to keep up on all the SIR doings.
And here, at long last, is the story.
The Big Lebowski 600K
Sept 30th -- Oct 1st 2006
a ride report by Kent Peterson
The Dude: "Look, let me explain something. I'm not Mr. Lebowski; you're Mr. Lebowski. I'm the Dude. So that's what you call me. That, or Duder. His Dudeness. Or El Duderino, if, you know, you're not into the whole brevity thing."
I can't say that I know why John Kramer, a man sometimes simply known as "the Kramer", chose "The Big Lebowski" as the name for a 600 kilometer bicycle ride through the high desert hills of eastern Oregon. I know that the Kramer has a fondness for that fine film and I've deduced that he also has a fondness for the hill country. And I can tell you from experience that 600 kilometers is not a distance that you ride a bicycle if you are into that whole brevity thing. But there's a whole gang of folks who do these rides, folks called randonneurs, whose ideas of fun are perhaps a bit skewed from the norm. And this is the story of some of those fellows and a ride known as the Big Lebowski.
Early Friday afternoon Peter Beeson, Bob Brudvik and Eric Vigoren stop by the Seattle Bikestation where I work and we load my bike next to theirs in Peter's van and drive south. Those who drive trade off driving and we all pitch in money for gas and we read through the Kramer's pre-ride report and wonder what we are getting ourselves into. The pre-ride report is a depressing document, filled with dire details of the various climbs that conspire to pack 22,500 feet of climbing into 600 kilometers of riding. But successful randonneurs ponder with pessimism and execute with enthusiasm. Or something like that. Perhaps we can only fear our fates and ride with resolution.
I ask about the general scheme for the ride and find that Peter's plan is not mine. "We're all planning on sticking together," he tells me. "I don't think so," I reply, not from any deep-seated hermit instinct but rather from my own experience that while "All for one and one for all" may be a fine motto for Musketeers, I have to see what the day and the road brings. If I happen to be riding at a pace that matches the others, I have no problems riding with them but I also have no problems falling back if I'm feeling slow. Conversely on the rare occasions where I'm feeling speedy, I have to act on that and move on.
By early evening we are at the The Dalles, Oregon. We check into the Motel 6, drop our bikes and gear in the rooms and head out in search of sustenance.
"Lady, I got buddies who died face-down in the muck so you and I could enjoy this family restaurant!"
We dine mostly without incident at Cousins, a family restaurant a few blocks from the Motel 6. I say mostly because there was the thing with the food... well, Peter's thing with the food. Peter is very precise in his tastes and accurate in his instructions. So when they don't have a pitcher of Diet Coke, the order is for five Diet Cokes, delivered simultaneously. Not five Diet Cokes for the four of us, five Diet Cokes all for Peter. Peter's ribs should be on their own plate, no other food on the plate, no condiments should contaminate the purity of the ribs. Eric requests that Peter's foregone food be delivered to him. I have not been party to dining with Peter previous to this occasion but Eric and Bob assure me that this is standard operating procedure. "You should see him at a McDonald's drive-thru," Eric advises, "separate bags for each person." "Precise instructions avoid confusion," Peter explains. I don't believe that Peter has OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). I suspect he may have CDO, which is like OCD except that the letters are in alphabetical order, the way they should be. I nod and say slowly "Peter, I can safely say that if you were a woman and I was single... we would not be dating." Remarkably the wait staff at Cousin's comply with all of Peter's precise instructions and we stuff ourselves like men on the eve of battle.
Back at the motel room, Angelina Jolie keeps Bob and I up way past our bedtime. This is not nearly as exciting as it sounds. Bob flips on the TV and browses through the channels. He stops on the the channel we are both powerless to resist, the one with Angelina Jolie bouncing around defying gravity as Lara Croft, Tomb Raider. We should be getting everything packed up and getting as much sleep as we can but instead we are hypnotized by the screen. It's not like the complex plot has drawn us in, I think this is the second Tomb Raider movie and Angelina seems intent on retrieving some kind of amazing orb. This, of course, will put her way over quota in the amazing orb department but still we watch way too much of this movie. Eventually, a commercial comes on and breaks the spell. Bob looks at me and says "I know we should get some sleep, but I want to make sure Angelina gets out of this OK." "She gets out OK, Bob. Trust me. She kicks a bunch of guy's asses and saves the world and everything is fine." Bob glumly shuts off the TV.
