September 27, 2017

September 2017: Badwater - White Mountain 24hr Attempt

        California’s geographic diversity is unrivaled. The Golden State is home to the nation’s lowest point, in Death Valley, and the highest* point, Mount Whitney, and everything in between.
The proximity of Badwater Basin (282 feet below sea level) and Mount Whitney (14,505 feet above) is surprising; the two are less than 100 miles apart. They are in fact close enough that one can see both locations simultaneously (Dante’s View), or even visit both on the same day.
This same-day visit is the inspiration for my attempt. The Whitney area is off-limits to bikes, but there is a sister peak, in a parallel range, that provides rideable terrain up to its 14,252’ summit. Nowhere else in the country, perhaps even the world, can you ride a bike through such a vast range of elevation in a single day. The net gain of 14,534’ is the most I’ve found in my research. Admittedly I haven’t proved this, but I propose that the ride from Badwater (-282’) to White Mountain (14,252’) is the largest net gain possible to traverse by bike in one day. Edit: as of October, I've found a larger possible contender, but it will have to wait for another time.
The challenge is simple: start at the bottom, ride to the top, in under 24 hours.
*Among the 48 contiguous United States. AK has higher.

Start here
The goal is obviously to complete the challenge, but also to push myself beyond my limits and test my mettle in the face of a daunting, if not impossible, endeavor. The idea of setting a national record, and a type of ‘first ascent’, is very appealing. The bragging rights would be precious, but secondary to the personal satisfaction of completion.

Death Valley
The route choice is simple. The easy* way is to ride pavement from Badwater, north through Death Valley, west across two mountain ranges, north through the Owen’s Valley, and continue to where the gravel begins, 187 miles later, at 10,000’ elevation. From there, continue north on rough undulating gravel until the path reaches the summit, at mile 210.
*There are no easy ways, but any shorter route would likely be slower, as the desert is mostly dirt.

Desert twilight
        People always ask Why?, but I don’t have an answer yet. George Mallory famously said about Mt. Everest, when asked why he wanted to climb it, “Because it’s there.”
Perhaps it is that simple, but there are other elements to my motivation. Expanding on my goal, I want to examine what it means to reach a breaking point. I know that during the attempt I will experience a time of regret, of despair, of broken will, and finally a desire to quit. I ask myself, what happens when you hit the ‘wall’?
Lastly, I rarely attempt things with uncertain outcomes. It’s time to take a risk and see what happens.

Early miles
While planning, I ride. To harden my legs and mind, I compete in bike races, join long group rides, and endure much solo suffering. Hill repeats, flat track laps in the dark, rides at 100 degrees, others at 30, and double days add flavor to my training.

Darkness approaching
       Death Valley is famous for its heat. An air temperate of 134°F was once measured, the highest ever recorded on Earth. As if the ride isn’t long and steep enough already, it begins, quite literally, in the hottest place on Earth.
On the other end, White Mountain gets a full dose of winter snow, and chilling cold winds even in summer.
The attempt must fit into a narrow weather window that includes the melting of high-elevation snow fields, warm (above-freezing) summit temperatures, cool (under 100) desert nights, clear skies, and if lucky, calm winds throughout. By observing historical weather data, the best chance for success comes in mid-September.

       The forecast for Sept 15, 2017, is perfect: 100 in Death Valley, 30 at White Mountain, clear skies and calm winds.
5:45pm, I begin. Over smooth roads, with minimal traffic, the first few hours are wonderful and exciting. My teammates ride with me, in alternating sections.
8:30pm, I hit the first climb, a five thousand footer up to Townes Pass. Similar to my training, I suffer the climbing alone. Still fresh and confident, it feels easier than expected. Riding uphill in the dark is an unusual experience. The road becomes a treadmill, with no sign of progress. I am stationary, while the pavement spins beneath me and disappears behind.

