Friday, June 18, 2010

Oregon Blue Mountain 1000 Brevet

Ride Report
June 2010
Steve Atkins


One of my ride goals is to return to the Paris-Brest-Paris 1200 in 2011. Due to the increasing popularity of the ride, and randonneuring in general, the organizers in France have indicated they may somehow limit the number of riders (there were over 5000 starters in 2007). The event is held every four years. While an exact formula has not been finalized to establish each country’s ‘quota,’ there are two things an aspiring 2011 participant can do to increase their chances: 1) ride a full super-randonneur series (200, 300, 400, and 600 kilometer brevets) and 2) complete a 1000 kilometer brevet in 2010.

I completed the Casa Grande super-randonneur series this spring and was looking for a 1000k event. At the same time, Debby has been helping out her mom in Oregon with many trips to Coos Bay. She noted the great scenery, abundant riding and said I should look for a brevet in Oregon. Instantly I was on the RUSA (Randonneurs USA) website and found the Oregon Blue Mountain 1000. I signed up immediately! It fit perfectly into the summer schedule, and Deb could visit her mom while I did the ride.

I arrived in Portland, collected my bag and bike box, picked up my rental car and headed toward the start at the Motel 6 in The Dalles, Oregon. It’s only a 45-mile drive, but it was packed with great views of the Columbia River Gorge. I stopped at the Bonneville Dam, Generating Station, and Locks about halfway to The Dalles. I was surprised at the security checkpoint before proceeding to the dam. Once in the compound, the security check made sense. The access road is directly adjacent to the generating station. There was no boat or barge traffic in the locks, so I wandered around, took a few pictures and headed down the road.

I checked into my room at the Motel 6, assembled my bike, and was soon on the road for a little ‘shake down’ ride to make sure every thing was working on the bike, and to ride the first few miles of the course. I headed out, with a great tailwind, thinking I shouldn’t go too far since the return will be into the wind. When I crossed the Columbia River about 7 miles into the route, I decided to head back to my room and find a dinner spot. When I spun around, I had my first of many views of Mt. Hood!

Just outside of town I noticed the HiWay House restaurant. Kind of dumpy on the outside, but the parking lot was full, with lots of dirty pickup trucks, so I figured it was a prime target. Bingo! It was a great pre-ride meal with local brew, great chicken pesto pasta, and homemade bread. Even complimentary peppermint ice cream. The HiWay House has been in the same family for many years. At one time the founders lived in the apartment above the restaurant, my server told me. They have long since passed away and the children run the place, but she is convinced the place is haunted. All I know is was a great place to enjoy a pre-ride meal.

I stopped at a convenience store to pick up a chocolate milk (for breakfast) and Coors ‘Tallboy” (for a nite-cap) and returned to my well-appointed room at the Motel 6.

Day 1: The Dalles to North Powder

The ride start was 7 am in the registration parking area of the opulent Motel 6. I checked in and chatted with a few of the other 25 or so participants. We rolled out right on time and by the time we crossed the Columbia River a small group of riders formed at the front and I decided to bridge up and join in. We were at the first control; 57 miles in three hours. While we were moving fast, it was very evenly paced.

Our group was out of the first control in Roosevelt (mini-market) and back on the road in no time. We continued at a very even pace in a double pace line. The course was following the Columbia River upstream, winds were calm, and the temperature was perfect. We were in the next control at the Umatilla Tesoro Station in another three hours. 107 miles in six hours is a great pace.

I did a quick reload of my water bottles (with Sustained Energy) and downed a chocolate milk and was ready to go. Three of us left the control and headed out of town. As we climbed out of the river flood plain we were greeted by an annoying headwind. As the climb started I dropped back and let the two other riders go and started the 60 mile climb to the next control at Tollgate Pass at my own pace.

The ride went through very interesting farmland. A good portion was following a creek upstream in a deep ravine well protected from the wind. I think the temperatures were in the nineties, but with the headwind, it was not so bad. Two riders (Robin and Eric from the Seattle Randonneurs) caught me and we rode together as we climbed out of the creek onto an exposed plateau with some serious rollers and a strong headwind. Along this section, you could see the wind currents on the surface of the wheat that was planted as far as the eye could see!

