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Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Personal Best: Banks-Elsie 200K Brevet, 30 March 2013

At the start.
When I awoke at 4 am on Saturday March 30th, I had to ask myself, "What am I doing?" Staying in bed seemed so easy. But I had promised myself to ride a 200 kilometre brevet randonneuring event this year. I had gone through the trouble of taking this Saturday off, and this time I didn't even have the weather as an excuse for bailing: it was going to be sunny and hit 70F/21C or above, the warmest, nicest day of 2013 so far. So I got out of bed, showered, had a quick breakfast, and rode over Brad's house where Brad loaded my bike along with his bike and Ed's bike to the back of the car, and we drove the 30 miles to Banks, Oregon.

We arrived to Banks around 6:30, a half-hour before the start of the ride. The sun was still rising, and the morning relatively chilly. Mulling about with the fellow bleary-eyed randonneurs, I heard Michael comment on how easy this route was: an out and back from Banks westward towards the coast (and through the Coast Range) to the whistle-stop of Elsie. The first 20 miles of the route were on a beautiful rail-trail, the Banks-Vernonia. The rest on quiet country highways in Columbia, and Clatsop Counties: SR 47 to SR 202 to SR 103 and a smidge on US 26. The biggest climb (and a gradual one) would be on the Banks-Vernonia and the rest of the road would be flat to rolling.

Michael was also commenting that due to the ease of the route he might actually pull a personal best today. I knew I would be pulling a personal best: finishing the ride.
While the ride had nothing to do with this album, it's still a damn good album.
I've pulled off a couple traditional centuries, but nothing longer than that. 200 kilometres is technically 124 miles, though today's ride would be about 130. Of course, every single time I pulled a century I had been on a loaded touring bike, today I would be riding much less encumbered. 130 miles unloaded should be equivalent to 100 loaded, no?


7 am came and the riders took off. I smartly decided to start in the back of the pack, no need for all the fast riders to have to pass me. The morn was a bit foggy and ethereal and it was interesting to do such a rural ride with the world waking up around me. The first 22 miles on the Banks-Vernonia went by relatively easy and I pulled into the first control and break/food stop in the town of Vernonia. So far so good: pulling an average speed of 14.5 mph. And another first: I had done the 22 miles without stopping. Normally when I do distance riding, I take a short break by 10 miles or an hour, whichever comes first. Not this time. If I wanted to finish in the timeframe I had (13 1/2 hours for 130 miles) I figured I needed to break less. A challenge, but a challenge I figured I could meet.

It was another 20 miles to the next "stop", the Birkenfeld Store. Now the route paralleled the Nehalem River on its lazy route to the Pacific, so it was pretty easy, gradual downhill riding with a few small roller. And the countryside was classic bucolic: some farms, some houses, hills on either side, very little in the way of population. The Birkenfeld Store didn't open until 11am, and I was there at 10:30. No worries, I had enough food on me so I ate a quick snack and took off my layers as the day had finally warmed up.
Jewell Meadows

Another 11 miles to the next control, Jewell Meadows wildlife area. This area has a population of Roosevelt Elk, but I did not see any out. I did see Saddle Mountain, though. Saddle Mountain is one of the highest and most prominent peaks in the Coast Range at 3,300 feet high. While the rest of the Coast Range could be described as "wooded low mountains with not much distinction", Saddle Mountain with its rocky top and saddle shape is very much the opposite. I love seeing Saddle Mountain on my way out to the coast because I know it can be seen from the coast. It tells me the ocean ain't so far away. Alas, I wouldn't be seeing the ocean on this trip.
Saddle Mountain

From here it was about 10 miles on windy SR 103, which was my favorite bit of riding besides the Banks-Vernonia Trail. Here the mountains closed in closer, and the Nehalem River drops more than it had been in the past 30 miles of riding alongside it. 103 ends at 26 and I had to cross the busy, traffic-choked road to get to Baker's General Store, another control point and break/food stop. I was 65 miles in, halfway. And I felt pretty good. I had worried that I'd have trouble on the last half of the ride as I was pretty beat at the end of the 100K populaire I had completed two weeks earlier. But I felt like I still had a decent amount of energy in me. It made me think how much of this was all mental: my body felt tired near the end of the 100K because it knew it was the end of the ride. But here I was, 100K in with another 100K to go. My body knew that I can't be tired yet because I wasn't done.

Now it was time to turn around. The next 10 miles back on 103 were pleasant, but things immediately dragged when I returned to 202. I felt nauseated and beat. I was now going up a gradual uphill, the calm air had turned into a headwind, and that sun that felt so pleasant earlier didn't feel so great now as the temperature peaked at 77F/25C. If I was lounging in Portland,  I would find 77 awesome, summer weather. But not being used to heat after months of winter and also pushing my body to extremes, I was really feeling it. Now I started to worry about hitting the next control point in the allotted time and stressing about finishing the ride by 8:30pm.

And returning on the same route wasn't helping. I like loop routes, not out and backs. I realize that I can see things differently from the opposite direction. But while the scenery out here was overall nice (minus the clearcuts, which are always a presence in the Coast Range), it wasn't exactly spectacular. I'd be seeing the other side of that hill, the other side of that barn. I wanted, no needed, more mental stimulation.
Vernonia, 109 miles in. Moosemoose is still fresh.

Thankfully this meh feeling didn't last forever, maybe about 20 miles. At around the 100 mile mark, I had hit my second wind and felt energized and hopeful. I returned to Vernonia, 110 miles in around 5:30. I got a foot-long sub from Subway and had the notion of only eating half for now but my stomach had other plans. But man, it tasted sooo good!* The last 20 miles along Banks-Vernonia sailed by peacefully and plesantly. I was definitely tired by this point but not beat. I rolled to the end of the ride in Banks at 7:25 pm, an hour to spare. I was definitely at the back of the pack but not the last, as two other riders had not made it back yet. (Whether or not they finished in time I don't know.) Ed and Brad were waiting, so we loaded up the car and drove home.
I started the ride at sunrise and ended at sunset.

Now I can say I am "officially" a randonneur, as I have completed a 200 kilometre brevet. I have ridden further than I've ever ridden in a day, too. I've achieved my personal best on a bicycle. I'm sure I'll try another 200k at some point, maybe even a 300k. But probably not anytime soon.

More photos here.

*This is the secret to make Subway subs taste spectacular: eat them during bike tours or long-distance rides.


  1. AWESOME job,Shawn!!! I've never ridden that far myself (my longest one day ride in my nearly 40 years on earth was 100K + or --I rode the VA Creeper Trail down and back up last year,was around 66-68 miles...I thought I wa sdying :p ),but you inspire me,despite having only taken 2013's first ride last week...

    I always love reading (and dreaming) about Rando's,one day I'd love to try one myself (if my dang spinal issues will stay "unflared" long enough to train for it,sigh). Awesome job,my friend :D

    The DC

  2. Congrats on (another) personal best!

    I was interested to read about your mostly treed, rounded Coast Range mountains.
    Up here, the Coast Range is high, rugged & rocky.

    BTW- please let me know if you plan on crossing the Juan de Fuca or Georgia Straights in September (or any time): you're more than welcome to crash chez nous.

    1. Hey Rombsy, yeah the BC Coast Range is a bit more rugged than the Oregon one. And then there's that whole Vancouver Island thing.

      Regarding the island and September: Due to scheduling issues at work, I won't be touring up that way in September, and don't know exactly when I'll be back up that way. Hopefully soon enough. Details to come.

  3. Congratulations Randonneur! It's an impressive accomplishment. You almost inspire me to try the only Edmonton area 200k brevet coming up later this month. But probably not.


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