Night climbing
       10:30pm, I reach the summit ahead of schedule, to find the team fast asleep. It’s the first speed bump in my plan. I was hoping for a smooth transition, with food, water, headlamps, and a bike change. Instead, my mind races and the clock ticks. Another sloppy switch after the descent leaves me frustrated: a waste of time, effort and patience. The first negative thoughts creep in as I begin the second climb shortly before midnight.
12:45am, I dip into regret. The wind shifts, swirling through the canyon, buffeting my helmet as I ride the treadmill. The miles crawl slowly and my impatience only exaggerates the difficulty. I round a corner to see Brandon in the middle of the road, dancing. He joins me to ride the last few miles of the climb. Like steeping tea, his energy radiates and fills my cup. We summit with smiles and continue into the night.
3:00am, David pulls me through the flats, but it feels uphill. The wind will play tricks on you, like Winnie the Pooh. Friday becomes Windsday and for hours and hours and miles and miles, the wind is relentless.
Dark-thirty, despair. The plan is breaking, the transitions are lazy, the wind is my nightmare, food is repulsive, and the whole thing is complete shit. We pass a 24-hour casino, where I visit the restroom, put a quarter in the slot, and walk out lighter, fresher, and ready for another dose of suck. Rule V.

Dawn despair
       Sunrise-ish, flat tire. Hit a staple. Suck. Twilight pulls the heat from the air and the temperate drops 10 degrees. Shiver.
7:45am, we limp to Big Pine and I have my first serious doubts about the attempt. The headwind has cracked my optimism. Even the effervescence of Brandon and David can’t fizz my drink. We’re behind schedule, my legs are jello, my whole body shudders at 45°. My will is bleeding. Soup, oatmeal, fruit, drinks, and warm dry clothes stanch my decline. Dave proves to be an excellent cook. Nobody ever made a meaner Cup’o’Noodles.

Soup salvation
8:15am, Tyrel makes his mark. He has been mostly in the background for the first 12 hours, riding only a few miles, sleeping much of the night. But now he shows a skill that the rest of us currently lack: the ability to quietly listen. He absorbs my complaints, my excuses, and stoically reflects what I no longer see: strength and determination. Whether he says anything or not, his message is clear: get back on the bike.

Smash it
8:30am, refreshed, renewed, and out of the wind, I turn and face the final grade. I smash the first pitch, a paved climb from 4000’ to 7,500’. I am invincible. Onward, upward, I continue, stomping the pedals. Nearing 10,000’, I pass two motorcycles who give me a whoop and cheer. “Almost there,” I say. They respond, laughing, “The Hell you are!”

Pavement's end
Noon, where the pavement ends, mile 188, there’s a crowd of people who have glimpsed the attempt. They gasp at the 18 hours already served, and ponder the difficulty of the remaining miles. We’re a little behind schedule, but it’ll go. “Good luck,” they say. We continue, this time with confidence.

Last meal
2:30pm, only ten miles later, I crest a nasty pitch, 18% grade says the computer, and see 200 flash on the odometer. The effort is taking a cumulative toll. Lack of sleep, food, water, energy, makes everything wane xcept desire. It’s hard think clear. My rests longer. More. Ffocus! I bail and walk a technical spot, pushing my bike. Through all the dirt and rock, Tyrel is there, still listening, providing strength by example.

Two hundred
3:30pm, after countless false summits and infinite horizons, White Mountain finally comes to view. A rush of emotion hits me. It’s the first I’ve laid eyes on the target. After twenty hours, I can actually see the finish. My chest shudders and my mouth is instantly dry. We reach the locked gate below Barcroft Station and hastily load packs for the impending cold.

White Mountain
         4:00pm, the Wall. It has arrived, and it’s built of stone and cemented by wind. I never expected to drop at mile 205, but I can’t pedal fast enough to stay upright. I weakly stand and slump on the bars. The 1/2 mile to the station looks impossible. I walk. Push. Close my eyes. Stumble. Stop. Remount and pedal for… as long as I can… a minute? I dismount and lay where I fall, in the dirt. Alone and overwhelmed. Moments later the team arrives and I break down. Food! Water! Warm clothes! Give me your pack! Optimism! Support! But all I can do is sit and cry. I have bonked. I am broken.
5:00pm, the ride is over. There’s still some daylight, but the clock spins faster than my wheels. The four of us crest a small ridge and drop into the last depression before the final summit ramp. In other circumstances it would be a stunning place to watch the sun set across the peak, but today, in this high valley, all I feel is low. It is time to quit.

