Friday, October 30, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Epic Post...

I'm a small-scale adventurer. An epic bike ride for me doesn't even get close to this guy, who rode self-supported across the Australian outback. But while you and I might have different "outer limits" than extreme adventurers, it is important to find, test, and push through our comfort zones. The mantra of a life lived fully is:

Do epic shit.

And this desire to do big, memorable things intensifies when viewed through the magnifying glass of Stage-4 Cancer (capital letters intentional). It's why my dad and I put other things aside whenever we can, climb onto the bike, and ride away from it all. In August, we saddled up for our latest micro-adventure; two days, 200 miles, from the South Puget Sound to Seaside, Oregon. Care to ride along?

Day 1 - Puyallup to Longview, Washington

We rolled out early from Puyallup, and decided to follow the route of the legendary Seattle-to-Portland Classic. The miles ticked off slowly at first, as we got our legs under us and battled morning commute traffic.

A couple hours later, the neon awnings of a fast food enclave were in sight. My old man is rightfully proud of his, umm... "advancing" age, and the benefits it affords. He regularly stops at Mickey D's for a senior coffee... which is discounted 25 cents or somesuch. With no golden arches in sight on this morning, Burger King would have to do. Two coffees, black (plus a crossan'wich with a side of stomach upset for me).

One of the more enjoyable sections of the day ran through picture-perfect Washington rail trail. I don't know if it's like this anywhere else in the country... mile after mile of quiet pedal turns under an evergreen canopy. But this is what it looks like here.

I love it here.

We rolled into the old railroad town of Chehalis somewhere around noon. Or thereabouts. The timing was perfect for the Olympic Club, a bowl of chowder (extra oyster crackers, please), and a cold McMenamins IPA.

Bellies just a little heavy, we were only about ten miles outside Chehalis when nature called. As luck would have it...

The countryside in this part of Washington is a study in contrasts. One minute, you can just about spit on the I-5 traffic. Concrete, steel, exhaust fumes. The next minute, after a little heads-down riding, you're here. Wood, grass, wood. Think you know everything there is to know about shingling a roof?

Shortly after the above picture was taken, we were chased by a dog. Not a friendly-stop-and-pet-me-type dog. No, this mangy bastard was off his chain, and apparently trained to kill anything in spandex (told you not to wear that stuff in public, Dad). We shouted obscenities and sprinted hard. Dad fell just a little behind, and for a moment I had the strange vision of having to stop, run back and rescue my pops.

If it ever came down to it, pity the dog.

Yes, wildlife was to be the theme of the day. Just a few miles later, we were halted by construction. 50 yards of road closure, to be exact. The machinery was silent, and about ten orange-vested chaps were standing around... considering the situation? We attempted to roll through and were promptly stopped by onesuch. No passage, strict orders.

Mind you, we could see the other side.

Ok, look for a way around. We walked up onto the adjacent property, which was run-down but obviously occupied. Cue the banjos. Up a hilly driveway toward an old fence, and then...

Mmmm... bacon. Just beyond this big fella (or lady), was a possible way around the road closure. Without hesitation, Dad went through the fence to scout, and I stayed watch. Y'know, because somebody needed to keep an eye on the bikes. I'm not afraid of giant hogs. Really!

Dad had been gone about a half-hour when the construction guys started waving me down. Seems they had a change of heart and were going to let us through. I hollered, and the old man emerged from what I would soon learn was an impassable bog of stinging nettles, mud, and blackberry bushes.

On the other side of the road closure, we stopped for a second, laughed at the lunacy of our ordeal, and snapped this...

And then, a mile or so later, stopped here so Dad could pull the thorns out of his socks...

As we rolled into Longview, the tripmeter had just ticked over 100 miles. We pushed the bikes into a cheap motel room, stepped out for nachos and a couple cheap beers, and came back to crash for the night. I'd sleep with my bike every night if I could.

Day 2 - Longview to Seaside, Oregon

The next morning, we broke from the Seattle to Portland route and headed west on Highway 4. Two lanes, a very narrow shoulder (that sometimes stopped abruptly as the asphalt cumbled into the ditch), and logging trucks on their way to the mill... it was dicey for a couple hours.