We don't get enough sleep but I wake up on cue a bit before our early AM wake-up call. In the cold, starlit morning we check in with the Kramer at the parking lot next door. There are ten of us here to ride. Susan France is too smart to ride this thing but she is here to help the Kramer out. She will be the roving field support for the ride while the Kramer will crew the start, the end and the overnight control. That just two folks can run a ride of this magnitude shows that those Oregon folks are very smart, hard working and well-organized.
Today I'm riding an old orphan steel Bianchi mountain bike that I've adopted and adapted to my own randonneuring purposes. The bike sports fat, tough tires and fenders and bags of my own design, made from recycled coroplast campaign signs. Peter and Bob are both on Bianchi San Jose single speed bikes, their single gears silently mocking the 27 gears of decadence I have on my Disraeli geared machine. Eric is riding a wisely geared Fuji touring bike. Eric has logged more brevet miles this year than any other Seattle Randonneur but even Eric's collection of kilometers is eclipsed by those of the always cheerful and damn near always riding Ken Bonner. Ken is here with his well-worn titanium kilometer eating machine. The other five riders are folks I don't know: Jon Beilby, Albert Kong, Greg Olson, Scott Peterson and Paul Whitney.
It's dark and early and cold when we take off at 5:00 AM. We roll and warm up and as we wind our way east out of town I chat with Ken Bonner. I'm familiar with Ken's speed and I rightly figure that this will be the last I'll see of him on this ride. We head north across the river and across the wind. We turn right and follow the road along the Washington side of the river. The pavement here is less-than-smooth but the wind is at our backs now and the speedy folks take full advantage of the tailwind. Most of the other riders are faster than me and I watch their tail lights get smaller and eventually fade from sight. It's beautiful and desolate along the river and the rising sun reveals a panorama of red and gold and sage bluffs rising alongside the river.
At 8:52 AM Paul Whitney and I are the last two riders through the control at the 93 kilometer mark, a tiny store called the River View Mini Mart. The day is already growing warm and while I'm usually quick through the controls, Paul is quicker. I fuel up for the road ahead with chocolate milk and Payday bars, fill my bottles with water and stow a Gatorade in one of my coroplast panniers. I stash my warm clothes, slather on some sunblock and at 9:06 I'm rolling again.
The Big Lebowski features a blessedly simple cue sheet but even the simplest of instructions can be misinterpreted. My cycle computer is not quite perfectly calibrated and at kilometer 167.6 I'm supposed to turn right on Plymouth Road. Somewhere around that reading on my computer I see a road called Plymouth Industrial Road and it goes off to the right and so do I. I follow this road down for a bit, long enough to see that the road swoops the wrong way and ends at some railroad tracks. I backtrack, continue on and down the road a bit I find the real Plymouth Road. The real Plymouth road leads to a bike tunnel and bike trail that goes safely south over the Columbia and now I'm back in Oregon.
An old road with some new pavement takes me through the first thing I've seen since the Dalles that could honestly be called a town and then on to the next control, a busy complex housing something called a Space Age, a Quik Mart and an A&W. Susan France is here with jugs of water and various munchies and she's helping Scott Peterson deal with a flat tire. Paul is here as well. It's 1:35 PM now and warm and dry. I'd swallowed the last of the Gatorade many kilometers ago and here I load up on milk and Pecan Sandy cookies and grab a Clif Bar and green ice-tea and water for the road.
