Sunday, August 9, 2009

8-9-09 Hills of the West Coast Gorillas in the Mist

Miles: 77.5 (more if you did the “extra leg”) Climbing: 4000’ Route: Downtown Seattle—Mercer Island—Honda Hill Factoria—Newport Way—Issaquah—Issaquah-Hobart Rd.—May Valley Rd.—148th—Jones Rd.—196th hill—232nd—224th—search for phantom Soos Creek Trail—various roads using my nose as a compass—Petrovitsky to the east—Whoops, Petrovitsky to the west—140th—Cedar River Trail—Renton—Rainier—Seward—Downtown Attrition Rate: technically 17%, but we had some cracked riders

For six years I have been leading the HOWC, and if there is one thing I take pride in, it’s the GPS in my head. About the only time I have been lost on a bicycle was in the French Pyrenees, when I took a wrong turn near the top of a climb, and went about a mile before I turned around. Then, it was a Cycle Miles Tour GPS that led me astray; today, I just messed up.

We were planning on a nice ride out through Snoqualmie Valley, but when we got to Cougar Mountain, every hilltop was shrouded in mist. Not wanting to risk the climb up to and over the Sammamish Plateau only to find pea soup fog, we changed plans and headed south. Since we had already been well to the east, I decided to cut off the loop that I use that takes us to the very south end of the Soos Creek Trail. Without going into the morbid details, we couldn’t find the trail from 224th. But it had to be there!

Yes, we had more hairy legs in the bunch than clean shaven ones, but I was the true gorilla in the mist today. Looking at the King County Bicycle Map, I still cannot understand how the 12 of us could not find the trail—one I have been on a thousand times—that intersects 224th, at least on the map. I’m going to have to go down there by myself to sort that one out. Not finding the trail in itself would not have been a big deal, as we actually discovered some nice riding roads in the Lake Youngs area. Trying to orient myself by looking at my tiny hand drawn map sketch while riding? Well, that was my true FUBAR.

Somehow I got myself turned around (more likely I had the map turned around), and we headed the wrong direction on Petrovitsky. I have all of the many routes we use on the HOWC in my head, and I only brought a map because I had never been on 224th. A lot of good that did! Ultimately, I got myself oriented and the group back on track, and the reality was that it was actually a good route, one that I will use again on the ride.

The ride was also unusual in that for what seemed like 60+ miles of the 77.5 we did, the group was fragmented into little groups. While sometimes the HOWC in the summer flows with the rhythm of a fine symphony, today we experienced more like the staccato burst of a machine gun. The ride is advertised as Super Strenuous in the summer, and those who have been on a typical summer ride have a pretty good idea as to what that entails. We need two key ingredients to pull it off: first, we need a strong group of 4-6 (unless Chris Ragsdale shows up), to share the work and lay down the pace-making. Then we need the rest of the gang to be capable of hanging on to the wheels. On a good day, I am one of the pacemakers. On a bad day, I am one of the wheel suckers. Forget about the climbs, we can wait around a little bit and re-group at the top. What I am talking about are the roads in between the climbs.

Having to make a few U-turns to retrace our route didn’t help, but we really didn’t have a very cohesive group today. Despite not riding as hard as we usually do, after we left Issaquah, about 2/3 of the group was off the back right from the get go. Our front group was slowly rolling away from stops, etc., but in my little mirror I would see the group split almost immediately every single time. If it would have happened early in the ride, I could have easily addressed it, but by the time we were in the MON (middle of nowhere), I couldn’t just let people get lost (even more than we were). That’s just not what we do on the HOWC. If I had it to do over again, I would have called a stop on May Valley before we headed south, given anyone who wanted to an opportunity to cut loose, and directions back to the ride start if required. At that point, anyone who elected to continue with the group would be responsible for staying with the group.

Don’t get me wrong, we had people digging deep and doing their best. You certainly can’t discount that, and the way to get faster is to ride faster with stronger riders. But we also had a group (including myself) who came out to ride hard with as few interruptions as possible. We never really got into full hammer mode, as we were aware that the harder we rode, the longer we would wait.

It wasn’t one of the smoothest HOWC’s on record, but we still had a good ride. I apologize for being a gorilla in the mist and getting us lost, and I apologize for not keeping the ride focused and rolling along like it normally does.

It just goes to show that even after six years of trying to run a really consistent hard group ride, I still have things to improve upon. Some lessons were learned today, and I’ll do my best to keep them in mind as I try to make the HOWC show as fun and safe as possible.

1 comment:

Mark C said...

Tom, I didn't have time to join the ride (my wife's second birthday party started at noon). Instead, I went up Swauk on Sunday and found light rain most of the way, with pavement wet. Made that descent on the gravelly turns a little sketchy with the new bike, but the handling was sound. Zoo was OK by the time I got there, about 10 am. I have had trouble finding the Soos Creek Trail myself, so understand the head scratching. Mark Clausen