And then, damn... stopped again for construction.

When things finally started rolling, we were forced to take the traffic lane. Up a very steep hill. With impatient logging trucks breathing hard right behind us. I dropped it into the granny gear and pedaled furiously until we finally got some shoulder.

Eventually the road widened and the scenery, with the Columbia River in sight for most of the morning, was gorgeous. We rode up a mountain pass in a drizzle, and then down the other side into the town of Cathlamet.

What's that? You want a completely irrelevent story of young love? Done! When I was about 12 or 13, a family friend sailed my two brothers, my dad, and I to Cathlamet. We docked for the night and made nice with the neighbors, one of whom was a cute girl my age. I had no skills with the ladies back then (hard to believe, I know), but this girl liked me. Love was in the air, man. The end. Yep, sorry, that's it. My brother Nathan was hanging-on like a cheap suit, totally messing up my game all night, until we eventually got called in for bed.

Wow, my stories suck. Back to the ride.

From Cathlamet, we crossed a bridge and rode a few miles across tiny Puget Island. There's a small ferry on the island that crosses the Columbia to Oregon, where we hoped to jump on Highway 30. We rolled onto the dock, and could see the ferry steaming our direction. Struggling is a better word. The old girl was limping.

The ferry eventually docked and, predictably, we were told she'd done broke. We could wait for the mechanic, shouldn't be more than a couple hours. One of the first things you learn on a long bike ride is that you've gotta be flexible. Nothing ever goes just right.

Onto the bikes for the three miles back to Cathlamet and Highway 4. Were we ever here?

The temporary annoyance turned out to be a blessing. 4 really opened up and became an absolute joy to ride on.

See? Joy...

On this kind of trip it's inevitable that you'll start to talk about food. Real food. Gels and Gatorade only get you so far. Dad said "cheeseburger" and I could... yes, taste it. But where would we find a cheeseburger out here? Fuggetaboutit. Just have another gel.

And then...

I wondered if the hunger was getting the best of me. It had to be a hallucination. Not a mere restaurant, but an Irish Pub? In the McMiddle of nowhere?

We were the only customers.

The place is owned by an older couple. She waits, he cooks. At least that was her story. There was a bit of a creepy vibe, and Dad and I joked that maybe she had his old bones propped up in the corner of the kitchen. "Let me go tell Joe to fire up the grill," she says. Riiiight. "Joe".

Regardless of who cooked 'em, the burgers were delicious. And just what we needed to find some motivation.

We pedaled on through the day and fell into the staccato rhythm of the road. Up, down, flat. Up, down, flat. The miles disappeared. Up, over the Astoria Bridge, with cars and big trucks buzzing just inches from our shoulders...

And down into the Portway Tavern for a refreshment. Dad was having problems with his cell phone reception the whole trip. This is his angry face. If you ever see this, change the subject or walk the other direction...

We mounted back up for the final 15 miles into Seaside. Whether you're riding 10 miles or 100, the brain does some kind of calculation and makes the last 5% miserable. My legs were cooked. I couldn't wait to get to town and get off the seat. "Interminable" is the word.

Before heading to the campground, we stopped at a classic Seaside watering hole for a celebratory cold one. Bridge Tender. Time to put this ride in the books.

We rolled into the campground to find that Lisa, who had driven down earlier in the day, had the tents set up and a campfire blazing. A beautiful scene on so many levels. Oh and there was this.

I love this...

Seaside is one of my favorite places in the world. My Dad was postmaster here for a number of years, and even after he moved to Washington, we continued to vacation in this former-sleepy-town-turned-tourist-trap.

My brothers and I spent countless hours in the arcades downtown, back when video games were still a quarter. When we ran out of money, we'd go press our faces on the window of The Beach Club until our parents came out to gave us more loot. Now I bring my family here. And my kids pester me at The Beach Club.

And there is the beach volleyball tournament. It's the reason we came down on that particular weekend. Kind of a Seaside institution. My dad likes to brag that he only missed one - the first one - and that he attended something like 15 in a row before the streak was broken.