Scott and Paul leave the control before I do and shortly after I leave I see Susan's van roll by. I soon pass Scott, who has fallen victim to another puncture, and not much later I catch up with Paul. Paul and I chat for a bit as we ride. He lives in western Washington, so he's used to this dry heat but he tells me this is his first 600K. "You picked a hard one," I tell him, "we've gone through the easy stuff, with the tailwind and the mostly flat land. It looks like it gets real lumpy from here on." We talk about our families but as the road begins climbing in earnest and our new direction puts us at odds with the wind, we focus more on turning the pedals and less on conversation. We take turns pulling against the wind for a while but gradually our respective paces draw us apart. I'm the stronger climber and on one of the many climbs I look back and see Paul is no longer in sight behind me.
It doesn't feel extremely hot but it's very dry and I've pretty much drained all my bottles now. It is still many kilometers to the next control but a roadside sign and a turn indicated on the cue sheet suggest that there is a town up ahead. That's the good news. The bad news is what I see at the side of the road: a pool of fresh vomit. I only have time for a quick roll-by forensic analysis but it looks like randonneur vomit to me. The turn is at a little town called Lexington and Lexington has a Shell station. The three Seattle Musketeers are here, including a grim looking Eric Vigoren. "I'm fine," Eric insists, a claim that would perhaps be more believable if he hadn't puked his guts out on the roadside a few miles back. I think I know what he means. He knows what's happening, what he's got to do and how he'll get through this. Eric has ridden more brevets this year than any of us. He's down now, but he's not out. It's all peaks and valleys. And he can still roll. Paul rolls in before the Musketeers roll out but Eric is recovered enough and he rolls on with Peter and Bob. The true control is at Heppner another 15 kilometers down the road the five of us all reconnect there.
Heppner is a small town where teenage girls ride to the Shell station on horses, a generalized conclusion I draw from the example of the one girl who rides up to the station while we are fueling up. We generally fuel with abandon, except for Eric, who fuels with caution. We are all delighting in savory, salty snacks, lots of crunchy, carbo-laden calories and as much liquid as we can convince ourselves to drink. Paul is still fueling as the Seattle crew rolls off into the fading light.
We roll into the hill country as a cadre of Musketeers. "See," Eric says to me, "I knew you'd be riding with us." The temperature goes down as the sun drops and the land climbs. We're moving to higher, cooler ground and as the land rises and falls we pass through pockets of progressively colder air. We see cows and deer and horses in the fields and a sunset that defies my attempts at photography. With our reflective gear and lights we look brighter than we feel right now. We stop just past what the cue-sheet calls the ghost town of Hardman, but a few lights and voices tell us different. Even though we are climbing, it's cold and we pause to layer on more clothes. A quick descent and a small climb bring us to Anson White County Park, a dark place featuring a friendly campground host, a chance to refill our water bottles and a wonderfully warm bathroom. Only the lure of the true overnight control at Spray and the unrelenting clock ultimately persuade us to move forward.
There is a bit of a climb and then a dark descent. I'd rather not be in a group at night and I'm a light guy who descends with caution. For reasons I don't understand I'm in the lead on this descent and Bob comments on my cautious style. He pronounces the word "cautious" in such a way that it rhymes with "wuss." I can't disagree with him. I was hoping the others would zip past me but that's not the way this plays out.
As the road turns up yet again, Bob and I are off the front. Eric and Peter are riding slower and chatting and Bob is charging along. Soon Bob's pace outstrips mine and I watch his tail light move up and into the darkness. Then I notice his light stop. I roll up beside him.
"I heard something in the woods. It sounded big. It could be a bear. Or a cougar." "Or a Sasquatch," I add helpfully. "Or perhaps a very big fluffy bunny." Bob looks at me as if I am not taking things seriously enough. "Really, Bob, I thought you were a big, brave guy." For the record, I should note that Bob is a big, brave guy. He's ridden RAAM and I figure that any bear, cougar or big fluffy bunny would think twice before messing with Bob. "It sounded like something big," Bob insists. We roll on.
It is cold and Bob comments on the cold. He eyes my wool gloves, warm ear-band and cozy Marmot DriClime wind-shirt with envy. I know that Bob has warm gloves and a cozy jacket tucked into the huge bag he sent ahead to the overnight control and they'll be a great comfort to him once he reaches the control. But it's cold now and we are still many kilometers from the control.
