RSVP 2004

Smile or grimace?

Why the hell am I doing this?

I kept asking myself this question throughout most of the first day of Rain-Soaked Venture Pedaling R.S.V.P.. (For a more optimistic take, view Claire Petersky’s summary.)

Day 1: 106.9 miles
Seattle to Bellingham

Day 2a: 21.8 miles
(Bellingham to the border)

Day 2b: 56.9 miles
(Border to Vancouver)

RSVP route map

The forecast for Friday was “92% chance of rain, with a possibility of late afternoon thunderstorms.” The percentage is interesting because it conveys both precision and, in this case, accuracy: The rain rain rain came down down down.

It was initially a misty pitter patter, but picked up around mile 10, turning into a bonafide “rain shower.” I didn’t bring my full set of rain gear because the gear is impractical when the temperatures are above 50°F. At that point, I sweat profusely, negating any benefit. The day started at 59°F, so I just donned my jacket.

I also have a set of fenders on my bike to reduce a lot of the water kicked up from my tires. It looks goofy and adds weight, which is why 950 of the other riders don’t have them. Whenever someone passed me, there was a good chance I’d get tagged by the rooster tail kicking up from their rear wheel. They’re getting even wetter, though, as the water eventually arcs up onto their back.

At mile 20, my front tire started losing air. With the roads wet from the rain, I had no difficulty seeing where the air was coming out and finding the small metal shard. I pulled over at the first open space to fix the tire. While pumping up the new tube, I broke the stem. A couple of dogs must have heard the F-bomb over the highway noise because they came running over and helped add to the noise level.

The dogs weren’t an immediate threat, so I continued working. A few minutes later, the lady who lived there wanted to get out of her driveway. Although I had given her a wide berth, this wasn’t sufficient for her. She wanted me off. I explained that I didn’t want to be there, either, and would move as soon as I fixed the flat. She was concerned her dogs would be distracted outside once the gate opened. She stormed off, but not after accusing me of all the things that could possibly go wrong with her dogs running out into a busy highway. I packed up all my stuff and walked my bike over 20 feet onto a craggy gravel area where I could continue fixing my tire. She eventually went her way and the dogs never came out.

The total downtime was approximately 23 minutes. I was thoroughly soaked and cold. I coaxed myself to the mini-stop at Lake Stevens, mile 38, by playing “five more miles.” I have to be careful here because the stop is community supported, and for that, I’m truly appreciative. However, I find it very lame that Cascade has no mechanical support or sports beverage available. I needed air for my tire, and adjustment of my rear derailleur. It had been skipping since the flat.

I stayed just long enough to pee, top off my water bottles, and grab a handful of pretzels. A bunch of people were abandoning the ride. I continued the “three more miles” game through mile 75, near Mount Vernon. The 1 1/2 miles leading to official rest stop had been recently grooved in anticipation of a new coat of blacktop. The rain and lack of delineation made it unbelievably hazardous. I tried riding on the sidewalk, but every 15th patch was ripped out and replaced with gravel. One more mile.

Mount Vernon was reasonably stocked, as it should be. I saw more people abandon. Riders were huddling under the tent, out of the rain, and it was hard to access the food. I filled both of my bottles and tried to get some mechanical help. The mechanic was immersed in doing some kind of major work to a tandem. I saw no point in prolonging my misery so I borrowed his pump to top off my tire (only half full) and continued on.

I think it was around this point that I ran into Randy Martin, who had recognized me from my posts on Cascade’s bulletin board. As strange as it may sound, his friendliness was a morale boost. We met up again briefly in Bow, just before Chuckanut Drive, after which I didn’t catch up with him again.

Chuckanut Drive winds along Samish Bay and is easily the prettiest part of the first day. The weather had also improved, and I saw a rare glimpse of the sun. Following this is a climb where there has traditionally been a donation-based lemonade stand. This was the seventh year the mom and daughter had been running the stand. They even had a scrapbook from previous years. I didn’t need lemonade, but stopped anyway and donated a buck.

I had finally crossed into Bellingham proper. One of the last minute notes warned of poor markings in Bellingham. Apparently while they were painting the Dan Henrys, the Bellingham police department asked them to stop. Instead of markings, they relied on A-board signs.

The tick sheet had been amended to direct riders to the new official terminus of the first day, the Arne Hanna Aquatic Center, where the post-ride festivities would occur. This was a three mile side trip from the Ramada motel, last year’s terminus. As it was only 3pm, the salmon buffet dinner wouldn’t be starting for a while. I went directly to the motel.