End there
5:45pm, I am racked by shivers. The agony of defeat is heightened by the cold wind. My emotions spill, my composure falters, I am barely able to mouth the words, I’m done.
I stop the clock, wipe a dirty mitt across my cheeks, and take a single photo of the foreboding peak. With a final glance, we turn. Downhill. I can’t look back.

Last look
        It’s easy to see mistakes in hindsight. Besides being fitter, faster, and tougher, the most room for improvement lies in efficiency. Much time was wasted on poor transitions. With better planning, I could have saved an hour or two.
        Also, I struggled to eat enough calories throughout the climbs. Food simply didn’t taste good and it was hard to force it down. Riding at an energy deficit can work for a few hours, or even ten, but at 24 hours, my body couldn’t continue.
Despite the perfect weather forecast, the headwind was an unexpected adversary. It slowed my pace by 10-20%, which when considered over 90 miles from Panamint Springs to Big Pine might have cost me an hour. The mental fatigue of an eight hour headwind also contributed to my overall degrade. (No excuses, right? Rule V.)
Lastly, if I had a chance to change one thing, I would have started the ride earlier. I was so committed to a 24hr limit that I didn’t leave enough room for plan B. Starting a couple hours earlier would have given enough time to fail the 24 while still reaching the summit for a successful* attempt.
*I made the rules.

Next time
        I certainly accomplished some of what I set out to do. I pushed well beyond my previous limits and experienced each of the predicted phases between regret and the wall. While I ran out of time to break through the final wall, I was able to negotiate the preceding low points. Most of the rebounds were mental boosts provided by my teammates, but other sparks came from food, clothing changes, and music.
The attempt did set some new personal bests: 207 miles, 13,000’ net gain (21,000’ total). These are impressive, but I think I can do better. When the snow melts, I’ll return for attempt number two.

       I am indebted to Brandon, David, and Tyrel for their tireless effort to keep me going. Their aid-station teamwork was invaluable, but their mental, verbal, and physical encouragement was priceless. I also owe thanks for the photos of this attempt, as seen above.
      As Warren Miller says, "hope to see you next year, same time, same place."

September 28, 2016

September 2016: Cycling the Northern California Coast

The Team
Nate and I are finally competent touring cyclists. We’ve ridden over 1000 miles, camped a dozen nights, and learned a few bike repair skills. We’re no experts, compared to the riders we meet along the trail, but we have a system that works for us. Instead of the usual day-by-day play-by-play, I hope the following stories will be more interesting.

The Route
Our 2010 ride finished at the Oregon-California border, and our 2014 ride began in San Francisco. We did Washington last year, so the route choice this year is easy: OR/CA to S.F.
It happens to be the longest section of the coast, at 465mi, which takes 7 days at our preferred pace. It also has the most elevation undulation, at 30,000’ of gain. The route follows highways 101 and 1, and uses surfaces streets and bike paths wherever possible.

Off the highway. Route finding.
The Preparation
A long adventure often requires some suffering. In cycling, it’s a badge of honor, something to brag about, to go for a sufferfest. Your ride is too long, too hot, too hilly, too hard, and your butt hurts, your legs cramp, your neck aches, and it’s completely miserable until the end, when you get to tell everybody how much fun it was. Wait, what? It wasn’t fun during the ride, but it was amazing afterwards? That’s what we call Type II fun.
To prepare for a Type II adventure, it’s best to practice a little Type II fun. I rode my bike 40 miles uphill, from 600’ elevation to over 6000’, on one continuous climb. Near the very summit, the ride downgraded to Type I/II, where it was still uncomfortable, but the stunning views put a smile on my sweaty face. The downhill was Type I fun, the whole way down. That’s where it’s fun throughout and you never want it to stop.
I did a few of those rides this summer, including one monster in Washington with Nate. There’s an event that Rides Around Mount Rainier in One Day: RAMROD. It’s 150mi with 10,000’ elevation gain. Nate did one short ride beforehand, but mostly did it ‘off the couch’. It was a 10-hour pedal, with a few lunch breaks in between. We got tired at the end, or maybe closer to the middle, but we finished with smiles, despite my route error that cost us a few miles and some hills near the end. For me, it was barely Type II, but I think Nate might disagree. He did, however, climb Rainier the following day, up above 14,000’. Off the couch to a 150mi ride and a 14k summit? He’s Type Two Tough.