"You wouldn't happen to have any spare gloves?" Bob asks, hoping perhaps that I've been extra paranoid in my packing. I inform him that my level of equipment redundancy doesn't extend to the warm glove department. Bob casts one more look at my gloves, a look that I imagine is not unlike that given by the frozen man to his sled dog in the Jack London story. Bob then announces that he's going to drop back to see how Peter and Eric are doing. And, no doubt, to see if they have any spare gloves.
I roll on, ready to face bears, cougars, Sasquatches and big fluffy bunnies on my own.
I climb in the cold darkness, thinking about the flat, warm part of the day and the early tailwind along the gorge. There is over 22,000 feet of climbing on this ride and those first hundred miles were pretty flat...I'm doing some of the climbing now, but the bulk of the work lies ahead of me. I crest this climb and ride the long, sweeping descent to the town of Spray.
Spray is a tiny town. I imagine it is quiet here most days and it's dead quiet close to midnight on the last night of September. I follow my cue sheet and a few helpful blinking lights that the Kramer has placed like rando breadcrumbs along the path to the control. The control is a place called the River Bend Retreat. As I pull in, I see one of my fellow randonneurs heading out into the darkness. The control is warm and cozy. While I feast on pizza the Kramer asks me about my plans. I tell him I'll be sleeping for 90 minutes or so and that I'll wake myself up. I also mention that I snore but the Kramer has a perfect solution in the form of a tiny room about the size of a closet. I settle in and sleep. One of my handy rando skills is an ability to make myself nap and wake on cue. Ninety minutes after I fall asleep, I'm awake. The rest of the Seattle riders rolled in while I slept and they are now sleeping in another room. The Kramer had been dozing on the couch but he gets up to make sure I have everything I need for breakfast before I head out again. I know from experience that working a rando control checkpoint can be more work than actually riding the event and I'm grateful for the Kramer and Susan's wonderful support on this ride.
I roll out into the cool, clear darkness with a full stomach, full bottles and a sandwich for the road. The first kilometers after Spray follow the fairly flat road along the John Day River to Service Creek, but the Kramer's cautious instructions warned me of the next climb. It's very cold and the skies are perfectly clear. About once every ten minutes or so a meteor streaks across the sky. The first one took me by surprise but when I see the second one, I know I'm viewing some kind of a meteor shower. Splitting my attention between the road and the sky takes my mind off the climbing and the cold. The temperature must only be a few degrees above freezing and I've layered on all my clothes, including my Rain Legs. With the clear skies, there isn't any chance of rain but the Rain Legs give me one more layer over my thighs and knees.
After 16 kilometers of climbing, the road turns down. The climb had been cold and the descent adds a brutal edge to the darkness. I know that heat is the vibration of atoms and it seems that in the darkness every atom of my being is hunkered down and I feel I am shrinking as every molecule in my body presses close against its neighbor. I think of Tibetan monks meditating in icy caves, the powers of the mind and how the limits of men are perhaps greater than what we imagine. I try to will myself into a state of warmth and then I think of stories by Jack London and Jon Krakauer and reflect on the costs of miscalculation.
Finally I see the lights of a tiny town called Fossil and even though the route sheet tells me to turn left, I turn right in search of warmth. It is 5:10 AM. In my years of riding through small towns at odd hours I've learned one or two useful things. One of those useful facts is this: the lobbies of post offices are open and warm. Hemingway and randonneurs know the value of a clean, well-lighted place and ten minutes of warmth can turn a man. Turn him from something that resembled a dying flame to something closer to a rising sun. Hemingway knew that the sun also rises and now it is time for me to be going. After ten minutes in the warm post office, I roll out of town.
The stars are fading and now the road goes up again. Just before sunrise I often wonder if I've slept enough and today that wonder overwhelms me. I pull the bike over beside a gate. Five minutes will be enough. I lie on the ground and close my eyes.