After checking in and peeling off my clothes, I started running the bath. I cranked up the air conditioning and laid out all my wet stuff in front of the blower. On cue, housekeeping knocked on the door, then started to come in, ignoring the “Do not disturb” sign on the door. I convinced them that I didn’t need a second rollaway bed, but thanks anyway.

I soaked in the bathtub for about 30 minutes, noting how generally run down the Ramada looked. All of the fixtures were leaking, caulk was done haphazardly, and there was an intercom speaker underneath the sink. (Huh?)

I dressed, then started walking over to the aquatic center. However, after a couple of blocks, I decided that the dining options near the hotel were fine. I punted on the festivities, even missing the post-ride massage.

Day 2: I wasn’t feeling motivated because the forecast was for rain again. I tossed my luggage into the baggage truck and noticed that the mechanic was set up in the parking lot and didn’t have a line. He looked at my derailleur, made some kind of quick hand adjustment, and sprayed oil on the chain. 30 seconds later, it was working again.

There was a continental breakfast buffet going on at the aquatic center, but this was in the opposite direction of where we were going. I ate a Clif Bar and made my traditional beeline to the Dutch Mother’s Cafe. The Dutch Mother was surprisingly uncrowded, except for the line to the men’s bathroom. A woman appreciated my comment about how this was like a concert, only the genders were reversed.

I made it to the border at 8:30 a.m., half an hour after it opened. There was a large queue of cars and cyclists, but two customs officers worked the cyclists and passing through took less than five minutes.

The first several miles around the border reek of funky farm fertilizer. The smell clears out after 5 miles. At mile 10 is a small hill known as “The Wall.” It’s very steep — just over a 10% grade — but it’s also very short. Several riders later asked me where “The Wall” was. The reaction is much like the one on “The Hill” on STP: That’s it?!?

Following a gradual descent is the Fort Langley, at mile 38.9, the food stop for today. I happened to hit this before a large pack of bikers and got in and out quickly. I noticed my seat had sagged from the water, the one weakness of leather. It fit a little better, but it’s also possible the seat is ruined.

Listen to the

Albion Ferry

One of the unique things about the route is taking the Albion Ferry across the 1/3 mile channel. (I can’t find this labeled, but think it’s the Coquitlam river.) Two ferries run concurrently, but the trip across takes about 15 minutes, most of the time spent loading. They fit 100 of us behind the cars. The ferry appears to be old, and is very noisy.

There was a mini-stop, sponsored by Cap’s South Shore Cycles. I would have missed the stop entirely, had the guy with the water jug not been standing around waving. There were several cyclists milling about, and a bike mechanic, but I was too close to want to stop again. I continued past the bridge where I crashed last year, and followed the climb through Burnaby.

He might go all…
the… way…

At this stage, the tick sheet became very unreliable. I’d either be spot on with the reading, or it would vary up to 0.6 miles. Somewhere near mile 75 it totally fell apart, as if there was a bad cut and paste job. Fortunately, they simplified the approach into downtown Vancouver, following the perimeter of the shoreline. It was very dense with tourists, and we slowly weaved through. I made it to the hotel at 2:30 p.m.

Listen to
some band!

I stowed my bike in the parking garage and went on a quest for my luggage. In the conference room, where everyone was going to “party,” was a Very Loud Band in an enclosed space. The noise was painful — I really don’t understand how people can enjoy this sort of penetrating volume. As soon as I found my bags, I went to the front desk to checkin and wash up.

My hotel room was gorgeous, overlooking English Bay. Later in the evening, I watched the Celebration of Lights fireworks event, happy that I didn’t have to deal with the crowd of 400,000 below.

I picked up my souvenir glass and finisher patch. The band was still too loud for me. I gave my “free drink” coupon to a woman in the elevator who needed it more than me.

The trip home was uneventful. No buses got lost and customs was a breeze, but the bikes wouldn’t arrive for another two hours after we did. The folks getting them off the trucks worked amazingly fast.