RAMROD was in July. It was Nate’s only training for the September tour.

Rainier in a day.

The Gear
My steel touring bike is a beast. It’s strong and tough and hasn’t had a flat tire in 1500 miles. Still, it’s heavy, and the route has enough hills to warrant a gear diet. I slough as much weight as possible, including the front panniers, my fenders, most of my camera gear, and, of course, half of my clothing. Two shorts, two jerseys, three socks, one set of pants and shirt for camp, a puffy coat, a rain coat and a warm hat is all I need.
Okay, three pair of socks, for those keeping score. Also, if I'm desperate, I can turn my chamois shorts inside out and it counts as a fresh pair. So that’s really four shorts. Only kidding, I only do that trick with underwear.
People often ask, “how much does your bike weigh?”

I answer, “Enough.”

Importantly, and gratefully, Nate does bring bike lube this year. We both use it on Day 2 and are squeaky-free the rest of the trip.

Heavy enough.
Just add more grease and call it good.
It wouldn't be an adventure without a broken spoke or two. It's so easy now it's hardly noteworthy.
The Logistics
The OR/CA border is not an easy place to reach. From my house, I use Uber, a plane, a taxi, a shuttle, and my pedals to get to the starting line. Seven days later, I use BART, Amtrak, and a car to get home. Nate’s travel is similarly full of planes, trains and automobiles.

Here, and now: lunch.

The Weather
Picture your perfect day on the northern coast. It starts cold with a bit of fog, but rises to t-shirt weather as it burns off by late morning. It’s warm in the afternoon, the skies are clear and the wind is gently at your back. In the evening, it’s cool enough for pants, and at night you are happy and warm in your 30-degree down bag. You wake with the sunrise, dry.
Copy-paste that day 6 times and you have the weather from our ride. Perfect. Picture perfect.

Sea meets sky.
The Food
It’s the usual fare of freeze dried bags of salt and carbs, Clif bars, dried fruit, trail mix, bagels and butter. The best addition to this tour is the abundance of local bakery treats. Cinnamon rolls, blueberry buckle, cheesy pastries, they all taste amazing, and make our backpacker snacks inedible by comparison.
If you’re in the market for some trail food, avoid anything Kashi. Even when famished, the Kashi oatmeal is cardboard and the trail bars are as delicious as sand, only drier.
One highlight of the food this year is Nate’s version of backcountry potatoes. We find a market that would sell us a pint of milk and an individual stick of butter. He adds the whole stick to our serving of instant mashed potatoes, despite the recipe calling for only a couple tablespoons. We steal salt and pepper packets from a salad bar in town and use them to make the best camping potatoes you’ve ever seen.
Of course we plan our market stops to coincide with camp, so we are able to have cold beer and chips, as usual, each night. This year we add cheese and crackers to our post-ride routine.
We sample local beer from breweries in Brookings, the North Coast, Mendocino, and add some Rainier Beer to reminisce about the previous rides we’ve completed.

Butter, with potatoes.
Tastes even better after a long day.
The Camping
Count the number of friends who’d share a two-man tent with you, for a week. For me, it’s actually not that many. Now, drink a few beers, devour a bag of chips, a block of cheese, add a backpacker just-add-water meal and a variety of other processed foods and wait for your stomach volcano to vent it’s sulphur gases into the tent. Count the number of friends who would share with you now. My number is down to one, but I bet yours is lower. And just to be clear, not even my wife would share that tent with me. As you’ve guessed, Nate is the one, the only. Since he ate from the same menu, we sleep with the rain fly off, to avoid suffocation.
Besides the tent, we share just about everything else at camp too. One night, we even share a shower. We don’t shower together, per se, but we take turns because we only have enough quarters for one shower. He takes the first two minutes, then hops out, while I run in to get the last two minutes.
You might wonder why we don't just get more quarters. That’s fair, but each night we do get more quarters, and each successive camp requires more quarters than the night before. Day 1 is 25¢ for a minute. Day 2 is 50¢ for two minutes. Day 3 is four quarters for five minutes. Day 4 is eight quarters for five minutes. We prepare ourselves to skip the shower on Days 5-7 because exponentially increasing quarters become very heavy.