Robin and Eric were going at a pace a little too hot for me, so I dropped off and rode into the next town (Athena) alone. As I rolled into town, Eric yelled hello from a bench outside a grocery. I stopped, commiserated with Eric about the heat, and reloaded my bottles as he headed out of town.

The grade steepened for next 25 miles to the Tollgate control. The climb was a steady grade through beautiful farm and forest land. I was at the Tollgate control as the sun set and the temperature was dropping like a rock! Happily, the organizer had hot soup at this indoor control. So, after a Coke, and a bowl of hot potato soup, I layered up and headed down for a 2600 foot descent along a water course to Elgin.

After Elgin, it was 40 miles of flat, dark, and generally unremarkable riding to the controls at La Grande and Union. The last 10 miles to the overnight included a little climb that would be nothing at the beginning of a day, but was something after 230 miles of riding. The course went though a pass shared by a Union Pacific rail line. So riding alone, no moon, billions of stars, it was me, and a Union Pacific train grinding up the hill. Many of our brevets in Casa Grande AZ follow rail lines. I am always impressed by the noise and power of those great machines.

I was happy to hear the squealing and grinding of brakes from the train as the rail bed (much higher on the slope) reached its summit and started its descent. Soon I was bombing down the hill into the darkened town of North Powder (the lights were out since 11 pm due to a car crash into a power pole). I rolled into the control at 1:23 am Sunday morning.

Since power was out, I had to hang my headlamp over the shower pole (lucky the hot water was from natural gas!) to clean up. I had a nice meal of a turkey sandwich, hot soup, and enjoyed a campfire with the owners of the motel that was our control. I inserted my earplugs and then slipped into my assigned bed (with another rider already sleeping) for three hours of sleep.

Day 2 : North Powder to Mitchell

I awoke at 5 am, so I slipped out of bed and dressed in the motel laundry room so as not to wake by room and bed mates. I had a nice breakfast at the control (the power was back on) and was on the road by 6 am.

Riding alone, and about 10 miles into the ride, I noticed a rider coming up from behind. Suddenly, BANG, something whacked my helmet. It felt like someone threw a water bottle and hit me in the head. I turned around expecting to see a rider, but it was hawk setting up for another pass at my helmet. I ducked, yelled and waved my arms and she veered off. She followed me for a few hundred meters making all kinds of noise, and then she returned to a tree I had just ridden under. Good thing I had my chin strap on, or my helmet might have become a mobile home for some hawk family!

Once the climbing started I pulled off to take off a layer or two and slather on some sun screen. A pace line of 6 or so riders from the event approached, made sure I was OK, and then on were on their way. I thought about chasing them down for about 2 seconds, then decided it would be a good day to ride alone and enjoy the mountain scenery.

I rolled up to the Phillips Reservoir and pulled off for a little break and some photos in a picnic area. In between the loud roar of motorcycles (there was a motorcycle festival in nearby Baker City); it was relaxing to sit and listen to the birds and the sound of the breeze blowing through the trees. With many miles to go, I saddled up and headed to the next control at Austin House.

Just a mile before the control, spring water was available from this pipe. I filled up both bottles and arrived at the control a few minutes later. The group that passed me earlier was still there, but preparing to leave. I bought a chocolate milk and can of chicken soup and sat down in the shade. This combination gas station, store, restaurant was hopping.

Of course there were about a million motorcyclists! Another group of cyclists from Davis California was also there. They were touring and riding with full panniers and heading in the opposite direction to Baker City. We visited for a while, and then I rolled out for the third climb of the day!

I rolled into Prairie City with a great view of the Strawberry Mountains. The route goes around the mountain and includes some great climbing and scenery. I made a wrong turn just outside of town and ended up adding 6 miles to the day. I rolled into the control at the Parish Cabin Forest Service Campground, had a Coke, and was on my way. From here the course drops into to the town of John Day. I stopped at the Dairy Queen to pull on my night gear, have a hot dog, fries, and a chocolate milk. The course follows the John Day river to the next control in Dayville. Although it was downhill, the headwinds made most of the ride seem uphill!

I arrived at the Dayville control at 2300. This is a staffed control (a volunteer staffs the control) and there was more of that great hot potato soup. This control is at the base of 25 miles of climbing, before a fast steep drop into the town of Mitchell.