Conclusion: This wasn’t one of my better rides. Barring free lodging in Vancouver, I’m unlikely to do it next year:

  • Support should be better. Again, I think it’s lame that Cascade assumes Lake Stevens is a real rest stop. It isn’t. I noticed some people had personal support vehicles. (The most obnoxious was a blue minivan labeled “Team Martelli.” That thing hovered around me like an albatross, but it was clearly for “Martelli” and no one else.) On the one hand, given the dearth of support, it makes sense. On the other hand, if you have a personal support vehicle, why would you go on an organized ride like this? Just do it whenever you want.
  • There’s no time to enjoy Vancouver. Each year I’ve finished between 2 and 3pm, limited by the time the border opens — and my speed. The buses board 10:30 the next morning. What’s the point in going to such a wonderful city if you can’t enjoy it?
  • I’ve done this ride three times. I’d like a change of scenery. Besides, there are lots of rides in the NW that I could otherwise pursue.
  • I’d like to ride with someone else. Both my neighbors, wisely it turns out, wimped out on doing the ride.
    I played a lot of hare and tortoise — me being the tortoise, of course — with other riders, but there was not the same as sharing the experience.

10 thoughts on “RSVP 2004”

  1. Jim, I thought all north westerners “loved” the rain. :’)

    The audio portions are a cool addition. The barking dogs very funny.

    As for busting your valve stem, did you do so while pumping? I give the tire one or two pumps of air while it’s off the bike. Next. I check the tire to make sure it’s seated correctly and the tube isn’t pinched between the tire and rim. Then I mount my wheel back on the bike and rotate the valve so it’s near the fork (front) or seat tube (rear). I can then hold and brace the pump while I fill up the tire.

  2. I really like the Topeak Road Morph pump (with guage). It has a little bit of hose so no more stress on the valve stem, and it has a foot peg so you’re pumping against the ground rather than against some part of yourself or the bike. It’s fairly easy to get tires over 110psi. REI sells it (item 648089). It appears to be waterproof (!); I’ve had mine for more than a year.

  3. > I thought all north westerners “loved” the rain. :’)

    It’s like family members visiting: we love them, just not that much for so long 🙂

    > did you [break the stem] while pumping?

    Yes. It was so stupid, too. I was trying to not sit down on the ground, balancing the end of the pump against my foot, then as I got tired, the pavement. It was just enough to bend the peg.

    I’ll look at the pump Gardner suggested. Most of my tires run at 100+, though I’d like to get them at least to 80 where possible.

  4. It was “Team Martello” and they were there based on reports of an overall lack of support during the ride. It was supporting several riders and didn’t mean to hover around you – the driver had two kids and a grandmother in the car and I hope you can imagine what type of hell she was going through…

    We didn’t mean to offend and sorry if we did…

  5. I apologize for being a little sensitive about the support vehicle. I think it was jealousy… I was not having a good time on this ride.

    The grandmother should be given a trip to Maui for her efforts. My kids would have easily petered out in a couple of hours.

  6. Hey Jim – no offense taken…

    I wish that I knew you were going solo – we would have loved to have your company…

    Grannies health is failing and I asked my wife to ask her along – I wanted them to have some Q time together – she loved it and even though it taxed her gig a bit – I am glad she came along – the kids on the other hand 😉 they could/should have stayed with grand-dad…

    Keep up the good work on the blog(s) – I must admit your ’03 was required reading and it helped to get us ready!

    Thanks again and keep up the good work!


  7. Hi Jim,

    It was good to see you out there! At the point where we crossed paths, things were finally looking up weather-wise, and I felt everyone needed a reason to gain some optimism. God knows the rain can really take it out of you!

    My brother and I compared notes, and decided that STP 97 (TWO days of rain) was worse, but that RSVP 04 was definitely top-5 material on the wet scale.

    I know what you mean about riding alone too, my brother and his wife were my partners, and it makes all the difference. Of course, if he doesn’t stay with me, he has the family guilt thing to contend with…

    Hope to meet up with you again on the road sometime soon!

  8. Gary Sheridan

    Hi Jim,

    Really like your site and all of the constructive input you have on the Cascade website. Thanks for the STP elevation profile. I am amazed at the disparity of elevation gain estimates I have seen. I have an old TOPO which approximates your profile, but it is really tough to be accurate as I squiggle up some of the Canyon Walls and tend to add a bit too much uphill. Maybe it won’t rain this year on the RSVP.

    Sincerely, Gary Sheridan

  9. Hey Jim, I really got a kick out of your review of RSVP 2004!! This will be my 4th RSVP and I really hope you ride this one too! I hope the weather will be better than last years. It would be great to get a few miles in with ya:)


  10. Jim,

    Can you believe it? I did a Google search on Cascade Beverage (a beverage distributing company about 2 miles from my house) and your blog was listed! So, all you need is more content and people will begin frequenting your pages and you’ll get a SECOND check from Google (after a year or two)! 😛

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