My Courage Classic weekend actually started on Friday when I took the whole family to the weekly Frost Park Chalk-Off to do a little shameless self-promotion. It took the rest of the day to ready the van and assemble my gear. Getting three guys, their bikes, their camping gear and their driver into one minivan required some planning, but worked well.
|Ready to Roll!|
We gradually broke up into smaller groups as we climbed through the Denny Creek area and approached the summit of Snoqualmie Pass, where the temperature was a balmy 54°F. Gig Harbor Rotary put on an excellent spaghetti feed for lunch, then we were shuttled by coach bus and moving truck (riders and bikes, respectively) through the I-90 construction around Lake Kaches which is currently off-limits to bicycle traffic.
|Denny Creek Switchback Panda|
For me, the biggest change this year was that I rode a road bike instead of my 50 pound Xtracycle, which allowed me to complete each day's course about two hours faster than in previous years. We finished Day 1 in Cle Elum around 1:30pm, giving us plenty of time to setup tents, clean-up in the mobile shower trailer, and enjoy a few cold-ones in the Redhook beer garden. A huge buffet dinner was held later in a light rain, but those of us who weathered the heat of last year's event knew better than to complain.
|Rotarians at Work!|
After riding this event three times, I can positively say that the ride from Suncadia to the Blewitt Pass summit is my favorite part. You break camp and ride a few miles into Cle Elum, eat a great breakfast at the Sunrise Cafe, then traverse the countryside with the sun coming up over the mountains. It's a quiet and breathtakingly beautiful ride with very little traffic, other than your fellow riders. I always linger at the Tacoma North Rotary rest stop because it seems everyone is always there. I spend time catching up with riders and volunteers I've met in years past, and meeting plenty of new folks as well. It's great to see so many people having fun together.
|The Blewitt Paceline Crew|
As a group of us left the rest stop, someone shouted out "9:03!" and we soon realized that there was a friendly time-trial taking place en route to the summit. We charged our five-man pace-line up the mountain at a strong clip and stayed together for most of the 7 mile climb, each finishing about 1 minute apart. It was awesome! I enjoyed a light brunch of tomato basil soup, a turkey sandwich, and fresh fruit. The food stops are great, especially when you consider that these Rotarians are feeding nearly 800 riders and volunteers every meal and snack.
Once camped in Leavenworth, we headed for the Icicle River to soak our legs before a bbq dinner in the park. Too much fun was had in Redhook beer garden, where DJ Shelda played some great tunes and we all enjoyed each others company.
|Are we having fun yet?|
Photo courtesy of Kimi. Taken by one
of the many enthusiastic Rotarians.
Monday brings the longest climbing route of the weekend. After a brisk ride along the Chumstick Highway to the first rest stop in Plain, WA, the route hooks up with WA-2 and heads up Stevens Pass. There are actually 4 or 5 separate climbs on the way to the summit, each with its own small descent, necessitating that the dessert stop (that is reserved for after lunch on Days 1 and 2) needs to be located pre-lunch. It's Hawaiian themed and features root beer floats, Oreos, fig bars, beef jerkey, organic bunny grahams, and a hula hoop competition. I bested three others with the hoop and won a sweet "Rotary Rest-Stop Survivor" t-shirt that I'm sporting as I type.
|Iron Goat Trail|
All of this food and fun prepares you mentally and physically for the last 10-15 challenging miles of climbing. Even so, the potato bar at the summit was exactly what I needed to perk me back up for the descent down the west side of Stevens. The low clouds and damp wind combined for a fast and freezing run down the mountain. The main highway portion of the descent is a nailbiter at high speed and lots of crosswinds, but near the bottom is the turn-off for the Iron Goat Trail, a refurbished section of the Old Stevens Highway that is smooth, lively, stunning, and magical. My friend Mike, a Courage Classic rookie, said that "it might be the best 15 minutes I've ever spent on a bike."
The finish line was busy, but still full of all the amenities we'd seen along the way: snacks, showers, massage tables, smiling Rotarians, and even a piece of commemorative hardware. I've heard many folks joke about how it's very possible to gain weight on this ride, despite all of the miles and elevation. After my fourth or fifth slice of bread pudding at the Day 1 dinner, I can understand why some would think that. This year, I weighed myself before and after. The result: -1 pound. Maybe I didn't drink my fair share of ESB? I promise to try harder next year!
There simply aren't many supported rides out there that leave you feeling like you've been on a vacation rather than just a bike ride. If you're thinking about doing your first organized tour, I'd certainly recommend that you start with this one. Helping a great cause while having a great time? It's hard to top that.
Thanks again to everyone who sponsored me and my ride to Stop the Cycle of Child Abuse!
|I'm keeping this swag!|