Five minutes are enough. I awaken with the rest of the land. The stars have faded from a glowing sky that is now filling with light and the sounds of birds. I roll slowly onward and upward. I crest this climb and glide down the rolling hills to the John Day Fossil Beds. In the morning light I see men with guns. It's hunting season and orange-clad men are out this morning with big trucks and laser targeted rifles. This is the first time I've seen lasers in the field and I see the hunter's practicing, projecting bright dots at spots where they hope deer and lead will intersect. I see steam rising off of cups of coffee just poured from thermoses and I think that deer perhaps have learned to fear the smells of gasoline and coffee. Around a few bends where I don't see hunters, I see deer who watch me cautiously and conspiratorially, with big eyes that seem to say "whoa, Dude, be cool. Nothing to see here, move along." I move on.
Bunny Lebowski: Uli doesn't care about anything. He's a nihilist.
The Dude: Oh, that must be exhausting.
Past the John Day Fossil Beds the hills rise up once again. The hills of central Oregon are a curving, complex geography and something more than simple persistence or brute force is required to climb them. The hills hide among themselves, the curve of the current hill hides the next one and the next hill hides another and if you let your mind try to project the sum of the series or or hope that the end is around the next curve, you will find yourself riding up a road of nearly infinite disappointment. This is the land that would drive a Nihilist mad because you have to believe in something to keep on keeping on. Words from the movie echo in my head, "you're out of your element" and "you are entering a world of pain." The Kramer is a randonneur and he knows that we endure through metaphor and distraction. By picking a movie about bowling, about friendship, about the consequences of unreasonable actions, he's equipped each rider with a bizarre interior dialog to busy the mind while the body moves across this landscape.
Walter's movie voice booms in my head, "this isn't 'Nam, there are rules." Indeed, there are rules and the rules of randonneuring define where time and terrain must intersect. Brevets have check points and these checkpoints have opening and closing times. And this is what makes this brevet, this Big Lebowski, difficult. The unforgiving clock doesn't consider climbs and the Big Lebowski packs the bulk of the slow climbing into the second day. I've ridden far easier 1200K events, rides where I've felt I could build up a time buffer and relax. I have a small time buffer in hand now but it is not enough to make me comfortable. I know the folly of extrapolating my current slow speed and I also know that, despite the evidence of the moment, this climb cannot go on forever.
Finally, I crest the last in an ultimately uncounted series of curves. My cycle computer kept track long after I stopped caring; that climb was 16 kilometers long. I'd been thinking of the Big Lebowski and free-associating my way up and over the hills. The Dude once said "he treats objects like women" and this makes me think of those hills: impossibly curving, seductively beautiful and fully capable of kicking my ass. Perhaps this isn't the Big Lebowski? Perhaps it's Lara Croft, Tomb Raider.
But now the terrain is blessedly going down. The restaurant in the tiny town of Antelope lists biscuits and gravy as the morning's special. I ask the fellow at the restaurant if he sees much business from the hunters and he tells me he's seen some but not as many as he's expected. Because of hunting season he's been opening the cafe earlier than usual and he tells me he served another cyclist very early this morning. "Boy was that guy cold!" I suspect he's talking about Greg Olson but he could be speaking of any of us.
Jon Beilby rolls in while I'm finishing my biscuits. Jon is an Oregon rider and speaks with a local authority when he recommends the Marion berry cobbler. I'm full of biscuits now and still concerned about the time and the climbing ahead so I forgo the cobbler and roll off with a couple of candy bars for the road.
At US 97 there is a ten kilometer climb. At the top of the climb is a rest area where I fill my bottles. The cold morning has given way to another warm day and once again I've wound up replacing layers of clothes with a layer of sunblock. The high desert country turns quickly between extremes, the bitter cold becomes baking heat with surprising swiftness, much like a grinding climb turns to a thrilling descent when the pedals finally crest a long climb.