Camp in the 'Woods.
The People
We meet some wonderful cyclists on the route. Some are solo, most are pairs, and all have grand stories to share. Across the board, everyone has more ambitious trips than ours. Some are riding the standard route, from Vancouver to San Diego, a mere 1857 miles, ho-hum. One pair from France had ridden from the Cape, through Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru, then flew to the States to ride another couple months. Another pair from England rode most of Europe, then Boston to Vancouver, then south to CA, and next they’ll head to Japan and New Zealand and then southeast Asia before pedaling home. Another couple from Switzerland on a recumbent tandem, which I’ve never seen before, is riding from Alaska to Argentina.
These riders are inspiring and their stories pique our imagination for further and farther adventures.

End of the day.
The Riding
It’s a challenge to put 465 miles into a sentence. It’s accurate to use the words long, hilly, beautiful, and amazing, but it’s insufficient. I should add the words pain, fatigue, and endless, but also exhilarating, breathtaking, and saddle sore.
It’s too easy to say you had to be there, so I’ll highlight the most memorable miles.

Navigating the hazards of road construction.
Looking at a 2000 year old tree takes perspective, in more ways than one.
On Day 2, we ride nearly 90 miles, finishing on the aptly named Avenue of the Giants in the Redwoods National Park. Simply exiting the highway and dropping into the shade of the Avenue is a special moment. The trees envelop me instantly. It’s a different world: cool, dark, quiet, and calm. The trunks grow inches from the gently winding road. I could touch them if I wanted, and I do. I stop for a snack amongst a few fallen logs, but the mosquitoes drive me back to the bike, where I find the experience to be better anyway. Removing my helmet, glasses, and gloves, I glide down the Avenue, just me and the trees.
Camp arrives too soon and we realize we missed our chance at cold drinks. We ditch the gear and ride 4 more miles to the next market, to grab a few beers before closing. We drink the beer, and guzzle the satisfaction of how far we’ve come. Literally, we’ve come 170 miles in two days, but figuratively we’ve come further. We’ve reached the point in our cycle touring that even after an 89 mile day, six and a half hours of pedaling, we still find it worthwhile to pop on down the road 30 minutes for a cold drink. And chips.

The Avenue.
The middle Days, 3-5, blend together in the metronomy of rolling hills. The pedals turn and turn, a geared metronome. Each small hill repeats the previous one’s monotony. Pedal hard up a hill, ease the effort over the crest, and glide down the other side. Find a rhythm and hold it for hours, then days.
I start doing math, because, well, why not? Let’s see here, we’re doing about 50 miles today, and we gained about 5000’ in total climbing. That’s about the same as my last Type II ride where I pedaled 40mi and gained 5000’. But then I realize on this day our net elevation gain is actually zero, because we start at the coast and end at the coast. So, for every mile of climbing, there’s about a mile of descending, which means we climbed 5000’ in only about 25 miles of uphill. That’s 4% grade, average. Most riders consider a 4% hill pretty stout, even if it’s only a mile or two. Try it for 25 miles, with a bike that weighs enough and the only way to get through it is to tune the metronome and embrace the monotony.
The last tip is to never pedal downhill if gravity will do the work for you. Whenever possible, sit back and coast the Coast.

