Day 4 of the challenge. Took it easy today after yesterday's awesome ride. Just ran errands, and spun my legs around town. 20km worth. 330km down, 170 to go. I've attached Ryan's description of the xmas ride. Enjoy.

mastering Mount Constitution from Bellingham in one day
by Ryan Rickerts on Sunday, December 26, 2010 at 7:18pm
This Christmas Day ride was actually the idea of Greg Heath, as part of his effort to click 500km in 7 days. It's not easy to average 40+ miles per day for a week, so why not knock off a big chunk at once? How about 125 miles? Seems reasonable, doesn't it? Good thing I didn't ask anyone before I left.

This would actually be the furthest I've ever ridden. Add to that challenge, I have not been doing long distance road riding during cyclocross season (even though I should have). Might as well throw another barrier to entry: a 2400' foot mountain, mostly gained over 4 miles, halfway through the ride and a LONG way from home.

It is certainly not the first time this ridiculous notion has entered my brain. I've actually attempted this ride twice before (once with Celeo, then again with Zach Guy and Andrew Leese). Weather has traditionally conspired against me, but the big hurdle has been catching ferries and beating nightfall. The axe usually falls trying to leave Orcas Island, missing a ferry and having no lights to ride home. However, when Greg (a man known for conquering epic challenges such as the Leadville 100 and the Cascade Cream Puff) proposed it for Christmas Day, 2010 felt like the year I would be gifted with victory. Just to get myself in the spirit of overcoming the insurmountable, I watched LotR Return of the King on Christmas Eve. If Frodo & Sam can do it...

We took care of the daylight problem by just facing it right off the bat - we left Bellingham at 5:00 am sharp with headlights on the whole way to Anacortes. Still, it was a bit of a team time trial to catch the 7:40 ferry, or the gig was up before it really started. The gusty winds out of the SE were a tough start to the day. A big highlight was hitting the Padilla Bay dike trail in the dark with virtually no one on it (although I did take a spill over a curb at the entrance I didn't spot). This twisty, gravel trail is perfectly flat and really feels like a Roubaix course on a road bike. Then, riding west, we had some favorable tailwinds and reached Anacortes by 7:00 am with just another 4 miles to reach the boat. Phase 1 complete, and in record time. These are good omens.

However, the next challenge was definitely looming larger. After an hour of sitting, we had to fire up the legs again, ride 18 miles, bag Constitution, and return all within 3 hours in order to catch the noon ferry back, or wait FIVE HOURS for the next one. Failing this could be logistically suicidal. Not only is the ferry terminal on Orcas devoid of much shelter, it's Christmas Day and NOTHING is open! I packed enough food to get through the whole ride without any stores, but not enough to camp out half a day.

The feeling of riding on Christmas day was indeed special. Except for a few folks shuffling off merrily to their family gatherings, the world was quiet (which is why I ride during major American holidays - like the Superbowl, but with less drunks). The ferry unloading on Orcas in the morning had five cars on it. FIVE CARS! Compare this to a typical summer tour on the island. Fewer ferry runs, fewer cars, fewer opportunities for rest, comfort, or rescue. What more do you want in a Saturday epic?

With the tail wind continuing as we rode north to Eastsound, then fighting us as we climbed up to the base of our main obstacle, we reached Moran State Park in one hour. The pressure was on to go big or go home. There is a stout little 400' climb to the park facilities at Cascade Lake, and I had a slight reason to be concerned. We just passed the 55 mile mark. What if that's all I had in me? I had done a pretty solid gym workout at Trailhead Athletics on Thursday evening, with this ride not yet on my radar, including 80 walking lunges with a pair of 30 lb. dumbbells in my hands, and that much weight was starting to seem pretty stupid. I was already feeling the strain. I did a calf stretch at the campground bathroom and my hamstrings started cramping. Now I was going to climb 2000' more. I was beginning to feel the water tickle my chin, so to speak.

It did not require but a 1/2 mile of climbing to realize I was going to severely struggle through this part. Good thing the road is so beautiful. We saw 3 cars in total, and unlike the last April when I rode it with Jacob and Kendra (just from the ferry) and the summit was socked in, the views today would be clear. These are all good motivators, as well as having a friend waiting at the top, and not falling short when my chance at success was at hand.

With much more difficulty than usual, I made it to the old sandstone tower at the summit. Greg was already getting chilly from taking in the sights, so my celebration was brief. Just enough time to marvel at the expansive beauty of the San Juan Islands and the Chuckanuts, with glimpses of the larger mountain ranges beyond. Of course, we could also spot our home base down below, just beyond Lummi Island and the Lummi peninsula, but it was still a long ways around to get there. The time was now 10:30 am.

