Saturday, July 28, 2012


John Clark and host of others exit Fairhaven at the start of the Tour de Whatcom.
I had a book signing scheduled for 1 p.m. in the Village Green and with the Tour de Whatcom's 105-miler starting at 7:30 I knew there'd be little to no chance of me getting back in time. I admit that I'm pretty whimpy when it comes to putting pressure on myself, to pounding out the miles, gettin' 'er done, as it were, in order to be back by a certain time. So I figured I'd just cut my TdW short, maybe turn left on Enterprise Road between Lynden and Blaine and head back to Fairhaven that way. I'd make it to my book signing with time to spare!
Sean Fields, Scott Alexander, Ryan (?) and Dennis Weeks somewhere in the southern portion of TdW.
But ... heading out Old Samish in the early miles, the lead group--Rusty Dodge, Scott Alexander, Logan Wetzel, Dennis Weeks, etc.--were right there, I mean right there, seemingly reach-out-and-touch close. So after some backing and forthing, should I or shouldn't I-ing, I figured what the heck. Since I'm not riding the full century I might as well hook up with them. A goodly sprint or two later and there I was, lanterne rouge on the Great Tour de Whatcom Express Train. I hung on for dear life as later, the diesel engines up front pulled us along at 26-, 28-, even 30-miles an hour. I was dangling off the back like a tin can tied to a newlywed's car. 

Riders approach the Chuckanut Drive bump just south of Fairhaven.
We'd blown by the first aid station at mile 20 and the only reason I was able to hang on was because I was planning on getting off the Express (probably 20 to 24 riders) at the Nugent's Corner aid station at mile 40. I'd figured some other folks would stop too and that I could hook with a smaller, slightly less rapid group. But the Express Train slowed not at all for aid station 2 either.

Unfortunately, I'd assumed we'd be stopping so I put on the brakes, started to pull in to the parking lot and then realized I was the only one. For a few moments I watched as the Whatcom Express began to disappear down the road. After about a second or two's consideration, I stood and sprinted as hard as I could to catch back up with them, not exactly easy when they're motoring along at 25 miles per hour. But I caught back on, tried to ignore the 180 registering on my heart monitor, took my seat in the caboose and figured I'd try to hang on 'til the Lynden stop at mile 55.
Tête de la course.
This was the seventh annual TdW and I've ridden probably five of them. I rode the first one in 2006, which seemed to be made of up myself, John Clark, Stacy Moon and maybe 3 other riders. I'm exaggerating, I know, but it's been pretty cool to see this ride grow and become such a destination event for folks in NW Washington and Lower BC. Good on ya', Todd Williams!

That's a long way to get to my next point which is, since I've done this ride so many times I know the course pretty well. (It's the first route in my book!) So, when the Express Train reached Nooksack, took a right and began heading north on Highway 9, I knew immediately that we were off course. But I'm not going to raise a fuss with folks pulling me along at 25 miles an hour so I just smiled, nodded my head and assumed they'd figure out a way to get us heading west again toward Lynden. Which they did.

The Great Tour de Whatcom Express Train.
Thankfully, at Lynden everybody stopped; here's where I was getting off the Express. I'd made great time 'til this point (my Garmin 500 told me that we'd averaged 23 mph to this point--smokin' fast for me; we'd done 55 miles in two hours 26 minutes)--so with my amended shortening of the TdW route, I knew that with ease I should be back in time for my book signing. 

Between bites and munches of various sweet and salty aid station offerings, Richard Kiene asked if I wanted to ride the next section with he and Sean Fields in a smaller group at a slightly slower pace. Sounded great to me. Just then though, Richard eyed the head engines of the Express Train getting back on the road so he sprinted to his bike to get back on and I pretty much did the same.  

After riding the 50-miler to Birch Bay and back, tutu-wearing Mary from Everson peruses my book on the Village Green.
But this lasted for only five miles or so. Rusty, Scott, Logan, et al., were just too strong and fast and at mile 60, there was a definite split. I gave one or two chases to get back on, but there was no way. But I had what I'd wanted along: a small, still fast but slightly slower group--Richard, Sean and Ryan (?) from Australia--and we got busy, continuing west toward Blaine. Approaching Enterprise Road, my intended turn-off, I did some quick calculations. I was so far ahead of schedule--so far ahead of where I couldn't even imagine I'd ever be--that I had no reason to cut it short. And truthfully, at 50 (I'll be 51 in less than a month), how many more chances will I get to finish a century in--if things continued to go well--close to four-and-a-half hours? I was all in, and the four of us worked well together. We clicked off some crazy-fast (for me) splits: 60 miles in 2:39, 80 miles in 3:38, etc.