Left, right, up, down, but never flat nor straight.
Day 6 stands alone as my favorite day of touring, ever. We eat the last of our breakfast, except for the Kashi birdfood, and pedal into the morning light. Usually me knees complain for the first hour of the day, until they remember that I don’t care what they have to say. Today, though, they only whine on the first pitch and remain silent the rest of the day. The rolling hills and steep cliffs resemble Big Sur from the past, but I’m stronger and tougher and now relish the metronomy. Light traffic, smooth roads, wispy fog, and a tail wind. The riding is as good as it gets. But then, it gets better. Nearing the summit of the day’s route, we break through the fog and the road gleams ahead of us. It’s a downhill from the Alps, winding banking turning switchbacks with the sun at our back and the ocean in front. We swing down the grade, braking around blind corners but otherwise simply leaning in and holding on, gravity’s passengers. On a straightaway, the urge to fly is irresistible. I release the bars, straighten my back and my arms become wings. 30mph and the only thing wider than my wings is my smile.
The rest of the day is the beautiful tone we know so well. Up down up down up down….
We can’t find a restaurant for our last night, which is one of our touring traditions, so we buy canned food instead, knowing darn well we have no can opener and not enough fuel to cook it. We do it anyway. We scavenge an opener and get to work. Pinto beans, corn, avocado, tortillas, tomatoes. The stove burns for three minutes before it putters out. We slap together our medium-warm burritos and it’s the best dinner of the week.
While eating we enjoy the company of two French cyclists. They passed us earlier in the day, on a bus, skipping the first few hours of the day’s riding. One mentions seeing a rider flying through the descent, arms wide as wings. The non-cyclists on the bus were panicked, but the French invented wing suits. Their envy is palpable. I’ve rarely been so proud of myself.
We collect a heap of quarters and prepare ourselves for an $8 shower, since it’s now 25 quarters per shower. I step in and test the knob. Hot water. Zero quarters.

Riding the fog B.D.E.
Coastal cliffs B.D.E.
Another B.D.E sunset.
The Numbers
I’m obsessed with numbers, and planning. Nate is somewhat the opposite. He lets me do the planning, he doesn’t have a bike computer, he doesn’t know how fast we’re riding or how far we’ve gone, he doesn’t know any more about the route than the signs on the side of the road. Only at the end of the day does he ask, ‘How far’d we go today?’ It’s a refreshing attitude, to just show up and be ready for whatever happens. I’d like to incorporate more of that into my own life, but right now I have a spreadsheet of times and distances to share. So first, the stats!

Garmin GPS computer.
Day 1: 85 miles, 6:33, 12.9 mph ave, 4,700’ elevation gain.
Day 2: 88 miles, 6:37, 13.4 ave, 3700’.
Day 3: 48 miles, 3:47, 12.6 ave, 3100’.
Day 4: 62 miles, 4:50, 12.8 ave, 4500’.
Day 5: 72 miles, 5:17, 13.6 ave, 5100’.
Day 6: 66 miles, 4:51, 13.5 ave, 4900’.
Day 7: 33 miles, 2:46, 12.1 ave, 1500’.

The precision is untrustworthy, and my other GPS app has slightly different numbers, so I round to the following totals:
465 miles, 35 hours, 13 mph average, 30,000’ elevation gain.

Best Day Ever.

August 28, 2015

August 2015: Cycling the Washington Coast

     Last year's CA Coast ride taught us a few things. First, 100 miles per day, with major elevation gains, is too strenuous. 70 is a more reasonable distance. Additionally, our fitness is insufficient for such long days. We need to train for our touring. Lastly, our bikes are not well suited for heavy touring. A stronger steel-frame bike is better.

     Considering these points, we plan to ride 350 miles from the USA-Canada border to Astoria, Oregon, along the Washington Coast, in five days. We'll average 70, with a couple longer days, and one short one to finish.
     I've never been one to train for adventures. I simply let each adventure keep me in shape for the next. This year, it's different. I begin riding in January, starting at just 15 miles, mix in some 30 minute runs, and slowly work toward a riding fitness level I've never before reached. By May I'm riding 250 miles per month. In July, I push it further, and farther. I ride a 40 one week, then a 60, then a 40 in Tahoe (6000'+ elevation), then in early August, I add a 75 in the mountains, then 70 around Lake Tahoe.
     After 1300 miles on the bike, another 150 running, and stretching every day, I finally feel ready for a tour.
     Remembering the struggle of a beaten down bicycle, broken spokes and bad pumps, I update my gear. I start with a new touring bike, and add a few tools to the bag. It's a heavy set-up, but strong, stable, and sturdy.
     Let's ride!

Day 0: the night before.
    In contrast to me, Nate hasn't been training, and hasn't even repaired his bike from last year's breakdowns. We find his wheel is still bent and missing a spoke. It's too late to have it repaired, so we'll ride until we find a shop.