The sleep monster had been absent on the ride so far, but on the climb he decided to make a visit. I kept him at bay by stopping, turning off my lights, and enjoying the star-filled night sky for a moment or two. With no moon, no city lights, and no cars, the stars were breathtaking and the Milky Way was clearly visible. Once I was fully awake again, I would start back up the hill.

As I continued up the hill, with the sleep monster nipping at my heels, I noticed a tree up ahead that looked like there were hundreds of pairs of eyes staring at me! My first thought was; am I dreaming? Then as I got closer; are those birds or bats? When I pulled up, I stopped to take a closer look. With the wind, the ‘eyes’ were swinging back and forth and it was more than a little spooky until I realized there were hundreds of running shoes hanging in the tree. The ‘eyes’ were the tabs of reflective material on the shoes that really lit up from my LED headlamp!

Check out this website for more on the Shoe Tree:

Soon I was blasting down a 6 percent Grade into the town of Mitchell and the overnight control. I rolled into the Oregon Hotel about 2:30 am Monday morning, enjoyed a great dinner of chicken pasta, with a side of blueberries (excellent anti-oxidants), showered, and was assigned a bed in a room that was just ‘opened’ (no room or bed mates, yet!).

Day 3: Mitchell to The Dalles

I again awoke before my wake-up call and feeling rested after three hours of sleep, I decided to get going. No bed mate, but since I had a roommate I slipped down the hall and dressed in an unoccupied room, then headed downstairs to the control. 5 riders were preparing to leave. I did not want to ride alone today with the headwinds, so I decided to skip breakfast and pounded down a coffee and a gel to be ready when they left. Since there were a couple of floor pumps around I decided to check my tires. I am glad I did, they were down to 60 pounds of pressure! So I pumped them back up to 90 and left the control with Sofie, Jan, Bob, Eric, and Robin at 0700. Our little group would stay together for the whole day.

Day 3 has the fewest miles but the most climbing of the event. The start from Mitchell was a nice uphill grade to warm-up on and soon we were on a 10 mile descent back to the John Day River. The geology and rock formations were spectacular and totally different from the first 2 days. Our little group worked well together as we powered up and down the first 4 climbs of the day.

We stopped at the cafĂ© in Antelope for a light lunch and were soon on our way to Shaniko. For the majority of the day, the headwinds had been light, and somewhat refreshing as the temperatures increased during the day. When we left Shaniko and hit Bakeoven road, we faced headwinds we estimated at 20 mph, gusting to 35 mph. In fact the headwind was so loud we could not hear a motorcycle approaching from behind. He ‘buzzed’ us at high speed, gave us the one finger salute and accelerated up the road. He must have been frustrated because we had formed a double pace line echeloned into the wind. About an hour and a half later, we came upon an accident scene. The deputy sheriff waved us through the motorcycle debris spread all over the road. Next to the officer was the remains of a deer (beheaded from the impact) and about 200 feet from there was the remains of the motorcycle that passed us earlier, in the ditch next to the road. We found out later the rider who greeted us so ‘kindly’ earlier was enjoying a LifeFlight to Portland!

We continued our descent into Maupin and decided a Pizza from Deschutes Pizza Co. was in order. The slice of pie and a Coke was just the jolt I needed to cover the last two climbs of the day. Cresting the last hill, about 30 miles from the finish, we were again greeted with the huge headwind/crosswind. We stopped and I put on all the clothes I was carrying and was still freezing as we made our way back to The Dalles.

We found the last information control on the edge of town and rolled into the Welcoming Motel 6 at 2343! We turned in our cards, checked into our rooms, and made a beeline for the 24 hour Denny’s just down the road for a post-ride feast!

Click here to view all my pictures from this ride.


John Kramer and Dave Reed of the Oregon Randonneurs organized this outstanding event.They put together an awesome route that was both physically challenging (36,500 feet of climbing over 622 miles) and ascetically breathtaking! Their team of volunteers made an excellent brevet even better.

Sophie, Jan, Bob, Eric, and Robin made the last day of this event even more enjoyable. Their humor, strength, and riding skill made a difficult day of riding very fun indeed!

Most importantly, Debby, who puts up with my riding addiction and suggested I find a brevet in Oregon this summer!