended up riding together on and off for the rest of the way back. At the penultimate control, I had to pick up more Advil, but having only 15 miles left, I was starting to ride on the endorphins.
Rollin’ Towards 300k
I rolled into the final control, and the end of the ride right at 11pm. All the folks I had ridden with earlier had arrived shortly before, so we all ate and chatted about the great day. I took a quick shower and climbed in my tent for some needed rest.
Verdict: I can finish a 300k bike ride, and still feel good enough to enjoy a hot dog and beer. I can climb 5000+ feet and not keel over! The Selle Anatomica and Sidi shoes passed with flying colors: The only sore parts of me were my knees. No flats or braking issues. I never bonked, so I managed my food/water intake just fine. Hmmm – this pushing the limits stuff is getting addictive. It certainly helps when the ride has tons of natural beauty, and the weather is fair!