Day 1: Bellingham, WA, 7:00am.
    We load the car and then notice a flat tire. The irony can't deflate us.

     Blaine, 9:00am.
     We straddle the border before we head south.

     Bellingham, 11:30am.
     We find a bike shop to repair Nate's wheel while we treat ourselves to a celebratory lunch. If we're going to break down, might as well stop at the brewery for cold beer and hot food. Soon enough, it's time to ride.
     Mounting my camera on the bike, and using a remote trigger, I capture photos while we ride.

     Deception Pass, 5:00pm.
     We cross the Deception Pass bridge, and just outside the State Park, we find a market with beer and ice cream.

     At camp, we spread our food pile and eat a delicious freeze-dried dinner (just add boiling water!), supplemented by peanut butter and nutella, of course.

     Beer in bottle-cage, we ride the short distance to the beach where we catch up on the events of the past year, and enjoy a Pacific sunset.

Day 2: Deception Pass, 9am.
     With only 70 miles to ride, there's no need for a pre-dawn start. We hit the road at our leisure.

     Soon enough, however, we hear a sound we all now recognize: Crack-ping-ping-ping-ping... Without looking, I know Nate has lost another spoke. I pull over and wait for him to walk his bike to the grass.
     Using our new tools, we disassemble the wheel, replace the spoke, pump the tube and true the wheel. We're getting good at this.

   Checking the clock, we hustle the last few miles to Coupville, where a ferry will take us across the sound to Port Townsend. We're the last to load the ship, just in time, and we eat while we can: peanut butter bagels, jerky, dried fruit, trail mix. It all pairs perfectly when we're hungry.

     Port Townsend, 12:30pm.
     I tell Nate that we need to stop in a bike shop, get our tires to full pressure, buy more spokes, and see about perhaps replacing his rear wheel with a stronger one. We locate PT Cyclery, and owner Bob Chung acutely describes our situation. In regard to Nate's broken wheel, he says we're "using bandaids when we should be performing surgery."
     Lucky for us, Nate is now a surgeon. The unintentional joke is perfect. We laugh together, tell stories, share experiences, and somehow we convince Nate to buy a new wheel (against his wishes). Our mutual interests in cycling create an easy camaraderie, and after many stories, Nate's wheel is ready to roll.
     He doesn't seem too happy about the forced purchase, but I am smiling ear to ear.

     After 20 miles on the new wheel, we stop for snacks, and he's much happier.

     Dosewallips State Park, 5:30pm.
     Throughout the trip, Nate and I discuss future adventures. Mountaineering and cycling are tops on the recent list, and Mt. Rainier has our full attention. It's only fitting that we stop near camp to buy Rainier Beer, and chips. Definitely chips.

     We claim a beautiful site under the trees, split a few thousand calories of chips and beer by the river, and then eat a full dinner.

Day 3: Dosewallips, 9:00am.
     Typical of the northwest, the morning is foggy and damp. It's not raining, but the roads are slick, and cars kick a cold mist into our faces. We're still having fun, enjoying these easy miles along the Hood Canal.

     We stop in Hoodsport for first lunch, where a stranger gives us sandwiches. We eat bagels and peanut butter (again), fruit, avocado, jerky, a donut too!, and our mouths still water at the sight of deli sandwiches: chicken salad for Nate, and pastrami on rye for me.

     After lunch, we depart south again on Highway 101. It's the same road we've traveled in Oregon and California, but only now on day three does the traffic in WA start to resemble that of the previous rides. Trucks pass closely, cars whiz past, but the shoulder is still wide, so we don't worry.

    We veer onto back roads after an hour, to avoid traffic. It's bumpy, but empty. We stop for snacks in the shade, then push 20 miles into a headwind.

    Elma, 3:30pm.
    The visitor center is a welcome sight, or maybe a welcome site. The shaded picnic table is just what we need, because it's time to eat again.

    Lake Sylvia State Park, 5:30pm.
    Our schedule is easier this year. We finish riding in time to buy chips and beer, enjoy them among the trees, then prepare another full dinner, and get to bed before 10.