Speed-wise, the four of us maintained a more humane 20-, 21-mph pace and wind-wise, she seemed pretty accomodating. Maybe a slight tailwind from east to west. However, we knew the real Wind would be from Birch Bay back to B'ham. Every time I've done this ride, that homestretch wind at the end of a long day in the saddle feels like a baseball bat whack to the face. But I almost didn't get there.
Highway 9.
Riding so hard for so long isn't easy. And even though I'd spent much of the day hanging on for dear life at the back it's extremely strenuous sprinting like hell everytime there's an acceleration after a turn or a set of railroad tracks. The accordian effect can be a beeatch. So I wasn't super surprised when at mile 77, shortly before the Birch Bay aid stop, my left leg seized up mid-pedal in one giant mega-cramp. I pulled off and sort of fell over onto the grass at the side of the road. Luckily, I'd just finished a pull and was slightly off the back so I didn't take anyone down with me.

Usually, I can stretch these things out and make the excruciating pain disappear but it wasn't happening. The downside of being at the back was the others had no idea anything had happened and as I limped and hobbled around attempting to get the pain to stop, I watched as Richard, Sean and Ryan rode on, turning left on Harborview toward Birch Bay.
At the Village Green Tour de Whatcom riders get ready.
Eventually the pain disappeared, I got back on my bike and began pedaling gingerly hoping that at the Birch Bay aid station, maybe I could hook up with some other riders for the epic Wind Battle back to Bellingham. But lo and behold, I'd not pedaled 50 yards when I saw Richard, Sean and Ryan riding back toward me and wondering what had happened. I was stunned! Grateful as hell too. I didn't really know these guys per se, had ridden with Richard once or twice, maybe Sean once (?) and none of us had ever met Ryan before. (I'm still not sure if that's even his name.)

That's one of my favorite things about these rides: you always meet new people and you end up working together to help each other have the best ride possible, and to have the most fun. Even if you ride with your regular mates, you usually end up adding one or two (or five, whatever) new folks to your list of friends. Love it!
Chuckanut Drive.
Thankfully, the rest of the ride was pretty uneventful. They had Cokes at the fun, well-stocked Birch Bay aid station and to stave off further craps I ate a banana and gobbled down every salty thing I could find including a couple Slim Jim-type items. Sean had given me one of his Enduralytes as well. (Thanks, dude!) We were seranaded by a high school marching band playing, among other songs, "Poker Face" by Lady Ga Ga.

Perhaps making the return ride most uneventful was the fact that apparently the epic Wind Battle had been cancelled. It wasn't bad at all. Last year, I remember taking pulls at the front of my group and being embarrassed as hell that I couldn't pedal faster than 12 mph. This year, it was fine and we cruised it on in able to maintain our 20 to 22 mph. And guess what--I made it back for my book signing with 15 minutes to spare! We got back to the Village Green so early that the finish line cheerleaders hadn't even arrived yet. (Only bummer of the whole day.)

Mucho thanks for an amazing ride to the Great Tour de Whatcom Express Train as well as to Richard, Sean and Ryan (?)!

Here're some geekmeister facts'n' figures: Total ride distance/time: 105.7 mi./4:56. With stops, 5:16.
Our 100-mile ride time was 4:33; with stops, 4:53. Crikey! I've never ridden 100 nearly that fast before.

After the ride, I spent a couple hours selling copies of "75 Classic Rides: Washington" out on the Village Green with Christina from always-supportive Village Books. Thanks VB! And everyone who stopped by! 

As for most of these photos, I tried something new by mounting my Go Pro Hero on the seat mount. Kinda cool. Sorry most of the pics are dark; it was cloudy much of the ride.
Rolling through Fairhaven at the start.

The great John Clark gets ready to rock.

The Mount Baker Bike Club won the Tour de Whatcom trophy.
Country roads down in the Skagit County stretch.
Me. Stuffing my face at the Lynden aid station.
Sun is out for a little bit on Highway 9.
Just south of Blaine, Ryan heads toward Birch Bay.
Me 'n' my books.


  1. Great write-up, Mike! I've been in a few of those fast early bike trains on the Tour De Whatcom too. My fastest time is very similar to yours, as I too cramped up and was dropped in the Blaine/Semiahmoo area. I really miss those rides! gotta find a way to get the knees happy again so I can do it again!

  2. Anonymous4:57 PM

    I agree with Tony - Great write-up! Thanks for the acknowledgement, but I was that tin can that was banging against you and hanging on for dear life as well!

  3. Dennis dude, you rode RAMROD two days earlier (and then the Rabbit Ride today)--you are a true hard man of the peloton!

  4. Excellent review! what a ride.

  5. Mary from Everson12:27 PM

    Wow, you hard-core guys are awesome! Nice photos - that Whatcom Express Train view is especially impressive. I want to be just like you when I grow up.....but my arthritic knees say otherwise. BTW, could I get a copy of your pic of me? You could email to Todd and he could send to his pool guy (my husband). Thanks!