The volleyball was good. But this was better...

We camped for two nights, enjoyed the town, and made the best of the rain. On the last morning, I didn't feel like walking to the bathrooms, and therefore brushed my teeth with champagne. Don't ever do this. Just don't.

After checking out, we drove to Cannon Beach so I could get a new t-shirt from Mike's Bike Shop. My old one was just plain weared-out. See, it's an awesome shirt because my name is Mike. And it says "Established 1974"... and I also was established in 1974.

Brunch in Cannon Beach, and then it was time to head home...

This ride was definitely epic. Hour after hour, mile after mile, "stuck" together with no distractions. Time to talk (or not), argue, laugh at ourselves (or more often at one another), ride hard, overcome adversities, and suffer... just a little. Only two days. Only 200 miles. But big.

Big, because we don't know how many more of these we'll get.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Some people have no shame...

and I'm not ashamed to count myself among them.

Madsen Cycles is running a great contest right now, whereby a no-name, no-traffic blogger like myself might win a bike. Win. An actual bike.

But it gets better... Madsen has also promised (ok, maybe only implied via slick marketing) that the winner will be personally transformed by this bicycle. I could be that guy on the left. Beard [can't grow one], guitar [can't play], vintage amp [can't afford], trendy haircut [receding hairline], and all. Outstanding!

This opportunity cannot be ignored. Click the ad, monkeys, or you're stuck with "average mike" forever!

One last shamless plug. Madsen Cycles gets bacon...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

5,000 Steps: 2009 Portland Marathon

With each foot strike, the evil thing grows inside my legs, refuses to be willed away.

As I crown the Broadway Bridge at mile 24, I know the dreaded moment is nigh. The crescendo that has been building slowly, over some 35,000 steps, is about to arrive in a cascade of lactic acid, sweat, and tears. There are other victims everywhere now, walking. Or worse, sitting on curbs with lowered heads and deflated spirits.

How can I expect to do it if they couldn't?

I plod down the little, cursed hill on the far side of the bridge, quad muscles destroyed from what race organizers surely thought would be a "nice break". Two miles - 3000 steps - of relentless downhill. The crash is inevitable now.

Just. Give. In.

I stop running. Stop moving altogether, in fact. The plan was to walk, but I have suddenly become detached from my lower body. At the aid station just ten feet ahead, I notice a volunteer look at me and gasp, "Oh no." I'm the embodiment of comedy and tragedy. A grown adult, unable to control the wobbling sticks attached to my hips... like a toddler learning to stand. I manage to stir my feet to move and proceed to walk in tiny circles, quietly shaming myself.

"Come on. Fucking run."

And then I do. If you can call it running. I grab a water, and increase the pace of my pained shuffle until it becomes a jog. 38,000 steps now behind, the crowd grows on both sides of me and I know I will make it. I manage a smile. Run strong at the end, I've always heard, because everyone is watching. Then suddenly the evil thing returns. With searing, biting cramps enveloping my legs, I am halted again.

Two steps walking, now ten.

And then, a pat on my shoulder from behind and a runner passing on my left. "Come on, man. Let's go. You can do it." I swallow hard, start to move my legs again, and catch up with him. Dude says, "Run. Do it like you're a race leader." Wow. That was all it took. I've watched those guys on tv, and I can pretend to be one for just a few minutes. Yes, definitely! And then I heard his voice again, fading into the distance as I found another gear and passed him.

"A race leader."

And so it went to the finish. One thousand steps in race-leader form. Well, my version anyway. Through the tunnel of echoing cheers and shouts. Passing runners that had left me for dead only minutes ago. Around a corner and there, the voices I could identify in a crowd of millions, there they were... my cheering section. Homemade signs, cowbell, a sideways smile as I dig deep and kick harder.

Just ten more steps.

One more runner passed. Stomp the line. Stop the watch. Joy. Agonizing, tearful, somebody-get-this-guy-to-the-medical-tent joy.


Portland Marathon | Sunday, October 4, 2009
Time: 3:15:31 | 13mi. Split: 1:34:35 | Pace: 7:28 | Place: 366/8133 | Age Place: 82/635