With plenty of pine needles, mossy patches and wet sections sprinkled along the road, and the guardrails on tight switchbacks scarcely protecting us from spilling down large cliffs, getting off this mountain quickly is also a high stakes endeavor. Luckily, I'm actually much better at going downhill on my road bike than going up. On most technical, high-speed descents, I'm usually letting loose for a fast stretch then slowing down to make sure my companions made it through. Greg was right on my wheel the whole way. We hit the first hill heading back out of the park in no time, but my legs had something to say about it. NO THANK YOU!!

From this point on in the ride, every hill would be a demonstration of will, focus, and breathing & relaxation exercises. And there were many. Orcas is a hilly place. Chuckanut Drive awaited us near Bellingham. If the strong winds that carried us into Anacortes were holding pace & direction from the morning, I feared I would not make it.

We rode through Eastsound without much thought of respite, but there was ONE restaurant open. Oh, so tempting, but we rolled on by. The clock on the last building in town read 11:00. Could this be right? We had one hour to catch the ferry, which was indeed comforting, but we still rode as if our lives depended on it. Anything could happen in 8.5 miles: flats, mechanicals, severe cramping, bonking. We had a headwind, but nothing devastating. We powered over the last two ghastly bumps between us and the ferry terminal, and dropped in at 11:30.

Now we could relax a bit. The ferry was stopping at Shaw Island on the way to Anacortes, so we had almost 2 hours of forced rest. Surprisingly, the cafeteria on the boat was open for business, but nothing hot from the kitchen. Mostly packaged junk food. I opted for a bag of popcorn, hoping the salt would alleviate this troubling cramping issue. Add a little tabasco to keep the circulation up. Yum!

My jersey & jacket combined gave me six pockets. In the morning, I left with 5 bars, 2 gel packets, a PB&J, sliced pork tenderloin, nuts & cranberries. The space that was rapidly freeing up as I burned through the calories I filled with leg warmers, arm warmers, a base layer, and my light. It was getting nice out!

We rolled into Anacortes again about 1:30 pm. The Safeway was open. The sun was shining. The winds were not what they were that morning. We were going to be okay. Greg stocked up on some chocolate, and I got a Gatorade. Other than that, a vending machine juice, the popcorn, and some faucet water, I'd like to say I did the ride unsupported. Well, Greg's draft was a significant source of support.

We hit the newly repaired trail that crosses Fidalgo Bay to the Shell refinery. Families were out walking now enjoying the afternoon together, so we had a few more obstacles in our path. Hwy 20 was tough with a wind out of the SE, but we didn't have much eastward ground to cover. I would say the ride felt quite pleasant at this point, except my left knee had been bugging me all day from a cleat alignment issue on my other winter shoes, and my sweaty clammy clothes. All I really wanted for Christmas now was a hot shower!

Back on the Padilla Bay trail, I wanted to put the hammer down like Thor Hushovd but the masses of strolling elders didn't look too kindly upon it. Where are your Flanderian fans when you need them? Mostly tail winds carried us into Edison, off the grinding chip seal and onto the smooth blacktop of Hwy 11.

With both relief and trepidation, we could see the final obstacle before us. Chuckanut Drive has some punchy hills, and at 100+ miles into the ride, is quite intimidating. What would my legs have to say now? "All done, Papa" or "F*ck you, b@stard." ??? Mainly, they just said, over and over "I really want you to stop making me turn in circles."

Luckily, I have covered this ground countless times, and often at the end of ridiculously long & difficult rides (such as Mt Erie to La Conner the back way with Ecker and company). I know every rise, how long, and how steep. I know my least favorite hills are the last three after Larabee State Park. That is so close to home, however, that I know I can suffer through them. Yes, it will hurt. Just don't bonk.

Greg and I powered wheel to wheel over the last hill leading into Fairhaven (unfairly, since he pulled a LOT more) and descended into cooling temperatures and fading sunlight. We rolled through the incredibly sleepy downtown Bellingham by 4pm and felt both exhausted and fantastic. The only remaining problem (as before) is that nothing is open, and my house has no food! After a long, hot soak for my stiff neck under the shower faucet, Greg served us up some vegetarian tacos and delicious keg beer, and the buzz of post-epic success set in. We both realized that was one for the books!

If you have made it this far, you deserve to know a bit more background on this story. This was the first year my daughter (going on 4 years old) is old enough to imagine who Santa is and really feel the anticipatation of Christmas morning. However, it would also be her first she would spend without her dad around. We did have a wonderful "first downhill ski" together on Christmas Eve, but she was on the road by 6pm to be with grandparents in Idaho. Preparing myself for and leaving on a 5 am ride seemed like the best way to switch my focus and do something positive with the time, and it worked out marvelously. It truly did feel like a gift of a ride.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and may you be inspired to surmount your own greatest obstacle in 2011! If the opportunity presents itself, ask. I may join you.

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