Day 4: Lake Sylvia, 9:00am.
     It's cold when we leave the lake, but it warms when we see the sunshine in Aberdeen. Snack time is only mildly diminished by the smell of .... um, let's just say the old concrete structures make a nice place to...uh, ... well, I'm grateful to have toilet access on these bike tours. It's apparent that not everybody has access.

     Bay City, 11:00am.
     I've never eaten oysters. I like clams, calamari, and other seafood, but the prospect of sucking the slime out of a shell, raw, just isn't my preference. Nate disagrees, and we stop at a shack to buy a half-dozen shots of cold goop.

     He insists they're great.

     I'm skeptical, but I'll try it. I vow to eat two.

    What a mouthful. It's cold, salty, but with hot sauce, and damn, it's a huge mouthful. Wow.
    Nate tells me it's two oysters per shot, and they're large, so slow down and eat 'em one at a time.

    I finish my 4 (two cups of two, I guess), and leave the remaining 8 to Nate.

    I imagine an ice cream bar would taste better.

    Yes, much better. We need to find ice cream, soon.

     Tokeland, 2:00pm.
     We stop in the shade for another snack, since we haven't eaten in at least an hour, and find a patch of blackberries. We forage for a while, then continue on our way.

     Raymond, 3:00om.
    We stop for water, and finally find ice cream bars to satisfy my craving.

     Bush Pioneer County Park, 6:00pm.
     We arrive at camp, shower, and celebrate our last night of the tour by going out on the town. We always eat out the last night, and tonight's choice is easy. There's only one restaurant in Bay Center: the Dock of the Bay.
     We say we're looking for fish 'n' chips and beer. The bartender replies, "we have all three of those."

     There's still a bit of light, so we rig the slack line. Nate is chipper, energetic and coordinated.

     After 85 miles, a huge dinner, and a couple beers, my slack line skills are lacking.

     We meet another group of cyclists, heading down the coast to the Bay. The three are touring for a few weeks before school starts. They're young and fit, and with a tandem bike, they ride fast.

Day 5: Bush Pioneer, 8:00am.
     We depart before the tandem, but they catch us within an hour. They're beyond fast. They haul ass. They fly past us, and we drop into their slipstream. We chase for a half hour, before pulling off for a snack. We're ahead of schedule, riding down wind, and if we stayed on their tail, we'd be to Oregon 3 hours before our support vehicle arrives.
    We take the last 20 miles at an easy pace, stopping for early lunch and to enjoy the scenery of the Columbia River. We see the Astoria bridge stretching in the distance. It's over 4 miles across, and it marks the last miles of our 2015 trip.

    The bridge is the crux, with no shoulder, a steep hill, heavy traffic, strong winds, and distracting views, but we pass the Entering Oregon sign and descend to town, where we park the bikes and remove our cleats one last time.

    We celebrate our success at another brewery, with more beer, more fish, and more chips.

     Our 70 mile pace was just right. We were tired each day, with sore bums and stiff legs, but we weren't as completely drained as last year.
     My fitness level made the riding easier too. I still had mild knee pain on the steep ascents, but nothing like the Big Sur hills in 2014. It was a hard ride, but my legs have recovered in only a couple days. Last year, it took quite a while before I wanted to even look at my bicycle.
     After replacing Nate's wheel on Day 2, we had no further mechanical problems. It's amazing what proper equipment can do. There was a bit of noise in my crank, and a rather annoying squeak in Nate's drive train. It reminded me of a flock of parakeets, trapped inside a beach ball: a high pitched sing-song of confused and upset birds. Next year, I'll bring some chain lube, as Nate probably won't fix it before the next tour.

Route Maps
Day 1: 70 miles, 5:18, 13.3 mph average, 3500' elevation gain.
Day 2: 70 miles, 5:01, 14.0 ave, 4500' gain.
Day 3: 78 miles, 5:59, 13.0 ave, 4600' gain.
Day 4: 86 miles, 6:13, 13.8 ave, 3600' gain.
Day 5: 44 miles, 2:56, 14.9 ave, 2300' gain.
Total: 348 miles, 25:25, 13.7 ave, 18,500' gain.