A few kilometers past the rest stop I turn onto a quiet road called US 197. Here I manage to run over a tiny bit of Oregon geology, tiny pyramid of stone the size of an ant and perfectly shaped to puncture my rear tire. Jon rolls by while I'm fixing the puncture, makes sure I'm OK, expresses surprise that I could flat "those tires" and then rolls forward. Indeed, "those tires" were chosen for their strength, not their speed and I'd been impressed by the precise attack executed by my tetrahedral foe. I remove the stone shard, replace the rear inner tube, pump up my tire and chase Jon down a glorious descent that ends at the banks of the Deschutes River in the town of Maupin.
Jon and I are fueling up with water at the little park by the river when Albert Kong rolls up. It's easy, in the warmth of the day, to tell tales of how we survived the cold of the night. Jon works for Hewlett Packard and a very light Tyvek lab coat that he got from the HP printer lab had been his secret weapon against the chill of the night. We all agree that small comforts make a huge difference on a ride like this one.
We ride alongside the river, watching rafters splash in the sunlight. Jon tells stories about the area but once we cross back over the river it's time for yet another climb. Jon and Albert both are able to put more power to the pedal than I can muster at this moment, so I snap a few pictures and watch them roll on ahead.
The Big Lebowski is a ride that seems intent on teaching me to be a patient climber. Although I've come to believe that I will finish this ride within the forty hour time limit, I also believe that somehow I've spent about three weeks climbing hills over the course of the past day. I know this can't be true, but it feels like it's true.
Eventually I get out of Chicken Spring Canyon and there is a brief respite in the climbing. But soon I rejoin US 97 and the road goes up again. The cue sheet promises me that about ten kilometers ahead there is something called the Tygh Ridge Summit. Right now it feels like that summit is ten kilometers above me. I've spent many years riding fixed gear and single speed bikes but today I'm pretty darn glad I've got a bike with a low geared triple crankset. I think of my friends Peter and Bob who are still somewhere behind me on their single speed bikes. "Those poor saps!", I think.
I keep turning the pedals. I've used up pretty much every bit of Big Lebowski dialog now and a bit of an old Bob Seger song drifts through my mind, "and you don't feel much like riding, you just wish the trip was through..." I swear to myself and then another bit of the movie dialog comes to my rescue.
The Stranger: There's just one thing, Dude.
The Dude: And what's that?
The Stranger: Do you have to use so many cuss words?
I just laugh and pedal onward.
The Tygh Ridge Summit should be the end, but it's not. The road goes down after the summit, of course, but it doesn't go smoothly down and as I'm going up about the third damn climb after the summit I have to keep reminding myself not to use so many cuss words.
The sun is setting on this ride and this story. I pause to turn on my lights and strap on my reflective gear. I'm careful as I navigate the last turns in The Dalles and suddenly I really am done. I hand my card to the Kramer. Susan is here as well and so is Jon. They clap when I come in and the Kramer surprises the heck out of me by handing me an engraved trophy. "How did you know I'd finish?" I ask stupidly. "If you didn't finish, we wouldn't give it to you. We'd pull off the nameplate and recycle it next year," the Kramer explains. Those Oregon Randonneurs are smart!
The Kramer and Susan have food and comfy chairs here and we wait anxiously for the rest of the Seattle crew. Scott Peterson and Paul Whitney had run out of time earlier in the ride so they won't be finishing. I know my Seattle pals will keep the pedals turning, but we also all know that things can happen on the road. There are flat tires and possible missed turns and unknown things that make noises in the night.
But with about an hour to spare, three men in blue wool jerseys roll up to a parking lot in The Dalles and get these really nifty trophies. Eric Vigoren has been holding down food all day and riding with a couple of stubborn single geared fellows who managed to climb every hill with the aid of many repeated cuss words.
And the Big Lebowski is in the record books. The first, but certainly not the last, running of an epic ride. A ride in which the dudes abide.
The Big Lebowski Results, September 30 -October 1
|Peter Beeson||39:04|| ||Jon Beilby||37:25|
|Ken Bonner||33:32|| ||Robert Brudvik||39:04|
|Albert Kong||37:09|| ||Greg Olson||35:00|
|Scott Peterson||DNF|| ||Kent Peterson||37:52|
|Eric Vigoren||39:04|| ||Paul Whitney||DNF|